From “Zen and Psychoanalysis” to Barra de Navidad
SLG: I was hoping that you would tell me a little bit about your work in Mexico. How it came about and – also how you discovered Barra.
CS: I don’t remember the year in which Erich Fromm and Daisetz Suzuki, the old scientist of Buddhism, had together a seminar in Cuernavaca, Mexico, which a great deal of psychotherapists attended*. At that time Erich Fromm was very interested in Sensory Awareness and he invited me to join him and give a talk about our work. So, I went to Mexico and it was for me a very significant and beautiful occasion. The relationship between Erich from Daisetz Suzuki was a very beautiful and close one. Erich Fromm felt of Daisetz Suzuki as the wise father of knowing.
For me, a great moment in the conference was when Erich Fromm began to explain what he wanted to offer during this time and then gave the word to Daisetz Suzuki. Suzuki was at that time already near eighty and had spent his entire life digging deeply into Buddhist knowledge and Buddhist beliefs. He raised his eyes to the audience and said: “I want to introduce myself. I am a student of Zen.“ – after which all the doctors and professors [who had previously introduced themselves with all their titles and credentials] nearly crawled under their chairs with shame. As they so proudly sat there in the audience . . . “I’m a student of Zen.” I will never forget this. This is very similar to what Elsa Gindler meant when she said, “I want not to teach, I want to find out, and want to go as deep as possible into the forces which move the human being.” I was greatly impressed by this statement. It’s also very similar to that what Shunriu Suzuki said in the book titled:Zen Mind – Beginners Mind. So, we all are in the same boat.
I was asked to give a lecture [at this conference] and I did so with the help of slides. The conference attendees were very interested. After the lecture two leading psychiatrists in Mexico, Dr. Dias and Dr. Chavez asked me if I would be willing to give a longer course in Mexico. This then later on took place. I don’t know whether I should mention my own attempts at speaking Spanish. It was very difficult for me because I thought, “All the Mexican people. How can I possibly work with them, not being able to speak Spanish? So, I took a dictionary and wanted at least to know with what I would work [in the first session]. I looked into the dictionary and found the word for forehead, eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth, lips, chin. All the psychologists were lying on the floor and I began to ask questions . . . . Silence. I was very impressed with their attention. At last, when I came to the chin – there was still a deadly silence – suddenly Dr. Diaz sat up and he asked: “What did you say?” (Laughs) [This is when I] realized nobody had understood my Spanish and that everybody could speak English. (More laughter). After that everything went beautifully and until today the psychologists and psychiatrists either come or send their patients to my courses in Mexico.
When I gave this first course in Mexico we worked always Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. And then there was a pause until the next week. And I was invited by one of the patients of Dr. Chavez to live in a very beautiful and sumptuous house in Mexico City. I was also permitted to bring four friends with me, who also were invited to live there. This was the first time that I brought Charles Brooks with me who was one of my students. And there was also a torch singer, a very fabulous woman. So we were living in this house; we were beautifully take care of; we eat there; everything was just unbelievably sumptuous and beautiful. But that was only the first time. Later I rented my own place and a room for working. This was very extraordinary, this first time and the connection with these psychiatrist and their relatives has been very warm and very deeply appreciative during all these years – until today.
SLG: So, and then one year you traveled with Charles through Mexico.
CS: Yeah. We traveled through the big, big valley of Mexico. And suddenly we saw a very elegant new truck with a sign on the side: “Barra de Navidad. The Côte d’Azur of Mexico.” Charles saw the sign first and said, “What, Barra de Navidad, The Côte d’Azur of Mexico? Let’s go!” So, we went long, long ways traveling with our little Volkswagen through Mexico and came at last to a river. There were a number of boats, no bridge, nothing. And there were also two or three boats over which wooden planks were laid, where one could go with one’s little car on one of these boats. And Charles rolled his trousers up to his hips and waded through this very unusually stony river. And always, when he found a little more of a passage, he would give us a sign that we could come. In other words he was the guide. When we landed on the other shore we went a little bit further and finally came to Barra de Navidad, the Côte d’Azur of Mexico. (Laughter)
I can’t tell you how it looked. The cows were on the beach; and the dogs were chasing the cows over the beach; and not a single person. There was absolutely nothing except for a place where we could have a drink, and where we took quite some drinks, I remember. The only other guests were a Scottish man who sat silently with his drink and a nurse tried to win his attention. (Stefan laughs) The man who owned this restaurant was a lover of Spain and behaved like a Spanish Grande: Always when I came he kissed my hand and bowed deeply. I was anything but the Côte d’Azur of Mexico (laughs). Of course we were the sensation of the place. But it was so inviting – and the man who owned this place was also so inviting. So I said: “For the next Study Group we could come to Barra de Navidad – the Côte d’Azur of Mexico. (Laughter)
SLG: You probably don’t remember what year that was.
CS: No, I don’t. But I could – I could probably dig it out. In any case: The owner of this place loved to sing. He had a beautiful voice and he always wanted the most lovely girls to sit on his knees. He always sang and made music between our Study Group sessions. It was a hilarious time. The people who were mainly fishermen were speechless. They couldn’t believe that such a thing as we existed. It was one of the most hilarious Study Groups I ever gave.
SLG: I ‘m trying to imagine how much this place must have changed since you were first here.
CS: Yeah. It was really a fisherman place. But now it’s unfortunately becoming more and more of a resort.
* Seminar with Erich Fromm and D. T. Suzuki: Zen and Psychoanalysis, held in Cuernavaca, Mexico, 1957.