The path beyond fear leads home.

At the end of September, I traveled to Iceland for Style Lab, a dog photography workshop with Unleashed Education. This magical experience helped me find my way back to myself, and planted the seeds for new possibilities in my work.

The path beyond fear leads home.
One of our Style Lab models, Nessi, posed in front of Sólheimajökull glacier in Southern Iceland.

Sometimes life requires you to reach way outside of yourself in order to come back to the home within you. This is what happened for me during my recent trip to the land of fire and ice.

At the end of September, I traveled to Iceland for Style Lab, a dog photography workshop with Unleashed Education. I had heard rumors of the possibility of a workshop taking place in Iceland for months before the official announcement, but I honestly had no intention of applying.

For a very long time, I didn’t believe attending a dog photography workshop would benefit me. I didn’t feel I needed to learn more. I believed I had what I needed to learn on my own. And I didn’t understand how so many photographers could afford to spend the kind of money it takes to attend workshops all over the world.

All of this was fear.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of not fitting in. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of not knowing all the things. Fear of not having money that allows me the opportunity to do something I never thought I’d do.

Clearly, if my brain was going to this place of fear, I had so much more to learn. So I applied, and was accepted.

In the months leading up to the workshop, I cycled through a lot of anxieties. Most of them were about how I was going to show up - will I be awkward? will I totally suck at taking photos? will I make magic? will I make friends? will I cry a lot? The rest were about whether or not anyone was going to like me in whatever ways I ended up showing up. Yes, Marika. Yes to all of it.

When I left in late September, I set the intention that I was going to this workshop with an open heart and a beginner's mind. I let go of "knowing," so that I could truly embrace learning from every person, moment, and experience during the workshop. It wasn't easy because I like knowing things. I like having control over what I'm doing. I don't like looking like I know nothing.

But there is freedom in letting go of knowing, and allowing room to learn what your heart is calling for.

Despite setting this intention, I was nervous about the workshop. There’s an innate competitiveness in the photography world (clearly, not just in photography, but this is the part of the world I work in), and I’ve been trying to get away from it. I think there are good things and bad things that come with being competitive, but with the rise of social media, it seems the bad has greatly outweighed the good.

I wasn’t so much afraid of how other attendees would act - I was afraid that this part of myself would crawl out if given the permission to grow. The little troll that pushes for comparison and competitiveness. It wants to win. It wants to be the best. At any cost, but mostly the cost of my joy and freedom.

I arrived in Iceland a few days before the workshop in order to adjust to the time change (7 hours ahead of home), but looking back now, I think it was also to build up some resilience in case I needed to battle that dang troll later in the week.

Once we sat down for dinner on our first night of Style Lab, it didn’t take long to understand that my fears and anxieties about attending a dog photography workshop in a foreign land could be left behind. And that pesky troll too.

Every part of Style Lab speaks to the importance of creating work (and a life) that comes from your heart. From the ways the instructors shared their personal stories of finding their styles, to the sense of community fostered through meals shared around a table, to the opportunities to create together and then share what we’ve made in order to discover how each of us has our own piece of magic.

Every moment of this workshop called for us to show up in ways I think we were all surprised by. And that has helped us move forward with a new sense of possibility for the work and lives we want to create.

Takara, a shiba inu, posed like a pro for her very first modeling experience.

I learned so much from my time at Style Lab. From the incredible instructors (Charlotte, Craig, and Alicja), but also from my fellow attendees (who I now feel are more like family). Things I could not have learned had I remained stuck behind my fears.

Some of the most impactful things I learned through this adventure are the following:

  • Get up and go find whatever it is you’re wondering about. You might not get any solid answers, just more questions that lead you on more adventures.
  • Work with other artists. Get into the dirt together. Listen to what they’re dreaming of, and help them try out their ideas. Learn from the process. Then let them help you.
  • Share your heart through conversations with others who dream of similar things.
  • Embrace the probability that you’re not alone in your passions and ideas and longings.
  • Cry if that’s what your body is asking for.
  • Be open to the idea that there’s still so much more to learn about yourself, and that the people you’ve just met might be the ones to teach you.
  • Restrictions are just invitations for innovations.
  • The goal isn’t to make the best work of your life. It’s to make work that moves you, and is yours. That might include a lot of work that isn’t good, but eventually it gets you to something beautiful.

Style Lab validated what I had been feeling about my work in the weeks leading up to my trip to Iceland - that I was longing for something different. Something to bring me back to myself - the artist and creative wildling.

And that I wanted to focus on the work I loved creating most, and let go of the rest.

That’s what I’m doing here through SoulDog Wonder Journal - exploring new ways of telling stories of the things that inspire me - dogs, nature, and the journey of life.

And how all those things help us find our own sense of home.

Thanks for being here to wonder with me.

Our Style Lab group in all our wonder. Photo by Craig Turner-Bullock.

SoulDog Wonder Journal is a reader-supported space. Your paid subscription helps me make more art and tell more stories inspired by Soul Dogs and the places we love. If you'd like to become a paying subscriber, you can upgrade your membership here.

About the artist

Marika Moffitt is an artist and storyteller focused on expressing the spirit of dogs through photography. As the owner of SoulDog Creative in Washington state, Marika helps clients throughout the Pacific Northwest to honor their journeys with their Soul Dogs with one-of-a-kind artwork. Full of life and movement, Marika’s photographs touch deep within the heart of what it means to live the journey with the dogs we love.

Learn more

What's moving me this week:

  1. This essay about riding Icelandic Horses by Pam Houston made me bawl, and then I had to buy one of her books (affiliate link) because her writing speaks directly to my soul. I did not get to ride Icelandic horses during my trip, but I will when I return sometime soon.
  2. Everything Jónsi from Sigur Rós creates. Especially his recent exhibition, called FLÓÐ (Flood.) James and I visited the exhibit at the National Nordic Museum in Seattle over the summer. It's not there any longer, but you can hear Jónsi talk about it in this interview from KEXP.
  3. This episode about fear and wonder from David duChemin's A Beautiful Anarchy Podcast.

Wild Wonderings are opportunities to dig deeper into ideas presented in this post. You can choose to do the prompt on your own, or as a paying subscriber, you can share what comes up for you in the comments.

Before I applied for Style Lab, I was feeling extremely torn about what to do. My fears were burning through me, but I still felt like I needed to apply. The thing that helped me decide to go for it was journaling about the possibilities.

You can use the following prompts without anything other than something to write with and something to write on.

Here are the questions I invite you to wonder with:

Is there something you've been resistant to changing or exploring in your life? Write it down in detail. This could be in any area. In my experience, it's usually the first thing that pops into your head when asked that question. I encourage you to go with that thing.

What does that resistance feel like in your body? Let yourself feel this, and write in detail what's going on.

What fears are fueling your resistance? Name them.

What good things would happen if you stopped resisting the change, or embraced the new opportunity that is calling to you? Let your imagination guide you in wondering what is possible. Give yourself permission to explore every beautiful thing that can come from moving in this new direction.

What support do you need in moving through any changes you are ready for? Name the people, experiences, education, or any other things you feel would be helpful in your journey.

What can you do today to bring those support systems into your life? It all starts with us. Just one little step at a time leads us to where we want to go.