Coen de Koning
Sharing a larger 'Normal'
Though I have lived almost all my life in the Netherlands I have lived abroad for a few years as a child. When I was 10 years old we moved to Malaysia where I spent two and a half years before moving back. As a 10 year old Dutch boy this was a marvellous experience. Things I only knew from Indiana Jones movies were strolling down the garden on a daily basis. We lived in a beautiful house on a cliff overlooking the Malacca Straight. There were macaque monkeys that crossed in front of our porch on their daily monkey commute. There were monitor lizards, as long and probably as heavy as I was at the time, lounging in those same trees. There were little lizards with skin flaps between their legs that jumped and glided from one tree to another. Once I even saw a snake propel itself from one of the higher trees, spread its body out flat and with a snaking motion glide down to the trees and bushes far below. There were concrete stairs leading down to the beach where there were patches of mangrove with mudskippers, small fish that left the sea at low tide and hopped around on the mudflats and even climbed into the mangrove trees (don't ask me why). There were big fat mud crabs and thousands upon thousands of tiny round sand crabs. There were black hooded cobras and striped mangrove snakes and bright green, sly looking whip snakes. There were mangos and durians and papayas and delicious mangosteens. There were jackfruit and pineapples and coconuts and starfruit that the locals ate with a pinch of salt. I would sail on the sea in the weekends in a small dinghy, having to navigate between the coral reefs to get to the open water. We would go on trips to the hills and the jungles. Here we would be guided by locals with machetes who were descendants of blow-pipe wielding headhunting tribes who would dance with black and white hornbill feathers in their hair and with elaborately carved wooden shields. There were proboscis monkeys and orang-utans. There were huge bat-filled caves and pitcher plants, rafflesias and crocodiles, leeches and lizards that were so fast they could run over water. There were journalists from the National Geographic Society looking for rare jungle leopards. I could go on and on because there were so many exciting things I saw and experienced there as a 10 year old Dutch boy.
Then one day when we were on a vacation back in Holland I got the chance to meet my old classmates that I had left about a year earlier. I was exited to share some of the wonders I had been privileged to experience but oddly ..they did not seem too interested. They didn’t really let me finish my stories and instead seemed more interested to tell me the latest gossip; who was now dating who and which teacher had done some silly thing. I remember what a deeply sobering experience this was for me at the time but I could appreciate the importance of this lesson.
When I moved back to Holland a year or so later and entered high school I was aware how my fellow classmates acted from a subtle but deeply engrained habitual feeling that Holland and the Dutch were.. normal. If you have ever met a Dutch person you may laugh at this and I would laugh with you, though mine would be with a touch of sadness. Because I felt at the time that there was no way for me to explain this to them without them having spent a couple of years living in another continent.
These days, after my psychedelic experiences, I sometimes have a similar, possibly even deeper feeling. When I meet some of my old high school or university friends, even though now they have all travelled the world too, a few have even lived abroad, there is another deeply held assumption of ’normal’ that I have come to experience as very ‘relative'. And I still have that same feeling that, until they can also spend at least a few hours experiencing some of the realms of our human existence beyond the confinement of our every day consciousness, I have a wonderful collection of experiences, thoughts, lessons and insights that I will never truly be able to share with them.
Luckily now I also have a few friends, lately more and more, that I can share these with and who can share theirs with me.