And surely there’s still sooo much that I didn’t share. I wish I had said more about the Mindful Researchers, about my wonderful colleagues and fellow “gardeners”, the joys and challenges of building this community of practice. About the joys and mishaps of treading on unorthodox life-paths, of social entrepreneurship-ish endeavours, love and friendships, mystical journeys, meditation retreats, mythopoetic men’s work, encounters with(in) nature, experiences with(in) community, illuminated days & dark nights, existential questions, inexhaustible learnings. Yet I’m glad I did share my passion for precious practices such as Way of Council and Systemic Konsensing, and a zest for life itself.
And … OMG I’m feeling naked! Especially because there’s a link to this blog in the shownotes of the podcast episode. Now the cat is out of the bag (although I doubt that many listeners will land here, but if you do, be welcome to leave a comment or send a message :-)). For the last hour or so I thought of composing some kind of “explanation” because here I reveal so much more of my personal sides and tastes – and of course the travel diaries. But wasn’t their purpose to share stories, to spark connections?
More to trust the process you have, my young Padawan!
Dear reader / listener, may you enjoy. And many thanks again, dear Ingrid and Christoph!
My roommate Mikkel lets me in on the ‘sacred secret’ purpose of his journey to Berlin: he just had one of his thighs adorned by a resident tattoo artist. The result looks impressive. A very specific purpose, I think. How specific is my purpose? I am here for the Emerge Gathering, for reconnection with J and W, and for a trip to Hamburg to co-create Mindful Researchers things with Annika. And there is more. There is something I want to lean into, something I want to give myself to, and it is more specific now than it was in June. It has to do with energies and transitions, with developing a certain sensitivity to different worlds and a growing awareness of their inherent inseparability. I know that my journey here supports this revelation. I know it is purposeful. Yet can I be more specific than that?
I check out from the hostel and stow my luggage in an empty storage room. On a long morning walk across the river Spree I am taking in first fresh glimpses of this vibrant metropolis called Berlin. The Coffee Lab café offers three tiny tables inside and some larger tables and benches outside. I am taking a seat inside near the glass front, inhale the scent of freshly ground and brewed coffee, and start journaling while observing the comings and goings around me.
Sometimes I fantasize that I might be a 'bringer of revenue': I sat down with a salmon bagel and a double cappuccino, and a legion of customers has since trickled in: two young blonde Berliners engaging in lively conversation to my left; a short-haired brunette in a rose-brown-ish coat that reminds me of the Dude's morning robe, now sitting outside and sipping coffee while reading a tome about women's rights; a tall blonde-haired dude with an epic beard; a dark-skinned lady in a red jacket with several bright-skinned folks, now standing outside with their liquid takeaway loot; a guy with a grey cap checking things on his phone. (...)
A wasp comes greeting me at the table in this tiny coffee shop. (...) what I truly care about is connection, not the particular form of connection. I want to hold this affection lightly, without need to give it any label or story. Love flows on its own terms, spontaneously, "a braided and networked process that is fundamentally unpredictable, embedded in situatedness / interrelationality / mutuality / non-explicit reciprocity / adaptivity ..." to paraphrase qualities that Roshi Joan Halifax elucidated vis-à-vis compassion; it is fundamentally enactive. I anticipate that the 'enactive view' is the most profound cognitive update in my life since my spiritual heart-awakening. The unfolding and enfolding of meaning holds the frame, like a 'non-view', to give context to all views. Knowing everything to be enactive, how can one hold views as if they were absolutes?
– Journal entry on Thursday, 7th October 2021
I pause and think back to an image from Dune showing several moons. How would life on Earth be affected if two moons were circling around it, even at different revolution frequencies, causing quite distinct tidal patterns? Yet surely such more complex cycles would also have stabilizing effects. Cycles lead to iteration, to renewal, to establishing patterns of life, to the flourishing of life. While the cappuccino is beginning to affect me, I make a highly unsuccessful attempt to weave a thousand thought-threads into one tapestry.
Life finds ways to accommodate to circumstances. On a planet with a different gravitational field, different composition of elements, different sets of moons and suns, it finds its own ways. Cyclical processes support its flourishing: tides, day-night cycles, seasons, eccentricities of orbit around the central star. Too much variation too quickly can be detrimental. But on our planet, the 24h-cycle seems rapid too. It helps to have several cyclic processes at once, another 'braided and networked process', on different scales of time and space and amplitude. One of our biggest mistakes as humans has been our ignorance and denial of these cycles. Any system that has fundamentally grown based on regenerativity needs supporting conditions to maintain such regenerativity. A logged forest cannot easily regenerate. Extracting too much, converting it all into different forms – coal and oil and gas into energy, wood into ships and houses and paper – is by design a one-way street. The ideology of capitalism demands such short-term gains though; it has no value-system that accommodates for the long term, nor for the genuine care for the flourishing and diversity of life.
I've read an article by George Monbiot this morning, and I agree with his assessment: you cannot tame and temper capitalism – it seeks profit. It is its own 'paperclip maximizer'. Regulations only incentivize the exploitation of loopholes, and they invoke an army of libertarians. No, it is the value system itself! Streets and cars can never solve the 'problem of transportation'; a 'green economy', a 'green deal', a 'sustainable form of capitalism' can never solve the problem of perverse incentives. It is a band-aid, perhaps necessary to stop the blood loss, yet it can only be a precursor to a deeper healing transformation. And we must take care to not have it shield off our view, lest it conceals the heart of the matter.
– Journal entry on Thursday, 7th October 2021
I chat with the barista and learn that this gentle young man intends to leave this family-owned café and enroll in a military or police academy. Then, heading back to the hostel to retrieve my luggage, walking along the river and crossing underneath a bridge, I catch a first glimpse of the living conditions of the homeless in this city. This is someone’s home. No shelter from cold winds, nor from unwanted attention. A seed of realization is planted in my mind that will take its own time to trickle in and merge with further experience.
The luggage weighs heavily on my shoulders. I pause at a bench facing the river. Gazing at the cars, trucks and humans passing by at a distance, a dawning insight has me pick up the journal again. I’m seeing something, an intuition that both traverses and transcends time, yet the verbal expression on paper is one of intellectual grasping, spiraling in on an elusive moment of redemption.
Sitting and resting in half-shade across the Mühlendamm-Schleuse, pondering the undeniable aesthetics of Teilhardian visions for the evolution of mankind. I've seen the 'flaw' in it with a felt-sense of certainty, not too long ago. Was that conditioned by the cognitive frame I've held, or inhabited, at the time? How could I claim for it to reflect absolute truth? And now I'm seeing the aesthetic value, akin to that of a symphony, of exquisite art, of profound scientific discovery, of spaceflight, of genetic engineering. Engineering. Engine. Mechanics. It exploits the mechanistic lawfulness of our universe, our cosmos. It exploits. Lawfulness. Law. Regularity. Plausible undeniability. Who can deny this? Who can stand in its way? Yet begging the question of emergent strategy: what is life? What gives meaning? Are we meant to send life to other planets? Are we meant to let them unfold on their own terms? Our quest for survival and flourishing does not 'prove' justification of our attempts to colonize. "Because we can" is not enough. Did we consider Wolf? Did we consider Life? Did we consider Spirit? Do we consider Source?
