Defined by our fears, not our dreams


I am reading the wonderful "And the mountains echoed" by Khaled Hosseini, his third book, as mesmerising as the others. I am awake in the middle of the night reading it, as I do not find much time during the day, with work and an 18 month old. The book is really touching me deeply in many ways, as it is waking up one of the main dreams I have had to give up in this life.

The dream is about travelling to and working in countries that are experiencing huge human trauma, to capture it and share it with the world. I started thinking about this probably around the age of 24, when I did a one year course of Africa studies, and started getting interested in third world questions. Travelling in Africa with the course, we met with many NGO's, stayed with families in the middle of nowhere, and talked to a lot of people suffering from different traumas, illnesses, etc. I went on to apply for Middle Eastern studies and Arabic at SOAS, School of Oriental and African Studies, and my plan was to go and complement with some sort of journalistic or photographic Master Degree afterwards. At the time Afghanistan was one of my main goals, as it was one of the main focuses of media and the world at that time.

And then I met YOGA.

Yoga, which was going to change the direction of my life, in a very radical way.
I had already been practicing yoga for a while, and I was embarking on an almost year-long trip through South East Asia and overland to South Asia, before dipping into Sweden on the way to London to start my undergraduate studies at SOAS.
It was in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, that I then met the man who would deeply change and affect my life choices. How easily swayed I was back then... and maybe I still am, I am not sure anymore.
He was a travelling yogi, and I looked up to him more than I fell in love with him. We met at a thai massage course, at the Old Medicine Hospital, and we did this course of two weeks together, and ate our ways through the night markets in the evenings. After that, it was obvious that we would stay in touch. We went to Ko Samet together for a short while, where he was going to do a yoga retreat, and stayed on a beautiful tiny beach in a wooden beach hut, and just spent a few days there, quietly, doing yoga, talking... The woman running the place was also a yogi, and I think seeing her practicing every day, also really deeply made an impact on me. Each and every morning at sunrise she was doing like a million sun salutations, watching the horizon, her indian incense burning next to her. At around 10 am she was done, and she ate a huge beautifully prepared vegetarian breakfast. Again at sunset she did another asana and meditation practice. Each and every day, the same routine. She looked so composed, so together, so in control of herself. I wanted to be like her, and like Michael. I lost myself in the way it looked from the outside.
Chiang Mai Temple
I went to the Philippines, and started, thanks to Noina (that was her name) and Michael, my own practice, each and every morning. Didn't matter where I was- in a shitty little room in a huge dirty city or on a beautiful beach in my own private bungalow. I set my alarm for 5.33 am (the time I am born) and I was up before sunrise, and did a whole long ritual of meditation, pranayama, sun salutations and asana.
Back in Bangkok, I bought all the yoga books I could find, and on my travels through Bangladesh I continued the study and the self exploration of yoga each and every day. When I reached Varanasi, I was already dressing like a yoga person, and I had already started taking on some of the identity that I had been observing in others being "yogis". In all honesty; I had a hard time in Varanasi, but it did affect me deeply in all its dirty glory. And I had a goal; to become like those yogis. Composed, controlled, with a beautiful graceful body.

I got sick- malaria- and spent two months in bed. It was a total breakdown and destruction of myself. I came out skinny, destroyed, weak. But I saw it as my chance- now I could re-build the structure that I wanted. New habits, new foods, yoga every day. And I did.

Back in London, I went to the university just before the term was about to start, and I changed my degree for Study of Religions and Sanskrit. I had made my decision in Mexico, after a huge breakfast of golden mangos watching the Caribbean sea moving peacefully, talking to my new yoga boyfriend about it and allowing him to advise me.

I was now living yoga fully, in all ways of my life. My path had changed completely.

So reading this book, reading about what the people in Afghanistan have gone through, makes me feel as if there was a parallell life for me, a road I could have taken, almost should have taken, but I didn't. Why?

There is a part of the book that I read last night in the metallic light of my iPhone. It's the mother of the aid worker Markos, living on a tiny island in Greece, who says "in the end our lives are defined by our fears more than our desires" and Makos asks "how so" and she explains- look at you, your greatest fear was to get stuck here on this tiny island with me. And she gives two other examples from the characters in the story.
It really hit me hard. I think it definitely applies to me.

All these years of trying to define my dreams and live them, and in the end I am also defined more by my fears than my dreams.

I was somehow afraid of not being liked/loved if I was a war correspondent or journalist in war torn countries. I would not be liked by all these people I was currently surrounding myself with. I will never forget a guy called "Tao" who lived in a simple straw bungalow by the Sanctuary in Thailand, but who had to go on a visa run so we met in the cheapest hostel on Khao San Road in Bangkok, who was one of those "classic" so called spiritual people. He had no belongings- literally- he had one pair of shorts and one t-shirt which he washed every evening before bed, one mini tube of toothpaste, one soap, and one toothpaste which he had broken off so as to not have to much "belongings" and then of course his little tiny waist bag with passport, VISA cards and money. We were sitting on the floor in between our prison like rooms, and we talked about the blossoming of the soul or something flowery like that, when I told him I had been accepted to my dream education. He said "let me guess!!- NATUROPATH?? And I said no... Middle Eastern studies!! And he looked at me with a stern face and said something about that really not belonging on a spiritual path. And at that time I desperately wanted to become "spiritual".
I cannot believe today that I was so affected by the opinions of these lost, floaty butterflies that I met while travelling, but YES- it is a fact. And it has shaped my life, forever, I guess.

Ko Phangan
Funny, to think about that now. None of those people are in my life anymore. Except ME. And I am the one who has to live with the consequenses of my choices.

In my so-called spiritual path, I did a lot of healing and past life regressions and stuff like that. Funny- everything told me I needed to tell stories, that in my past life I had been in wars, writing and taking pictures of the suffering. And I kept being torn, all through these years of yoga-life. Deeply torn. I went to photography exhibitions about these subjects and something deep in my soul was screaming. I could not shake the feeling of resentment towards the life I was living, it was there, constantly. Through my degree, through my jo at the yoga centre, through my relationship with the travelling yogi, through the myriad of workshops and through my yoga teacher training- and even all through my yoga teaching- I stayed resentful towards it all. Like I was only there to criticise it. I am forever grateful for the yoga practice in my life, but it could have stayed with that, I would think now. I didn't have to make it such a big deal. I could still have my daily self practice and do the things I dreamed of.

I tried to somehow get back on that track a few years ago. I did a master degree in photojournalism in Barcelona. But the whole experience was not done in a good timing. The course was negative- all they talked about was how the economy is bad, the crisis, the crisis in the photography profession, crisis of newspapers, and on and on. Very Spanish, very negative. Instead of finding ways for the new journalism, new multimedia, new social media... they just killed the course, and I did not even properly finish it. At the same time I had met the man I am with now, living with and having a child with, so my heart was again torn and my inner biological clock was ticking. He wanted me to move there; I was torn again between the fear of not being loved versus my dream. Guess who won that battle.

I never wanted to become this middle aged person who feels they are now stuck with family obligations, and didn't fulfill their dreams. But it looks like it- here I am. Just recently starting to think about all these things. Definitely an early middle age crisis.