project of Kristina Chimbaraite
I am the founder and director of Smokinya Foundation. I think of myself as an entrepreneur with soul and heart, realising my dreams by creating greater goodness. It is not easy, nor always bright, yet it's worth the effort and the learning I get moves me forward.
What do you feel or imagine when you hear the word ‘loneliness’?
Hmm… I didn’t even have a good idea or a good concept about it before late 2016. And what I hear and what I imagine is actually the times in this 2016. Somewhere September, October, November was the hardest time for me when I experienced, how to say, very pure and also very intense and condensed loneliness.
And what I imagine, see, hear, feel is what I was doing back then. I was in the US, in a beautiful place – West Coast, California. And I was having a job and… pretty much that’s it. I was trying to have also some social life, but it didn’t work out. So all my educational degrees, all my other certificates in all kinds of other experiences were irrelevant in a new context, in a new country, in a new culture with different everything. Everything was irrelevant. And there were times when I really felt like hitting rock bottom.
And it's very controversial because at the same time it's a very beautiful place, nature is beautiful… and my subjective human experience that in this beautiful place I could also experience very intense not pleasant feelings which happened to be very useful in general for me as a person. They were not pleasant, but very beneficial at the same time.
Do you feel that this loneliness came from external events that you moved and were living now in a different culture or did it come from the inside?
I didn’t think specifically from this perspective. How it happened for me, simply life threw an opportunity at me to go to the US as a legal immigrant with the Green Card. And… yeah, I left my country, I left my family, relatives, friends, whoever I had back then and I went to a place which was not completely new, but which I haven’t visited for 10 years.
"it was the right time in my life when I had to experience loneliness, otherwise, probably, I couldn’t continue learning and growing, being useful in general"
So somehow I separated myself from what was known, and… this is also my idea or my concept that first of all it was the right time in my life when I had to experience loneliness, otherwise, probably, I couldn’t continue learning and growing, being useful in general.
So this accumulation of opportunities or events that ‘Oh, ok, I applied for the Green Card’ but I didn’t really believe that I would get it because I was applying for 8 years for it, and all of a sudden, bam, I’m amongst the selected people. Then there was another process of hesitation, but in the end, I bought a ticket and I went.
So, I literally physically separated myself from everything what was known as an environment and I went to another place, as I said, very beautiful as nature, extremely weird as a social environment. On the surface, people play very easy-going, open-minded, cool, but actually, it's a very, very lonely place. I don't know if there's a lonelier place on this planet than Silicon Valley, California. And all this superficiality and lack of real human connection substituted with all kinds of addictions – addictions to movies, TV series, video games, food, cartoons, marihuana… anything, even addictions to sports.
"and that created the circumstances to also focus on myself because together with the loneliness I’ve experienced in the US I had a chance also to experience a very pure sense of self-love"
So this is the context. It started from outside because I separated myself from my country, from everything that I knew. And that created the circumstances to also focus on myself because together with the loneliness I’ve experienced in the US I had a chance also to experience a very pure sense of self-love. Nothing like superficial social media posts and articles but something very honest, very real, very human – deep self-acceptance and self-love.
So somehow for half of the year I managed to keep it up, then I started realising that I was extremely lonely and that I had a very weird feeling inside which was trying to come out but I didn’t know what it was. And at some point I’ve realised: ‘But who am I? What am I doing here? With all my experience and previously working with people, and being abroad and being ok with it, and loving to travel… All of a sudden I’ve fulfilled a dream of mine to be in the US in a legal way, but then what?’ It was a big nothing. At the same time, there was something under this nothing that… I don't know, I felt like I would go to work in the morning as if somebody hit me with something heavy in the head, having a cloud or fog around my eyes, my mind, and my head – and would go through days like that – numb, like a ghost.
It was intensifying until at some point I started somehow establishing connections, exploring and also giving it a name. And at some point I realised – I’ve never been so lonely before. And I did it to myself. And it was not pleasant at all, and it was one of the most beneficial times up until now in my life.
There was no goal achieved in my life, or party fun that I had, or a university degree that was so important and so good for me. It was the hardest and the most beneficial 13 months of my life.
