From Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – (Thank you forever Liz for your wisdom!)
“When I talk about creative living I am talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”
“Don’t be pushed around by the fears in your mind. Be led by the dreams in your heart. – R. T. Bennett”
Ever since I can remember I have been a fearful child and adult, my life has streaks of anxiety all throughout and phases of where I was so depressed about the world and myself that I found it hard to get out of bed in the mornings and hard to get to sleep at night. I have never really identified that properly. I guess I just learned pretty well to just get on with things and that is mostly what I always did.
In the last 10 years I have implemented a lot of coping mechanisms, routines, practices that help me to ride the waves of life with more ease and mostly I do well these days, with breathing techniques, yoga, journalling, my essential oils, homeopathy and managing and analysing my thoughts and mind.
I am just re-reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert in english. I read it many years ago in German. Yesterday I was reading through the chapters where she lives in the Ashram in India, which is all about learning to manage her thoughts, her anxiety, letting go of control etc etc.
I had phases in my life where I felt so alone and where I was wondering why I was so weird and didn’t fit in anywhere. Everytime I hear or read a record of someone else with a honest, authentic story I can relate to feel heard and seen, I don’t feel so alone and weird anymore and the older I get the more I realise we are all so weird and wonderful in our very own unique ways. It feels like Liz Gilbert is a good friend of mine.
I especially have trouble understanding why I have those ideas of brave things to do when I am so fearful and anxcious. I mean we were all cosy and cushy with our family in our little house in our little town in New Zealand really. Why uproot our whole life to live on a sailboat in Europe with kids and dog when i can’t even sail? Who would I do something like that wearing adult nappies all the way (imaginary ones…)??? Well, Its because of of this second person that is living inside me – now its out in the open finally ;-).
Last night I wrote a couple of rather bad poems in my journal after my meditation and one was about the yin and yang nature of life. It almost feels like I have 2 different people living inside me who are trying to do entirely different things. It feels like a battle or play with a yin and yang personality.
One is the control freak – lets call her Yin. Holding on really tight to all the ropes in life. Micromanaging every aspect of the household, business and in general, down to the toilet paper being hung in just the right way (with the end up rather than down – just in case you where wondering….). She is led by the mind, and fear and anxiety are her closest advisors (they pretty much run the show most of the time). This one is getting super anxious if anything happens differently from the planned outcome and she thrives on planning, organising and having everything in order – like clockwork german engineering.
The other one is the adventurer – lets call her Yang. Yang is led by the heart and curiosity and and a sense of adventure. She doesn’t live in our body permanently but when she comes you can’t hide or deny her presence. I think she might sit in deep meditation or contemplation most of the time accumulating a whole lot of wisdom that I don’t really understand to start with.
When she decides to make her presence known, all red lights go on for Yin. If she knocks on the door, asked to be let in, I usually tell her go away and find somewhere else to make herself comfortable. But she is usually persistent. She keeps knocking, scratching, calling, looking in at the window until I can’t stand it anymore and finally open the door and ask “What do you want?”. She usually announces that there is a better way to go about things and has some sort of crazy plan up her sleeve. For most of my childhood I was unaware she was even there. I was too busy wearing a white skirt and being a good girl. In my teenage years she made herself known, gently to start with, rebelling with Yin and that boring good girl stuff. She made us get drunk, she made us try cigarettes, dye our hair and got us really confused with boy friends that we couldn’t handle yet.
When I was 19 and I was still quite unaware why I was feeling so confused and dizzy by my different “personalities” she comes busting in out of the blue and announces. Hi Yin, I am Yang and I live here too and pleased to finally really meet you. “How about we move out of this little boring village, where unemployment is high and no inspiration and newness is around. Everyone is relatively depressed. Lets move to Berlin next week with our stereo and a few clothes to a 1 bedroom flat that is in the 4th story in the back house in Kreuzberg with no shower, mold on the ceilings, rats in the window sill and a coal oven. We could just afford it with our unemployment money and we will find a good job soon.” And after the first shock, completely perplexed where all that just came from I say “Why – yes, lets go”. Naive as I was with 19 and after the first excitement settled about a week later I realised what we had just done and there was no going back, because you know I might be fearful but I have some pride too and I know I am strong and can do things. Its almost like she hypnotises all my worry and fear and anxiety out of me for a short little moment to say yes and she is off for another few years leaving me to deal with the mess she just created.
But I am capable at rebuilding and creating it turns out. I built my little cushy nest in Berlin, had a ball for a few years until it started not being so much fun anymore and so 9 years later, there she is again. This time she stands at the door for over a year. I know she is up to no good, but in the end I am too weak to persist, I let her in again and ask “Right what this time?”
