The haze is a heavy blanket today. The cicadas, my comforting perpetual white noise, are out in full force. Hailing a cab, I take a deep breath. Today is the test. Today I go to Tian’anmen Square.
After two weeks of being cocooned in my residency apartment at the Where Where Project in Caochangdi (the same village where Ai Weiwei lives) with the haze and the cicadas, I have finally decided to venture back out into the world where there are other living breathing beings besides my new gecko friends who really like my stacks of paper.
The irony is not beyond me that I have found myself contentedly isolated in Beijing, one of the most populous cities in the world. After months of traveling and building intense relationships with people from a wide range of different cultures, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that I needed some time alone to process.
But wow. I did not realize how tired my heart was. I did not realize how much love I had poured out. I did not realize how little love I had put back into myself.
When I arrived in Beijing, for the first time in months, there was no one bustling around when I woke up. No one else to pour my energy into. Suddenly, no amount of rigid internal scheduling could make me ignore how empty my heart felt. Rather than run, I decided to consciously face my heart — the graciousness and the flaws — and give it some love.
The first morning after I had decided to pull inward, the universe dropped a slew of affirmations in my lap. People who I hadn’t talked to in months contacted me overnight to tell me how much the writing for this project has encouraged them. If the mere intention to take care of myself elicited that kind of immediate response, I had to keep experimenting.
The days float by now. I flow seamlessly and instinctively between meditation, journaling, yoga, bike rides, painting, working on a novel, writing for this project, and taking naps. I explore my own strength, revel in my own creative expressions of love. When the anxiety creeps in, I connect to my core foundation through Kundalini yoga.
But today I have tacked on a new addition to the flow: strangers.
The cab drops me smack in front of the gate. There are people everywhere. Bustling families looking for an outing. Honking delivery bikes. Street vendors hawking gaudy wares. Toddlers with popsicles. Gruff fussing grandmothers. Guys peeing on the side of the street.
But I do not feel shell-shocked. There is a swarming mass of hearts in front of me, and all those hearts that are just like my own — full of fear and anxiety and passion and pain and tenderness and devotion.
Experiment results: the more I fall in love with my own heart, the easier it is to love the people who appear in my life. By addressing my addiction to taking care of other people instead of taking care of myself, I am learning how to build a healthy foundation of self-care so that I can be more grounded and assured in the love I give.
We are all imperfect humans, but by loving our selves, we can be love to each other. Opening our own hearts will give us the power and the voice to help others open their own hearts as well.
After a successful haggle, the next cabbie smiles warmly at me as I scoot in the backseat with a full belly and feeling reassured that I can handle the throngs. Looking wryly at my map, he makes a joke in Mandarin and tells me with his eyes when to laugh. He sings softly to himself as he eases us onto the highway. Every once in a while he throws me a smile — a real smile — in the rearview mirror.
Perhaps the warm love and acceptance I feel with this man and his smile and his songs can be my cocoon until we arrive in Caochangdi. Yeah. That’s alright by me.
Care to share an experience when someone who was taking care of themselves made you feel loved?
How can you take care of your heart today?