This afternoon, as an after-thought, my author-journalist LinkedIn connection emailed me, “On another note, your years living in Europe and your other international travel sound interesting. Must be a good story there. Would love to hear more when time permits.”
As a matter of fact, a section in Rethinking Survival describes the highlights of living in Europe. So I’ll share some of them here.
EUROPE: Discovering the Missing Link
“If you love your children, tell them how the world works.” — Dr. Phil
According to the people who raised me, the way the world worked was this. If you “pleased” them, then they would take care of you: feed you, house you, pay the bills for your clothes . . . let you live. If you didn’t, they’d disown you, cut you off, write you out of their will. The end. Survival depended exclusively on being very good at pleasing those who controlled the money and the material resources which come from it.
In my case, this was a problem. What pleased one adult didn’t please the next. And what pleased me didn’t necessarily please any of them. It was, at best, a con. Bottom line: I had no idea of how the world really works, only that mine at the time didn’t work for me. When conflicting survival demands came to a head, I had to split. “Get out of town, Tonto. Pronto.”
The year Nixon was elected president, a poster hanging in my dorm hallway said it all. It showed him wearing Uncle Sam’s pin-stripe suit and top hat, finger pointing to recruit. The question posed: “Would you buy a used car from this man?” My answer was, “No way!” I wasn’t in a position to change the country, so I changed my location. At the invitation to join up with a touring Brazilian chamber orchestra, I left for foreign lands.
Living abroad began the process of divesting the cultural conditioning I’d taken for granted. Being the only English speaker in the group made me rethink communication, getting down to the basics. When it took an effort to find the words, it was amazing how little really needed to be said. Accompanied with suggestive body language and facial expressions. a few words went a long way.
However, I found that change of scene, of language and cultural settings, changed nothing of substance. “Wherever you go, there you are.” In Sandor Vegh’s violin master class, students from around the world agonized over the same dilemmas I thought I’d left behind. They too thought they could escape problems just by walking away – but nothing is so easy.
Nao, a darkly mournful Japanese violist, described the shock of discovering her older brother’s dead body hanging limp in his clothes closet. Chiao, a bright shining extrovert, grieved over love lost. When she beat him to take first place in a violin competition, Alberto chose a less threatening lover as his companion.
My German hosts, who’d survived WWII, however, had much to teach. They didn’t take survival, as I had up to that point, for granted. A cellist friend with whom I stayed in St. Georgen, located in the Black Forest of South Germany, told me her mother’s story. To save her starving children’s lives during the Russian occupation of Berlin after the war, Frau Hass changed from oppressed housewife to heroic protector. In contrast, Herr Petersen, a 75-year-old portrait painter – my Düsseldorf landlord – recalled war time as “the best years.” It was only then– albeit of extreme necessity– that formal, inhibited Germans came out of their shells and actually talked with one another.
For me, the highlight of studies at the Robert Schumann Konservatorium wasn’t the music teachers, but a modest, insightful kinesiology instructor. Frau Lehru wasn’t a musician herself. But vocal and instrumental teachers alike sent students beyond their help to her.
The pianist whose lessons were scheduled the hour before mine told me her story. Herr Dreschel had given up on her as either lazy or untalented. But Frau Lehru diagnosed the real problem — pinched spinal nerves. Recommended visits to a chiropractor worked “miracles.” Elated, she was a “new person.”
I went to her studio and asked Frau Lehru to coach me. Her lessons were wonderful. She saw timidity in my posture and tension in the way I held my violin. She gave me exercises to correct not only my posture, but the underlying attitudes which bent me out of shape.
“Platz machen,” she encouraged me. “Make room! Don’t crowd me!” And, “Auf wiederstand waschen.” Figuratively, Grow upwards. Stand tall under the pressure of resistance and adversity.
In retrospect, it was if she’d reinvented the yogic disciplines which sitar and tabla students are taught in India, where music technique is balanced with breathing and physical exercises. Her gift inspired a change in my career goals. Rather than teach technique, I could help many more musicians by becoming an exercise-and-therapy coach in one, like her. She was much too busy to consider writing about her methods and results. I would do this for her with a book called The Body as Instrument: How to Tune It. (Still later, ratcheting up another notch, I aspired to build schools to facilitate a whole generation of coaches like Frau Lehru.)
