Book Review: Coffee with Silo and the Quest for Meaning in Life

24.12.2013 - London - Pressenza London

This post is also available in: Spanish

Book Review: Coffee with Silo and the Quest for Meaning in Life
(Image by Image: Gábor Bezdan)

A book by Pressenza co-director and first time author, Tony Robinson, has recently been published in Hungary.  It’s an autobiographical work which charts the author’s experiences as an activist in the Humanist Movement over 20 years but spans from his birth on the island of Guernsey off the coast of France to his present day situation living in Budapest, Hungary.

The story takes us through his childhood, to the first stirrings of a social conscience and subsequently to his first encounter with the Humanist Party and a trip to Florence, Italy that became a pivotal moment in his life.

After a decade spent building a network of activists in Africa and participation in a most central role in the Humanist Movement network, Robinson took part over 50 days in the World March for Peace and Nonviolence, an initiative launched and promoted by the organisation World without Wars and Violence which spanned the world from New Zealand to Argentina between the 2nd of October 2009 and the 2nd of January 2010. His Journey diary, humorous, intimate and connected to the inspiration that characterised that momentous event also made it into the book. These personal testimonies together with others about his experience of spiritual awakening and finding a path towards sexual coherence stir in the reader echos of our own struggles, conveying the message that rather than going around pointing to solutions to other people’s difficulties, it is important to share the tools for them to find their own solutions.

The book’s title refers to an opportunity that our co-director had to have a private coffee in 2005 with Mario Rodriguez Cobos, Silo, the Argentinean thinker and spiritual guide who launched the Humanist Movement with a public address to a few hundred supporters at the small border outpost of Punta de Vacas, Argentina, on the 4th of May 1969.

Pressenza had the opportunity to catch up with Tony earlier this month and we are very happy to offer our readers an opportunity to download their own copy of the book here in pdf.

Pressenza: Congratulations on the book!  Tell us a little bit about what led you to write it.

Tony Robinson:  In reality, I’ve been thinking about writing a book for years: a biography of Silo, Siloism for beginners or a History of the Humanist Movement, all of which would be useful to have, so I was a bit surprised when my first book turned into an autobiography.  The final injection of inspiration came from our Pressenza colleague, Pía Figueroa, who wrote her own book [Silo the Master of our Times] and sent it to me at the end of 2012 and asked if I’d translate it for an English edition.  During the process of reading and translating it I suddenly realised how much of my life had been influenced by Silo and I had an unusual experience one afternoon when a stream of images and memories came to me in an incessant flow, almost like seeing the chapters of my own book, so I decided to write them down.  I finished the translation of Pía’s book in August and by the middle of October—two months later—my book was written.  It seems that there was something within me desperate to be expressed on paper.

PZ: When people read the book they use words like: honest, naked, no self-censorship, open, etc.  Don’t you feel a bit exposed by such a style of writing?

TR: Silo himself commented to me one time about the honesty and openness of my writing after I spoke in the final rally of the World March in Punta de Vacas and I valued the comment then and have tried to stick with that style in this book.  I’ve changed many names of people who are connected to my story, especially where I talk about personal relationships because I want to protect their privacy, but for me I don’t feel like I have too much to hide.  There are some very private things in my life that didn’t make it into the book, but they are irrelevant to the main thread of the story which is Silo’s influence on my life.

PZ: Tell us about that Coffee with Silo.

TR: Well, when I look back at it now, the biggest sensation I have is regret, not with the conversation with Silo but with myself.  I honestly never expected it would happen until the moment I was sitting with him alone with a cup in my hand outside on the terrace of a house where he was staying.  I expected that he’d be too busy with other meetings, or that I’d meet him among a group of many other friends.  For months I’d been thinking about it and what I’d like to ask him but I never prepared any notes or questions so I kind of panicked and asked my questions in a totally unstructured way.  Then the next day, I sat down to write notes and I kept them on my computer, but I’ve got rid of that desktop computer and had three different laptops since that meeting and when I came to write the chapter about the famous coffee I couldn’t find my notes on any of my backups.  Somehow it was lost.  I had to reconstruct the story from memory.  So I regret that I wasn’t better prepared.

PZ: Why did you write this book?

TR: It felt important to write my testimony of my experience as a Siloist, as a participant in New Humanist thinking.  You can learn lots from his books and videos but I’ve experienced a kind of ‘magic’ as a Siloist that isn’t transmitted in books or videos.  It’s a deeply human experience, it’s a feeling of meaning in life, a feeling of being at home, a shared sensibility and even a shared sense of humour.  This isn’t in the documentary record left behind by Silo and my book is an attempt to try to express what it has meant for me as a human being to be in his projects.  The book tries to express how much richer my life has been as a result of this doctrine of personal and social transformation.

PZ: You’re not attempting to sell the book.  What’s the reason behind that?

TR: To be honest it would be very strange to me to sell my life story for personal gain.  I would be very uncomfortable with that especially as Silo made his doctrine freely available to anyone who wants to know it.  Nevertheless hoping that people would like to make some kind of gesture on reading this book I decided to link this book to the campaign that is about to be launched to build a Meditation Hall in the Park of Study and Reflection, Mikebuda in Hungary.  Anyone who wants to know more about that campaign can write to me and I’ll send them the campaign details when they are finalised.

PZ: Finally, what do you hope to achieve with this book?

TR: In the introduction I explain that it could be that my friends and family will know me better through the reading of this book and that could be interesting for them but also it could be useful for people who will undoubtedly study Silo and Siloism in the future.  This written testimony is one among thousands of testimonies that make up the history of Siloism.  With time no doubt more such testimonies will be written and historians of the future might be able to discern among them how much joy and meaning we experienced in this project to Humanise the Earth.

Categories: Culture and Media, Humanism and Spirituality, Interviews
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