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In the Shadow of Northern Lights


When I was 16, I had so many questions for life. I thought when I reached 18, I would be a grown-up, and have all the solutions to life’s problems, but I didn’t. Then I thought 23 would be it as that was my mother’s age when she had me. Now I’m 23, graduated from college with dual degree, but I still don’t feel like an adult. The truth of life, on the contrary, seems to bury itself deeper than ever.

Tired of looking for jobs that either not exciting or I was not qualified of, I decided to take some time off. I traveled to Iceland by myself, hoping to find the voice inside me. I had been disconnected from it for so long that I needed to make an effort to find it again. I didn’t plan the trip. After being declined by all the hosts I sent requests to on Couchsurfing, I booked a hostel for two nights the same morning I flew to Reykjavík.

From the outset, Iceland’s fresh air and cute little houses filled my heart with joy, which I hadn’t experienced for months. Downtown Reykjavík is so small that my curiosity quickly faded away, leaving me with anxiety and frustration of what to do next. I signed up for a northern lights trip that night. A boat took us into the infinite darkness on the ocean. And not even the hot chocolate with rum could keep me warm in the Icelandic September night. And then suddenly, the time was up. We weren’t even able to see the aurora because of the heavy clouds.

I got lost on my way back to the hostel. There were not many people on the street at midnight. An hour had passed; all the emotions inside me erupted. I blamed myself for being stupid as I walked the route twice during the day. I scolded myself for not planning. I complained about making the northern lights trip only to bear the unpleasant darkness and cold without getting a chance to engage with the whole point of the trip. I questioned myself for making this stupid trip to Iceland in the first place.

I was split into two halves. Half of me sent the other half to trial, and interrogated it harshly. Before announcing its death sentence, a flashlight came across this stream of unconsciousness. I thought of the reason I came. It was to reconnect with myself and find that voice. After more than two hours of struggle, I finally made my way back to the hostel.  

I suddenly woke up in the middle of the night, and this voice arose from deep inside, whispering:

“I want to get out of this body.”

It was in that moment I realized how much I had disliked myself. The next day, I decided to simply observe my feelings and judgments toward myself. Watch, acknowledge, and let go.

I went to a dance and meditation workshop, which I had accidentally come across earlier that night. Dancing helped me embrace my body. The voice of the other night seemed to be gone once I acknowledged its presence and danced with it. I introduced myself and shared what I had been feeling with the group. They hugged and encouraged me after the workshop. A man approached me. His name was Ola. He asked me if I’d like to go for a walk with him along the harbor. He also asked me if I had a place to stay. The truth was that the hostel I stayed in was all booked up from the next day. Ola offered to host me. He gave me good vibes, so I accepted the offer with genuine appreciation. We took a walk along the harbor. He told me that what I said in the workshop resonated with him. He then shared with me his journey to Thailand after a heartbroken split with his wife, along with his soul’s awakening. I listened deeply.

Ola picked me up the next evening from downtown Reykjavík. We were chatting when he was driving. Suddenly, he pointed at the left side of the window. It was the northern light! He parked the car aside the ocean. I jumped off, and was absolutely blown away by the beauty in the sky. The northern lights, the aurora, the fairy in the sky was alive! It was not just a beam of light. It was a sky full of angels moving, jumping and dancing. It made me want to cry. The spirits were calling. I had never felt as connected and grounded.

After that the trip just seemed to unfold for me. I stayed with Ola for two nights. He treated me as a family member, showed me around the city, and told me stories of his life as a fisherman and a carpenter. I went on a road trip with some friends I met on a couchsurfing meetup. Iceland’s stunning nature cracked my heart open and awakened my soul. It gently whispered the truth to me:

“Live the questions. Explore the uncertainties. Be with this body.”

I’m 23 and confused, but I’m not afraid of not-knowing anymore. Exploring often looks like failing, but it’s not. It’s like sailing on the ocean. You never know how far you’ve gone if all you’re doing is looking out to the horizon without moving. Life is indeed a journey. So enjoy the trip!

About the Author: Chenxi Ouyang

Chenxi graduated from Boston University with dual degree at psychology and film. She co-founded the Bright & Beautiful Girls Project in 2013 to help girls in rural China build self-esteem and unlock potential through arts. She has travelled to 21 countries, and is currently working as a freelance videographer, editor and writer while she continues to develop Bright & Beautiful with her team.


  1. Hi Chenxi,

    It is Ramon from Surfing the Creative this summer. it is good to hear from you and read your words about your lonely and soulful journey to Iceland. As you speak of your search and developing a deeper relationship with your body I am curious if your experience at STC this summer impacted your relationship to your body, movement and soul inquiry?

    Best wishes and all power to you in your work with girls and young women.


    • Hi Ramon,

      So good to hear from you! STC definitely helps. It was the turning point. I would not have experienced so deeply without STC. It was where everything began.

      Sending you and STC family love and peace.


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