Even more influential than people, however, were two books I discovered in Düsseldorf’s International Book Market on Königs Allee. In combination, they substantially broadened my life’s horizons. One was the Wilhelm/Baynes English translation of the Chinese I Ching, the Book of Change. The other was Carl Jung’s autobiography, Memories Dreams and Reflections. This Swiss analyst also wrote the introduction to the Wilhelm/Baynes translation.
I’m now aware of much that’s been written about Jung’s darker side. But in 1970, I resonated with his descriptions of self-discovery. In particular, I related to the story about his quickest cure. A young woman, the daughter of wealthy, stylishly atheistic parents was instantly healed of her neurosis upon learning of her heritage. Her grandfather had been a Talmudic scholar. Though an embarrassment to her parents, he was regarded by peers as a saint. This knowledge gave her permission to know what she “knew,” and released her psychological suffering instantly.
As it happened, I’d just been contacting my grandparents, asking them to write me about their history. I did so because Herr Oswald Peterson, my portrait painter landlord, insisted I was not American. “Who are you?” he wanted to know.
I’d already known that in her youth, my father’s mother, Grandma Ellie West, had a gorgeous soprano voice. What I learned from her letters was that she’d auditioned for John Philip Sousa’s world tour and was invited to join his band as a soloist. But she decided to stay home instead to marry my grandfather, Hub. She heartily approved of my European music jaunt. “Good for you!”
I was fascinated to learn from Grandpa Dave, my mother’s father, that his father came from Russia. He was a “very good” tailor by profession and a Talmudic scholar as well. A-ha. Who would have guessed? It opened a door of new possibilities in my mind.
Because Jung experienced dreams as the winged messengers of key insights, I began paying attention to mine. The dream I remember best was of climbing the third-story stairs of Herr Peterson’s building. He’d never repaired the roof after the WWII, so the top flight led to rubble and open air.
In my dream, however, I discovered a new floor that hadn’t been there before. It was dimly lit and full of draped furniture, covered with cobwebs. As I brushed away the dust, details of this new room began to emerge. It was as if I were entering into a new level of personal awareness.
As for the I Ching, I’d had a hunch about it for a very long time. Dr. Ellsworth Carlson, who lived in Shansi, China during WWII, was an Oberlin College classmate of my parents. When I was nursery school age, he’d bounced me on his knees at Harvard. As Freshman student, I took his course in Asian History at Oberlin. What stuck with me how vast an influence the I Ching had on Chinese thinking for 8,000 years and counting.
In fact, when I left for Europe, I carried only my violin and one small suitcase. Of that, half was filled with clothes and personal items. The other half contained sheet music and one small book: the Legge translation of the I Ching. It made no sense to me. I could barely get through a page or two before giving up. But I kept coming back to it. There was something important there that I had to know more about.
Finally, with the Wilhelm/Baynes edition, I had a version I could relate to. It literally became my teacher. It gave me a whole new concept of how the world really works. Not just this family or that institution or the other county. Not arbitrary and capricious, fluctuating fashions, but the constant anchor over time. From it, I could deduce the fundamental energy dynamics of action and reaction which drive relationships, internally at a psychological level, and externally in terms of practical, day-to-day events and their long-term consequences.
It was an extension of the logic my English teacher Miss Elson impressed on my high school brain. But more. It gave me a map of logical consequences, as inevitable as computer language. “If this, then that.”
For example, If you kick people, they kick back (if they can) or otherwise resist. If you are kind, you inspire love and trust in others. If you violate natural law, nature bites back (your mental health suffers; relationships deteriorate; your behavior becomes erratic and social/physical survival is imperiled). Asian cultures call this “the law of karma.” Its operation is also described in biblical terms: “As ye reap, so shall ye sow,” and “to everything there is a season.”
In sum, its 64 permutations map a progression of the AC-DC energy changes which constitute the natural law of repetitive, cyclical change. From my point of view, this ancient, timeless science fills a critical blind-spot in Western thinking, lacking which, all efforts are partial and incomplete. Put another way, the glaring absence of this information explains why so much goes so wrong, despite even the best of intentions on the part of politicians, priests, coaches and leaders of every ilk.
. . . [an understanding of natural law], the practical, middle (energy) level of three-part experience, is essential to the whole. It’s a sorely missed link in our functional knowledge base. Without wisdom and skill at this middle level of experience, spiritual aspirations cannot be realized nor can political policies be effectively implemented. Ongoing sex scandals which plague high-level military leaders, politicians and Christian clergy give a hint of what’s missing from their training, causing them to fail miserably at great expense to those they should be serving.