An allegory

Let your mind paint a rainy cityscape. A girl dressed in black, with a mask and noisy heels steps on the sidewalk. Her tears merge with the raindrops. Each tear encapsulates an entire mini-universe, lingering on her cheeks, like undetectable tokens of fluid vulnerability. A stranger passes her by, closely. His slightly curious, slightly worried gaze briefly meets hers. That’s when she remembers she’s in a public space: Maybe the distress in her eyes was visible, after all. His face doesn’t show pity, which is fortunate, for she hates pity – she’s always been too proud for it. But maybe she misinterpreted his facial expression and it wasn’t really concern. Maybe he misinterpreted her expression as something else too. He reminds her of someone – someone kind, sweet, wise, and very dear to her. Someone who knew how to unleash her vulnerable and dreamy side simply by being himself. The rare realness of this person was always rewarded with the privilege of meeting all the facets of her personality.

What her expression conveyed was grief. All-consuming grief, manifested as an affliction of the mind and the body. The inner chaos-intense, the body-tense, during the painful procession. Towards the funeral of the distilled dreams of being. Still alive are the hopes to resurrect the dreams the next day. Another dream, of inner peace, is born. She is wondering when it will materialise. Meanwhile, sweet echoes fill the mind as background music, sung by the Light Beings, ‘Talent. Creativity. Intelligence. Beauty. Resilience. Strength. Kindness’ This is not your typical funeral song. This is one of those days when the melodic discourse is played like a mantra to assuage the mind, to overpower the inner wailing from the funeral rite, to self-induce good vibes, in order to help her keep putting one foot in front of the other foot instead of collapsing. Like an incantation, to banish other toxic thoughts. It’s one of those days when other aspects resonate too strongly, sucking the power out of the good ones, and releasing dark energy. These other forces are not as clear. The noise they express themselves in is a sort of gibberish, a chaotic, harmful nonsense, inducing a heaviness of the heart.

There are rooms she doesn’t unlock in her mind, because she doesn’t want to let the poison out. She wants to stay pure. Untainted. One room contains dusty effigies of blacklisted figures. They’re not distinctive or intelligible, they’re merged into each other, shape-shifting embodiments of damaging thoughts. They are all locked away together in a claustrophobic space, drenched in darkness. Poison drips from their mouth as they breathe in the poisonous atmosphere like zombies. Meanwhile, The Light Beings roam in their perfumed, elegantly decorated chambers inside the mind, as companions and guardians. The Light Beings are personified thoughts, but also real-life people including her parents, close friends, and her therapist. When she dissociates, it’s probably so as to stay away from the poisonous atmosphere when the forbidden door malfunctions. That poison rarely affects anyone else, besides her self, it is confined within her being.

