Day 11: Runestones

Wednesday, 23rd June 2021

Awake and refreshed after a restful night, I’m sitting like a Hobbit in the round windowsill for some early morning journaling. Katja has confirmed yesterday that I can stay another night if I so desire, yet I decide to pack my bags and carry on. Yes, this place is beautiful, and I also need to stay open for the mystery and not become attached. This I have learned on earlier journeys, particularly in October 2012 when I “fell in love” with Dawn and Oceanside, or with Deniz and San Diego: swiftly becoming enamoured by people and places is part of the magic that seizes the unsuspecting traveller. Beware!

Namárië, beloved reed-thatched house & inhabitants. We shall meet again!

I prepare Müsli and coffee for breakfast, sit outside to play the guitar and RAV Vast, and load the car. Chino disagrees with my plans and convinces me to play catch. To quote Theatre of Tragedy’s song lyrics, “I sojourn my haste, I make respites / For what availeth this eager pace?” Indeed, what better way to start the day than running wild and free with such an adorable descendant of wolf, who is at once my namesake and spirit animal?

Chino knows how to make Human play with Chino.

Katja comes out and we have a chat and say farewell. I drive to Jelling and am successfully confused by the parking lot’s most creative ground markings (protip: pay no heed to the white lines!). I scout the surroundings: a Viking museum, two majestic burial mounds surrounded by a vast stone ship, two famous runestones near a church and graveyard. I ascend both mounds and realize that the nearby oak trees are still taller; the place avails no deeper spiritual insights at this point. The runestones are imprisoned by glass walls and look rather unspectacular, but – history! – these stones bear testimony to the earliest mention of Denmark, with its runic name hewn into solid rock by none other than ole’ King Harold Bluetooth himself. (Or rather by his thralls?)

Unofficial legend has it that King Harold Bluetooth himself hath gnawed these runes.

I enter the church, which features a miniature ship hanging from the ceiling as well as an organist speaking on the phone. As the other visitors leave and I walk up the aisle, the organist starts playing majestic music for a good fifteen minutes – “only for the two of us, and for God”, I think as I stand before the altar, wondering (not for the first time) what it might take to experience a spontaneous conversion. A nod of appreciation is passed between us as the organist ends his play and I leave the church.

As the organist praises God through majestic music, behold the miracle of a flying ship!

A lovely conversation with the young lady that guards the entrance marks the beginning of my visit at the Viking museum. It is very well done, I must say. And yet I notice that my romantic heart sinks as I pass through the (historically later) passages that showcase the developments from Norse to Christian religion and from Viking ages to modernity. Nonetheless I find some goodies of modernity in the museum shop: Honey, beers (including “Lagertha’s Bryg”), a Viking girl puppet for Ylvi (get’em early, get’em young!), dishtowels with Viking motifs, and a silver Mjölnir pendant that shall replace the long-lost tin pendant that I’ve once received from my dear “Viking brother” Slavi. (Did I already say “Viking”?) The saleswoman lets me in on the secret runes on one side of the pendant, which translate to “these are runes”, and tells me that she is going to Austria soon. (Also: “Viking”. Just in case.)

Unofficial legend has it that King Harold Bluetooth himself shat this ru– … err, sat on this runestone.

With my loot safely stored away in the car, the question of food arises. The nearby Café Sejd has good reviews, but what really gets me is the quaint chef de cuisine named Bjarne: extremely well-mannered, witty, mightily bearded, and delightfully knowledgable about Norse mythology. Bjarne recommends the “Kokkenchefens blåbærmælk med hemmelige ingredienser” (blueberry milkshake with secret ingredients, also named “Brage”) and I add “SEJD Viking Tapas vegetar”. Soon my tastebuds delight in a truly heavenly blueberry milkshake, mingling with the culinary pleasures of two types of homemade sourdough bread, two types of cheese, organic avocado, yummy homemade pickles, homemade hummus, as well as homemade pesto, artichoke cream and mayonnaise. Bjarne reappears and we make light-hearted conversation about Norse myths:

“Is everything to your delight?” Brajne asks in his unimitably well-mannered style.

“Oh … I’m in heaven!” I respond, quickly adding: “Or shall I say, I’m … –”

“… in Valhalla!” we both conclude in unison, followed by heartfelt laughter.

SEJD Viking Tapas vegetar + Kokkenchefens blåbærmælk med hemmelige ingredienser. I must be in Valhalla!

“But you know”, Bjarne explains, “that you can only enter Valhalla if you die in battle?”

I nod. “Indeed! And therefore, if you see me choking, please swiftly challenge me to mortal combat – so you can kill me in battle and I can die honorably; but I sure hope it doesn’t happen today!”

Bjarne agrees with a chuckle and redirects his attention to other guests. I savour every bite of this meal and begin studying the menu anew, searching for coffee. They do have plenty of coffee: “Thor” (espresso), “Hugin & Munin” (double espresso), “Loke” (cortado), “Odin”, “Frigg” (capuccino), “Dobbelt Frigg”, “Freja” (latte), “Dobbelt Freja”, … I’m severely tempted by “Angerboda” (filter coffee, double espresso, cane sugar, chili, chocolade), but then I decide that “Loke” is the right coffee for today. A Heimdall must always have some Loki in his life. Day and Night. Yin and Yang.

A good old mug of Loke.

Bjarne reappears and I express my curiosity about that “secret ingredient” of the blueberry milkshake. “I can tell you, but then I must kill you”, he laughs.

I weigh his offer. “Well, then I’ll get to Valhalla. Let me think about it! Meanwhile, could you please get me a Loke? You see, my internet nickname since 24 years has been Heimdall …”

Bjarne agrees with my perfectly convincing reasoning, disappears and soon returns with a coffee mug, filled with freshly brewed Loke. Now it’s time to ask my special questions: Do people give tips in Denmark? (Not usually, but they can.) Can I pay with card? (Yes.) And … if I wanted to be among trees, while also meeting the North Sea, what special places would a knowledgeable local chef with an epic beard recommend?

Bjarne tells me about nearby woods that I have passed on the way here. “I also recommend that you go to Tirpitz and visit the famous bunker museum about the Second World War. The nearby beaches are beautiful and good for swimming”, he concludes.

Still in need for a place to sleep tonight, I check Airbnb for places between Tirpitz and Ribe and find an “Autentisk trætophus“, an authentic treehouse, clearly being the most awesome and lowest-price option at once. I send a booking request and put my faith into the hands of the universe.

The Tirpitz bunker at Blåvand evokes an eerie, uncanny feeling. The sturdy edifice and bunker museum are quasi-hidden behind sand dunes. I walk up the dunes and look at the concrete. The museum is already closed. I walk around the dunes. Even though the planned bunker system was never finished, and no actual melees have taken place here, I can’t help but vividly imagine the whole gamut of human warfare all around me: shouting soldiers, detonating grenades, machine gun and artillery fire, blood-stained helmets rolling in the sand. I can sense the accursed insanity of war. It’s hard to bear these mental images, and harder still to know that they are real to this very day, and will yet be real tomorrow.

Tirpitz bunker 1, hidden between the dunes of Blåvand.

No, reality must actually be much worse than my mental imagery. Trigger warning: strong language and emotions ahead.

FOR FUCK’S SAKE, we are still turning our children into orphans, into soldiers, into slaves, even TODAY, in fucking 2021 A.D. – yes, we, “humanity”, because no man is an island. Some do this directly, others partake indirectly. One way or another, even fucking Austria benefits from this inhumanity – and so do I. To say nothing of the atrocities committed against the more-than-human world. Dozens of species are going forever extinct per DAY. Yes, entire SPECIES, like humans! Per DAY! That’s at least a thousandfold increase of the natural background rate. It’s manmade. THOUSANDFOLD! Can’t we see we are doing this to ourselves? To our children and grandchildren? To our future? To all of life, all that is sacred? And yet we worry about new iPhones and taxes, soccer championships and “closing” refugee routes? You gotta be fucking kidding me!

You, I. We’re in deep shit, together.

And no, colonizing fucking Mars is NOT solving the problem. (As much as I love exploring space.) It is delaying, exporting, and perhaps even exacerbating the problem.

Sometimes a picture of three pictures says more than a thousand libraries.

Sorry and totally not sorry for being intense. I can only take so much of it myself. I hope you managed. I hope we’ll find ways to meet and embrace this bitter truth – while not forgetting about the beauty of life in this world. Some things have improved, and I do believe that we are evolving our consciousness both individually and collectively, although very slowly, it seems. Vis-à-vis all of the above, the irony of my rediscovered Viking romanticism is not lost on me; and yet, I believe that even these fearsome Vikings – whoever they really were (scholarship suggests they were far more peaceful than typically depicted in popular movies and TV shows!) –, had they prevailed throughout the ages and into modernity, would be quite a different people today.

Blåvandshuk Fyr – “Denmarks westernmost point”.

