From Estonian translated by Maarja Jaanits.
One night between the Restoration of Independence day and the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Communism and Nazism I gazed up at the starry sky of Southern Estonia. Of course, my location is not really relevant here – the sky should be the same no matter where we are, even though it's not. I mean, it is, but we don’t always see it the same way. We know how amazing the starlit autumn sky is, but in the light-polluted city it is impossible for us to actually see its full glory. You know it is there, but you cannot see it. No matter how hard you try.
Under the starry August sky, you will suddenly find that there are only the stars and you. The stars look at you, they see straight through you. Suddenly you find yourself naked under that starry sky. There, laying on your back, face to face with the stars you'll realize it wouldn't be easy at all to get the same kind of feeling and to meet your true self if you were to gaze up at that very same starlit August sky in a city. The same applies to meeting one's true self. To be able to observe oneself, to ponder about oneself, to ask what is it that I really want and what do I dream about, to do all that, one needs time and the right kind of space as well, I suppose. It takes a conscious effort in order to give yourself a chance to stop, to close your eyes and to look inwards.
I remember feeling lost and confused in the late spring of 2018, when I found myself at a meeting of ‘Estonia 200’ movement, it was before it resulted in the formation of a new political party of the same name. I recall how my peers, people soon about to enter their middle-age years, discussed the future of Estonia and how to improve our lives. When I thought about it, I realised that as much as I too thought that it was important to improve our surrounding economic, educational, cultural and other kind of environments, I still felt there was a lack of a discussion relating to, or even a simple recognition of the fact, that in addition to all of the above we also desperately need to learn more about observing our inner worlds.
In the pandemic-spring of 2020, it was as if we were given an unexpected opportunity and obligation to stop and face one's self, to look at your own life from the outside and to weigh and consider the things you do and the values you believe in. Now, with the onset of autumn it's time to ask ourselves, what did we learn and discover about ourselves this spring. Did we learn something? Has this new understanding changed our lives and how? I have heard people saying that they have begun to look at the time they spend at home differently, to appreciate their living spaces in a new way, to take time for the people close to them or to value the time they spend with themselves. Perhaps it can be said that the old-fashioned concept of leisure – simply letting oneself be and their thoughts run their course – is being valued again?
It can be said that it took a global pandemic for us to be able to slow down just a little. In the course of regular everyday life it seemed too complicated, perpetually postponable. I would like to believe that during this period, people also had the time to ask themselves what it is that really matters to them. The things we do from day to day, do these things really matter to us or is the very act of posing this question as perpetually postponable as the act of slowing down?
This spring was very intense for me as a parent and finding balance between all the different roles I have to fulfil (teacher, caterer, parent, daughter, partner, friend ... also not to neglect my job) didn't come easy. But this only made it all the more important to ask myself the following question this summer, ‘What are the things I do every day not because I have to do them, but because I think I have to?’. Recently I have also started wondering about whose expectations am I trying to meet, whose dreams do I live? Do I know my own dreams from other people's (especially those close to me) wishes and expectations that I may have unknowingly adopted? It is not always that easy to realise the difference because who would want to be a disappointment.
However, life has taught us that the avoidance of disappointing others is a big trap, as this is the way we unknowingly live a life more shaped by the expectations of others, that is through societal norms and expectations, than our own conscious choice. Of course, the opinions of others do matter, for me as well as for anyone, it matters how they see me and whether they care about what I do. But I also know that it's no good to depend solely on the opinions and approval of others (such as intimate relations, family or colleagues). I know this because I have depended on these things for years. I could argue that it wasn't all that bad as it has helped me to move forward in life, forced me to take action and to be responsible. But I also know all too well that feeling when everything seems fine from the outside, but confined within that outer-me is a lot of confusion in utter darkness. When I don't know who I am and what I really want then it is indeed rather terrifying to spend time alone with myself.
But I do know as well that finding oneself in this situation is not a sin or a crime. It happens to all of us at some point in our lives, and it is a good thing, because the best kind of lessons are the ones we experience ourselves. It is courageous to own up to being lost or to face one's inner darkness, and to invite change into one's life.
