Lessons From People: Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse was a poet and a writer who wrote many great works, including Demian, Steppenwolf and most famously Siddhartha. His works mainly concentrated on the need to become an individual and gain self knowledge. He was rewarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.

The following are lessons taken from his essays which range from a wide variety of topics such as psychoanalysis, Anti-Semitism, to his thoughts on individual writers, painters, and intellects.

Lessons:

Find Joy In The Everyday Life

There is a state of urgency associated with being alive because we don’t know how much time we really have. So, there is this need to do as much as possible as quickly as possible because tomorrow is never guaranteed. However, Hesse speaks against living like this. He calls that kind of life a hurried life, which he considers to be an enemy to a joyful life.

But the high value put upon every minute of time, the idea of hurry-hurry as the most as the most important object of living, is unquestionably the most dangerous enemy of joy.

A hurried life would be the kind where you are always focusing on the next thing, on the big projects and goals. Always jumping from one thing to another. In this manner, life goes by without us realizing it and we’ve missed out on appreciating the time we were alive. 

Even leisure is hurried in this way of living. We are more worried about how many shows we can watch, how many things we can do, how many bucket list items we can cross off instead of appreciating each individual thing.

The motto of a hurried life is:

As much as possible, or fast as possible.

But this only allows for quick dopamine hits instead of actual pleasure.

Hesse’s formula for joy:

Moderate enjoyment is double enjoyment and don’t overlook the little joys.

What are little joys?

The play of colors in nature or in a painting, an appeal in the voices of storm and sea, or in man-made music, as long as beneath its surface of interests and necessities the world can be seen or felt as a whole, consisting as it does of interrelationships from the curve of a young cat’s neck to the variations of a sonata, from the touching eyes of a dog to the tragedy of a poet, an interconnection of thousandfold riches of relationship, correspondences, analogies, and reflection, out of whose eternally flowing language their hearers derive joy and wisdom, entertainment and emotion—just so long will man again and again triumph over his ambiguities and be able to ascribe meaning to his existence.

It’s good to remember Hesse felt this way prior to the internet. Now, this hurried life has been kicked into overdrive and we can spend every minute of our day jumping from one thing to the next.

An exercise in moderation: Don’t have to be the first in line to a premiere. Don’t have to jump on the news show trend, wait a few weeks and see if you still want to. Instead of reading book after book, or skipping from song to song, think about why that piece of art makes you feel the way it did, whether it’s good or bad.

Know Your Why

There are two things associated with actions: the what and the why. The ‘what’ of an act is usually simple. If you want to start a business, the product you want to sell is the what. Often times figuring out the what is the depth of our understanding behind our actions. But the ‘why’ behind our actions is a lot more significant.

For those high qualities, tasks, and goals which you ascribe to the poet, that loyalty to himself, that awe in the face of nature, that acceptance of unusual self-sacrifice, that responsibility which is never satisfied with itself and gladly pays the price of sleepless nights for a successful sentence, a well turned phrase — all these virtues are the hallmarks not only for the true poet. They are the hallmarks of the true human being per se, of the unensalved, unmechanized man, of the revert and responsible human being, no matter what his profession.

The why should be related to the observation of life, to emotional sensibilities, to stand against something, to say something of value, to be free, to find solitude, to improve oneself, to dedicate oneself to a cause higher than yourself.

When the why is pure, the what becomes valuable.

Personal Refuge 

When we think about relaxing and decompressing, images of beaches or resorts come to mind. We look at them as a utopia that will provide us with refuge. However, Hesse doesn’t believe in this kind of refuge because no matter where you go, you are there. There is no perfect utopia for you to go to because your thoughts/emotions/feelings go with you. Thoughts influenced by others, emotions stirred up by loss or pain, feelings of loneliness or needing solitude all disturb whatever outer utopia you have in mind. 

But we need a refuge, a place of solitude that will allow us to disconnect from the outside noise and to simply concentrate and focus. 