Back to the journey. I leave this haunted place and continue to the beach, near the lighttower Blåvandshuk Fyr – “Denmarks westernmost point”. The wide sandy shores are covered with seashells, though their variety differs from the Baltic Sea. Walking along the waterline, I also find crab shells, as well as dark brown (almost black) pieces of driftwood, and even some jelly-like, near-transparent blobs that may be remains of jellyfish.

The blob formerly known as Jellyfish.

Strolling through the warm and shallow seawater becomes ever more meditative, until a siren rips me out of trance. I look around and see nothing particularly interesting. Perhaps someone in the waters is in distress? I notice a uniformed man approaching me, still quite far away, waving his hands and wielding a portable siren in one hand. I gesture toward him in a kind of clumsy way, “do you mean ME?”

Thanks for not shooting!

“Do you hear this sound?”, the uniformed man shouts from afar.

“Yes, I do”, I respond. “What’s the matter?”

“Did you see the sign?”

“What sign?”

“This is a military zone!”

Oh shit. I’ve innocuously walked past a fence that ends, due to the ebbing tide, about 20 meters from the shoreline. I profusely apologize, assure the military personnel of my harmless intentions, and start walking back. Thanks for not shooting! The sign reveals that I’ve actually walked into a firing range, and when the red ball is up, don’t trespass or your life is on the line. (Did I say I wanted to step beyond my comfort zone on this journey?)

I take a short swim in the warm, shallow waters of the North Sea. Strong winds blow my skin dry until I start freezing. It’s a long way back to the car … and so much sand. An entire beach without a single beach chair, uncrowded, free for everyone. Admittedly temperatures are not as warm as in, say, Italy. Yet something about this beach strikes me as beautiful in a way that I have not experienced in these Mediterranean tourist places.

Love at first sight.

The “Autentisk trætophus” is located in Esbjerg and owned by Troels and Heidi. Troels welcomes me and shows me around. The treehouse is located in a small forest on the property. The stairs invite a steep ascent, yet I notice a complete absence of the once familiar basophobia (fear of falling). The treehouse cabin is actually built around the trunk and feels quite cosy. Troels tells me that he and his wife bought this property only 1.5 years ago, upon a joking recommendation by friends. They went along with the joke, looked at the place … and it was love at first sight.

Chatting with Troels, I also learn that he is a funeral director – reminding me of my favorite HBO series, “Six Feet Under”. Troels is quite unlike Nathaniel Fisher, yet he too smokes (a pipe). I tell him rather enthusiastically about the Mindful Researchers, Mind & Life, Francisco Varela, enactivism, Brother David Steindl-Rast, and of course the story behind my journey – including the moment in early June when my inner voice told me to embark on this trip for my own sake. Troels listens attentively, and as we shift our conversation to spiritual matters, he picks up on that latter element.

“You know, when you said that your ‘inner voice’ told you to go on this journey nonetheless, that voice might well have been the Holy Spirit.”

I nod. “That is quite likely. Although I’d call it differently.”

“We can call it by many different names”, Troels continues, “but in essence it stays the same thing, you know?”

You’re most welcome!

We speak more about religions, spirituality, gratitude. “When I am here on this beautiful part of the Earth, hear these birds, see these trees”, Troels says with reverence, “I am one with God. There is nothing more to seek.” He smiles. I smile too. This man has already arrived. We talk about the beauty of life and the miracle of evolution, and it becomes clear to me once again that Big Bang cosmology and Divine creation are not at odds.

I enjoy the late sunset in one of the hanging chairs that are dangling from tree branches. Heidi, a teacher, comes along to greet the new visitor. Turns out I was lucky that in the midst of a busy day she found time to prepare the treehouse and make the bed! After our short and sweet conversation, I put my remaining things up into the treehouse and play the RAV Vast and guitar outside, sitting on the platform. A tree concert.

Falling asleep turns out to be challenging: somewhere in the wood, little creatures are buzzing and humming … this must be the encore! I place a new feather from the garden on the little wooden table next to the bed. Thinking of my conversation with Troels, I invite the Holy Spirit / Divine presence / Source, by whichever name it might prefer, to appear in my dreams.

Soundtrack of the day:

Crows, organ church music, seagulls, sirens, birds, little buzzing creatures, …

But as I’ve linked a couple of songs above, here they are again:

Theatre of Tragedy – “Bring Forth Ye Shadow
In Extremo – “Lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein
Infected Rain – “The Earth Mantra

Day 10: Vikingeland

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021

Dream sequence 1. I bid farewell to K and turn to leave. She says, “Maybe this is the last time we’re seeing each other?” I turn back towards her, calling her silently. K approaches me. I lean down to kiss the tattoos on her ankle and calf, before laying my cheek against her skin, as if to say: “No matter what shit we’ve been through, I will always love you.”

Dream sequence 2. I’m walking into a town by the sea (in Denmark?) and notice that I am traveling without mobile phone or wallet. I hesitate for a moment, then proceed trustingly, knowing: “Whatever happens, I’ll be fine.”

Dream sequence 3. My brother is parking in a lot next to houses and trees. I’m walking outside. He turns the car so we’ll be ready to get on the road again. Suddenly the car is gone and I see him running a few steps, then coughing and kneeling on all fours, vomiting a huge pile of feces. He is clearly in severe distress. I place my hand on his back, rubbing it, feeling compassion, knowing: “Whatever happens, I’ll be there for you.”

Baltic Seashore Dreaming on such a Summer’s Night …

I wake up at peace in the present. Only the sudden memory of Y makes my stomach do a somersault and my heart skip a beat. But even that fades into equanimity. I understand the situation, understand what she said and what she didn’t say. Most importantly, I know where I stand.

I’m present to a feeling of excitement and awe about the journey ahead. While packing for what I consider at this point a 2-day trip to Denmark – my first time ever on Viking lands –, tears are welling in my eyes as the thought arises, “I’m coming home.”

It’s a three-hour drive from Groß Nordende, Germany to Trelde, Denmark. I listen to a playlist that seems appropriate for the occasion: Forndom’s “Faþir” album (a “random” discovery on Spotify), Falkenbach’s “…magni blandinn ok megintíri…” album with its epic opener “…When Gjallarhorn Will Sound…”, followed by Therion’s “Secrets of the Runes” and “Gothic Kaballah” albums. The first three are directly related to Norse Mythology, whereas the latter is “based on concepts from the life of 17th-century esoteric scholar Johannes Bureus (according to Wikipedia). At some point I feel oversaturated with occult Western esotericism and stop the music.

Flashback to 1998. We are gathering on the floor of Markus' flat, chatting along while listening to Orkus magazine's black/gothic/pagan metal sampler "Darkness Is Thy Kingdom". The compilation starts with Tristania's haunting "Preludium" and "Evenfall", much to our aural delight. But when track #5 begins, goosebumps are covering my entire body, and I ask my friends for silence. The simple, catchy keyboard and flute tune of "...When Gjallarhorn Will Sound..." by Falkenbach stirs something inside, like a memory of long forgotten ages.

At the Danish border, an officer asks me to pull over. I show my Covid-related documents while he inquires into my journey’s purpose and my work. Contrary to countless US border and customs officers, this friendly man appears to take genuine interest in my tale. He wishes me a pleasant experience in his home country. Denmark welcomes me with open arms and hearts – a very good omen!

The most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a very long time.

Lower speed limits and widespread law-abiding driving behaviours indicate that Denmark is not in a rush. I proceed accordingly to Flansbæk Strand near Østerby and Trelje. Tears are welling in my eyes again as I behold the Baltic Sea, inhaling the salty scent of ancient waves crashing upon the shore. Finally home!

A heart rejoices as two bare feet dig themselves into fine-grain sand along the shell-covered shores of Flansbæk Strand. Filled with childlike excitement, I collect dozens of shells, most of them plain white with occasional hints of pale orange. Seabirds are hovering in the air, eyeing their prey as I undress, slip into swimtrunks and walk down the slope. The seashore is almost flat and covered with seagrass. I dive fully underneath the water surface and feel the majestic ocean all around me, the liquid caress and salty embrace of this larger-than-life entity that holds the keys to – for all practical human purposes – eternity.

Oceans of eternity.

My friend Eva lives only a few minutes away from Flansbæk Strand with her husband and kids. We haven’t seen each other in at least 12 years, but neither the aforementioned times of goth and metal music – well over 20 years ago – nor our early years of friendship are easily forgotten: eating cheap pasta bolognese on Monday nights while playing table soccer at Music House, drinking Murauer beer and rolling dice to determine the prices of tequila shots; going for drinks at Eastside and eating the best hot dogs in town by Wilding at Dietrichsteinplatz; and eventually diving into the nearby caverns of Q, the most notorious goth & metal nightclub with its graffiti-painted black walls and inescapable odors of cheap red wine, piss-covered toilet stone, and obligatory fog machine that made cybernetic love with disco lights on the dance floor each night, along with varieties of dark music beats at ear-deafening volume.

