The brilliance of Hermann Hesse continues

I am really fond of bibliotherapy and I think Herman Hesse’s writings are probably the best example that I’ve personally found (thanks to a dear internet friend of mine) of the highly sensitive gifted person growing up and navigating the world and leaving a permanent record of it for highly sensitive gifted others to find their selves mirrored within the pages. Herman Hesse’s Demian is the perspective on an older man, Emil Sinclair, reflecting upon his childhood and young adulthood. It focuses on his intellectual development, and his growth is facilitated with the help of mentors, who become very emotionally significant to Sinclair. The book deftly addresses the individuation process and workings of the human mind, and is heavily influenced by Jungian psychoanalysis.

We who wore the sign might justly be considered “odd” by the world, yes, even crazy, and dangerous. We were aware, or in the process of becoming aware and our striving was directed toward achieving a more and more complete state of awareness while the striving of the others was a quest aimed at binding their opinions, ideals, duties, their lives and their fortunes more and more closely to those of the herd. There, too, was striving, there, too were power and greatness. But whereas we, who were marked, believed that we represented the will of Nature to something new, to the individualism of the future, the others sought to perpetuate the status quo.

People like you and me are quite lonely, really, but we still have each other, we have the secret satisfaction of being different, of rebelling, of desiring the unusual.

But the most important thing I learned from him was a further step on the path to myself. Around 18 at the time, I was an unusual young person, precocious in a hundred ways but very underdeveloped and helpless in a hundred others. When I occasionally compared myself with other, I had often been proud and smug, but just as often depressed and humiliated. I had often thought of myself as a genius, often as half-crazy. I couldn’t manage to share in the joys and activities of those my age, and I had been consumed with self-reproaches and worries, as if I were hopelessly cut off from them, as if I were shut off from life.

Just then I found a strange refuge – “by chance”, as they say – though I believe there is no such thing. If you need something desperately and find it, this is not an accident; your own craving and compulsion led you to it.

I feel the stirrings of something in my soul. It hasn’t become quite clear to me what that is just yet. I’m hoping that this will reveal itself to me. I’ve been waiting for so long for some “sign”, to tell me what to do with the next chapter of my life. I am one of those people with the great need to leave traces of myself behind…as Hermann Hesse did.

I’m going to go on a mini-retreat, hopefully soon after spring comes. I already have a bed and breakfast picked out and know the room I want to be in – a lovely pink and white room decorated in cottage style. I want to bring my journal, my camera and a good pair of walking shoes. No kids, no husband, no computer. Nobody else but me. I want to walk in the woods, and think and write and listen to the voice inside – no distractions, no responsibilities. I don’t know what’s to come of it, but I do know after these past few weeks of reading and journaling some and discussing some things with a trusted friend, I know I am just beginning to understand who I am. I just haven’t figured out what I want to pursue next. I’m getting close, but I’m still not there yet.

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13 Responses to The brilliance of Hermann Hesse continues

  1. Papa T says:

    How interesting that you are perusing Herr Hesse. I have become quite appreciative of this man’s perspective my self. Your mentioning that you “feel the stirrings of something” in your soul brought to mind a line from the early pages of “Demian.”

    Einen Wissenden darf ich mich nicht nennen. Ich war ein Suchender und bin es noch, aber ich suche nicht mehr auf den Sternen und in den Büchen, ich beginne die Lehren zu hören, die mein Blut in mir rauscht.

    Here Hesse, through Sinclair, declares that while once he searched the stars and books for answers and guidance he has begun to hear the lessons of the rustling (your stirring?) of his own blood. Maybe we already have all the signs we need. Sounds like you might enjoy some sign reading on your “retreat.” That and listening to the rush of your blood.

    Anyway…thanks for sharing. And…gute Reise!

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Danke, mein freund.

    I am fairly certain that the answer lies within, too. The greatest difficulty is finding the tranquil environment in which to hear those lessons.

    Children, husband, housework, errands…all these things important as they are, make it difficult to hear those rustlings.

