The word I’d use to describe my life is “loud.” I work in television and live in Los Angeles, and my days are soundtracked by a constant pinging of text messages and honking of traffic. In January of 2022, I realized the external noise was so loud that I was no longer listening to my inner voice—my personal wants and needs. To change that, I decided to travel solo to a place that would help me slow down and surrender to being in the moment. Soon, I was boarding a plane with a 25 liter backpack filled to the brim with winter gear to shield myself from the freezing temperatures of Arctic Alaska.
Days before embarking on my Arctic Circle adventure, I was roaming a bookstore and opened a workbook about self-awareness. I froze after reading several of the questions it asks to help the reader introspect: “What are your values?” “What do you value in others?” “What are you unwilling to tolerate from others?” I felt completely unable to answer the questions, which made me realize that I needed to bring the book on the trip. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to take a crash course in learning to facilitate self-love and develop tools to build a strong relationship with myself.
Free of all the distractions of my typical daily life and very limited Wi-Fi and cell reception, Coldfoot, Alaska was the perfect location for me to address my relationship with myself. Just north of the Arctic Circle, Coldfoot sits near the entrance of Gates of the Arctic National Park and is directly under the aurora oval, making it one of the world’s best viewing areas for the aurora borealis (or the northern lights). The only skyline you’ll see in this part of the world is the Brooks Range, which spans 700 miles across Alaska and Canada.
After taking a 200-mile bus trip to the Arctic Circle monument sign, I transferred to an awaiting cargo van. It would be my chariot for the 60 mile drive north to Coldfoot along a two-lane dirt road that was blanketed with snow and ice. “So, no one is too chicken to continue north, huh?” the driver said with a grin. The headlights of the cargo van cast a spotlight into the dark night, illuminating the vacant lands of Arctic Alaska like a lighthouse’s beacon makes the waves of an open sea glisten. It may have been the closest I have ever felt to being lost at sea, physically and emotionally.
That evening, a local resident took a group of five of us to a remote cabin to watch the northern lights. As picturesque as this sounds, I quickly learned this activity requires patience. Lots of patience. The northern lights come and go as they please, adhering to no one’s schedule. When I learned we’d be there for five-plus hours, I felt my chest tighten. I stepped outside the cabin in the hopes that a deep breath of fresh winter air would help me shake my mood.
The silence of the night amplified the sharp crunch of the snow beneath my heavy boots. After the sound caught my attention, I continued to focus on it. My shoulders began to drop as I continued to walk the property. I soon pulled my scarf beneath my chin to feel the Arctic wind against my face. When the chill began to sting my exposed skin, I walked toward the outdoor fire and shifted my attention to the crackling and popping of the fire. The more I focused on the elements that made up the environment around me, the more present I became in the moment.
Instead of experiencing the northern lights through the filter of my cell phone’s screen, I stood in awe as I watched a palette of greenish-blue light swirl across the night sky.
As the northern lights began to appear, I stood in silence, relishing the sequence of its dance and felt thankful I didn’t have access to Wi-Fi to share this moment in real time. Instead of experiencing this through the filter of my cell phone’s screen, I stood in awe as I watched a palette of greenish-blue light swirl across the night sky.
I challenged myself to live in the moment again the next day during an “Arctic Safari” through the Brooks Range. As we waited for an Arctic sunset to appear, our guide pulled out a saucer sled from the back of our cargo van. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone sledding. As a kid who grew up in the suburbs of Toronto, there was nothing I loved more than racing down snowy hills on a sled each winter. The sight of that saucer sled made me giddy with excitement. I felt my inner child rising to the surface.
As I jumped on the sled and pushed myself over the edge of the hill, I paid attention to the feeling of the frigid Arctic wind pressing against my face and combing through my hair. My body felt dizzy with joy as the saucer sled began to spin like a carousel down the hill.
When you live in the moment and appreciate the beauty around you, time is irrelevant.
Dizzying joy shifted to quiet-minded presence as we watched the sunset. The signature of an Arctic sunset is a rich layer of purple slowly revealing itself like brushstrokes of a painting. I don’t know how long our group stood there, basking in the colors of the sunset’s canvas. It didn’t matter. When you live in the moment and appreciate the beauty around you, time is irrelevant.
I spent my evenings at my accommodation, Coldfoot Camp, returning to the questions of the self-awareness workbook I brought with me. “What are your values?” “What do you value in others?” “What are you unwilling to tolerate from others?” Once intimidated by these questions, answers suddenly began to flow into my journal.
By learning how to be in the moment and remove distractions during my trip, I was able to strip away my insecurities and be vulnerable enough to explore my feelings. I was able to take inventory of how I was feeling and determine why I was feeling that way.
I then drew clear boundaries for myself. I removed certain people from my life. I outlined what I was unwilling to tolerate from others, and even from myself. In the 12 months since the stillness of Arctic Alaska led me on a path of self-discovery, the results of not only setting, but also upholding my boundaries have become clear: They have filled me with a greater sense of self-respect, which in turn, has led to increased confidence. Most importantly, when I developed a strong relationship with myself and facilitated self-love, the positivity of my personal relationships, ambitions, and achievements only amplified, mirroring the love and respect I have for myself.
I made a sketch of a castle, moat, and drawbridge in my journal on that night in January 2022. I now see boundaries as if they’re a moat and a drawbridge around a castle. The castle represents confidence and self-love. The boundaries we set are the moat and drawbridge that protect the castle. Whom and what we allow to pass through the moat and drawbridge shape the state of our mental health, our relationships, and overall quality of life.
Now pinned to a bulletin board in my office, this sketch is not only a souvenir from my time in the Arctic Circle, but it also serves as a daily reminder that the most important relationship in my life is the one I have with myself.