In December of 2022, I killed my Inner Self. I had to let him go.
It was a heavy decision, based on a long journey of overcoming challenges, issues, and barriers of acceptance towards the self. I discovered pain I never knew I had.
Myself at that time would hurt people subconsciously; my partners would feel insecure, my blindness can lead to irreversible damage, and any attempt at positively reinforcing myself resulted in failure. I didn't know there was something wrong with me. I thought this pain was normal.
As soon as I observed it, that's when I decided: it must end.
You may not know this but I have a heavy relationship with Memory.
A breakup with an ex-lover triggered a massive drop in self-esteem as well as memory loss (rel: The Fear of Forgetting). I can't remember 2019. None of the photos, videos, or conversations with friends triggered any physical response in me. It was all numb.
Questions started to form in my head:
- Am I worth remembering?
- Will the next person I fall for abandon me as well?
- Am I worthy of one's love if I can be easily forgotten?
The years after were a period of doom and gloom. As much as there was no fault in anyone for what happened, I was lifeless. My only saving grace was my career and its success. But in between the bounds of passion in creating something for myself, I would space out in emptiness. I lacked warmth in my eyes. My close ones would notice it. They sensed the pain I subconsciously carried.
I was aware that I was in pain but I wasn't aware of how deeply it embedded itself into my psyche. As much as I practice zero comparison between all beings (for everyone is unique in their own way), I subconsciously wanted a love that could be compared.
I wanted to find myself in that state of romantic bliss again.
Discovering hidden pain
The permission to heal from this torturous cycle arrived in the last few months.
I found pain within me that surfaced through a set of conditions.
One, was my ex-lover reaching out to me after years of silence. I couldn't bear to even see her name for so long, and after years of introspection, had accepted and forgiven her from my own side. So to see her reach out was surprising. We ended up messaging a little to catch up, and are at a friendly, but distant, level now.
The other condition was that I joined Goddess and Warrior Retreat 2022.
The Retreat was amazing: 4 days and 3 nights of healing circles where coaches welcomed us into a variety of activities. This gave us the necessary permission to access vulnerability like no other. Bravery was welcome here, as everybody who attended this retreat forgave each other for the pain and suffering they carry, which is beautifully humane.
During one of the activities, we did some yoga poses to help with our posture, body mechanics, and more. Two of the poses in particular really targeted the lower back, which I injured years ago but supposedly healed from. Turns out it didn't heal: I was in great pain and didn't want to stop because I wanted to keep up with my peers.
Soon after, we relaxed and went to the fetal position, on the grass in the early morning sun. This was to reassess our awareness of our bodies, our breath, and release all the prior stress and intensity.
As I did, my mind completely relaxed and shot me back in time to 2019. I had visions of a London cafe in the winter, and the two of us talking with each other over coffee. Then, it cut to a future possibility, where we met at the same spot again years later. We talked, and cried out, and forgave each other for being human and forgetful. I've viewed this scene before, so it wasn't surprising.
What shocked me, however, was when she said "I forgive you" to me. These scenes have always been silent. This time, she not only mouthed the words, but her voice filled the void. "Wow", I thought to myself. "I forgot how she sounded like. It's been years."
As we emerged from the fetal position, the flood came. I couldn't stop crying. My body was viscerally shaking from the release. I had to stay put for the next hour to calm down. I was confused, then scared, then accepting. The pain in my lower back was a dam of tears from the last few years.
One of the coaches said we hold our memories in our cells. Our body also embodies the emotions that come with it, both good and bad. I think my body truly wanted to cry with raw emotion. The numbness of the last few years may have been to protect me.
From all of this, I realized: I am hurt and broken. I want to heal, and I want to let go. I want to change the outlook of my self-worth completely. So I vowed to never look down on myself again.
If drastic events led to drastic changes, then my methods will need to be the same intensity; I need my ego to reincarnate.