And once I started developing this awareness ‘Oh, it’s me, Tisho, and I’ve never been so lonely before and I’ve never loved myself, I have beaten myself a lot in my life’ I started to ask: ‘Who is the Tisho I want to be? Who is that person I actually am? How do I want to continue? What do I get out of this?' And I started being busy with these kinds of ideas.
And how is the acknowledgment of this unpleasant feeling connected to your decision to come back to Bulgaria? Did you recover from loneliness there and then decided to come back or was it the opposite?
I recovered there, and at the time when I thought that ‘Now I have figured it out and from here it’s only up’, and… then I really felt very lost and down, and lonely, and meaningless again.
What was it? What is loneliness? It’s the thoughts and the feelings that I don’t matter.
When I started feeling this kind of stuff, I started thinking as well: ‘Ok, I don’t want to feel it.’ So I started first pushing it down and refusing it. And at the same time I started: ‘Ok, I’m in California, so what can I do? I have a job, I have some money in my pocket, let’s start going to bars. Maybe alcohol will help, maybe I will meet someone, maybe a girl, you know. Or maybe even a guy, I mean, I just want to speak to people, just to have a conversation with a human being.' And at some point, there were several weeks when it was just not available to me. And I just wanted to speak myself, I wanted to express myself to someone who is not my co-workers because they are great, they are very nice people, but I didn't feel like speaking about this kind of stuff to them.
And no… it was possible to meet someone in the bar and have some chit-chat, but it was quite superficial and people would be like ‘Yeah, yeah, we should meet some time' and we would exchange numbers, and they would never pick up, never respond whether to calls or messages. It's just bullshit they do and they create more of it for themselves. But I was naive and I was buying this, and I was hoping…
"and I started realizing that it's not about doing this and that… but simply to calm down and to relax. It is very easy to say, it was not easy to do"
At the same time I was ‘Ok, bars, aah… I don’t want to become an alcoholic. I enjoy having a beer but let’s think of something else. Let’s go to the climbing place.’ So I started doing some climbing, maybe there I can establish contacts with people and have a common topic, I knew a little bit of climbing. But that also didn’t work out. Of course, it also didn’t work out because I went only a few times. Somehow I was jumping from topic to topic, doing this, doing that. And I started realizing that it's not about doing this and that… but simply to calm down and to relax. It is very easy to say, it was not easy to do.
And I went on all the possible dating apps that I could find. Nothing or, if there were some exchange of messages, at some point I lost interested or the other person lost interest and stopped communicating. Or… I was a bit afraid because from what I’ve learned it’s risky to go on these blind app dates because I've heard about cases when people were robbed and beaten up for money. At least on the West coast of the US. But at some point in a very weird way, in maybe one of the riskiest places to find somebody online, somehow I met someone. And with all the hesitations and thoughts it brought new energy to me like 'Ha! Now I probably… it will be nice, I don’t need anything, I don’t need to have a relationship, I don’t need to have sex immediately… I just want to have a human conversation with someone.’
"...in the course of all this stuff in the months passing I found out that it was helping me a lot to write the things down in my notebook"
And something started happening with this person. We went for a coffee, there was some tension. I assume she was thinking if I was a serial killer, I was also thinking if she was about to rob me. And it happened to be great. Two-three times having coffee and this loneliness started disappearing, actually, I started spiralling up: ‘Oh, that’s so good, so nice, it’s so great’. And after the third or fourth time ‘dating’, or simply meeting that person… young single mother, very stereotypical image for US… with very valid excuses regarding her little one. In the end, I don't know what was the real reason, if there was any reason, but that person… while there were few dates and it brought a lot of energy to me, to simply have a new friend. Also, eventually, there was also a time when she stayed at my place and it seemed very ok and very normal, and actually very nice… that person ghosted on me. She disappeared without a word, without even telling me 'an asshole'. I don't know if it was something bad or something good, which again put me all the way down in self-doubt, misery and deep loneliness.
