Stop the Press!

Ah, don’t do that! It is all skin deep anyhow. It is not an exploding supernova, it is just a note to myself.

Yesterday I met up with Remo the old face-to-face way and we went at one of our good discussions right there in Marc’s kitchen. Marc’s kitchen could be dubbed the philosopher’s den, or the place where legal brains meet storytellers. To me it is often a stage on which I reenact the dramas in my life.

As Remo and I compare notes on the progress of that thing that we call our life, places we have been, things we have done, and the ever eternal quest of what to write on one’s tombstone, he grabbed the old newspaper pile and got out a copy of the last issue of the SonntagsZeitung. On page 49 of the May 6 edition there is an interview with Berne born novelist and Berlin philosophy professor Peter Bieri, aka as Pascal Mercier, and there is one line that Remo wanted to share with me after I made the not so casual remark that somehow, both he and I were well into the path of living like monks. Remo’s brother has gone one step further, he is a monk at Einsiedeln.

The good professor and storyteller has something fascinating to say when the journalist asks him how he manages to deal with that special expectant look that one gets after one’s name and face become known. His view is in a remotely related context, however it is relevant to the discussion that Remo and I were having. Peter Bieri said, or at least the journalist wrote and I paraphrase, that he never was driven by the outside, rather he has always been attracted by the life of a monk. That is, to live by the idea that freedom comes from renunciation.

Actually I am having some difficulty finding the right English word to express the meaning that I derive from the expression in German. “Mich hat schon immer die mönchische Lenbensweise angezogen – also die Idee von Freiheit durch Verzicht” is Bieri’s claim. If I had to say this in my own words, then it would be that he has been attracted by the idea of living as a monk in the sense that freedom is derived from giving up. Abandonment, surrender, renunciation, or more plainly just giving up, not clinging on to anything. To me it also means abandoning meaning and sense.

What we were discussing however had more to do with relationships that then anything else, in particular to the relationship to the own self. Remo gave some expression to his reaction when he gets exposed to relationship expectations, this time from his latest amorous involvement, and I having had in the past at least one incubus attempt to rape my understanding and right to use the word, could only comment that we are all in a relationship anyhow. So what is the big deal with relationship? What do these geek monks have to do with relationship? What kind of relationship do they have anyhow? Do monks have relationships?

In this case I think that I like the questions better than the exercise of trying to invent some answers loosely connected to the day’s events.

Remo and I do have relationships of all kinds. We even have one with each other, and with Marc, and most daringly one with his kitchen.

Today, in my own kitchen, I sat and had coffee with a fellow colleague whom I had invited to stop by. This friend today airs out his own discontentment with a friend of his whom I do not know. This mathematician friend of his supposedly calls him at all hours of the day, and he feels annoyed and only picks up the phone once in a blue moon. He was rather upset that somehow he does not get it that he does not always want to talk to him. I asked, not so innocently, if he had ever told his friend his own annoyance and what made him uncomfortable. Ah! Not really, not in so many words. I have had my own experience of the interactions with this colleague of mine, so I could conjecture some of the blanks and ask a few blank questions. I offered the observation that perhaps his friend is lonely. He countered that he is married and lives with his wife. I said that did not mean that he was not lonely anyhow. I kept on asking questions. Then he complained some more about what he did not like and what he liked, and related incidents that seemed all to point to him holding on to concepts of how relationships are to be. It was not a pretty sight really. He said many things, I listened, and listening was a bit like walking barefoot on the same harsh pavement that I have walked before. By now the callus have formed, do feel the contours of the rocks, but it no longer hurts. Elephant hide? The monk has elephant hide? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

It is just that last year I wrote somewhere on a sticky note in the bathroom that I had divorced from concept. I remember it then, it was last summer, and it was on a totally different occasion. I like this divorce from concept, it is about renouncing to what should be, and surrendering to what is. Damn easy to write, and sometimes damn difficult to act. Surrender!

I am working on it. Schemata is surprising me at all levels, surrendering.

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Einsiedeln is also where my son did part of secondary schooling. As a consequence I have visited the monastery several times. Critical of Christianity as I am, the choice of school had nothing to do with religion, and a lot to do with the kind of education that is offered.