    Before I had my children, I was living the life I long dreamed of since I was a young woman…I worked in a major city, had the opportunity to sample a wide variety of cultural experiences – refined opera and sweaty dance clubs, and botanic gardens and biker bars and dining al fresco on rooftops of restaurants and greasy dives and architecture and art museums. FREEDOM to choose…to sample everything! I loved it all!

    And the friends I made along the way! When I worked at the crime lab…such larger than life characters who joined me in my exploits across the city.

    My world shrank when I came home to raise my daughters. I rarely go to the city these days.

    When you get a taste of that life…that LIFE…and then to have to give it up (gladly on one hand for the ability to be there for my daughters) and expect to be content in suburban hell, friendless and stuck in a life of mediocrity…why sir, it’s not much different then being a caged animal.

    I recently asked my one and only neighbor who still talks to me if she wanted to go to the university campus I used to work during the summer because they have an outdoor art fair once a year. She told me no, because she didn’t like art. Holy crap! The point wasn’t about the art! The point was I was going to take her to my MOST favorite place in the city and show her around…give her a taste of culture. But no…she doesn’t like art.

    My husband, God love him, is a good man, a wonderful and devoted husband and father, doesn’t share my love of the city. Too crowded, too noisy, too annoying.

    But that’s where I want to be! I want to be amongst the chaos and confusion and urban culture sandwiched side by side with urban decay…and share it with someone who revels in it too.

    It’s…it’s…sigh…morbid reflection I suppose.

    At any rate…I have got to get my baby to preschool in about 10 minutes.

    Just another day in paradise. 😉

  3. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Here’s another quote from Demian…

    Sinclair knew EXACTLY my thoughts with regards to being able to communicate with someone who appreciates (at least for a little while) what he has to say.

    My heart swelled ecstatically at this opportunity to luxuriate in the release of a long pent-up need for talk and communication. When he called me a damned clever bastard, the world ran like sweet wine in my soul. The world glowed in new colors, thoughts gushed out of a hundred audacious springs. The fire of enthusiasm flared up within me.

    I once had that fire of enthusiasm in my belly when someone really cared to listen to me speak. It’s light is now dimmed.

  4. Papa T says:

    All righty then…

    You’re a damned clever b@#%*!

    [Feel better now? Is the world running like sweet wine in your soul. I hope so.]

    I relate fully to your dear husbands disdain for the crowded, noisy, annoying city. And one can’t really blame your art-averse neighbor. [Well, I suppose one could…] She has no way of knowing the nature of the significance–to you–of your offer. And even if she did, she’d be under no obligation. Each has his or her narrow path to follow.

    If there is an “answer” to your dilemma, I am quite sure that I don’t have it. If I were a rich man (Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum…) I’d jet to that big city and grant some assent to your perception of significance–even though I don’t like crowded, noisy, annoying cities…and might not even share your appreciation of art. But, alas, I am not.

    A thought occurs to me:

    Longings for the unattainable can feed the fires of the attainable…IF we can find it in our selves to stop pouting.

    I have yet to learn that lesson my self.

    Humbly yours…truly.

  5. raisingsmartgirls says:


    I’ll respond more fully later. I have to go get the tall one from school.

  6. “Longings for the unattainable can feed the fires of the attainable…IF we can find it in our selves to stop pouting.”

    So is that your way of saying “Stop whining and start living?” 😉

    At any rate, thank you for reminding me of monetary concerns. It’s easy to get lost in the past reflections particularly when those past reflections were from over 10 years ago, when the financial mess our country is in now was only germinating. Back then, particularly back before children, there was more flexibility with how I spent my discretionary funds.

    As for the damned clever bastard comment…thanks for the acknowledgment. It’s thoughtful, but I’m talking about face-to-face flesh and blood verbal communication with someone who’d love sharing stories with me, ya know? I don’t talk to anyone over the age of 8 for most of my days.

    The ‘answer’ to my dilemma is to take my kids with me on some excursions. I bet while they might not like Shakespeare in the theatre, they might actually appreciate Shakespeare in the Park which I’d forgotten about.

    I forgot when I was younger, my grandmother took me to outdoor orchestra concerts once in a while…

  7. Lisa says:

    I am very much looking forward to getting to know Hesse’s works. Thank you! Also, I love your idea of the mini retreat.

