ENGLISH – May was an eventful month for me externally but also emotionally. I thought I had been prepared. Since it was my last month in Sweden, I was almost planning on spending that hour I had at the central station on my last day in tears.
But life is full of surprises, and the big meltdown came a week earlier instead, during my weekend in Stockholm. I had had the strong feeling that I should go. First I thought it was to meet up with a friend. That fell through but the feeling I should go to the capital one more time remained. I decided to make this weekend a little practice in spontaneity and solo traveling.
I thought that the whole logistical side of it, the planning as little as possible, would be my big challenge this weekend. It turned out to be the easy part. I got a hotel no problem, and the couple who drove me up to Stockholm asked if I wanted to go back with them on Sunday. Those had been my main concerns beforehand, no matter how many times I told myself that the worst thing that could happen would be that accommodation and transportation would be expensive if I booked them last minute.
It was only on Saturday that I realized that the real challenge with this trip was something entirely different. After having walked around all morning and early afternoon (which is my way of connecting with a place), I decided to go back to the hotel, take a nap, and then maybe head out again towards the evening. As I was lying there on my bed, a thought suddenly appeared: what a strange weekend, ever since I left the house on Friday, it’s been as if I were invisible.
That thought triggered an emotional wave that I hadn’t been prepared for. That’s when I realized that I had come with expectations, too: That I had had this strong feeling I should go to Stockholm because there were people waiting here for me. Encounters that were somehow significant, and wanted to be made before I left the country.
That’s what usually happens when I am going somewhere by myself: I end up meeting new people, and I don’t even think it has anything to do with me in particular, it’s just what happens when we’re untethered from our everyday life and any roles we might (think we) have. It’s the traveler’s spirit that opens us up and makes us easy to approach. But this time: nothing.
The couple I came to Stockholm with didn’t really talk to me. When I tried to start a conversation, all I got was monosyllabic answers. It didn’t bother me much at the time, since I’m generally more uncomfortable with forced small talk than silence.
That car ride in the beginning of my trip tied in with everything else that far: the only people that had talked to me were waiters and waitresses at the cafés I’d been to, and even those interactions could hardly count as conversations, they were always kept to a minimum. I even recalled one specific situation that hadn’t paid much attention to at the time: I had been standing in line at a store, and the cashier was being super chatty with the customer before me. When it was my turn, all he said was something like „That’ll be 35 kronor“. That was all I got from this person who had just been über friendly and social!
Seeing how everything that had happened up until that point had made me feel completely invisible or unwelcome at best, really hit me. At first it only hurt, and I didn’t understand what was going on. My instant reaction was to question myself: what had I been doing wrong, what kind of weird vibes was I sending out to make people feel that they didn’t want anything to do with me?!
It was only in the evening that things started to make sense. I began to understand that this wasn’t a mistake when another thought entered my mind: there is only one place that has had the power to make me feel so completely invisible, lonely, rejected. And that’s Sweden. That’s when the fog started to clear: this was exactly why I had to come to Stockholm one more time, and this was also why my plans to meet up with a friend here had fallen through.
Up until this point I had mostly been thinking I was leaving Sweden because I just didn’t have the feeling I should stay, and that I was drawn to other places now. The thought had never occurred to me that if there are places and people that we fit in and connect with effortlessly, that the opposite is also true: there are places where we can try as hard as we want but we will never be able to force that sense of belonging.
I had been able to see this about other areas of my life: that my belief that life is hard had attracted both relationships and work places into my life that fit that belief set. Somehow I had managed to overlook the fact that the belief in the necessity to struggle also had made me choose a place where that was true for me as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel a deep love for Sweden and I have many pleasant memories from my time here, and I am grateful for everything. Just like I have many pleasant memories and much gratitude for the work places and my relationship that I let go of last year. That’s the thing that made it impossible for me to question anything but myself for so long: there is good to be found in every person and every situation. That will always be the case because life is complex. Yet all the good things will never be able to make up for when something essential is off. There is no judgement in that. It just what it is. And when it comes to loneliness and feeling rejected: that was something that had also always been there for me, from the very beginning when I first came to Sweden. I just hadn’t really wanted to acknowledge that. That weekend made me do it.
The truth as I see it is this: there is a place where we belong (maybe there are several, maybe it changes throughout life). Life gives us signs to point us there – including other places telling us „This isn’t your place“. The thing is, though: we need to choose what to do with these signs. We are free and able to choose something that is not right for us.
That is what hurt so much: the realization that I had been stubborn to insist on making something work that never could. Like I said, I’ve had this realization twice in the past year, with work and with my relationship. And every time I had one of these insights, I thought „OK, I get it now, I can see what I’ve been doing“.
Clearly, I have more blind spots than I thought. So as much as there was relief in seeing that it was not anybody’s fault, and that it was not me sending „weird“ vibes that made me unapproachable, I was mainly feeling the pain that I had suppressed for as long as I had insisted on playing the struggle game. The pain of being rejected and insisting on trying to fight that rejection.
For me, it’s wanting to be liked by everybody that triggers this kind of behavior: if there’s someone (or, apparently: a place) who doesn’t seem to like me, I tend to not want to accept that. Instead I start to try to figure out ways to change it. But the truth is: we are no blank sheets of paper. We come here with different qualities, and that means that we are good matches with some people and places who in turn have their unique qualities. Other combos are just not great. There’s nothing to be done about that and it’s nobody’s fault. And it’s not rejection in the sense that we aren’t loved or lovable.