And yet parking in the driveway and seeing Eva again today, here in Viking lands, makes me forget how many years have truly passed. There’s an immediate sense of familiarity and timelessness in our reunion. And there is also change: this is no longer a goth-style flat in Austria, but a bright, spacious house with a lush green garden and trees in Denmark. The tastefully furnished living room features a couch with two boys of 6 and 4 years, Oliver and Magnus, who barely turn their gaze away from their iPads, yet send me polite verbal greetings that reveal already how little Danish I know (read: none yet).

That same living room also features a library, simultaneously compact and epic, filled with countless books (yes, real books with real book smells and written dedications!) on mythology and linguistics. Eva delights in guiding me through her collected works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Neil Gaiman, various editions and commentaries on the Edda and other mythologies, epic tomes of Sanskrit and Latin and myriad other living and dead languages. Yes, she has studied this kind of stuff. Yes, this place is a language nerd’s dream!

Love’s many blessings – Eva and Magnus.

By contrast, the garden features Eva’s husband Rasmus meticulously cutting the hedges under a bright afternoon sun. I immediately become a fan of his Ragnar Lothbrok style haircut. (This connotation popularized by the “Vikings” series is most likely historically inaccurate, but to me the hairstyle looks really good on Rasmus. In any case, for me this train has left: at the ripe age of 42, I’ve finally convinced myself that balder is better – no Norse mythology pun intended!)

Eva shows me her roses and tree friends. The gnarly willow tree catches my attention.

Eva hospitably saves me from starvation and attempts in parallel to prepare a delicious Butter Chicken for dinner, while I successfully distract her from the task by sharing stories. We have lots to catch up, indeed. Oliver and Magnus come rushing to the kitchen, driven by gusto, thus inadvertently giving me an opportunity to admire Eva’s parenting skills. “I’ve never planned on this”, she laughs. I am reminded of our own family and childhood, as my brother and I are also two years apart. How auspicious that these adorable boys are growing up with two present and loving parents!

After a while, Oliver approaches me with an arrangement of plastic beads perfectly forming the letter “H” on a board. Our designated translator Eva reveals that her firstborn made this for me! How did he know that my main nickname since 1997 has been “Heimdall” (blessed be KaraNet, the first online community that asked me to choose a nickname; truth be told, both “Gandalf” and “Aragorn” were already taken)? I thank Oliver with gestures of gratitude while attempting to pronounce “mange tak!”

Oliver smiles from ear to ear. “Kan du lide Thor?”, he asks.

Of course I like Thor! Understanding my approval, Oliver contently dashes away and soon returns with another beadboard on which the beads are forming a “T”. We repeat our ritual.

“Kan du lide Loki?”

Truth be told, I’ve reached the age in which a man has met his shadow and learned that every man needs a little bit of Loki in his life, even if he boasts himself to be Heimdall, the only one of the Æsir who has always distrusted the shape-shifting Trickster of the Gods. Sure enough, Oliver returns with an “L”, and later he even brings me a “W”. Eva applies a hot iron to alchemize the plastic beads into stable letters by the transformative magic of heat.

Heimdall, Thor, Loki, Wolfgang. What else could it mean?

While Eva finishes her preparations for the Butter Chicken, I sneak away to take a walk in the garden, barefoot on grass, until I stand before the willow tree. It looks mysterious to me. I kneel on the ground in silence for a while and eventually open my mouth while gently touching one of its hanging branches.

“My name is Wolfgang”, I whisper softly as I hold the gnarled branch between my right thumb and index finger, “and I have come to learn from you. I have spoken with Cedar and Oak … –”

In this very moment, an intense surge of Kundalini energy rises from the depths of my Mūlādhāra and is met at the solar plexus by a vibrant pulse that seemingly rushes down from my hand that holds the branch. Within a split second these merging energies bring me to the brink of a violent sneeze. I let go of the branch, exerting all my strength to avoid sneezing, which helps contain the energy that instantly dissipates into my whole body, buzzing and vibrating. I gasp for air and take a couple of deep breaths. Filled with awe, I fold my hands to bow to the willow tree which now strikes me as being much older and wiser.

Willow, old and wise.

Our intimate encounter has, of course, not gone entirely unnoticed.

“Hvad laver du?”

The boys are standing behind me, with genuine curiosity writ large across their young faces. Rising to my feet I pretend that I don’t understand Magnus’ words, although I think I know what he is asking. In retrospect, I wish I had simply trusted to tell him in English, German, or any other intuitive language that I had just attempted to have a conversation with the willow tree. Aren’t they still young enough to understand? On the other hand, Magnus is scared of being eaten by Fenrir whenever he goes to the bathroom. Imagination can be a double-edged sword, and it requires much experience to forge it into the sharp axe of discernment.

We share a most delicious dinner on the terrace and talk some more while the boys, having finished more quickly, are playing soccer in the garden. Alas, time comes to leave. Yet as I pull out the RAV Vast to say farewell with music, the entire family is mesmerized by its ethereal sound. Eva and the boys take turns playing and evoking ever new melodies. A healing instrument for sure.

Oliver and Magnus give me an enthusiastic dual hug, clearly with no intention whatsoever to let me go (I’m moved to tears of gratitude as I’m writing this!), so I wrap my arms around them both and lift them into the air at once. Oh, children are such a blessing!

As if the day hasn’t been magical enough, the Airbnb in Bredsten is heavenly from the very beginning. I’m greeted enthusiastically by my hosts Katja and Jan and their happy dog Chino, a Labrador. Later I also have the honor of meeting Her Feline Highness a.k.a. Mokka the cat. (Chino and Mokka – I’ll let you play with that. :-))

All’s well that ends well in Bag End.

So I’ve just landed in a most gorgeous, newly renovated reed-thatched house that features, among other delicacies: a cozy room with a Hobbit-style round windowsill (ideal for journaling, reading and/or daydreaming), a stylish bathroom (ideal for all things bathroom-ish), and a large garden with two huge trampolins (ideal for jooooooyful jumping).

What would Loki choose?

Katja and Jan invite me to gather at the “rock bar”, a creative corner in their house with colorful lights and driftwood decorations, where we share our life stories while sipping Chai. The newlywed couple treats me to a Grand Tour de la Maison. So much thought and attention to detail has gone into their architecture and interior design!

Eventually night calls, and I fall fast asleep in the cozy bed, hardly believing that all of this happened in just one day … Vikingeland, mit hjerteland!

Soundtrack of the day:

Forndom – “Faþir” (album)
Falkenbach – “…magni blandinn ok megintíri…” (album)
Therion – “Secrets of the Runes” (album), “Gothic Kaballah” (album)

Day 9: Solstice

Monday, 21st June 2021

Today is one of the hardest days in a very long time. Perhaps it is as simple as this: I've come here to break my patterns of codependency. I've come here to find and claim freedom and awakening. This is why all things around Y are flaring up, today of all days.

– Journal entry

Whereas it was a cold and rainy day outside, something was burning inside me. I struggled to read on and work through Darlene Lancer’s book chapters 4 and 5. The most inconveniently intense, almost violent resurgence of emotions pulled me into a vortex of ache and shadow. Freedom? What the actual fuck? And yet there was also clarity that this was the path, and I was precisely where I needed to be. The only way out is the way through.

Food for body and mind, truth for heart and soul.

In the afternoon I had to drag myself to attend our weekly Mindful Researchers “gardeners” meeting, this time only with Francesco to check in around our most urgent items. I felt almost unable to interact, and we kept the meeting short. I asked Francesco to refrain from trying to give me any advice, knowing that advice was paradoxically the last thing I needed at this point. His compassionate understanding was a precious gift.

A knowing voice deep within compelled me to get to trees and water before the shortest night of this solar cycle approached the Northern hemisphere. Go to Hamburg, revisit your old tree friends, and walk along the Elbe river. You will walk alone.

I sought a parking space in Baron-Voght-Straße and eventually found a spot in a side street named Quellental. This area was known to me from a walk in April 2016 during my first and only other time in this city, on the occasion of a physics conference at DESY Hamburg. I revisited Jenischpark, remembered some of the majestic oak trees and explored new paths. Ravens came closer – of course! – and I chose to follow their call, only to discover that they were leading me to dead ends alongside the Flottbek creek with no reliable crossing in sight. Alright, you win, you little devils.

I could swear that a raven had just been sitting on that barren tree …

Back on trodden paths, a single raven awaited me on a barren tree by a bridge that led across the creek. I approached, raven gave way, I crossed, and raven landed behind me on the bridge, as if to tell me that there was no turning back. Time to proceed to the river. I found my way out of Jenischpark and onto Teufelsbrücker Platz – just like in 2016.

I strolled along the Elbe river on familiar paths that yet looked very different now. Bushes had grown alongside the river, and where once was a beautiful sunset, today grey rainclouds veiled the sky, sun, moon and stars. As I walked towards Blankenese and pondered life, the universe, and everything, it occurred to me to make a voice recording – just like in 2016.

