Can't you ever not exist

The house is full of yogis

• As a child, you expect your own parents to be sensible, authoritarian and, above all, boring. As a child you are naughty, you don't accept limits, you do what you want. But what if it is suddenly the parents who do what they want regardless of loss?

Once upon a time in the 1980s we Hodgkinsons were a perfectly normal family. We lived in a semi-detached house in a middle class suburb of London. A Volvo was parked in the driveway, our mother made a lot of money as a tabloid reporter, and our father was an award-winning science writer.

When I was 12 and my brother Tom was 14, Nev (we never called him Papa) narrowly escaped death. A chicken risotto had given him food poisoning. After this experience, at a press conference in Westminster Cathedral, he went through a change that at most the apostle Paul had experienced until then - who went from persecuting Christians to being a disciple of Jesus Christ. That same day, Nev quit his job and went in search of spirituality - it continues to this day.

The press conference had been about the power of meditation. Nev said enthusiastically, “There was a silent meditation that lasted five minutes and then it happened. A golden light suddenly shone on my forehead. It was overwhelming. The bliss that seized me was much greater than anything I had ever felt before. "

"I think you are still not completely healthy," said my mother. "You know your condition has never really been that good."

I did not properly take note of Nev's spiritual awakening at that moment. And at first little changed. But then he happened upon the Brahma Kumaris, a religious Indian group led only by women. The Brahma Kumaris fight for a vegetarian diet, sexual abstinence, a pure life and reject the theory of evolution. Nev fell for them completely. And from that moment on, nothing should be the same with us anymore.

Every day brought changes that were like an earthquake. Edward VII art prints, depicting lewd women drinking Coca-Cola, disappeared from the living room. They were replaced by brightly painted pictures of Indian gods. All forms of meat were banned from the kitchen. It wasn't long ago that Nev brought back I Love New York T-shirts from business trips. Now he gave us shirts with naïve drawings printed on them, including the rhyme: “Be Holy… Be Raja Yogi.” “This is not a gift,” said my brother Tom. "This is propaganda."

Bizarrely, my mother went along with it. Possibly because she had just entered her feminist phase and the fact that Nev was now a Brahma Kumari had the advantage of not having to sleep with him anymore. "You know what?" She said as we drove home from our first meditation class. “This chastity thing is not a bad idea. It's one thing to sleep with a handsome guy in his 20s. But if you have a terrible bald head and you have to finish an article before you go to bed, then you see sexuality in a completely different light. "

Drugs? Or conviction?

Then there was the apocalypse thing. The Brahma Kumaris believe that evolution is a myth and that life takes place in a 5000-year cycle: In the beginning we live in the Golden Age, the world is pure, and our souls are in contact with our true nature. From then on it goes downhill. Finally the end comes, and after that a new golden age begins again. Nev, who had only preached to us a few months earlier that religion was something for the simple minded, explained the Brahma-Kumari cycle to me when I was just coming home from a BMX bike tour.

"Society as we know it is going to be destroyed," he said casually.

“I can't say whether that will happen as a result of a nuclear accident or a natural disaster. But it will probably happen in about 32 years. "

“But that will be 2014. I am then only 44 years old! "

Nev smiled slightly arrogantly, which has happened to him a lot lately. “But Will, you are not really going to die. Your soul will live on in a different body. I wouldn't be surprised if you then lived in the Golden Age. Therefore you should become a Brahma Kumari and start meditating quickly. "

Our parents' new lifestyle increasingly changed our lives. It happened that I returned home from school and found a thin man in our garden, unknown to me, dressed in white, staring intently at a daffodil. If I then fled into the living room, I could come across another 30 Brahma Kumaris sitting cross-legged on the carpet and staring at a plastic egg, the yogi symbol of the Supreme Soul that Nev put on the wall there would have.

Cooking started to seem like an act of submission to my mother, so we initially lived on frozen pizza and fish fingers. At the suggestion of our father, there were soon only casseroles and lentil thinners, without any meat, onions, garlic or all the other ingredients that give the food a little taste. One evening our mother served up a kind of casserole that couldn't be cut with a knife. So she smashed it with a hammer. And then Nev suddenly started with his latest ploy: He stared stubbornly at his plate.

He sat at the table, his eyes glazed over, he held his hands on his lap and meditated on the crumbs of his casserole. Then the wisp of a smile flew over his face. It wasn't a smile that came from pleasure, but from pity.

"What the hell ..." I said.

"I thank myself. It's like saying grace. We are very lucky in this house. We don't go hungry. "

"I hope it won't take long now," said my mother. "I want the plates to be empty in five minutes."