– Journal entry on Thursday, 7th October 2021
Ever so slightly missing the mark, I let go of pen and paper. The walk leads past Checkpoint Charlie and Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof where I am briefly sensing the intergenerational and cross-cultural import of their associated histories, the ever-morphing impact that keeps on flowing through our shared presence. I cross Gleisdreieckpark and watch humans of all ages play, skate, walk, realizing that parks too shape our histories. With the physical discomfort of heavy weight on my shoulders, beginning dehydration, and a certain cautionary closed-mindedness, I am still feeling somewhat alienated in this city. A couple more hours and this too will pass. And are there not little signs of love everywhere? How long will it take me to notice?
Irina welcomes me into her cozy Airbnb apartment which is located in the heart of a red-light district, as I will only realize later, being of slow wits in select regards. Irina is curious about the Emerge Gathering and I make a feeble attempt to explain what it is about – changemakers and visionaries of all kinds coming together to tackle our sensemaking / meaning crisis with a kind of metamodern-spiritual philosophy and practice? We share our professional interests and personal journeys, she tells me about Azerbaijan, I mention CERN and the Mindful Researchers. Our conversation quickly deepens and zones in on themes of spirituality. Given our immediate resonance and Irina’s strong curiosity, I find joy in sharing my spiritual journey with her; yet a stirring in my belly literally prevents me from speaking about some of the more recent experiences. Does the serpent protect herself? Even so, we are at zero risk for running short of topics. Only my rising hunger commands us to pause.
I walk towards Nollendorfplatz, admire the graffiti artworks, and pull out my phone to search for hints on nearby restaurants. The almighty algorithms propose Bethe Ethiopia as the #1 choice, literally just around the corner. Ethiopia, of all possibilities! I follow the universal nudge and am generously rewarded with the most delicious food: Yetsom Beyaynetu and thyme tea, followed by Brilli Teji (homemade honey-wine) and a yummy dessert made of sesame, almonds and dates. The amiable chef of this lovely family restaurant, a bellied man with a hearty smile and sparkling eyes, teaches me some Amharic and enthusiastically proposes that I’m a natural when it comes to holding the Brilli Teji flask with my fingers and thumb. Of course, the body remembers! I smile as a crow instantly confirms my strange thought: sometimes you do a thing for the first time and yet remember that you’ve always known it.
Back at the apartment, still slightly affected by the Brilli Teji, I partake in a co-creative Zoom-meeting-dance practice with Annika, Mary, and Marieke, in which we sense into co-creating a Mindful Researchers event. Then I don my favorite black Anneke van Giersbergen T-shirt, and Irina and I have a short farewell conversation as I am getting ready to meet J while she too is preparing to leave. Before we part ways, I show her Mark Matousek’s book “Writing to Awaken” that I’ve lately been working with.
J meets me at the Metropol and we hang out for a couple of hours at the nearby Hafen bar. With J being a director and writer, it is only natural that we land on the theme of storytelling. I tell him about my newly re-awakened joy of writing and my intention to blog about this journey. J shares some trade secrets about dramaturgy, proposing that in a good story the characters come first and the plot evolves from their inner and outer conflicts. What is the ‘research question’ that drives the story and the protagonist? What is an appropriate type of character to walk in the protagonist’s shoes? What is their perceived ‘want’? What is their actual deeper ‘need’? What’s up with the tension or polarity between these two, the ‘want’ and the ‘need’? I feel intrigued and challenged. Have I not sufficiently thought this through? Should I?
We carry on talking about life, love, relationships, heartbreak, healing, music, our coming-of-age years, psychedelic experiences, and recent elections in Graz. During his bio break I ‘secretly’ give in to my new drug of choice: Anneke van Giersbergen’s mesmerizing “Jest Oldu” cover version of Karsu’s cover version of Mustafa Sandal’s ballad. (The grande finale always reminds me of Anneke’s incredible vocal performance with Damian Wilson in Maiden UniteD‘s acoustic cover version of “To Tame A Land” at the Wacken Open Air 2011 – just imagine this song mixed with this vocal energy – and I should mention that said Maiden uniteD concert in Wacken ended with this epic cover of “The Evil That Men Do”, melting the iron hearts of even the most moshpit-hardened and wall-of-death-approved metalheads; and I don’t know what gives me greater chills: their duet or the lyrics?)
In the end I ask J whether ‘coming out’ is a multi-layered process, and he confirms this, saying that in his experience there are three possible stages or areas for coming out: an ‘inner’ (personal) realization, an ‘outer’ (public) declaration, and an ‘inter’ (relational) enaction. I sense that this has something to do with my journey and writing here, too.
On the way back to the apartment, I experience my life’s greatest density ever of being invited to sexy times via fifty shades of “Hast Du Lust?” – I automatically rush past all offers as if speed mattered, soon wondering whether there is also a way for me to relate more fully to these wonderful beings, hearts and souls in passing. After all, one can affirm “no” and still embrace this one human family in this one web of life. Can I learn this? What else is there to learn?
This travel diary is a sort of continuation of my previous diary from June 2021, but also tells its own story. I’ll use present tense right away. The ‘outer purpose’ of this journey is a trip to Berlin for the Emerge Gathering 2021, with extra days to meet my friends J and W, followed by a couple of days in Hamburg to co-create with Annika for & around the Mindful Researchers initiative and to spend deep time in Nature. As for the ‘inner purpose’ … we’ll get to that later.
As for the pictures, just click to enlarge!
Yesterday, in preparation for this journey, I fetch a presumably larger backpack from my brother, then rush to a Mindful Researchers meeting, then rush to the Royal English Cinema (now called “KIZ Royal”) where my friend Klaus awaits me with a huge bag of fresh popcorn. Klaus and I first met in September 1997 as neighbors in a queue, awaiting our turns to become registered as freshman students at Graz University of Technology. Being of highly compatible geekiness, nerdiness, and sense of humor, we quickly became friends. About 24 years later we are in a queue again – this time awaiting our turns to get tickets for the new “Dune” movie. We enjoy the impressive blockbuster and are caught by surprise when it ends abruptly in the middle of the story (oh, it comes in two parts!). For me this is enough of a teaser to listen anew into the amazing Dune audiobook (narrated by Simon Vance and others) upon returning home.
Arrakis. Dune. Desert planet.
This morning I open an envelope from Annika. We’ve been sending a postcard back and forth for about six times, always adding a little bit, sometimes including gingerbread or feathers. I’m showing the result here with Annika’s permission; too bad we have already run out of space, although we might just add further layers to it and give future archaeologists something to puzzle over!
This time I choose not to pack ALL THE THINGS, yet I still cannot resist preparing a more than generous pile of favourite T-shirts. The new backpack turns out to be not quite as large as I thought, calling for radical reduction. No second pair of shoes, no second hoodie, no second towel. Travel lightly. Pack food. Do the dishes. (Damn those dishes!) Run out of time. Get yourself onto the bike. Ride to the train station. Lock the bike. Hop onto the train three minutes before departure. Find your reserved seat. Sit back and enjoy the 11 hours and 40 minutes ride.
Arrakis. Dune. Desert planet.
