A Conversation with Gerald Koller, Ruth Anderwald and Leonard Grond.
Neusiedlersee, 5. September 2014
das Taumeln – dizziness (German “au” rhymes with English “now”)
taumeln – to lurch, stagger, reel, teeter, tumble, flounder, fall, feel dizzy
der Rausch – intoxication, inebriation, rush, rapture, exhilaration, ecstasy, high, delirium
das Rauschen – noise, static, swishing, whooshing noise
rauschen – to rustle, make a rushing sound
schwindlig – giddy, feeling light-headed, having a sensation of floating or spinning
Leonhard Grond – In our discussion of Taumeln we’ve touched on the position of the individual and the crowd, as well as on the midway point between these positions, which is more where our lives are located. Your reference to Martin Buber, who describes this midway point as an important dimension, brings me to the question of the transformation that can occur in this midway realm. For instance Moshé Feldenkrais – in his writings on body work – suggests that making a dizzy body even dizzier will extricate it from that state. This naturally raises the question whether this might not in principle also apply to Taumeln. Could an additional input of Taumeln be a way of restoring equilibrium, or, in other words, what happens when you add Rausch to Rausch – would that be a way of achieving some form of transformation?
Gerald Koller – I think the important question is always where and how I drop anchor. In the Mevlevi Order the dervishes spin around for hours on end and there’s every chance of becoming dizzy at some point. It’s immediately obvious to the person affected, and the main thing then is not to try to stand still because otherwise you’ll go flying. That’s exactly the situation where additional dizziness is used to escape the initial dizziness.
Ruth Anderwald – As though you set the carousel going again?
GK – Yes, the important thing is to establish an axis and practice letting go. It’s the axis that supports you, not what you do. If I let myself fall, then I’m in free flight and fall. I should first consider what’s down there. If I take LSD and then say, oh, but I didn’t want to trip, well, I should have thought about that sooner. At risflecting we take the view that Taumeln and Rausch, as forms of letting go, need an anchor both beforehand and afterwards.
LG – What sort of anchors are you thinking of, as points of entry into and exit from the Rausch?
GK – The preparation before and recuperation after Rausch require clarity. We’ve seen that in all the cultures that have rituals whose participants lose their sense of self in some way, there first has to be a form of inner cleansing or clarification. Traditionally anyone planning to participate in an ayahuasca ceremony in the Andes in Peru prepares by abstaining from pork for nine months, because otherwise the effect could be seriously unpleasant. These long preparation times and periods of fasting are crucial in advance of the Rausch, for us, here, too.
And if we think of the peyote meetings held by congregations in the Native American Church (peyote is a small cactus that contains mescaline, amongst other things, and this is the only church that is allowed to use peyote in its ceremonies), again the preparations for its use are crucial. And if we were to go on a peyote trip today, we should be very clear about two things. Firstly: we are not the ones taking the peyote – the peyote is taking us. The typically Western notion of “we’re taking drugs” just reflects the delusions of power with which we approach fellow beings that are superior to us. I don’t take drugs, the drugs take me with them. And it’s not my decision whether I am swept along by it or not, but I can decide what level of humility I display toward it. And, secondly, practicing the song for the ceremony means that we have strength – oars and a rudder – before we invite the peyote in. The song is sung all night long: it’s a social anchor. As I wander through galaxies, possibly with periods of Taumel, I am conscious of being borne up by the song and my singing also supports the others—it’s a supportive network. If I notice that someone in our circle is singing Hansi Hinterseer¹ numbers, I know he’s having the worst possible trip and needs help.
RA – To what extent is the social anchor connected with the social situation?
GK – If I consider the anchor in light of Moshé Feldenkrais’s thinking, that’s to say, take the view that a little bit of Taumeln is silly, try to correct things and press the reverse button, at which point I now seriously start to lose balance and to fall – along the lines of “On you go, go for it!” – I’d say it makes complete sense, if I’ve practiced this form of letting go. But if I can’t let go, the anchor becomes problematic, because letting go is dependent on the social situation.
RA – That’s to say, one problem dealing with Rausch or Taumel – either alone or as a member of a group – is a mechanical attitude to oneself or society. What ways are there of shaking that off?
GK – I’d say that in a state of Taumel we refind our inner child and the experiences we had as children, when you’d blow such beautiful bubbles and roll your eyes until you could see something new and your mother would say, “They’ll stay like that!” That’s how I’d describe the separation from this world where there’s no letting go.
It’s about taking the fear away from people who are looking after children, for instance. About letting children climb trees and not having to worry that the tree will be felled or that the Kindergarten owner will be taken to court, because that mean tree threw a child down onto the ground from a height of one meter – that would be a risk topic. Another way would be to show that cultivating a state of Rausch is a considerable achievement on the part of human beings. Anyone who doesn’t do it ends up like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. People constantly have to be reminded of this.
