Thursday 19 April 2018

Leonard Cohen: a life spent in eternal search for meaning

Leonard Cohen walked down many spiritual paths - but he never really found the peace he sought

High point: Leonard Cohen always said his favourite song was 'Bird On A Wire'
High point: Leonard Cohen always said his favourite song was 'Bird On A Wire'

Mick Brown

In 1999 Leonard Cohen travelled to India to see a spiritual teacher named Ramesh Balsekar. Cohen was a man in search, if not exactly of faith, then of meaning. Ramesh had been educated at the London School of Economics and had worked as general manager of the Bank of India in Bombay before retiring to devote his life to propagating the teachings of advaita - a philosophy that teaches the idea that "I am the doer" of my thoughts, and actions should be constantly interrogated with the question "Who is this 'I'?". Cohen spent almost a year in Bombay, going almost daily to sit at Ramesh's feet.

A fascinating transcription exists of some of their conversations, in which Cohen talks of the difficulties in his life, his writing and the "chattering of the mind" that afflicted him, "sometimes in degrees of intensity that make one gasp or cry out for help". What Cohen seeks most of all, he says, is "peace".

It is Cohen's misfortune that he goes to his grave heralded as "the godfather of gloom". But the question he was constantly asking, in his songs, poetry and fiction was "Who is this 'I'?" - and what is this "I" supposed to be doing here, in this mess of dashed hopes, broken hearts and certain mortality?

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