My recently finished (audio-)books since my 42nd birthday are, in reverse order:
adrienne maree brown – “Emergent Strategy”
Gigi Coyle – “Kaleidoscope: Finding my way around”
Richard Powers – “The Overstory”
Jeremy Lent – “The Web of Meaning”
Jeremy Lent – “The Patterning Instinct”
Robin Wall Kimmerer – “Braiding Sweetgrass”
Darlene Lancer – “Conquering Shame and Codependency”
Hermann Hesse – “The Glass Bead Game”
Michael Nußbaumer – “Weltübergang”
Robert Wright – “Why Buddhism Is True”
Pete Walker – “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving”
I am also halfway through Hanzi Freinacht’s “The Listening Society” in preparation of the Emerge Gathering 2021. Now listening to Frank Herbert’s “Dune” gives things a slightly different twist and evokes rather peculiar trains of thought – or rather, a rapid succession of gestalts that I cannot quite translate into words:
I'm on the train to Berlin. Yesterday night I watched "Dune" with Klaus. (...) I recall that the audiobook also gripped me. It is fiction, yet also resembling facets of our reality ... and I understood something about rivalrous dynamics, technological advances that can be exploited for dominance, and scarcity of vital resources. Power. Empowerment. Creation. Control. Shadow and light. Prophecy. Narrative. Myth. I understood in some sense; I 'see' the field, yet concrete extractions of conclusions remain elusive.
I also understand, or choose to understand, all of this in the light of enaction. We enact these worlds, also the technological world. The 'war on sensemaking' is a competiton for frames of enaction. Cognitive frames. Can AI and simulations offer coherent extrapolations of our futures? Oh, but whosoever controls the AI, whosoever feeds it with key parameters and basic foundational laws, may control the fates of humanity! Then it is a race for sensemaking, for the most compelling narrative – religion on steroids. I see a dark utopia of neo-cybernetic weavings, a sublime blindness to unintended consequences. (...)
We all need the same courage.
– Journal entry on Wednesday, 6th October 2021
These words represent some of the most salient bits and pieces of translation of a quite fast-paced embodied cognitive process – a non-verbal ‘stream of consciousness’ – that matches, mingles, and remixes the arising gestalts, from most basic to most complex. This process feels somewhat like multi-sensory ‘images’ blending into each other, sometimes slow & smooth and sometimes more like a stroboscope, offering new meaning to the observer in every moment. And it feels like it’s unfolding in several ‘planes’, not just the rational-cognitive plane. I have no certainty for what that really means. I just know it is nothing to be troubled about, although it sometimes brings me to my knees when I allow it to have its way with me …
Upon crossing the border to the Czech Republic (yet unrelated to the geographic fact), I am faced with the challenge to find a workaround to replace the forgotten fork. I do have a carrot. I do have teeth. What are our teeth for? Bingo! Gnawing a carrot-fork into existence dramatically boosts the ability to enjoy the prepared food (delicious red cabbage cooked with hemmelige ingredienser and chestnuts, plus boiled potatoes).
The beet soup challenge is a lot trickier – this carrot is clearly too slim for me to gnaw a proper carrot-spoon. I drink the soup sans veggies, then apply the carrot-fork to push and pull the veggies; surely crows would have done a more elegant job with twigs and beaks. Anyway, yum! The best part comes last: praise be upon the edible carrot-fork.
We’re picking up 15 minutes delay. An Ouroboros 2021 session with Claire Petitmengin pulls my attention. Annika is among the live participants, and I wonder if she is again taking her signature “colorful notes” – like a graphic recording, but more organic if you ask me – meriting a badge of honour: Annika the artist-researcher. The session title, “The Gesture of Awareness – an account of its structural dynamics”, promises a fascinating conversation. At this point, I don’t know yet how deeply it will influence the rest of my journey. In the following I share some written notes:
What prevents us from being aware? (What a fascinating question!)
- Phenomenology: the 'natural attitude',
- Elicitation Interview: the pre-reflective nature of experience?,
- Buddhism: avidyā (Sanskrit) / avijjā (Pāli) = ignorance.
How can we learn to become aware of what eludes us? "How can I aim for something that I don't know that I know, while I don't know that I don't know it?"
Thre are gestures of becoming aware, gestures that prevent one from becoming aware, and skillful triggers for the gestures of becoming aware: these can be ...
(1) triggered by external or existential events,
(2) learned by self-imposed discipline (e.g. meditation training),
(3) induced by a therapist, meditation teacher, or interviewer.
A key step is the 'conversion' (or redirection?) of attention from the 'exterior' to the 'interior' world, from "what" to "how" (asking how it emerges) – imposing a temporarily enhanced duality.
A subsequent key step is 'letting go': essentially a shifting from 'looking for' to 'letting come' (which erases the previously enhanced duality of interior/exterior!). This gesture is followed by a 'gap' moment of silence or stillness (note: like a 'delayed reaction' in General Semantics?).
Skillful practices to release a subject's the tension towards the object, in order to loosen the subject-object duality: do not sustain the phenomenon under investigation, leave it "without support". Thus the tension unravels and subtilizes by itself.
A question: "How does a generic experiential structure emerge?" (and what 'is' this structure?)
A comment in the livestream chat: "First rule of the époché: you do not talk about époché". :-)
It becomes readily apparent in the session how difficult it is for us to speak about these fundamentally experiential aspects of experience itself, as if trying to “eff the ineffable”. Even so, ain’t that a wonderful companion to the surgically precise metacognitive and perceptual observations of Paul Atreides and Lady Jessica in “Dune”?
Arrakis. Dune. Desert planet.
By the way, here’s an interesting link: Frank Herbert, the author of the “Dune” books, was influenced by the “trans-disciplinary meta-discipline” of General Semantics. When I asked Claire Petitmengin after a Mind & Life conference in Boston in 2014, she confirmed (if I remember correctly) that she too had been inspired by General Semantics some decades ago; though when sharing it with her supervisor and mentor Francisco Varela at the time, he had remained rather unimpressed by it. I wonder if this had something to do with the oftentimes ‘hyper-intellectual’ presentation of General Semantics, pushing what is actually supposed to be a practical discipline into the realm of our intellects and thereby tempting us to neglect the actual practice. This is a common pattern that I know too well from personal experience, and we will soon encounter it again along this journey.
I still wonder if General Semantics holds potential for academia in general and for contemplative research in particular. From 2014 to 2016, I shared several conference presentations and posters on the similarities (and differences) between Neurophenomenology, Buddhism and General Semantics in theory-and-practice. Then I dropped the subject as my focus shifted to the topic of collaboration and the Contemplative Scientific Collaboration project. Might there be a time to revive these old ideas, now that more people have seemingly independently been putting the spotlight of their curiosity onto connections between Buddhism and General Semantics? And might there be a unique contribution to these connections, yet to be explored further, via Neurophenomenology and the ‘enactive view’?
Back to the journey. Night has fallen as we are crossing the border to Germany. I attend parts of a “New Republic of the Heart” (NRotH) community session. This is a quite ‘radical’ – yet profoundly peaceful – social experiment, initiated by Terry Patten. I’ve been dipping my toes into this community since last Summer, around the time when I stepped out of Leap Forward after four intense years. I’ve limited my engagement in the NRotH to a weekly dyad call with another Wolfgang who has since become a dear friend. And occasionally I’m checking into these community calls.
I begin to see a pattern of engaging with social experiments and (intentional) communities. The origins are for me perhaps to be found way back in 1997 with KaraNet. More recently I’ve been engaging very intensely with Leap Forward, rather softly with the New Republic of the Heart, and again intensely (yet quite differently) with the Mindful Researchers. Of these three, the Mindful Researchers community really feels like ‘my heart-child’, a garden that has been growing many gardeners. On this journey I’ll meet people from two of these three communities.
Finally we reach Berlin main station and I take the M5 to Strausberger Platz. What a relief to take off the FFP2 mask and inhale deeply, even if it is the fragrance of streets! Yet walking the dimly lit roads of Berlin at night makes me feel a bit like an alien. What am I doing here, again?