RA – But how can you get that idea across, without people – modern, health-conscious people – thinking, okay, so I need to let go once a week for my own wellbeing. How do you avoid that?
GK – The different ways people find of letting go are very interesting. They’re not primarily about consumption or substances of some kind: often it’s about very small, intricate stories or things that initially have nothing to do with the phenomenon of Rausch, but that are part of these cultural practices. I think the process of practicing can be one way of dealing with one’s fear of losing control. The decisive factor is to what extent we are prepared create an empathic society. Whatever the case, if I live in a society without empathy, it’s better not to let go and enter into any form of Rausch.
LG – What makes a society empathic, in your view?
GK – Jeremy Rifkin has shown in his book, The Empathic Civilization, that empathy is a civilized response to the increasing complexity of life. He has identified a new complexity in the world that we have to respond to in a more empathic manner – in a form of global empathy …
LG – … which is very complex.
RA – I’m thinking of empathy with non-visible things and of empathy as one of the few possible ways of changing our perspective. An option that would allow me to shift my perspective from myself to someone else or a group.
GK: That reminds me of Roots of Empathy,² one of the most impressive initiatives to prevent violence that I know of anywhere in the world. The movement was founded by Mary Gordon in Canada, and it has now spread to thirty-four countries. She and her co-workers go into classes in elementary schools, mostly in difficult urban suburbs, and takes over a whole day’s teaching each Friday. And they provide empathy lessons, that’s to say, a young couple with a baby agree to allow their baby to be the “teacher” for these lessons for a whole school year. The baby’s presence in the classroom helps the children to understand empathy. The worst bullies in the school are confronted with the baby and have to look after it for four to six hours. They watch to see if the child is all right and they learn to understand it. Even the most violent pupils and of course also the two parents – who mostly also come from difficult circumstances, too – develop a new empathy through the commitment and empathy of the children. I imagine that in these situations people can “let go” in a very different way. When they see a child letting go, as part of its process of development, they see how much empathy, that’s to say firm foundations, children need so that they can even begin to let go in the first place. If I have no firm foundations I can’t let go, I’d just be flying.
RA – Would it also be possible to use the term “compass” for what you call an “anchor”? I’m trying to imagine these concepts as images. One is fixed, the other is inherently instable?
GK – An anchor is not fixed – I can always weigh anchor and drop it again somewhere else. For me it’s more of a symbol or a metaphor for a process that is also about deciding whether and in which particular situation I will let go.
For example, when there’s a southerly wind there are boats that go out (looks out across the Neusiedler See) – I’ve done it myself – and then just let themselves drift. That works well until three or four o’clock, but then you’ve had enough and drop anchor, because there’s a limit to how long you can go on letting go, and in any case the situation also sets limits. That’s probably another cultural achievement: to work out where and how much letting go is possible.
And another example: the first decree on the consumption of alcohol in the German-speaking world, issued in 1787 in the town of Freistadt in the Mühlviertel in northeast Austria, stated that the town’s barber surgeons and physicians were prohibited from drinking more than five liters of wine per day. And there were terrible protests, as ever, at the introduction of these change-management processes. In fact the wine was diluted, very considerably diluted, and one of the main forms of nutrition in this poor district. It gave people a bit of nourishment and a bit of warmth. And if you were on an all-day coach journey obviously the wine would flow and the people would find themselves tumbling along the road in something of a daze, because of course there was no tarmac back then. Whenever a coach slid into a ditch the tipsy coachman and the tipsy passengers would join forces and push, while the only ones with a clear head – the horses – would pull the vehicle back out again. That was possible in their world. Nowadays, if I’m driving home and a truck driver – in a state of alcoholic or drug-induced Taumel – comes toward me with his 36-ton load, I don’t find it particularly amusing.
LG – So, Taumel is also related to speed and other developments, the parameters can change.
GK – Absolutely. That’s to say, Taumel needs spaces that are in a sense opposed to speed. The faster the world gets, the smaller the chance of me letting go without endangering myself: I could be injured or injure someone else. In terms of communication, mobility and so on, our world is now forty-five times faster than it was in 1960. Crazy, or what? Anyone letting go now generally finds there are consequences of letting go, if the empathic framework is not in place – unless they’re in a time warp. A young person in one of our model companies once put that beautifully to the youth-center leader: “D’you know what Hermann, you can’t rush a good rush.” Time passes differently for the person in a Rausch. There are many different definitions of Rausch – both complementary and contradictory – but one that everyone agrees on is that your perception of time changes in a Rausch. Time expands, or it contracts in the most incredible way. Whatever the case, there is a change in our structural time, which evidently is an immensely powerful normative tool that we use to structure sobriety, control, and commitment, including social commitment. And that all disappears in a Rausch. That’s the interesting thing. A really good rush takes time.
Translation: Fiona Elliott
– See also Mapping Delirium Part 1