The Author as Yogi: me in the Tree Pose in a Latin American city I'd prefer to forget.
I have practised yoga for many years - most of my adult life, on and off - but recently started taking classes in a wonderful yoga school in Valença, Portugal, on the River Minho. Instead of teaching yoga as a more less exotic kind of gymnastics, as western teachers often do, the young Portuguese woman insists that it's a spiritual discipline, and that it's meaningless unless we continue to practise yoga in our everyday lives too, since yoga means (among other things), efficiency in action. As the publication of Our Parent Who Art in Heaven fast approaches - May 15 is the UK release date - and I await the fate of the novel with some trepidation, it's led to me to consider how a true yogi should prepare for such an event.
It's natural, I suppose, having spent years writing a book - I began this one in 2015 - to feel anxious about bringing it into the world. The usual metaphor is that of the birth of a child. We love our offspring and desperately want them to have a happy, successful existence. But what if they don't? What if your books are detested, scorned, excoriated, or worse, ignored? A further question arises: if the book fails, does one grieve for the book itself, or for one's ego? I like to think that I have to a large extent transcended petty ego concerns, and that my concern is wholly dispassionate and unselfish - that I simply desire the best for my innocent offspring, this contemporary satire. But might I be kidding myself, at least partly?
In yoga class, apart from practising the asanas or poses, we have also been meditating, and learning about the yamas and niyamas, the principles of yoga, which come from the Vedanta. One of these principles is santosha, a Sanskrit word that means something like 'contented acceptance' (not mere resignation) of the events that come our way. If I think about it coolly, it makes sense. At this stage, I've done my work; there's little more that I can do. The book will be noticed, or not, and if it's noticed, it will be admired and loved or disliked and scorned. Because I think the novel has a certain importance, as the first satire that I know of on the advent of an authoritarian cancel culture in academia, it would be a pity if it is not read. But of course the novel itself doesn't mind! And what difference does it make to me, either, in the long run? At this stage of my life, I no longer expect, or even crave, fame and fortune. A success would be gratifying, of course. But the truth is, it would make little or no difference to the way I live. So there must be an element of the yearnings of the ego to assert itself in all this. Does it matter? In a hundred years, even if Our Parent Who Art in Heaven does become a bestseller, it will be forgotten, almost certainly, as I will be.
So what is the yogi's attitude to worldly success? Of course it's all maya, illusion. The ultimate aim of yoga is moksha, the emancipation from suffering and ignorance. And do we need the approbation of others for that? Rembrandt didn't: in his later years, he produced his greatest works, although he was no longer the fashionable painter of his youth. He painted himself and his wife. And Van Gogh never had that recognition in his lifetime. In literature, neither did Kafka. I am not claiming that kind of stature for my work, of course. But perhaps I have achieved the spiritual balance to accept the book's fate, whatever it is. And I hope I shall continue to write - not for myself, but for humanity - in the years to come.