Excerpt from The Newsletter 2018
One of the biggest events for me this year was my goodbye to Davos and to my mountain hut. To begin with, Claudia and I stayed in the art deco Berghotel Schatzalp above Davos, which used to be a luxury sanatorium for people with tuberculosis. Most of the rooms have large balconies, where the patients would rest and take fresh mountain air. There are fantastic views over the mountains and October is especially beautiful with the larches turning golden.
This place was made famous by Thomas Mann’s classic book The Magic Mountain, and in recent years some Hollywood films have been made there, for example Youth (released in 2015, starring Michael Caine and many other famous actors). There are some quotes from Mann at the entrance to the hotel, on the Thomas Mann Walk and on a nearby ‘Thomas Mann Rock’. I was not much impressed. Claudia said this is because I’ve been ‘spoiled’ by the depth of Krishnamurti’s insights. Anyway, the hotel is close to where I went to school during the war, and therefore where I learned to ski. One morning while we were there everything was white with snow. It had indeed become a magic mountain.
After one week, we moved on to Partnun, near St Antönien, Graubünden, close to the Austrian border. This is where the 2,130 m high Sulzhutte is, the mountain hut that I’d been renting for 43 years. It’s in the most amazing landscape: majestic mountains with sheer cliffs and light-grey shards of rock, broken off from the cliffs, rising straight out of green grass hills that were starting to turn brown. There is great solitude and quiet in the land. Most of the time the only sound is the wind and the call of birds, but nowadays small airplanes can sometimes be heard.
My sons, Christoph and John, and our friends Raman, Jurgen and Javier joined us, along with two former Brockwood students. All enjoyed it very much. The others went for long mountain walks, while I contented myself with walking up to and down from the hut and exercising while being up there. Christoph and John stayed in the hut, while the ‘base camp’ for the rest of us was Berghaus Alpenrosli, at 1700m. The weather was glorious for the 11 days we were there, and there were still a few flowers, butterflies, deer and some birds. Christoph and John even saw some white-tailed ptarmigan and a black grouse. In spring and summer the diversity is even greater.
In the photos above – but much better in the one below – you can see the nearby 100 m high Schijenzahn rock, broken from the rest of the mountain. I climbed it with my friend and mountain guide, Andreas Scherrer, who a few years earlier at 21 had been the youngest mountain guide in Switzerland. It took three lengths of rope to get to the top. There is very little space up there, just enough to lie down to have a rest, which I did. Andreas attached me to a big stone that I didn’t find very secure, but he assured me, “No, it’s fine.” Some months later he told me – with a small, embarrassed smile – “You know, that rock came down.”
Behind Schijenzahn is the wall of the Schijenfluh, mostly light-coloured instead of being stained grey with hundreds of years of rain. This is because that part of the mountain is over-hanging. It takes two days to climb this overhang – on the way, bivouacking from the ropes. Andreas did it.
The Sulzhutte was originally a shepherds’ hut. But on a rainy day in 1974 when Andreas and I arrived there, we found that it wasn’t used any longer and was crumbling. He had the idea that I rent it from the Alpgemeinschaft, an association of farmers whose cows spend the summers up there. So I did, and we repaired the roof and fixed other things and stayed there several times as a base for our monthly mountain walking, climbing or ski mountain tours. Over a total of five years we climbed more than 200 peaks all through the Alps.
Tragically, Andreas died in 1975, at age 27, guiding someone else. The week he died I was booked to go with him but called to say that I was sorry, I had changed my plans. He said, “It’s okay, I know what to do.” So I wonder what would have happened if I had gone with him. Would he not have died, or would one or the other of us still have died? (The person who was with him survived.)
After this, I went to the hut often, either alone or with family and friends. Many of our Brockwood friends have stayed there, always enjoying it very much. I often went with my sons when they were young. We even spent Christmas there four times in the 1970s – you can imagine the snow. In the ’90s, some of Andreas’s family improved the hut and now it’s in perfect condition. They also look after it, and they and my sons have taken over the renting of it. During this, my last visit there, we spent a great time with Andreas’ extended family.
What touched me most during this final visit, besides the presence of family and friends, was all of the water cascading down the mountains in little rivers. In older days, farmers watered their high, sloping pastures via a system of secondary channels. The water has lots of minerals, so they didn’t need fertilizer. Now these channels are too much work to maintain, and the water streams where it will.
