Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It

by Geoff Dyer, 2003

What a writer! I learned about him from Christie, who sent me info on his newest book, The Last Days of Roger Federer. It wasn’t yet available at our library so I checked out this book by him. I enjoyed it immensely. He’s funny and it took me all over the world with him – a funny and intelligent British man who loves women. He started out in New Orleans and I didn’t really like the details he provided of a brief affair with a black woman named Angela. From there, we went to places in Cambodia with he and his girlfriend, Circle. They are mostly on a boat ride with a bunch of other tourists and it is hot! Then on to a resort in Bali, the streets of Paris, Rome, Miami, and then Amsterdam. Then, to Leptis Magna, ruins in Libya, all by himself. Then to moderns ruins in Detroit, still by himself. The last story takes place at Burning Man in the desert.

When he is in Amsterdam, he and his girlfriend and a new friend they call “Amsterdam Dave” take mushrooms early in the day and spend the whole day together tripping around Amsterdam. At one point, they enter a cafe that has too many chairs. It’s hilarious! He goes into the Men’s room and tries to change out of his wet pants (it was pouring rain) and into some dry pants and that is hilarious, too!

In Paris, he meets a girl who has never smoked pot. They smoke some pot together and she becomes paranoid, and he does, too. The way he describes their thoughts is incredible. I don’t know how he can recreate paranoia so well after the fact. He’s amazing.

In Leptis Magna, he flies into Tripoli, Libya, and the story begins to be sad and lonely. He is sad and lonely and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Libya at that time, maybe still, is totally devoid of any sort of beauty, delight, loveliness in any form. The hotels he stays in and the restaurants he goes to there are ugly, uncomfortable, dirty, tasteless.

In Detroit, he is still alone and the modern-day ruins of Detroit are so depressing to me, but he is fascinated by them. It rains while he is there and the title of the chapter is “The Rain Inside.” I love the chapter titles:

“Horizontal Drift” – New Orleans

“Miss Cambodia” – Cambodia

“The Infinite Edge” – Bali

“Skunk” – Paris (Skunk refers to the skunk weed he smoked there, which made he and the girl he was with, paranoid.)

“Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It” – at the Sanctuary on Ko Pha-Ngan (an island in Thailand)

“Decline and Fall” – Rome

“The Despair of Art Deco” – South Miami

“Hotel Oblivion” – Amsterdam

“Leptis Magna” – the ruins in Libya

“The Rain Inside” – Detroit

“The Zone” – Burning Man festival in Black Rock City

It reminds me of what Wayne says about Douglas Adams: he goes from hilariously funny to despair and hopelessness by the end of the books. Same thing happens with Geoff Dyer. He goes from hilariously funny, happy, adventuring to lonely, hopeless, meaningless. He is not content with anything. I pray he finds contentment in the only way Man can – through the God Who loves Him enough to send His Only Son to die for Him. Please, Holy Spirit, work on Geoff Dyer to save his soul. He is so smart, so observant, so deep, such a thinker. Bring him to You. Let him live in eternity with You, in paradise, fully satisfied, at peace, content.

I started notching pages towards the end, when he became discontent. He is walking around the ruins in Leptis Magna and enters a space of grass and columns. “Immediately there was the sense–which I’ve had in only a few places in the world–of entering not so much a physical space as a force field, a place where time has stood its ground. I first experienced it on the Somme, at Thiepval, and perhaps I’ve never felt it quite as powerfully anywhere else Other people get a similar feeling when they step into a great cathedral, into Chartres or Canterbury, or just a church even. I assumed I’d never been able to feel it in such places because of a lack of–even a profound aversion to-the faith that inspired them.”

He talks about going into a chapel in Houston and waiting for the feeling, the epiphany, and it never happened. He felt nothing. “D.H. Lawrence experienced a sense of arrival, of “something final,” at Taos Pueblo…

“I always know when I’m in the Zone. When I’m in the Zone I don’t wish I was anywhere else. Whereas when I’m not in the Zone I’m always wishing I was somewhere else, wishing I was in the Zone.”

While he is in Leptis Magna, one other person approaches him and he points at things and names them. “Although I had contributed to the dialogue–pointing to things, naming them–I was all the time in the grips of a boredom so intense that it threatened to turn into hysteria. Ahmed, by contrast, was entirely at ease, confirming something I had dimly suspected: in many parts of the world boredom simply does not exist.”…

“Increased speed has served mainly to accelerate our impatience at any delay…only when everyone in the world is susceptible to boredom will the project of globalisation be complete.”

