Find Yourself: Into the Wilderness

By Jen Kiaba

"I've lost my Mother Tongue," I once told a friend.

I had left behind a religion, yes. But on so many levels I felt as though I had left behind an entire identity.

"It's not so much that I rejected my faith," I said. "I've rejected my entire language around how to see and value myself. It's as though I've lost my roots, my ethnicity – everything."

There was no pre-cult identity for me to return to, no former life to step back into. It was all wilderness.

For a long time I put my head down and began working off of the blueprint that I saw in this new world around me: I got a job, I got an apartment, I bought a car and put myself through college.

I got new jobs, new apartments and new cars. 

But I was afraid, and so inside I kept running and stayed hidden from myself and others.

Growing up, I had been taught that the world outside of our own was bleak and fraught with danger. 

On the “outside” you were open to attack and without defense. Out there physical and spiritual death awaited. Satan would surely attack and claim you if you left. Fear kept many of us in line when we were young.

But as an adult fear was still my master. It told me that if I didn't keep running then the emotional wilderness would consume me.

So one day I finally let it.

I tried stillness and sitting with my fear and with my loneliness. I observed them, acknowledged them and even began to respect them. 

Then we broke each other open and I cried.

There were months that I cried everyday. I would wake up crying, and cry myself to sleep. I mourned the loss of family, of identity, and of God.

It caused me to see myself, maybe for the first time. It wasn't love at first sight, but it was gradual, loving acceptance..

No matter our background, someday we may suddenly find ourselves faced with an emotional wilderness to traverse and a need to rebuild ourselves from our very foundation.

It can hurt like hell, but I've begun to see a beauty in that wilderness.

I met myself in that place, and while I am not one to encourage others into the bleakness before they are ready, I want you to know that you can survive.

This photograph, "Wayfaring," is part of my homage to that process of surviving and thriving, and of meeting oneself in the bleakest of places.

I took it on a cold winter's morning where the snow was so deep that the roof of my house looked like it was simply a part of the snowy landscape beyond. (Yes, I climbed out onto my snowy roof to shoot this!) For me that spoke to that idea of the emotional wilderness I felt that I had been exploring.

In this photograph I want to honor that strength within each of us that compels us beyond our borders and journey into the unknown. 

Who knows what we will find there. Certainly there will be trials, and there will be bleak days and dark nights.

But hopefully there will also be moments where we transcend out of that, and find ourselves face to face with a beautiful knowing and acceptance of ourselves.

So here's to wayfaring through our wilderness, and the beauty to be found therein.


About the Author:

Jen Kiaba is an international award-winning fine art and portrait photographer living in the Hudson Valley, NY. Through her work she seeks to initiate new conversations on the current cultural notions of beauty and femininity. She has been commissioned by New York Times Best Selling Authors, Luminary Thought Leaders, Genre-breaking Musicians and Soulful Entrepreneurs for portraits and her images have been used by the Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, and To see more of her work visit her website.


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