Are some people addicted to suffering?

Psychologist and Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard

“Sovereign of my heart, Regina, kept safe and secret in the deepest corner of my breast.”

I’m big on psychology theorists these days, and while searching for e-books for Rollo Reese May (since I failed to find any hardcopies in our distinguished book-stores across Cairo), I came across works by Soren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher, psychologist and theologian. I decided to “wiki” him since I have to admit I knew nothing of him and the book that I came across had an incredibly sexy title (It’s called ‘Fear and Trembling’).

His wiki page touched upon his relationship with the love of his life Regine Olsen. The woman, as also several other pages claim, greatly influenced his work. He was briefly engaged to her, their love was “deep” according to records, but then he lost her. How? Well, he broke off the engagement. It was his doing, and then he suffered for it during his short life (he died at 42).

Why did he do it? The reasons are not clear. Some say it was due to his devotion to God and church (almost forced upon him by his father), others say to immerse himself in his work, while some said he realized he was not a man for marriage but the real reasons died with them. Olsen refused to publish her diaries (although an unverified account resurfaced later and was sold as her diary), while Kierkegaard referred to his relation only in his work. He and Olsen also corresponded, but his letters remains and hers are destroyed. Some accounts said that Olsen had told her friends that before the break-up Kierkegaard felt an immense sadness, and she suspected that drowning himself in work was a tactic to distance himself away from her.

Such a mystery, isn’t it? From her side, Olsen was devastated when seemingly without good reason her man left her. He refused to take her back even when she threatened suicide. In her despair, she begged him not to leave her. And in order to drive her away, Kierkegaard feigned coldness, telling her that perhaps in 10 years, he will take another woman to “rejuvenate him.” The woman was left in shambles.

Ironically, she moved on, got married but he didn’t. In fact, he was “shocked” to hear of her marriage two years after he had left her. According to a source, shortly after the break up, of her he wrote: “Not even here in Berlin has my, alas, all-too-inventive brain been able to refrain from scheming something or other. She must either love me or hate me, she knows no third possibility. Nor is there anything more harmful to a young girl than half-way situations.” He remained alone until he died, and four weeks before his death, he still wrote of his agony. “I had my thorn in the flesh,” he said. “And therefore did not marry.”

Their story is fleshed out in the introduction of Kiekregaard’s book The Seducer’s Diary — which is believed to be an account of his relationship with Olsen, detailing how he seduced her and how he left, masquerading as a “fictional” tale. The introduction and the first 23 pages of the book can be found here (Google Books Preview).

Of her love, he had written in his journal, “Thou sovereign of my heart treasured in the deepest fastness of my chest, in the fullness of my thought, there […] unknown divinity! Oh, can I really believe the poet’s tales, that when one first sees the object of one’s love, one imagines one has seen her long ago, that all love like all knowledge is remembrance, that love too has its prophecies in the individual.”

The question that begs itself is: What was that about?

I’m sure the pain and the confusion had turned into energy that fuelled his creativity and inspired his writings and made his drive and will stronger. But why make this hard choice to leave abruptly as such and suffer the consequences? Was it reluctance to live with the idea of choosing one person, a lack of responsibility towards this choice or a refusal to surrender to the idea of marriage? Was it cold feet, fear of commitment, fear of happiness? Or was it the realization that he was not meant to be happy or settled or with the person he loved? The belief that he must suffer for some twisted reason that only God knew what it was? Self-punishment? Or perhaps worse, a knowledge that even the person that his heart desires can’t make him whole. A chronic feeling of (and an impulsion for) loneliness or aloneness? Perhaps it was simply boredom. Or a desire to break away, to always be free. Not to be tied down to anything, even the objects of one’s infatuation.

The story touched me. I could see people doing what he was doing (and to be honest, I could see myself doing that despite knowing that women are usually reluctant to make such radical decisions. I just read that women are more reluctant than men to break up relationships even if they’re equally, or even more, miserable than their partners).

The story is not shocking, it’s a bit surprising but most of all it’s sad. Heart-wrenching actually. Because we do make similar choices. I wondered if some people are, by nature, convinced that they cannot and shall not be happy that they consciously (or by a curse of obsessive thought) create the melo-drama, place a verdict upon their lives in their heads and act upon it.