Arriving at the “Singer 109” hostel, doning my mask again, checking in, climbing the stairs to the second floor, coming across legions of youngsters. Entering a simple but stylish room with 2×2 bunk beds, one of each is occupied by Mikkel from Denmark and myself. Shower. Sleep. Dreams.
Trees and rivers have spoken. The disenfranchised carriers of society have spoken. Is the age of corporate arrogance coming to an end? I feel repelled by most of ‘politics’, except for a politics of the heart. I want humans to ‘lead’ us whose primary business is the flourishing of life, the awakening of the heart, and the freedom of mankind.
This is not an easy task. It is more challenging than economic growth and stability, more daunting than attaining financial prosperity. For the economy we’ve got rules, well established by societies worldwide, subscribed to by the vast majority.
Could we perform the same feat with our care for life, with deep listening, with learning how to live in a true local and global community? I trust that we can – are we willing to pay the ‘price’? What is that price?
(I wrote this into my journal on November 2, 2012 on the plane from San Diego to Chicago at the end of my “first real journey”. Minor editing and headlines for better clarity. If any part of it resonates with you, feel free to send me comments, ideas, critique, encouragement. Thanks!)
The Consciousness Wager
Could it be just randomness by which this fascinating course of events has come about? For sure I cannot answer this through the lens of my experience which suggests to me a thrilling story far beyond chance. I can however place a wager and say: if all is determined by randomness or immutable laws and I am merely a bystander who enjoys the illusion of subjective experience, then it does not matter if I believe in the illusion of free will.
It is a wonderful thing that people contribute to this question by exploring and explaining the world as a mechanical system governed by strict laws of nature. I wish that, as for all ideas, such an idea is never censored.
I wish also that this will never be the only idea, such that the other half of the wager will remain accessible to us: that by other principles, which we may never be able to measure with absolute certainty, we actually have a choice, an infinite amount of choices, which shape the evolution of our cosmos by that which we can only faintly describe as consciousness.
Universal World-view and Integral Science
This question has nothing to do with the idea of being “right” or “wrong”, but it is a question that asks us to surrender, that invites us to subscribe to another world-view which encompasses both positions, and indeed all positions. I call this the universal world-view. And while it may resemble a post-modern philosophy that sounds like “everything is true, everything leads to the same”, it is not quite the same thing. It is an integral view that goes beyond the integral vision of Ken Wilber (or so I believe, verification pending), one that invites all the viewpoints and philosophies to partake in it.
I believe that what we need is an ego-neutral integral method of inquiry which allows to emphasize the assumptions that underlie each viewpoint, and that even allows to state openly the extent to which one’s ego shapes the course of reasoning. A science without masks, perhaps with a different name, perhaps a new paradigm, an extension of the scientific method as we know it.
Clusters, Domains, Boxes and Membranes
What if we look at viewpoints in terms of clusters through this integral lens? For instance, there is a cluster of viewpoints described by the term “science”, based upon the “scientific method” and all that arose from it, which can be subdivided in infinite ways; if we pick “hard science” and a school of thought that appears internally consistent, and if we look at the extreme case of such a view that refutes all other views as “unscientific”, then even such a view is part of the integral big picture, arises from it, arises from assumptions that are part of it.
Again, it is good to have such rigid approaches with their razor-sharp reasoning, for inside their box we may find solutions to bigger problems, if we only dare open it and look inside with an open mind. Their internal consistency may provide a self-correcting nature that keeps their ever-advancing discipline in shape.
For any such box we can turn the whole idea upside down, and what is outside becomes the inside, and what is inside becomes the outside. Taken further, all that is left is domains of thought separated by arbitrary membranes.
And this example was just the meta-domain of science, but the idea extends to other domains of our human experience and inquiry. We may as well pick the cluster of viewpoints described by the term “spirituality” and apply the analogous ideas of boxes, inside-outside, membranes and masks. We may pick any such cluster, any such domain, any such viewpoint – which has its assumptions and allows its own realizations.
A Dance of Viewpoints
Furthermore we can observe that as our viewpoints fluctuate and evolve from moment to moment if put under the lens of discernment, the whole system looks more like a dance of viewpoints and never rests in a static state; and for those who can assume several viewpoints, or even hold several viewpoints at the same time, the idea of “viewpoints” becomes obsolete and superseded by the notion of “view-domains” or dynamic meta-views, which allow not only to inquire from a completely new meta-angle (as if between several fixed viewpoints a new point were born, like a transition from discrete natural numbers to discrete rational numbers), but also to zoom in and select any discrete viewpoint contained in it; thus it extends beyond the post-modern confines.
The ultimate integration of viewpoints – all those that are accessible at any given point! – would lead to a unified, integral meta-view, which can perhaps be described as a “collective consciousness”, a “universal consciousness”. It may not be accessible for one individual human being, just as the achievements of the hive may never be accessible by any single ant alone. But as we allow for a connection between our viewpoints, and as we develop the capacity to understand and integrate other viewpoints, we may reach such a state together.
Ethics for the Multiverse
And here a sense of ethics plays a role: will we use this capacity as in our past for “one group versus another”, I against you, us against them, … in the egocentric, ethnocentric or worldcentric sense? I believe that we must integrate(!) all stages up to worldcentric at the very least, as follows indeed by the whole idea of a fully integrated world-view, which would otherwise be limited by our choice of inclusion and exclusion. The Gaia myth may be a valid and useful pointer to show the direction towards this sub-goal.
And then, again as a consequence of this very idea, we must take it further to a universal (or cosmocentric) world-view. In this way we may one day become the responsible creators of life, evolutionaries of consciousness, participants in a universal community of lifeforms, skilled solution-finders on a scale which exceeds our imagination of today and of generations to come.
(I wrote this in August 2013 and kept it as an unpublished draft, feeling too shy to be “seen”. Here goes, with tiny edits!)
I like to think of some experiences as life-changing. They all are, in fact. Some of them stand out, and you know that they had a specific large impact on your life, because you were there, you felt the change, perhaps a seed of change, and they align you with your old and new dreams.
I know, for instance, that I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t met Sara at OHM2013. Sara does spoken word poetry (and teaching, and more). Imagine a camp-like tent village full of hackers, scientists, engineers, whistleblowers, policy makers, artists, agents, geeks and nerds, parents and kids. Imagine that place hosting a conference with talks and workshops, DIY tents, retro zones, and imagine that somewhere in between a young woman with sparkling eyes passes the flame of inspiration on and on among these human beings, with poetry and passion.
Listening becomes second nature. “Laying down a path in walking” – continuous deep practice in ‘seeing’ the ‘world’ and enacting relationships, cultivating, familiarizing ourselves – with our mental continua, our perceptions, biases, situated experiences. Guided by love, spontaneous compassion, circles within circles, the enactive ‘view’ as a ‘non-view’ that is free of reference-points and autopoietically co-arises with our living and ‘worlding’, becoming the groundless ground.
Extending this gesture to all ‘beings’ near and far – a practice beyond denominations, beyond categorizations. Easier to remember, easier to notice, easier to imbue with life when we are not rushing to meet preconceived notions of ‘productivity’, ‘utility’, or exclusive ‘rightness’. These notions have their place and carry their own limitations. They too arise from the groundless ground, to which they too must return. And so even these words and expressions are only pointers that may guide us back to the source from which they have arisen.
Then the mystical gaze of the heart settles into stillness. And the green and golden leaves on the cherry tree before me are gently swaying in the breeze.
