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.

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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 (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.