In retrospect, the recording sounds astoundingly clear: balanced reflections on recent months, expressions of gratitude, clarity on the path ahead, and visions of the future – indeed just like in 2016.

Pick your Theatre of Tragedy songtitle caption: “Tanz der Schatten” or “Black as the Devil Painteth“?

On the way back to Teufelsbrücker Platz, with my earlier depression replaced by newfound clarity and trust, I saw a bird on the sidewalk that had apparently fallen out of the nest. I watched it for a while, wishing it well. I knew the little one was fine without me and realized that this might just be another metaphor. In this moment I knew where I needed to go for the rest of this journey. It was going to be a solo journey.

Back in the car I wrote to check in with Y and received the expected response, as if to confirm my choice: she was not ready to meet. Once again I felt strangely untroubled and sensed a larger kind of rightness of this, perhaps a kind of tough grace; yet once again there was also a certain ache in my heart, and I wondered whether it was mine, hers, ours … or neither?

First, we have to stop identifying grace with a happy outcome. The imaginal is not unresponsive to our deepest desires, but neither is it easily swayed by sentimentality or our own limited sense of what is “right and just.” Its mercy always reflects the big picture, and just as there is tough love, so also is there tough grace.

From “Eye of The Heart: A Spiritual Journey into the Imaginal Realm” by Cynthia Bourgeault

The biggest challenge of the day was driving home through the rain at night, on highway lanes “under construction” with nearly invisible road markings that vanish under the reflections of street lamps. Fortunately, judging from the equally apprehensive driving style of most peers, I was not alone in this predicament. I trust we all made it home safe and sound.

With the feather next to my bed and a mind filled with sleepy visions of Viking lands, I surrendered once again to the irresistible embrace of Morpheus.

Day 8: Darkwoods

Sunday, 20th June 2021

I wish I could tell you that from here onward things were becoming easy, that I knew what I was doing, that I figured it all out, that I discovered true bliss. But the “Dark Night” is typically not like that. As the title of one of Mark Matousek’s books aptly says, “When You’re Falling, Dive“.

Sometimes our nervous systems resist taking up information. I’ve had to listen a dozen times to certain passages in audiobooks, reliably blanking out every single time, until I could keep my mind focused enough to grasp the actual words. Similarly with reading some books. Today I noticed significant difficulty of such kind when reading Darlene Lancer’s “Conquering Shame and Codependency“. Yet before that, I wrote this in my journal:

"Maybe it is time to move on?"

Pondering these words again that Mark had shared with me in 2019, I've felt dizzy, unsettled. The one option I had not seriously entertained – that I would need to let go of (...) entirely. (...)

This is the lesson from 2005: do not hesitate, do not slow down, do not wait for others. I can and must walk alone. No approval, no advice can support me there. I must find my own way now. Now. There is no further delay. I want to be relentless about this. Not manic, but "monomaniacal", with absolute dedication. The missing piece is to stop waiting for others, for love, for approval. This is the resolution of codependency.

This feels "hard". And I feel certain. It is a big risk to take. I do not know what awaits me. I do not know who I will be. I must risk any transformation. I must trust my inner guidance and the Great Mystery. (...) From here onward, let nothing deter me from the path.

My body feels exhausted – perhaps energetic shifts and blockages unraveling. Something is opening up: glimpses of freedom.

Back to Darlene's book.

I worked through remaining exercises of chapter 2 and the entire chapter 3: shamed feelings, expressed and suppressed feelings and needs, defenses against shame, and more. It’s not an easy inquiry, particularly if you want to be radically honest with yourself, which is of course the point. It can also be valuable to revisit such an inquiry after a while, as each time new layers may reveal themselves. And at some point, one does well to move on.

I moved on and adorned my beloved Yamaha guitar with brand new D’Addario strings after some 20 years. This instrument had been gifted to me by my dear Aunt Inge about 27 years ago when I was 15, on the occasion of my Confirmation. I tuned the strings and played some songs, including an acoustic version of “How’s the Heart?” from the latest Nightwish album (though definitely not half as good as Floor Jansen and Troy Donockley).

The inward journey had begun. Parts of my insides were kicking and screaming, passionately resisting the more determined parts. Nothing wrong there, but oh so exhausting. It seemed as though I could do very little to influence this unraveling, and much less (read: nothing) to control its outcome. I needed to let it happen, let it flow through me, while mostly stepping out of the way. I felt that all these parts were somehow steering together towards resolution – alas, I couldn’t see the end of it. It seemed that I could only trust the process.

When you’re falling, dive into Rodenbeker Quellental.

As evening approached, the trees were calling me again. I found a forest on the northern outskirts of Hamburg named Rodenbeker Quellental, parked the car at Gasthaus Quellenhof and started a threshold walk.

The threshold was, aptly, the crossing of a bridge to enter this Natural Reserve. I introduced myself to the trees by saying my name and declaring my purpose, asking to learn from them.

Walking, sitting on a bench, being besieged by mosquitoes. No rest for the wicked. I took a right turn and meandered on crooked paths. Remembering my deep connection to the trees, feeling them as living entities (with a certain kind of erotic energy), and momentarily thinking of Y, crows appeared. Follow them.

Reflection pond.

I came out of the woods, turned left, found myself on Bredenbekstraße, turned left again onto Diestelstraße, hoping to find back into the forest, resisting the urge to pull out my phone. Trust your inner compass.

To my dismay, Diestelstraße soon bent to the right. Should I turn back? Keep going.

I began taking every possible left turn, and at some point, discovering what seemed like woods on my left, I simply went off the beaten path, determined to keep on walking through the thicket until I would find back onto one. This is stupid! – No, this is what you wanted. Keep going.

This forest didn’t look as forest-like as where I had started. I saw horses on my left. Dusk began to embrace us. I carried on, still trying to keep turning left where I could. Trust your inner compass.

Trust your inner horses.

Dark passages through untamed parts of the forest appeared, and I took them all with a feeling of respect, but no fear. I spotted a deer in a creek, or was it a fox? After another 20 minutes, I began reciting the poem by Francis Thompson. Reaching the last line, I felt an uncanny sense of discovering something eerily familiar. I know these trees! And I know these … horses. – Oh shit. I’ve been running in circles!

I paused. What now?

I rubbed the magic lamp of Google Maps, and Captain Obvious appeared, pointing to the rather obvious fact that I was facing north, whereas I actually needed to walk south. Duh! I could certainly have understood this all the time, even by noticing the sunset on my left. Now the sun had long disappeared, dusk had fallen, temperatures were dropping, and I still had ways ahead to get back to the car. With a minimum of reassurance from Google Maps, I found a path through the woods, which were by now quite dark. Darkwoods.

No fear of the dark. Yet I remembered a night in 2012 when the effect of similar circumstances had been vastly different on me.

On August 24th, 2012, I went to a barefoot dancing event in an eco-village close to Vernier in France. To get there, I had to ride my bike through woods, which despite daylight made my hair stand on end. My friend Nadia was at the venue too, and another young woman whom I liked also came but left earlier. We all danced into late night like lunatics in a geodesic dome filled with sand, music, and hippies. 

I stayed for a little longer after the event, stood outside in front of a bonfire, feeling the four elements: Fire dancing before me, Earth carrying me from underneath, Water falling from the sky above, Wind caressing my back. 

I headed home on my bike as the rain picked up. Yet the roads I was hoping to take were dead-ends. I needed to turn back again and again, and eventually was left with no choice but to cross the woods once more. Darkwoods. The dim bike light illuminated the silhouettes before me, and yet I was absolutely terrified of the dark, flooded with fear of demons & monsters, evil witches & giant spiders. I screamed wildly as I traversed the woods, screaming imaginary Death in the face. 

I made it through. Streets again. No more rain. Not knowing the exact way, I took a left turn by intuition. It was probably 2:00am. I spotted a motionless human body on the road before me, a young motorcyclist presumably after a solo accident. As if on autopilot, recalling some first-aid principles, I attended to the young man who was dimly conscious. A young woman came along, and we took care of the man together. He regained his full consciousness and seemed okay, if under mild shock. He lived very close by with his parents, so we escorted him and his damaged motorbike to that place called home. 

I eventually arrived at my homebase in Chemin du Vieux Bureau in the Swiss village of Meyrin, quietly sneaked inside so as to not awaken my fellow housemates, packed my bags, fell asleep at 4:00am, and got up at 7:00am the next day to catch a plane from GVA to NCE. There I embraced my friend A, met Y for the first time, reunited with my uncle & aunt and more friends, and soon forgot entirely about sleep deprivation as we spent a most memorable week in Opio, France.

This time no screaming was necessary. I embraced getting lost in the woods, just as well as I embraced the darkness, and both guided me back to the light. The times they are a’changin’.

