from the book “Across the Ravaged Land”
© Nick Brandt
One day, not long after arriving in France, I was sitting on the sofa after lunch and all of a sudden, I felt my whole body collapse into itself. I had no energy to move any of my muscles, neither to talk, to get up, nor to read. It was like watching a physical meltdown with my mind fully conscious. At some point, I managed to go to the bedroom and lie down for a couple of hours drifting in and out of sleep, during which time, my mind dwelled on crazy thoughts of my body being poisoned and my digestive system eating itself away. I felt an overwhelming hunger and emptiness in my stomach, even though I'd just eaten.
In the bathroom later that evening, I looked at myself in the mirror and didn't recognise the person looking back. I saw the face before me and wondered what kind of person I was and what the hell was I doing with my life? The intense and haunting shakiness I experienced unnerved me. I felt so alone and didn't know what to do next.
Initially, I assumed it was just my body relaxing from the stress of the past few months. When I made the decision to take this sabbatical, I felt excited and exhilarated at the idea of being a gypsy for six months; to go on an adventure and take a break from the demands and necessary structure of my work, home, family and friends. My apprehension about leaving London was not related to what or whom I would miss; it was to do with the practicalities of having ‘stuff’ to deal with, the responsibility of all the material things I'd accumulated, and I thought that the period of feeling nervous and anxious would be over once I got on the Eurostar and was on my way to France. Leaving a physical place and the material comforts of home, however, was not really leaving home.
During the month of August, my stomach continued to feel bloated and gassy, my hips tense with pain, and the rest of my body generally out of balance. In the realm of the body-psyche connection, these symptoms indicate a gut level anxiety, a fear of letting go of the past and, in tandem, a dread of the future. So I have been asking myself questions: What am I not digesting, or not letting go of? What am I so scared of that I am becoming stuck and solidified in my anxiety?
Frankly, I've been feeling pretty fed up with the same answer that keeps rising to the surface, namely that I am petrified of freedom!
One of the biggest challenges I've faced over the past month is learning to re-negotiate my love/hate relationship with food. In the twenty five years since leaving my childhood home for university, I've been slim and fat, I've done Atkins, Ayurveda and the cabbage soup diet, I've done week-long cleansing and indulged in junk food for many more. This continuous habit of yoyo-ing back and forth has not provided the best environment for my body to be healthy — and hence, the consequence of my current ailments I suspect.
While staying in Lyon with my mother-in-law, unlike my London lifestyle of erratic eating times and nutritionally dubious food choices, I have been eating smaller quantities of fresh, home-cooked food, at regular times of the day, as well as drinking less alcohol and allowing myself not to run around like a crazy-busy person. The simplicity and consistency of this altered discipline has forced me to look at my usual habits around food. For example, why do I eat unhealthy food that creates pain in my digestive system? Or why am I over-filling my belly with food that I do not need?
Food is sustenance and nurturing at the most basic and essential level of our being. Eating habits, just like our many other habits, form part of the thoughts, beliefs and values, which have already been framed, constrained and solidified during childhood. And even as we invite new adventures and changes into our lives, consciously or unconsciously, we have also habituated ourselves over many years to resist change. We clench, freeze and petrify our bodies into ever more resistance until the body can no longer cope and starts to break down, or shut down.
Of course, the easy cop out is to blame our parents, but this does not give us freedom. While the past gives us useful information about our habits, it is not necessary to justify present challenges using the mistakes of the past (or those of our parents). When we hold too tight with our mind, the flow of life stops. It is stalled with our assumptions about a future that is yet to unfold.
Resistance is a habit we create when we do not recognise that the essence of our being is to be confident, to accept that we cannot control everything in the universe, and to see that love is about surrendering to being in harmony with other people and our world. We get tense and tight when we want to ‘over-control’ our environment instead of trusting that life supports us and that we have the capacity to receive that support with openness and flexibility.
So what is it that I need to let go of? The truth is that I do not know. Anything. And instead of fearing the shakiness and vulnerability I feel, why not embrace it? Why not let the space that I do not fill with food to simply dwell? I do not need to fear that emptiness equals annihilation. Perhaps it is accepting the lack of a past, no more ‘stuff,’ no place, no materialness for my memory to grasp and hold tight.