We began an association which has since then become closer as I became interested in the schools, which were set up through his initiative. In these discussions we went quite deeply into many questions which concerned me in my scientific work. We probed into the nature of space and time, and of the universal, both with regard to external nature and with regard to mind. But then we went on to consider the general disorder and confusion that pervades the consciousness of mankind. It is here that I encountered what I feel to be Krishnamurti’s major discovery. What he was seriously proposing is that all this disorder, which is the root cause of such widespread sorrow and misery, and which prevents human beings from properly working together, has its root in the fact that we are ignorant of the general nature of our own processes of thought. Or to put it differently, it may be said that we do not see what is actually happening when we are engaged in the activity of thinking. Through close attention to and observation of this activity of thought, Krishnamurti feels that he directly perceives that thought is a material process which is going on inside of the human being in the brain and nervous system as a whole.
Ordinarily, we tend to be aware mainly of the content of this thought rather than of how it actually takes place. One can illustrate this point by considering what happens when one is reading a book. Usually, one is attentive almost entirely to the meaning of what is being read. However, one can also be aware of the book itself, of its constitution as made up out of pages that can be turned, of the printed words and of the ink, of the fabric of the paper, etc. Similarly, we may be aware of the actual structure and function of the process of thought and not merely of its content.
How can such an awareness come about? Krishnamurti proposes that this requires what he calls meditation. Now the word meditation has been given a wide range of different and even contradictory meanings, many of them involving rather superficial kinds of mysticism. Krishnamurti has in mind a definite and clear notion when he uses this word. One can obtain a valuable indication of this meaning by considering the derivation of the word. (The roots of words, in conjunction with their present generally accepted meanings often yield surprising insight into their deeper meanings.) The English word meditation is based on the Latin root “med” which is, “to measure.” The present meaning of the word is “to reflect,” “to ponder” (i.e. to weigh or measure), and “to give close attention.” Similarly, the Sanskrit word for meditation, which is dhyana, is closely related to “dhyati”, meaning “to reflect.” So, at this rate, to meditate would be, “to ponder, to reflect, while giving close attention to what is actually going on as one does so.”
This is perhaps what Krishnamurti means by the beginning of meditation. That is to say, one gives close attention to all that is happening in conjunction with the actual activity of thought, which is the underlying source of the general disorder. One does this without choice, without criticism, without acceptance or rejection of what is going on. And all of this takes place along with reflections on the meaning of what one is learning about the activity of thought. (It is perhaps rather like reading a book in which the pages have been scrambled up, and being intensely aware of this disorder, rather than just “trying to make sense” of the confused content that arises when one just accepts the pages as they happen to come.)
Krishnamurti has observed that the very act of meditation will, in itself, bring order to the activity of thought without the intervention of will, choice, decision, or any other action of the “thinker.” As such order comes, the noise and chaos which are the usual background of our consciousness die out, and the mind becomes generally silent. (Thought arises only when needed for some genuinely valid purpose, and then stops, until needed again.)
In this silence, Krishnamurti says that something new and creative happens, something that cannot be conveyed in words, but that is of extraordinary significance for the whole of life. So he does not attempt to communicate this verbally, but rather, he asks those who are interested that they explore the question of meditation directly for themselves, through actual attention to the nature of thought.
Without attempting to probe into this deeper meaning of meditation, one can however say that meditation, in Krishnamurti’s sense of the word, can bring order to our overall mental activity, and this may be a key factor in bringing about an end to the sorrow, the misery, the chaos and confusion, that have, over the ages, been the lot of mankind and that are still generally continuing without visible prospect of fundamental change for the foreseeable future.
Photo - Switzerland by Friedrich Grohe
When I was younger I envisioned no longer being able to ski or hike in these mountains as something quite terrible. But as I’ve grown older and older, I’ve realised that I can let it all go, simply enjoying the things I can still do. It was a glorious goodbye, without regrets.
Photo - Switzerland by Friedrich Grohe
The Sulzhutte had welcomed many friends over the years who had treasured its remoteness and solitude in the midst of the natural splendour of the mountains. The hut’s guestbook was full of their drawings and observations. So I shared this goodbye to the mountain hut with them.