Interacting with mental constructs

Have you ever felt like someone interacts with an image or representation of you, that they’ve created and are feeding in their mind, rather than the reality of who you are? You can usually sense it while it happens, it’s often tiring, you might get uncomfortable; depending on the discrepancy between your identity and your interlocutor’s concept of you, your response might naturally be to emotionally distance yourself from them, your body may recoil in distaste, and you might feel like you wanna stay away from such situations. It takes too much energy to interact with people who are trying to define you on their own terms, to shape your reality, to induce that they know how you feel or who you are better than you do. You may perceive it as an attack on your self-concept, it feels perversely counter-intuitive- if everyone did this we’d all be trapped in illusions, interacting with our own minds and their fabrications…the distances between us would grow and grow and there would be no genuine connection; authenticity and understanding the reality of another human being completely thrown out of the window. These fabrications are often based on archetypes, on previous experiences, on patterns we have formed in our minds, and shadows bred there. To a certain extent, there is something natural about it, as, in its purer forms, this process helps us make sense of everything. Everything is mediated through the filter of our consciousness and making associations and creating our concepts of others is inevitable. Labelling. Establishing connections between subjects, to have a point of reference and know what to expect, in the process of interpreting reality and personality. Identifying differences in others, to see ourselves as separate and unique, to define ourselves in the light of this separation, to reinforce our ego’s supremacy. It’s also a survival mechanism, recognising red flags, so you know what or whom to stay away from, whom to trust, who may or may not represent a threat to your well-being. Thinking of people in patterns – the field of psychology is based on this. In the case of someone who has a personality disorder, for instance, it can be very helpful to have a name for what they are experiencing and how they see the world, it can make them feel understood, give them a sense of belonging, a sense of control over themselves and their emotions, encourage them to make a conscious effort to identify with the awareness behind their thoughts and emotions, rather than with a particular emotion (especially if it’s a negative emotion, like anger, fear) or a thought they may be experiencing, that may be intrusive, obsessive, and dictated by a disorder. Of course, on the other hand, there is also the stigma that comes with such labels, risking to be put in a negative light, being seen through that filter, being defined by a certain disorder or affliction. Unfortunately, some can internalise this, thinking of themselves and their disorder symbiotically, it can affect their self-worth. In general, it is quite limiting. Thinking of people in patterns or associating them with something you create in your mind can be limiting. It diminishes them, distorts their essence, reduces their whole identity to a tendency, an idea, a bunch of words, an echo- in the mind of ego-led individuals with narcissistic tendencies. If you interact with representations of people, with mental constructs, with objects, you don’t really allow yourself to see people for what they are. This is often because you may have internalised certain superficial ideas about the world and may be applying them to everyone, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes it happens out of fear. Of the unknown, the uncontrolled, the unpredictable. A representation is something you have control over, an image you can mould to fit your world view, your ego’s supremacy, something you can annihilate in your head; a real person is something you can’t control, they exist outside the realm of your ego, and thus can be a threat to ego.

Re-defining someone, re-structuring their narrative and identity is problematic, because people don’t tend to like being told who they are, why they do the things they do, what their motivations, feelings, or thoughts are. They often dislike being told they are wrong in some way, faulty in their behaviour, life choices, thinking, identity. It will put them in a position of defence. Such interpretations can be offensive, and often deeply ingrained in the adviser’s specific belief system and incomplete perception of others and they function through projection. You can’t help but dislike or avoid someone who assumes or acts like they know you better than you know yourself, who tries to re-define you in ways you don’t identify with, it’s a natural response of self-preservation. It’s unpleasant to have someone interact with a version of you that doesn’t exist. In my case, someone giving me advice with such constructs in mind would find themselves stepping into a minefield. I know I have a resistance to accepting advice, in general, because I feel like I’m the one who knows what is best for me, but, often, if it’s reasonable advice, devoid of projections, formulated in a constructive way, and if I can feel it comes from a genuine place in someone’s heart, someone who doesn’t interact with a false mental construct, someone who believes in me and doesn’t claim to know what I want better than I do, doesn’t try to dictate how I feel, who wants to see me do well and be the best version of me, then I appreciate it. If, however, I can feel that a piece of advice is insincere, in the sense that it is centred around the adviser, it’s all about them and not me, all about their self-image/ego, their need to be in control, to reinforce their belief system, then I have resistance to it, I find it distasteful. (Unsolicited advice is distasteful in general.) There are some descriptors and emotions that I don’t associate with my self-concept, and I can’t stand it when others imply or assume it about me. Okay, this does sound like an egoic defence, we all have them. What matters is not letting ego dictate our interactions with or perceptions of others, and not defining ourselves in conscious or unconscious opposition with others.

