Posted by Lindsey Ward
For two months this past winter, I lived and studied in Reykjavik, Iceland. I hopped from hostel to hostel within the city, working on an independent study in creative writing, two in literature, and one in dance. My dance study involved classes at a local studio, but for the other three, I was entirely on my own. The first two or three weeks may have been the hardest of my life. I was in a foreign country with no friends, no program, and a six-hour time difference between me and everyone I knew. I experienced a deep loneliness, struggling each day to produce something.
With the prospect of many more lonely weeks ahead of me, I decided that the time had come to push myself out of my comfort zone. Typically reserved, I strove to meet and talk to people. Typically passive, I stepped up as a volunteer in my group tours when the situation presented itself. Even more importantly, I was faced with the task of having to look within myself for company—to learn how to be alone and how to thrive as an isolated individual.
I could not have asked for a more externally interesting environment in which to discover myself. Iceland is a small and breathtakingly beautiful island filled with quirky, peaceful people. The city is friendly, and the landscape is, at once, frozen and boiling, white with snow and black with lava rock. I hiked on a glacier that humbled me with its magnificence. I stepped on a frozen ocean and on to places that gave the impression of never having been stepped on before. I swam in a freezing lake, and I rolled through barely passable sections of icy lava caves.
An Icelandic friend told me of an annual event on the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) off the south coast. Each year during Puffin season, he told me, when the little Pufflings are learning how to fly, an Icelander of the Westman Islands can sit outside and listen to the “thump! thump!” of Pufflings falling from the sky. He explained that Puffins lose the ability to fly once they realize they can no longer see the ocean. And so in the small community, a pastime has developed of going around and collecting the fallen Pufflings to ferry them back to the coast. I was incredibly amused by the story, shocked at what I deemed the dullness of Puffins and delighted by the cooperation of the Icelanders.
On further reflection, I have come to realize that we, as people, do something similar. I traveled to Iceland and lost my footing when I discovered myself alone, surrounded by unfamiliarity. And just like the lost Pufflings, I found myself rescued by the friendly Icelanders and fellow travelers I met along the way. It was not until deep into my trip that I found the strength within myself to thrive on my own, to venture into the unknown, and to trust that I could keep on flying and still find water on the other side.
I have recently stumbled upon the word Víðsýni, an Icelandic word that means both panoramic view and open-mindedness. I am using this word as the title of the dance I am choreographing, and I am also convinced that it best embodies what my time in Iceland gave to me. I came back as a more complete person—a person more in touch with my inner potential. Víðsýni—my inner panoramic view.