5 Lessons 2020 Taught Me
Each of us is a forest. A life of one person is never solely their own. A person’s life is indeed shaped by their perceptions but also by the winds and rain that blow wet on their path, the mirrors shown them by various intersections of events and the (welcome or unwelcome) people that inhabit a space in their story. Never before has my life been a shared space as it was in 2020.
In this poetic exercise that started three years ago to prune out of the lushness of one year the lessons that filled my basket with the juiciest fruits, I hoped to expand on this sacred art of sharing. Because what can be a simple life lived by one can become a balm, a succour, an emissary for another in the act of sharing. As the great artist Giacometti once said about his art, “All the critics spoke about the metaphysical content or the poetic message of my work. But for me it is nothing of the sort. It is a purely optical exercise.”
Some will say 2020 was a nightmare, others say it’s been the best year of their life. For me it was a landscape that had deserts and valleys adorned with flowers, emerald green rivers and swamps, some deep scary gorges under the firmament of sun and stars.
My prayer is that we remember that a landscape has everything in it and when we travel together our different perspectives enrich what we call truth and what we understand as love. Following are the 5 lessons that 2020 sought to teach me.
Dare to be too much
After a process of sifting through words and their energies, diving into the well of my inner cosmos and drawing out the one that was handed back to me by my inner goddess, ‘dare’ was the one word I chose to be my guide in 2020. Here’s what I wrote in January:
DARE TO BE TOO MUCH
Dare to ask for what you need, dare to be needy, dare to want more, dare to want what you want.
Dare to try, dare to fail, dare to be in doubt, dare to despair.
Dare to make mistakes, dare to be the fool, dare to risk it all.
DARE TO CARE
Dare to not know, dare to ask for help, dare to be empty, dare to be confused, dare to be guided, dare to surrender to what you don’t know and don’t accept.
Dare to give up, dare to let it go, dare to come out of commitments that are not aligned with you anymore.
DARE TO LOVE
Dare to be loved, dare to be appreciated, dare to be at awe, dare to take your time, dare to celebrate who you are.
DARE TO BE AWARE
Daring has become, rather than a heroic act of conquering fears and doing the extraordinary, a quiet way of placing one foot in front of the other as I traversed the labyrinth of 2020.
These words fell onto my heart like little round dew drops praying for the earth to take them whole. Each one of these invitations to dare was shaped by a year that called all of us to care more than we’ve been accustomed to, perhaps more than we thought we’re capable of.
I’ve never taken any interest in reading the newspaper or listening to the news, learning about the world’s calamities from my surroundings. At the outbreak of Covid-19 the scientific side of my brain launched into reading articles and listening to reports that covered anything around the history of pandemics, immunology and virology, politics and trends in evolution. I found that the most painful daring of them all was the one that calls us to be aware.
Accumulating knowledge is not awareness. You can be proudly informed of all the negotiation steps of Brexit yet still ignorant to the hard questions you’re not willing to ask, ignorant to the generosity you’re not ready to extend, blind to the ways you’re swept away by herd behaviour.
Daring to be aware of how life changes is to be deeply informed by what we truly need to know. To our old self it’s a way of daring to be too much. To our new self it’s a nourishment and a bridge built to the self the world needs us to give.
Building a temple from your ruins
For me 2020 was a beautiful year. This is not to say I didn’t feel deep sadness over the failure of our institutions or the rise of poverty; the grief over losing close physical contact with people, the loss of people’s livelihoods, the loss of people’s lives, the loss of confidence to look each other in the eye; the confusion over the next step, the right way to take this all in, the future of our humanity. It has all been excruciatingly painful!
Over the past ten years I’ve been helping women around the world in building a temple from their ruins—visiting the sites of past endeavour to collect the potsherds of dreams, the wreckage of an abandoned soul, to forge a creation of wholeness, diving into the pool of pain to rescue round pebbles of wisdom, learning to stand at the centre of the chaos like a bird that discovers her powers when she lets the wind flow under her wings. The cauldron of those experiences coupled with two decades of practicing the way of the Dharma showed me once again that even in the midst of devastation there is joy to be found. Or as the poet Jane Hirshfield puts it in her poem The Weighing:
“So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.”
Because in those abandoned dark places where people don’t often visit there’s also a sweet silence where you can hear forgotten sounds of birds chirping, bees bustling to make honey and your own precious breath. The forests grow uninterruptedly and your basket can be filled with fruits and nuts. The air is so clear that your eyes can adjust to the true colours of your own beauty. And you can remember what you are here for.
Standing in the muddiness of my personal ruins, I pulled up my sleeves and every day sitting down at my writing desk I poured all my experiences into a book—Healing the Mother Wound, stepping into your wholeness. It is a temple built out of gifts that grow at the heart of what life decided should be dismantled and what we have gathered into our belonging.
From loneliness to Belonging
Loneliness has the power to bevel any person in any condition towards clarity. The path might differ from one to another—some spiral down and cannot bounce up before they hit bottom while others spring like a star called by the dark night of the soul. Such was the course of the question that was left at the foot of my door at the end of 2019—should I stay in Switzerland or should I move on to another land?