This is particularly problematic when you think about the well-known mental process of ‘other’-ing when it comes to racial, gender, nationality, or sexuality differences, different religious or political beliefs, although it’s not restricted to these areas, for it can apply on many levels, personal and cultural. This process can have a great negative impact on human connections, because it obstructs the capacity to have empathy for fellow human beings; and it can manifest itself through passive-aggressiveness, animosity, or it can become especially toxic when it facilitates aggression. Narcissistic tendencies are prevalent in contemporary society. If you pay attention, you can see the seeds of narcissism very easily, and recognise the narcissistic way of relating to others as mental constructs, even in yourself. Depending on the degree of resistance determined by your ego, this awareness might make you more open to seeing beyond these representations. With an awareness of inner pride and prejudice, of the constant process of mediation, you may no longer be quick to reduce people to fabrications, project any misplaced thoughts and traits onto them, and interact with mental constructs. We are human, we are fallible, our perceptions particularly so. Since this often centres around the demands of the ego to see itself as superior to others, let’s have a look at narcissism. Sam Vaknin, a psychologist who specialises in narcissism, who is a diagnosed narcissist, provided an insightful description of the way narcissists relate to inner objects in their fantasy world. Additionally, he talked about the beneficial nature and use (beneficial to the narcissist, detrimental to everyone around them) of this defence mechanism and way of relating of the narcissist, refuting the common thought that (pathological) narcissists lack the capacity for emotion. They are simply no longer in touch with their emotions, and don’t have an understanding of them, because, at some point, they may have decided that emotions can be debilitating and destabilising, hence it’s better to detach and alienate themselves from them. Their emotions are experienced through a “cognitive analytical filter”. They also interact with others through these filters, rather than forming a genuine connection. The extreme cognitive distortions of others happening in the minds of pathological narcissists can be seen as an amplification of the process that even people of a more sound and reasonable mental configuration indulge in, albeit with more restraint.

“The narcissist has impaired reality testing. And the very essence or definition of pathological narcissism is a grandiose fantasy. A narcissist can’t make the difference between fantasy and reality. Also, because they interact with inner objects, they confuse inner objects with outer/external objects. You know the famous mechanism of snapshotting, where they interact with a snapshot of you. They take a snapshot of you and then they interact with it, with your representation, your avatar, your introject, not with you. What they do is they internalise external objects, especially significant objects, especially objects that can cause them pain by let’s say abandoning them, so they internalise these objects and then they continue to interact with representations within a shared fantastic space. And they can’t tell the difference. This is why they mislabel emotions. Narcissists can feel intense emotions. Many scholars speculated that perhaps narcissism and psychopathy are reactions, defensive reactions, defensive attempts to avoid very deep emotionality. Perhaps narcissists emote too much, too intensely. They are about to be overwhelmed by their emotions, so they isolate themselves from their emotions, they put up a fire wall, a fortress to avoid their emotions. The thing is they feel, they experience the emotion, but they don’t know what it is. Because they are divorced from reality, […] they experience their emotions through a cognitive analytical filter. They have to ask themselves what they are feeling. And then they compare their experiences, their reactions, their wounds, their affect, their behaviours, they compare all this to an internal database. A database where they have entries and listings for how people behave when. How people behave when they are happy, and so on.’” – Sam Vaknin

If we extrapolate this description beyond the context of pathological narcissism, and we recognise the resonance of this mechanism beyond those around us who are pathological, not only does the aforementioned process lead to an alienation from others because we don’t really see the reality of others, but also to an alienation from ourselves and our emotions. Because our culture becomes increasingly narcissistic, our relationships with reality tend to get warped, the filter between us and reality gets muddled. Since we don’t integrate certain parts of ourselves as it’s more comfortable to live in a fantasy world where we and the constructs in our minds are infallible, we also don’t properly integrate other people’s realities within our conceptual world. This happens especially when other people embody specific aspects that are reflections of parts of ourselves that we dislike or deny, that we consider to be negative.

