Aimé Michel

Le premier mystère est: pourquoi y a-t-il quelque chose plutôt que rien?
Et le deuxième, aussi grand que le premier: pourquoi suis-je là en train de penser?


Diogenes’s Invectives

A short treatise on meditation

Atlas – Air France n°76 – October 1972


People often ask me how I go about meditating (for it is obvious, isn’t it, that to spread so many interesting, piquant and profound stories around me, I must be in possession of a marvelous meditation technique, which in fact is the case). People who ask me for my recipe no doubt assume that I can divulge it without incurring the risk of competition. They are right. For philosophy is to meditation what a roast is to cooking: one can become a cook but one must be born a caterer in roast meats. The recipe is nothing; all is in the manner. Why then should I refuse my recipe? Here it is.

First, an overpowering sun is indispensable. Northern peoples will be disappointed to learn this. But it’s just as well. What would they do out there in the hoar-frost, meditating? Next, one requires a very cool shadow. That of an old wall, a beech tree, a vespasian, or a school of philosophy. I advise against complete silence. The monotonous sound of a fountain is a good background noise.

If you have all that, you have the essentials. It only remains for you to stretch out comfortably in the shadow of the wall or beech-tree, prop your head up on something soft, as for example a book of Kant or Hume, and let the murmur of the fountain put you into a deep sleep.

There it is.

That’s all. What, that’s all? What about the meditation? I am asked.

Well, just let it be, since I’ve told you that this is all there is to it. Don’t believe the people who content you with nonsense about their transcendental prowess. For it is in sleep that the gods visit us: if they don’t visit you, then your soul is not welcoming enough. It’s too bitter. Let all your feelings be peaceful, especially towards agitated individuals of all types: their existence can only stimulate your wisdom. Learn to sleep with your eyes open and a knowing and attentive smile on your lips. When the voice of someone excited interrupts you, don’t fail to say to him — all the wile still sleeping: “Ah, how right you are! Ah, how well I understand you!” And if it is a woman: “Ah, how you must have suffered!” During this time, from the depths of your sleep, thank the god of silence seated beside you.

Some people are not satisfied with this procedure. They want more participation. Just the other day, I was deep in meditation when a hand shook me.

— Ah, I exclaimed at random as I turned over against the wall, how you must have suffered!

But my assailant wanted more and persisted in shaking me.

— Rise up from your alienation! he said. Communicate with your fellow creatures!

— But, I remarked, I’m doing just that.

— What! By sleeping? Man, Sir, is a social being. His primary function is Communication. He ends his alienation only through expression.

— Ah, how right you are. But expression of what?

Self-expression. Manifesting his creative spontaneity.

I sat up and considered my interlocutor. He was a nice young man with fine hands and a not-very-well-shaved chin.

— I beg you, I said to him, demonstrate your creativity. It interests me greatly.

— So much the better! Moreover, that has no importance. I awakened you in order to extract your creativity from the alienation of sleep.

— But it’s in sleeping that I create.

— Tut tut. It’s in communicating.

We were getting nowhere. I affirmed that I had nothing to communicate, whereupon he held out a package of candy and told me to eat.

— Why?

— Because it’s my candy, and I’m giving it to you in order to establish a bond between us. Candy upsets my digestion. It’s pure sugar. I only like saccharin. I repeat that has no importance. If you refuse my candy, then you are merely a tool of society.

Ah, that changed everything. A tool of society, I? I thanked him for having awakened me, took the cushion upon which my head had been resting, and handed it to him.

— What’s that? he asked.

— See for yourself: Plato’s Dialogues, Volume III. Read it, it’s really funny. And in any event that has no importance: it’s a book of mine, and my spontaneous creativity summons you to read it. Meanwhile, I’ll eat your candy, after which we will examine together the problem of alienation.

He explained to me that this was something completely different. That candy is candy, whereas Plato is culture and culture is rotten. I told him he was right, but that candy too is part of culture. This argument struck him. Part of culture, his candy? He looked at it with distrust and finally tossed it away. Pushing my advantage, I showed him that language is no less culture, that this discussion was rotting my vocal cords, and that in the end only barking was worthy of man. Upon which I uttered a long howl, took a bone from my pocket, and began gnawing it. I felt asleep gnawing. The god of silence was once again beside me. He was beautiful, calm, lofty. It was a memorable meditation.