Leave, O World, leave me in peace!

Ideally, the perfect solitude or refuge should be our own inner state. You, yourself, must be your refuge. Your thoughts must be clear so you can find comfort within them. You shouldn’t have to distract yourself from yourself. You must achieve harmony within yourself.

Hesse achieved a stable inner self through meditation, journaling, and by communicating truthfully with himself. Essentially, you have to have a desire to create an inner refuge and then work relentlessly upon yourself so that you can make this refuge a reality.

View People Without Desire

The eye of desire dirties and distrusts.

It is almost natural to view others through the lease of desire because we often start relationships in order to gain something for ourself. So, even prior to actually communicating with the person we wonder if they will like us, if they are arrogant or humble, if they will respect our work and so on. In doing so, we don’t truly connect with the individual because we have already created a picture of who they might be and how they act and think.

In order to have a genuine connection with someone, eyes of desire must be closed.

What is required then is for us to stop seeing people as useful or boring or strong or weak. Only by stopping such desires do we see who the person is and come to appreciate them regardless of how they can benefit us. This way, the quirks or mannerisms or characteristic that we might find annoying at first become a unique quality of that individual. The things we appreciate and like about someone become even more valuable.

Seeking Suffering

Just suffer, my son, just suffer and drain the cup to the dregs! The harder you try to avoid it the bitterer the drink will be. The coward drinks his fate like poison or medicine, you must drink yours like wine and fire. Then it will taste sweet.

Acceptance.

Being alive comes with pain and suffering. It’s better to make use of suffering by seeing it as a challenge to overcome than it is to try and avoid it. Suffering is there for us to grow physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. By trying to avoid it, we only harm ourself.

And so my condition and radius of experience was this: On one hand endurance of great sorrow, on the other a conscious striving to master this sorrow, to achieve complete harmony with fate. This was approximately the judgement of my consciousness, or rather a first voice audible within my consciousness. A second voice, fainter, but deeper and more resonant, put the matter differently. This voice (which like the first one I heard clearly but far off in my sleep and dream) did not call the suffering wrong and my vigorous mental struggle for perfection right, but rather meted out right and wrong to both sides. The second voice sang of the sweetness of suffering, it sang of its necessity, it had no interest of mastering or eliminating it but only in deepening and illuminating it.

Why He Admired Goethe

He (Goethe) did not content himself with little goals, that he sought the greatest, that he erected ideals that could not be attained.

On Getting Old

Growing old is one of the universal fears. Hesse overcomes this fear by viewing aging as just another question life asks you and it is your new responsibility to find the appropriate answers. Now, as you age, the set of questions you face in your youth or adult life change to:

Can you be patient as you age?

Can you age gracefully?

Can you find joy in what has happened?

And many more.

It’s all about your mindset. You can be young and full of life, but a negative mindset can kill you. At the same time, when you’re old, you can focus on the negative, the things you used to be able to do, the people that you used to have around you and let it weigh you down or you can see it as another challenge, another question of life and focus on finding the answers. 

Old age is a stage in our life, and like all other stages, it has a face of its own, its own atmosphere and temperature, its own joys and miseries.

On Writing

Write poetry because it is a practice to sharpen your skills. Poetry forces you to come up with new analogies, similes, metaphors. Additionally, use poetry to clarify your thoughts and experiences. 

Novels, on the other hand, can be viewed as models for life and how to act. 

Almost all the prose works of fiction I have written are biographies of souls.

The focus is on the individual and his relationship to the world and himself rather than on plot, or creating suspense and so on.

An eager longing, a will to devotion, born of misery. And these are the prerequisites of everything great.

Any work, but especially creative, requires truth, accuracy, charm and neatness. Don’t overlook the details and the minute. If you are a careless writer, then the substance of the work can be questioned. You allow corruption into your work by being careless and overlooking the details. 

Respect for the material is what the author ought to feel, not the reader.

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