Journal of a Literary Traveller 4: Alejandro Jodorowsky in Málaga, Spain

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I told myself that part of the research for my novel The World that I am currently writing had to be to see Alejandro Jodorowsky in person, because his book The Way of Tarot has influenced and widened my perception of the cards. This quest brought me to Café Le Téméraire in Paris a couple of months ago, and last night it saw me walking through the doors of the Teatro Cervantes in Málaga, where I finally caught up with the man at his “Cabaret místico” show, described in the programme as an exercise in collective therapy.

I arrived at the last moment and found the theatre packed. I located my seat, exchanged a few words with the person beside me, and a few moments later, Jodorowsky appeared on the stage. He was alone, holding a microphone, yet he took up all the space. Something about the setup made me think of Woland’s show in The Master and Margarita.

Jodorowsky addressed the audience and I couldn’t help thinking how healthy and agile he looked and sounded, and that I wonder if I will be able to achieve that at 84 if I eat my vegetables and keep following my dream.

He made us interlock little fingers with the people beside us for a few minutes. This and other exercises quickly lifted the energy in the theatre.

The first thing I remember him telling us was that our goal in life is always what our parents would not allow us to do. Then he addressed someone in the first row, pointed the microphone at her and asked her what her goal in life was. She was taken by surprise and asked for a few moments to think. Then he went round to other people and asked them to express their goal in life in one word. Someone said “disfrutar”, enjoy, and Jodorowsky asked him if his parents had allowed him to enjoy. The answer was no. Another person said “ser útil a los demás”, be useful to others, and he asked her if she had been allowed to be useful at home. She said no. I thought that having only one word to express your life’s goal was pretty limiting, but I said to myself that this was first and foremost a show, and that I had come here to see him live, and that I could read the deeper, more differentiated thoughts in his books.

After having asked a few people, he said while approaching me that finally he wanted to ask “este señor de rojo” what my goal in life was. The microphone was in front of my mouth and I said “crear”, to create, thinking of my novel and if only I can pull myself together to finish it soon. He asked me if my parents had allowed me to create. I was expecting that question, and I knew the answer that was expected of me. However I didn’t feel I had a proper answer, definitely not a quick one. Yes and no, I suppose I would say now, depending on what I wanted to create and the time of day. At the time I was desperately trying to find the Spanish words for “that’s a leading question” but I couldn’t. I felt that all eyes and ears were on me. The woman beside me was repeatedly whispering his question to me in English, because she knew I was a foreigner. I was doing all I could to focus, and naturally I felt I was put on the spot. I didn’t want to spoil the show. “Vale, no,” All right, no, I said. “Si o no?” he asked. “No,” I replied. He asked me why not, and his question was repeated in English in my left ear. I had no idea what to say, and I was rapidly forgetting my Spanish. Some very long seconds of silence and false starts followed. He said something like “take your time.” The show would not go on without me.

“Because there was no space,” I finally said.

“That‘s it,” he answered, putting his hand on my arm with so much concentrated sympathy in his gesture that all the tension was released. Even if the ideas were simplified and the words limited to the point where they didn’t make much sense in themselves, the buildup of tension and the gesture of sympathy that released it, felt like it came from the heart and was done with one hundred percent presence if only for a second. This was the work of a master. I was quite shocked as he released me from the spotlight:

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The show was mostly that, a show. But I took one concept from it, which I hope will stay with me. It is something I also read about in The Way of Tarot: the idea that we function from four bodily centres, which correspond to the four elements and the four suits in the Tarot. These centres are:

The head – intellect – Swords
The heart – emotion – Cups
The genitals – desire and creation – Wands
The feet – the material level – Pentacles

This too is a simple concept. However, concepts are of the intellect, which is only one of the four centres. The utility and the wealth of understanding comes when the concept is used and comprehended with all four centres. And that was probably the didactic utility of the show, namely that he was there live and was able to demonstrate this in person. He guided us through a meditation and made us intone all four centres in the corresponding timbre. I felt it strongly. I hope I will keep the feelings with me and remember and be able to tune into them when I need to. Perhaps that can be a boon of writing this little piece about the show: I had actually forgotten about that part of the show until I sat down to write.

