Metamorphosis and negative spaces: Knowing what life should NOT look like

I hit rock bottom a few years ago. Depression. Growing self hate. And eventually resentment towards others. Completely lost. I didn’t know who I was. I’d like to say that I turned it around, made myself proud. But I continued to fall and scrape my face on new lower levels of rock bottom. Like some sort of horrific video game of inverted qualifying levels. Each wrong choice qualifying me for a lower level of even greater despair. It is a bottomless black pit.

I was an amazing person. And then one day she was gone. And there was only a shell. Ironically, my compassion, supernatural empathy and resilience was what led me to this dark place. These should have been the very qualities to lead me to my personal success.

What happened? I was missing one key quality. Self-love. Self-compassion. That inner guidance system was completely muted because I listened to all kinds of guidance outside of myself, including but not limited to religion, family and society.

Yet life is great and God is greater. Even on the wrong path you find reflections of the path you should have taken. IT calls to you. People come into your life to nudge you towards that inner light, to remind you of who you really are.

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An editor reached out to me a couple of years ago, across miles of Atlantic Ocean, to write a piece on Muslims in Botswana. This was a time when I was starting my fiction-writing journey and I submitted a short story to her anthology. She very kindly asked me why I submitted fiction when she specifically asked for a true-to-life non-fiction piece. She could have just left it at that and gone her own way. Instead, she encouraged me to find my true voice by telling me the old adage, the truth will set you free.

I was so afraid of opening up, that I had tremendous anxiety while I wrote it. I had to dig deep, confront inner demons and obstacles that told me not to do it. Fears that told me I shouldn’t stick my neck out like that. Yet, everyone knows that to be a writer, I need to be able to express myself. And if I want to connect with others through my writing, I need to do that in an authentic way. Years of being told to be quiet, to not rock the boat, to not express myself was being undone. My desire to be more than I was, was greater than my fears.

I knew then, that it didn’t matter whether it got published or not. It was clear that it came my way to help me find my voice. To connect to who I really was at a time when I was lost. Adrift in a choppy sea of life trying to keep my head above others’ expectations of me and rules for my life, with no rescue in sight.

Was it a coincidence? No. In hindsight, I see that I had begun to express a desire deep within me to live a happier life. It may have been mere whispers. Perhaps at a sound frequency beyond human hearing. It was a true desire and the universe responded. Finding my voice opened a window that let some light into my dark pit. I could look out this window and see a different path where wildflowers grew. Scattered. Bushy. Unrestrained. God-forbiddingly wild. And oh so colourful and bright.

Again, it wasn’t a straight line learning curve. I didn’t leap out of the window into my future. As a self-proclaimed visionary, I could no longer picture any type of future for myself. I spent many more months that stretched into years, gazing at possibilities. Sometimes inspired by it, other times trembling in absolute fear of it.

There were many other people since then whether they know it or not, some I was fortunate enough to know in person and some who I’ve only seen on YouTube videos, that helped me to find my way. Please, all you wonderful people don’t stop inspiring others. You never know whose life you are saving with a kind word to a friend, a motivational video or blog post.

I recently found my scrap-book from when I was 17 years old. I posted some artwork from it last year here. That young woman had big dreams. Massive. She wanted to make a difference to the world. She wanted to teach people how to fish, not give them fish for a day. She was all about empowering others.  Even in her darkest times, what gave her joy was seeing others succeed at what makes them happy. (Perhaps because she wanted that so much for herself too.)

She so much wanted to contribute to the world she forgot to save herself. Piece by piece she gave away herself away. She gave others the gift of complete acceptance but would never accept herself. She would speak up for others but would never express how she truly felt and what she truly wanted. Society makes us think that this is a good thing, but I’ve since learned that the very people who want you to give up who you are in order to be who they want you to be, would never do the same for you. What’s more, they would not help you when you fall into that black hole of despair and desperation having lost yourself completely. And further, they had no right to expect me to be anyone else but me.

 

 

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quote by Buddha

 

I have begun making changes. Deep, soulful changes that require absolute courage and resilience. But I know I have those things, I’ve seen them in action for others. I just need to use it for myself for a change.

