TWO BIRDS IN THE PEEPAL TREE

A Day in the Mind of Julian Holman


The first sighting of Julian Holman took place on a busy street outside of a movie theatre in downtown Guelph, Ont. in spring 2014. He sat leaning against the wall, unaware of those around him, invested in something he was reading on an iPad. The juxtaposition of this new technology and the tatters of his clothing made him intriguing. 


Within a few months, he was deemed “the pigeon guy” by Guelph citizens. To those who know him, he is simply called Julian. He would walk barefoot throughout the streets of downtown, with a pigeon perched constantly on his shoulder.


Julian would find free wifi accessible from the sidewalk, which he could use without risking an argument with local business owners over his inappropriate attire. His pigeon poop-covered sweater was not welcome in stores or cafes, although he couldn’t imagine why. 


Julian’s stained teeth and neglected hygiene did not suit his handsome face. He squinted at passersby in the sunlight, speaking openly to anyone who was interested. He spoke as if from another time, interruptive rambles combined with slow and thoughtful eloquence. 


Many stopped to reintroduce themselves to him, and within minutes he would recall, with incredible detail, conversations they had shared before. In a single conversation, Julian would quote directly from The Vedas, The Bible, The Quran, The Criminal Code, Rachmaninoff, and a Shel Silverstein children’s story. With a photographic mind and unmatched curiosity, he forgot nothing.


The story of Julian could begin with his birth in the suburbs of Toronto in 1959, or his years in Germany spent making harpsichords. It could indulge in a homeless man’s survival tactics, living on sprouting lentils and day-old Tim Hortons bagels, with the hole in his pants growing to expose more and more of his bottom each day. It could state that a 1970s typewriter and some wooden chairs are his only purchased possessions, or how an iPad was given to him by a woman who appreciated his thirst for knowledge. It is true that Julian has not showered in two years, and has not flushed a toilet in 15. 


These are the facts – the surface musings – of Julian’s life, but they say nothing about his character. Like anyone’s story, his is based on the pursuit of understanding what our existence among each other is supposed to mean, and his sheer disappointment with the reality. 


Instead, I bring you inside Julian’s mind, for that is where he resides.

Julian revels in the fact that he is known as ‘the wandering philosopher in rags’. It does not take long to recognize his critical and overstimulated mind as his unfortunate downfall. 


He no longer believes in a society where good intentions, trust and love can exist. He doesn’t seek out friends. “I see myself as belonging to the community of understanding,” he deduces. His voice is higher than expected, over-annunciating each word.


He takes a drag of his cigarette, a constant presence in his fingertips. Like a pacifier to a baby, it is the only thing that calms him.


“You can’t deal with things unless you understand them. Once you understand them you are detached. They are no longer things that involve you. They are things to observe,” he says.


He looks into the distance as he rambles, slowly getting lost in a string of theories, pulling from all of the things he has once read or witnessed. However unexpectedly, within the ramblings are some of the most eloquent and reasonable observations about the human condition.


“There’s no way I can know your internal states. Though the mountains become the sea, words will never open another’s mind. To that extent you are absolutely alone and unique. This is being I," he says. "The object of your ardent longing is You, and it’s the whole universe. Sometimes it can crystallize in a single individual. Then you believe you love them...The Bachti movement in Hinduism in the 12th century said that the right way to worship divinity is to love someone. It’s quite remarkable!” 


The drags of his cigarette are the only breaths he takes between sentences.


“We’re the only animal that crosses that threshold. Suddenly, we gain the awareness of other minds. It’s a threshold that only the human mind ever crosses, through watching and asking. Love experience," he says, "Is the transcendence of this."


Tears begin to swell in Julian’s determined eyes. “I think when you have a love experience...it’s as if you do feel you have immediate access to the other person,” he admits.  

The name 'Julian' describes someone who renounces a religious or political belief or principle. Depending on the audience, he is defined as one who is seen as a traitor, a deserter, or as an admirable leader. Julian assumes that every audience is an agreeable one.


The house that he has been illegally trespassing for a couple of months lies just outside of downtown Guelph. The police have kicked him out twice already, but he continues to return. His pigeon named Ffögeli (which Julian says means ‘bird’ in a forgotten language) rests on his knee, protective of the man it has claimed as its mate. 


Julian claims the bird as his only reason for living.


He proudly presents the space that they have declared their own, spilling tea with each barefoot step through the house. The once clean apartment for rent is now covered in dried pigeon feces, bird seeds, and pages from his books. 


Anyone else might take notice of their spills and halt the conversation to clean it up. Yet this is part of what makes Julian special. Absolutely nothing that occurs outside of the philosophical world could stop his conversation from continuing.


Julian sizes up the dozens of empty Tim Hortons cups strewn around the kitchen, hoping to find the one that is covered with the least amount of excrement. An earlier offer from someone to buy cream had been refused. Julian has never begged for money; he is desperate of a different nature.


He leans against the windowsill, the smoke from his cigarette rising along with his passion for the topic he chooses to discuss next. He finds a dull pencil and begins to scribble words on the wall, a visual to better contemplate human need for connection, community, relationships, and our inability to find closure in any of these topics.


“I did this myself in my 20s – to trip on emotions, to drive my emotions, to dramatize or romanticize my situation, and just get off on the tragedy and beauty of it. It is a type of narcotic, driving yourself into intense states. We love our dramatic arts; think of the powerful train of emotions that music can lift.” He begins to sing his favourite song: The Whole of the Moon by The Waterboys. 

Julian believes that humans are the unfortunate result of our feelings. That our enchantment with things transitions too quickly to disenchantment. We romanticize unattainable desires, and come again and again to loneliness. 


He reverts defensively from singing his song, insisting once again that I can never fully know You, and that therefore true love and understanding between two people can never fully exist.


The next pause’s tears attest to the fact that Julian had at one time let someone in and suffered greatly for it. For the first time, he shares a personal story without hiding it beneath a string of theories. 


His beloved Lisa, the woman for whom he moved to Canada, broke his heart four years ago and still refuses to speak to him.


His old words take on a new meaning, echoing through his stolen sanctuary: “Once you understand things, you are detached. They are no longer things that involve you,” he had said.


Perhaps Julian’s obsessive research and archive of human reasoning is a defence mechanism, his ammunition against those who have hurt him. As years pass, his knowledge has left him empathetically crippled. 


He chooses to live as an outsider of society, unable to see himself as part of a species that he fears will never reach its full potential. 


Julian may be a human being, equally as flawed as those he criticizes, but his avoidance of any real relationship or responsibility allows him to overcome this fact.


He has what professionals would deem to be dissociative disorder combined with manipulative sociopathy. To someone else, he is simply an extremely sensitive man who cannot quiet his thoughts.


“It’s written in The Vedas about the miraculous capabilities of human consciousness. It says that human consciousness is two birds in the peepal tree: one who eats the berry, and the other who watches and doesn’t eat. 


"The wisdom of the ascensions is this double nature: that you are both the consumer of your experiences, and the observer of the consumption of experience.


“I am both Julian and I am watching Julian, and that’s the beauty of detachment. I don’t have to suffer the way Julian does, because I am also observing Julian’s sufferings and wondering what their nature is.


“You are not just a being in the universe, you actually have an entire universe comprehended in your mind. This is miraculous! This is enchanting! To be both birds, equally. To be both Kirk and Spok!


“Yet most people can’t identify with their consciousness. Instead, they identify entirely with themselves, never able to form an awareness of their own timidity. They are unable to reflect that way. 


“Most people are but one bird in the peepal tree,” he nods, satisfied. 

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