What does inviting change into one's life really mean and what does a person's inner self consist of? We do know that aside from our unique selves we also carry a certain amount from our family background, a sense of belonging to a community and our friends for example. A big part of our personality we feel as something that exists and does not change, but our personality is not the only thing that makes us, our habits and convictions also make up a big part. And these may not always be favourable and friendly towards ourselves. Sometimes we unknowingly or knowingly carry erroneous preconceptions regarding ourselves or the world, sometimes we do things we do not really want to do, we react to situations in unexpected ways. The thing we tend to forget is that there is a lot about our habits, including attitudes and reactions that can be changed. It does not come easy, but through awareness and determination it is possible to invite change into one's life.
We are quite used to the concept of eating healthily. That what we eat and how we eat influences our mood and well-being significantly, sometimes also the way we look. But it is the same way with everything else we absorb. That is, aside from food we are also significantly influenced by the kind of information we consume such as sound, texts and images. Every input stays with us for a while, it needs to be processed and a decision has to be made about what to store, delete or eject. From this perspective it becomes extremely important to consider how much of what I let inside is actually good for me, is it what I need.
I do think that as we pay great attention to how to shape the outer world that
surrounds us, we could also pay more attention to the shaping and organizing
our inner worlds. Why not take the occasion on World Cleanup Day to clean up
our inner worlds as well. Where to begin?
I did begin with writing down my dreams and asking myself if they are actually achievable? How? How long would it take? And more importantly, I tried to answer why I still keep postponing some of them. What is the real reason? What am I afraid of? What am I waiting for?
Writing things down and daily writing are generally efficient tools for observing and supporting oneself, especially if your moods tend to be inconsistent. Writing forces you to put thoughts into words and what is put down in words becomes observable, also in time. This way one's changing over time becomes visible, both in a good and bad way. Similarly, writing helps to organize the inner world, as what is written down no longer has to be carried within. To me writing is as valuable as a conversation with a good, but straightforward friend, who does not just offer praise, but also points out what could be improved. Sometimes I also enjoy “conversations” with books from authors I respect and whose precision with words and insights I value.
“Selle kevade tervitus" (“Greetings of this Spring”, SE&SJ, 2020), a book of conversations and essays by Viivi Luik, also begins by pointing out the existence of pluses and minuses, good and evil, light and shadow. In the title essay of the book Viivi Luik talks about the person and his/her shadow, the existence of which can not and must not be denied, for not seeing the shadow-side and not accepting its existence turns the world upside down. Just as it has happened in today's world.
“The shadow cannot be subtracted from the person, the shadow cannot be undone or ignored. The shadow is born with every one of us and it is visible everywhere and to everyone. If you live on Earth you cast your shadow on Earth. If you declare your love to a person you also declare your love to his or her shadow.“
A person, each and every one, should take it upon themselves to know one's own shadow, to know it and not deny it. “If a person himself makes an effort to understand his or her shadow-side, and to make amends with it or to tame it as far as he or she can, the state of the world is under control, so to say“. Luik says. “As soon as the person loses awareness of his or her shadow-side, as soon as the need to overcome difficulties, honour, dignity, truth and death are excluded from people's lives and vocabularies, the light in the world also diminishes and the core values that make us human are grotesquely turned on their heads.“
I think that the acknowledgement of the existence of a person's shadow must be connected to the acknowledgement of their human fallibility and “contradictiveness”. The acknowledgement of the darkness and confusion inside the inner worlds of each and every one of us. It cannot be rooted out and there is no need for that. It's more of a question of learning to know what it is. For myself it is also about the fact that I want to have space in my inner world, I want to have space for new things, for dreams. And to make space for something you probably also need to throw something out or at least store it in a more efficient way.
Now, as I did under that starry August sky, I close my eyes and become one with the darkness, the one inside me as well as the one outside. I halt and let myself become still in order to gaze at the darkness in which I'm beginning to see the hues of grey. I learn to see myself more clearly and through this also the world. I look at the starry sky within me.