I find that the deeper you go into Auroville, the deeper you go into yourself.
“I guess my story starts with my family. I was born to a German mother and a Spanish father, and I remember always trying to please my parents, to be the good boy. When my father left us, I really felt responsible for the family. I thought I should get the best job, get a good income to provide for my mom and sister. So I ended up in business law. This is when I first started experiencing some dichotomy, some separation between me and myself. There was a moment after entering law school where I almost committed suicide, I felt I had no purpose. I stopped myself and I said: ‘No, bring yourself back together, you have a responsibility towards your family.’ In that moment I buried something that was big in me, these questions of, who am I? and what do I want to do in my life?
It came back to me 5 years later at the end of my studies, when I was applying for a big business institute. During the interview to apply I was facing this panel of corporate people, very serious. I did well, I was quite sharp, but then at the end they asked me: ‘Who do you admire the most, dead or alive?’
I was trying to think of something smart to say but somehow ‘Edith Piaf’ came out of my mouth, out of my control. I even remember looking around like, did I just say that? [laughs]. When they asked me why Edith Piaf, I said: ‘Because she changed the world with her voice.’ They looked at me like I was crazy. After that the interview was completely terrible, I panicked. Again it gave me this hint that there was something that wanted to burst out of me, but I kept suppressing it.
Finally I got a great job at a company for wind energy. I was 23 years old, making quite some money. I had a career in front of me. But I would come home every evening feeling so empty. Everything was perfect, but I was terribly unhappy. One night I had a dream I had had many times before, where I was in a tunnel. I usually got stuck in it, but this time I jumped out of it and I entered another reality:
I become conscious of just sitting, typing on a computer. It is not me typing; I am kind of invading the consciousness of someone, living in their body. After a while I realise it is me, but 10 years older.
I am in this office in Shanghai, it is midnight and I am still working, I am the boss there. I go home, and after a short drive I arrive at a gate. It opens automatically. I come into the house, a huge house, and the guy I am in is thinking ‘Be quiet, don’t wake up the kids.’ I go into my living room and I sit to relax for a bit. Then I remember I saw something on the wall as I was walking in. Finally I manage to get up and I look at a picture hanging on the wall. I am there with my wife, two kids, and a dog. I look at myself: I look so serious, in a suit. I feel like there is no life in this person that I am supposed to become, his eyes are dead. I start freaking out and finally I fall back, through the floor, and I wake up in my own body.
That dream showed me my life as a movie that was written in advance. I had that feeling in that company, that they were writing the movie of my life instead of me taking responsibility of it. The next day I left this job. I wanted to go really far away from what I knew, from my family. I decided I had to go to India because I thought: this culture must be so far from mine that it cannot influence me. I will finally see who I am.
The day I left Paris, I was very serene. I had no clue where I was going, I didn’t book a hotel. I just had my bag and I was going to the other side of the planet. And while walking towards the subway with my luggage, this woman runs towards me. The moment she passes me I turn not to collide with her, and when I turn just in front of me there is a door, a random door in a random neighbourhood. And on the top of the door is written: ‘Here is born Edith Piaf, the woman who changed the world with her voice.’ That was a good sign.
I ended up in Pondicherry and saw something about Auroville in a Lonely Planet. I came to Reve Guesthouse for the first 5 days, and after those 5 days I hated Auroville, I was done with it. I thought it looked like a sect, and I was surprised that everybody was always asking me for money, because I thought it would be a place without money. I was about to leave but I had applied for a Couchsurfing, and the guy, Martanda, finally answered me. I was like, alright why not, so I went to meet him. It was deep in the forest, close to Fertile. I ran out of petrol trying to find this community.
I was just about to return to Reve and leave Auroville when Martanda met me on the road. I was like, ‘Ok whatever, I don’t have an agenda, so I can stay one night in the forest.’ It was amazing. He changed my entire perspective on Auroville. We worked in the forest together, we planted trees, and we spent time outside at night, talking about life. I stayed there for quite awhile. When in the end I thanked him for sharing his house with me, he stopped me and said: ‘Michael, this is not my forest and my house. I am a child of Auroville and this is all Auroville. And everyone can become a child of Auroville. We are all dedicated to the same thing, this human unity. Believe it or not, but we are all living this dream as much as we can, with the best of our intention.’
Suddenly it was not just words, he was really doing it in action. I got so inspired that I stuck around. He gave me another image of Auroville that you don’t get as a tourist. It helps me even now to remember that every tourist is a potential Aurovilian and that we should not show them only this terrible outer layer, but the true Auroville as well, what it is about below the surface.
I find that the deeper you go into Auroville, the deeper you go into yourself. And you keep facing issues that you think are outside issues, relating to other people that you can blame, but at the end it’s yourself you have to face, the one that you have issues with. You could do that anywhere in the world, because it’s just you, but this place pushes you to reflect on yourself – how are you growing within the growth of Auroville and how do you bring your growth to the community? There is constant interaction and experimentation. That’s why I am staying: I feel I can change things in the community, and I can change myself. These two dimensions are entangled here.”
One of Michael’s projects, the Human Library, is featured on our blog.