Spiritual Principles behind the Traditions
“Auf.” Inticing in more ways then one, the now glowing-green button—my way off this train—signals us safely pulled in to Ratingen Ost. The metaphor doesn’t escape me. Not now. Not one so obvious. I want “auf”. And in more ways than just this train.
It’s the danger of taking the plunge, the danger of wading in life beyond tip-toe lengths, of taking risks and being damned with all the consequences practical or otherwise: You can’t stop the train when you want. You can’t push the “auf” button just because you’re tired. The ride just keeps on whirling along.
I’m tired of chasing this image of being spiritual. Germany’s chased that away from me. I’m even tired of chasing this image of writing, though even now a part of me still thinks I can “write out” what was (is?) bothering me. I consider once more the fact that I’m sick, and that I’ve been so for over two weeks concurrently. The world is colored in strands of bleak, and nothing, not even the highest inspiration of yesterday, can escape the way my illness shapes the world. And I’m not even that sick.
But I’m sick of them, and no amount of censored thinking or living by some program of recovery can mask that truth. I’m sick of making apologies on their behalf in my own mind, sick of trying to imagine that for them, it is completely normal to not say “excuse me” when you bump into someone or step on their toes, that it’s even normal to not offer your place to its proper beholder when you’re errantly chosen as the next in line: these notions of politeness, I keep reminding myself, are merely programmed into me from my social conditioning. But I’m sick of justifying their strange ways as just a different social programming, not right or wrong. Or rude. I’m sick of it and most of all them, but even I’m not saved from my own, fed-up ire. I’m calling it like it is: these Germans are just rude, grumpy, assholes, and need to get over themselves.
Germany’s chiseled itself onto me, or I’ve been cut on it, or some strange mixture of the two; whatever the case, I see the person I was when I moved here now as a stranger. In most ways, I view that person as a simple creature, one with vibrant optimism ill-suited to a larger world’s reality. And since when I’m sick I like to call things as they really are, I would call that optimisim and idealism now something quite different. I’d call it arrogance.
“Auf”. My finger traces the quarter-sized circle for an instant, my mind likewise tracing my life. I’m homesick. Every part of my being is sick, and the knotted phlegm trying to slide from my sinuses won’t let me forget that, nor will the blanket over my mind and the molasses in my head. I’m tired, and I still need to teach another small collection of German business people how to properly speak English.
The door hisses open in a gray, smoking yawn, the bite of the damp air nestling its way through even my scarf, and my sniffeling protests beyond words what this weather is doing to me. If only some magical “auf” button existed that would let me off this European ride and transport me immediately back home. I want my mommy.
I was arrogant. Most apparently, I was arrogant in assuming classroom success would translate into real-world functionality. I just wish it would translate at all. I’m realizing how small-time I really am. It’s like I was the hot-shot on some 1-A high school team, perplexed as to why I can’t put up 30 points and 10 boards against the likes of Duke and North Carolina. Everyone told me how clever I was, how quick and natural I was in German class, and I was a fool to believe them. I truly thought that my tricks in the classroom and ability to self-teach would have me speaking like a native by now. Arrogant. To think that after 6 months, no matter how clever, I would somehow be able to handle a language with the same skill as someone who’s used it for 10 years (let alone 30)–it’s ignorance inexcusable. It’s arrogance.
That’s right: arrogance. Just like my unbridled optimism in early sobriety. I find it ridiculous the image I had of myself: I walked around as though I’d thought deep into the timeless mysteries of God and religion, and since my own personal struggles matched the depths (so I arrogantly thought) to be explored in those areas, I figured my answers would relieve even the most ardent of atheists. I thought I was spiritual. I wanted to be seen first and foremost as spiritual, as someone kind and humble and loving. All of this was arrogance. A refusal to see myself as an equal to others.
What a difference a day makes! This can be both good and bad. On the weekend, I had walked to a Christmas Market, happily, however drearily, sniffeling away at the foreign sounds and sights. Ok, so the geeky feel of role-playing taken to unhealthy extremes was nothing new—celtic lettering wired its way down banners of green, oversized ladies flanking the coat-of-arms that danced in the back of nearly all the booths. It was a medievel fest in all its nerdy best, only at this one everyone spoke a foreign tongue. And this one was in an authentic castle, the outer-baily abuzz with cozy log cabins and bulky Germans carrying their bulky beer-mugs. I was transported to an authentic, other land: lutes whistling their tin scales, flittering with the backdrop of a soothing harp, the wind from the North making my jeans feel like a joke. It was completely magical.
It’s part of the reward of jumping in Life head first, instead of tinkering with it, toe-deep, on the sidelines. Moments like these sustain wanderlust, calling those of us who hear its siren call to go out and experience more of Life and others’ realtion to it.