Will I ever be free of those dark emotions, and dark pits? They have dragged me down so many times before it is hard to believe I will ever be completely free of it. So I’ve accepted them as part of my life. I’ll go even further to say that I am grateful for those dark emotions and shadows that linger on the edge of my consciousness, as they are guideposts to tell me that I have made a wrong choice somewhere. That I thought something or chose something that was not true to me.

In my journey to self-love and self-compassion so far, I have learned what it means to change the world by starting with yourself. I have learned that you can do anything, but not everything. In fact, it was exactly this mindset of ‘I can do anything’ that led me to do things I didn’t want to do, and keep on doing them longer than I should have because I was actually good at it. I’ve learned that my compassion is not complete without compassion for myself.

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It is easy to regret the past fifteen years of my life, lost to bad choices. However, I consider myself an artist. Of sorts. I love how art reflects life. In art, there is a concept of negative space. In simple terms, negative space refers to the space around and between objects that allows it to stand out clearly. Images like the one above are commonly used in fun psychological tests. Depending which negative space you see first, determines which object stands out for you. (Did you see Katniss from Hunger Games with the bow and arrow first, or did you see the larger image of the profile of her face?)

If I zoom out and look at my life as one massive artwork, of light and dark spaces, I can see that I have been exactly where I was supposed to be.

All those wrong choices, mistakes and lessons learned, they were dark for a good reason. They were the negative space around the object of my life’s artwork. While I was there, I was figuring out what I don’t want. Who I don’t want to be. And painted it black. (or white – depending on which colour you choose as your negative space) And so I was shaping and creating my life.

It is the same space and thought, which Rumi, Buddha, Kahlil Gibran and many others referred to when they spoke on the topic of pain and sadness. You cannot know happiness without knowing sadness. It takes knowledge of one, to know the other. Or in terms of negative space, it provides the contrast for you to know what happiness is not. And more specifically in my case, who I am not.

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Why art is good for the world

Photo credit: ©FFDwrites

 

I am a  product of a society that valued left brain logical intelligence. A graduate of a school system in a developing african country chasing economic GDPs of the future, that dabbled in creativity but applauded and sought to churn out mathematicians, scientists and accountants. A Muslim individual from a global collective seeking to find its worthy place in modern society and who lost sight of its creative instincts in the likes of the poets Rumi and Rabia and the free thinkers and artists of the medieval Golden Age of Muslim Spain.

Following your own path is a daunting one. It means going through the woods alone. At night. In the middle of a wretched winter. While the rest of the flock stay warm and dry in the barn. This is the path of trials and tribulations where you discover yourself.

I’ve always loved words and writing. I would repeat words and let it roll off my tongue. I liked it so much that the English language didn’t have enough words for me, so I learned foreign ones to taste a culture through its words. But I hid what I loved under what seemed ‘reasonable’ – reporting. Not reporting with words, no. Financial reporting. I ended up in the world of finance and accountants, where I suspect many closet-creatives hide. It seems to be the default career choice for those caught unsure of their next step after high school.

Through the numbers, my passion called to me. It spoke through the joy I found in writing reports, business plans, emails and letters. My heart soared when we were handed essays for university assignments, while most of my friends and classmates groaned. Anything to do with words appealed to me.

Yet it took many years for me to hear what it had to say, which was to follow this path to whatever destiny awaits.

Getting started was difficult. I had severe mental blockages and deeply rooted fears. This was more of a problem when it came to writing fiction as it seemed less important and unnecessary. I had no issues with non-fiction writing and journalism having successfully written these in the past. Passing on information was useful, telling stories was not.

Instead of trying to untangle the mess of psychological knots formed over more than three decades, I did a simple mental persuasion. I searched for evidence to outweigh my fears. The irony of resorting to logic to unlock my creativity did not elude me. But juxtaposition is the beauty of life in motion.

For art to be good for something, it has to be useful. (Remember, this is pure rationalising. In truth art is expression, is the end in itself) I discovered that what I valued most about words and writing was what it achieved: communication.

Art in all its forms; movies, books, photographs, pictures and stories is the human experience in a tangible form. Then it is converted back into human experience through emotions evoked by the artistic piece. It becomes communication on an emotional maybe even a spiritual level.

And with that I took my first tentative steps onto my own authentic path. I do not know where I’m headed and the woods are cold and dark. There are times when the light breaks through, and I see the flowers that grow on the wayside, flowers I haven’t seen before. They are beautiful. They take my breath away.

Daily Prompt: Discover