THE AUTOBIO STARTS UP AGAIN : Page 17
Starting and stopping is something I do a lot. I could make a list, will make a list, of all the things I have started and stopped in my life. But not now. Now I want to take up where I left off when I stopped writing the Burial of Mickey Mouse some time back in....never mind. Saying when I stopped would only add to my already overstuffed basement of guilt. Promoters of the love-yourself lifestyle insist that guilt is really really bad and that you must forgive yourself for all the bad you did and the good you didn't do. Well, you know what? I love myself devotedly, faithfully, but I also hang on to my guilts because they are very useful. If you're too comfortable you never get out of bed in the morning. Guilts are uncomfortable, they force you to ask questions about how you act, which may be completely contrary to who you think you are. You see yourself in your mind, others see you in your actions. Guilt comes along when you notice the discrepancy between what you think and what you do, or don't do, and noticing is what matters because if you don't notice you never change.
So, where was I? In Rome, busy, not happy, arguing with my husband, arguing with family, feeling out of place, out of kilter, off balance. Living in Paraguay was like being in a protective womb, even the difficulties we faced there were somehow removed from the real world. Flawed as it was, Paraguay, especially our bit of it, San Antonio, still retained a touch of Eden. But I had no desire to go back to Eden. I felt I was on the wrong train going to the wrong destination and I wanted to get off. I heard that Krishnamurti was giving one of his seminars in Saanen, Switzerland, and I decided to go.
Jiddu Krishnamurti. Click on photo for source.
I first learned of Krishnamurti from my father who had been very impressed by him in Paris in his youth and I'd read some of his books but never heard him speak. Saanen is a beautiful village in the Alps, just outside the very posh designer-boutique-laden resort of Gstaad. I stayed in a modest B & B on the road to the huge tent set up in the woods to host the large numbers of people who always turned up anywhere "Krishnaji" was doing a talk-gig. It was summer, the weather was ideal and the place was packed with interesting faces, self-questioning, truth-seeking types who look vaguely familiar and to whom you feel you should introduce yourself but can't think of anything sufficiently impressive to start a conversation.
Krishnamurti, who looked exactly the way a guru should look, came on and stared silently for a long moment at the sea of expectant faces. "I see the same old crowd is here again" he said, not smiling. He then proceeded to berate us all in lucid, dispassionate terms for indulging in guru-ism and pointed out that listening to him would no more produce enlightenment than the hooting of an owl (my words, not his). The hooting of an owl might very well be enlightenment once we'd got rid of all the useless baggage we were carrying around. My previous three-star assessment of him zoomed up to five stars with this refreshing introduction, even if (or maybe because) it was so contradictory. He was spending his life talking to people like us all over the world, writing books for us, we were his career, yet he was saying we didn't need him and, presumably, he didn't need us? H'm.
Saanen, Switzerland. Click on photo for source.
The rest of the seminar was more or less a repetition of the same theme, with variations and question-answer sessions and much intense discussion among participants, carried on in cafes and along mountain trails. It was exciting and stimulating and people paired off or formed same-interest clusters.
I met a man - as one does - and we started hanging out together, going for long walks, talking non-stop, and inevitably progressed to snogging. (Translation for those who need it : snogging includes kissing and groping but not intercourse). I convinced myself that I was not being unfaithful to my husband because I stopped at snogging, resisting (with difficulty) my new friend's persuasive efforts to go all the way, to use a quaint old-time euphemism.
In a naive or just plain stupid excess of honesty, I even wrote letters to Reg telling him all about this man, what a great time I was having and how this journey was such a positive experience. When I wasn't listening to Krishnamurti or having deep talks or snogging, I was writing in my journal - the usual long-winded self-analytical stuff that, with hindsight, I have come to regard as unalloyed bullshit. A few paragraphs might be salvaged for recycling but on the whole, my compulsion to analyze everything within an inch of its life served only to reinforce and add to that very baggage Krishnamurti, the non-guru, was telling us to ditch. I was hearing the message, writing about it, talking about it, understanding it, but not living it.
Natalie in Saanen A.P. in Saanen. Conte crayon.
It may sound like it, but my meeting with the man in Saanen was not a mere holiday flirtation. Neither was it love, but an important encounter nonetheless with a very perceptive, intuitive, strong and kind person who helped me a great deal in many ways. He travelled a lot but we met again a couple of times after Switzerland and kept in touch by mail for a few years. When I moved to London and was broke, he sent me some money. He was insistent in his belief that I should focus on painting and nothing else and, in gratitude for his support, I offered to give him an early self-portrait that he had admired. (There's a photo of it below). Time passed, our paths diverged and he never collected the painting but I consider it his and if he's still around, somewhere on this planet, he can have it.
(Yes, I did Google his name tonight, and came across something quite extraordinary which kept me reading for nearly two hours and which he may or may not have been been connected with but, as I'm not going to reveal identities, it must remain a mystery).
Below: Teen Self-Portrait, Sao Paulo, Brazil. NdA. Oil on canvas.
When the seminar ended, I shook Krishnamurti's hand. Surprisingly, it was a cold, limp hand. I always remember that handshake.
Back in Rome, everything was different. I'd only been gone for a couple of weeks but when your perspective changes, it's like time-travel - you've moved into the future while the people back home are still where they were.
Not surprisingly, considering my insensitive letters, Reg was hurt and silent. Something was broken and I had done the breaking and I couldn't pretend that it would be repaired. By my technical criteria, the little affair in Saanen didn't count as infidelity but the real infidelity was that I had gone into our marriage with a lie in my heart whereas Reg had given it his all and now the lies and the truth were bubbling up to the surface. For the seven years we were together, I had taken the warmth and security and companionship he offered, and done my share, and we became a well-matched couple. Now I felt I had recovered my "true self", the one I was before marriage, and there was no way I would get back onto a wrong train. Even our bed, where we had always been able to find togetherness, now seemed a vast and arid desert.
I told Reg that I needed time and space alone (that old old cliché) and that I would move to London for a year. A trial separation. He cried, I cried, but my decision was unshakeable. My family was against it and I had no financial resources so I wrote to a few friends, asking for a contribution to fund my departure. They replied and I left Rome with about three hundred dollars in my pocket to start a new life. Reg came to see me off at the station and as the train pulled away, I watched his thin, forlorn face getting smaller and smaller and the wrench in my heart made me want to jump off and run back to him. But I didn't.