But life took an unexpected turn - perhaps to remind me that the path to enlightenment is not a cut-out formula that you can follow.
So, let's go back.
It was December 27. I had just quit my job to devote more time to writing and going freelance. I had the idea to write about my search for enlightenment on my blog, and I published the first post Path to #enlightenment - step 1 of 10000000........ I was on track. 2016 was going to be great. Everything would work out, as long as I pushed myself and worked hard.
Wrong. I had no idea what was coming next.
The trouble started, quite innocently, when I began to tidy my kitchen cupboard. I live in a small studio flat in Bristol. In truth, it's not really fair to call it a 'studio flat'. It's more like a double bedroom with a tiny kitchen and a miniature bathroom added on. All going well, it shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to tidy up and clean this place.
But when I began tidying on December 27, I didn't finish until... January 7.
There was one huge difference which made the process so very long. I made a conscious commitment to tidy and clean everything.
Have you ever seen that TV show 4 in a Bed? The cleanliness in my flat would have to mirror that - if anyone came around lifting my mattresses and inspecting every nook and cranny, like they do on the show, I'd have to make sure they wouldn't find anything to score me down for. If there was one speck of dust, I'd have to scrub it clean with a toothbrush. Every tiny detail had to be sorted and organised in its proper place.
I believe that we are all symbolic creatures - not only the novelists and artists, but all of us. And perhaps more so than we realise. Quoting Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, 'an individual transforms a fortuitous experience into a occurrence ... into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual's life.'
So the symbolism that escaped me when I made a commitment to thoroughly tidy my physical space, was that I was committing to tidying my emotional space as well.
What I really wanted when I picked up that toothbrush to scrub clean the dirt in a kitchen corner in case someone looked and noticed it there, was to banish the fears and the ghosts of my own past - so that they could not catch me unaware if I suddenly stumbled upon them, as they so often did, causing me to be anxious or paranoid. And - believe me - if I had consciously known that I made that commitment, I probably wouldn't have even started, because the things that surfaced shook my perceived identity to the core.
So what exactly happened between December 27 and January 7? It is difficult to re-visit that time now, having just climbed out of that space. But, since I made a commitment to authenticity in my search for enlightenment in my previous post, I want to share this experience, because it may resonate with you, dear reader.
I believe in the Law of Attraction - like attracts like and we stumble upon experiences which we have called into existence by emitting certain vibes. And for that reason it has always been important for me to keep things going, to push through any difficulties in personal life or work, and remain positive. But, although this can provide a short term solution, it wears you out in the long term. I felt like a walking cliche, like I was my own worst piece of writing. Whatever I hadn't addressed consciously was still there, in my subconscious mind, working as a powerful magnet to attract certain experiences. But I just couldn't make sense of them because consciously I did not want to attract them. And, the more responsibility and stress life piled on me, the more these feelings of unresolved pain surfaced, demanding attention.
So, between December 27 and January 7 I gave these suppressed feelings my attention. My full attention. I went through old notebooks I'd written throughout my life, I looked at every memento I had, I searched for people on Facebook whose profiles - for one reason or another - had been too painful to look at. I did this to (excuse the cliche) get in touch with my feelings.
It felt like having a real flu. I was too weak to function, I couldn't stop crying or feeling sorry for myself. I let life fall to bits around me. I gave myself allowance to eat junk food and to smoke without judgement because I knew that, during that week, I needed as much comfort as I could get. I didn't look for jobs; I didn't tidy up around me, if I didn't feel like it. I sat in a mess for more than a week but I knew that it had to be this way.
This was my chance at finally addressing all these feelings of past memories which were no longer real, but still kept me captive. I needed to give them time and space, so that I could finally heal and move on to the next stage of my life.
During that week, I watched a lot of videos from Teal Swan. Although I am still figuring out if I agree with all of her teachings - these videos about healing the Emotional Body really resonated and helped explain what I was going through, and how to get in touch with these unresolved feelings of pain. It was like she'd done a video to explain every experience I was having. They were a lifesaver - as were friends who could relate to what I was going through, and offered their attention and understanding.