As this travel blog is coming to a close, I feel compelled to sum up what has been unfolding in this 14-day journey, transcribed into these postings over the course of almost three months. A lot has happened along this extended journey. I am clearly no longer the same person I was when it started, and yet I still am that one. What has shifted? What has evolved? What has remained?
For sure, I’ve been writing much more personal and ‘authentic’ here than ever before in a quasi-public space. My commitment to telling the truth has become increasingly sincere. Yet how much of this can be rightfully labeled a high-fidelity account, and how much is still a constructed narrative, an unintentional performance?
But the story isn’t over yet. I still need to return to my Ithaca, the place I call ‘home’.
I wake up once more in neighbouring lands, in the comfortable guest room of the Schröck family home in Bavaria. As the morning unfolds, I make the acquaintance of three Schröck generations: Grandma Schröck invites me to have breakfast with her and Grandpa Schröck, and soon their daughter and granddaughter join us. Who would have guessed that their granddaughter is in training to become a police officer? On that note, I remember the encounter with the highway patrol on Day 2 of this journey. Cycles are closing.
Strengthened by this delightful breakfast intermezzo, I pack up and drive off into the mystical morning mist. Grandma Schröck waves goodbye. What a lovely experience and good omen for the final part of this journey!
After a couple of hours, I am crossing the border to Austria. The journey almost closes yet another cycle (related to my late uncle) as I am spotting an exit sign to Lambach in the area of Upper Austria. I write to Aunt Michi to see if she is there and open for a visit. In retrospect, calling might indeed have made it happen; by the time of her written response, I am already too far along the way to Graz.
I take a longer driving pause to zoom into the opening session of an online Metta-Vipassana meditation retreat with Ven. Vīrañāṇi. I wish I could say that the ensuing part of the trip turns into a meditative drive through the alps, but the truth is that I’m trying to get back home as soon as possible while avoiding the highway with its long tunnels and significant fees. The view along this trip through the valleys, with lush green vegetation covering both slopes of the mountains, is outright stunning. Austria, you gorgeous home country! How could I not love thee?
Part 2: Courage
At first, it may be difficult to admit that your story is constructed from false information. Every life is a patchwork of secrets, half-truths, cover-ups, shams, and disguises. The most authentic among us have hidden compartments, shadowy corners, and contradictions we keep under wraps for fear of destroying our public image. As you disclose these secrets to yourself, you come to peel back layers of falsehood and reveal yourself as you truly are: a complex individual with myriad dimensions and conflicting needs. As you do this, you can integrate these clandestine parts into a more harmonious whole.
Mark Matousek, “Writing to Awaken: A Journey of Truth, Transformation & Self-Discovery”, page 13
What's going on? My energy is low, and I am not sleeping well. This is partly by choice; yesterday night I created a full draft for the final part of my travel diary. I feel weird about it. Perhaps I am just naturally afraid of the possible consequences of self-exposure. of being seen in such intimate detail; in particular – ha! – of being seen as 'flawed', 'weird', or ... what? Interesting. Let me try to formulate this fear. Is it a fear that people won't talk with me any longer when they know that I am open to many belief systems and spiritual traditions, from hardcore scientism via Buddhism, Christianity, the occult? That I am talking with trees, or trying to? That I am an earnest seeker? That I am human? That I am a sexual being?
Conformity is the name of this fear-defense. Two paths: (1) conform and seek a classic career path with 'security'; (2) rebel and seek your own path with 'risk'. Yes, I could lose my marbles. Will the world still hold me? If I went to the farthest end of imagination, experience, and meaning-making, will the world still hold me? If I went "off the deep end", will the world still hold me? Or rather – surprise plot twist! – will I still hold the world, will 'world' and 'I' still hold each other?
This fear suddenly feels completely natural as much as unsubstantiated. Yes, I am standing at the edge. I'm pulling a book with that title from my bookshelf: "Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet" by Roshi Joan Halifax. A beautiful hardcover book with an evocative cover. Roshi Joan has touched me deeply on several occasions of direct encounter. This book does not come to me now by mere coincidence: it is right for a young edgewalker harboring an old soul, standing at the edge, bound to find freedom where fear and courage meet. <3
– Journal entry on Wednesday, 8th September 2021
This whole journey has not been a simple and straightforward one. It has led me upon blissful heights and through dark chasms alike. Amidst all complexity and ambivalence, there is much to be grateful for. I recall precious times with family, friends, and children. The excitement of my first podcast interview. Long car rides with back pains and my first oil refill. A most gorgeous temporary home in Groß Nordende. Precious times with Annika and the Mindful Researchers. Expeditions through wood and water. Intimate encounters with trees and crows. Wild dreams and Kundalini energies. A first visit to the lands of Vikings and their heritage. Swimming in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. Meeting old friends and making new ones. Deeply spiritual conversations. Sleeping in a treehouse. Pushing through layers of pain and love to discover a greater freedom beyond. The courage to walk in uncertainty along the edges between worlds. Planting myriad seeds, of which I could not possibly fathom the fruits they would bear soon enough.
Also, with all the distance traveled, my carbon footprint has been significant. :-(
Part 3: Homecoming
My old home greets me with a sense of comfort amd familiarity. Yes, this is a place that I have made ‘mine’, and it feels good to return to my Ithaca. And yet I know that my days here are numbered. I have made a resolve that in one year I will no longer live in this place. Not because I don’t like it here – I most certainly do! –, but to heed the call that has stirred my heart once more. Will it lead me to Denmark? Norway, Sweden, Iceland? Ireland? Portugal? What luxury to be able to consider such travels and to freely pursue such relocations! I wish we all shared that same privilege, but with current worldly affairs, some humans are treated more equal than others.
I finish unpacking, then return the car to my brother. My 2-year-old niece Ylvi rejoices at the totally age-appropriate gift of a female Viking doll holding a little axe and shield. (Get ’em early, get ’em young!) Her parents receive one of the Danish mustards and beers; in the end, I only keep one beer called “Lagertha’s Bryg”, which is ceremoniously consumed three weeks later with Frédéric near the campfire of a Council gathering at the wonderful Scharmützelhof.
The water element is calling me. Walking to the beloved river Mur that flows through my hometown Graz, I listen into a “Cortona Pearl” presentation by Fritjof Capra, and then Zoom into a writing session led by Mark Matousek, encompassing juicy themes such as: saying “no”, people-pleasing, guilt, pretense, entitlement, privilege …
On the way back, I serendipitously meet my massage therapist Antonio whose deeply healing Shiatsu treatments never fail to lead me into altered states of consciousness. Antonio invites me to join him for an early evening jogging round, and I spontaneously accept, which totally crowns the day and paves the way for a well-deserved tight sleep (and sore muscles the next day).
And this brings me indeed to the end of this chapter.
Part 4: Closing
When thy song is shield and mirror To the fair snake-curlèd Pain, Where thou dar’st affront her terror That on her thou may’st attain Perséan conquest; seek no more, O seek no more! Pass the gates of Luthany, tread the region Elenore.
Has this journey been in any way ‘exceptionally special’? I think not. Most of the things that I have experienced might as well happen to you, and some of your unique experiences I could never begin to fathom. I simply choose to imbue them with meaning, opening myself to whatever layers and levels of experience might become available. This has become a kind of spiritual practice in itself, through which I hope to (re-)discover the spiritual practice that will sustain me further along the path.
