At the end of the 1980s I made my first business trip to Cairo. I remember the city as noisy, vibrant and tumultuous: people, cars, shops and restaurants. And during prayer time hundreds of mosques came to life. For a few minutes the tonally transposed and superimposed prayer calls of all the mosques of Cairo drowned out the many voices of the city. Imagine a thousand piano players who play the same piece at the same time but tonally transposed by a half-tone. That was the sound of Cairo. This polyphonic mighty canon of the many and widely dispersed mosques immediately changed the perception of the city. Sun, heat, the smell of human sweat, the many street restaurants and the exhaust fumes were momentarily transformed. An indescribable atmosphere, like the city was trying – in vain – to come to rest.
The mosques of Cairo and anywhere else in the Islamic world find their counterpart in churches in Germany and the Christian world. The sound of church bells may equally superimpose in places where they ring at the same time.
For more than 30 years I have been away from my native home in southern Germany, living the life of a temporary emigrant. Now that I am retired I have the opportunity to travel more often and for longer intervals to Germany, into the region where I grew up, where by parents lived, but also to see my children and grand-children. In my native Heilbronn, in the Südviertel district, the bells of the Südkirche ring out twice a day, at 7 a.m. and at 7 p.m. That is a moment when I stand still, lay down my work and calm my thoughts, listening to the beautiful sound. Letting the vibrations in, may open the window to let more sounds come in, vibrating in harmony. Via the ear, the sounds of the bell directly reach the soul. For me, the bells’ music is a calling: “Let go, leave your worries and obligations to me, my will be done now and always, for all times.”
Church bells can, of course, also be a warning in times of disaster, or a message of peace in the night of New Year’s Eve at 00:00 hours.
“And be her purpose thus fulfilled,
For which the Master did her build:
On high above low earthly living,
Shall she in heav’n’s blue tent unfurl’d,
Be thunder’s neighbor, ever-pending,
And border on the starry world,
A single voice from high she raises
Like constellations’ band so bright,
Which its creator wand’ring praises,
And leads the wreathed year a-right.
Alone to grave, eternal singing
Her metal mouth be consecrate,
And hourly with all swiftness winging,
Shall she be moved by time in flight,
Her tongue to destiny is lending,
Herself has heart and pity not,
With nothing but her swing attending
The game of life’s e’er-changing lot.
And as the ring in ears is passing
Sent by her mighty sounding play,
So let her teach, that naught is lasting,
That all things earthly fade away.”
(Friedrich Schiller, The Song of the Bell, excerpt; translation by Marianna Wertz)
The sound of the bell provides order. The sound is direct. We feel intuitively that there is something beyond thought. Our guardian angels feel well in this sound harmony. They hide behind the notes, but they are so close to use. They touch our shoulders and take the burden off us. They whisper in our ears: Let go!
We have so many thoughts on our mind, worries, duties, happiness, ideas, sorrow; our brain is flooded and over-exited in our day-to-day lives that we do not even know any more how to weep when something sad happens. We are in full control in a world that cares less and less. The chime of a bell may open the door to our soul. What a relief to weep, even if only inside, how healing that can be. The final chimes, sometimes the last sound, permit us to relent, to let go, if we still can let go at all.
The “Limits of Glasgow” (report in the November 2021 issue of the German newspaper FAZ on the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow) reveal to the reader the dramatic situation our world is in. Everything is at stake. It is about the survival of future generations at the latitude we live in, and about today’s survival of people living in countries further south in Asia, Africa and America. At the climate conference in Glasgow almost 200 states have reached an understanding on how to prevent a global temperature rise of over 1.5 centigrade caused by carbon dioxide and other harmful gases. Targets are important in order not to miss the direction. They are important to define the necessary actions. In these November weeks the newspapers are full of information on this important event in Glasgow. However, if we turn the pages we find full-page colour adverts of high end car manufacturers for their latest, biggest, most powerful and fastest saloon cars, destined for markets whose climate consciousness is not yet fully developed.