Like I said, there is good to be found in everything. The pain I felt that weekend was part of the healing process. It was probably important, too, that I had false expectations, because would I have gone otherwise? Not so sure … However, there was not only pain this weekend, there was a whole lot of good, too: it was above all an opportunity for me to see how much I enjoy my own company. Maybe that’s confusing (or maybe it’s just confusing when trying to put it into words) but I was not only feeling lonely and rejected, I was also feeling very content with being who I am and with being with just me. That means a lot to me.
And then, on the way back it finally happened. I met a fellow traveler in every sense of the word. Her name was Hidaya, and we talked, played each other music, sat in silence, and it was all there: that instant connection where you know you get each other. We met up one more time later that week in Gothenburg, and I am sure it wasn’t the last time. And this, too, is part of my Sweden experience. It’s one of the many gifts I’ve been given. Thank you. For all of it.
Recently, I have been through quite a few emotional roller coasters. Since my intuition and I have become pretty good friends, I was able to accept this state even when I didn’t understand what triggered this process at first. Nevertheless, my mind wanted to know. It always does. Here’s the answer I’ve come up with, and what I’ve found to be a good way to deal with conflicting feelings.
The major change in my life has been that I have made some decisions that broke my routine. Well, actually, there hasn’t been much of a routine, that’s the thing: I ended my life as I knew it, and after a period of regrouping I am now at the point where something else is starting to fill the space. Since I have been making a conscious effort to shape this new life, of course, the new that is coming or about to enter means a great deal to me! Somehow I just hadn’t factored in that that is enough to trigger all kinds of emotions.
I finally realized that there is nothing „wrong“ about this process, there is no mistake. Whenever I am engaging in something I care about, I always have seemingly conflicting emotions. I am never only overjoyed. I am never only terrified. As long as I am not indifferent, there is always both – excitement and anticipation at the prospect of change, but also fear and anxiety over the possibility that things might not turn out the way I wish for.
I wrote „seemingly conflicting“ because I believe that those emotions are not in fact conflicting. They are two sides of the same coin. Whenever I feel like there is something to win, naturally part of me is afraid of not winning = losing. I have done enough things I didn’t really care about either way, so that I can confirm that that is the best recipe for complete loss of energy. So that is not the alternative I am planning on applying.
Then what to do without becoming the figurative stoic that says „I knew I had fathered a mortal“ when confronted with the death of his son? Because I definitely don’t want that kind of indifference, either.
Here’s what I’ve found works for me:
1. Accepting that I have feelings and ideas about how I should feel. On everything! It appears to come with the being human gig. It’s only when I step into that trap where I try to deny or fight my feelings that things get ugly, and they end up controlling me.
2. Therefore, the number one priority is to allow all my thoughts and feelings to be heard. I make a point to check how it would make me feel if I listened to any of them. For instance, when the prospect of doing something makes me really happy, but there are some concerns, I accept the concerns but go ahead anyway. Either with a plan on how to tackle the concerns or with the confidence that any problems will be resolved if the need arises. They’re probably not even actual „dangers“ but just my fear’s way of saying „Don’t go there!“.
However, when I realize that the thought of not doing something I had set my mind to actually fills me with relief, and the reasons for doing it are mainly ideas of of what I am „supposed to be doing“, it’s safe to say that it’s a good idea to lay low. Maybe it’s not the right timing, or maybe I the underlying idea of why I should be doing this is misguided. This is the part where it’s helpful to trust that gut instinct, even when I can’t see all the whys at that time.
I believe that I came here into this life with a plan, where the most important milestones are already decided upon. Our ego is a lot less in control than it likes to make us believe. When I look back at my life, I was hardly ever aware of the significance of the events that really shaped its course. The things that seemed important, which I worked myself up over, turned out not to be. The things that were, were never entirely up to me. In fact, I could even „mess them up“ and „somehow“ they worked out anyway – because that was the way things were needed to be for me to stay on my path.
3. The real challenge then is to achieve that balance where I accept that I have feelings but where I also trust that they are not the complete picture. Yes, of course achieving certain goals makes me happy. And yes, sometimes I experience loss and it feels awful. But the thing is, that is not the totality of life, there is a happiness that is not tied to any achievements or fulfillment of desires – or loss thereof.
This moment right now is something I’ve once longed for: having alone time, being able to use my cell phone and my computer at home (long story, another time). And it’s also something I’ve once been afraid of because I got here losing things and people on the way.
There is nothing wrong with having goals and desires, in fact I am only now beginning to (re-)discover their importance. The happiest life is the one where we can gracefully combine the two: setting goals, acknowledging our heart’s desires, and setting out to achieve them with the confidence that we in fact already have everything we need to be happy right here and now. Anything we set out to do is all about experiencing a variation of happiness, not earning the right to be happy if we achieve a certain goal.
Everything we need along the way will be provided for. No feelings (our own or others‘), mistakes or accidents can jeopardize what is truly meant to be ours. Detours are part of the road, getting lost is, too. Whichever path we choose, it will lead us closer to home – our true self.