I was never drawn to Paris. Not even a little bit. There was a time when my soul yearned only for the dazzling white sand of tropical beaches (so elusive!), or the well-trodden Himalayas or Alps, or even the glass skyscrapers of contemporary Asian megalopolises. But never Paris.
I don’t know if I ever would have gone, except in passing, if it wasn’t for a certain book – or rather, if this book hadn’t inspired in me a lust for life and a profound love for the entirety of creation. It was all thanks to one person.
His name was Vincent, and we met in the most bizarre circumstances.
It was a Wednesday, and I had my work cut out for me. I had a massive to-do list of both urgent and important tasks. I actually love the rush of days like these: deftly walking this self-imposed tightrope, keeping on top of everything, and still making it to yoga in the evening. So, I was full of beans and ready for action.
I have to say, though, it was clear that something was wrong from the start. I could feel some kind of shift in reality. There were bumps in the road as I was changing lanes. The water was troubled.
First my website went down. It was a technical glitch due to lack of disc space. I’ve always played it safe and used three backup archives, which then meant I ran out of space and could not add any new files. The support line of the hosting service became more like my personal therapist through it all. The kind man on the phone told me to delete any superfluous archives, and explained how to do so.
So, I deleted…
… not just the selected archives but the whole site. I erased the database in its entirety.
A sense of dread formed in the pit of my stomach, as, for the first time, the support service wasn’t answering. I couldn’t breathe as I was confronted with yet another problem: the system supporting the records of my programs had failed, some of the processed just stopped. Then problems with the bank suddenly arose, preventing essential transactions.
No, no, hang on a minute.
Three technical malfunctions in less than an hour?!
I can handle one technical breakdown, maybe even two. But three in a row in such a short space of time… could there be more to this than just a “system failure”?
Leaning back in my chair, I began to think back on everything that had happened in the run-up.
I’d eaten nothing but fruit that day, gone running, done my exercise – so far so good.
The evening before was relaxed, I met up with friends, and as I was getting ready to meet them, I found that my ring, which had always been a bit tight for my middle finger, suddenly fit perfectly for no apparent reason (my weight hadn’t changed)…
It was the middle of the day and I was walking home, my mind consumed with torturous thoughts. I stopped and decided to deal with it right there and then. Seeing as my previous approach hadn’t worked, I would have to do the opposite instead.
So that is exactly what I decided to do. I returned home, got ready to go out, put on my ring…
I had made a decision! And this decision was powerful enough to change everything. My reality was reconstructed, I changed from one lane to another, which always gives me heightened sensations and perceptions for a short while.
I looked back on this impulsive decision from the previous day, considering it from every angle. Was I ready for the consequences of this decision, given that I couldn’t anticipate them? Was I ready to make a mistake if necessary? That is, did I have the necessary strength to make a mistake – the toughest aspect by far when changing lanes?
Yes, I was ready. Ultimately, the biggest mistake is hoping for a change yet continuing to do what you’re doing. You have to change your approach. I was happy with my decision, and I could take the rest as it came.
In order not to anger the already volatile energy of that day, I thought it better to just leave it alone awhile. I wrote to every customer support centre that might be able to help with my technical problems, then turned off my computer and pronounced an unscheduled twelve-hour break from the internet (which obviously meant putting work on hold), to reject anxiety and aim for a state of mindfulness.
As it happened, the Van Gogh exhibition in Moscow was finishing that day, so that’s where I went.
The exhibition had been running for a few months and had received some negative reviews. I went with low expectations, fully prepared to leave as soon as I’d arrived. I, too, was disappointed by the paintings. They weren’t even paintings so much as contemporary installations along the walls. It’s worth mentioning here that the reproductions of Van Gogh’s bore no resemblance to the originals. They looked like caricatures of their creators. But I would only realize this later, when I encountered the real Van Gogh. At first, I just wanted to leave.
I’ll never read, watch or listen to anything I don’t like, nor would I bother arguing with the artists; instead I prefer to simply leave without saying a word. I do so immediately, without even giving it a second try, no matter how much I may have paid for the ticket or who may have recommended it to me, be it a film at the cinema, an exhibition, or even a book, unless I feel a profound desire to continue, I won’t. I’ll never leave a bad review or get into argument about it. I just leave it.
And yet this time, something was stopping me. It was this weird day again. My attention was drawn to a row of quotations projected onto the wall. With classical music in the background adding ambience to the exhibition, I began my dialogue with a man I’d never really known much about, though I’d always known his name: Vincent Van Gogh.
He who suffers with his stomach has no free will.
I think that the more a person loves, the more passionately he wants to act: love that remains just a feeling can never really be true love.
If you hear a voice within you saying, “You are not a painter,” then by all means paint, boy, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working. He who goes to trends and tells his troubles when he feels like that loses part of his manliness, part of the best that’s in him.
I always do that which I can’t yet, in order to learn how.
That which you’ve pored over, and into which you invest character and feeling, is bound to be liked and bought by someone. Probably even more so than if it isn’t liked at first.
If you want to do something, don’t be afraid of going wrong; don’t fear making mistakes. Many people think they’ll become good by not making mistakes. This is false.
Quotations from Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, Theo
Next came the book “Lust for Life”, by Irving Stone, then the Van Gogh paintings in the Pushkin Museum, and from there I was inspired to visit the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Later there were “Letters to Theo”, “Letters to Friends” and the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.
Talking about Van Gogh’s paintings is as absurd as reproducing them, so I will just tell you about Paris.
That illustrious city, with its cold, biting wind; its dirty metro and out-of-order escalators; and the relentlessly beautiful double rainbows, illuminating the sky at night… strangely enough, all of this inspired one coherent overall feeling: the need to be completely present in the here and now, and not ‘drop out’ of the present day (or, ideally, the present moment). Absorbing, feeling, experiencing, understanding the world as it is right now and giving back all that you can in return.
You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton. I never saved anything for the swim back
And the rest will fall into place. There really is no doubt about the flexible nature of reality. There will always be decisions and, consequently, actions.
When I went back to business the day after the “system failure”, everything was working just fine. The site returned to normal and accepted viewers, and the problems with the bank and other systems had been resolved. Everything functioned as though nothing had happened and without any active involvement from myself.
And so into the new lane!