  8. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Lisa – I hope you enjoy them. Sometimes he seems a bit, um…controversial, perhaps…but he’s really been enlightening to me in many ways. It’s been delightful to know I’m not the only one with crazy ideas at times. I feel so “normal” now that I have seen some of my own self reflected back. Or perhaps it’s just refreshing to find such bare honesty (but not simply for the shock value of it); I realize that it’s rare to find those people who march to the beat of their own drummer and aren’t afraid to invite us into the inner workings of their own mind for a peek inside.

  9. Papa T says:

    Telling, isn’t it? When bare honesty is shocking.

  10. raisingsmartgirls says:

    I want to clarify…there are some people who say/do stuff just to get their 15 minutes of fame. You know, like the balloon boy hoax.

    There there are those people (myself included) who reveal themselves honestly not for the shock value or to sell books, but in the hopes of being heard and understood and perhaps help others.

    Herr Hesse is of the latter category. Some of his writings are not for the faint of heart though, wouldn’t you agree? It takes an open mind to not just read, but understand his intent when he talks about those aspects of the human psyche that are not all rainbows and sunshine.

    With great highs come great lows in the life of the highly sensitive/intense/gifted mind. Herr Hesse I think sensitively and quite poetically portrays both sides quite well, though some have misinterpreted some of his works to be pessimistic and full of despair, when in actuality, they are meant to provide hope.

    At any rate, I don’t know if this further clarifies my point, but I hope so.

  11. Papa T says:

    It speaks more to what you were thinking. I don’t blame you for possibly trying to assert a little “disclaimer” on something that you seem to be recommending.

    Yes, I believe Hesse wrote “to be heard.” It may be that he wrote because he just had to get some of that stuff out of his head and heart…and didn’t really care whether he was heard or not. I can’t say for sure. I do know that he recognized that different folks would glean different morsels from his offerings. And he said that he hoped that readers would take what “worked” for them…the things that resonated or struck a chord in their soul.

    I would agree in principle that Herr Hesse’s writings are not for the faint of heart. But there is a thread that runs throughout his writings that addresses faintness of heart. All is not brash, bawdy, or insane. He seems to pour out his thoughts and emotions whatever they may be, and he often reveals “faint-hearted” characters. [Which I believe are windows into his own soul and the facets of his personality that tend toward temerity.]

    As for the “extremes” (i.e. “highs and lows”) his perspective is most challenging and enlightening. His claim (in Steppenwolf) that the bourgeoisie–in their comfort–pursue the self and, as a result, never really live. I had never considered the “class struggle” (e.g. bourgeoisie & proletariat) in this light. The workers are too busy scraping out a living to enjoy the leisure of “self actualization”–too busy crying to whine.

    I would say that the ones who perceive his work as being dour and/or pessimistic lack the intellectual or spiritual liberty and freedom to see the greater meanings. They take a shallow dip into a deep pool and come out to talk about the upper strata of the water…the only part that they experienced. But, hey, that’s their deal. And I think Hesse would agree. He frequently stresses that he struggles with contempt of the superficiality of what we might call the rat race but does not wish ill for those who are stuck there.

    The thing that fascinates me the most about Hesse is that he lays bare the full spectrum of human experience, thought, and emotion…from the rainbows to the grave. All is simultaneously sacred…and not.


  12. el burro says:

    I just stumbled across a link that I thought you might be interested in. It has a lot of articles on giftedness, particularly issues related to gifted adults.

  13. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Thanks for sharing that link El burro. I will have to peruse the articles.

    I am familiar with the Talent Development Resources website, and they even referenced my blog too in one of their articles about intensity. They have a LOT of great resources, that I do know.

    I think, in large part due to Hesse’s works, there is a germinating idea within me that I need to explore more fully.

    I need to overcome some self-limiting thoughts, but I know there is something in me that wants to “pour out MY thoughts and emotions, whatever they may be”.

    Quite frankly, I’ve realized I am repressing a lot of creativity because of my own self-limiting fears and inhibitions. I am working on that though….

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