I crossed the bridge again, bade farewell to the trees, made it back to the car, and got home around midnight. With a smile I realized that I had just been gifted precisely what I had asked for at the beginning of this journey: to lose myself in order to find my way – or to lose my way in order to find myself. Maybe both?

Along that little odyssey, I got reminded of the dissolution of old fears – of darkness, shadows, confrontation. What is left to be afraid of?

Soundtrack of the day:

Nightwish – “How’s the Heart?” (acoustic version)
Nightwish – “Human. :||: Nature.” (album)
Darkwoods My Betrothed – “Witch Hunts” (album) … because the title of this entry, “Darkwoods”, reminded me of a fun fact: Tuomas Holopainen, mastermind composer and keyboarder of Nightwish, has also been a keyboarder of Darkwoods My Betrothed, which is VERY different in style! Also, the title of track #3. Also, on the theme of this album, my heart weeps for the heinous crimes and acts of violence that our kin has been committing – against itself, against women, against other kin, against life – to this day.

Interlude: The Dark Night of the Wolf

(It’s time to rewind and examine the origins of this journey. I composed this piece in the days before it started. Posting it now with a few adjustments.)

Fortunately, I didn’t think this through. 

Setting foot on new terrain has become the order of the day, and it's been leading you right through the valley of a "Dark Night". But I don't mean to sound gloomy here: trust me, dear traveler, it's all good. You've wanted this. Things are beginning to fall into place. Several parts are transforming fast, bearing the gift of growing pains, letting go, and freedom on the other side. Trust the process.

I’ve been on this journey for a long time. I’ve meandered and taken a couple of loops. I’ve forgotten and re-membered its purpose, I’ve lost and regained faith, I’ve made wishes …

And now I remember.

Let’s rewind to where it all began … to get the old story out (of the way) and start living into a new one: this very present.

Some say that Aesop wrote it first. (Image credit: Sebastien Gabriel)

Be careful what you wish for, part 1: Awakening the Spiritual Heart

I’ve encountered three major shifts in this adult lifetime that lastingly changed the way in which I’ve been experiencing life ever since. The first one happened in May 2005. I sometimes call it my first glimpse of a “spiritual awakening”, though perhaps “awakening the spiritual heart” is more accurate. It hit me suddenly, relentlessly, without warning, as if by grace – though in retrospect it was preceded by a sequence of falling dominos, spread over several weeks.

Just a couple of hours earlier, in the course of an inspiring evening with my dear friends Hope and Lea, I had uttered the wish to “be able to expand our capacities”. Later that night, as soon as I had returned home and entered my room, I started feeling dizzy. I followed an inner voice to “sit down” and “let it happen”, and then … something happened for which I had no words, no concepts at all. An utterly new and hyper-intense quality of experience grabbed my entire being and filled all my senses completely for what seemed like an eternity. I couldn’t do anything but surrender to it. After perhaps 10 minutes of chronos time, when the storm had weathered itself, I reopened my eyes and literally perceived the world for the first time.

Integration was challenging. I was basically experiencing an extended period of several weeks of bliss and unprecedented ease around formerly difficult situations, while knowing my purpose in life. Yet I also felt alienated from the world I had once known. I had never remotely imagined that such a quality of experience would be possible, and I had no idea yet that this experience was indeed shared in kind by several people in the past, present and future.

When thy seeing blindeth thee
To what thy fellow-mortals see;
When their sight to thee is sightless;
Their living, death; their light, most lightless;
Search no more—
Pass the gates of Luthany, tread the region Elenore.

FROM ‘The Mistress of Vision’ by Francis Thompson

I found trusted friends to talk with, who seemed to understand and could relate. However still, in the ensuing weeks and months I hesitated to follow my intuition to dive deeper, fearing that by doing so I might lose my relationships, my sanity, or both. I held onto a sense of safety of the familiar. I held onto my familiar sense of identity. I felt unworthy of this mysterious grace and sought to “make it about others” whom I deemed more “deserving”. Thereby I gradually “forgot” my clarity and purpose. Oh, this cunning ego with its most artful defenses!

Even so, the mystical experience changed me forever. I became genuinely interested in consciousness, psychology, Buddhism and various contemplative and spiritual traditions. I started meditating and attended my first meditation retreat in September 2006 in a beautiful place called Puregg (see Puregg 2006 diary). It was the beginning of a long journey filled with beauty, grace, challenge, growth, and of course heartbreak.

Puregg - Haus der Stille, 2008
Puregg – Haus der Stille. (Picture taken in April 2008)

Be careful what you wish for, part 2: Sex, Death, Enlightenment

The second shift in 2012 was an extended alchemy of “sudden epiphany” and “slow burner”.

In January 2010 I started working as a member of the ATLAS Collaboration at CERN on my particle physics PhD thesis. Living in France and Switzerland for the next 3 1/2 years gave me a novel sense of (relative) independence and self-sufficiency. I learned to dance Salsa in Geneva, co-habited with 7 amazing guys in a house and garden in Meyrin, and was tremendously inspired when my friend Ling switched her career from “CERN physicist” to “editor at Médécins Sans Frontières”. I thought: How courageous! Could I ever do such a thing? For I already had a gnawing sense – a sort of memory of the future – that my life journey was bound to unfold elsewhere, not in physics. While that possibility would still remain unfathomable and unsettling for a while, a seed was being planted.

One morning in Vienna in March 2012, on the day of my birthday celebration with family and friends, I met Tanya from Australia who had just begun traveling through Europe. Tanya’s wholehearted way of embracing life and adventure inspired me tremendously, even more so when she instantly accepted my spontaneous invitation (after only 10 minutes of beautiful conversational flow) to join us for the celebration that evening. I wondered: How open-heart-minded! Would I ever do such a thing? Thereby, the seed was being watered.

A CERN physicist in his natural habitat. (Photo credit: Anna Pantelia, June 2013)

Working at CERN felt exciting, expanding, and intimidating – everyone else seemed like an expert to me. I eventually “found my place” in Spring 2012 when taking the lead on a new project (the “Minimum Bias analysis at √s = 8 TeV” in short) that would become the heart of my PhD thesis. I overcompensated for my earlier feelings of inadequacy, and overworked like a maniac … until my body collapsed. One night in late July 2012, I experienced a severe panic attack and thought I was about to die from a heart attack. My friend and housemate Andrew accompanied me to the nearby private hospital where I spent several hours – literally a very Dark Night – filled with boundless dread and intense fear of imminent death, even as the caring nurses reassured me that I was actually safe.

Learn to water joy with tears,
Learn from fears to vanquish fears;
To hope, for thou dar’st not despair,
Exult, for that thou dar’st not grieve;
Plough thou the rock until it bear;
Know, for thou else couldst not believe;
Lose, that the lost thou may’st receive;
Die, for none other way canst live.

FROM ‘The Mistress of Vision’ by Francis Thompson

In the following days, while slowly recuperating at home and journaling, I asked three times what I really wanted in life. The third response wrote itself through my hand, in some mysterious way beyond my control: “Aufwachen” (awaken). I stared at this word with disbelief, although it shouldn’t have surprised me. It was a resurgence of the calling from May 2005. The realization shook me to the core. A new question arose: what to do now? (A handy defense mechanism: Analysis paralysis is your friend! Good luck figuring this one out!)

I took the next two weeks off, visited home, meditated in Puregg. I returned to CERN to work for two more weeks, then embarked upon a week-long vacation in France with my dear uncle, aunt, and friends. Little did I know that I would meet Y there, a muse who precisely matched all elements on my wishlist for “the kind of woman I want to come into my life”, penned into my journal half a year earlier. Be careful what you wish for: the universe delivers!

It felt like … this. (Picture taken from a journal entry in October 2013.)

Our brief encounter turned my life upside down in the most beautiful, passionate, intense, loving, challenging, heart-breaking-open, soul-expanding ways. Letting go of Y was the hardest and most liberating thing at the same time. (“Remember that challenges are blessings in drag”, she would write many years later.)

A couple of weeks later, I went on my first journey that would alter the course of my life. For the first time I chose to travel not for anybody else’s sake, but only from the unmistakable clarity of inner direction. I patiently awaited that moment of complete clarity and utter freedom. One morning I awoke from sleep, knew “this is it!”, jumped out of bed, and booked my tickets straight away.

Uh-oh! (Cover taken from here)

I went via London to visit Tanya for two days (memorable last words: “I wouldn’t be on this journey if it weren’t for you“), and on to California for almost three weeks. There I befriended street artists and homeless people, couchsurfed for the first time in San Luis Obispo where I almost stumbled into a barfight, became friends with amazing hosts, slept like a baby on a couch near the oceanside in Oceanside, and visited the Metta Forest Monastery where I had a memorable private conversation with Thanissaro Bhikkhu. At the SAND 2012 conference I met Scott Virden Anderson who would soon become a dear friend, mentor and supporter of my career transition and my spiritual journey. There I also met Mark Matousek who teaches transformation through storytelling and has authored, among other books, the spiritual memoir “Sex, Death, Enlightenment“. I will never forget our post-conference after-breakfast conversation and the powerful farewell hug. “Thank you for finding me“, he said. “Thank you for being there to be found“, I responded. And we shared tears of gratitude.

