Just say ‘yes’

Kirstin Pope is not in the business of saying “no” to the things that many others might use logic to talk themselves out of pursuing: Travel, creating, venturing into life’s more vulnerable crevices.

So when the 54-year-old Dubuquer and professional caregiver at an assisted living facility in Madison, Wis., decided last October to hop in her converted sprinter van and hit the road — cross country and for a month — nothing was going to stop her.

Not work.

Not finances.

Not other commitments.

Not naysayers.

Not her comfort zone.

“It was something I had wanted to do and thought about doing in the spring of 2020, but it just felt like that was the right time to go, so I was able to take the time off, and I went,” Pope said, before diving deeper. “I believe that whatever it is that lights you up and sets fire to your soul, the world needs more of that. Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Clearly, they’re words to live by for Pope. The same string of them greet visitors to her website, out-wandering.com, which she recently launched to capture her travels, the people and places she captures through her lens and the inspiring personalities that add to her story along the way.

She’s also the founder of Ripple Creative Photography & Designs (ripplecreativedesigns.com), a business nearly five years in the making that fuses her passion for photography with her love of travel, yoga and service to others.

Pope is far from all talk, as her pursuits demonstrate. Yet, five years ago, she found herself at a pivotal crossroads.

The journey

Having fallen in love with photography at age 13 when her father gave her her first camera, she strayed from it until 2010 before picking it back up, joining a photography club. She also volunteered to be the photographer for her son’s middle school year book.

Four years later, a life-changing moment would occur with a divorce. To help her work through it, Pope took part in an unorthodox activity: Writing her obituary.

“I wrote one for if I died that day and one for if I died when I was 80,” she said. “That’ll really give you an idea of everything you want to do that you’re not doing. They both looked very different, and I knew I needed to make a lot of changes if I wanted that other life. Life is too short. And the only way there was for me to have that other life was to just jump. So I jumped.”

Fueled, Pope decided to give yoga and meditation a try. Little did she know those first few moments on her mat would set the trajectory for everything that was to come.

“I fell in love with the practice, how it felt and how I felt,” Pope said.

Almost instantly eager to take it to the next level, Pope completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training certification. She also pursued the idea of composing photographs of fellow yogis amid various poses on their mats — thereby capturing yoga, in all its raw truth.

“I wanted to capture people just being in their favorite pose, but it also shows all of the different things that yoga can mean to different people,” Pope said. “The yoga world is boundless, and there is a practice for everybody. A yoga practice can be gentle or the most physical exercise you’ve ever had. It can incorporate a component of spirituality. It can bring relief to physical pain and manage chronic conditions. It can bring peace. No matter what is happening in life, I believe bringing yoga, mindfulness and meditation practices into our lives will continue to enrich and improve the quality of our lives well into old age.”

The shift also would ignite Pope’s inner travel bug. Taking another leap of faith, she got her passport and embarked upon her first air travel experience — first in the U.S., then abroad.

“Travel has many benefits to our health and well-being,” Pope said. “One of the most evident health benefits travel provides is stress-reduction because these adventures take us out of our daily routine and out into fresh new surroundings. Experiences we have while traveling can reset our mind and body, boosting happiness, and as we meet new people and are in new situations, create personal growth, which expands our consciousness.”

Pope soon discovered that her passions for photography, yoga and globetrotting had begun working in tandem.

“All of my loves began to intersect,” she said.

It further sparked Pope’s curiosity about the power of breaking away from the daily grind and instead embracing mindfulness, awareness and setting intentions.

Forging connections

It all led up to what Pope dubbed as her “Radical Sabbatical” across the country last fall, with the purpose of capturing photos, deepening her yoga and meditation practice, connecting with like-minded individuals and compiling the journey in her forthcoming book, “Yoga Warriors.”

Still immersed in creating it, Pope plans to release the book at the conclusion of 2020.

The compilation is a story about our connection to all things and all people, something Pope said she fiercely believes in and has experienced firsthand through her journey.

Looking to the new year, venturing off of the beaten path and out of one’s comfort zone also is something she highly recommends everyone do to find their greater purpose, lead their best and most authentic life and connect with the world and with others in a way they previously hadn’t.

“When we are outside of our comfort zones in a different place, we may need help from others, creating a sense of contentedness,” Pope said. “This feeling of connection strengthens each time we engage with the locals, other travelers, or maybe even those we are traveling with. Just imagine the relationship you will deepen on a two-week trip in an RV across the country with your kids. Traveling outside of our social comfort zones by visiting other cultures also enhances character, increases self-confidence and can reshape our values and beliefs.”

Ultimately, her goal is to create community and inspire others to follow their heart’s calling — something she has had opportunities to do not only through her pursuits in the world but in sharing them at events like the Midwest Yoga and Oneness Festival and the annual Inspiring People Series, both on her home turf in Dubuque.

“It’s a blessing,” Pope said. “My life has changed, and it’s a joy to be able to try and help others change theirs and find their way as well.”

Megan Gloss is the Features Editor of the Telegraph Herald.

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