I even tried some Kinder Gluwein—the alcoholic, adult equivilent being off-limits for me—and marveled in an experienced tradition of another culture, savoring the biting cinnamon as it clung, welcome and warm, to the clogged passages of my throat and lungs. Gluweine is the German equivilent of Eggnog, not in the sense of its taste, but by making its much-loved and only appearance come Christmas time. I cradled the U-shaped mug in my mits, brightly alive in the thrill of the cold, and walked into the inner-baily of Castle Broich. Torches stretched in the gusts of wind, dazzling as they gave glimpses of the castle as I walked through it then, and glimpses of what it must of looked like a thousand years ago. The armor of the super-geeks reflected the fire, maroon capes dragging against the cobble-stoned inner courtyard.
This is what I traded for my naïve and childish worldview, precisely these kind of experiences, when the foreigness of another culture presents itself to you in some theatrical and entertaining way. I was used to digesting my cultural experiences this way, reared on the tidbits mother Hollywood offered. But the authentic one stretched far beyond my conception, reaching to avenues and perspectives unfathomable but somehow lingering on the edge of my American perception. At times it’s so enormous and disregarding of how I, a foreigner, must feel, I want to push the “auf” button. Especially when I can’t recover my health at Christmas time.
Quit rejecting the present. The past presents itself as something ideal, something to cling to, because your simply rejecting the present.
Oh, I’ve trained myself well: these positive thoughts drift even admist the throes of my ill thoughts. Funny thing is, I’ve been here often before, downcast and negative simply because I’m physically ill. I know that, this too, shall pass. But right now, I’m too sick and tired of Eastern spirituality to not be further sickened by it. Some part of me, the same where the re-hashed help of yesterday sprung from, is a bit concerned that I’m pissing all over the wisdom.
Something tells me that this negative conception of myself, this viewing of myself as some arrogant asshole is important. I feel like I’m growing. And though it’s going to be important to have to forgive myself for past ignorance, and equally important to accept the necessary steps to get where I’m at today, in my sickness I can only tear myself—constructively—down.
“Ahh..sooo.” It sounds initially like they’re coughing up pflegm, before they switch to some Germanesque form of our English “so”. It annoys me far beyond reason, this expression the Germans use roughly the same as our, “Ohh…I get it now.”
I think—even more so now, though I would say I was far more open-minded than my fellow countrymen—that the German language gets a bad-rap in the American stereotype. It is cliché and stupid and, yes, annoying, when those un-immersed in English’s closest cousin (German) call it an “ugly language”. I’m sure it stems from the innability of most to see the Germans as anything but Nazis and antagonists in the second World War, and the gutteral commands of those monsters Hollywood has burned in our collective mind sounds as ugly as their souls. It’s not, as so often the case, the reality: though not pretty, and what I would often describe as “cumbersome”, the German language is certainly not ugly. It’s intellectual before, and even has pretty moments where the tongue slides and rolls through Latin-sounding roots.
But I can’t think of a more annoying or ugly intonation of the human’s ability to make speech than “Ahhh..sooo”. It is indescribly abrasive.
Likewise: “Jaaaa…” It’s not everyone, mind you, but a handful of perpetrators that make this simple inflection so God-awful. It’s the way they look and the way they bob their heads and the way thyr curl their lips. It’s the personification of condescension, and can roughly be translated as: “Yes, I suppose that’s right. Now why the hell are you here and why the hell are you bothering me?” And: yes, it is possible to say that much in one, terribly-spoken, “Jaaaa…”
Which is how I cut myself on Germany. The personalty is a funny thing that I don’t really have the space to describe now. I merely wish to point out how strange this thing is, this personality, this thing that moves and slides and changes depending on the people around. It’s completely impossible to touch, yet situations bring things “out” of it, it slides around the pegs other people provide, forming itself around people and environments.
And this country has forced a radical alteration of the “pegs” my personality swings around. My old one, as I’ve said, cut itself on these German-manufactured ones, the slow dawn of all my ignorance revealed as precisely that with each every small awakening to the reality of how Germany actually runs things. And how differently made-up the German personality is. It took me months before I realized they were not merely not getting my jokes, but rather had a different idea of what funny was. This is truly impossible for me to describe in words as yet, but, be assured: it’s frightening to realize that a personality is constituionaly different than yours.
And so it’s shocked the kid right out of mine. I had these old tricks that worked, old charms I relied upon, and they’ve sinced been pruned by the realities of acclamating to a world vastly different. I’ve had to grow up, in other words: in responsiblilty, in attitude, in perspective, in understanding. I’ve had to grow up spirituality. And what the hell does growing up spiritually mean? I’ve had to stop prescribing my particular brand to everyone else. I’ve had to acknowledge that I may not hold the key to someone else’s happiness. In short, I’ve had to become more humble. Which can be a difficult thing to do when your image of yourself is someone “spiritual”, humble and caring and kind. But the Germans won’t let me forget.
They won’t let me forget that I’m not some messiah come to bring the brilliance and spirituality of Mike’s Truth to them. That naïve and optimsitic part, since died, once had notions (however unspoken) that if I could just pick up the language, I could offer solutions and therapy to these grumpy, over-intellectual people.
