I stumbled onto some words the other day that stirred me.
Do you feel real to yourself or do you not exist unless another person affirms your existence for you? (from Yumi Sakugawa)
I stared at the screen blankly, yet bewildered.
Do I feel real to myself? Do I need other people’s affirmations of my existence to believe I do? This wasn’t a question I seriously considered before. Although, the denial of myself is something I’m very familiar with. From a young age I learned to look to others to tell me who I am and how I should be; never quite settling on just who that really is.
I took the words with me into my day and let them dance on my tongue. I recited them for quite some time before understanding any answer to them — I wondered if there was one.
I concluded it’s complex.
There’s a long answer and a short answer here. The long answer is no, I don’t. I don’t feel real to myself much of the time unless someone else nods at my approval. My existence has mostly felt like a desperate plea for approval. Twisting and contorting to fit the narratives I believed others wanted me as. But the short answer is that I’ve begun to feel real. I’ve started unpacking what needs to be done in order to feel real to myself.
If you’ve read my words before, you may know I’ve been on a path of uncovery*. You know I’ve been learning to give up the things that hold me back, alcohol being one of them. And yet, I often find behind the things I thought were holding me back is still just me — holding me back. And maybe that is what it is at the end of the day, it’s all just me (in my experience). But “me” exists in multitudes; collections of experiences that include many other people, places, and events.
*Uncovery (verb) — Some say self-discovery, but I look at my life as more of an uncovering. A peeling back, a removing, a surrendering. Not to be confused with actually getting back to who I was before my conditioning, because I don’t think that’s possible. But it is most certainly a letting go of who I think I am so I may be who I want to be.
Sharing myself through writing has begun to crack me open. It’s been raw and wild and freeing. Yet I still feel bound. I feel claustrophobic inside my own skin, always about to burst at the seams. I feel I’m containing myself. Like, if someone were to unzip me, all of my most ugly and beautiful parts would just splatter onto the floor, muddled in a mess together. And maybe that’s it; the ugly and beautiful parts being a mess together. And for so long I tried to only put forth the beautiful parts — that’s all that was wanted, or so I told myself. No one wants the ugly in me, I don’t even want the ugly in me. But I see now the mess is both. There is no mess — no life — without the inextricably woven beautiful and ugly parts, and everything in between.
All of these parts deserve their place as they are held in space with my skin as the barrier to what keeps them alive. Life is funny that way. That we are alive, breathing, and always on the verge of death. We are here for but a moment, and the next we will be somewhere else — unknown. But don’t let anyone fool you that they know what comes after we die. I don’t take advice on any afterlife from someone who hasn’t died, so I haven’t heard much of the truth.
What I know is that while we are here, bound by skin, always on the verge of our last breath, we get to make many waves, if only we become moved to do so. Waves can be big or small, which will vary depending on the different phases of our lives. But they are always pushing and pulling within, and they are always affecting everything all around. They always matter. But I don’t mean matter in some sort of grand scheme/find your purpose way. They matter the way matter matters, by that it simply exists.
So I must ask myself, does your existence feel real to you?
Do you feel the impact your inner and outer waves carry? Do you feel the pull of the moon and the tide beckoning you to push forward or pull back? Are you in harmony with the ecosystem of the cosmos?
Do you stop from time to time and let yourself just coast? Do you pick up speed as the winds of life pull you along? Do you feel real to yourself?
It will take some gutting, but not to be rid, just to see; acknowledge.
That’s the first step. Knowing my ugly and beautiful parts and holding both equally.
I have now taken on anti-racism as a new territory of mine, and the ugliness I denied has surfaced with a vengeance. I feel the waves growing stronger, as if they’ll pull me under. But I can’t drown in what I am. I am the wave.
Everything I thought was true, isn’t. Well so be it. That’s how life keeps going. Truths remain true only until they reveal themselves as truer or less true. I am always on the hunt for truth, for reality, which is always changing, surfacing, and differs from being to being. I guess I found, the only truth is that the truth will change.
And who am I to say who is right or wrong? How am I to know what is exactly true for another being? The butterfly is a being. And though their eyes don’t see what humans see, they still sense the world and do what they came to do. And like the butterfly abandons the chrysalis, I too must abandon the words and understandings of my previousness. Who I was before is not who I can be moving forward. Life is as much about growth and expansion as it is abandonment. But perhaps it doesn’t have to be reckless. Perhaps calculated abandonment is the goal.
And maybe it’s not goals I need so much as intentions.
These are my waves. These are my voice. These are the very ideas that become the things that will live long after I’ve gone. And when I’m gone, maybe I’ll get some rest, but in the meantime I have shores to crash upon.
Life is work. Life is play. Life is a dance of the two.
Life means so much to me, as I’m sure it means so much to you, too; whether it is happy meaning or sad meaning, or any combo. And I cannot say my meaning is yours, or even that it should be. And that’s perfectly fine. That we each have our own meaning and understanding of the cosmos and our place within it at any given time and place. Sometimes it’s clear. Sometimes it’s thick like mud. Sometimes it’s nothing, but mostly it’s everything.
Life is a series of both holding and navigating space.
We are each on our own small (and massive) pilgrimage of existence. But we need not conquer anything. There is nothing to claim, besides who we are and who we aren’t. And that, as I said, is perpetually in flux.
Move with life, and let it move you. Be with life, and let it take you along.
This happening is powerful, both like a volcano and like a river. We all have within us the capacity to burn a forest down and to plant a seed in the Earth. We are forever choosing, guessing, which we need to do and when. Nature is on our side. We are nature. We were made from it, and it is here for us. And of course nature is only a word for something so complex as what is to be alive. We are alive. We are all alive and we want to live, as we are.
Do you feel real to yourself now?
Here is what I understand as true (for now). You are real to me. As real to me as the sun at dawn. As the bird that eats the worm. And as the worm who becomes food. Life feeds on life to live. When I admit you are real, I must also admit my realness. When I admit my realness, I must also admit yours. And in between feeling fully alive, I may forget altogether I am alive; that I am a life. And on and on it will continue until our demise. The rising and falling of waves, all that we are, growing and shrinking, becoming and unbecoming, always as one whole spectacle to both observe and be so very a part of.
I am as real as real can be. This is just what being alive — being real — is; A series of knowing and not knowing. A series of admitting and denying. A series of breaths, never knowing which is your last.