Een alledaags wonder
In 2022, I was very fortunate to have been invited to contribute to a beautiful book: Een Alledaags Wonder (An Everyday Miracle). The book contains 50 stories from famous thinkers, artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs who expressed in their unique ways what it feels like to suddenly look up from our individual existence and feel connected to others and the world. It was compiled by Steven Eggermont (communication scientist and dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at KU Leuven) and Peter Vermeersch (author and political scientist affiliated with the Faculty of Social Sciences at KU Leuven).
I am proud and grateful that my contribution – Inward and Outward Expansions – finds itself among those of important voices in Belgian and Dutch societies.
Inward and Outward Expansions
By Anaëlle Gonzalez
When studying abroad in 2018, I began meditating. I can recall myself sitting on the floor of my student room, following the guidance of some app. I was judging myself, wondering what I was doing and loathing myself for my inability to stay still or silence my thoughts for five minutes. The urge to take my phone, to direct my attention on whatever was more interesting was intruding. I was facing my mirror and when I looked at myself, all I could see was what I wanted to change. Observer or object? My solitary gaze was invigilating the reflection like an unfinished project not deserving of appreciation, let alone compassion.
Through (in)consistent practice, mindfulness – still through meditation and in motion through yoga – shifted my relationship with the world and reconnected me with my body by paying attention. I grasped my thought patterns when arguing and my listening capacity overshadowed by my need to be right. I gained awareness of my emotions, of the air passing through my lungs, another thing connecting us all. My awareness and interest in the depth of myself and of others grew. It taught me to seek balance and beauty everywhere, even in darkness. I remembered more experiences, by simply being present. Not in my head, not in the past or in the future, just present.
When outside, how many of us strive to avoid eye contact with strangers? How can we reconnect with others and recognize our shared humanity when we fail to acknowledge one another? Through mindfulness, details going previously unnoticed started connecting. Connection is limited when we cannot recognize our flaws and our wrongs. The acceptance of human complexity starts by recognizing our own. In today’s culture of personal development, we think that the problem and solution is the self, the work is on the self and that ultimately, the self is the goal. An isolated, yet perfect and self-realized self. Today, I believe that the work on the self is only a step towards healthier belonging. I endorse Winnicott’s vision of the psyche as intimately interpersonal and social in nature. That the psyche is not so much inside of us as it is between us.
This practice strengthened my empathy. Being mindful permits to be softer, to pause before casting a harsh judgement on the stranger on the internet, the wanderer in the street, ourselves. I pause and see them in me, me in them. A flawed and complex human being filled with heartbreak and loss. When the ‘I’ takes less space you realize that everyone wants the same thing: to be loved and to be seen.
When you notice things, you can start caring, and when you care, you can start standing for what you believe in.
In parallel, meeting people from everywhere opened up my world and mind. This led to my first experience of interconnectedness at the Women’s March in Calgary. How paradoxical to experience a sense of community with this anonymous crowd that perspired safety. A safe space with no judgement. Bound by a common goal and intertwined suffering. This event did not transform into more than online activism and passionate conversations until I watched the film Woman by Anastasia Mikova and Yann Arthus-Bertrand last year. I never fully grasped this overwhelming feeling when leaving the cinema with all the (mostly) women who had watched it too. One movie, plenty of interviews, hundreds of unfamiliar faces, yet this feeling of understanding, this sense of belonging. There was intense beauty in all faces, in all stories. These events made me travel through the depths of women’s lives. All these experiences, with which I could either empathize or feel in my bones. Each word, each look, each vibration, nothing but intense emotions. I cried, I laughed, I resented. My heart got broken then rebuilt. I felt unconditional love, pride and empowerment. In our similarities and differences. These experiences enrich each other and become a pillar upon which my sense of identity rests. The bubble of my personal experiences had burst and allowed me to wear new glasses, tinted with connectedness. Now, my body knew, my body remembered, times of presence and connection. It was tattooed in my veins, in my hips, in my brain. My body knew this connection, it just forgot the freedom to express it and the fire to embody it. It just needed to reclaim those moments forming our core which vanish when life goes too fast.
Where one could see separate stories, I see interconnected events, inward and outward expansions, that led me to experience more connection with my environment. The decision upon which to act on this feeling of belonging and how to do so remains an open discussion that the pandemic has put on hold. I believe some experiences can lay dormant until reactivation. In order to grow and change the outer, going inner was a safe option. It brought new lenses on the way I experience the world which I cannot unsee. When you feel paralyzed about how to bring societal change, developing your empathy, your connection with yourself, with nature and others is an often overlooked opportunity. When you notice things, you can start caring, and when you care, you can start standing for what you believe in.
We could call me naive or childish. We could call me idealistic, utopian or optimistic. If it means I still have dreams. I still have hope, visions. If it means, I believe in better. We can be driven by better. Build anew, try and fail, learn in another manner. For no better world is possible, conceivable, without the depth of our imagination, and the wilderness of our passion, if we do not dare to imagine it, to speak it into existence.
Those experiences allow us to discover and value the universe inside us, and this becomes profoundly enriching when you welcome the universe in others. When you are at ease with your own complexity and your own depth, the good and the contradictions, the complexity of other minds and hearts is no longer scary, they become books you long to dive into.