Regine Olsen source: wikipedia

Could it be? The idea scares me. I can’t help but think: What if I’m trapped in my own thinking as such that I might be stirring up suffering? That perhaps there’s a pleasure in being confined to suffering, to being a victim of circumstances. (Or that perhaps it’s easier). We’ve studied back in college cases of people whose lives (and failures) were prophecized by their thinking. Of women who say they can’t find love but keep rejecting it or scaring potential partners away, unconsciously and sometimes consciously. Of men who believe others will eventually hate them (if they see through the protective walls that they erect around them) only to provoke that hate through their actions, thus driving people to hate them and in turn validating their earlier beliefs. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Manipulation of events and others. A very forced way of proving you’re right — even if it hurts you and those around you in the end.

I would be interested to read The Seducer’s Diary in full, and try to search for answers to the question of whether or not some people seek suffering (or can’t do or create or be something without it) through this real-life story of heart-break and great accomplishment. Then again, Kierkegaard was a prolific writer, an influential psychologist and was known to be the “the father of existential philosophy.”

Yet, like many of us, despite delving so deep into human nature and what makes us who we are, he couldn’t be happy. He followed his heart. Then his mind. He hurt others. He hurt himself. He was disillusioned. He was confused. He ached. And perhaps, if my theory is correct, that was (secretly) what he wanted.

Listening to: Ahlam and Mohammed Abdu on Rotana Khalijiah
Mood: pensive, uneasy and slightly irritable

Closet Existentialism

On Thursday I had a wedding.

Don’t like them. They’re noisy, packed, impersonal, pretentious and showy. And watching the sweat-drenched attendees wriggle and dance themselves dizzy, all the questions of “Why are we here? Who made the world?” come rushing into my head.

It’s safe to say I haven’t attended a wedding that I liked in years.

But this was a good friend’s and I’d promised myself that I have to at least make an appearance to friends’ weddings or no one will show up in mine (if I ever have one!) So that was that, and I decided I’m in this time.

But it wasn’t that easy of a decision. For a whole week before the wedding, the question would cross my mind. It would bring back memories and horror stories, and I know I’d been avoiding it for a while. It haunted me, but every time it did, I would kick it back into the back of my head, thinking to myself, “I will sort it out tomorrow. Tonight, I’ll sleep peacefully. Tomorrow, I’ll think, I promise.”

The question? … What to wear?

Please, before you judge or jump to conclusions; I’m the last girl to care too much about clothes and appearances. Well, at least I was that last girl until a year or two ago, right before I secretly decided that I’d like (or at least I’d like to pretend I’d like) to be choosier in what I don every morning or evening before I set foot outside of the house.

But every time I open my closet to check out the mismatched pieces of fabric inside, I’m faced with the horrible truth: I have nothing to wear.

Weddings used to make me sad, because they were reminders of a rather lacking and modest wardrobe

And I know all girls say that, but me, I, moi? I promise you, I really, really don’t have anything to wear. Or let me be more plain and correct here (since we can all safely assume I don’t go out naked): I have nothing decent to wear.

Not wedding-material at least (and I’m talking about the clothes, not me). As I looked at my closet (packed with trousers, all black, desert scarves, weird tops, muhajabat clothes, two sleeping bags, two or three pairs of washed-out jeans and did I mention the black trousers?), I thought about all those chances I had in London all throughout last year and before during trips to Italy, Beirut or Dubai to pack my bags and in turn wardrobe with some nice dresses that would make me look classy in a party (or at least not bring shame to my family and illicit weird looks from my friends’ friends). And how I wasted every chance.

Why? Body issues. I think part of me always thought I don’t deserve nice dresses. I remember that during shopping, I always found it a joy to pick and choose for my younger sister. And if she wasn’t with me on a trip, I’d do the job like a good sibling, and choose for her. She always loved my taste, I was a bit adventurous (read eccentric) in my choices and I loved to mix chic and boho. Sometimes, I secretly wished I was thin myself so I’d have enough room to maneuver in choosing my own clothes, instead of opting for whatever that hides my curvature and all those flaws that my eye immediately catch whenever I but glimpse my reflection in a mirror.

I can safely say I’ve lost some good weight, and fingers crossed (and mouth shut) I intend to lose more. This time, I’m intent on reaching my ideal weight and the look that will make me confident (since I did reach a point where I felt tired of being embarrassed by that ‘vessel’ that carries me around everywhere). But with the weight loss, I lost both kilos and half of my wardrobe; some clothes just look funny on me now.