Thus further seeds were being planted and watered, my “nomad soul” was awakened, and a new direction of life was initiated. This entire journey – and much of the year 2012 – turned out to be the most soul-expanding journey of my life …

… until this year 2021. Which brings us to shift number three:

Be careful what you wish for, part 3: The Answer to Everything

This year on March 14th, 2021, I turned 3*14 = 42. (Also, 2*21 = 42 … numberphiles of the world unite!) And we all know that 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything, right? Well, once more I asked for change, and change literally arrived like there was no tomorrow.

The day started beautifully: in the morning Tanya (now living again in Australia with husband, daughter and puppy) joined my family for a virtual birthday celebration and hilarious storysharing. Remembering our old stories, my nomad soul came back to life. I also felt incredibly happy for Tanya being the mother of an adorable two-year-old. I thought the day couldn’t get any better than this.

More virtual celebration and storysharing followed in the evening with dear friends from myriad social circles. My heart was overflowing with joy and gratitude for such abundance. Yet still on the same evening, an unexpected virtual reunion would turn my life upside down. After years of silence Y wrote, I responded, and we talked on Zoom for 16 hours straight – indeed like there was no tomorrow.

The universe delivered again, and it has its ways. I had asked for transformation, not for eternal bliss. In its infinite generosity, the universe giveth both: “transformation” and “not eternal bliss”. It does have Divine Humor! Two wonderfully soul-expanding months later, in a quite different sense there was indeed no tomorrow for us … yet a new tomorrow for each of us.

In these two months – they felt like years – I contracted and expanded more fully, experienced more intimate connection, revealed deeper layers of trust and strength, felt more intense emotions (most prominently love, compassion, joy, heartache, anger, acceptance), and conquered larger “insurmountable” blocks and “unfathomable” barriers than in all my 42 years before. Some days felt too blissful to be true (can such love even be real?); some days felt incredibly blissful and absolutely true; some days felt like plunging into the bottomless abyss of heartbreak, wrestling in freefall with Letting Go. (Which is where we landed.)

Admittedly, I had greatly desired a different course of events. Letting go of the beloved is not my favorite part of dukkha, nor has it been my forté. But even more so, I wanted to grow, to be free and whole. I committed to grow on my own terms, to fully and unabashedly embody that awake and true being that can only be unveiled by letting go of clinging to pretty-much-everythingTM. And I genuinely wanted the same for her, as for every being in this world: to be free and whole. I admit that it wasn’t always easy, but whenever I recommitted to this highest good and upheld my heart’s promise, it liberated me too, heartbeat upon heartbeat.

90/100. Good news! You’re experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul. (Screenshot taken from here)

And so the following two months, leading up to this day, have brought even further liberation and growth. I have plunged fully and intentionally into this “Dark Night”, embracing it with unwavering determination. I intend to leave no stone unturned, while also being more compassionate with myself and others, trusting and following my inner guidance and a growing awareness of innate sensitivity. I have lost count of the barriers, blocks, fears, habits, patterns that have been unraveling since, some intentionally and others as unintended-yet-pleasant consequences. A lot of it has to do with releasing codependency.

The not so pleasant news is that such a “Dark Night” process can hurt like hell. It runs its own course, has its own pace, and lasts on its own terms. Yet the more I let go of whatever there is to let go of, the more life begins to “work out” by itself. My inner and outer relationships are transforming fast. By simply trusting to be myself, and choosing to stand up for myself, I confronted my dad for the first time ever, which was – despite the painful context – incredibly empowering, liberating and healing. Likewise with my mentor and other “authority figures”. Consider me a late bloomer! The best part is, in my experience thus far, that such honest confrontations tend to establish clear boundaries and bring the parties closer together. It’s like an omni-win.

Approval-seeking, subjugation and self-sacrifice have reigned my life for too long; it’s a long and arduous path to release them, to release the stories(!) by which I’ve held them in place. Stories about ego, fear of you-name-it, ‘insurmountable’ difficulty. But then it suddenly turns out to be quite simple, and the stories are being revealed as untrue, and their unraveling begins.

This is completely new terrain for me, and sometimes it appears hard to navigate. But I am already committed to continue until that task is done, excited for what may come next. I fumble along the way, while learning to set new boundaries and to accept boundaries of others (these two beautifully go hand in hand). It appears that the main ingredient for setting boundaries is trusting my innate sensitivity and giving it a voice; from there, the boundaries naturally establish themselves. What if this is true for everyone?

Actually, I think this is true for everyone. Perhaps with slight adaptations. In any case, I’ll keep on practicing and learning where I can.

I am blessed with dear friends who know how to support, and whom I can support, who have walked or are still walking similar paths. Yet clearly I cannot defer my responsibility to others any longer. Orienting myself along their opinions, advice, and real or imagined expectations – once a source of “safety” and comfort (and also discomfort and rebellion) for me – would send me straight back to square one. No, this journey calls for a different way, one that I have started to taste in 2005 and again in 2012: to trust my intuition, this inner guidance, this inner authority. To take all that I’ve learned on board, discern clearly, and discard what no longer serves. To let go of what I ‘know’, to lose myself in order to find the way. And so too for everyone. Like this:

Pierce thy heart to find the key;
With thee take
only what none else would keep.

from ‘The Mistress of Vision’ by Francis Thompson

Ain’t that a damn good poem?

Be careful what you wish for, pt.4: Writing To Heal

I’ve been reading the book “Conquering Shame and Codependency” by Darlene Lancer and working with the exercises. It’s really good. VERY good.

Nourishment for body, mind, heart and soul. Yay!

Journaling and writing helps, too: I’ve recently taken the “Writing To Heal” course with Mark Matousek and will continue that process. Perhaps therefore I’m writing here again, which I’ve wanted to do for an eternity. It sometimes feels quite challenging to remain fully authentic and to write all of this here “for myself”, sharing it with you only for the sake of creative expression and healing transformation; neither to seek approval nor to cause any other desired outcome. (Work in progress.) Maybe I’ll bore you, maybe I’ll piss you off, maybe I’ll amuse you, maybe I’ll inspire you, maybe you won’t even notice any of this process here and I’m just talking to myself … Whatever be the case, it shall never get in the way of the process. And when I let go of all that, writing happens and joy arises.

And now I remember. I can barely put into words what that means, not yet. It’s like being showered by grace all over, as in 2005, but also new and different.

As in 2005, I remember (and forget and remember) my purpose. As in 2012, I have awaited clarity until the moment of doubtless clarity as to why and for whom I am doing this. A journey lies ahead, beginning in a few hours: this time northbound, to Germany. It will span just under two weeks, but after the pandemic lockdowns even that feels abundantly adventurous. I’ve had other ideas and hopes when I first planned it, but as we know, God in her Divine Humor laughs lovingly about such human matters!

My true purpose for this journey turns out to be much simpler. It is a journey to my innermost self, a quest of releasing habitual patterns and old stories, a “descent to soul”. It asks me to trust my intuition, to follow my heart, to release what no longer serves, to lose myself in order to find the way … and to awaken. Magic happens when I travel and live this way. I’ll also be taking my Ocean Soul for a swim in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and set foot on Viking lands for the first time.

(edit: as of today, that journey has already concluded, yet of course it was only the beginning of a larger journey. :-))

I’ve once heard Gary Weber say, “Put all your chips on the table!” – by which he meant the spiritual path towards awakening. (That was at SAND EU 2013 in the Netherlands. I remember we talked after the conference, an hour or so before an unforgettable walk in the woods with a dear friend, which turned into my first ever psychedelic experience.)

Oh noes! (Image taken from here)

I’m betting on a pair of aces: (1) heal thy (not-)self, in order to (2) transcend it. In terms of Buddhist philosophy, that involves the realization of not-self (anatta) and emptiness (suñyata). My concerns are: do I have time for part 1, and do we have time for parts 1&2? And if so, what are the right ingredients? What’s their right balance, the right order? How do I integrate what I have learned and yet to learn, without getting sidetracked by ego, shadow, story, desire, …?

Tricky. Yet I’ve been preparing for this. I’ll travel with intention, sincerity, humility, not-knowing, love, compassion, trust, commitment. I’ll give my sincere dedication to this quest.

In the days, weeks, months to come, I intend to share that process of discovery and transformation here. I know deep within that sharing all of this is good for something, though I don’t yet know for what exactly. I trust that it will reveal itself. Perhaps you hold the answer?

I’ll conclude with the Bodhisattva Vows and “Night Chant” at Upaya Zen Center that I’ve heard a couple of times from Roshi Joan Halifax. May it be a guiding light on our journeys:

Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
The awakened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.