She announces we are going to quit our job, our flat, pack everything into boxes, store them at my parents and we are going to buy a nice backpack and go travelling through Asia and then learn some proper english in New Zealand for a year.
I say “What? You are completely mad – go away!” She sais “I have already resigned us at our job and your landlords and bought us a ticket to Thailand, just to make things a little easier for you.”
So off we go again, with a big pack of imaginary adult nappies, night sweats for months accompanied by nightmares of all sorts. Lying in my hammock by the beach in Thailand I wonder once more what the heck I have just done and what the heck I am going to do with myself for 6 months all alone with no job and household to look after, no money to go on extravagant shopping trips to soothe my soul! What a mess… She comes by now and then looks at me and shakes her head. She doesn’t say much usually, she knows I will cope somehow. She also senses that I don’t like her and don’t want her around and I am still angry that she brought me into that position in the first place. I can’t control her and that’s scary.
I am slightly pissed off about the fact that she seems to be more clever than me when it comes to our life planning. But hey, we seem to be a team somehow since we live in the same body, she seems to be on my side, she seems to mean well and most of all she is way braver than me.
Slowly but surely after a bit more sweating and regular (imaginary!) nappy changes I manage to travel through a large part of Asia – Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, India, Nepal and Tibet and finally make my way to New Zealand after 6 months. And you know what – I actually really enjoyed it in the end and even if it sounds very cliche I felt more myself than ever before. Yang looked in every now and then to check on me with that cheeky, knowing smile on her face and a sparkle in her. Me looking back tired, nerveous and wary.
I got a little taste of freedom, I learnt to let go of control and that life still goes on and that I am not going to die the moment I let all the ropes go all at once and let life guide me. It seemed like the less I had and the less I tried to control every aspect of the my life the happier I managed to be. Weird… that is a new concept to me.
It turns out it was a great idea to send us to New Zealand, because we met our husband there. She found him somehow and kept shoving and pushing me in the right direction, because I am so blimmin slow in the uptake and still too confused to see clearly myself. Lucky she is so stubborn, skilled, energetic and knows exactly what she is doing. We bought a house and made the 2 best kids in the world (Tim and me that is). I used all my perfect skills to re-establish some control, even though to start with, that felt slightly strange after living in freedom for nearly 1.5 years. But old habits are not that easy to loose. I did what I knew best. I built my cushy, comfy, predictable nest, controlling every micro-aspect of my life that I could get my hands on. And I didn’t see Yang for a while. I actually thought she was gone for good thankfully – I finally had peace and quiet. I had a family now, I am a grown up, there is no space and time for extravagant excursions anymore and really what would I need her for now I told myself (although secretly sometimes I was thinking of her – perhaps even missing her cheeky smile and sparkle in the eye).
Until she turned up again. Once the kids where out of toddler hood I saw her walk past the house a few times tentatively and then one day she was knocking again. As usually with caution and resentment I opened my door and asked what a glorious idea she had brought this time and I told her I wasn’t up for anything big anymore. I had settled down after all.
Well Yang sensed she had to be gentle there, so this time she only suggested that I find a more fulfilling professional carreer, because she noticed that the little spirit I had was fainting away. She left me even with options this time. She gave me permission to either study homeopathy or become a yoga teacher.
After laying out the concept to my husband and being more open minded in general to Yang’s ideas, because the last few times they didn’t turn out all that bad after all, I agreed to try. So I choose the easier option first – Homeopathy. I could hide behind my computer without seeing a single person, studying stuff from online lectures. Suited me perfectly fine as the introvert, who feels safest in her own company. But it didn’t do all that much for my spirit, other than thinking every remedy I studied was just the one I needed, which was really confusing after a while. There might be more than 2 personalities hiding in me after all…
So this time I actually went to find Yang and ask her for advise. She reckoned I should drop Homeopathy and go and study Yoga. She said she knew from the beginning that was it anyway, but wanted to give me a chance to find out myself. Growing braver with the years I went for it and after receiving my certification Yang so to speak pushed me along into my own yoga studio to get going, so I didn’t even get a chance to hide away again.
Phew that went quite well. There were adult nappies involved again, but not as many as usual and I must admid I was getting quite fond of Yang. She seemed to have good ideas. With me being a bit friendlier when she came visiting she popped in more regularly for coffees or smoothies or we both sat in meditation together or practiced yoga together. We kind of became good friends. We would now have good conversations about our different natures and figure out how we both can live in harmony.
