Oaks, planes, tulip trees towering to the sky all around him! He had almost forgotten how huge a tree could be.… The forests of the other world were so young, their trees still children. They had always made him feel old, so old that the years covered him like cobwebs. Here he was young again, just a child among the trees, not much older than the mushrooms growing among their roots, not much taller than the thistles and nettles.
—Cornelia Funke, “Inkspell”
To know yourself. How many times in your life have you been given this piece of advice?
To know yourself. What can it mean, though?
It could start with knowing the feelings you are feeling and naming them. This is happiness. This is satisfaction. This is anger. This is love. The wind washing over me is grace. The leaf trembling in the wind is joy. The forgetfulness of my head in a shop is greed. The burial in a book (or a game or a television show or work) is escape. Why escape? Has something hurt you? The sharp words that twist something inside are causing hurt. The fullness and lightness in the chest you feel after crying are relief.
Sometimes you have the feeling that you are not naming feelings as accurately as you could. Like you are shying away from knowing. Why do you shy away from yourself, hide yourself from yourself? You want to be able to tell when you are doing what you are doing because you enjoy it, or because you think you ought to enjoy it. This is crucial. You might discover a capacity for self-deception inside you that you cannot comprehend. Why do you lie to yourself?
Sometimes you are a flighty bird inside. You shy away from eyes, because in eyes are examination and discovery. But at the same time, you live among the eyes, on the light; you drink in the light, like a hummingbird drinking nectar from flowers. Sometimes, though, you are a clumsy dark bear in the kingdom of this bird: tromping on the flowers, leaving gouges in the soil, and breaking the delicate stems of the roses. Every green thing, every thing that drinks light, lies limp after your passage in search for this bird. But somehow you cannot grasp that this bird is grace and this bear is a clumsy, dark, growling, hulking mass of fur that has invaded the peace of the little home. But both are you.
The flowers here make the bear feel old. It feels out of place in the bird’s light garden. It belongs in a vast forest where the trees, shooting straight from the earth into the sky, tower over it, making it feel small. It belongs in the dim light of the sun that filters through spaces in the leaves high above. It belongs among these golden pinpricks, these small promises of light. It belongs in the winds that whistle and tear through these trees. It belongs in the icy droplets that fall through the leaves and slither down its spine. In this place, among giant life-forms that dwarf its hulking mass, it can feel young and childlike again.
It can be confusing to be both a bird and a bear. So sometimes, after the bear has raged in your mind and left you spent, you want to be hidden away till the damage done to the garden grows right. This is why you escape, to wherever you escape. But sometimes the bear gets so out of control that the garden takes a long time to grow back. During this time, you might turn your eyes away from the garden and try hard not to think about it. This is the beginning of self-deception. Layers of self-deception can grow on top of each other – until, someday years later, you look at the garden again and discover that you no longer know your way around it. The weeds have overcome the flowers. The paths have disappeared. The bird is nowhere to be seen. You begin to question whether it ever existed – or was it another beautiful thing from a carefree childhood that you have now outgrown? If the answer is “yes,” then you stop visiting. If it’s “no,” you might begin half-hearted efforts to pull out weeds. But it is exhausting work. And you’re plagued by the thought that the garden might never regain its former glory. So your self-fulfilling prophecy comes true, and the garden really does not regrow.
What can you do? Treat yourself gently… and know yourself.