Cohen, Leonard - Anthem
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
The New Yorker – extracted from the article in the October 17, 2016 Issue Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker By David Remnick
In 1996, Cohen became a monk, but that did not safeguard him from depression, a lifelong nemesis; two years later, it overwhelmed him. “I’ve dealt with depression ever since my adolescence,” he said. “Moving into some periods, which were debilitating, when I found it hard to get off the couch, to periods when I was fully operative but the background noise of anguish still prevailed.” Cohen tried antidepressants. He tried throwing them out. Nothing worked. Finally, he told Roshi he was “going down the mountain.” In a collection of poems called “Book of Longing,” he wrote:
I left my robes hanging on a peg
in the old cabin
where I had sat so long
and slept so little.
I finally understood
I had no gift
for Spiritual Matters.
In fact, Cohen was hardly done with his searching. Just a week after returning home, he boarded a flight to Mumbai to study with another spiritual guide. He took a room in a modest hotel and went to daily satsangs, spiritual discussions, at the apartment of Ramesh Balsekar, a former president of the Bank of India and a teacher of Advaita Vedanta, a Hindu discipline. Cohen read Balsekar’s book “Consciousness Speaks,” which teaches a single universal consciousness, no “you” or “me,” and denies a sense of individual free will, any sense that any one person is a “doer.”
Cohen spent nearly a year in Mumbai, calling on Balsekar in the mornings, and spending the rest of the day swimming, writing, and wandering the city. For reasons that he now says are “impossible to penetrate,” his depression lifted. He was ready to come home. The story, and the way Cohen tells it now, full of uncertainty and modesty, reminded me of the chorus of “Anthem,” a song that took him ten years to write and that he recorded just before he first headed up the mountain:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.