Consciousness is a complicated terrain to navigate, even our own, let alone others’. This awareness, that everyone has an internal life we either know nothing about or only have a glimpse of, that all people identify and see themselves in particular ways, that their inner lives shouldn’t be confused with our mental constructs, and shouldn’t be reduced to the way we consciously or unconsciously restructure their existence in our minds- this awareness can only have a positive impact. Because it fosters connection and care, discourages violence, and makes us more attuned to the emotions and realities of others. Perhaps if more people had this insight, this awareness of discrepancy, there would be more understanding and kindness in the world. Perhaps in a less narcissistic society that values authenticity more than ego fortresses and self-centredness, kindness and empathy would be viewed as signs of strength, not of weakness or fakeness.

In the spirit of mental conversations with authors, I will include a more pessimistic view by the supreme lyrical nihilist, Emil Cioran, who believes we are all living embodiments of our own private dogmas, and we celebrate ourselves for it. Whilst his view doesn’t clash with what I wrote, since it reinforces the idea that each of us lives within the parameters of his or her inner universe, the pessimism lies in the fatalistic rigidity of this narrative and his conclusion that awakening from our “dogmatic sleep” would equal death.

“Life has dogmas more immutable than theology, each existence being anchored in infallibilities which exceed all the lucubrations of madness or of faith. Even the skeptic, in love with his doubts, turns out to be a fanatic of skepticism. Man is the dogmatic being par exellence, and his dogmas are all the deeper when he does not formulate them, when he is unaware of them, and when he follows them.

We all believe in many more things than we think, we harbour intolerances, we cherish bloody prejudices, and, defending our ideas with extreme means, we travel the world like ambulatory and irrefragable fortresses. Each of us is a supreme dogma to himself, no theology protects its god as we protect our self. How to escape the absolute of oneself? One would have to imagine a being without instincts, without a name, and to whom his own image would be unknown. But everything in the world gives us back our own features; night itself is never dark enough to keep us from being reflected in it.

The man who does not adore himself is yet to be born. Everything that lives loves itself; if not, what would be the source of the dread which breaks out in the depths and on the surfaces of life? Each of us is, for himself, the one fixed point in the universe. And if someone dies for an idea, it is because it is his idea, and his idea is his life.

No critique of any kind of reason will waken man from his “dogmatic sleep.” It may shake the unconscious certitudes which abound in his philosophy and substitute more flexible propositions for his rigid affirmations, but how, by a rational procedure, will it manage to shake the creature, huddled over its own dogmas, without bringing about its very death?” – Emil Cioran on Unconscious Dogmas

A poem: Snowdrop girl

Snowdrop girl,
I can feel your presence
in the first whispers of spring;
I can hear your breath
in the windy corners of life-
it’s my favourite lullaby,
it makes me cold sometimes-
you could be cold sometimes,
in a scintillating way that
I never wished to oppose
or even dared to question-
my fear was not of
your reaction,
but the possibility of
your contamination
on some elemental level
Beneath many layers of
innocence and frivolity
and even more layers of
impenetrability and frostiness
I know what lies, I know
the substance, the kindness,
the taboo dreams,
the sweet desires-
and that makes me smile
you opened up to me
in the still wintry light in
a moment of rare vulnerability
I am thankful to have been
entrusted with.
The world may have seen
your masks, but who else
has recognised the rarely-resurfacing,
pearl-like gleam
in your eyes?
I have and I enveloped it in
my spirit shell
where it shall shimmer forever,
even after our farewell.

Review: Mira Nedyalkova’s underwater photography

A selection of artworks from the stunning, eerie underwater photography collection by Bulgarian visual artist and fine art photographer Mira Nedyalkova.

Mira’s work depicts the beautiful facets of pain and sadness in fluid forms, whilst linking water with eroticism, as well as exploring the erotic in the light of the emotional and the aesthetic.

Water symbolism always makes us think of regeneration, purification, and catharsis – a reflection of the beginning and the end. Mira emphasises the dual dimension of water, symbolising sin and purity, as well as pleasure and innocence. The aquatic element has both generative and destructive powers; it can be life-giving and apocalyptic. Her models are depicted as otherworldly beings, seemingly frail, yet also dark and enigmatic. Water is also the essential element contributing to the surreal aesthetic of the pictures, since it changes the light, colour, and shapes in unexpected ways.