But that part of me has been cut, maybe even wounded in some ways, and while I’m all for nurturing and protecting that child within, I also advocate growing up when life demands it. Whatever the case, moving to a foreign country alters your perception, and it’s definitely altered my perception of myself. I was arrogant.
Truly, there’s really only one perscription for arrogance: humility. I need not look very far for mine. My childish and bumbling attempts at German remind me exactly of my place, and affords the wonderful opportunity for me to accept the fact that I’m a beginner at something, to “lower” myself to where I’m actually at, and begin to enjoy the process of improving. Might I add, and the metaphor to life in general continues, the process of growing (in the language) is actually enjoyable once I shed all the expectations of where I should be at, or all the anxiety of how far I have to go.
I don’t need to chase the image of being “spiritual” anymore. I don’t have to be viewed, upon first sight, as some wise, caring guru. I don’t even have to be employed in some religoius or therapeutic field. That’s what Germany has taught me, however abrasively: I can give back and be a conduit for love on the smallest scale imaginable; why, I can even do selfless things without the chance of ever being recognized! The mere act of caring for my dog–taking him out and being patient with him—can be a good thing.
Seems obvious, I know. But maybe you don’t have such a high opinion of yourself as I do.
But I need my spirituality. My life seems to be leveling out, and I can’t always tap the wild, life-is-opening up ride that I felt in early recovery and especially the first 6 months of moving to a foreing country. I don’t always feel the Higher-Power mojo bubbling from my inner depths, filling me with love that I have to shower everywhere else. I’m realizing that it’s OK to not always be “high” on God. Still, though, it’s nice…
Don’t think you’re a human being having a spiritual experience; realize your a spiritual being having a human experience.
Yeah, the first time you kind of have that intuited glimpse, it’s quite spectacular. Maybe it is all true. But nothing escapes my cynicism. I know, though, that a man must have his ideals, and I’ve had great spiritual highs where the landscape of my life is viewed for the sacred school it most certainly is. In fact, the driving force that keeps my realhappiness in this life is kind of this sacred pilgrimage I have towards “Self-Realization”. I’m intriqued by stories of realized saints—both ancient and new—who discovered some divine inner realm that transcends the manifested, phsyical realm of the every day. Stories abound of mystics in every religion that describe roughly the same thing. It’s too coincidental to not have something to it.
And so I packed my bags like an eager child to see Disneyland, my life’s pilgrimage and connection with God sending me to Europe and fulfilling a life-long drive of seeing the world. “God” is, by definition, too awesome to be confined by a single culture’s conception of him. I looked forward to see, in the flesh, how other cultures might experience and approach IT. I was excited: Germany was the next stop-over in my own path to Self-Realization.
But than I cut myself. Maybe my ideas didn’t conform to reality. I went to a German speaking AA meeting, because I was told that the “spirit” is the same in all of them, and at first I was intriqued and inspired to see the serenity prayer hanging in gold-trimmed Gothic lettering, though in German.
Then I found out that German-speaking AA doesn’t work the 12 steps or have sponsors. And, please, don’t ask: I’m not sure what the hell they do instead—some stay sober, but I’m not sure how happily.
First things first. Easy does it. Live and let Live.
The words bring with them solace and easier breathing, a tenseness over my heart slackens ever so slightly. I’m back in a meeting. They have English speaking meetings in Dusseldorf (about an 1 from where I live), though it consists of a lot of Germans who found the 12 steps the solution to their problems. It’s been two weeks since I’ve attended—I’ve been sick—and I laugh at myself for staying away so long. I knew that it would help, knew that I needed it, knew that I was sick.
Live and Let Live.
That’s my mantra for 2011, the lesson I’m still trying to learn. I’m no longer trying to shape the world and everyone else to fit to how I think they should live. I’m even realizing I can be friends with people who drink, and, yes by God, even friends with people who don’t have to work the 12 steps.
It was the first time she was there. She opens her mouth, confident, a think accent with nevertheless good command of English. Maybe this is what I came to see, to experience in the world. Maybe this is my key to see how other people, with vastly different roots from my own, experience their conception of the Divine.
I go up to her after the meeting, intriqued by how she talked about, after 27 years sober, focusing on “letting go of the intellect”. She frames her ideas in langauge I label, “Buddhist”, and I ask her if she’s read any Buddhist literature.
“No,” she admits. “But I did meet an Indian yogi once. He was..” She moves her hands around, searching for the word. She finds it, “He was completely free of ego. This, of course, has greatly touched me, greatly affected me.”
And there it is. I’m back on the path again, inspired. As soon as I let go of my expectations, was really comfortable in the fact they may not ever come true, that start to manifest. Here was a German who described exactly what I conceived of as my ultimate home, and she was using different language to intuit it.
“I just think, you know, that who I really am is pure spirit,” she tilts her head and quints her eyes, wanting to know if I know what shes’ talking about. I do. “I think in the end that’s who I am, and I’m just trying to act from that and not get caught in the material trap.”
I’m glad I didn’t get “auf” before seeing this. I don’t plan to until I see where this might lead….