Let me respectfully remind you –
Life and death are of supreme importance –
Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost –
Let us awaken –
    awaken . . .
Do not squander your life.

– Roshi Joan Halifax, Bodhisattva Vows and Night Chant at Upaya Zen Center


Day 7: Springtide

Saturday, 19th June 2021

Magnificent sunrise is magnificent.

I woke up to composing a poem in the early morning on the balcony. Being kissed by the muses is always a blessing, especially when they come in more-than-human form. The poem expressed an ongoing transformation in me, a shift in priorities, a desire for time in nature, a calling towards solitude, the dawning of a deeper kind of mystical knowing.

Yummy breakfast is yummy.

I made breakfast. Annika woke up late and ate only little as she was not feeling too well. We fitted her bike into the spacious trunk of the car and went to Kollmar beach, where we found a tree that provided shade and grounding. After a delightfully refreshing swim in the Elbe river at high tide (we didn’t know that later that evening, a 9-year-old girl tragically drowned on the very same beach, likely at lower tide), Annika made a discovery while leaning against the trunk.

This tree is vaster than you might think.

“When you lean back like this for a while, the tree appears to be much larger”, she said.

I tried it too, with similar results. When viewed from the ‘outside’, the tree appeared to have its normal size, just as you would perceive it. Yet leaning against the trunk, feeling the support of this old being, looking skywards into its crown of branches and leaves, it appeared vast to both of us … even majestic.

Annika suggested getting fish sandwiches, which helped me fulfill the unspoken commandment that thou shalt eat a fish sandwich in Hamburg. We also bought freshly harvested local cherries before heading toward Glückstadt. Despite its promising name this town felt rather unspectacular, so we sought a different route closer to the water. Getting lost is almost always a good choice. Now it led us through lush green vegetation to a dead end and a herd of sheep. Annika the Sheep Whisperer offered them water, but the sheep didn’t seem particularly impressed. Yet she made another discovery as she keenly observed how the sheep took turns in providing shade for each other. The herd looks after its kin without arguing.

Unimpressed sheep are unimpressed by Annika the Water-Bearer.

To get to Annika’s self-made garden house, we took the scenic route through Wedel and woods on the outskirts of Hamburg. Along the way, Annika suggested that I could invite Y to join us there and/or for a later walk along the Elbe river. “It’s always good to have data”, she argued. I agreed, and I also observed inner resistance. We took a break in the woods. I pondered for a while. Do I really want this? Do I want it today? Do I fear rejection?

Eventually curiosity won. I called – no response – then texted. Y declined, as I had anticipated, yet I was happy to notice that it didn’t hurt much. Besides, Annika and I got enmeshed in Hamburg’s Friday afternoon traffic. But if there’s a will there’s a way, and when one’s mind is set and determined, all paths are eventually leading to Annika’s garden house.

Annika standing on top of the world.

We climbed through the roof window and stood atop, then pumped water from a well (old school!) to water the garden plants. Annika took her bike and went to a social soccer viewing with friends, while I stayed behind in the shade of the garden house for a Zoom session with Mark Matousek’s “The Seekers Forum” writing circle. As fate would have it, today’s writing prompts fit my journey to a tee. Here is a sample:

  1. How do you show bravery in your life?
  2. Where do you withhold love today? What specific fears drive you to do so?
  3. Where does pride get in the way? How does trust play a role for you?

Boy, did I have something to write and to share in the Q&A! The coexistence of (1) a genuine desire and appreciation for freedom and solitude, and (2) a genuine longing for connection and the expression of love, can seem paradoxical, even irreconcilable. I have obviously chosen a life of seeking such realms of paradox, perhaps in order to reconcile them – although admittedly, skillful navigation in these realms does not always present itself as straightforward. Mark’s response was clear and compassionate as always. Two ravens appeared right afterwards. But of course!

Awesome garden house is awesome, and delightfully blue.

On the drive back, I needed to go practically “blind” as the GPS wasn’t working for some reason. Yet I already knew the way. It amazes me how after only 1-2 expositions to a new environment, our cognitive system can actually remember it well enough to navigate therein. (For the pen & paper roleplayers: my W100 on “street lore” was successful.)

I remembered a sign pointing towards a parking lot in the woods, leading the willing adventurer to a path along Holmer Grenzweg. I was such a willing one. There was plenty of daylight left. I walked slowly and admired the oak trees on both sides. At some point, I began to wonder if they knew about the stars. What if I told them the stories I knew?

When to the new eyes of thee
All things by immortal power,
Near or far,
To each other linkèd are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star …

From ‘The Mistress of Vision‘ by Francis Thompson

I began reciting the second half of the poem From ‘The Mistress of Vision’ by Francis Thompson, slowly, slowly, feeling each word, beholding oak and beech with reverence. Before reaching the end of the poem, my whole state of consciousness had shifted. I felt like treading a sacred realm that had always been there, and only now was my entire being completely and utterly immersed in it.

(another) Oak, basking in the warm glow of sunset.

I walked on until I stood before a very tall and presumably old oak on the left side of the path. We shared space for a long while. I said my name and declared my intention. I recited the whole poem again from beginning to end. Oak listened.

I told Oak about Cedar who lives on the lands of an area that we humans mostly refer to as Seattle. I shared, in whispers and mostly in thought, about humanity, human cultures and history as we know them, science and technology, telescopes and spacecraft. I shared all that I knew about all that we know as a human species, about distant stars that twinkle when one stirs a flower and even when Oak grows.

I acknowledged the heavy price that we pay and inflict upon the more-than-human world, and how many of Oak’s kin had to perish for us living our story of progress, and how many more beings had to perish alongside them. I wept for all of us, for all of our kins. These weren’t tears of guilt or shame. These were tears of knowing and feeling directly.

Oak listened. It seemed that this time it was my turn to share from the heart, and to be received by Oak’s unwavering presence.

Back home a candlelight dinner for one awaited, with more pasta and a glass of wine to conclude a long day on the balcony – marking the first half of this journey. The second half would inevitably lead me much deeper.

I have come here for this. I am ready.

Soundtrack of the day:

Wardruna – “Kvitravn

Day 6: Mudbound

Friday, 18th June 2021

It was time to deepen the journey and spice things up by drawing some Tarot cards. This wouldn’t be as much fun as the “Psychedelic Glass Bead Game” I had played twice with geeky friends, but it would be more personal. I went for one of the simplest forms described in the book “Tarot Basics Crowley” by Johannes Fiebig and Evelyn Bürger: draw three day cards that represent your situation, task, and solution. Easy.

Situation: Queen of Cups. Water of Water, Great Mother, anima mundi. Trust your inner voice and let it flow. Go to a river or lake and meditate there.

Task: Knight of Cups. Fire of Water, Percival, wounded healer. What do you believe in? Seek the holy grail. Unite heart and intellect. Balance the opposites.

Clearly someone has got their work cut out for them.

Solution: The Magus. Hermes Trismegistus, active, vital, decisive. Expand your horizon. Walk your unique way and discover the yet unseen.

Even without these hints, I knew it was time for a close encounter with water. But first I needed to find a replacement for the cool white hat that I had lost – alas! – along the road trip through Germany. I went to raid the nearby town of Elmshorn, earning the spoils of a new summer hat, a magic cap, swimming trunks of awesomeness, and sunscreen. A homeless man and I exchanged smiles twice in passing. His friendly gaze resembled that of a Bodhisattva – not that I could explain to you now exactly how a Bodhisattva gazes, so just take my word for it. I intended to return a third time, but when I looked for him he had disappeared. So I wished him well, wherever and whoever he was, and recalled the many times in 2012 (and since) when I had chatted with homeless people on the streets, or with street artists; these encounters had often turned out to be the true blessings of the day.

Low tide …

I drove to Kollmar beach with the intention to swim in the Elbe river. The tide was so low that in lieu of actual swimming, I only buried my feet in the soft mud that covers the riverbanks. At least I’m touching water. It was an uncanny feeling to sink almost knee-deep into something you cannot see. It also felt strangely comforting, as if Gaia herself would wrap me into her semi-solid, semi-liquid body of mud & moisture.

Meanwhile, two young men went further into the water to play with a ball, and unsuccessfully tried to convince a group of teenage girls to join them. (What I did not know: further upstream in Hamburg, a 15-year-old boy tragically drowned that evening while swimming in the same river.)

… begets muddy feet.

With little time left, I went on to Friedrichshafen and sat cross-legged on the slope of a dike, casting a meditative gaze across the shores of the Wadden Sea. Then I steered back home to raid some fresh fruits and vegetables from a local farm shop, as well as a loaf of “Shield Maiden” bread from a small bakery that knows how to name their goods. At home Annika already awaited me in the garden, herself having ambitiously taken a bike tour amidst the scorching summer heat (at least 35°C) all the way from central Hamburg to Groß Nordende.

