Writing, and hiking

Writing has always been my passion. Already in secondary school, and especially in grammar school, I liked writing essays, sometimes short stories and poems. For a while, I even imagined myself a writer or poet, raving about Rilke, Hesse and Thomas Mann. But as soon as I actually started to study literature, after graduating from high school, the ap-parent arbitrariness and boundlessness of the ‘humanities’ really made me dizzy. I had the feeling that I was losing my footing, and after just one semester I fled into medicine.

Rightly so? Who knows? What would have become of me had I persisted and then – pre-sumably – also gradually “gotten a toehold” in literature? I don't regret my U-turn. The natural sciences, medicine and psychiatry in particular, have richly rewarded me. Alt-hough, of course, they were unable to really satisfy my constant questions about human life and the “big whole.”

But already at this time, I secretly thought that my pleasure in writing, if that were my des-tiny, would somehow prevail. And in fact, I would always take up the pen when attempt-ing to overcome tormenting ambiguities or when wanting to record black on white some newly acquired insights. Over the years I have filled many thousands of pages with notes, some scientific and others more personal or  broadly philosophical in nature. These in turn repeatedly became the breeding ground for larger book projects. In my book Aussenwelt – Innenwelt (Exterior World and Interior World, 1988) I even put some  of those notes directly in the text.

Although I have not become a writer, writing has become for me something of an elixir in life. I like to spend weeks working on difficult texts, searching for days for the right ex-pression or word, and I am happy when a small passage or a greater construct achieves such delightful coherence that an effective communication with a potential reader beco-mes possible..

Writing is similar to hiking

Writing has much in common with walking or hiking. You start off somewhere, then go on a long trip in sometimes challenging weather, and finally you arrive at your destination tired but happy when everything has gone well. My other passion is indeed hiking:  How many times have I hiked through the mountains or by the sea, several times in Umbria or on Crete, again and again in my beloved Calanques between Marseille and Cassis, and even recently, inasmuch as my limp leg permits, in stages along the traditional pilgrim’s path to Santiago de Compostuela across Switzerland from Constance to Geneva. Mostly alone, sometimes in company, but always enchanted by the magic of the slow progress and the sights and discoveries on new or familiar paths.

Writing and hiking complement each other beautifully. Footpaths and patterns of thought have much in common: Both are full of difficult passages, unexpected shortcuts, detours and wooded paths. Often a tedious writing knot dissolves itself as by enchantment in the slow rhythm of the walk, or suddenly an appropriate turn, a good transition or a surprising view comes into sight.

An eternal question

Only now, upon putting these and other old age reflexions to paper, has it become clear to me that my desire to write and think has always also served to better define my identity. I have experienced, done or thought this and that, taken this position and rejected that one: That is what makes up my “I.”
Even in old age, the eternal questions of childhood and youth still apparently somehow rumble around in the background: Who am I really? Where do I belong? What am I looking for?


Luc Ciompi (born 1929), Swiss psychiatrist, Schizophrenia researcher, pioneer of integrative psychiatry and founder of Affect-Logic celebrates his 90th birthday. He lets us participate in his personal, scientific and ideological reflections. It shows, that even an old age can be a fascinating time full of unexpected highs and lows.



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