I think this was the strength of the show: that it happened on several levels simultaneously. Each level could only be touched lightly during the couple of hours that the show lasted, but it did succeed in showing how the different levels can work together.

By this time, Jodorowsky had made us utterly de-stifled and open. He proceeded to ask all the men go to one side of the middle aisle and all the women to the other. People moved and made way for each other. So many seats were empty next to me, I kept wondering why many men didn’t sit down, and where they were. Then I saw that the female side was overcrowded with many women standing up. Of course! There were far more women in the audience than men.

Jodorowsky then made the two groups get up and face each other. He told the women to shout out their anger at men. I didn’t understand everything they shouted, but mostly it was “Machistas!”, male chauvanists. We stood silently smiling and faced the music.

Then he made us shout at the women. I thought the male side was a bit less enthusiastic, and I for one couldn’t think of anything to shout. But then I heard a man behind me shout “Víctimas!” and I liked that, so I repeated it pretty loud.

Next, we were asked to embrace and forgive each other. I felt a bit shy about that, so I soon sat down.

A not very young man got up onto the stage and gave Jodorowsky two rings. He said that since he had always had problems with women, he had never married. However, tonight he wanted to ask a woman to marry him. He asked her to get onto the stage. People went wild. I thought that if I had felt put on the spot earlier, for her it must be infinitely more intense. She agreed to marry him, and Jodorowsky married them symbolically then and there.

He then asked us to get up and find someone we didn’t know and tell them our life story in five minutes, then the other way round. Then someone else for two and a half minutes, then someone for one minute.

The one minute one invited me to come for a drink with her and her friends after the show. We went for tapas and drinks, and this was my first quick look at Málaga by night and my first hinted discovery of the friendliness and culture of this part of Spain.

But that is for the next post.

Journal of a Literary Traveller 3: The Limitations of Chocolate Cake

All week I looked forward to today. In fact, last night, a Saturday, I stayed at home and turned in early so I could get up early today.

Today was my binge day. The day in which, from eight in the morning to eight in the evening, I eat anything I like. On this day, my primary concern is chocolate cake.

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I recently commenced a very low-carb diet whose requirements made me wonder how in the world I would have the discipline to give up so many things. I came up with the binge day, and so far it has worked like a charm.

The binge day solution gives me satisfaction all week. Because every time a slice of chocolate cake beckons me from a cafe window, I make a mental note to eat it the coming Sunday. It’s as if this thought is as delicious for my mind as the cake itself.

My body, on the other hand, knows when Sunday morning is approaching.

So this morning I woke up brimming with energy. I catapulted from my bed like a toddler discovering that it’s his birthday. Before I had eaten a gram of sugar, I cleaned up the kitchen without a hint of my usual procrastination and bolted out on a merry quest of overeating and incidental discovery of the city where I currently find myself: Barcelona.

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Of course, I knew exactly where to go, so it was not long before I was sitting down and holding my first plate of assorted chocolate cakes. This is a city where aesthetics combine with good food, coffee, wine and cake, so it was not surprising that pleasure ensued.

However, I noticed a certain bluntness in the experience.

After a week of strict low-carbing and disciplined working on my new book, sugar felt like an abrupt energetic onslaught. I had the sensation that several levers had been activated in my brain although I had done nothing to earn their activation. Simultaneous to the pleasure, I at first felt the desire to cry and many other mental and emotional activities, but for no reason or motive.

I continued to eat, to sight-see and to eat some more. In a moment of absolute culinary satiety, I entered the Picasso Museum, where I was able to enjoy the exhibition without feeling any desire for more provisions. I found Picasso’s depictions of the Infanta Margarita especially alive and eerie, and I couldn’t help laughing out loud at some of his later works depicting families and social gatherings. The paintings seemed executed in such an irreverent and tongue-in-cheek manor as to warrant laughter, however serious my European education would have me behave in the elevated setting of the Picasso Museum.

Well, maybe the sugar made me do it.

I left the museum and continued on my Gargantuan quest. I ate bread, tortilla de patata and especially cake accompanied by coffee. The pleasure kept streaming through me, and I found it increasingly easy to handle the extra mental and emotional charge. I ate without any inhibitions whatsoever, and the sugar continued to pump through my system. And there, on the road of excess, I discovered the limitations of chocolate cake, which I had believed confined to the realms of mythology.

