Saturday, May 27, 2006

Of friends’ houses, rain and Hesse

This last week has been really nice. I have seen more of my friends who were, up until now, crazy busy with exams and projects. Pat’s moved into a house down the road, adding another friendly soul to my wicked street. I went for a few drinks with Iain, who’s got the most brilliant mind and is amazing to talk to because he is so genuine and pensive. And I went to Jamie’s place quite a few times and hung out with him and Geoff and Jim... gawd, I love those three guys: they are creative geniuses, so friendly and laid back, funny as fuck and spontaneous. There is something about their house, their community and company that equally boggles my mind, my perception, makes me happy and makes me creative. They are three of those kinda people you can’t help but like, they are equally eccentric and lovable.

Saturday night I totally beat Jamie and Jim in Scrabble, god bless “bairns”. And on Wednesday night we watched this awfully dark German film called “Funny Games” which helped us establish a ground rule about drinking/smoking weed: If you are drunk/stoned, everyone else will seem drunk and stoned to you. And we drank quite a lot, so that made that film a proper mindfuck – fun nonetheless. I’ve almost become a lodger there, crashing in a spare room each time because it was too late to get back home.

So it happened that I was there on Sunday morning. I must have woken up quite early, but I had no sense of time. It was perfectly quiet, and the rain washed down the windows in waves and creeks, with a monotonous drum that was both creating a feeling of cosiness and making me drowsy.
There is something incredibly calming and peaceful, a moment of perfect happiness, when sitting on an early Sunday morning, watching the thick mournful wafts of rain clouds drift across a wet sky while drinking the warm, cosy comfort of a hot cup of tea and soaking up the moment. It was a moment where I felt perfectly at home – contemplate this feeling, when does one ever feel like the way one felt as a child, when does one ever feel that one belongs somewhere, and if not in this particular place, then at least in this particular moment, where everything just fits and is as it should be. I live for moments like that. More so, this is what keeps me alive. I have rarely felt that way, felt it so intense, so there, in the past years... hell, thinking about it, my whole life.

Moments like that I had only at Peter’s in Berlin, my mentor and surrogate family when everything else was going to the pits. It’s moments like that I seek, everywhere, so everywhere will be my home, so I don’t have to feel scared, lost. If it is even to sit at a train station’s platform on a sunny spot and connecting to the concrete below me and find the slightest ounce of beauty in it, so it would feel welcoming, so I could even embrace being in a place that is absolutely hideous. Or trying to connect to the drunks in the Oscar Wilde, having a laugh with that guy who would always ramble mindfuck in a Shakespearan English, stuff so crazy I would never be able to remember it. Being able to embrace the milieu you dread will make you feel fearless. Having a strong dream of getting away was what made me feel home most of the time, the hope I would not be wherever I was one day. And at the same time embracing and loving what I feared most, so I wouldn’t have to fear it.

And then I thought, England was one of the places where I wanted to be, because something there, for some reason, felt home to me, and at that moment I experienced it the strongest – the realisation that now I was actually here, where I wanted to be, what I wanted to be, how I wanted to be. Just with a warm cup of tea, watching rain clouds in a zen-like moment, feeling home, feeling nothing but affection at the thought of my friends still asleep in their beds or out and about somewhere, who made this place home for me, unwittingly or not.

Sadly, I am too impatient, too annoyed by idleness, to sit and watch clouds forever. So I picked up that book Jamie was reading, just planning to browse a little through it to kill time, and then, soon, get a taxi home.
But then the rain got torrential, and while I use that as an excuse for my prolonged stay, it wasn’t why I was still there hours later. I was hooked.
Working in a bookshop has the advantage of having permanent access to books, and perhaps even as a requirement, know them. At least a little. And I have read truckloads of books in the past months, or at least leafed through them, and some of them are better than others, but none of them got me hooked. Most of them – easily about 90% of the fiction section – is mass-produced, flat drivel with two-dimensional forgettable character in exchangeable, unoriginal situations. In fact, most books seem to come from the same blue print. Read one book of chick lit, you have read them all. Read the Da Vinci Code, which is godawful writing, if you ask me, and you have basically read all the books coming in its wake. The Lucifer Code. The Magdalene Legacy. The Traveller. It is abominable. Most of these books lack the literary cousin of nutritional value, they are like flat, tasteless rice cakes next to a Thanksgiving Dinner; you close the book and forget it immediately; nothing in it struck a chord, sang in tune with you, changed you, awoke you. Maybe that is what makes a good book: if it manages to touch something in you that awakens you to yourself. If it manages to speak out something that has always been in there in you, somewhere, as an unshaped thought, too vague to recognise and hence benefit and grow from it. It is only a precious few books that manage to find the seed of YOU in you and plant it.

