An afternoon with Paul van der Velde

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Dancing Shiva

The picture you see is an image of the Dancing Shiva. I found a copy in my chair when I entered the room yesterday to listen to Paul van der Velde. He is a professor at the department Comparative Religions Studies at the Radboud University. Asian religions are his specialty. To be honest, I hardly know anything about Asia, but one hour and a half later I had become aware of the beauty and the symbolism of Asian art. Coming home, I couldn’t stop talking about it to my kids. His story has touched me deeply, but why?


Paul tells us about his fascination for the Dancing Shiva. Ever since he was a young boy, he was intrigued by its stillness and dynamics. He says: ‘How can a statue embody both apects? I am fascinated with aesthetics. An aesthetic experience sets you free from time and space. You are so involved in the present moment that you lose track of time. Your mind gets fluid.’ Now he has my attention! I recognize his experience as bringing body and mind together. I get into this state of presence when I am working out with awareness. I focus on my body and stop thinking. Aesthetics is his way of entering the here and now. Asian art touches him, it moves him deeply. It is like shifting from a thinking into a feeling modus.

Respect is for those who deserve it, not for those who demand it.
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During this afternoon I felt a deep respect for this professor. This respect was the result of his modesty. He was definitely an authority in Asian art, but he behaved like a normal human being. He talked with us, just wanting to share his passion. A week ago, I my eldest daughter and I went to an open day at the university of Rotterdam. Every class started with a professor calling his titles. A university has a clear hierarchy, so it is important to know who is talking to you, isn’t it? But having titles doesn’t make me listen. An arrogant speaker is not talking with me, he is talking to me, imposing his knowledge on me. As a result I withdraw and only pretend to listen.


For learning to take place I need to respect my teacher. I trust that he is sharing his knowledge to enrich my life, not to overrule me. Paul gave me this experience. People are not identical but they are similar. Our interests and opportunities are different, our feelings and needs identical. Having had the privilege to develop yourself is not an excuse to be arrogant. Paul impressed me with his knowlegde, but most of all with his modesty and kindness.