Mira Nedyalkova is, admittedly, not very interested in pure photography – as opposed to many photographers who praise raw analogue photographs for capturing unaltered moments, she recognises the creative and transformative power of post-processing and digital editing as a way of enriching photography, of creating something new, conveying an emotion, and telling a story. As a former painter, she now sees digital editing as a way of getting closer to painting again- digital painting.

Like many artists, Mira believes emotion is an essential part of a remarkable piece of art. Her view is epitomised in her stunning and memorable photographs, which often depict expressive, intense characters, as well as captivity, nudity, nature, fragile-looking animals, and subtle sexuality.

A Poem: Bloody act

Two bodies wrapped in an embrace
in a tomb of glitter and frost-
the blood lingers while they kiss,
then it pours gently down the legs
of the cradle surrounded by mist.

The lake of tears reflects the moon of sorrow-
trembling, fluid, unpredictable;
their red eyes locked, unblinking,
while eternity replaces the morrow.

A poem: Vis-à-vis

Quiet and frozen:
A reflection approaches
within the glass
I seek meaning
in a meaningless palace
of empty eyes and half-hearted smiles.
Statues of philosophers vis-à-vis-
From expresionless to sad,
their face changes mood:
they empathise.

Neither pain
nor pleasure felt-
My mindless mind projects
conflicting eyes
filling a void of thought and

I succumb.

A poem: Echoes

A silhouette merging with the unknown-
all that is left is your breath in the cold air
as you exhale in slow motion.
I speak in shadows,
you respond with specters of light,
haunting every word-
making sense of it all;
I choose to live in the now,
but if you whisper in my ear
I will take decades to figure out
why you chose to disappear
that day
when I ran down the hallway-
gargoyles staring from above-
for a second I thought I could hear
another set of footsteps
under a different weight
even after I accepted your longing
for the netherworld.
The statues were grotesque,
threatening, demon-like in thunder and lightning,
and still, I hoped that hallway would never end
just so I could hear the sounds again and again
and convince myself they weren’t merely
echoes of my footsteps into the unknown.

A poem: Afterlife

I taste the blood of dehydrated lips,
admire the inadequately plucked eyebrows
above vapid black circles surrounded by
red on translucent white.
Dark hair, itchy like rope
against my neck,
frozen hands trembling,
features particularly thin:
I forgot how to live,
yet I laugh at my own sin.

Dantesque

She was standing by the window, her face seemingly puzzled by the familiar noise of trains rushing incessantly and birds making harpy-like sounds. It was really taking her back. Back to the days when she made connections between the number of the floor she was living on and the corresponding circle from Inferno, in hopes of attributing some grandiose meaning to her existence. Those were bleak times. It had to be the seventh floor. You were destined to dwell among the violent, submerged in boiling blood. Or the violent against self, being fed to Harpies. Harpies! Eyes shut for a few seconds. Opened again by the distant desperate sound of a cat in heat. I am here now. Rooted in the present, very rarely floating towards the realms of the past and the future.

Poems from years ago

the fragile
body and soul now shine
with a different light
and cast a different shadow:
the light of god,
the shadow of Lucifer.

Distracted by my flame,
I spilled some water in
that little cavity
between you and me.
Your presence turned it into ice,
I stepped towards you
and broke my knee.

The clouds have invaded you
and you can’t let them go
your heart needs to be covered
She’s too fragile on her own
are alter egos your cup of tea
or hers?
you drink them fast,
she kills them slowly,
one by one,
until your heart is left unclouded
and that’s when it gets darker
and darker
until you start breathing in the ashes of carbonised hope
and let them infect the only thing that was ever clean
in your mind and in your hands: Innocence.

I miss the scent
of your whispering skin
at night
when you tell me
you love
how I can be both
you and
myself
in my head.