Thursday, September 06, 2007

Kindred Spirits

The Lessons of Life and Kindred Spirits

The first book I read in Italian was one a travelling writer sold me on the steps of the cathedral on a summer’s afternoon in Perugia, Umbria, Italy in 2001. I was studying Italian at the time for one month at the Università per Stranieri and enjoying the “dolce vita” and indeed the “dolce far niente” in the less hot early evening after the academic exertions of the day. Each evening the students from the university used sit on the steps of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and also on the steps of the Fontana Maggiore just in front of the former. There they drank beautiful Italian wine and ate lovely Italian food. But more than that, there they talked and shared stories about their homeland and made new friends. Perugia is an international centre for the study of Italian.

Anyway, one such beautiful evening this smiling writer approached me and engaged me in conversation. He was carrying many copies of his privately published book in a small haversack on his back. Within minutes he had persuaded me to buy his book, convincing me that I needed to read it because it was the story of his soul and also because it would prove a good way to learn Italian. The book was called Dalla Strada alla penna and is written by Gianluigi Venditti (pp. 158, Perugia 1998, pubblicato privatamente). I really enjoyed encountering Gianluigi and two years later I read and reviewed it in my poor learner’s Italian for my Postgraduate Diploma in Italian at DIT, Kevin Street here in Dublin. Such is always the way when I meet a “kindred spirit” or as they put it in Italian “un compagnio di viaggio” (a travelling companion on the pilgrimage of life as it were.) – I always end up buying their books or paintings or whatever.

The same thing happened to me late this evening – at approximately 20.00 hr. I heard my doorbell ring, answered it, met a kindred spirit and ended up buying a painting for € 105 which the salesman assured me that he himself had painted. You might think, “Yes, another poor sucker enticed to part with his hard earned cash.” For whatever reason, I realized or more correctly intuited that this was no con artist. Rather I encountered a sincere individual, a Spaniard from Catalonia called Juan – he did not tell me his second name. He told me that he belonged to an international group of artists who went from door to door selling their own and each other’s art. We discoursed until 21.30 hr on many matters from spirituality to philosophy to art, talking about Freud, Jung, Matisse and many more. Juan proved to be, like Gianluigi above, a kindred spirit, a fellow artist, a man with a big soul, open to others and to the world. Such individuals, it has been my experience, are few and far between, and when I meet them real communication happens. In short, I enjoy their company and meeting them at a level I am at with one or two of my close friends. Carl Gustave Jung calls this type of significant meeting “synchronicity” or, if you like, an encounter meant to happen.

Deep down I realized that I had encountered a new friend – a person with a big and beautiful soul. Such for me is what real spirituality is about – an openness to others, a respect for others which is able to allow that other into your heart or soul if they wish to come. Another way of putting this is to talk about “a lightness of being,” or “an ease with self” which shows no rigidity or no barriers to communication. It is also totally unforced and natural. If the other person met is not responsive to one’s natural openness, then that is alright – that’s the way life is. It is then time to pass on and encounter another.

I am reminded about the famous Zen story – one of my favourites – about the university professor who comes out of the recesses of his study to visit a famous Zen master. Having been offered some tea, the professor holds out his cup so that the Zen master can pour the libation. However, the master keeps on pouring until the cup is overflowing. The professor cries out: “Stop! What are you doing? Can’t you see the cup is already full?” Then the Zen master replies, “Precisely, professor. It is like you – you are so full of your own opinions you are not empty (open) enough to receive or to listen to the thoughts of others.”

The persons I find who are not open to me – unlike Gianluigi or Juan who are “together” and at peace in their own skin – cannot really be so because they are so full of their own problems and concerns. Hence, I know their negative attitude to me is never personal. Juan is a marvellously natural and open human being like Gianluigi whom I encountered six years ago on the steps of the Duomo in Perugia. They are true “figli del mondo” (Italian) or “fili mundis” (Latin). Thanks, Juan, for the marvellously enriching encounter. My words to wish you safe journey on your travels back to your homeland are from William Shakespeare: “Oh brave new world that has such people in it.” I look forward to dialoguing more with you by email. “Buon viaggio, amico mio!” I’m sorry, I know no Spanish.

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