So by the time, what was it, September-October things were going down, down. In November I hit some solid rock bottom of loneliness, then somehow in December there were these clouds of nice hope meeting this person from an online platform, and in January I was lonely and confused, and angry, and ashamed that maybe I did something bad or wrong which I had no information about. And guilty… I don't know, I was getting all kinds of stories in my head. And this for another month and a half was pushing and pressing me down, or I was pushing and pressing myself with this kind of thinking and hesitations.
I actually forgot the initial question… How did I recover? All that was happening for a while and at some point what helped me is that I managed to keep some sanity and I found out that for me it worked very well to sit down and write. Write my thoughts, reflections. And actually, this is a good part since I didn't have time and focus to do this kind of stuff here in my home country, but there I had a very simple daily job, 40 hours a week, after 5pm I was free, so I was available for myself. And I was using the circumstances, as I said nature there is very beautiful… it’s very controversial, people seem to be very superficial, at the same time this superficiality is this beautiful nature which also was somehow comfortable for me to let myself out and to experience all these kinds of things. So in the course of all this stuff in the months passing I found out that it was helping me a lot to write the things down in my notebook.
And then this nice December happened, then January was very confusing and I was angry at myself, at that person. I didn’t know what was happening. Who comes like this and disappears like that? The only reason why we met was that person was lonely, I was lonely, we just needed to have someone to have a meaningful conversation. So what’s wrong? We had it, everything was great. Why did we cut it?... Urgh, all kinds of thoughts.
And at some point, I started writing and thinking, and reflecting, and also using some of my previous experiences with self-coaching methods. I started realising that actually, I didn't love myself at all… up until that time. And have been and I can admit that I still am a quite reactive person, and of course, I'm very good at hiding it, at least for the public, but for myself, I know what kind of fire is within me, and judgements. This was the time when I also realised that all my judgements and assumptions that I put upon people… it was all about me, I was labelling myself in other people's representations of me.
It might sound a little bit weird or too philosophical, but I had a very strong embodied experience that ‘It’s all about me in the end’. And I was taking a lot of time for me: having notes and watching the ocean, and walking. And slowly with time passing, I started realizing this kind of ideas and concepts that I didn't realize and didn't think of before that I didn't love myself. Actually, I was quite harmful and hard on myself, quite judgemental.
Slowly I started doing small things like going on a bike ride during the day or simply staring at the ocean for one and a half hours, it’s one of the best things ever. And… it was through self-reflection and it took me, let’s say, another couple of months, and also I was in touch with friends from Europe, not only Bulgarians. We had supportive nice talks.
And over time until March/April, I really remember it very clearly with months, it became crystal clear in my mind that simply for the sake of enjoyment I want to go back for the summer to my country. I was super relaxed, super chilled, I was somehow, let’s say, healed. It's still weird because it’s never black and white but I overcame a lot, even though there was something in me bleeding from this experience. I felt ok to come back for the summer and then see how to continue with my American journey.
"...that was a process: I was reflecting and taking notes, I was really giving myself time and started to do more and more very little entertaining and pleasant activities, that helped me to establish better self-perception, appreciate myself more, loving myself"
Actually, that was a process: I was reflecting and taking notes, I was really giving myself time and started to do more and more very little entertaining and pleasant activities from as simple as making nice tiramisu at home or just going and having a nice beer somewhere, or walking for three hours, or biking for four hours. Very simple things that helped me to establish better self-perception, appreciate myself more, loving myself.
And when I came to Bulgaria I didn’t have a clear plan whether I would stay here or go back, and it was a very nice summer. And then I started doing something else which was nice and pleasant in the beginning, eventually, the amount of work and responsibility started growing and became too overwhelming. I lost this loneliness that I had, and I also lost the perception of being relaxed and that self-appreciative freedom that I had when I just came back. Now it’s different and I guess it’s another life lesson that is there to bring me more growth as a person.
Since obviously, I know that you have established Smokinya Foundation, I believe and also through my experience talking to people who started something big and started from nothing, not knowing how to do it properly, it also comes with some experience of being lonely and not understood. Did you have something like that?