So what did I end up doing this time? I waited till the morning of the wedding, decided I wasn’t going to panic, and instead act professionally. Those memories of similar situations (the tears before weddings where I was convinced I looked fat and “bee2a”, all the times I blamed my parents for my lack of fashion sense, all those party photographs where I looked like The Laughing Cow, the painful hunt from a prom and later graduation party dress) were pushed back, supressed, buried deep down, and set fire to. Those times are gone, I told myself.

First, I raided my sister’s wardrobe. Well, she carried some extra weight herself a couple of years back, and surprisingly I did find two dresses that looked alright and fit. But just to have more choices (acting professionally makes you demanding and haughty considering a day earlier I was completely desperate), I made emergency phone calls to my friends. I actually went as far as texting one of my sister’s best friends who’s a sucker for party wear and has a wide variety. My message was brief: “I need a dress for a wedding. Something black.” Before she had a chance to respond, I followed with another text: “I lost weight btw.” It was essential. For her, so she would know I can actually now fit into her dresses. For me, as an extra reassurance that I’m on the road to change whatever I hated (had issues with/felt insecure about) in myself.

Me is not written in stone. Me is an evolving thing, something that I have yet to discover, not something that I carry around or is bound to forever. Last year, I was the girl with major self-destructive body issues. Last Thursday, I was still insecure but with less weight on my hips I ended up with at least six dresses to choose from, all fit me and all looked alright. I painted my toes flaming red, wore my high-heeled sandals (instead of opting for the ballerinas as I always would) and I walked tall -mainly because of the heels- and proud (a teeny tiny bit). But it’s not because of who I am now, but because of the potential I felt I had in me.

Of course, all those fluffy inner-power love-yourself-for-who-you-are-blah-blah feelings are not permanent, they come and go. And I do end up sometimes in a puddle on the floor crying my eyes off because of the “long way ahead of me.” (I’m 3kilos away from my ideal weight, height minus 100 and all that. But I’m like 10-15 kilos away from my ideal look). I knew that, but I decided to indulge in the good feelings as they lasted, savour those moments that make me want to invest in my body and my self more.

The next day it was my sister’s best friend’s engagement party – yup, the same girl I called for help. And I had to be there – axing my travel plans for the weekend. And I dressed up again, and I conjured up all those me-myself-and-I-powers again and I ventured out there, making mental photographs of all those dresses that made me drool …

… Yup, I have decided I deserve nice dresses too, for a change. And you know what? I even have a folder on my laptop now titled “Being a girl project.” Yes, the nerd is me is taking the “beauty project” very seriously, with folders, notes, research, pictures and one big fat plan to make me thin.

And let the blogosphere be my witness, I will be (insha’Allah).

Ah, and that wedding? It was awesome! College mates who haven’t seen me for two or three years or so noticed the weight loss, to my delight. Those who haven’t seen me since college noticed the lack of the headscarf :S But it was all much fun. So was the engagement.

Good times, I tell ya. Good times.

And I’m not even sure whether it’s the times that are changing. Or is it just me.

Listening to: Girl, All My Loving, Hey Jude, Hold My Hand, by the Beatles (duh!)
Mood: Thankful

Light games

At the third acting workshop this week, light was the star.

We’d moved to a theater in downtown for our training, which is the venue we’ll using from now on. The blackbox we used yesterday is definitely much more equipped and spacious than the studio in Mohandiseen. I’d been moved to a new group, mostly all younger and the girls are more giggly, but they’re just as fun as the first ones I’d trained with. Fun to be with, and even more fun to watch (Yup, some scorn seeped into that last sentence there. I’m not good, I know!).

After the usual meditative and slow movement exercises, we started some light games. Trainer operated the light board, and along with the haunting music, he started switching on and off spots, increasing and decreasing the light intensity, asking us to pay attention to the light, interact with it, move around it, bask in it, watch the rays fall on our bodies and glare into our eyes, stop and talk to it in short sentences without over-acting or saying something that we didn’t actually feel at the time.

It was like a surreal dance as people moved slowly, ventured into the light, covered their eyes from it, explored the darkness around it, watched it, shouted at it, whispered to it, and on and so forth. Slow motion was key there, also keeping the concentration gained from meditation exercises was important. Moving around the room, you were supposed  -through light and darkness and how your body felt as you moved- to explore the space you’re in. Feel it through moving in it.