But Yang has a restless nature and she has more insight I feel when I ever will. She leaves more and more nudges that she is discontent with how things are going. She thinks that while everything is going pretty well, we could do even better than that. She recons along the way we had abandoned too many important values, and we have become too busy doing and there was no time for being anymore. She recons that all the doing makes your mind fuzzy and confused. She recons I should learn to “BE” better. I get the concept, but still haven’t figured out to do that entirely in among our high speed lifes.
I started retreating. Maybe it was not so good to be such close friends with her after all. She always caused trouble. I told her I needed a break, but she wasn’t having any of that. She started knocking on the door again, looking in at the window, disturbing my dreams, leaving me signs everywhere. There was no escaping, so I decided to open the door and asked “Right whats the plan Stan?”
What came out of her mouth this time was more outrageous than anything she had ever suggested before. “Right we are going to sell the house & the businesses. Then we are going to buy a sailboat in Greece. Tim is a sailor after all – we will learn quick. We will have time with the kids, time to do yoga & meditation, time to draw and write and have coffees and tea and just live and BE for a little while. We have just been headless chickens for the last couple of years – we need a break. This will be good for all of us and I have an inkling that the timing will be perfect. And best of all I have already talked to Tim and he’s in”
I am speechless – I just look at her think “right she has gone completely nuts now”. And Tim is in – what the heck is going here? They have made a plan already without consulting me – Yin, Fear and Control and Mind. That plan doesn’t suit me at all. You would have to trust. I don’t like trust. I tell her “I am different than you – I like control, I like my cushy, predictable nest. I like to know what happens the next day and the next and know that I am safe. I have children now that I need to protect and take care of…” As usually she has a clever answer. She sais ” You are dreaming Yin, there is no control – its an illusion, there is no being safe – its an illusion – there is no knowing what is tomorrow or the day after. You need to learn to trust. You can still have a cushy comfy nest with this journey, just trust me and Tim. It will be the best for all of us and whats more if you don’t like it you can always come back to this. So how about we all just try to trust and flow as a family all together.”
I look at her and know she is right. I sit with it and know she is right. I have learned by now to tune into her, into my heart and I know she is totally right. But my mind is resisting with every fiber. We are having huge arguments over the next few months over this whole new idea. I feel sick, nauseous, scared like never before, I have sleepless nights again and nightmares, but I also feel a spark, hope, possibility and I remember the freedom from years back when she suggested we travel through Asia. And I remember how all her ideas have turned out to be the best things ever.
So I decide to go and see Yang I give her a big hug and tell her I am in too. I tell her that I appreciate her input and bravery and that I am sorry that I am always so difficult and scared. She hugs me back and gives me a big kiss and sais “We will be fine Yin, whatever way things will go, I just know we will be fine. And I will be with you all the way and hold your hand. I will be your strong back and you will be the soft front (she got that from Brene Browns book – I know things too!)”.
So I do what I know best and get on with things, organising to undo my cushy, safe nest that I spend so long building. Its hurts, it hurts so much to unpick that Nest, but I know its right all along even if logic can’t touch it. I feel numb, like a stone, like puppet that does what needs to be done. I have to shut off after a while emotionally. I just can’t take it. But I know I will have time to process things later, there is always time and time heals.
I bought myself a huge pack of adult nappies (imaginary still – although one day soon I might need real ones….) and there we are on a boat in Athens in Greece. Trusting and holding hands. And it turns out Yang had even organised a little forced retreat, so that I would have enough time to process things. How does she know these things?
I sit here in lock down in among a world that has turned upside down with a Pandemic and lock downs worldwide. And while I am still a little numb and stony, I am so grateful that we don’t have a mortgage to worry about, or a lease to pay or businesses that could potentially go down the toilet or jobs to loose. I sit here feeling for our friends and people we know and the many businesses and family that are effected by this craziness. My heart goes out to them. We sit here in our cushy, floating nest, rocking side to side in the wind and I am grateful to have invited Yang in more fully. I am grateful that we have come to a stage where we can live in harmony. We are finally good friends – strong back & soft front. We have a little dance most of the time, but me the Yin is not as dominant anymore. Sometimes we still argue, but most of the time we can joke or laugh about it later.
As Yang promised we are sitting here together, she is holding my hand and says: “See, I told you control is an illusion, safety is an illusion. Look at the world now… We might as well follow our heart and live a curious and courageous life. Nobody, not even I, knows what happens tomorrow, but sometimes I have a good sense when it’s time to move on”.
We sipped some herbal tea, holding hands, smiling at each other and lived happily ever after.
-a little artwork I created last week-