Why doing the work makes space for better work to be done

designed by Adriana Garelova

Ever since I can reember myself, I have been fascinated by the beauty, ambience and culture of hamam – the ancient Turkish and Arabic art of bathing and body-washing in a special way. And the fact that my great-grandmother was the owner of the only public bath of that time in the village I grew up in, makes me at least as proud as graduating from my Master’s Studies once did.

That might be understandable. But there was a period in my life that my hamam-fascination grew to a real obsession. I spent month after month researching books about different SPA-cultures around the world, examining research results on why we feel so blessed after having been to a Turkish bath and what do all that have to do with experiences we have done before we were even born. You can imagine how deeply I had immerced myself into this topic, if there was not a single title anymore left at Amazon which content I was not aware of. My obsession did not just lead me to reasearch. It manifested also in excessive shopping habits, including buying various traditional hamam towels from countries hosting organically this special bath cultures; traditional soaps and beautifully decorated silver bowls, used to pour water in the hamam; silk handgloves for cleaning the body; black arabic ghassoul soap; special scented tea sorts as well as clothing made of delicate fabrics for the hours before and after the bathing ritual… Literally – I was crazy about anything related to that kind of wellness. People close to me knew about my passion and nurtured it with gifts and images they could get on their journeys abroad. Once I received a room vaporizer that could be sprayed on curtains to create the appropriate SPA-ambience in any room.

Soon I started to dream of founding a school in which I could share my passion with others and inspire them for this ritual, which had been giving to me so much, but was not well known in the West. I was deeply convinced (and still am) that some hours spent in a hamam can renew us to such an extent, that we can gain new perspectives, new ideas or find solutions to challenges in the days to follow just as a result of the intensive coming-in-contact-with-ourselves that is offered in the humid warm woumb-like space of water and soap. This belief was giving me hope that I knew something precious I could teach to others.

I started doing concrete plans about my school. Drawing some first skatches – budget, space, time-investment and so on. It was hard to come forward with such a big project next to having started my very fist job after graduating from university. So I kept on postponing the real work. And the more I postponed the work, the bigger my dream was becoming. The bigger my dream was becoming, the further I was postponing doing concrete steps – in the end something so incredible required the right conditions to be worked on, I thought. So it was safer to just dream.

One day my friends surprised me with a gift of pressure – they made me fix a date in my agenda – and there were only several weeks left until that date. I was supposed to give a workshop on my heart-topic for a group of students on that day. To make a first real step towards my project, so to say. I started working upon that goal. A photo-shooting with my simple Canon-camera at my own bathroom for some authentic visuals, a beautifyl flyer created by my sister – a professional fashion designer, a room booked at Maripossa in Berlin (for 150 Euro a day!), an invitation text, composed to advertise my event, and eventually – many hours of preparing the workshop itself.

I received lots of admiration once I posted my offer in the social media, yet no one subscribed to participate. I was really surprised. But what was wrong? Where were those dozens of people interested in my project I was expecting to attract? Wasn’t it amazing enough? Some wrote me in a private message, that the idea of spending time in a hamam with other women they do not knew, was embarassing because of the own nakedness; others said they liked the idea, but they’d maybe participate another time. It was discouraging. One former colleague of mine asked me for a fee-reduction, which I gave and so she became the first student who subscribed for participation officially.

The big day was coming closer and closer and I had only one participant, no matter how many likes my beautiful announcement in facebook had received. I started feeling inadequate – was it valuable enough what I was offering? Did I really want to do it with only one person participating? Was is ok to cover the costs for the room rent on my own, since the reduced fee my only client would pay was not enough to cover the rent?

Happily, three of my closest friends agreed to attend my workshop (they were invited for free) just a day before, so I decided to do it. It was such an exciting day for me. I stood up at 5.00, packed all the special bowls, soaps, clothing, books and handouts I had prepared, took a taxi and gave that workshop for eight hours in a row. Already at that time I used to feel confident in the educational work I was doing. And yet this time was different. It was indeed a debut. It felt somehow strange to teach this so different subject. To accompany women discovering scents, fabrics and cosmetic substances that inspired them, to give a lecture about the combined effects of semi-darkness, steam and warmth on our psychical experiences – it was all too intimate and too fine to teach about, and so different from anything else I had thought to groups of students until then. In many moments I was doubting in myself, not being sure how my students liked it all. I did not give up and encouraged myself to try it out until the end, without expecting too much from myself – as with anything we do for the first time. I alowed myself to be a beginner. I don‘t remember what the feedback was, but I remember very well the feeling of relief, when the event was over. 

Some days later I had an insight. I did not want to do this workshop again. I was not going to improve and adjust it to teach it further. This was so clear to me. Why there was this clear ‚no‘ inside of me? I felt that I had mistaken my own need to nurture myself in this very special way with a need of others. It had been my own hunger for more such sacred time in solitude that had driven me to immerce myself into this hamam obsession. I also recognised that to lounch something, we need to invest months in advance in advertising work, approachig the people we wish to attract for the workshop, if we wish to gain any participants at all. It sounds so logical, but I was not aware of that. I thought, if my work was good, people would just come. They didnt.

This simple experience of a single day changed me and the way I live and work. I learned nurturing myself before I teach others how to do so. I learned spending time for wellness, instead of reading about or shopping for it. I started replacing other consumption habits with real experiences, too – like sitting down for twenty minutes and sketching the flowers from my table with a piece of simple black coal, instead of spending an hour and fifty euros buying new acrylic colors I‘ll never use. And even if I still cherish luxurious cosmetic products, I have come to value the time spent taking a warm bath with drops of simple lavendel oil & some sea salt in half an hour time stolen between two tasks more than an expensive bath elixir used in a special spa…never. When it comes to nourishment, it’s like when we spend time with children – it is the time spent with them that matters, not the money.

Udaipur, India, in March 2018

I realised that a single small but real experience is more valuable than thousands of big dreams. How big was that hamam thing in my head before I had done a real step. And how illusionary. I could have dreamed about it until today, focusing all my efforts in something I did not even know why it came in my inner life and what it wished to tell me. I discovered plenty of other passions after that, and many of them stayed. Even after the first real experiences. Some became a profession. How good I had made space for all that by trying things out!

Whatever you dream of, start with it today. Do something small of it today. Exchange your thoughts for little steps and you will be grately rewarded. Insights, experience, clear view and decisions are the gifts for the bravery of being a beginner, instead of dreamer.

When in the spring of 2018 I could wish something on the bank of Ganges river, the experience I told you about appeared on the surface of my consciousness almost immediately. My wish stood so clear on my lips and left them fast, swiming on the glossy little waves of the endless green holy waters: beloved devine, let me swap my illusions for experience…

Ganges River, Rishikesh, India

This was my little hamam story from the shool of beauty. So, whatever is calling us – we need to do it. We need to do it now, to attain it’s message. As Julia Cameron writes: „Doing the work makes space for more and better work to be done“. Trust your curiousity. Trust your passion. Go deep. Immerce yourself in your obsession, give in to the stubbornness of an idea. It is how devine messages sometimes reach us – deep wisdom about self-compassion, disguised in clothes of a glorious project. Nevermind. What matters is that I opened the door, I hosted my guest from beyond. The costs: 90 Euros and some courage. The reward: priceless.

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Silvena is psychologist and emotional health coach, who supports highly capable professionals to welcome ease, self-compassion and contentment in their lives. In her blog she writes on fulfilling life & work styles.

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