Are we – in Germany and other countries – not complicit? How can we be at ease since the deforestation of virgin forests is connected to our thirst and hunger for agricultural products, be they soy beans, maize, palm oil or other things?
We and coming generations will only have a future on earth if we use better technologies to ensure a lower impact on the environment while maintaining or even improving our standard of living, and to solve legacy issues step by step.
On the other hand: We and coming generations will only have a future on earth if we simply exploit earth less, if we consume less, if we produce sustainably and to the extent permissible by climate balance. Technologies will help us to achieve more growth and prosperity for some time. However, population growth will show us the limits and the necessity to limit our prosperity growth in the medium term.
All in all, the climate conference was a strong reminder that we have already exceeded the limits of our growth. For many states and the people living there a temperature increase of 1.5 centigrade means – already today – disaster, ruined harvests, displacement, disease and death.
Reducing future growth expectations or completely forfeiting growth? Who will be the first?
Letting go is something we, as human beings, are faced with over and over again. We burden us with problems and worries, and we are stressed by overweight and lifestyle diseases (diseases of civilisation). Healing fasting in connection with meditation and hiking can work wonders. It may help to release mental cramps (worries), to heal lifestyle diseases through weight reduction, and a readjustment of our psychological processes that are out of balance.
Letting go becomes a big human challenge when it is associated with core human issues, when the unity of body, soul and mind is at its centre. Have we learned the right profession? This question becomes decisive for our life, if one day we tragically recognise that our profession and our calling do not fit. Are we together with the right partner? We have made a bond for life with him or her, but years later we recognise that the path we once took together has become two diverging paths. Wanting to let go? Before the partner who wants to let go turns their wish into action and leaves the partnership or marriage they should, if still possible, think through the immense sorrow they will cause the other partner, and perhaps suspend the decision. This is of particular importance, if the bond for life has been brought into disarray by external forces. If however the rift between them can no longer be healed, the decision to let go may be the right one. A precondition for letting go should be to always check the sustainability and veracity of the perceptions, ideas and plans that have emerged over the years, and to consider the possible suffering the decision may entail. Buddhist meditation teaches us that our thoughts, even our intellect, are not absolute. At times our inner voice may point us in the wrong direction. What are the criteria? Who is competent enough to give us the right advice in vital questions?
Recently I received a book written by Eckhart Tolle “Lebe im Jetzt – Live in the here and now” as a present. The author writes in simple words that “freedom begins with the insight that you are not the person who thinks (`thinker’). The moment you start to observe the thinker, a new level of consciousness is activated. You realise the existence of a vast area of intelligence beyond thinking, of which thinking is only a tiny fraction. You realise that all things of real importance – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – originate beyond the intellect. You begin to wake up.”
In the years of my life I have learned that it was not always good to take fast decisions (“It is best to get unpleasant things over and done with”. A more literal translation of the German saying conveys the meaning better: “Rather be scared when it ends, than be endlessly scared”). Today, I take my time or do not decide at all. A solution will develop out of the situation. And sometimes there are no solutions. The more I have distanced myself from the demand to find a solution at all cost, I let go of the problem through mindful waiting. Silence and healing have returned. Thing may regulate themselves without our intervention, in particular when they are very important.
“He, who has become free of himself, who does not seek what is his, be it big or small,
he, who neither looks down nor up, nor left nor right nor at himself,
he, who neither seeks money nor honour, nor amenities nor lust, nor benefit nor intimacy, nor
holiness nor reward, not even heaven, he, who frees himself of all his own,
he honours God, he truly honours Him and gives to God what is His.”
(Master Eckhart, Becoming-One)
And I do not want to forget Dogen Zenji, the great Japanese Zen master of the 13th century:
“Let go of all objects of the mind, ease your mind of all the sorrow, do not think of good and evil!”
Now that the year 2021 is coming to an end, I want to thank you for your interest in my articles and the work of the Fasting Academy Bauer. I wish you and your loved ones a happy Christmas and a healthy and satisfactory New Year 2022.
Otto Bauer, Istanbul/Heilbronn in November 2021
(Management Consultant and Fasting Coach)