And I had just found one. I wasn’t reading it, I was absorbing it, soaking it up like a sponge. Why have I never read Hesse before?? I always planned on it, but never did. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it, maybe I didn’t see the messiah when he stared into my face. He is one of the few that know my mind better than myself and helps me excavate it, wake me up to myself: Irving, C.S. Lewis, Douglas Coupland, Richard Bach. Finding someone who does that is like finding love, finding a soul mate, hell, finding your soul. Minds like these assure me in my knowledge that there is something like a universal idea, collective mind, an ultimate reality that everyone shares in, because they manage to grasp the essence of it and what it does to your soul. The thing Jung made a science of, Tillich turned into a theology. How you wake up to life like you have always meant to be like this.

The book I am talking of is “Narcissus and Goldmund”. It’s the story of a serene and wise monk novice and his pupil. They are friends, but they are as different as can be. Goldmund loves Narcissus so much he wants to be like him, wants his approval at all cost, but Narcissus rejects this and wants him to be true to his own self instead. It’s both painful and beautiful to read, the struggles they go through. I guess the final moral of the tale is that the most divine path to follow is your genuinely own, and that this path is what will lead you to your real self and God in the end. Goldmund’s path leads out of the monastery and into a life of debauchery and even murder, but in all this he is never a bad person because he just takes what life gives him and makes of it what he can. What makes it even more fascinating is that he is somewhat of a Kaspar Hauser: his isolated upbringing in the monastery makes him perfectly estranged to the social rules of the outside world: all he has is his instinct and the wisdom Narcissus gave him. It plays with the idea of whether and how much morality, or even just social appropriateness is something innate or something conditioned.

I have a strong belief that if we stem from God and our true nature is in God, then finding our own true path is the only way to him... and it will never be a straight one. That we sin on the way is inevitable... it does not mean we’re encouraged to sin (whatever idea you may have of what sin is), but that we need to accept that sin, flaws, mistakes, error, is just part of our nature and that what we make of it is what matters. For instance, Goldmund learns by instinct and trial and error what the difference between love and sex is... no doctrine could teach him that. The New Covenant is the only way because doctrine, trained lessons, are not what brings life and how to lead it home to us... the human way is by trial and error, and the New Covenant is the thing that reconciles us to God. I guess everyone has a different interpretation of it, and some people still think it is about rigid doctrine, but I could never reconcile myself to that. It’s just not genuine... it doesn’t work. And it’s not that I haven’t tried. All I know is that what I learned about God I didn’t learn in church, or in bible classes, or Sunday school.
The way I learned about him (or her, or it) was through life and through instinct, and through common sense, and those also taught me that God is much bigger than whatever was taught in church... he is much more universal, in fact, so universal that you see him and aspects of him in all religions... even though all of them fall short in capturing exactly what he is about.
I guess, “Narcissus and Goldmund” is a book that somehow expresses that ingraspable (is that a word?) yet stark universality and omnipresence without turning it into a religious book... it’s closest to how I experience God, or my own spirituality.

Funny enough, Hesse is closely associated with Nietzsche, who once claimed that God is dead.
Funnier even, is that Hesse was also good mates with Jung, who is famous for uniting spirituality/religion and psychology. And funniest is that this Nietzsche quote is one of the most misinterpreted ones in the world... it is one that merely states the contemporary human condition of being unable to accept God in traditional terms. Funny that one of the biggest enemies of the church should help me find the real thing.
And that I should only learn from friends what the word family means.

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