All that, and the unexpected fruit of discovery that I am also an edgewalker. The appearance of “coindicentiae oppositorum” in my life does not happen by accident. I am beginning to gradually understand and embrace this as the journey is being integrated.
There has never been an urgency to write about all this, except for a mysterious ‘calling’ to do so, for the sake of discovery and integration, for the love of writing itself, and to finish what I have started. I believe that the practice of writing has changed me and has accompanied an ongoing transition. I am now writing regularly, old-school pen-and-paper style, currently working with Mark Matousek’s book “Writing to Awaken” and the many challenging prompts therein. Perhaps soon there will be more writing here about other themes that I care deeply about – science, spirituality, nature, humanity, love, death, life, … We shall see. I also remain open to the harvest of unexpected fruit from all this; and maybe you hold the key, indeed?
Whoever, wherever, whenever you are: YOU MATTER. You are beautiful. You are loved.
This last picture is taken upon my return to Graz right before unloading the car. The T-shirt (one of my favourites!) has been acquired at a store in The Castro district in San Francisco during the memorable journey of October 2012 – another cycle closing.
Lastly, I’ll share with you a very personal note that I might indeed have written to myself, but it came as a gift from someone who knows me very well, while I was in Denmark:
"Now with the shift in your relationship to (...) you are finally free to love and be loved as you truly desire, in relationship to a woman who's available, open, (...) a person who simplifies your life rather than complicates it, who doesn't send mixed messages or keeps the "tragic romantic" inside you starving and on tenterhooks, addicted to longing, waiting, hurting, and hope. Enough of that! You're a smart, kind, attractive guy with a LOT to offer the right woman. Now that you're (getting) free at last, I trust she will appear fairly soon, and you will finally have the relationship between equals you've been waiting for."
Speaking my heart, Freedom at last: May it be so. Namárië!
One last night’s sleep in what I still consider the best bed ever. One last breakfast on the balcony. Packing ALL THE THINGS into the car trunk. Cleaning the house. A couple of messages with my host. O captain, my captain, yours was a most delightful place to stay!
And so it is time to leave Groß-Nordende. I set my first destination coordinates to Annika’s new home, a shared flat in the heart of Hamburg. This course inevitably leads me one more time past the area of Y’s whereabouts.
I feel a great ambivalence in my heart: one voice is making a passionate plea for our freedom, reminding me of the readiness to break old patterns and to leave old dreams behind. The other voice of the “tragic romantic” within reminds me of heartbreak and longing. A strong emotional tension assails me: is the rare time window for our face-to-face communication closing now? Should I not insist on a short meeting, to clarify things between us once and for all?
Or is this just an illusion? A trick of my imagination?
I decide to let go of it. This also means: I decide to feel everything that comes with this choice. I let roars of liberation and stings of heartache flow through me. Phenomena arising and passing away.
I bring some food items to Annika that would not survive my journey, and shells from the Baltic and North Sea. Annika shows me her new place. Being preoccupied with my inner motions, I am not very attentive, and so it takes me a while to become aware of Annika’s own emotional turmoil at this time. We have a short chat, clearing the air. Being human together isn’t always easier, but ultimately much better – even if we walk on separate journeys.
Setting my destination coordinates to an Airbnb in Bavaria, I see a good 7 hours of driving to come. The first half of the trip is mostly unspectacular. Feeling hungry, I seek out a highly (over-)rated Thai restaurant in Osterode am Harz. The first obstacle is online registration. Oh yes, Covid is still a thing here – I had almost forgotten! Succeeding with the procedure, I am led to a free table.
I cannot shake off the feeling that the interior design composed of dark wood, plastic Buddhas and other Kitsch has nothing to do with Thailand. “But you haven’t been to Thailand yet”, I tell myself as I devour a Pad Thai which tastes absolutely unspectacular and should perhaps be more accurately labeled “sodium glutamate with noodles and veggies resembling what we think you ignorant fools will think of as Pad Thai”. Bon appetit! My only journal entry of today reads, “I hope this Pad Thai will come out where it is supposed to.” (Spoiler: thankfully, it does.)
At least no longer hungry, I continue on the unspectacular journey. But wait … what’s this? A highway exit sign that reads, “Einhornhöhle” (Unicorn Cave)? Surely I have no time for such detours! My hands steer the vehicle accordingly to … the right, taking the exit. Oh well. Unicorn Cave and Burg Scharzfels, here I come!
Part 2: Unicorn Cave
Feeling lonely and content at the same time, I believe, is a rare kind of happiness.
Passing a sign that says this place closes at 8pm (oh, it’s almost 8pm!), a lone road takes me to an empty parking lot. I see nobody around, hence perhaps nobody will be physically closing this area. A risk to be taken. Why choose the easy way when the finishing line of this journey comes into sight? Nothing beats a good unexpected adventure.
The woods pull me in. I follow the paths that lead to the Unicorn Cave, which is of course already closed at this hour. A wooden unicorn skeleton reminds me of the dried horse at Ribe Vikingecenter the day before. Now I could turn back, or … find Burg Scharzfels while there is still daylight. (You see where this is going!)
I walk on, passing a tiny bridge, following a sign or two, while making an audio recording in which I reflect on these days, recent weeks, past learnings, challenges ahead, mankind and nature. My unabashed musings bring forth clarity and aha-moments, including:
“Might it help if they (trees) know who we are?”
“I’ve shied away from these kinds of confrontations all my life, for decades. Now how would I be able to do that within a couple of months?”
(Referring to several key confrontations, which actually did happen in recent weeks.)
“If I would go back to my early days with (…) – I’ve had my intuitions, and of course there were things that I’ve had to learn, but I would have said: ‘Hey, I have these intuitions, I have these feelings. I feel things, I sense things. I see when things are off or inconsistent or incongruent. And if I am not speaking up, I am doing a disservice to us all.'”
“I can be wrong. I most likely am wrong, and I want to learn how to be less wrong. And I may be right! It’s not even about wrong or right, it’s about the natural impulse. Suppressing that voice in order to find my true voice in another way, that’s a fucking mixed message! It’s not working, quite simply. It’s like pulling into two directions at once, opening something and shutting it down, with one hand each.”
“Oh gosh, I couldn’t even name a single person with whom I haven’t done this: where I firmly believed that I had ‘seen’ something, and I communicated it, believing it would be good for that person. And then it turns out … well, who knows? – The point is: I need to communicate these things, and I need to learn how to not hold expectations. I guess that’s the key, a kind of ‘share-and-release’. Just offer our discernment – maybe listen first: ‘Is this the right time? Is my perception, my sharing wanted right now? Is there an opening?'”
And of course –
“Oh fuck, I’ve clearly lost my way!”
I turn around, ready to give up on Burg Scharzfels and to get back to the car (there’s still daylight, after all!), and then …
“It’s the ‘Council attitude’ that helps a lot, the ‘Council Way’ of giving the other person space, so that the other person knows about the gift and is not going to … –”
I stop mid-sentence. What’s that? A sign that shows the way to Burg Scharzfels? Invigorated by the discovery, I ascend a steep path through mesmerizingly mystical woods. The recording reflects my awe, my deep inhalation of the wonders of nature, in a trembling voice:
“It smells amazing! And I’ve read that I am walking between hundreds of millions of years – one rock formation upon another that have arisen as the rock that they are, and I wonder how that happened. One was created 250 million years ago, the other 350. Million. Years. Ago. Whereas our human ancestors have been around for two million years. It’s kind of nothing. It’s like comparing a toddler with a wise old person, saying: ‘Is this the same kind of life experience we’re talking here, the same kind of learning?’ – Well, I’m not so sure. And that is our ancestors, long before we created anything like cultures and civilizations that we know now, let alone our modern world, let alone science, let alone computer technology, mobile phones. It’s crazy. It’s happening so fast. And we get drunk by the velocity, because we can – as if a thousand devils were behind us, as if extinction would be near and we needed to accelerate; but I worry that it is our acceleration that marks our extinction, our downfall.”
