Lately I’ve found myself coming back to a thought from Olivia Laing, which you can find in her immensely beautiful and emotion-stirring book The Lonely City. The striking power of this thought comes, and like the best ones always do, from the lingering replicas it leaves behind once you let it sit for a while:
“Sometimes, all you need is permission to feel. Sometimes what causes the most pain is actually the attempt to resist feeling, or the same that grows like thorns around it.”
Let it be known that I don’t keep post-its of inspirational quotes on walls or notebooks, which are usually always taken out of their context, much like roses plucked out of a garden into a dining table. But Olivia, in this book aptly subtitled The Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, managed to stop my soul in its wobbly tracks. Immediately fumbling around for the paper receipt for my doppelt espresso on the table I had at the time of reading, I frantically wrote this quote down while nursing a tight knot in my throat.
In particular, the word permission. How often do we allow ourselves permission to feel what needs to be felt, those feelings sometimes so seemingly nasty and all bottled up, or just outright repressed? Even worse; how often do we cause pain, to ourselves that is, by resisting to feel such feelings and thoughts?
I’ve been noticing that so much of my pain, especially in the recent months, had come from this deep desire to conceal, and maybe even suppress, my vulnerabilities. In particular, the ones around loneliness. Resistance to feel feelings had turned them into something so ugly, so shameful, “quickly growing thorns around it”, as Olivia so elegantly put it.
“So much of the pain of loneliness is to do with concealment. But why hide? What’s so shameful about wanting, about desire, about having failed to achieve satisfaction, about experiencing unhappiness?”
…she follows up, much later on.
What made me so sad about this realisation was the fact that no one in particular had revoked my permission slip to feel what I really had to feel. Except for me, that is. In the meantime, buckets of energy had been spent in its resistance; fighting those impulses on the account that some thoughts were too shameful or unglamorous.
“I shouldn’t be feeling this” is perhaps one of the most dangerous thoughts to have in the silent voice of our minds. We spend so much time reading, searching, trying to discover how to feel, but often all we need is a green light to simply acknowledge that the thoughts are just there to begin with. Let’s give them a chance, and sit with them for a while, uncomfortable as they may be. If beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, nurse those shameful vulnerabilities until they turn into a part of you that you’ve grown to love.
Post written in Berlin, August 2017.
The weather was hot but just lightly sunny. Around me there was mostly the klink and klank sounds of cash registers, milk steaming, coffee beans grinding, and undistinguishable chit chat from random strangers. In other words, home.