You’re required to be in your head, in your body, aware, vigilant, yet honest and in touch with your feelings while keeping the calm and the transcendence that has been previously infused in you in previous exercises. At times I was struggling; I didn’t realize (until I started to attend these classes) how “scattered” I am.

It was like trying hard to contain your soul and mind, consciousness, within your body, as they keep slipping away. Anyone out there know how this feels? How difficult it is to be one?

It’s like when we stand in prayer sometimes and fight to enter our inner space while being aware of what we’re saying and doing, with eyes wide open. If anything, this validated my idea that living in the city corrupts. We can’t be still inside anymore, and it’s a constant struggle to be whole … complete, body, mind and soul.

You pull yourself together. You fall apart. You relax. Only to get tense in moments because of the smallest distraction. You enter that empty space in your mind. Then something pulls you out, a thought, a memory or a speech that goes on in your head between you and “the other” (the Voice?).

In brief moments, the light intoxicated me, and there’s something weird that happens when you finally look into the source of light in a dark room; it’s like looking into the face of God … you suddenly feel the desire to confess something, as if this artificial light at its most intense can see through you. As if the light already knows what’s being whispered inside your soul.

Poetic and melodramatic? Of course. My mind knocked itself out. It’s a drama class. And there was no better time to indulge in pseudo-philosophical thought.

The next exercise was based on improvisation again, and assuming characters. And it turned out to be much harder than I thought it would. Four chairs, one white and three black ones, were placed centre stage, light flooding them amid a patch of darkness. The white chair is occupied by one of us, a guy or girl, and the rest by members of the opposite sex. I was chosen twice for this one. In one scene, the guy occupying the chair was to play a boy who dated the three girls occupying the other chairs at certain junctures in his life. The situation preceding the meeting was not spelled out, but they were somehow trapped now into sitting together.

They all loved the boy while dating, he was selfish and nonchalant to their feelings, scornful of romance, in short a typical player. They were wounded and hurt, and now for some game of fate the girls are all friends. You’re not supposed to attack him, or touch directly on the issue, but instead use body-language and implicit references to get back at him.

It went horribly! (in my very humble opinion) The conversations were superficial, gestures exaggerated. You know how bad acting goes? Add to that uncreative, self-conscious improvisation and lack of experience, and you get the picture.

The opposite happened, and I was chosen for the white chair, the self-centered girl who played with the others’ feelings and now feels no remorse but almost amusement and a touch of embarrassment for running into people she used and abused emotionally.

Damn it!

What do you dig out in order to conjure up such feelings?

In my head, I couldn’t evoke one situation where the setting made sense. It made me wonder about the mental and dramaturgical powers that some might gain from being betrayed, heartbroken, from playing with people’s feelings and from manipulating, hurting and being hurt. Don’t get me wrong, I have no envy for those whose hearts were wrenched and minds blown apart in relationships. But suddenly, I appreciated certain human experiences, and how useful they could be in such professions.

Since we all went wrong, we were lectured for half an hour on why we did. Mostly, we couldn’t appreciate silence in such situations, and we couldn’t use the body and the eyes to communicate messages. And we should have.

The trainer said some words at the end, that sounded magical to my ears (simply because I agreed wholeheartedly): “People in the city have forgotten how to become silent. We’re flooded by so much noise that we always need the feel to speak out, to hear our voices. The intensity that comes with silence is sometimes much more powerful that the one that comes with speech and blabbering. Silence is a statement too.”

Listening to: ElTanbura (as recommended by Ashraf Khalil. Find them on YouTube)
Mood: that calm that comes with finally letting go

The memory of the intellect & the eyes

“Voluntary memory, the memory of the intellect and the eyes, [gives] us only imprecise facsimiles of the past which no more resemble it than pictures by bad painters resemble the spring … So we don’t believe that life is beautiful because we don’t recall it, but if we get a whiff of a long-forgotten smell we are suddenly intoxicated, and similarly we think we no longer love the dead, because we don’t remember them, but if by chance we come across an old glove we burst into tears.”

— Marcel Proust

Listening to … nothing, cos I’m in a hurry and I have to head out
Mood: refreshed thanks to a cold shower