What happened at home in our own four walls was still bearable. It got difficult when Nev preached to others. In my school, for example. He gave a lecture there on the benefits of meditation.

"Did you do a lot of drugs, Mr. Hodgkinson, like people did in the sixties?" Asked a classmate. I sank deeper and deeper into my seat. I hoped I could just cease to exist, at least until school was over.

Weeks later, Nev asked if I would mind leaving my room. "You can move into my study," he said. “I have a wonderful idea for your room. And I think that would help us grow closer as a family. ”My Carrera track was dismantled, the posters of my heroes were taken down, and a week later the room was white. The hallway, the walls, the ceiling, everything was white. There was no more furniture, just a white mat and a white bookcase with white books. I looked at one of them. The title: "Into the White."

"We're going to do a family meditation session now," Nev said as he crossed his legs in what was very close to a lotus position for older men.

My mother let her gaze wander around the room and put her hands on her hips: "You mean I should forego watching TV?"

Our parents used to throw wild parties, they were famous for it. But that ended after my mom and Nev had a Meet the Yogis party. On a Saturday evening, her friends stood in front of our door with countless bottles of wine. To their great surprise, Nev, dressed in Indian pajamas, took their drinks from them. “You won't need that.” Dadi Janki, a small Indian woman with a wealth of knowledge, was waiting in the living room. She was (and is) the head of the Brahma Kumaris and gave a lecture on the eternal nature of the soul.

"If you're having a midlife crisis, Nev, why not climb Mount Everest - or Miss Everest," said a family friend after the meditation session. "But don't take it out on us."

Then there was the subject of sex. I was at an age that I started getting interested in this. So I confessed to Nev that I fell in love with a friend's older sister. I told him I didn't know what to do now.

Nev smiled fatherly. "Do you know what's best, Will?"

"No, what's the best?"

"Nothing."

I sat up: “Like nothing !? Never sex? "

He smiled meaningfully, as if nothing he said could ever be wrong. “It could solve some problems. Good night."

I needed advice. I wanted to know how to do that with the girls - and he recommended that I become a celibate monk.

But that wasn't all.

A few years later, when I was 16, my mom decided to monetize her experience. She wrote a book. It was a plea for chaste marriage. The title: "Sex is not compulsory" *. I hadn't known about it and found out about it one evening at boarding school. I sat in front of the television with some of my classmates. A talk show was on and the host introduced a couple who, although they were still together, no longer slept together. At first I didn't even notice. Then one of my classmates shouted, "Hey Will, aren't these your parents?"

Yes, they were my parents. My mother had a wild hairstyle. Nev was dressed all in white. "But you are two good-looking young people!" Said the moderator. "If you are in love and you are married, why on earth don't you want to sleep together?"

"There are many forms of love, and the purest are not physical," Nev said gently, raising his eyebrows.

"I've had enough of my body belonging to someone else," said my mother. “When I was young there were two options for a woman to escape from her family: prostitution or marriage. In fact, both are identical. "

One of the girls in the room looked at me giggling.

"Your parents have a chaste marriage?" She asked. “Does that mean they don't sleep together? Are you chaste too? "

"Yes, yes and yes! But I hope that I can change that soon. "

While Nev meditated in the family room, my mother wrote feminist tracts in her study. But it was only a matter of time before our parents' unconventional life would fail. My parents' marriage broke because of what destroys so many marriages: money. My mother could live without sex, she endured the vegetarian diet and the white robes, even meditating didn't bother her. But when Nev started giving weekly money to the Brahma Kumaris, she had had enough. She moved to an apartment in west London. Nev bought an apartment nearby before moving to the Brahma Kumaris Global Center in an imposing Oxfordshire country estate. Tom and I started our own lives.

It wasn't until many years later, when I had children of my own, that I decided to revisit our childhood by writing a book about it. **

A friend's mother, the very woman who made the poisoned chicken risotto, once said, “Nev is a nice man. But he always did exactly what he wanted, no matter what the aftermath. ”Both Nev and my mother were selfish, like so many of the post-war and baby boomer generations who believed they were new having to invent. When they did this, they didn't take much time to worry about their children's needs.

The good thing was that my mom and Nev didn't nudge Tom and me. They were too busy pursuing their own interests. They just didn't have time to push us in a certain direction. When I was 13 years old, I discovered the underground music scene. I went to concerts all over London and was rarely home before midnight. I can't remember anyone scolding me about it. Maybe my parents didn't even notice.

Tom publishes the magazine "The Idler", a magazine devoted to the art of idleness. I earn my living with what excited me as a teenager, when my family went crazy: I'm the pop critic of The Times. From that point of view, the whole story didn't end too badly for us. ---

Translation: Ingo Malcher