The sugar gave me pleasure with each bite I ate, no matter how full I was. And yet there was a limit.

I have thought for a while about what this limit can be, and I have come to the conclusion that the limitation of chocolate cake – and any analogous substance – lies in the difference between pleasure and happiness.

On Sundays I give myself the day off from working on my novel and devote myself to pleasure. This pleasure, as wonderful as it is, is beginning, in the absence of restrictions, to reveal its emptiness.

Pleasure brought on from overeating comes from nothing and leads to nothing. But more than that, I am discovering that this pleasure is course.

I am convinced that I would not have discovered this if it were not for the work that I do from Monday to Saturday. While keeping a strict diet, I work on a novel that I feel is my most important mission at the moment. It demands discipline and effort of me, and it gives me some frustrations. But the chief feature of this activity, far subtler than chocolate cake, is happiness. Amid the discipline, effort and abstention, happiness always lurks in the background of my work in progress, as long as it continues to progress.

I believe that what I am describing is general for the human condition.

I do not feel qualified to draw a final conclusion on this topic. But I will draw a preliminary one: it seems that pleasure without effort is empty and therefore demands more and more to continue to supply the same good feeling. It is course and in your face. Contrasted to that is happiness, which is subtle yet far more powerful. It does not demand, but bestows its gift upon the person who follows his or her highest desire, no matter how many frustrations this pursuit may bring. It does not need to prop itself up; it simple is.

As I write these lines it occurs to me that happiness is available to everyone in every moment. It has to be, if it doesn’t need to prop itself up or feed on anything.

However the case may be, it seems to me that happiness may be the most effective tool to deal with the addictions brought on by course pleasure. If you have happiness in your life, you find yourself more independent of cravings.

But how may happiness be found? Does it come about exclusively through pursuing your higher desires or are there other ways? Is my ad hoc distinction between higher and lower desires even valid? And how would you pursue your higher desires to let happiness into your life?

Please comment below and let me know your thoughts.

Journal of a Literary Traveller 2: Beautiful Café in Barcelona

Today I visited one of the most beautiful cafés I have ever entered.

I spent all week working on my new novel and hardly talking to a living soul. I found my resulting hermetic and dopaminergic state of mind highly conducive to writing, but when the weekend arrived I told myself it was time to visit the outside world.

So last night I went to a bar.

Well, that is to say, most of the evening saw me sitting in my cold flat wearing two sweaters and a blanket, drinking tea, chattering my teeth and procrastinating with Youtube videos, reasoning that I couldn’t go out because I don’t know anyone in Barcelona.

In the end, however, I became so hungry that I managed to boot myself out of the door to search for food.

After eating, I forced myself into a bar. I was feeling seclusive and sleepy, and I didn’t want to be there. But I forced myself to talk to strangers. As a man, no one will seek you out. Your entire life can pass without anything happening except for winning second prize in an online game tournament or something. If you want to see the world you must take initiative. I had an image in my mind of Barcelona remaining closed to me as I work on my novel, and that when I leave in a couple of months, I will only know the route between my apartment and the supermarket. I was determined to destroy that image. So I looked around, opened my mouth and said whatever came to mind.

The first people I talked to were not very friendly. But as I got used to the environment, I started to relax, and conversations came naturally.

In several conversations I admitted to having written at Starbucks for the last two days because the boiler in my apartment has broken and there’s no heating or hot water. I knew it was not a fashionable thing to say, and indeed I did get chastised. “Why do you go to them and their crap coffee,” one guy told me. I looked at him, not knowing what to say. There was a pause in which we looked at each other. “We Australians don’t like chains,” he said, as if to explain himself.

“I haven’t found any other café with suitable tables and not too much noise,” I answered, feeling that my words sounded like I was apologising, although I didn’t mean to.

It is important to state things as they are, however. Even if I’m not sure I’m happy with something I’m doing, I try to make myself state it. At least among people whose opinions of me is of zero consequence to my life. Because only when things come to light is it possible to work with them.

