In the side streets of Cusco a strange, vibrating energy is building. The street sellers have moved from touting tamales and ears of corn to red gladioli and heart shaped candy. The jewellery and painting people are out in full force:
“Hola Mami, necklace for you? Not now? Maybe later, later??”
It is Valentine’s Day - called El Dia del Amore y La Amistad in Peru. The Day of Love and Friendship. I like the inclusion of the latter. As this year i’m distinctly and very happily without the former. The day also marks the start of Carneval so there are children running around with threatening looking barbie pink water pistols and teenagers chucking flour bombs.
No one knows quite how long this phenomenon will last, although most agree it goes on longer than it should and gringos would be wise to wear waterproofs.
Love is something i’ve been thinking a lot about recently. Who doesn’t. Most of the time. But mainly because for the latter half of 2014 I decided to try and get this whole “self love” thing under the belt.
Oh I thought I had this licked ages ago but yet another relationship where I fell for flattery instead of consistency and words instead of action, and gradually relinquished my own boundaries and needs came at an age and a stage which left my self esteem in shards.
One minute he was taking me on romantic weekends away, the next he was pulling away. His words were amazing yet his actions told me i came somewhere between the unopened post and his weekly shop on his list of priorities. I’d say, his morning coffee but i have a feeling that that probably had the edge. Every time I withdrew, he came close. Words are the best friends of people like him and as I gradually realise… myself too. For those where the intimacy of, the commitment of action, has us running for the hills.
But that’s what i grew up with. Words. Not action. Those three little words were wheeled out easy enough but always (and still do) come with conditions attached. I love you meant I need you, I want your attention, I reward you for doing something for me. They and any affection or attention that came with it was withdrawn in a sulky, obstinate haze when my needs, wants and feelings tried to take centre stage.
The Stars and the Shadows Between
The Incans were great astrologers. They based their calendar around the moon and studied the starry froth of the Milky Way (which they called the heavenly river) for signs of rain.
Qori Qancha - the temple to their Sun God Inti, on the Avenida del Sol, was the heart of their worship before Spanish Conquistadors took their land and tried to suppress their faith by constructing the Santa Dominga Catholic Church atop.
It’s still one of my favourite places to visit. The lower levels are built around a cool courtyard with a mix of Incan stones and Catholic paintings. The upper levels shows the great gold plate they positioned in honour of Inti the Sun God and paintings that depict their study of the stars.
As well as joining the dots of the stars to create shapes like The Plough they also worshipped the darkness between, forming shapes from the shadows between the pin points of light.
Its a strange form of astrology, between the stars they see a serpent, llama and even a toad.
It takes an entirely different perspective to come from seeing the light to the dark around the edges, a total refocusing of the lens.
I didn’t want another heart break to stuff me up inside but somehow it did. I wilted. I was frustrated at myself for not having listened to my instincts, the small, still voice within. I was angry at not standing up for my boundaries. I knew everything I should have done but didn’t. I shoulded myself within an inch of my life and I was so busy shoulding myself about what I should have done differently I didn’t have the focus or perspective to question why i’d behaved the way I had.
The critical voice in my head came at me with cudgel and claw. Overnight my mind became one of the most hostile places to live on the planet, worse than any Rio favela or Mongolian desert plain. And there was no escape. What were these dark pockets of sadness, and anger and vulnerability that had so far stayed hidden, I was so intent on revelling in the starlight of work accolades, friendship or the beamed light from a beau.
I never really “got” what people meant when they said shine a light on your darkest parts as that illumination will dissolve the fear. What does that actually mean? In practice?
It was a simple realisation in the end. The light is love. Shining the light on those dark parts of ourselves we would deny is accepting and loving all of ourselves exactly as we are. If I can
accept the strange and dark places within me, then a number of miraculous things happen.
Afraid of the dark
I can recognise with self compassion that those feelings of loneliness, anxiety, sadness, depression, anger, shame, are in all of us to varying degrees.I become less judgemental of others too. I see instead, our own shared suffering as human beings and feel more connected to the whole.
I think we’re all afraid of the dark to some degree. To expose ourselves to possible rejection or abandonment for who we really are. But it was finally by exploring those dark bursts that led me to pull back the curtain from the Wizard of Oz and see the scared, lonely, anxious little girl who had been calling the shots in so many areas of my life up until now. Instead of scolding and shaming her further I started to learn to give myself what was missing before. To learn how to take action and lovingly parent those parts of myself with care and from accepting my feelings came a growing sense of trust in my own ability to know what is best for myself.
Because as fanciful as Valentine’s day is and as romantic as the very best words are, love isn’t words. It is action. A lot of action that was missing from my life and actions that I needed to learn from scratch.
Love in Action
Love is support. A willingness to stand by and for myself when i’m struggling or working something out without judgement and with compassion.
It is protection, it is taking right action to remove myself from people, places or things that would hurt me. It is saying NO. I will no longer accept this behaviour from you. It is leaving that and those which makes me feel bad and moving towards that and those who make me feel good.
It is a compassion, a willingness to put aside judgement and embrace the dark and the light, to remove labels and see us all as human beings suffering , in pain and in joy as we struggle through life on our own journey with our own baggage and our shit and say that’s ok. This doesn’t make me less than or better than anyone else. This doesn’t make anyone else better or less than me.
- It is celebration and praise. It is saying i did this and I did this well.Well done me! and
- it is acknowledgement, and recognition for effort and even more importantly, simply just for being.
- It is action through honouring. To say I listen to myself. I hear myself and my feelings and opinions count. I accept them as they are and validate them as is without trying to change them, alter them, ignore them ore renegotiate them to make others happy. I’m going to take the best action to get my needs met and have my voice heard.
- It is contribution: It is saying here I am and this is what I am and what I have to give. It is valuable and worthwhile for the world.
- It is courage - whole hearted living and a commitment to vulnerability in the moment in spite of those who may try and tear me down. To get up again and say there are still those out there that would like me to be courageous, to be me.For me i’ll be me, for them i’ll be me. It is sharing and learning to be intimate by sharing my inner world with those that I deem safe because I believe i’m worthy and deserving of being seen, whole, imperfect and loveable.
- It is soothing, nurturing, affectionate and caring. Its offering a hug or a cuddle or holding someone’s hand just because. It is allowing someone to comfort me or to ask for help and support and to not need to give anything back because I believe right in that moment that I am worthy and deserving of receiving their love.
- It is absolute congruence and support to stand by what I feel, think and then do in spite of what others might think because my opinions and what I believe counts. I am valuable and my needs matter and I will do my best to get them met. I will speak my truth and allow it to be heard.
- As my first month in Cusco comes to an end so to does my reading companion for the first month The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and what better sentiment to express the unravelling into the dark and awareness of the light i’ve found:
“Just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of colour across the sky - so the space where I exist… is exactly this middle distance; where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime.”
I hold myself in compassion and do not judge the shape or darkness of my shadow, I recognise that it outlines my brightness, its what gives me depth and sensitivity, vulnerability and courage.
Maybe those Incans were onto something after all….for me too, it feels like just the beginning of the journey into love.
Happy Valentine’s Day One and All.