Guido’s airplane landad at two o’clock in Sofia airport, and on the way to our small Bulgarian village I took him to my favorite hidden place on the bank of Pancharevo lake.
We stood there, together, and watched the old rails, going down into the depth of the lake.
“It explains everything,” I said, while he stood there by me, observing the beautiful landscape without saying a word. “This landscape presents the basic concept of Emotional trainig. I invited you to visit me so I can share my new method with you, and a picture is worth a thousand words.”
“And I thought that you invited me because you wanted to talk with a wise old man,” said Guido, his deep, operatic voice reverberating as if he was singing and smiling at the same time.
“Indeed,” I agreed, “I wanted to talk to a wise old man. And a modest one, as well,” I added, and he smiled and waved his hand dismissively. “Can you see this concept, which is so simple but also revolutionary, in this landscape?”
“You are no less modest than I,” he smiled. “I read your book, and I probably undrestand and even like your basic concept. I didn’t know that you made a riddle out of it. Let’s see,” and he observed the lake slowly, from right to left. “It’s beautiful,” he said carefully, as if considering every word, “but you couldn’t expect an Italian to be moved by a lake or a green landscape.”
I said nothing, and he waited and then continued. “I suppose that you brought me here intentionally, to these old rails, going down into the abyss.
“Elementary, my dear Watson,” I confirmed.
“Aha…” he wandered, watching the lake and then turned his eyes back to me. “Although I know the meaning of the railings, I would say that they raise some unpleasant thoughts, which you refer to as ‘death anxiety’. Am I right or am I right?” And he smiled, pleased with his own wit.
“Of course you are,” I said. “Death anxiety is inborn, and it shows itself whenever we deviate from our daily schedule. Every seperation reminds us of death, and even when we think about something positive, like love or marriage, we always compare it to death, like ‘until death do us part’. It is obvious that we associate railings that go down the depth of a lake with drowning and death.”
“Didn’t I say the same thing?” Guido nod and sighed.
“But that wasn’t what I meant,” I smiled at him, “since it is obvious. Every train, leaving the station, evokes an association of separation and death. This place is unique not only due to the railings that go down into the lake and remind us, tangibly, of our death anxiety.”
“So?” Guido kept noding his head, impetiently.
“Regard this beauty!” I pointed at the amazing landscape while turning in a lagre circle from one side of the lake to the other. “For you it may be obvious, but I came from the desert, and for me this is heaven.”
“Aha,” Guido exulted. “I see. This lake, and the railings that go into the abyss, symbolises the two basic assumptions of Emotional Training. Whenever there is a death anxiety there is always a safe place.”
“Almost,” I corrected him. “Whenever we feel death anxiety we try to create a sense of a safe place.”
“A sense?” Wondered Guido.
“Yes,” I said. “We are mortal, and we know that our days are numbered. This is the only objective truth we have in our lives. But the thought about it terrifies us and paralyzes us. In order to live our lives we have to create a sense of a safe place.”
“This is clear,” said Guido. “We build houses, and a man’s house is his castle. We create agreements, and relationships, we marry and have family and we join a community and trust our country. These are our safe places. But why do you talk about a ‘sense’ of a safe place?”
“Because unfortunately,” I replied, “ there is no safe place in the world. An earthquake can destroy our house at any moment, we cannot trust our marriage to last forever and countries don’t really secure their citizens. A pandemic like this new Corona in China can spread and stop the dream of global community. All we can do is to create a sense of a safe place for ourselves, again and again.”
“Don't be so pessimistic,” replied Guido. “The Chinese can cope with this virus and stop it within a few weeks. Actually, the essence of your method of Emotional Training is the practical tools for creating a sense of a safe place. You claim that this is the main motive in our lives. But how do you see all this in this beautiful lake?”
“This lake,” I pointed again from shore to shore, and the railings that go down the water, represent human nature accurately. They represent the awareness of our expected death and the death anxiety that follow us all our lives, and they also represent the continuous search for a sense of a safe place, that provokes us to creat a sense of beauty and find a meaning in the landscape of our lives.”
“This is quite a tragic concept of life,” interpreted Guido. “Do you claim that we are doomed to live in an imagined phantasy in order to ignore our sad fate, which we cannot change?”
“Our sense of a safe place exists in our imagination,” I replied, “but it is definitely not tragic. Actually, this lake is the meaning of our lives.”
“Wait a minute,” Guido resisted. “I thought that we are having a philosophic discussion. I can understand, and even accept, your claim that death anxiety and the search for a sense of a safe place are our basic instincts. But what all this have to do with the meaning of life?”
