The thing I don’t like about the notion of finding yourself is that it suggests there’s this one self out there for you to discover, and that once you’ve found it, that’s just who you are from that point forward. It’s like this pursuit of happiness everyone’s always going on about, this fixed point in the indefinite future where if you just did this or that, you’d be happy, you’d own happiness. But what if all that is wrong? What if happy is just a river? And every time we dip our hands in, instead of trying to grasp something permanent, instead of asking ourselves why we can’t keep it, what if we could just feel it and let it flow over us?
Maybe happiness isn’t fleeting, it’s just flowing; and maybe self is just as fluid.
Last week marked 6 months that I’ve lived in Switzerland. A lot of that time has been spent trying to build something, trying to belong, trying to welcome discomfort, trying to find answers about myself or the world or life, trying to be happy… And the thing I haven’t really admitted to myself yet is that I’ve found all of these things; albeit, not simultaneously, or easily, and definitely not permanently, but I’ve found them nonetheless. And what I’m starting to discover is that experiencing your emotions in a way that doesn’t expect for them to stay is a practice in mental strength and stability, in a world of change and chaos.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Tom Robbins’s Still Life with Woodpecker; it goes:
“Who knows how to make love stay?
1. Tell love you are going to Junior's Deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake, and if loves stays, it can have half. It will stay.
2. Tell love you want a memento of it and obtain a lock of its hair. Burn the hair in a dime-store incense burner with yin/yang symbols on three sides. Face southwest. Talk fast over the burning hair in a convincingly exotic language. Remove the ashes of the burnt hair and use them to paint a mustache on your face. Find love. Tell it you are someone new. It will stay.
3. Wake love up in the middle of the night. Tell it the world is on fire. Dash to the bedroom window and pee out of it. Casually return to bed and assure love that everything is going to be all right. Fall asleep. Love will be there in the morning.”
I can’t pinpoint why exactly I love this quote so much. Perhaps it’s because it poses such a universally frightful and essentially unanswerable question, and then goes on to answer it, in more ways than one. But I think what really lights my heart on fire about these words is how blatantly ridiculous they are; just as poignantly ridiculous as believing we can make anything stay at all. We can’t.
Looking back on my time here so far, I can confidently say that many of the sad and frustrating and scary and confusing moments I’ve had have served me just as well as happiness ever has. All of these emotions have taught me about myself and the world and this life and the notion that it’s not only okay for things to change and evolve, it’s necessary.