Like I said, we are symbolic creatures. For most of my life, my most treasured belonging was this suitcase, full of notebooks I'd written since I was a child.
I always thought that I should preserve all those writings, so I can go back for inspiration. I could throw anything away - except that suitcase. That suitcase came with me every time I moved to a new place, despite being heavy and burdensome.
But something had changed in my perception and I realised what that suitcase actually represented. All this time I had dragged around me a suitcase full of loneliness. So I went through the notebooks, one by one, remembered and pieced together my past, in order to move forwards to a brighter life - one of my own choosing. I guess this is why it was important that there were friends who I was able to contact while going through this process - and that I can now publish my findings on here. That's an antidote to the suitcase of loneliness - the ghosts of the past exposed, the skeletons in the closet aired out, the corners of my flat scrubbed clean with a toothbrush.
I now believe that none of us are born depressed or anxious, or paranoid. These are imprints that happen as we grow up. And they can be undone. But how?
If you change your perspective (this is where simple daily meditation can really help) and look back on your life as an observer, you may be able to find some clues. It is like your subconscious mind - which remembers all the traumas, even if you have no conscious memory of them - is trying to push those messages across. You will remain a cliche to yourself and maybe to others, unless you are fully aware of your own pain. And no feeling is invalid. If you look at art, listen to music or read writing that stirs painful emotions within you, these are probably clues to unresolved pain. Because - how can you feel something so profoundly unless you have experienced some aspect of it yourself? Like art, the subconscious mind speaks the language of symbolism, and this language is universal.
Like many other creatives out there, I sometimes enter 'the zone' where writing comes almost effortlessly and I lose the track of time. Usually, when I read back at what I'd written in the moments I was in 'the zone' I often have to ask myself who wrote that? There have been many arguments that support or dismiss the theory that memories can be repressed. I will only share my own experience. When I read through those notebooks as an external observer, I was amazed at how many clues I had subconsciously left behind about how I felt during difficult moments in life. Even things I had no memory of.
By going through this process, I have realised that we cannot write/paint/create anything that we have not experienced at some stage in our life. The crazy thing is that these repressed memories can be ruining your life, and you may not even be aware of them.
Perhaps this is why creatives, such as Norman Mailer, so often say that their art is killing them (“Every one of my books had killed me a little more.”) Perhaps it is because the act brings the artist into direct contact with their subconscious mind - and all the experiences which they are unwilling or unable to address. And with good reason. They are painful, sometimes excruciating experiences. But here I'd like to quote the Impermanence Dance Theatre company's ethos: 'if the performer reveals and confronts their shadows, they enable the spectator to do the same.'
When we feel that connection with an artists or a performer, we accredit the genius to them - when their biggest genius is their authenticity; the willingness to face their own demons in order to transcend them into art, and allow us - the spectator - to acknowledge our feelings and give them the attention that others in our life, perhaps, did not.
And just like being drawn to certain works of art, I believe we are drawn to certain people, and most of the time we don't even know why. Reflecting on my own life now, I realise I have always been attracted to the type of people who have displayed the darkest feelings I have suppressed in myself. And so often I have walked away from those people, just like I always walk away and deny my own pain, trying to push through it by hard work, or by engaging in new activities, or by telling myself off when I feel depressed. I guess we are a bit obsessed with that in our digital age, where we want to show our best on Facebook, for all to see, perpetuating the myth that no one is suffering. But now I know - in order to live a healthy, balanced life - I need to give those negative feelings a space to breathe. I don't mean letting them spill all over my day (or all over Facebook!) But it's more than ok to feel sad or anxious when I need to, even if others may think it unreasonable. And it's ok if no one understands. Everyone has a different story.
If we don't address our pain, if we don't search within, then we carry on living in this world of cliches where everyone else has bad intentions, except us. We are unable to see the real cause of someone's actions because we are unwilling to uncover our own. When we uncover our own, we realise that there is very little difference between a perpetrator and a victim.
And I agree - facing your feelings is scary. It can throw you out of balance, and you don't know how long it will take to get back on track. But you only have to do it once, surrendering to your circumstances and allowing yourself time to heal. Then you can perceive the world in its wholesome beauty, feel its wholesome love, and realise just how far you've come.