And there she is. The castle ruins of Burg Scharzfels rise semi-majestically from a wood-clad, rock-covered plateau. I choose to explore the ruins, and I may or may not choose to slip through a gap in the barrier that (almost) covers the entrance. Why not risk a little fun? This castle was long considered to be an invincible stronghold – that is, until the French conquered it in 1761. This reminds me of our Schlossberg in Graz, which was actually never conquered (take that, France!), but was surrendered to Napoleon (d’oh!) in July 1809 in the aftermath of a ceasefire and later razed by his forces, following the Treaty of Schönbrunn.
“I see the city [of Barbis] from here! They too must have seen the city in the days of old, when it looked quite different. We forget how much we have achieved. Cities of times long ago were threatened to crumble and burn, so now we have made things quite stable and enduring and solid. It seems we know how to repair, we know how to develop further. As a human species, we made it. We don’t have to do more. But we forget. We want to build more, and larger, and win somehow against ‘the others’, and I wonder why, I wonder why? Who wins? Who gains?”
I let my gaze wander across the horizon, beholding the city of Barbis afar. My eyes also spot little plants growing from the cracks in the walls around me. This has always amazed me: little seedlings find enough nutrients to grow here. Imagine that! They grow and they perish; they take and they give. The Honorable Harvest. The Law of Reciprocity.
“Yes, I understand: trying to break new frontiers of knowledge, traveling to the stars, colonizing Mars. I understand that wish. Yes, I would do the same! But it has a cost, and we don’t know it. I think the cost is much different, and the Law of Reciprocity is not guaranteed. We take, so that we can achieve this, but what do we give? What do we give? And why the hurry, this restlessness, not being contented?”
While abandoning the stronghold, I remember my conversation with Björke the day before – it already feels like a year ago – in which we discovered that sacred place of “… being contented exactly where we are: nothing is needed, we have everything. If I lost this mobile phone now, I would still have everything. Even if I lost my life – not that I plan to, but I would still have everything.”
I walk back to … oh, what’s that path to the left? (And there is still daylight, after all!)
I decide to roam these woodlands further, off the beaten track, feeling irritated by plastic litter all around. As I want to turn back to the beaten track, another inconspicuous path leading to the Frauensteinklippe reveals itself. A wooden bear stands guard along the way. Here, for the first time in ages, I am feeling genuinely creeped out. I’m not sure if I believe in spirits, but along this track I’m sure the spirits are dancing while not giving a f*ck about what I believe or not. I hasten my footsteps.
The Frauensteinklippe, a natural formation of dolomitic rock, resembles a human face (mmmm, creepy!) and gives me a Kundalini sneeze as well as imaginary flashes of “seeing” at least one human – I think a woman – having jumped to their death here, stricken by madness and/or despair. Or is it just my vivid imagination?
I decide not to follow their example. I bow out and rush back, past creepy passageways, past creepy wooden bear, and now finally back to … wait, what’s that? A strange tree! Might it talk with me? It is called “Schäferbuche“, one of the oldest trees around. We hang out for a while.
At some point, I actually do walk back to the car. Or rather, I’m trying to. This wanderer is now completely lost in these woods, and even Google Maps ain’t helping. Daylight fades. Nightfall is upon me and these lands. I surrender to a melange of intuition and reason, in which I feel strangely safe and certain, hastening my footsteps. I begin reflecting on life and love, as if it were time for a last confession before the darkness swallows me whole.
“Of course I love S, and of course I love Y. That is not the question. ‘What is mine to do?’ is rather the question. (…) It’s very hard to let Y go. Yet letting go I must, for some reason. I don’t think I can tell what will happen when I do, I just know I must. Not sure that I know how to communicate it, or is it not about communicating? How does one let go? How does one let free? I want her to be free, and I want myself to be free, even more than I want our love. (…) Therefore this journey, being alone in Denmark and Germany, did serve. To ‘be my own man’, content with myself, being able to love myself, able to take good care of myself. Being able to take risks and to recuperate from the mishaps. This was a very important lesson, and it could only come about when I gave up waiting and hoping.”
There! This is the path I have come from. Past the Unicorn Cave, back to the parking lot. Maybe I can make it to the car just in time before nightfall?
“It’s gonna be quite some way back. I hope there won’t be a roadblock, or I would have to sleep in the car, and I would have a very long ride tomorrow. It’s gonna be a long ride as it is. But I wanted this! I’m kinda glad that the journey isn’t yet over and that I’m not yet in safe waters of my harbour, my homestead. Still ways to go. – Oh, this is a steep ascent! The ascent of humanity. I remember the first time I read about Charles Eisenstein [in 2013], and I felt … I was envious! My goodness, I was such an uncouth youngster. I went to these places and thought I had to be somehow ‘better than’ these people. So much has happened since! So I read Charles Eisenstein’s bio and thought, ‘man, this all sounds very good, but he must have this wrong and that’, and I guess I was filled with a little bit of General Semantics pride and arrogance of some kind, thinking that I ‘knew’. And I had ambition, and I had much less humility. More insecurity and less humility. (…) So I don’t know what’s happening in my life, but I can see now that there are big changes. How good! (…) And I know that a lot [of change] has happened just lately.”
(I should add here that Charles Eisenstein has become one of my biggest inspirations, and I immensely treasure the times we’ve met in person. More stories to tell.)
Inwardly turning towards my mentor, with whom I’ve had a kerfuffle some weeks ago:
“Yes, he is right about the Dharma, and I’m sure he’s got a valid perspective and a lot of experience and direct knowledge in various ways. And the path works for him, and I’m very glad. And I suppose if I were able to take it up, it might work for me too. That said, I feel like I have to take up a different path that I have yet to discover. (…) And he has to accept that. He can tell me any stuff that he wants to tell me, give advice, or even nudge me. I just will be firm about my own discernment of what serves me.”
Are these words coming from wise discernment and/or egoic delusion?
Final challenge of the day: find my Airbnb in Fuchsmühl, or prepare for a wild night in the car. Strange roads are winding through foggy woods, uphill, downhill, without cell reception, while a sizzle and my inferior nighttime eyesight make this part of the trip particularly unfun. With my senses on high alert, more than three hours later at 1:30am, I finally pull into the parking lot and sneak into my room, where a comfortable bed awaits this quite exhausted adventurer.
Himinbjörg eru in áttu, en þar Heimdall kveða valda véum; þar vörðr goða drekkr í væru ranni glaðr inn góða mjöð.
From Grímnismál, “The Lay of Grímnir”, normalized text by Guðni Jónsson in 1954
27 years ago in high school, some friends in my class wanted to create a band. I’ll keep the anecdotes for another time, save for our chosen band name: for some reason, “The Urban Bambi Punchers” (yes, there’s another anecdote about the origin of this name!) won against “Pyrrhic Victory” and “Dawn Chorus”.