Not understood – definitely, but for establishing the organisation my motivation was different. My key motivation was a very pure and very subjective feeling, a sensation of wanting to give birth. Obviously, I'm a man, not a woman, so I cannot give birth and for a few months I was wondering what the hell is going on. And really, some very strong creative energy wanted to get an expression. And I was already doing something similar to what Smokinya does now but in an informal way. Back then I had a chance to work with many other organisations and I saw what I like and what I don't like.
The time when I wanted to establish the organisation was actually the autumn/winter of 2015 when I was waiting for my Green Card interview. And officially the organisation was established in April 2016 and in May 2016 I went to the US which was another very weird line of events - I created an organisation and I left it. At the same time, there were few people who were very supportive so the organisation could work while I was abroad.
"sometimes it’s still there in everyday things, at least for me who took the risk and responsibility to establish this particular organisation, sometimes it feels quite lonely"
Going back to the topic of loneliness, sometimes it’s still there in everyday things, at least for me who took the risk and responsibility to establish this particular organisation, sometimes it feels quite lonely because what I’m talking about seems to be not understood or misunderstood, what I’m wanting seems to be not easily achieved… and I don’t have someone to complain to – besides my girlfriend, I don’t have a boss to whom to throw the blame and responsibility – it is simply me. Because for the first time in my life being in a leadership position, it requires a lot from me and also people require a lot from me, not only the team but the wider range of interactions: organisations that we are dependent on, or partners, or institutions.
I simply wanted to have a youth organisation and organise fun courses, and have fun together. And all of a sudden it’s only papers, stamps, signatures, obligations, contracts and uuuh… sometimes I really wonder why I am doing this to myself.
Since you said that you still have this feeling, have you recognized during this time some kind of pattern? And have you developed some mechanisms to fight it or prevent of going deeper into this state?
I will start with the part when I feel that I’m going back to it. Metaphorically and somehow it’s a subjective feeling, it’s when I start being contracted and closed in, shrinking and closing myself in my body… even now I don’t have a good body posture… to support my own energy. And another pattern is being too busy thinking pretty much about me… and how I am misunderstood. It’s a very good excuse: ‘Yeah, they don’t understand me’. Because I never spoke up!
"it’s a very good excuse: ‘Yeah, they don’t understand me’. Because I never spoke up!"
And how to get out of it? Usually what helps me is physical activities, being outside. Very funny and at least for me it worked, I tested with other people it also worked – climb somewhere very high, a building or a mountain and looking over the city from above, zooming out… and then my personal problems don’t seem to be of any value, they just disappear. And another thing is simply to speak my truth, to express myself honestly and in a way that it feels, without self-limits or without hesitation that I will hurt someone. Of course, I might hurt someone and sometimes it happens but speaking out my truth from a position that I also care about that someone or these someones usually helps to establish a sensitive connection. Because I think that without truth and honesty there is no space for human connection. Speak up, find a way to express yourself and if it’s coming in a bad way, warn people that it’s not personal but it has to come. And on a physical level – just sweat it out, whatever it might be for you, take a shovel and go dig in the garden or climb the mountain and look upon the city from above.
Is there something else you would like people to know about being in a state of loneliness?
Don't limit yourself. It's good to experience everything, I think. My opinion is that we are humans to feel and experience. And if we decide, if I decide, if you or anyone decides that they only want to look on the bright side and have fun they will find fun, or if someone decides to look for conspiracies they will find conspiracies if you look for work you will find work… it's another story that it could be something going on with your loneliness.
If I allow myself to give a suggestion it would be – allow yourself to experience it all. Otherwise, we would be robots. We are humans, we can feel and sense, we can experience more than three or more than five thousand emotions, why limit ourselves to three, four, five?! And I wish to everyone that they find the right environment where it’s ok. And probably in life, at least in my case, it was the right time, it was a very weird situation that I put myself in but it was the needed circumstances to experience this important thing.
Again the important thing is to experience as much as possible not from the point of consumerism, but as a human – to learn and distinct one thing from another. I want to experience touch, I want to experience loneliness, joy, happiness… and without loneliness, I think there's very little space to experience pure togetherness. It comes hand in hand, one goes with the other. Like day and night, like life and death.