So I persisted. And indeed, the next person I talked to, a Spanish film director, said: “No, no, no! I’ll tell you where to go!”

And so it was that today I found myself entering the Cafe d les Delicies. I was blown away by its beauty and atmosphere. Yes indeed I think I will write there more than once. Pictures are below.

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Journal of a Literary Traveller 1: Figurative magic in Barcelona

I wonder if you know the feeling. It’s a sentiment of having had your expectations disappointed throughout your whole life to the point that you start to think that what you had been waiting for simply does not exist. And then you find that it does. This is how I felt today.

I took Sunday off from working on my upcoming novel to explore the surroundings of my new writer’s base in Barcelona. It was as I wound with the streets of the Old Town, filling my belly with tapas, cakes and coffee, that I chanced upon the Museu Europeu d’Art Modern. Not being a great connoisseur of art, I must admit I was torn between art and chocodiles. But my stomach was full to the point of bursting, so I chose art over chocolate. This time I was not disappointed.

Most of my life, modern art has been a disappointment to me. Exhibits were usually so abstract it was hard to tell whether the artist himself had any idea what he was trying to express. The evasive opacity of museum texts and articles only confirmed my doubts. These experiences are possibly a function of being a native of Copenhagen, Denmark, but I suspect they express a wider phenomenon.

In so-called literary circles I encountered the same tendency. Now this probably is a more local phenomenon. I would attend readings where poets would present works without rhyme or metre. This was supposedly in order to write in a modern style; but it was pretty obvious that these people would not be able to compose a poem with rhyme and metre, nor even a single page of prose without severe spelling and punctuation mistakes.

It was therefore a magical experience for me to visit the current exhibition at Museu Europeu d’Art Modern. The works are figurative yet magical, and obviously took great skill to execute. And then there are the museum texts.

As a former translator of museum texts, I know how neutral these texts often are. In fact they can be so neutral they become meaningless. Not so here. Whoever wrote them is actually saying something. He or she is making statements that some people would find objectionable. That means they are real statements.

Despite it being Sunday, I only saw two other visitors in the entire museum. The personnel stayed around the entrance. So I was alone with the paintings throughout my visit. I did not feel alone. These paintings are supra-real; they seem more real and alive than their motifs themselves must have been.

I spent the first part of my time in the exhibition simply being and enjoying. The second part I spent taking a few pictures. They are below:

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Ethics: the way to personal power (3)

The Golden Rule

The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.

– William Blake

This is part three in a series of blogs about how personal ethics can help you become indestructible in an increasingly chaotic world.

I ended the last instalment by asking how you may construct an ethical code and what it will do for you. Let’s start with the second part: what it will do for you. This is an appropriate point of departure, because your ethical code comes from your inner core. So there could be no more solid foundation for it than what your inner core wants.

How do you envision your ideal life? This question may sound dreamy and frivolous to you; if it does, then this is part of your challenge: to unlearn the edict that you were perhaps brought up with, and perhaps programmed with by the society or culture in which you grew up: that “real life” and your dream life are two completely different concepts that can never meet.

Getting to know your ideal life is probably the single most important thing you can do on your way to discovering your own ethical code. Because even if you ignore your vision of your ideal life, as many people do, it will continue to lurk in the shadows, and will be the true standard against which your soul – as opposed to other people and your super-ego – will measure your actions. This shows you how important it is to know. Because if you don’t, you will probably just continue to violate your own standards and ignore what your intuition is telling you, because you don’t understand why your intuition is telling you to do a certain thing or to not do a certain thing, and everyone around you is demanding that you must be able to rationally defend your decisions. Under such circumstances, inner peace is impossible, because you don’t even know what standards you are striving to live up to.

So take some time to really get to know your ideal life. What does it look like? How does it feel? Who are you with? What do you have in your life? What mission are you pursuing?

Now ask yourself what kind of person you see leading this life. Are you that person, as you are now? Is your behaviour in tune with your vision? Or do you need to make some modifications?

And this is the key. Because the powerful way to get something is not by stealing it but by receiving it because it naturally belongs to you because of who you are.

It is really this simple. As soon as you congruently implement this course of action, mysterious things will begin to happen to help you achieve the life of your dreams.

