I worked at a warehouse once for a couple of months; wore big, thick, and, what felt like, loaded boots that protect against dense metal and heavy objects. The labour I performed would differ since I came through an agency. I was put wherever I was needed that day. Sometimes I would spend the evening putting stickers on two meter tall boxes ending up in a flow-like trance or, what later became, a more monotonous automaticity. Other times I would be put in the gigantic hall where buckets with clothing and household products would move from one end, coming through a scanner where I would stand to check, to the other on a roller-coaster-like machine. On my way walking there, there were two other huge halls with tall storage containers stacked upon each other (figure up to five or six). As I would be on my repository promenade to pass on a message to an unknown colleague from another ward, I would hear the sirens from the halls above. Another technical failure would be warned about and little boxing cars would blow their horns to keep one sharp from the organized chaos.
It had been only two years since my sisters passing, so as my peer grievers know, I found myself as disoriented as day one. But the questions had me staring with a frown at that same spot on the floor while my hands kept moving. What is it about mass production that creates this disconnection from self? Is the pattern repetition of the work a consequence or a cause of human nature? Are humans meant to create such systems due to our own needs for certainty (pattern recognition and pattern creation)?
I would visit the toilet a lot to sit in a limbo with no apparent colour or sensory modality to express this chain supply of utilitarian existence. Receiving, stockpiling, packing, checking, processing, labelling orders and dispatching them. Same muscle movements and gaze range throughout the nine hour working day. From four to midnight. It can be amazing and incredibly healthy, though, to have repetition and clarity on work that needs to be done. Especially, physically and manually, it can be as stabilizing and refreshing as cleaning and organizing a space. With all the heavy and daunting punches that came after my sister’s death, managing stress with work like this could be wonderful despite how excruciating I experienced those years. That same state of flow I could have writing rhythmic tales or dancing as a kid, I could definitely find back here with this work. Not the joy but some possible inner tranquillity for a second there. Same as the laundry and linen room work at nursing homes. At times and at first, that is.
Go figure that, yes, we need both certainty and uncertainty to thrive because we need safety for balance and novelty for learning. That security instilling us with potential for hope and that new stimuli thriving new sensed purpose and feeling of wonder.
The compulsive obsessive sound of the chains moving around the ceiling and coming down to the ground to deliver the goods were as captivating as pallet stackers bumping into lift trucks at the corner. At a certain point, I wished the state of flow where energy travels, intuition slides and working memory improvises with long lost unconscious visions, would have lasted longer. It wasn’t more than a month before I clearly felt the burden of automation filtering into my nervous system ready to dampen my spark. Who I was was further being put on hold, it felt like.
On some toilet breaks I would write some rhymes and poems on my phone and other moments I would hide a white sheet to make some doodles and drawings when no one was watching. But that did not last. As usual, I was very much on top of what was unfolding; analyzing my mental changes and examining my lethargy. Was it the seemingly never-ending repetitive behaviour and lack of novelty causing fatigue? or the lack of space to express personal qualities and stories? Or most definitely both?
I mean, what is a human if not a collection of narratives, carrier of creative abilities and processor of emotions that produce tough, sensual and heart-warming movements. Where do I go with what my self wants to express, share and receive? Energy is always in the body and it is the suppression of energy that is so tiring, I guess. It is definitely not just the repetition in excess; disbalance with more certainty than novelty. It is the blockage of your abilities, insights and feelings that does not receive attention and field to play. It gets no space, no further purpose and, without sounding dramatic, our abilities themselves don’t get love.
So many psychological toxins were caused by the mindset of the industrial revolution pushed by capitalism. That became clearer as weeks passed. I am number, not a soul. I am outcome, not a process. I am obedient, not resourceful. I am category and not potential. I function but am not. I am singular in that I am an addition but am general in that I have nothing to add. I mean, we received these thoughts-consuming boots to protect ourselves from objects falling but I cannot remember being offered a pallet to catch my identity losing its roots and tumbling over.
In particular, now, that I am looking back, I see how not expressing myself was blinding my inner gaze. In other words, I began to feel I was losing intuition and it became harder to create or find energy for life outside the gigantic warehouse halls. Not practicing more social skills, sharing insights and opinions through an honest scope, and not being challenged in creative ways. Of course, there was still plenty of trauma work to be done that was causing such intensely restricted states, but even then, the fact that I was in an environment not stimulating me to do so began to weigh heavier.
Years later I shortly worked at different warehouses that were behind, on top or underneath a shop. There, I spoke to a man once; a brilliant, charismatic and savvy old man. He captivated me the moment he spoke serious truth, he said, ‘hobbies do not exist’ and I was like ‘Oh my, this is my man!’ Ha! He meant that we have skills and talents which are only linguistically labelled as a side-kick to the supposed actual job because of educational and economic systems throughout history. At least, that’s what I make of it. But I immediately began conversing with him as we put all the new clothing on separate racks to go in the shop later. It was interesting. His pain spoke clearly through his lower pupil gaze as he shared about his deep love for art. He confessed that he would look away while walking through the streets of Amsterdam seeing sculptures. There was a voice in him that knew he would be very good but with challenges life had thrown at him fifteen years prior, he decided he would go for any job he could get. ‘That’s it.’ He said. ‘I have been here in the basement ever since. I don’t see much daylight’ he giggled. His stature was inward; he was short and slim. There was as much confidence in him as there was disappointment. Seriously, though, both were very present. Maybe it’s the essence of wisdom.
As I would usually do with my grandfather while trying to ask him about his grief surrounding my sister, I would pause. Give space for another silence. Another breath. Because I knew opening up was so damn heavy. So, I paused for him as well because the pit of my stomach was feeling his soul recognizing its own asphyxiation. ‘I don’t look because it hurts, you know. Its too painful to deal with the confrontation of what I could have done, of what I truly love to do but never again will’. That was it. I understood, once again, that not expressing one’s true self is maybe the ultimate human pain.
Its time then, I figured, to put many tough lessons into fruition now, finally. The feeling ‘stuck’, ‘on hold’, ‘bored’, ‘unstimulated’ is still a state that we can influence. Emotional stress and trauma makes it feel impossible, and it most definitely is very painful to do so. However, most days are good times to re-evaluate the underlying systems that motivate and have conditioned our lives.
Despite larger social structures dictating a lot of outcomes, I hope you prioritize dismantling huge walls around your heart to show up and open up to all possibilities and opportunities that exist in your space-time. Sometimes excess certainty and excess uncertainty can be used to build a better pendulum to flow by later on.
Write down authenticity, speak truth into the mirror, draw out genuine doodles and dance away real quirks. Extreme need for control and numbing our fears by not confronting them leads to mindless pattern repetition. Our nature allows for so much more than that.
I have faith you will stop the internal warehouse managing your belief system and will build the courage, no matter the speed, to leave the basement that imprisons your unique blueprint.