Covid-19 and Caves?

Today after watching and reading news on coronavirus for hours and feeling more and more anxious about the pandemic, I thought: when was the last time I felt complete peace in my body and mind? Not just a 5-minute relief or a fleeting sense of excitement, but a feeling of absolute happiness, stillness, and inner harmony. Was it this month? Last month? Last year? After a few minutes, I finally remembered.

It was in January, almost 4 months ago. It was in Mexico, Playa del Carmen. For the first time in my life, I did snorkeling. Not the shallow water snorkeling, but the deep and dark cave diving and snorkeling, where you cannot touch the bottom, when you cannot even see the toes of your own (or someone else’s) feet. Upon entering the cave, I distinctly remember the smell. It was not the typical smell of sunscreen, swimming pool, or a touristy beach. It was a new smell – a smell of something mysterious, fresh, and unknown.

My boyfriend saw the cave: how deep it was; how dark it was; how bottomless it seemed. And instantly refused to get in. But I could not resist the urge. I made the first step, took the first plunge, and found myself in another reality. The world I knew stopped existing. Colors changed. Sounds transformed. Feelings were exaggerated. Sensations – heightened. All the noise of everyday life – cars, people, mosquitoes, animals, my own buzzing thoughts – all was mute. Put on silent. All I heard was the sound of my own heart – excited and calm at the same time. All my worries and anxieties dissipated. I lost the sense of time and space. I was blown away by the beauty of the corals below my feet. There wasn’t even any fish there. Just the silent and magnificent corrals. And when the sun ray went through the water, it lit all the corals and, I swear, I felt like I had tears running down my cheeks (yes, it turns out you can cry underwater, too). It was surreal. I was in some very beautiful fantasy movie.

I did not want to get out. My poor boyfriend was waiting for hours near the cave, feeding mosquitoes, and I kept promising to him: “One more round, another minute, I swear.” And my head disappeared under the water for the next hour. When I finally got out of the water, the silly smile did not leave my face. I just could not help it. I was so peacefully content. It was addictive, this feeling of happiness. I could never forget it.

Now, living during the turbulent time of the coronovirus pandemic and not knowing what is going to happen, I wish – right now, at this very moment – I could go snorkeling and leave the outside world above the water. Will you take the plunge? Where is that cave that can save us all?

one student, many thoughts

I have one student in my class who comes to talk to me after each seminar. Literally, after each class. And what does he say?

During the semester, we are discussing different literary texts, dealing with quite difficult topics: the Holocaust, racism, discrimination, AIDS, homosexuality, religion, segregation, colonialism, imperialism … the list goes on. We analyze poems, plays, novels, graphic novels, and short stories.

And this student has something to say about each text, every character, every single topic. He comes to me at the end of the class (when everyone else is leaving for the next class) and starts the discussion without any prelude or ending. He would just say: “I find this character so obnoxious that it is hard to believe his way of thinking about gay people in the 1980s.” He would not ask my opinion or explain why he wants to talk about it. He would just come and blurt out everything on his mind. And then, when I get into this conversation and start analyzing with him, he would just silently agree with me with a nod and leave, almost in the middle of our talk. No byes. No closure. Just like that.

First, I found it a bit unusual. Maybe I said something wrong and he left, disagreeing. Maybe I did not answer his question. But gradually I realized it was supposed to be like that. This is his way of conversing with people.

After all, not all conversations should follow the standard formality: greeting, question, elaboration, and closing remark. Maybe some people think and speak in a different way. Maybe this is how natural and spontaneous thoughts should be expressed: without any warning or structure. It is like stream-of-consciousness, but out loud. Maybe this is the whole beauty of the conversation: you never know where it is going to start or how it will end. There is no polite small talk. No cliched phrases. Just thoughts and feelings, unstructured.

Now after each class I am eagerly anticipating this student. I never know what he is going to say or what is on his mind this day. I love how a book or class makes him feel: this need to continue talking about the topic when the class is over. This unrestrained desire to express himself.

It is just one student. But so many thoughts.


Do you dream a lot?

I never daydream, but almost every single night I have a dream. I know we all have dreams at night, but if our sleep is deep enough, we won’t remember our dreams in the morning. I remember every single dream I have. I do not sleep well.

It all started a few years ago. Thinking and overthinking before going to bed always made me have vivid dreams at night. I wish they were only dreams. But often I think they are nightmares.

Do not get me wrong. I do not have bloody/scary/horror nightmares. I do not see zombies or monsters or killers or aliens in dreams. My dreams are rather psychological manifestations of all my fears and anxieties in real life. And sometimes it can be even scarier.

My dreams involve people I have or ever had close relationships with at some point. The dream scenarios are twisted and illogical, but somehow they represent the partial truth as well. I would dream of being bullied, being cheated on, being abandoned, being isolated, being misunderstood, being not accepted, being unloved. All the major conflicts I have ever had in life would be recreated in my dreams as if some very talented film director is trying to get the perfect shot of the same scene: take one, take two, take eighteen…. This perfection is often torturing me.

The morning without remembering a dream is a good morning for me. I feel rested and free. I do not dwell half of the day on the potential meaning of my last night dream. I live my life.

But on other days, dreams are catching up with me. They remind me of my pain, forgotten memory, some unresolved conflicts. I know my mind is trying to tell me something, encourage me to interpret stories of my life. The unconscious is always more genuine. But sometimes I just want to sleep well and let go of problems, at least in my dreams.

I mentioned the word “dream” so many times in this post that gradually it stopped making sense to me. What a weird combination of letters: d+r+e+a+m. It is not even a pretty word. Maybe dreams do not make any sense. Maybe I should not put too much meaning into them. After all, Freud’s ideas about dreams are not supported by experts today. Maybe I should stop overthinking about dreams. Maybe, dreams are just dreams. Maybe, just maybe.