‘Drag your thoughts away from your troubles… by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.’
I tend to worry. I worry. Actually, I worry a lot. I have been worrying ever since I can remember – about family, friends, strangers, exams, job, the universe. Or about insignificant matters. The latter accompany me most of the time:
All of these worries are pointless, I know. But the more I tell myself not to pay attention to them, the more I do. Fortunately there is so much more out there beyond “Don’t worry!” to ‘drag my thoughts away from my worries’. Conversations, reading, writing, dreaming, courage, human connections, art, dance, self-awareness… What are your ways to go about useless concerns?
‘See you soon!’ is probably the most hopeful and cordial way to say good-bye. It can please us implying that we would meet that person again. It can make us sad if we know it is unlikely that our paths cross another time. It can leave us indifferent as a simple expression of courtesy. Or it can be anything in-between.
Good-bye words might or might not matter, but farewells definitely do. Finding out if and how to deal with them beyond a mere ‘see you soon!’ statement is a true journey of discovery. Not easy, but necessary.
I learned a lot about writing when I was a teenager. Admittedly, not because I considered it a dream occupation, but rather as a fascinating medium of expression and creation. I enjoyed spending time with words and creating my own text constellations. I didn’t dare to share my writing with anyone (after all, it was simply an attempt to express my emotions through letters). But one day I read about a writing contest for young people which awakened my wish to share and interact with other writing enthusiasts. A few days of doubt and fear followed. Finally, my curiosity and courage prevailed – I wrote two of my poems on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope and sent it out. Then I suddenly felt so scared that I hoped for a moment the envelope wouldn’t arrive and forgot about it.
To my surprise, a few weeks later a lady from the contest committee called and invited me to participate in a public reading together with some of the other contestants. I was petrified, but again, for a second time, I plucked up my courage and went. So I found myself sitting in the last row of a small room picturing how I would be asked to share my poems with the audience. When the moderator said my name and asked me to read out some of my poems, I was so terrified that I couldn’t react. Since no one there knew me in person, after a few minutes of no response they just thought that I hadn’t shown up. They called out the name of the next contestant who was courageous enough to share his writing…
It was a sad day for my courage and for myself, but it helped me realize how intense and even overpowering the relation of fear and courage can be. Fear has remained a loyal companion in my endeavors since then. But I chose to support courage and I am not willing to let it go.
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers and cities; but to know someone who thinks and feels with us, and who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.”
It’s a mystery how human connections begin and how they make us feel as they develop. Sometimes it’s a glance that sparks a conversation or a gesture followed by an exchange of cautious statements. Then suddenly or expectedly a human connection is established. It’s possible that an unfavorable first impression can get in the way and suppress its development. It can also happen that what seemed a meaningful human connection turns out to be a fraud. A fraud of emotion, belief, trust.
Engaging with some people creates in us the need to explore, dream, create, be better. We feel that our true, even better self comes out as a result. Connecting with other people, in contrast, makes our gloomy side manifest itself (On a side note, these same individuals perhaps connect in a positive way with other people).
Have you ever asked yourself why and how exactly this happens? I have been pondering on this question for many years. I don’t have an answer yet and probably I will never have one. But along the way of questioning, I realized that connections are by far the most beautiful gift we, humans, are endued with. I also discovered that restricting or strictly categorizing human connections is an incredibly limiting (even foolish) thing to do. They happen beyond age, countries, gender, cultures, occupations and can go a long way. If we are willing to embrace them, some of them can make our small world a beautiful “inhabited garden”.
For a big part of my life I was trying to categorize myself and put together a consistent picture of myself. It was a struggle – admittedly never a successful one. I thought, however, that this simplification would help me overcome more of my imperfections. Therefore I persisted.
Being an introvert, public speaking had always been a challenge for me (to say the least). As a challenge, it was one of the rather clear items in my ‘self-categorization’ project. But about a year ago something interesting happened. I had the opportunity to speak at a work-related conference. An opportunity that I grabbed with both hands, fully ignoring my inner resistance. To my surprise and despite all the nervousness, I truly enjoyed the experience and discovered a new passion of mine – public speaking!
My public speaking discovery marked the final end of my self-categorization efforts. It also made me delve into my own contradictions more intensely. And here is part of what I found out: I am an introvert who likes being with people and enjoys public speaking; I am vulnerable and assertive at the same time; I am impatient, but also very persistent. And there is still a lot more to discover.
Exploring and embracing my own contradictions has been one of my most fascinating and rewarding discoveries. Give it a try if you still haven’t dealt with it too much. You will be amazed.
“Intrusive, thoughtless people!” said K. as he turned back into the room. The supervisor may have agreed with him, at least K. thought that was what he saw from the corner of his eye. But it was just as possible that he had not even been listening as he had his hand pressed firmly down on the table and seemed to be comparing the length of his fingers.”
Franz Kafka, “The Trial”
To listen is to hear something with thoughtful attention. This is exactly what I had been loving to do for many years. “Thoughtless people!” I exclaimed like K. from ‘The Trial’ in many occasions, amazed by the blatant lack of listening I stumbled upon.
But then, my small universe gradually became noisier with more people, stories, interruptions getting in and a growing number of roles to play. Listening, once natural and fundamental, became challenging. It was overshadowed by a cacophony of noises and options. The option to multitask while hearing someone/something, to let my thoughts take me somewhere else in a conversation, to value my busyness more than the chance to discuss and reflect on what I heard.