“The way we create a fictional sense of a safe place defines the meaning of our lives,” I said. “We had never chosen to advance on the railings of our lives, knowing that in the end of the way we would sink into the abyss. But we have the option to sit in a dirty cattle wagon or to create a pleasant passenger car. We can let the thought about the end of the way paralyze us, or to look out of the window and enjoy the beautiful landscape that reality offers us continuously. We can live in anxiety and despair in order to delay the inevitable end, or to enjoy the abundance that reality offers us all the time.”
“And you see all this in this lake?” Guido tried to look innocence.
“Certainly,” I replied. “Even you, when I asked you to explain the meaning of the rails that go down the water, tried to chit yourself and ignore death association by looking for rational explanations. Only when I insisted you recalled my explanation concerning death anxiety.”
Guido wondered about it for a while, and then said: “You ar a bastard. I actually looked back at that big warehouse behind us and realized that once it was boat manufactury, and they used the railings to ship the boats into the lake. I have already seen such a manufactory in the port of Naples. But yes, I admit that I didn’t want to think about drowning in the lake.”
“This is absolutely normal,” I said. “Death anxiety is the only sense that connects us to reality, and it can save us in situations of great danger. Our basic instinct, the fight-or-flight instinct, is the natural response to this actual death anxiety. When we face an existential danger, such as a meeting with a lion in the forest, the basic instinct paralyses most of our physical resources and enables us to be aggressive. But this instinct is effective only for a few seconds. A longer time of death anxiety would paralyze us or make us very aggressive.”
“I know some people of that kind,” said Guido.
“You see one of them now,” I admitted. “I had a shell-shock from the war, and in response to any tiny irritation I become anxiouse. It is very hard to live like that, and instead of destroying my life and my family I have developed the method of Emotional Training.”
“And is there no more anxiety?” aske Guido.
“No,” I laughed. “But I learned how to creat a sense of a safe place, every day, and that helps me cope with the anxiety. This is, of course, a fictional sense of a safe place, but this is the meaning of our lives. We create it with our imagination when we interpret reality and attune ourself to the continuous changes in the world around us. The meaning of life is to find the beauty of this lake, even when we know where the railings take us.”
“OK,” sighed Guido. “And now, why don’t you let me show you the meaning of life? Why don’t you take me to your village, and I’ll prepare a good pasta for us?”
“Are you crazy?” I protested. “You are my guest, and I’ll cook for you whatever you like. And if you are very hungry, we can stop on our way and eat some Bulgarian food.”
“I’m not hungry,” said Guido, “but cooking is my safe place, and I hope that you’ll let me cook at your hous, so I can feel at home. I, too, am a little anxious when I go out. Didn’t I tell you about the accident? Eleven years ago, when my wife and daughter got killed, I lost ten kilo’s and for a few months I didn’t leave the house and stopped teaching at the university. One day I felt hungry and started to cook, and cooking brought me back to life.”
“So let’s go,” I said. “Why don’t we cook together? I love cooking. It is a good way to make friends.”
“And I thought that this is exactly what we did in that concert in London,” Guido laughed. “It didn’t take more than five minutes.”
We met in London about five years ago, in an A cappella conert of an Italian choir. When I borrowed the program of the concert from him he told me that he knew the conductor from Florence, and asked where was I from.
“Dror,” I introduced myself. “I’m from Israel, but I live in Bulgaria.”
“And I am Guido,” he said and shook my hand. “I am from Arezzo, in Italy.”
“You are kidding,” I said. “Guido d’Zrezzo lived a thousand years ago, and he developed the modern music notation.”
“Are you a musician?” His face lit up. “Only few knows about Guido d’Arezzo. My name is Guido Angello, and yes, I live in Arezzo. But it is only a coincidence. Before retiring from the university I used to live in Firenze.”
“Great,” I said. “I was a musician once, and when I studied in the music academy in Jerusalem I wrote a paper about Guido d’Arezzo. So you are a musician?”
“No, no,” Guido laughed. “I can play four hands piano with you, but that is all I know. I am a philosopher, although most of my life I taught architecture in the university of Florence.”
We met again the next day, and I invited him to walk in Regent’s Park, where I studied psychotherapy years ago. We found a common language in many fields, but in the next day I had to go back home, back to everyday life, to my children, my books and my seminars. Every New Year we sent greeting cards to each other, promissing to meet again soon.
I live in a foreign country and meet many people, guests who come to visit us and the participants of my seminars. But something is missing, and it took some time until I realized that I need an interaction with ‘a wise old man’, an interaction of sharing ideas, of listening and support, far from confrontation, argumentation and criticism. I wrote to Guido and invited him to stay with us in our small village, to talk, to listen and to share.
Now we were on our way, between the small villages of Bulgaria, and we talked as if we knew each other for many years.