Don’t be the fox who thinks the world is so complicated that he must take what is not given if he wants to survive. That path leads to fear and self-hate.

Be true to your lion heart.

God will give you the lion’s share.

 

Ethics: the way to personal power (2)

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From Within

The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow; nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.” – William Blake

This is part two in a series of blogs about becoming indestructible in an increasingly chaotic world.  I currently refer to this indestructibility as “personal power” because it makes you powerful within rather than giving you power over other people. This is not a term that I have invented, but it is useful for the present exposition.

I concluded part one of this series by discarding morality as a source of personal power. I defined morality as behavioural codes that your parents, society, or the culture you were brought up in, want you to adopt to the extent that they become internalised edicts about what is right and what is wrong.

I showed how these edicts drain us of power because we invariably break them and then cover our infractions with explanations that we know won’t stand up to the light of day. This is how morality turns us into base, frightened people who shun the light and even our own shadow.

Is that who You want to be?

What is more attractive to you, and what do You feel is strongest and most indestructible? Truth or lies? Double-standard explanations or straight talk?

I knew you would say that. I knew it because we all instinctively recognise the power of someone who is being authentic. Ok then, so why are you on the side of the lies and double-standard explanations?

Well, it’s not as easy, not as simple as that.

The fact is, for most of us grown-up people, authenticity is a lofty and challenging goal. Our lives have become too complicated to match the blueprint we adopted as children or live up to the morality we were inducted with.

It seems to be a strange state of affairs. Most of us are not murderers or grand-scale criminals. So why do we feel so guilty that we prefer to live a lie rather than simply being who we are? And what is the answer to our predicament? Do we simply need to redouble our efforts to lead a moral life? Well, in order to rectify a symptom we need to understand its causes.

The reason almost all of us are in breach of morality in this world, the reason almost all of us are either struggling morally with ourselves or lying to ourselves and others, is that whichever moral code we were implanted with, it did not originate from within our own hearts. It is incompatible with who we are, no matter how well we may have internalised it.

So here is the key: the way to personal power is to have and observe a code that originates from within Yourself. I will call this code Ethics, and its observance living an ethical life.

So how do you construct such an ethical code and how do you observe it? How does an ethical life protect you, and what sorts of effects can you expect to encounter if you choose this path? These are some of the topics of the next installments in this series.

Ethics: the way to personal power (1)

The lives of others

As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.” – William Blake

As a child, it always seemed to me that people who spoke of morality were trying to impose rules on lives they knew nothing about.

I would hear not only that I should behave in a certain way, but that we all should. It used to be a favourite sport of mine to unveil behaviour among such proponents of morality (usually teachers or writers of children’s books), that would contradict their own edicts.
To me there was something intrinsically unpalatable about morality as it was served to me; the idea that someone who didn’t know or understand me would know what was best for me just seemed too much of an imposition. I felt that as a child I was powerless to resist the fixed idea that most grown-ups seemed to share: that children are put into the world to be patronised.

Then I myself grew up. Morality was no longer preached to me to nearly the same extent; it was assumed that I would have internalised it by now. And indeed I had, to a very great extent. To my own detriment, I might add.

Dear reader, please note that I am writing about myself to bring you closer to me, to allow you to see parallels between the process of your own mental configuration and mine, without me imposing my conclusions on you. Please note that as I write about myself it is You I am attempting to reach.

The idea I am trying to expound is that morality – the values of others – is imposed upon us, and that we grow up taking certain behaviours for granted while rejecting others as unacceptable. And then we wake up one day to find that we are practising those very behaviours that we reject.

Our explanation in such cases must be that the behaviour in question is generally unacceptable, but that in this special case it is understandable or perhaps even necessary. However, such explanations always feel unsatisfactory; we mumble them to ourselves and perhaps to others, but we have a feeling that they will petrify and crack if exposed to the full light of day.

In other words, such double-standard explanations make us afraid of the light, afraid of the truth. They make us creep about, uncomfortably aware of our own shadow, and it just won’t go away. In short, they make us weak and divided. That is not the way to personal power.

So what is?

For the answer to this question and more, please see the next installment.