Amid all these options, when to opt for listening and how to dedicate my full attention to what is being said? A tough question in a noisy and fast-paced world. One that requires an ongoing reflection on what matters and a pinch of discipline… with no guarantee for success. What is certain for me, though, is my rediscovery of listening in all its aspects as a means of connecting, appreciating, learning, reflecting, developing, and much more.
When was the last time you listened carefully?
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ve often looked for ways to deal with (un)necessary, perplexing, presumptuous questions light-heartedly. I failed miserably at that. But in the course of time and actually thanks to perplexing questions, I slowly started to see the act of asking differently. I realized that the purpose of some questions is to just give room for thought. By doing so they challenge our perceptions and invite us to generate and explore ideas that we often didn’t anticipate. These are the questions I like most.
It took me longer to learn to like questions expressing doubt or uncertainty. Once solely a cause of worry and anxiety, now I try to see them as a fair and diligent companion. After all, they often help us navigate, especially through intricate situations.
Similarly helpful turn out to be questions confronting preconceived notions. They might be inconvenient, but compensate for that by offering a different perspective and a chance to look into areas defined and maybe even forgotten long ago.
What better way to re-think and re-discover ourselves and the world around us than asking?
“Where does the rainbow end,
in your soul or on the horizon?
Is it true our desires
must be watered with dew?”
Pablo Neruda‘s poems in ‘The Book of Questions’ strike a chord with me. Unanswerable in nature, they direct our attention to the act of asking and remind us that there are questions which are not necessarily meant to be answered. It’s asking that counts more at times.
“Nothing is mysterious, no human relation. Except love.”
I admit. This is a fake discovery post. It’s about something that is still a mystery to me (and to all of us?) despite the efforts put occasionally in discovering it. It’s something enchanting, elusive, and breathtaking at the same time. Sometimes it’s more than you can take or less than you wish for. The only mysterious human relation as Susan Sontag beautifully put it (Susan Sontag on Love). LOVE.
An older couple caught my attention while we were sharing a doctor’s waiting room recently. They must have been in their eighties. Physically fragile, but vigorous in their laughter and tone of voice, they seemed happy. The genuine affection and tenderness they had for each other was captivating. I simply couldn’t help staring at them. Right before they left, the woman touched her husband’s hand gently and said: ‘I am hungry, let’s go and have some breakfast.’ A trivial sentence and gesture, but so full of intimacy and trust that for a second nothing else seemed worth discovering. Is this love? I don’t know. Perhaps a tiny, but significant expression of it…, of a mystery.
“And now let us welcome the new year, full of things that never were.”
Rainer Maria Rilke
Something ‘old’ is usually something that is part of our past. We typically consider it familiar, (un)comfortable, dull, lovely. It might seem to us better or worse than the present. It can be something we hold on to or want to get rid of at any cost. But the well-known ‘old’ actually started out as something ‘new’. Something exciting, perhaps even a little scary and confusing. Something we gave ourselves a chance to get to know.
When I face something new, I often recall a conversation I had with a flatmate from my student years. Enthusiastic as I am, I was telling him agitatedly about a new extracurricular activity I had just started and the brilliant people I had recently met. To my surprise, he responded simply by letting me know that he had already found everything that could possibly interest him in life. Thus, he didn’t need to consider or look for anything new anymore. What seemed a relief to him, was distrubing to me.
Isn’t discovering and immersing into something new what makes us dream, develop, re-invent (ourselves)? Will it ever be possible to have discovered everything worth exploring? I hope not! After all, the ‘new’ has the potential to become the greatest and most fulfilling experience we ever had.
” – Do you like to dance?
” – I like to see dance. Would like to do it as well, but never really got into it… I do a lot of steps in my mind…, but my body has never ventured into it.”
These lines were part of an insightful conversation I had recently. Two aspects struck me as extraordinary in the response – the openness towards dance, and the link between dance and thought. “Oh, how wonderful! How like the mind it is!” – this is what Helen Keller exclaimed when she experienced dance for the first time (see Dance Is Like Thought: Helen Keller Visits Martha Graham’s Studio). Her statement made me think about the role of dance in our lives. Dance not only as a simple movement of the body to music, but as an expression of emotions, stories, social interactions.
I was very shy as a child. Any type of appearance in the spotlight was a tremendous challenge for me. And so were the dance classes I took for a while. Even though I enjoyed dancing, the discomfort and embarrassment prevailed and I decided to give it up. Dancing was an infrequent companion after that, mostly when I was alone or ‘performed’ in my thoughts.
My personal rediscovery of dance came many years later when I was fascinated by dance fitness classes. It’s this fascination that let me find my way back to dancing and made me even go one step further. Now I am a dance fitness instructor and I feel very fortunate to be able to help people discover the beauty of dance as a form of exercise and expression. It’s truly enchanting to accompany this process. The uncertainty and discomfort at the beginning, followed by curiosity, astonishment, pure joy in the freedom of dancing… and thought.
If you haven’t ventured into dance yet, dare to do that. If not with your body, then in your mind. You might be able to discover much more about yourself and the world around you.
“While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. That is why I dance”
Hans Bos, Contemporary admirer of dance with no formal training from Terre Haute, Indiana