His hotel in Libya is filthy and he puts on clothes before he climbs into bed so that no part of him touches the filthy sheets. They stink, too. “All the time I was reassuring myself with this thought, however, I was seething with anger at the dirtiness, the casual acceptance of dirt, which, coupled with an unwillingness to provide anything remotely resembling service, was the defining feature of the hotel, even though it was, precisely, the opposite of these features–namely cleanliness and service–that made a hotel a hotel and not a filthy hovel offering the most rudimentary shelter against the elements. My thoughts were approximating a syntax of formal if delirious complaint; at the same time, however (in this context it was inevitable that the word “however” make some kind of aggrieved appearance), they were undermined and animated by the knowledge that there was no one with whom such a complaint could be lodged, no higher authority to whom I could appeal. And so this simple grievance about sheets and dirt acquired an unanswerable, almost metaphysical quality and became, as I hovered on the grubby rim of sleep, a lament for the grimy, fallen condition of the world.”

At the start of The Rain Inside, “For reasons that aren’t worth going into now, I once believed that the only way I was going to write a book I had almost given up all hope of writing was to go and live in Detroit. I’d had the idea for this book in Rome; it was going to be about the ruins of classical antiquity, but I’d gradually fallen into ruin myself. I couldn’t read or write or do anything that required sustained attention. I was distracted, constantly, by one thing or another. Everything competed with and detracted from everything else. Nothing was satisfying, nothing held its own. If I was out I wanted to be in; if I was in I wanted to be out. At its most extreme I would think, I’ll sit down, and then, as soon as I had sat down, I would think, I’ll stand up, and then, as soon as I had stood up, I would want to sit down again. I spent my life sitting down and standing up. I felt like I was turning into Troy, the damaged guy whose fidgeting had afforded me so much amusement at the Sanctuary. I couldn’t settle. Even if I did sit down successfully, even if I sat down and realized that sitting down was exactly what I wanted to do, still, within seconds, I would think of something else that would render sitting down even more satisfactory. I would decide that I wanted to supplement my sitting with a cup of tea, or by reading a particular passage of Yeats, or by listening to some music, and so, having sat down perhaps thirty seconds earlier, I would be up again, heading to the kitchen to make tea or to my study, where something else would distract me and I would embark on another inessential, soon-to-be abandoned task, so that by the time I actually returned to the sofa, the moment–the sitting-down moment–had passed and I no longer felt like sitting down, and I’d be up again, heading to the bathroom to check that I had turned the tap off properly. Or I’d go to the kitchen and open the window, then shut it and open the living room window instead–then shut that and reopen the one in the kitchen. Or pick up the phone to check that I had replaced the handset properly when I last picked it up to check that I had replaced it properly. I had become so habituated to this state of serial distraction that I scarcely gave it a second thought. Then I came across a passage in Shadows on the Grass, in which Isak Dinesen recounts a painter’s description of a nervous breakdown he’d suffered during the First World War: “When I was painting a picture . . . I felt that I ought to make up my bank account. When I was making up my bank account, I felt that I ought to go for a walk. And when, in a long walk, I had got five miles from home, I realized that I ought to be, at this very moment, in front of my easel. I was constantly in flight, an exile everywhere.”… I had been in the midst of an ongoing nervous breakdown without even being aware of it, that I had, in fact, gone to pieces. I mean that as literally as possible. Everything had become scattered, fragmented. I couldn’t concentrate. Each day was scattered into a million pieces. …as a consequence, there was not enough time to get anything done. My days were made up of impulses that could never become acts. Ten hours was not enough to get anything done because it wasn’t really ten hours, it was just billions of bits of time, each one far too small to do anything with.”

Then, he loses his beloved sunglasses. He looks everywhere for them and cannot find them. It is a huge blow. He’s had those sunglasses for a long time and cannot live without them. But, alas, they are gone. “There is some kind of moral in this. Or not a moral but a fact. Things go missing. They just disappear. You invest your whole being in not losing something and still, incredibly, against all odds, you lose it. The more you covet something the more certain it is that you’ll lose it, and the more devastating this loss will be when it happens–which it will.”

Detroit seems to be full of modern-day ruins. At one point he is in Brush Park, which is full of derelict Victorian mansions, a bunch of homeless people, and one market – George’s Market. “People were coming and going the whole time, trading cash for bottles of 100-proof wisdom. Except it wasn’t wisdom they were getting, only its forgotten cousin, oblivion.”

At the Burning Man festival in Black Rock City, he feels like he has reached a high point. “Nothing I had ever experienced had brought home to me as forcibly as Burning Man that fundamental truth which is so easy to know, so hard to live by: giving is getting.”

Acts 20:35, Geoff Dyer. Learn from the Master, the One who loves you so much that He died for you. There will never be complete satisfaction this side of heaven, but you have Someone, Jesus, who loves you so much, He died for you so you can be with Him, be His, in His loving arms forever, fully satisfied; the grimy, fallen world filled with His light, and an un-grimy, un-fallen world after your death. Don’t believe Satan’s lies about God. Don’t look to what man has made God into. In your heart of hearts, you know the Truth. Love Him, choose Him, be free. Amen.