YUKON – Joanne Young Evans took some of her own advice about building resiliency and headed to the Yukon for a few days.
The executive director of Compass Community Services usually heads south for vacations, so this was out of character for her. But this trip was more than just a holiday.
This was a ‘work-cation’ for starters, a personal mental health journey for Young Evans, and a pilgrimage, in a way, to celebrate her seventh year at the helm and the 35th anniversary of Compass.
And most of all, Young Evans was going to meet Gurdeep Pandher, the man who has become famous for spreading his message of joy and positivity by dancing the Bhangra – a traditional Punjabi folk dance.
If you are not one of the 50 million viewers of Pandher’s videos, you’ll want to visit his website, Gurdeep.ca.
Born in a farming community in Punjab, Pandher has travelled the world and eventually settled in Whitehorse, Yukon.
He is now a Canadian citizen, an author, public speaker and from his cabin in the woods, he videos himself doing the dance.
He also teaches the dance and there’s video of him dancing with police officers, military personnel, sports teams, classrooms, businesspeople – anyone who wants to find joy in their lives.
“Joy is more than having fun. Joy means your nerves are calm, your anxieties are elsewhere. Your heart (not just lips) is smiling; your breathing is soothing like a breeze; your world is perfect in the mess of imperfections around you,” he writes on his website.
“One thing more about joy; we need it, just like we need food to survive. Go find your joy! Start by searching within yourself or going out in nature.”
Young Evans said she needed some joy after being emotionally battered by the pandemic these past two years.
Her agency, which offers counselling and operates several distress lines, has been in high demand even before the pandemic, but especially since the lockdowns in March of 2020.
Compass was moving to the Shelldale Centre in Guelph that March and got in just days before the lockdown began.
“We got in just under the wire and then had to flip to virtual almost immediately,” she said. “I was here (in the office) 12 hours a
day for the first six months. I was there for everybody; I kept going; I was doing awesome.
“But by the fall of 2021, I was burnt out,” she continued. “My positivity had left and I was drained. I still came into work every day, but it was hard. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how much more I had in me.”
When she conceived of this trip, it was to meet Pandher and hopefully bring his message back to her staff.
But now that she’s back, she realizes she gained much more than that. And the trip does serve as a kind of road map to recovery from the pandemic for those ready for a mental health journey.
Young Evans left on May 3 and returned May 7, so it really was a whirlwind tour.
But she managed to squeeze in a visit with her sister, who she hasn’t seen in six years, and visited the Yukon Wildlife Preserve, which was amazing, she said.
Reconnecting with family and friends and spending time in natural settings are two things the experts suggest we do to help our mental health.
“These are two tools in the mental health toolbox, and it did help me to do that,” Young Evans said.
But meeting Pandher was the high point of the trip. He made two videos for Young Evans to bring back to Compass. They had tea and talked for two hours.
“He’s so down-to-earth and insightful. I was nervous meeting him, but he is so humble and authentic,” she said.
“Now that I’m back, I want to spread his message of resilience and mental health. We all experience grief, sorrow and trauma but we can come back from it.”
And then, of course, there was the dance. Young Evans said she practiced the Bhangra for months before her trip, but she suddenly had two left feet when she danced beside Pandher.
“You’d never know I’ve done musicals for seven years,” she said with a laugh. “But it doesn’t matter how good you are; you have fun doing it and that’s what matters.”
Young Evans made four short videos of her trip that will posted on the Compass website, including snippets of her and Pandher dancing the Bhangra.
“If I can be that bad and still eager to have people see it and laugh at me, it’s worth it,” she said.
Young Evans said she thinks it will take two or three years for people to recover from the mental health impacts of the pandemic. So she’s bracing herself for more busy days doing work that’s critically important to the community.
But she hopes the videos will remind people to find their own happy place and use their down time to recharge their energy and restore the soul.
“Do something that’s meaningful to you. Do something you enjoy. Do something that’s different.
“You build resiliency doing what makes you happy,” she said. “And it’s gratifying when you can also find joy.”
The videos will be posted at www.compasscs.org.