It was one of those profound moments when you have a choice. I didn’t want to go out, but had promised to and so was dressed in my glad rags there amidst the campers in shorts. A Dutch guy called out. “So! Going to a party?” He’s all one-liners and joking about everything; quite exhausting.
Mustering myself, I told him we were to be filmed. They weren’t interested, never are. The day before, we’d suffered a twenty minute rendition on Kenya, my home, full of ‘expert insights’ into a country they visited for two only weeks. But that’s people, how rare it is to find somebody who shows interest in others?.
I was in no mood to joke, indeed, in no mood to leave that campsite. I wanted to curl up on the hammock provided, but people had cooked for us, and our film-maker friend needed us as extras. We drove the 45 minutes to the attractive mediaeval town and walked up to the square where filming was already underway, we fitted in and did the things asked of us. When all had calmed down, friends came over to chat.
After all the activity and interaction, I suddenly felt wobbly and so I tried to ease myself into this now familiar feeling by taking slow, unobtrusive deep breaths. One of them noticed and I was steered off to find a seat. My head had emptied, survival was paramount, all else was unimportant. I was in a familiar meltdown with the alarming awareness that ‘You’ who you think you are, is fading away.
Did you know that each morning as you wake the brain has to sort out who you are as your consciousness emerges from the soup you have resided within all night? This process happens so quickly I can’t always catch it, but when I do it is fascinating. Who are we anyway? This adult full of complexities? The smilingly aggressive one? The child confused by life? The wounded person covering up deep shyness with joviality? Maybe the supposedly confident one who feels utterly lost?
In the plaza amidst those people, I had become nobody, an empty head walking towards a seat. An exhausted shell teetering on hell’s edge - that’s what they tell us to think of this peculiar predicament I now often find myself experiencing when I’m tired. Afraid of having no identity, we get stressed, which simply makes things worse for we get into a loop we can’t easily see a way out of.
But, as I said, each morning we wake and slide from oblivion’s soup and into the personality we assume we must be. But what if you’ve slipped into another personality? We came across such a man walking The Camino in Northern Spain. He was a London stockbroker walking to raise money for the church tower in his Surrey village and he said, “I’m concerned my wife won’t accept the laid-back person this walk has made me. That’s the dilemma I face, do I revert or do I stay as I now am?”
My friend, after he’d finished filming, was looking at me as we ate the food other friends had cooked. I could read his mind, I was no longer brightly conversing for it took more energy than I had. I was the quiet man sitting, listening. I, usually so confident, now not sure what to say because nothing seemed important enough to hold an opinion. As I asked others questions, I was at a loss as to how to deal with the information given.
It could be a panic enduring experience, but I didn’t panic. I simply relaxed and went with it even as my mind was asking who I ‘was’, not who I ‘ought’ to be. This lead me to be what I was, rather than trying to manufacture a suitable being to suit the moment. And it worked. I survived without the sort of crisis which has spun me off to hospital.
It makes you realise how little we are ourselves and how much we move into our manufactured selves. Being us is good enough, it is all we need to do