The tentacles of solitudeIllustration: Ohgigue
Among the games that I preferred to do as a child, the most fun was certainly the careful observation of people. Their movements, expressions, their way of relating to each other. I listened carefully to the words they chose to tell what was going on around them, and how they changed based on the context in which they found themselves.
Once the observation was over I made an effort to figure out which animal they could look like. In some people I could clearly recognize only one animal. In others I recognized many different ones, depending on the situations experienced by the person. Since then I have always believed that there were animals that represented us symbolically, and that by carefully observing their behaviors we could symbolically understand some aspects of the human soul.
The metaphor of the octopus
That the octopus was one of my animals I noticed it at about thirteen, when I met one at sea: holding out an inquiring arm, curious about my arms, it seemed he wanted to take my hand to take a ride. The fishermen told me that these animals are able to recognize people, and that they react differently to different individuals, welcoming some and splashing others with ink.
The interaction with this creature is very particular: it does not seem to be friend or enemy, it is rather a coexistence. There is a mutual sense of involvement . He observes you carefully, generally keeping a certain distance, but not much. If you stand in front of their lair and reach out a hand, they often stretch an arm. First to explore you, and then to try to drag you into their hiding place.
It is as if the octopus were sociable, but not social . He is intrigued by the other and by the interaction with him, sometimes he is not afraid to approach the outstretched hand of a human being, but leads a solitary existence, in his lair.
I recognized this way of interacting in many other human beings : generally in their childhood they were children accustomed to growing up in solitude, however remaining curious and open to the other.
Often held up as too strange , too clumsy, ” too much ” something, these children learn to appreciate loneliness while acknowledging the importance of interacting with each other, who seek with interest but with a hint of fear . Because feeling like an “octopus out of water” in the world around you scares a lot.
And just like octopuses do not have a stable color or consistency , but change them at will to adapt to the environment , these children learn very well to adapt to the surrounding environment, to avoid being injured or being held up as “too” strange , “Too” silent, “too” sensitive, “too” short-tempered, “too much”.
In the course of life many pastimes change , many passions, many masks , t ante directions of life , demonstrating an extraordinary ability to become passionate, to be curious, to be interested in the surrounding world. Not surprisingly, octopuses are also a perfect symbol of regeneration: they are able to get rid of one of their tentacles, and then regenerate them, in case of danger.
Those who learn to adapt to a world that incriminates being “too much” also learn to do without parts of themselves: habits that were believed to be consolidated and pleasant, people of whom it was believed impossible to do without, places that were called “home “ . And no matter how important these parts may seem, no matter how bad abandonment can be, sometimes to survive you have to let go.
And experience teaches that sooner or later something new will come. And that as usual you will get used to it.
Growing up they learn to experience their limits:
- how much can they afford to trust the other without being hurt?
- How much to be authentically themselves without being held up as “too much” again?
- How long can they resist with each other before wanting to return to their beloved solitude?
And the octopus also challenges and continually experiences limits. His body, a mass of boneless soft tissues, does not have a fixed shape. They manage to pass through cracks even a few centimeters wide, the size of their beak, which is the only really hard part of their body.
And just as the octopus manages to pass through cracks that have at least the small size of its beak, you learn that you can leave something behind only when it is clear, that you can be sure that you have made a right decision only when everything has a meaning , when you can embroider a logical speech around your choices that does not make a fold, that threads perfectly. Because, as Wittgenstein said, “the limits of my language are the limits of my world”, and only the lands that can be understood, understood, mentalized and perfectly explained are safe havens.
The limitless body and the remarkable physical strength (a giant Pacific octopus can lift 14 kg with a single sucker) makes this animal very difficult to keep in captivity. When in captivity, octopuses appear to be aware of their condition. Sometimes they adapt to it, but they can also resist using the objects that surround them, bending them to their ends trying to run away.
And it is precisely the captivity that these children also learn not to endure, because when you experience the great freedom that loneliness can give you, it becomes difficult to barter it for something else . Even if you gain a pleasant human exchange: a bond always remains a rope.
At the beginning of its evolutionary history, the octopus gave up the protective shell typical of molluscs to embrace a life of limitless possibilities. But in doing so he has made himself more vulnerable to attacks by predators with teeth and bones.
Human beings also lack an emotional shell that can protect others from words, intentions and actions when they hurt, when you don’t understand them or when you want others to change. That everything was different.
It becomes very difficult to get out of one’s comfortable and comforting solitude if we anticipate that we cannot protect ourselves as we would like. It becomes difficult to open up to the other if you expect to be able to hurt him because of being “too much”. It becomes difficult to want to turn to the other, but not to know how to do it. Yet, curiosity and the need for interaction with the other pushes us, again and again, to look for someone outside of us . Someone who makes us feel loved, understood, considered, welcomed, even when we believe we are “too much”.
Perhaps, from a conventional point of view, the life of an octopus is already tragic in itself, made up of sociability without society, of unheard messages and a life-giving world that is not very long-lived. An alien.
But if the octopus were more like us, maybe we would leave it alone?