It’s March 24, 2020. The exponential math of coronavirus is starting to kick in, and I’m hunkered down in Tbilisi, Georgia. I’m realizing that I never finished writing about my travels, so I open my journal and go back to summer of 2019, in the Baltics. And I find gold.
The solitude that everyone is wrestling with now? The forced isolation? The uncertainty? Yep… I did this last year, voluntarily. It was the most important and impactful period of my life, and I’d like to share this journal entry in hopes that you too can find meaning and purpose in the days ahead.
“I’m on the train from Riga to Jurmala. I’ve been restless the past couple days, alternating between boredom, wanting to move on, and wanting to escape into books and movies. Today I decide to go to the beach. I’m tired of the city, tired of tourists, tired of the American music blaring underneath the ancient, stately cathedral.
But I see clearly on the train today. Actually, to be more precise, I feel clearly. I’ve wondered whether this nomad life I’ve chosen is because I’m running from something. I don’t think that’s the case. I’m running towards freedom, discovery, growth. But I’m also still carrying some baggage that’s making my load heavier than it needs to be.
I know that this process of selling everything — of letting go of all the stuff that used to define me — is an essential part of my becoming. But it’s not enough. I let go of stuff, but I haven’t yet opened the storage unit in my soul or gone through what’s inside.
Which surprises me to realize this, as I close my eyes and hope that my train seat fellows don’t see the tears welling behind my eyelids.
My life hasn’t been easy. For many years I was splintered into fragments — my way of coping with trauma. But geez… I’ve journalled, gone to therapy, hired coaches, sat endless hours of meditation. I know my stuff. We’ve all got our stuff. And yet knowing it, rehashing it endlessly, analyzing it, doesn’t help us move past it. It’s why talk therapy alone doesn’t work. And that’s because we’re treating it as something to get over.
What must happen is to acknowledge the emotions. To validate them, so that we feel heard. And that means tapping back into how we felt when whatever happened, happened.
I’m intellectualizing again; the logical side of my brain is safe. I can dispassionately joke about a childhood characterized by unpredictability, fear and desperate co-dependence. Of feeling wrong for being gay. Of all the bewilderment and rejection and “I’m doing it wrong but I don’t know why” that comes with having a differently-wired brain. I can tell you casually about the time that a therapist said I had the telltale signs of PTSD without acknowledging how that felt inside: the terror of feeling broken and not knowing how to fix it.
I can look at all these events like zoo animals kept carefully behind bars, compartmentalized and distanced. Don’t feed the bears! I can analyze them safely from my armchair, and ignore the signs that I haven’t really dealt with them. I’ve been afraid to open the cage… and it’s easier to believe that the psychologists are right when they say this is how to process the past.
But containment doesn’t work. What we resist, persists.
I’m reminded of my favorite childhood book, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin. After years of running from the shadow that he’d loosed upon the world, Ged the wizard finally turns to face and embrace it… and they become one. We must embrace our darkness, because our darkness is ourselves. And only then can we become whole.
I’ve known intellectually that what we disown is our power. In other words: our power resides in what we have cut off from ourselves, what we’ve rejected within ourselves. By embracing everything that we are without judgment, we can then release what no longer serves us and proudly wear what is integral to our truth… honor badges of our humanity. And if more people start doing this — fully embracing themselves as they are instead of fitting into the boxes of conformity or hiding parts out of shame — this world will be a much easier, authentic, and (paradoxically) safer place to live in.
So… here goes. After today in Jurmala, the next five days will be spent unplugged on the coast of Lithuania, embracing the darkness.”
In hindsight, I look back on my time in Lithuania as the pivotal 5 days within the whole of last year… heck, the whole of the last five years, at least. This gift of silence to myself — the gift of setting down the need to be busy, setting down the need to be moving towards something — completely changed my life. I hope you create this gift for yourself as well. Go deep inside, and find your treasure.