I want to open this writing with John O’Donohue's words: “I think the beauty of being human is that we are incredibly, intimately near each other, we know about each other, but yet we do not know or never know what it’s like inside another person. And it’s amazing, you know? Here am I, sitting in front of you now, looking at your face, you’re looking at mine, and yet neither of us have ever seen our own faces, and that in some way, thought is the face that we put on the meaning that we feel and that we struggle with, and that the world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.”
I listened to the whole episode of O’Donohue's talk with Krista Tippett in On Being podcast twice to make sure that I was and am not insane. Without really realizing it, I have gone through several journeys to remembering my face. At least twice a day: in the morning when I get up, and at night before I go to bed; I always visit myself with the help of a mirror. I always begin with my eyes because I believe that they are the windows to my soul. Then I move on to my face and body. It takes about five minutes before I close the ritual with hugging myself.
Last November 11th, 2021 I chose an activity from my bucket list for my 29th birthday. I chose to take pictures, not the usual selfies, but real ones. When I made this decision a voice within me responded, “Do I deserve it? I am not a model. Why should I do that? For what?” I moved forward beyond the voices with two concepts I prepared: marrying myself in a white wedding dress, and returning to my Javanese roots in kebaya and konde. They told me that I would not only get a package of pictures, but also a canvas one that could be hung on the wall. I was amazed, “Oh really?” They smiled. I now get to look at myself every day because the only wall with a nail to hang it is right in front of my bed. So, whenever I open my eyes, it’s me on the wall, smiling back at me. I was a bit scared and nervous for several mornings, but now whenever I am away, I feel I miss the way I am always smiling a good-morning and a good-night to myself.
This journey to remembering my own face is not about narcissism, but the part of the inward journey to achieve inner peace, to go home to myself. Guruji Gede Prama said, “Tidak ada yang bisa mencuri basah dari air, mencuri keindahan dari bunga. Begitu Anda tercerahkan, tidak ada yang bisa mencuri kedamaian Anda di dalam.” If I may translate this, “No one can steal the wetness of water, no one can steal the beauty of a flower. Once you are enlightened, no one can steal your inner peace.”
The Invisible World, The Invisible Me
I had been bullied in my entire childhood and adolescence. If there are many songs glorifying how being a teenager is the best time of a human’s life, I can’t recall anything at all because no joy but sorrow I solely experienced. I was feeling really down, useless, worthless, and invisible. Now I feel invisible to myself without expecting other beings to acknowledge or recognize me, my existence. It took 12 years to understand and practice this lesson since the first day I met a human who befriended me in 2009.
Going home to myself by inwardness makes me turn on all of my senses, makes me honor the beauty of wildflowers in the street I pass, makes me appreciate the oxygen I breathe in every second, makes me shift the button of “being invisible” to be “being invincible.” The world becomes much more visible: both the seen and the unseen. Each and every little thing within and with me becomes part of me that completes and nourishes me. This is not only about the cause of joy, but also the cause of sorrow. Now I even know how to take out joy from sorrow by taking a priceless lesson learned, by connecting myself to me, by being compassionate, by empathizing, by listening actively and participating in silence. Again, I want to rephrase that these characteristics become the differences from narcissism.
I remember a Greek story about Narkissos. The root word of Narkissos is from a Greek word: narke which means “numbness.” It is in line with the story where Narkissos was a youth who possessed such a mighty beauty. He kept staring at his own reflection on the water until he died and turned into a flower named after him, narcissus flower. I share this story to illustrate that unlike Narkissos, we can choose to go home to ourselves and begin to understand that we are the ones who can host our souls. Perhaps you want to reread what Guruji Gede Prama said. Once we let ourselves become the only key holders of our homes, our souls, no one else can take away our peace, our inner peace, our ultimate peace. It is just like the wetness from the water cannot be taken away. It is just like the beauty from the flower cannot be taken away. Then, what’s next?
A Path to Aloneness Without Loneliness
No worst killer in this world other than loneliness. I am sure most of you agree with me. It takes tears, sweat, and blood (including my period blood—usually it takes longer and more painful when I feel lonely, sad, or stressful) to understand that loneliness is not equal to aloneness.
Having known myself better through inwardness and remembering my face without using a mirror might not directly wipe away all the feelings of loneliness, sadness, and stress; but at least I can feel them mindfully and I can let myself to be free, to be liberated without being sucked into the whirlpool of depression. It might still attack me, trap me, but it no longer can take control of me, my soul, and my body. I can say, it’s like a storm that I know will not last forever, but just a moment.
Many times in the past, suicidal thoughts manipulated and dictated that I was weak, that I had no control over myself, or that I was useless and worthless. Now I know that whenever depression and anxiety comes, I am okay to allow myself to mourn, to grieve for a day, and I still become the driver of the steering wheel for the other six days. I embrace them: the loneliness, sadness, bitterness, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Then, when I feel enough to mourn and grieve, I sit and talk to them, “Thank you for being my companions, you may continue your journey, and I think I will be fine with myself within my aloneness."
Like Krista Tippett said in an episode of the Meditative Story podcast, “The bravery is not about being fearless, because I wasn’t fearless. But in walking with the fear — and through it, when everything I thought I knew turned out to be flimsy and questionable. And as I walked through it all, there was revelation, and there was confusion, and there was discovery.”
My point—actually—is going home to ourselves through inwardness means being brave to sit, stand, sleep, lay down, and walk side by side with our fear, loneliness, sadness, and everything that hinders our life journey. Because again,”Life is not about getting to a certain place. Life is a path,” said the late Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. So then, life is not all about achieving joy and happiness, but life is about living side by side with sorrow too. I want to close this with a part of Kahlil Gibran’s “On Joy and Sorrow”: “Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable.”
Isti Toq'ah is the 2022 Wellspring Fellow. Additionally, Isti is pursuing her dream of a Ph.D in Peace Education from UPEACE in Costa Rica and has launched a campaign for financial support. You can learn more about her Ph.D plans and how to support her here.