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Jean Klein Meeting

Jean Klein 1912 to 1998

“One day you will find that you are the ultimate subject”I met Jean Klein in the spring of 1995. A friend of mine had served as his attendant and traveled with him for many years. Jean gave a talk in our town. I went to hear him and was impressed. I telephoned my friend and said, “I know Jean doesn’t have any more public programs scheduled on this visit, but are there any private meetings I could attend?”

My friend said, “Why don’t you just come over to the hotel and meet him.” When I walked into the hotel garden Jean was sitting under an umbrella. A quiet gentle man with a strong underlying presence. He seemed to be enjoying watching some children splashing and playing in the pool. A silence permeated the atmosphere around him.

My friend introduced us. Jean smiled and took my hand in his. We went up to his room, slowly walking through the corridor and into the elevator. Jean gracious and courtly, his arm linked in mine.

We reached his room and sat on the couch while my friend prepared lunch in the little kitchen. I asked Jean “What is this subject/object relationship you were speaking of?” He tried to tell me, but I couldn’t understand.

My friend invited me to stay and eat with them. Afterwards, I felt that I would also like to cook something for Jean. I asked Jean if he liked Greek food, and he said, “Yes!” I went home and made him some delicious spanakopita. It took forever to make, and I was regretting the time spent away from him.

When I walked into his hotel room with my dish Jean said, “You are an angel.”

“Not really,” I thought. But who was I to contradict him?

I came back the next day with some flowers. Jean was returning home. As he was leaving, Jean told my friend to bring the flowers, “Take care of them,” he said, “There is a lot of love in those flowers.” That surprised me.

As he got into the car, Jean paused for a moment looking at our beautiful mountain, the sky, the scenery. He took a deep breath and said, “I don’t want to leave this place.”
“Then don’t,” I said. He just looked at me and smiled. He never returned.

Sometime later I received a phone call asking me if I would like to come to Santa Barbara and cook for Jean’s “Day of Listening,” a meeting at his house attended by his old students. “Of course,” I replied.

“We’ll pay you.” They said. “No way.” I replied.

So, I cooked for Jean’s “Day of Listening”. After the meeting my friend took me into Jean’s room. Jean was very pleased with the day and the food. My friend told him, “She enjoyed cooking for you, Jean.” Jean looked at me and said, “Maybe we should adopt you.” “Yes, please,” I thought. I stayed on in Santa Barbara for about two weeks cooking lunch and dinner for Jean, the others of the household, occasional guests and visitors.

Jean had a very refined aesthetic sense. He liked everything to be lovely, just so. He wore Swiss hand-made leather shoes, cashmere sweaters, and expensive silk cravats. He loved art and music. He enjoyed fine food, and fine conversation. I had never met a teacher like him. He was very gallant, and would always insist on holding a door open for a lady, even when he himself could barely stand unaided.

In the evening when I returned to a friend’s house to sleep, I was aware of being gently surrounded by the same quiet subtle vibrations I had experienced in Jean’s presence.

Jean didn’t care to be alone much. We had a fun game we used to play with him. He had a film script he was working on in his head. It went something like this: A young man and woman meet in their very early youth. They fall in love, become lovers, but somehow outward circumstances, perhaps the war, separate them. Twenty years later they meet again. An instant attraction is felt. They become lovers, but neither one recognizes the other as the love of their youth. Then, Jean would say, there would be some geste (French for gesture) the woman would make. A geste she had always done, that was hers alone, and by which her lover recognizes her.

What was this gesture? Jean could never find one good enough. “Some geste,” he would say, brushing his hair back from his forehead with an elegant sweep of his hand. We spent a lot of happy hours with Jean trying to come up with a geste he liked, but we never could find one that satisfied his aesthetic sense.

He once told us a nice story about watching some nuns walking across a misty lawn on their way to early morning prayer. I said to him, “Some people say that all are women compared to God” “That,” he said, “is a little bit suspect.”

At dinner Jean would often say, “Are we going to have something nice to drink?” This was the signal to open a bottle of Chardonnay. Jean would usually have about a thimbleful, while the rest of us had a glass or two. Drunkenness would never have been tolerated. Just a little loosening of some people’s reticent awe of him to get the conversation flowing.

One evening there were about six or seven of us at dinner. Each person began to describe their first meeting with Jean and what that meeting meant to them. Of course, these were Jean’s old students and close people, so what they had to say was quite profound. At one point I looked over at Jean who was sitting next to me. He was sitting still as a statue, his eyes wide open staring at the wall opposite. Tears were silently rolling down his face.

One day while sitting in conversation with Jean in the garden, I reconnected with an intuitive appreciation for natural beauty I had had as a child, but which had become inaccessible to me during my adolescence. A old contraction subtly released, and I recognized that a part of myself, a dear and valuable friend, long-missed had returned.