The Transition Photoshoot
I wanted to make my decision tangible. That way, I have proof that I am walking this path to a newer version of the Self. One of those ways is to start my tattoo journey. It's a contract I've inked on my skin so as to never look down on myself ever again.
To commemorate this, I wanted to do a conceptual photoshoot of myself before starting this, and partnered up with Daniel Adams, a renowned photographer based here in KL. Look at some of the stuff that he's made!
Check out his Insta for more stuff and to work with him! Highly recommended.
For our shoot, this was the brief that he came up with:
To create a series of photos depicting the act of transitioning from one state to another. In this case, it would be the transitional grounds of a plain vessel on a journey of embracing where they’ve come from alongside these 2 characters that have played a large role in their life.
For those who don't know, I tend to write in transcripts using characters that represent facets of myself. To further go into details about these characters, this is what I sent to Daniel:
- N.T. Cloever (Emotion/Creativity). From him, I narrate stories and worlds. I run a podcast called Tempered Fables where he plays the largest role there. Here are the origins of his name.
- Duo Desire (Dia: Comedy, Dei: Warmth). I have a White/Gold Italian Mask representing this character that I can send a picture over - we can use it as a prop maybe?
Beyond the descriptions of Cloever and Duo Desire and what they convey, Cloever is a narrator. He tells stories, writes prose, poetry, he paints, he dances. He’s the embodiment of expression, and a vessel for letting out inner thought and creativity.
Duo Desire has more of a personality because they embody specific human attributes. One side is comedy and laughter, he just wants to laugh at everything. Find the laughter in the dark, laugh cry at the simplest things. It’s the uncontrollable urge to tell a joke or to make light of things no matter what. The other side is warmth, like a mother embracing her child. They know the right words to soothe you, expressing love and embrace. They forgive you for being human and limited in your nature, and they nourish you no matter your struggle.
The difference here is that one is a vessel of expression while the other is an embodiment of emotion.
On top of these, I propose the following two concepts to give homage to my indigenous Iban tribe background as well as my time in Japan:
- Kintsugi and Mono no Aware. Kintsugi represents imperfection so that symbolizes my fragmented chapters in life and how I try my best to fit the cultural pieces together from where I lived. Mono no aware for a beauty and appreciation towards existence, such that my love for everything and everyone is always outwards, for it cannot be contained.
- In Iban culture, one particular thing I resonate with is the concept of Bejalai - ie the journey to manhood and going through rites of passage. I always loved it when my Dad would tell me stories of warriors etc. and aspired to achieve some level of prestige that they have done. Not to be a warrior and kill, but rather to embody the warrior spirit and become an adult worthy of returning home to the longhouse.
So let's start with how the pictures looked!
Photo 1-3: Introducing the Characters
In this photo, we're introducing N.T. Cloever. Paired with him are ribbons of different colours as well as torn out pieces of paper where I've written my prose and poetry. Sadly, you can't see the writings on the paper haha. They came from various drafts and pieces from the last decade. Some of them from a secret project, eg. a collection of romantic prose according to certain themes.
In this photo, we have Duo Desire. Both halves of comedy and warmth, for I believe they are intertwined, represented by my Venetian mask.
I tested this out as a specific character in previous salons and felt really comfortable with changing voices for each side. Next thing you know, they started to exist in my inner paracosm.
Daniel decided to include new elements to represent these characters - fire for warmth, and golden butterflies for comedy. I never thought to use golden butterflies as a motif for comedy, but after seeing the connection between them (as well as having used light butterflies for one of my Tempered Fables), it seemed like a perfect fit!
Look at us! We all look so good together!
The culmination of my multifaceted selves. They all look stunning, beautiful, and most of all, alive.
Who doesn't want to have pictures taken of their characters? It's as if he took a family photo of my soul. I love it so much.
Photo 4-7: Transitions
December was a time of writing. I deconstructed myself down as words. I looked back at the times I cried and exposed my heart. I had found the reason for my unfounded tears. I had extensive writing sessions on the Retreat, and wrote down the potential differences between myself before and after this shoot. And throughout it all, to recognise that this is a heavy form of catharsis, captured in photographs.
