If I can fit the pieces of this self together at all, I don’t want them to be the way they were. Not because I thought I could be better defended either: what I wanted was to be realer. – Eve Sedgwick, ‘A dialogue on love.’
I’ve found it hard to get outside the door recently.
So I’ve been spending days in bed, morning practice, then reading – intermittent – staring at the clouds, idea-having. My supervisor tells me: ‘Because what you are going to do is make a significant contribution to theory’. Curled in sheets scattered in croissant crumbs it feels unlikely. Is this how all masterpieces were born? In solitude – emotional insulation – slacking off the formal university occasions. Am I a philosopher now? Wow, thanks. Surely I wasn’t trying.
But I have been watching lots of programmes about hoarders. Now hoarders understand, that need to hide oneself away, literally with objects, a house so full there is no space to move, to breathe. Its almost a regression back to the womb, a safe place, a clear barrier between the self and the troubling world out there. What is interesting is how loss lies at the centre of many hoarding stories. ‘Well it started just after he died…’ When we lose space opens up. And what do we fill it with? The habit is chosen seemingly arbitrarily, by circumstance or chance. To hoard is perhaps the act of filling space at its most literal expression; and yet the aim is the same; to bury oneself alive, to no longer be. The over-eater, the bulimic, the addict, the alcoholic, often seen as the ailments of the greedy, but is it not rather a matter of feeling unbearably empty. It’s not greed when you never manage to fill that space.
“I was looking for something to fill that void inside”, sometimes this statement is said in regards to a yoga practice. Nothing else worked, so says Russell Brand. Oh and he tried. And don’t we all want to return to the womb, to reach that point of non-existence, to momentarily shed the tiring fact of being. This is not to ‘be in the moment’ as the adopted mantra goes. It is more an awareness without thought. After all it’s not a coincidence that it is only in the yoga practice room where I don’t feel the anxiety.
But it’s hard, hard to remember that some people don’t have death as the centre of the way they live – but nor do they have life – they just have fear of both. Fear is it own fortress. And yeah yoga helps. But you won’t find any anecdotes here. Though here’s a funny story. I represent a pretty successful recovery story. Parents dead by age 15 and an eating disorder for a good 7-8 years or so. Ask me how I recovered, and I have no idea.
Thinking in spaces makes more sense. Both in the way spaces close up and empty out depending on the people we have in our life and who we lose. When the space gets too large, feels irreplaceable, we might take up strategies to fill up that space, and those strategies might create their own problems, like burying ourselves alive, or destroying our insides. But sometimes that same space is comforting, its a cushioning, we can reclaim it as our own. And then there’s the people we allow into our spaces. I recall the comment of a customer I once served, “You become like the five people you spend the most time with”. I spent many years of my life closing off my spaces. And the people that occupied my space were critical and negative, “You need to open up more”, “Why are you wasting time going to India”. This helps no one. If I was to attempt any form of recovery story it is this; move out of the spaces that don’t serve you. This happens both through simply picking up and leaving, as well as opening up the spaces for newness to enter in. For me this resulted in meeting people who supported me for who I was. And yeah yoga, that stuff helps. Especially with opening the heart chakra.
I have a wise friend (he is younger than me but ah well) who used to tell me I hadn’t yet come to the realisation of being the odd one out. “Only then will you be free” he advised. But I have! I am free! I would cry. But I still spent so much time being disappointed, carrying expectations of the world, of people. I thought the only way out was to somehow transform, to let go of everything; and then there was the pressure to figure it out, and quick. But somewhere along the line, say a couple months into my stay in India, I started to lose my fear. It coincided no doubt with the time I fell ill. And no this sure as hell wasn’t any spiritual awakening. It was more a moment where I stared at the ceiling and the fan spinning above my head and thought “I feel like I’m going to die. No-one is coming to save me. And I don’t care”.
Sometimes the boundaries of the self, life and death blur so much you get a sense that living as the odd one out is really not a big deal because, and this is my deep realisation, we are all human and we all die, and who cares about the rest of the stuff, like the chase to ‘be’ someone, or going up the career ladder, or getting a mortgage. Running away is not running away, it’s the search for better ways to live. It’s creating a life for yourself where you can experience all you want to experience. It might mean being a little crazy. And as for the things that do matter, well they lie in the moments you encounter along the way, they are the people you love, and they are all the things I wish I could say.
sort of inspired by Rashmi Munkempanna’s work: What I Wish I could Say. And she is based in Mysore.