Gazing across the Wadden Sea.

Annika finalized slides for her upcoming presentation, while “we” (myself, Mary and Francesco from the Mindful Researchers “gardeners” group) prepared to open our first “Mindful Presentations” session – a new format that one of our community members, Niko, had proposed a couple weeks earlier.

What makes this meeting format special is that instead of a dry “classic” presentation for academic peers, we encourage each other to share and discuss our work in the context of “our deeper reflections on why and how we care about our research, as well as our non-academic ventures, ambitions, motivations, inspirations, contemplative practices, and questions in life that matter to us” – to quote from our newsletter. Or in Annika’s words:

A space where researchers can experiment, explore, test-run “less typically academic” (whatever that means in their specific discipline) reflections. Stepping deeper in our work, or branching off into new directions tends to involve uncertainty – and others willing and able to (joyfully, calmly, wildly) hold the space for us to do so. We want to offer such a space (to ourselves, and we invite others).

Barring a couple minor technical issues, our session went extraordinarily well. Willeke, Annika and Niko presented their research and life passions among a group of 17 participants. This was followed by a highly engaged “open conversation” / Q&A, for which most attendees stayed way beyond the official closing time. What a blessing!

After this highlight, I felt incredibly hungry and made pasta with veggie sugo, spiced up with swiftly sautéed mushrooms and, well, spices. It stayed warm outside way beyond nightfall. Annika had beer and fruits, I had wine and pasta, and we reflected on mind and life.

Finally sinking into bed, I wondered … soon the midpoint of this journey would be reached. What more was to come, when meetings and other duties were behind me? What magic was dawning, which places were calling, whom else would I encounter, and whose secrets were awaiting their revelation?

Soundtrack of the day:

Corvus Corax – “Sverker” (album), “Skál” (album)

To be honest, I cannot remember what exactly I was listening to on that day. But it’s a good moment to plug the earthy medieval music of Corvus Corax. You cannot go wrong by listening to Corvus Corax … you might only go a bit crazy and perhaps surrender your body and soul to ecstatic dance. :-)

Day 5: Dreamtime

Thursday, 17th June 2021

I woke up early, grabbed my phone, read a comment from Odd asking if I would also come by Norway on this trip, and read another comment from Y. Sinking back into sleep, the feather still next to my bed, a series of dreams unfolded.

Learn to dream when thou dost wake,
Learn to wake when thou dost sleep.

from “The Mistress of Vision” by Francis Thompson

Sequence 1: In a large house, I am sharing the bed with a petite, dark-skinned young woman. We are both around 20. Clearly this young woman is Y (whom in reality I haven’t met before her late 30s) although she also reminds me of my first partner. We are under one blanket, and it seems that we are not supposed to be too close because of her parents who are also home. Y places her head on my shoulder and chest, and I lean my head against hers and wrap her in my arms. Our bodies become more closely entangled, holding each other tight. Y seems to desire more, while I make sure we don’t go too far. I put the blanket aside and notice I am naked, yet not ashamed at all. I find my boxers and put them on, not for my own sake, but to protect Y from possible unpleasant consequences through her parents. Scene change.

Sequence 2: I am driving with someone (Y?) on a hot Summer day, intending to park the car in a small lot. A policeman blocks that part, so I manoeuver to turn the car and leave. I see Odd in a car nearby, and we exchange some words through the open windows. I continue driving to an excavation or construction site that seems located in the US, perhaps in NYC, although the scenery altogether looks more like Italy. There is a large gathering of protesters who are opposing plans for building manmade things on this land. A policecar is approaching from behind with blue lights, and I stop to let it pass through a narrow passage before me. Yet the policecar waits and the driving cop ushers us to go first. We arrive at the site, now walking rather than driving. I see a CERN colleague, Claudia, many indigenous people, news reporters, and some very ancient trees. I am carrying a camera and microphone too, as if being a journalist, and I feel like one. Then I look more intently at the trees … and everything falls silent around me. I become one with the trees. They look like olive trees, standing on leg-like trunks. I feel a surge of Kundalini energy rising and accumulating in my solar plexus area (for the first time ever in a dream, as far as I can remember!) and I get close to sneezing to discharge the intense energy, but manage to maintain it so it can circulate through me. The thought occurs, “This is almost like a dream, but it’s real!” I start floating and drifting uphill, where the people too are walking backwards and uphill in a row, as if to take a position from which they will make their stand. I feel awestruck by the sacredness of this moment. There is a direct connection to the land, the people, the trees, to everything. And I remember. I remember my promise to the Cedar tree in Seattle. I remember that I too am here to stand up for the trees. Scene change.

Sequence 3: Again with Y, now in our 40s, at a massage parlor close to the previous scene. I am sitting comfortably in a reclining chair. We are naked, which feels again perfectly natural. Y is performing some kind of acrobatics together with another woman, and declares that she “already has some experience with this”, that she is already knowing something that others will be catching up with in their own time. I awaken.

Sometimes a feather is all it takes.

I immediately made a voice recording to remember these dreams in vivid detail. The feather was still there.

The day was filled with meetings, close to seven hours of screen time. These included a presentation I gave about applications and possible benefits of the “Systemic Konsensing” method in science and research, exemplified by experiences with the Mindful Researchers.

As the day proceeded, an inner voice commanded me to “get off the fucking screen.” I still had some things to do and further meetings scheduled, including a couple of sessions at the Toward A New Way of Being With Plants 2021 conference. Now the desire to let go of all meetings and work, to dive deeper into the journey, became loud and clear. Not yet, not yet, but soon.

Soundtrack of the day:


Day 4: Feathers

Wednesday, 16th June 2021

Breakfast at sunrise on a lovely balcony, surrounded by birdsong – the day started well. I finished unpacking ALL THE THINGS (including books), composed drafts for travel blog posts, and wrapped up preparations before having a pleasant meeting with the Planning Committee for the upcoming European Summer Research Institute in August.

Seems like I brought a couple of books – here is a small selection …

As the outside temperature rose towards full-fledged pre-summer heat, I started feeling hangry and grumpy. Today was not a good day for doing things. This was meant to be a slow day. I felt tired and ready to rest, but also restless.

In the evening I felt the urge to go for a walk and hunt and gather some food. Delighted that REWE was open until 22:00, I started walking at 21:00 when the sun was still well above the horizon. Strolling past woods and through alleys, I felt a peculiar urge to connect with the trees and other nonhuman beings around me. Moments later, I heard a crow in the distance.

A bird’s feather on the sidewalk caught my attention. I reached down and picked it up. Walking on, a sudden remembrance of the principles of “The Honorable Harvest” from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book “Braiding Sweetgrass” stopped me in my tracks. Did I introduce myself? Did I declare my intention and purpose? Did I ask permission for this gift?

I softly whispered, “My name is Wolfgang. I intend to take this feather for the purpose of being more connected with all of you. Thank you for granting me this gift.”

Walking on, I wondered if that hadn’t still been far too hasty. Had I made a genuine ask, and had I awaited a response, or did I just assume that my wish would be granted?

A few steps later, my entire perception shifted. A thousand sounds filled my ears at once – birds, wind, rustling leaves, distant cars. I beheld my surroundings with sharp acuity – trees, grass, flowers, bushes, stones, houses, windows, cars, clouds, skies, reflections of evening sunlight. I felt the presence of all things animate and inanimate, and myself within.

A typical sunset in Northern Germany. (The photo doesn’t come close to the beauty of the original.)

Shopping at REWE pulled my awareness back into the mundane world. I still generally find it difficult to keep walking in several worlds at once, although it happens more often these days. On the way back home I listened to a couple of songs from Arstidir’s “Nivalis” and Wardruna’s “Kvitravn” album. Unsurprisingly, the latter was met with the appearance of more crows along the path.

I placed the feather next to my bed, remembered the trees, and fell into a deep slumber.

Soundtrack of the day:

Arstidir – “Nivalis” (album), “All Is Well“, “Meanderings
Wardruna – “Kvitravn” (album)

The “And” of All-one-ness

I once had to protect myself,
learned to defend my boundaries.
“Yes, but”, I said to prove my point.
Or so I thought. The “and” that liberates
came slowly and discreetly.

This is not about “the other”.
This is not about “my self”.

They say, “the heart sings songs long before
the mind counts profits” –
I say, “the soul knows its destiny long before
the traveler directs their footsteps.”

Here we are.
You. I. This moment.
This moment of truth. Here, now –

I seek solitude, not company.
I seek trees and ravens, not humans.
I seek silence, not words.
I seek to be wrapped by salty ocean water,
not by my lover’s tight embrace.

It is not because I dislike them –
company, humans, words, and lovers.
It is because my way to be one
with myself, with them all, with the world
is now through solitude and silence,
and I find access to them
through ocean, tree and raven.

This is the “and” of all-one-ness.
This is where you and I will meet.

Journal entry on Saturday, 19th June 2021, early morning