One night after dinner I was sitting on the couch with Jean watching parts of the O.J. Simpson trial on CNN. Jean said that of course O.J. had done it, but he would never be convicted. I piped up some statistic about the huge number of young black men incarcerated by our legal system, trying to impress Jean with my liberal views and point out the negative aspects of American culture.

Jean gave me a brief, intense, almost quizzical, look. I wondered what it meant. Later, when I returned to my home, I realized that a piece of conditioning I had long carried (noticed only by it’s absence) had fallen away, and in it’s place was a great appreciation for the beautiful diversity of human existence.

One afternoon Jean came home. He had missed lunch and was terribly hungry. I hadn’t expect him to eat lunch with us, and hadn’t saved any food for him. I told him there was some left over penne pasta in the fridge that I could heat up. He nodded his assent asking me to hurry. I quickly heated up the pasta on the stove, and put a piece in my mouth to see if it was hot enough. Just as I had the piece in my mouth, it fell back into the pot, and I had no idea where it landed.

To many people this might not seem a big deal. But I had been trained to cook many years before by a very orthodox Hindu brahman. One wasn’t even allowed to taste the food before offering it to the diety or guru (same thing in their minds). Having a piece that had been in my mouth fall back in the pot from the Hindu standpoint made the whole thing “jhutta”, totally impure, only fit to be given to the dogs.

Although I had relaxed my standards a lot over the years, the thought of now serving this pasta dish to Jean really pushed my limits. Well, there was nothing else ready. He was ravenously hungry, had asked me to hurry, and this dish was what he was expecting.

I fished out a piece of pasta from the pot, hoping it was the right one and threw it away. I went out feeling very uncomfortable, but served the dish to Jean anyway. He ate it with great appreciation.

I had served Jean many delicious dishes in the past. By it’s own merits, this one wasn’t all that tasty. Jean looked at me when he had finished eating, smiled, his eyes softened. “That”, he said, “is the most delicious thing I have ever eaten in my life.”

Someone once remarked that the word for mind and heart in the Thai language were the same. “That is because the mind dissolves in the heart,” Jean explained.

Because I met Jean so late in his life, I was only able to attend one seminar with him. It was held in Greece. At one talk he said, “One day you will find that you are the ultimate subject.” That statement stayed with me, and gradually I’ve begun to understand what he meant.

While teaching a yoga class Jean told us, “When you breath in, it is a receiving. When you breath out, it is an offering.”

A student of Jean’s drove him to Athens after the seminar. I was given a lift to the airport on their way into town. As I got out of the car I said to Jean, ‘I hope to see you in California.” He replied, “You will know when I am there.”

A few months later Jean had a massive stroke in London. He was never able to teach again. When he returned to California I went to Santa Barbara to cook for him, but the Jean I knew and loved, the personality I was attached to was no longer accessible to me.

The night before I left, I cooked a beautiful dinner for Jean with all of his favorite dishes. The next morning his attendant told me that before going to sleep Jean had said, “I have just had a Moroccan wedding feast.”

I never truly understood the full import of Jean’s teachings, but that didn’t seem to bother him. He seemed to love me and enjoy my company despite my ignorance. To me, he appeared as my “enlightened” grandfather, a great master, whose company I was briefly privileged to share.

Now days when I go for a walk in nature and look around me with a renewed sense of wonder regained in Jean’s presence, I remember his words, “When you breath in, it is a receiving. When you breath out, it is an offering.” Thank you Jean.

jeanklein21

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Comments»

1. Dennis Lewis - March 9, 2009

As a former student of Jean’s, I enjoyed very much this report of your experiences with him.

2. francis - March 30, 2009

Such a true description of what it was like being around Jean. As I was reading, he was so present in me, his sweetness, his humour, his elegance. Thank you for your beautiful offering.
One day, we were the two of us in front of the kitchen sink, washing the vegetables. He was in charge of the salad, the lettuce leaves were floating in the water. He delicately picked up the heart of the lettuce and put it into my mouth saying: “I know you love the heart, Francis”. As I was quite hungry, I started chewing with delight for I truly like lettuce hearts. After five seconds, tears running from my eyes, I realized what he really meant, and how true he was, and how sweet and beautiful it was, beyond expression, to be there, two heart lovers, but only one heart, washing the vegetables.

3. francis - March 30, 2009

PS His year of birth was 1912. This answers your “1916?” question.

4. Buy Hydrocollagen - April 15, 2013

I am regular visitor, how are you everybody?
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5. Vikram Sood - April 29, 2013

“One day you will find that you are the ultimate subject.” sums up the teachings of Jean Klein.


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