Wellness and mental health are zing words today, you see them all over social media. But what does it really mean to be well? What does it mean to be healthy in your mind? Beyond all the yoga classes and strict diets?
These are questions that were thrust upon me over the last two years. Cut to me in my late 20s, approaching 30s, a Muslim woman in Sri Lanka, an artist in Colombo, feeling like an outsider of sorts, married, struggling with depression and anxiety, with no real space to speak about it in any constructive way. Trauma comes in many forms: I brushed aside my inner-child and didn't want to deal with her problems despite my therapist advising otherwise. I found it hard to reconcile what home meant, in a country that had a history of marginalizing minorities, a recent history of a government showing the utmost apathy to its people, but most importantly to me - to my community in a time of conflict. Trauma lives in the body.
Today I am 32, unmarried, living in Colombo, planning on moving closer to the coast, and I've deep-dived into the field of meditation and community healing. I began as a writer for newspapers when I was 18, then went into photography and film storytelling - what pushed me to leap into where I am today? My mental health. My wellness. At the tail end of 2019, I found myself staring into a deep, dark well, of nothing, of empty feelings, of aloneness, of not wanting to be alive. It's something we don't speak about, but we hear about often - if I had a rupee for every human being I met who has felt the darkness pull them into a pit, I'd be very rich. I had also by then, lost a few friends to suicide. I knew this would not do, I knew I needed a survival plan. There were two parts to me, ever since I could remember, since I was a child: one wanted to triumph and take over the world and make a difference, and the other wanted simply to die.
This is where vipassana meditation, sound, music, dance, community, self-love, freedom, exploration come in. I recognized and became aware that my mind was not in good health, and quite frankly, it was trying to kill me. One milestone for me was attending the vipassana retreats by Nisala.org, the teacher there had a bright, calm energy, and he guided us through becoming the observer, becoming aware, and letting go. We meditated in silence for most of the day and though it was scary at first, it was liberating in the end. I experienced absolute joy, and it came as a surprise, an unexpected burst. "Oh! I feel happy. Wow!" I was shocked. Grateful. My relationship with vipassana meditation grew deeper.
I tried to do yoga. I failed many times. I tried to eat well. Failed at that too. I tried to keep friends around, that didn't work out sometimes either. Then I stopped trying to go after it all. I just stayed where I was, I focused on myself, my breathing, my skeleton, my love for myself, my hate for myself, my feelings for things and people around me. I began to slowly feel what it is like to feel alive. And that was my huge takeaway: are we really living life, or are we walking dead? Are we feeling anything or are we just numbing ourselves to feeling? What are the cultural, traditional, habitual, social practices in our lives that keep us from feeling, from being alive?
I stopped trying to think, to overthink, to plan. I let it go. I did what I used to do as a child: I put on my earphones and lost myself in sound. I danced for hours in my house. It felt natural, joyful, it was unconscious, and my body began to feel alive again. Meditation had led me to dance, which then led me to yoga, which then led me to better self-care, then community, and conflict resolution. Therapists and friends and family were on the sidelines, on the peripheries, supporting figures, rooting for me but ultimately no one else can pull your weight. And all along there was a dedication to try and be my most authentic self, even in spaces that did not want me to, and to do that, I had to make friends with the little girl inside me who was carrying hurt.
There are so many parts that I can't include in this particular blog post, because there's so much that happened, so maybe I'll tell you the whole story one day. But for now, what I will tell you is that I have felt it in my bones, that there is light even in the deepest and loneliest of wells. It requires the utmost faith, the utmost self-belief, a kind of madness of the mind, and some cosmic hand of god or the universe, a current to push you along, to continue, and to dedicate oneself to an undying love for art, in which I believe the power of healing exists. It's not even a radical idea - art, music, dance, used to be the cornerstones of spiritual, religious and communal healing in ancient civilizations, from Egypt to India to Native America. There is a lost knowledge in our past as the human race - there was a respected and protected communion with nature, the nature of ourselves and our physical existence here on earth, that needs revival. Here's to the excavation of that knowledge, of the arts, of the self, of all the demons and the angels within us, in pursuit - despite all the odds - of truth and joy.
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