Some of the questions that 2020 brought up for us all felt like a cat leaving the spoils of its hunt on its human's door-mat—what is the composition of togetherness and loneliness? Are they weaved of the same wool or of a fabric strange to one another? These are salient questions to anyone who’s become an immigrant (I prefer that to the nationalistic term expats). Even more so to refugees.
2020 made us all refugees. Though most of us still have a roof over our heads, what we called home got composted by the forces of nature, leaving us more rendered or shrewd, more lonely or feeling more together tipped by the scale of our willingness to engage with questions. My question was slanted towards a togetherness with the new people that have begun to make Switzerland a place I can call home, and a desire to build more on the foundations I have laid down over four years. Language played a big role in helping the shift from loneliness to belonging.
If you’re challenged by difficult feelings, yearn for meaningful interactions or miss a sense of being comfortable with who you are, learn the language of the heart. Its sharp honesty and unbreakable integrity makes a home amongst people palpable and the path back to oneself irrevocable.
If you have questions about your next step, crave for unflinching confidence or desire to heal old wounds, learn the language of the body. Its stories never lie, its memory is a palace of both cellars and roof tops, its clay the belonging of this earth.
If richness and creativity is lacking or dry, your prayers moulded by the many ways of asking “just give me a sign”, or a wish from your valiant part begs you to choose the untrodden path, learn the language of the invisible. Its fields are garlanded with symbols, dreams and whispers from beyond the veil open the roads to the silky texture of belonging.
And if you’re an immigrant, just learn the language everyone speaks.
“Dies ist die Ankunft.
Brot heisst Brot nicht mehr
und Wein in fremder Sprache ändert das Gespräch.” ~Hannah Arendt
[This is the arrival.
Bread is no longer called bread
and wine in a foreign language changes the conversation.]
It’s ok to want to be liked
Following a few years of sharing a lot on social media I found myself staring into the well not sure if it’s full of water or if I’m just looking at a mirage that plays an optical illusion on my human sight. It seems like it takes a lot of courage to say something simply humanly common: I want to be liked.
Many of us have a love/hate relationship with social media. It can be an amazing place to learn about new art and a place of torment when you start comparing the depth of your life to flat two-dimensional photos. It can be an invigorating place for new conversations and friendships or a place for poisonous spewing. You resolve to tell yourself to avoid comparisons, to not count the likes and comments, but like a New Year’s resolution your resolution evaporates before you’ve even uttered the last consonant of your promise.
When you give from your heart you’re engaging in a radical act of growth. If a flower gives its beauty without meeting the sun’s rays it will wilt. If we get triggered into shame and guilt by stating our honest truth, ‘I want to be liked’, we will starve.
What’s wrong with wanting to be liked? The Buddhist part of my mind tells me that if I’m clinging to being liked I shall suffer, and that is absolutely true. But the survival part of my being speaks of the need to be alive. I found a middle way through asking myself every morning—what do I have energy for? And respecting the shape that the energy had for its own inherited wisdom.
To be liked is the need to be witnessed.
To be liked is the need to share our existence.
To be liked is the language of nature speaking reciprocity.
If you want to be liked—hold on to that. It means you’re alive and you care deeply about yourself, about your life. Then turn to ask yourself—“am I asking for the love I need in the right places, from the right people?” Ask yourself if you’re sacrificing your integrity and peace of mind to just be liked and if you’re willing to invest the energy needed to nourish yourself in a healthy way. Ask yourself if wanting to be liked comes from the hungry miser ego or from the truth of your heart.
There is a fundamental discernment to being liked as a grabbing hand of the ego or as the wings of the heart. The first creates sticky adhesions on an old self that refuses to die but the latter helps you fly.
I have a deep heart-yearning to do things differently. While I don’t know yet how this will take shape, I plant that seed in my heart and I already like it very much.
The hardest part is over
There’s a common saying in the meditation and yoga circles that if you sit on the meditation cushion or your yoga mat—the hardest part is over. To go against our habits and lift our heads above the business to behold a spiritual view, to move against the gravity of falling into laziness or “tomorrow” and fuse our body with lightness and light is the hardest part. The rest is already in the making, in the becoming, it’s already a new self that fleshes itself as we breath consciously.
As quantum physics penetrated common language it became normal to hear comments like “there’s no such a thing as time”, “time is an illusion”. But it’s especially when I hear explanations such as “I completely forgot myself and lost track of time” for why they didn’t call back or show up to a meeting on time that I feel we confuse timelessness with forgetfulness.
In healing processes the hardest part is to resist the temptation to efface the pain of the past by plastering it with the promise of timelessness’ relief; to summon our new self by forgetting the egoic part that doesn’t let go of conceptual language and remembering the essence that shapes us into being. It is when awareness of the present moment gives rise to spontaneous memories from the past and forms a clarity about the future self that timelessness emerges and we are one with everything.
The hardest part is over. We’ve already stepped onto the mat of 2020 and what it brought to our practice, we’ve already been stopped, we’ve already breathed consciously, be it calm or hyperventilated breaths. If we cherish the moment without rushing onward because the wound of time it too painful, allow the wisdom of the past to project its light into the future, we can step into 2021 knowing that we are each a forest, an infinite field of growth and support. Each exactly what the world needs.
May your life be an infinite field of joy
where your dreams bless you and all those who cross your paths
May your heart be witnessed and filled
with the beauty and nourishment of the splashing waves and safe shores
May love be the prayer of your breath