Claus Mikosch and the Law of Impermanence

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In recent years, Claus Mikosch has become a well-known name throughout both Germany and the artistic community of a sleepy little fisher’s village in the South of Spain. He first began writing when he found himself working an illegal, extremely peculiar and slightly dangerous poker room in a dingy basement along the Costa del Sol. These kinds of job experiences are by no means unusual on the “Costa del Crime,” but they provided Mikosch with inspiration all the same. His first sizable success came when his daughter started asking questions about Buddhism, sparked by a visit to Benalmádena’s Stupa. In response, he wrote The Little Buddha, originally self-publishing it in his native German—but seeing how his social circle was linguistically mixed, he decided to translate it into English and Spanish as well. The Little Buddha made the literary rounds, and in 2012 it was picked up by the renowned German publishing house Herder. He recently released Charlie und der Traum der Freiheit (Charlie and the Dream of Freedom) with Herder and is currently working on the third book in his Buddha series.

This year Claus decided to take a break from writing to focus his creative energy on a very special documentary, Anicca, the title named after the Buddhist term for the law of impermanence. Having had various eye-opening experiences over the past few years, including an ayahuasca ceremony and a Vipassana Meditation course, he started pondering “deeper” questions in life—stuff like: “Why are we so afraid of change?”

Mikosch was recently in London for a screening of Anicca, where we caught up with him to discuss his motivation behind the film and what he hopes will come of his project.

Paste: You’ve been working as an author, DJ and photographer for the last several years. What prompted your step into the world of filmmaking?
Claus Mikosch: Curiosity, a question and favorable circumstances. I’d grown curious about what it would be like if I combined images, music and words in one project. Then, about a year ago, I was buying a shirt at H&M. I knew that the shirt had probably been made by some 12 year-old under terrible working conditions. I asked myself, “Knowing this, why am I still buying this t-shirt?” Thinking about it all, I realized I had some time and money and suddenly the opportunity presented itself to explore this question by making a documentary film. And so I did exactly that.

Paste: You raised half the funds for Anicca with a crowdfunding campaign. What was the experience like? How would you advise other filmmakers looking to get their project funded this way?
Mikosch: It was much more work than anticipated, and the month of the campaign was filled with lots of ups and downs. It wasn’t like, “Hey world, here’s my project, send me the money!” and then it all came flowing in while I was sitting on the sofa doing nothing. You really have to be prepared to work on it and to be a pain in the arse for four weeks. But ultimately it was a very positive experience; feelings of gratitude far outnumbered moments of disappointment. I think if you want to do a crowdfunding campaign, for whichever project, apart from being committed to really work on it it’s really important to start building an audience long before the actual start of the campaign. If people see that you have a vision and that you are dedicated to making things happen, they’ll be happy to support you.

Paste: Anicca was partially inspired by a Vipassana course you attended in 2013. How did it change your perspective?
Mikosch: The Vipassana course was a huge challenge on all levels—physically, mentally and emotionally. Sitting on a cushion for ten days, meditating almost 11 hours each day… Well, as much as I love silence it wasn’t always fun… One thing I took away from it was that no matter how much I want to give up at times, I can endure much more than I think. A friend of mine, a shaman in the Amazon, once told me that when you think you can’t go on, you can still go at least three times as far. During the course I remembered his words quite often.

And Anicca, the law of impermanence, really helps with this too. Good times, bad times—it will all pass. Always. In everyday life I find it really helpful to become aware of this again and again. It helps to get through difficult and painful situations, and it makes you value special moments even more.

Paste: Over the course of the film you spoke to eight different people in four countries. Which one of your subjects can you relate to the most?
Mikosch: I relate to all of them equally. Depending on what’s happening in my own life there is more resonance with one or the other in a given moment, but on the whole it’s all very relevant stuff. Change is such a powerful energy, it is present in everything, all the time, and there is so much to learn about it. So yes, all the people I’ve talked to play an important part in the film. Actually, someone recently observed that they all seem to be a part of who I am. I think there is some truth in that.

Paste: We have so much access to books, documentaries and films discussing topics of change, mindfulness and ways of improving ourselves and the environment around us. We’re oversaturated. In what ways do you hope Anicca will inspire actual change?
Mikosch: In the film I use one of my favorite quotes, a Zen proverb: “To know and not to do is not to know.” It pretty much sums up the problem: We think we know, but unless this knowing is accompanied by action, it’s completely useless. There needs to be a shift from mere theory to proper practice.

A strong focus of the film is on getting active—making change happen rather than only talking about it. And I feel it’s important to realize that every little change makes a difference. Sometimes we can feel impotent looking at the huge problems that we, as humanity, face. But if each of the 7 billion inhabitants of this planet made a small change, the result would be massive. So I hope that Anicca will inspire to think less and do more. That it will encourage to embrace change rather than fear it.

Paste: What aspect of change do you struggle with the most?
Mikosch: One of the biggest challenges for me is to accept that change involves a process. I can get very impatient with myself: I’d like to make all needed changes immediately, and when I don’t, I feel very frustrated. But yes, sometimes it just takes time. For example, I’m still smoking. In a way I’d love to be able to quit…like, right now. And I think most people are in similar situations—changing a job, a relationship, your diet or whatever other habit that is not doing you any good—it can take time to finally make that jump, and often the struggling itself isn’t very helpful because it keeps you trapped in your head. Making a clear decision is almost like switching off the head. And to get there, to get to a position from where you can jump, you have to keep moving towards the precipice. It’s uncomfortable and often scary, but it’s also exciting. So while I keep enjoying my silly little cigarette breaks for now, I also know that I’m moving closer to that precipice every day. And as with most changes, at some point I will either jump voluntarily, or sooner or later something will push me.

Paste: Anicca is playing in many different places in Europe at the moment. What has the reception been like so far?
Mikosch: At the end of November we celebrated the premiere in Bonn, in Germany. It was a wonderful event and there were some great discussions afterwards. Since then there have been smaller screenings in Berlin, Potsdam, Brighton, and right now I’m in London. The response has been really positive so far, people seem to go away feeling…calmer. More peaceful and accepting, and at the same time with a new determination to finally make long-lived changes happen. That’s my impression anyway. Or maybe it’s wishful thinking, I don’t know. But the film definitely seems to have an impact on people simply because change is relevant to all of us.

Paste: What do you hope to work on now?
Mikosch: My main focus for now is on my new book. Writing provides my main source of income at the moment—films are kind of an expensive business. But I can well imagine doing another film project in the not-so-distant future. Maybe something on fear which, unfortunately, has become a terrible virus of our times. I also like the idea of a documentary about shit. Like, what is actually happening with all the shit we produce every day? 7 billion people shit every day. If we put it to good use, it could become an almost unlimited, totally renewable resource. And I think it would be great to have a film cover that simply said SHIT. We’ll see.