These photos are great examples of the transition that I had undergone. The paint, the fracturing; I recognise my shells and fragments. I am shedding the skin of my past to embrace something new.
A new season has arrived; therefore I bloom. It became natural. And beyond the fragmentation lies new ways to view myself.
Photo 8-9: Imperfection.
For these two photos, we explored the concept of imperfection and Kintsugi (金継ぎ).
I really had my 2015 Self to thank for accelerating my maturity spiritually (I have plans for writing a memoir about this time period someday - do watch out for that). I remember that one of the biggest forms of exposure to art etc. is the concept of kintsugi. I knew about it beforehand, but seeing it in person - within pieces of art, within communication patterns, within hypocritical elements, and the people and locations - had made me aware of my own.
I thought that like the previous chapters in my life, I recognise the boundaries of one's internal culture and the culture of which I live in. I have agreements, disagreements, absolutes and differences in principles. Learning about these wisdoms in the difference between who I am and where I live is what kept me alive until then.
Japan is different - it was so fundamentally different that sometimes I wonder if I unlearned more as opposed to learned. Certain elements of the culture amplified some of my principles of absolution. Harmony is flawed, politeness does not equal kindness, the people aren't who they seem they are. There are particles in the air, akin to cultural poison, from which I had to learn not to inhale.
The result is a hybrid of the self. Who I was before and at the end of that student exchange was calmer, absolute, and with deeper definitions of living. I found clarity in an island to the east. I discovered the unlimited fluidity of love. I saw a reflection that waved back at me in my imaginations. My semantics changed direction drastically.
I came back imperfect, and happier for it. This shell is a great representation of that.
Photo 10: The Journey.
This was the most trippy one. I like it. Mainly because Daniel was given complete creative freedom to interpret the Bejalai concept as much as possible.
In my case, I felt that my Bejalai consisted of living in different backgrounds, navigating through different countries, facing my deepest fear of memory loss, and arriving at a point where my head is above water. And now I can swim.
So I swim to lands that will accept me, and if there are none, I will learn how to stand on the water itself, and claim a domain of my own.
Overall, I'm glad that this photoshoot went through. It felt like a powerful farewell to my past self. Through these photos, I've successfully thrown that part of me away, in a healthy way.
How do I Feel Now?
I feel relieved. My shoulders feel lighter, as if someone lifted a burden off of me. The pain that I had surfaced up is now apparent, and its hidden state now in the past. I could breathe in more air, like the present time finally has more space. I'm not spiritually claustrophobic anymore.
To address the pain, I'll have to undergo intensive physical therapy to get rid of it. Maybe the lasting injury is both physical and psychological - a combination of awareness and habit - and needs to be tackled with both at the same time.
And to encompass all of what was written above, the song Glimpse of Us by Joji came to mind. I only discovered it yesterday (very late, I know), but I cried while listening to it. It surfaced that repressed pain, albeit in small amounts. So I would say it is thematic to this post.
After the retreat, I wrote a long letter of forgiveness to my ex-lover. I held no expectations of whether or not she read it. It was more for myself, that my intention to proceed is found in a 3k-word letter to someone in my past. It was a cathartic process, and after she read it, we promised to someday talk in person to have closure. Progress, lovely.
Am I really someone else now? No. Am I different? Yes. I feel full of life, like a child amazed by starlight. Sometimes I wonder if all of this was pointless, that I didn't need to put ink on myself or take some pictures to decide to let go.
But that's why rituals exist. As much as Logic knows what to do, Emotion needs to embody it in tangible motion. In order to accept letting go, I must move. Things must happen. My present time must pass having observed me doing something about it. Thinking about things isn't enough. There must be action, consequence, and visible intention.
This is my intention. My Self before this year passed away. And now, I can begin.
I have finally arrived.
(More details on my 2023 Self in another post. Stay tuned!)