A journey into the darkness to find the light

Often the world is too much for me and I can’t think beyond the swirling thoughts in my head. I think twenty times about every step I take and every thought goes through my head a hundred times more.

Right, wrong, right, wrong.
Really wrong. Really right.
Error. Error. Error.
Stop! There is no right or wrong.

And yet I feel often I am doing things wrong. I get tangled up. What about the other people? They are also doing things wrong but they think it is right or at least they don’t feel so bad about it. They believe that sometimes you can do wrong, because it’s just very difficult to always do it right. The world is not black and white, you can’t control everything, so nothing is in that sense really wrong. Actually, some people think there is only good. That most people are good. Like Rutger Bregman wrote in his book ‘De meeste mensen deugen’. People generally want to do good so there must be a reason for it if they are doing things wrong.

I can’t remember the times when only good existed in my mind. It must have been when I was a little kid. Innocent and full of joy. A tabula rasa.

Then I learned that in addition to ‘right’ there was also ‘wrong’. There was good, but also bad. Positive and negative. But it was ok. Everything was allowed to exist and overall I still had the idea that the world was good. And if it wasn’t good, I tried to make it good. When my classmates were bullying someone else, I stood up for the bully victim. If there was injustice, I had no problem saying that out loud: “That’s not fair!” However, after my teenage years it started to get more difficult. More and more people became involved who all had their own opinions and agendas. I understood that power is not evenly distributed in the world. Also, more and more knowledge was added and as a result, more and more thoughts ran through my head. I feel that after the terrorist attacks in 2001, my worldview has changed forever.

I started to care about people and also about what they do. And I wanted to know why they do what they do.

So I started studying psychology. I did not only care about my family, my friends, my classmates, the people in my neighbourhood or the people on the streets. I also started caring about all the other people in the world. Mostly I felt sad about all the suffering people and angry about all the people who caused the suffering. Including myself. Because firstly, I am also a human being and secondly, like everyone else, I am part of a group of people with a history. Shortly summarised: I realised I am privileged.

My own mind started speaking more and more to me. Sometimes sweet, sometimes angry, sometimes disappointed, sometimes sad. Sometimes condemning and sometimes hurtful. Sometimes cheerful and full of joy. Sometimes optimistic and sometimes very pessimistic. I wanted to believe that people are good, that I am good and that the world is good. I like people but people are also complicated. For me at least. They don’t do that on purpose. They just are.

Or in fact, maybe it’s me who is complicated, not the people. And I don’t understand their simplicity.

Sometimes my thoughts stand still. Ahhh silence! Delicious! Like I am on vacation in my own head. What do you do when everything in life feels so intense? I found out when I started making art. Art gave me a tool to organise my thoughts and feelings, to ask questions and investigate humans in my own lab. Art gives my concerns the space to exist, but also makes them diminish in strength until the point of acceptance. I talked to my psychologist about all my thoughts and she said: you seem to want to figure out how you relate to people and how they relate to you. My ears were chattering. Did this psychologist read my artist statement?

I learned recently from my psychologist there are more people like me. They are called the highly sensitive people. I felt relieved because I now understood why I’ve always struggled so much with all those thoughts in my mind and why I care so much about people and what they do. I discovered it – you might say – by accident because something happened to me last year. I got a serious climate depression after seeing a work of art and listening to the news about the forest fires. I realized more than ever how we treat each other and our planet and it made my head spin.

What are we doing?
What am I doing?
I don’t understand.
The sea. The trees. The animals.
They don’t understand either.

Everything became too intense to me. The sounds, the light, the people, the city, the cars, the planes, the cyclists, the words, the gestures, the facial expressions, overwhelming feelings. I thought the city was ugly and the people are ridiculous. Unconscious zombies who are controlled by desires. First I thought this was something completely different from what I have felt before, but then I realised I had this already since I was a little child. I have experienced these intense feelings before, although this feeling is the most intense so far.

Normally art could help me calm my mind and answer my questions. But this time nothing seemed to help against this intensely fatalistic and pessimistic feeling that washed over me and I knew I had to go deeper. So I’m going to do that. In my next art project, I’m going on a journey to delve deeper into my feelings about the climate, the ethics of human behavior, and really, the meaning of life. I look for hope and acceptance of what is. A serious subject but something that I’m sure will bring something positive. Because without darkness there is no light.



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