27 years later, I awaken to an actual Dawn Chorus of chirping birdsong in Himinbjörg, a castle in the sky at the end of the rainbow bridge Bifröst, where Heimdall dwells – or rather in my own version of Himinbjörg, a small cabin high up in a tree on Danish lands. Even with rather little sleep I am feeling wondrously refreshed, enjoying the muesli that has been soaking in oat milk during the night, then swinging in one of the hanging chairs under the trees while singing a belated happy birthday message to Aunt Michi. My host comes along to say farewell. I take a shower in the main house, then return to the treehouse to pack up. Sitting at the base of the tree, I play songs to express my gratitude for its support and to bid this magnificent sentient being farewell.
From the treehouse it is a reasonably short drive to the Ribe Vikingecenter. The empty parking lot indicates that new arrivals are among the first visitors today. Whilst applying sunscreen on the most exposed parts of this pale Austrian skin, an older German couple parks their car next to mine, and we begin to chat. It turns out that they intend to move from Germany to Denmark within the next few years! The husband tells me all about housing, cars, loans, regulations – especially how affordable houses are around here. it feels like a strong serendipitous sign that whispers, “yes, Wolfgang, soon you shall move to these lands.”
Next to the entrance, a sturdy man builds a small new house from woodden planks. Upon my interrogation, he reveals his secrets and confides to me that all houses here are constructed in the old Viking ways, with only the least possible amount of help through modern tools. Armed with such knowledge, when you ever set foot into a traditional Viking Longhouse, you will likely be as impressed as I am! Despite its dark interior, with only small windows allowing sunlight to enter, and with the illuminating fire of small candles, this place feels cosy.
I take interest in the nearby farmhouse while a Viking villagers’ procession with music unfolds nearby. The farmers among that group are bringing animals to the farmhouse, most notably two ancient huge cattle, each of whom is easily twice the size of our domesticated Central European cows. I feel compelled to touch these giants, and Karin, a grey-haired villager, tells me how to best approach them. Although there is some temper in these beasts, to me they are tame. The same goes for a cat that enjoys my advances while lolling around in the grass.
“Be careful”, says a young villager clad in simple Viking clothes. “She can be quite passive-aggressive!”
“No worries”, I laugh as I continue stroking the cat. As if to prove the point, she playfully nibbles on my hand, then returns to chillout mode. “We’re getting along well. I can handle passive-aggressive beings. I can be like that myself.”
Slowly moving along, I find my way to the archery range. A beautiful, blonde-haired, voluptuous shield maiden instructs me about the different kinds of arrows. “And what do you think is that one for?” she asks while pointing to an arrow with a blunt rounded wooden tip. A clever Heimdall guesses partly right: such arrows have been used for knocking out animals whose skin and fur shall remain unharmed, and – as the shield maiden reveals – especially for catching birds! This makes eminent sense when you consider that sharply pointed arrows would miss their target more readily and might also get stuck in higher tree branches.
The archery range with its Viking longbows, arrows and targets is guarded by Björke. I am surprised by how fast the arrows fly, while confidently missing all shots. Björke defends my honour by declaring that this is the vegetarian archery style: you don’t shoot the dummy boar, but real plants instead! Even with my catastrophic track record, I can’t help but notice the meditative quality of archery. Björke resonates a lot with this observation and muses about Zen and the Art of Archery. Then he asks if I want to try one more shot with the strongest longbow. This is one of the moments in life in which I already know what comes next: this single shot will inevitably hit the target. And so it happens: the tension builds, the eye squints, the right hand releases, the bowstring whizzes, the arrow hisses, the air is cut, and the boar is pierced at the shoulder close to the neck. I might have felled the beast with that precision shot. Legolas would be proud!
Björke and I talk more about meditation, life, mythology, religion. We discover our shared delight about stories from the Edda, of Ginnungagap, Auðhumla, Ymir, Odin, Wili and Wé – “all of creation is actually brothers & sisters”, he says – and of course Heimdall, Loki, Thor and Freyja in the Þrymskviða, as well as our shared need for stillness and wilderness (a word that probably derives from Old English: “wild-deor-nes”). “I’m sometimes yearning for human connection”, Björke confides, “and I also need to spend time alone in the woods, to be only with nature.” This makes us brothers in spirit, forsooth. In these shared sacred moments we realize how little else we need: for we have everything here and now to be content. Mankind has more than enough of everything, if only it were fairly distributed. Wherefore such endless striving for more?
On the note of religion, I tell Björke about my encounter with Zhigger at the European Forum Alpbach 2017. The details of this story might perhaps forever remain too sacred to be fully shared in writing. Suffice it to say here that in the midst of a crowded Gasthaus Jakober in the heart of Alpbach, one Muslim and one Christian-Buddhist entered a sacred space of dialogue and touched paradise together, “meeting at source” on an infinitesimally small point – as if two pins, approaching from opposing sides, would precisely touch at their very atomic-scale tips. Since that day, I daresay that Zhigger and I know for certain – not from intellect, but through immediate experience – that all religious wars and human disputes about conflicting worldviews are nothing more but tragic mistakes. And we know in the same experiential manner that “meeting at source” can fundamentally heal such divides. I can barely imagine anything in this world that would make greater peace.
We have everything right here.
Wandering on, I meet Merlin from Estonia sitting in an open tent, selling handmade jewellery and puppets while meditatively knitting pot holders and other items. I am intrigued by a brass ring in the shape of a coiled snake that fits perfectly on my ring finger; curiously, the significance of a spiraling serpent – a symbol for Kundalini – eludes my conscious awareness at this point.
Merlin and I strike a conversation on the differences between natural and rural areas and cities in Estonia and other Baltic countries. “Once you’ve seen one city, you’ve seen all cities”, she asserts. I buy three handmade puppets and the brass ring. Putting it on my right-hand ring finger does not render me invisible, nor does it bestow other superpowers; yet it feels as though I am marrying myself, sealing an eternal bond of love.
Come to think of it, isn’t that a superpower in itself?
I still my hunger with a sandwich at the (far too modern) restaurant on site, before watching further attractions from the distance, including a Falconer show. Eventually, a growing unrest in my heart heralds the need to leave this beautiful place and return to Germany. Along the way I pay a short visit to the rather unspectacular Viking museum in Ribe. A certain kind of sadness fills my heart as I am passing the border from Denmark to Germany, saying farewell for now to these beautiful Viking lands. Yet there is also an inextinguishable fire within, in the shape of a tiny flickering flame, yet no less potent – and holding a deep knowing: I will return to these lands.
Back in Groß-Nordende, I spontaneously join a Zoom meeting with my “Kauri Tree Friends”, a group that had formed during the recent Mind & Life Summer Research Institute as a “Storysharing Pod”. As one participant shares about her “impostor syndrome”, I realize that this old friend of mine seems to have departed! I can no longer feel its presence in the old familiar ways. I wouldn’t be writing all of this here if I still suffered from impostor syndrome as I used to. Perhaps it is still hanging around in traces, but it no longer holds sway over me. This surprises me. Might the changes be subtle enough to not notice their unfolding in real time, yet they suddenly become apparent through momentary gazes into such mirrors of experience, of dialogue, of contemplation?
Soundtrack of the day:
I cannot remember any music from that day. But if I had known them at the time, I would surely have enjoyed listening to the mesmerizingly beautiful albums “Folkesange” by Myrkur and “Från Tidernas Begynnelse” by Hindarfjäll.
On that note: I also love Hindarfjäll’s rendition of “Þat Mælti Mín Móðir” featuring Peter Franzén (the actor of King Harold Finehair in “Vikings”!), artfully visualized by Grimfrost.