Day 3: Arrival

Tuesday, 15th June 2021

I started the day with a Pilates abdominal workout on the carpet, ate yummy leftovers from yesterday for breakfast, took in the view from the balcony, and then car & driver got back on the road. Nine hours of driving (with breaks) across Germany were upon us. It felt good to have a clear destination and a clear path towards it. Grounded determination. No desire for meanderings today.

Of course the universe lovingly injects the right obstacles. How could I not love it? In Rohnetal the car and I performed my first ever fully autonomous oil refill. After double-checking the manual, I found the right lubricant for this precious engine that has been running smoothly for almost 300,000 km. The tricky part was to find the mechanism to lift the hood, elegantly hidden in the Audi logo. The refill itself was easy. After 42 years, I am thus no longer a virgin when it comes to motor oil.

It’s never too late to get dirty.

Listening to my friend Erwin’s albums “Leb’n“, “Anaseits” and “Host schon gheat?” proved to be just the right soundtrack for this road trip. I smiled as the highway signs started showing “Hamburg”. Still two hours to go. At the next service area, I contemplated putting up a hammock between the trees. Yet instead, I lost my precious cool white hat – the one I got from my dear friend Dav in Arizona in early March 2020 when people were still flying.

Driving into the sunset again, I finally arrived at my destination in Groß Nordende, located about 30-40 minutes to the northwest of Hamburg. For me it was, and still is, the most gorgeous Airbnb place ever. Spacious, bright, beautiful. Two bathrooms, two bedrooms, cozy chairs and couches, a sweet little balcony. Birdsong all day, stillness at night. The best bed I’ve slept in for years!

How lovely would it be to share this place … and yet I knew my need for solitude, for now. Visitors were going to come soon enough: three days later Annika was going to stay for a night, and the rest would reveal itself.

The sea is calling me. Soon I will respond.

Soundtrack of the day:

Robin Wall Kimmerer – “Braiding Sweetgrass” (audiobook)

The Kinks – “You Really Got Me
Erwin R. – “Leb’n” (album), “Anaseits” (album), “Host schon gheat?” (album)
Arstidir – “Hvel” (album), “Nivalis” (album)

Day 2: Metamorphosis

Monday, 14th June 2021

Part 1: Finding Stillness

Drowsily stretching in bed and checking my phone in the morning, I saw a caterpillar crawling towards the laptop. I looked away and back again: the little thing was gone without a trace. Surely you didn’t crawl through the ventilation slots, little one, did you?

After breakfast I visited Christoph and became best buddies with his adorable dog Tinkerbell. I asked if he had tools. Yes, Christoph has tools. He has all the tiny tools you need to open an old MacBook Pro Mid 2009, still alive and kickin’. I took off the ground plate, and there it was: the little caterpillar was resting comfortably on the SSD! Deciding that a laptop is not a good place for a caterpillar, I set it free. (Did I, though? Perhaps it was destined for metamorphosis there? My friend Niko later asked, “Maybe it actually wanted to join you on your travel?”)

Almost camouflaged caterpillar is almost camouflaged.

Christoph interviewed me for his podcast “Zukunftsweberei“, soon to be launched. It was my first time on a podcast, and I really enjoyed it. He asked excellent questions. I talked a lot, shared stories and thoughts, described my journey through physics, my time at CERN, the big changes in 2012, the transition towards Contemplative Science, and eventually the Mindful Researchers initiative. I was completely in my element. And then …

… I remembered stillness.

I cannot recall the details; perhaps it was triggered by sharing stories about my blessed encounters with Brother David Steindl-Rast in 2018 and 2019, perhaps it was amplified by Christoph’s presence. Yet as I remembered stillness, I too became still. The energy in our room shifted. We were suddenly finding ourselves in an intimate encounter with the Mystery. Ordinary ideas and “knowing” went to the background. What we exchanged from there onwards came from a different place, a different “knowing” that dwells behind the mirror of not-knowing.

Christoph, Tinkerbell and I bade each other farewell, and I returned for lunch with my aunt, my cousin Mareike and her son Julian, my nephew. I delighted in hearing about Mareike’s upcoming ventures with the Pioneers of Change and other ripening visions. Julian defeated me 10:7 in a fun garden soccer match. Then it was time to saddle my steelhorse and ride into the Northwest; 4 hours of driving were upon me.

Part 2: Crossing Borders

WHERE is the land of Luthany,
Where is the tract of Elenore?
I am bound therefor.

from “The Mistress of Vision” by Francis Thompson


A good hour into Bavaria, the highway customs police asked me to pull over, and we exited at the next parking opportunity. Two cops approached my door. I donned my mask, lowered the window, and we exchanged formal courtesies. I handed over my passport and papers.

“Are you nervous?”, the more talkative cop asked.

“Not too much. Why, are my hands shaking?” I looked at my hands.

“Yes indeed, sir. Have you ever taken drugs? Like cannabis?”

I thought for a moment. “It’s been a while … 2015, I think. Am I in trouble now?”

I’m sure the man grinned underneath his mask. “Not yet. Do you carry any weapons, drugs, or illegal substances with you now?”

“Of course not. Would you like to check the car?”

They wanted. I assisted where I could. The talkative cop had to go through ALL THE THINGS in the trunk. Meanwhile his colleague searched the front of my car, and I didn’t even notice. I kinda enjoyed speculating aloud about what might make a good secret cache, and empathetically denied the talkative cop’s speculation that a small flask filled with massage oil might contain k.o.-drops. That man did have humour!

“That instrument is hollow”, I said when he knocked on the uncovered RAV Vast and elicited some sounds. “It would actually make for an excellent cache, too!”

“How do you get all these ideas, sir?”, he asked. “Now you’re making me sooo curious.”

“I just have a vivid imagination”, I laughed. Perhaps I should offer my services to criminal investigation. If they ever need someone to give them ideas for how criminals might think, I’m a near inexhaustible source of creativity. On the other hand, I’d be a poor criminal myself, as the next minutes would reveal.

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

from “The Mistress of Vision” by Francis Thompson


The talkative cop sent me to his colleage who asked me to empty my pockets on the engine hood. All fine. As I went back, the talkative cop held up a little flask. “And what’s this?”

“Oh! The CBD oil. I didn’t even remember packing it. But that’s not psychoactive, hence legal.” Cricket chirp. “Right?” Uncomfortable moments of silence. “Or is it illegal in Germany?”

“Here, read this.”

I confidently obliged. “THC <0.2%. Yes, but that’s far below being psychoactive. You’d have to swallow like a liter of that stuff.”

Guardian stag is watching (over) you.

I still didn’t see the problem, until he politely informed me that in Bavaria even the possession of such minimal amounts of THC was illegal. My feelings of unease increased.

Fortunately, the cops decided to let me pass and went on with their patrol. Perhaps my “case” would have meant tons of paperwork for actually nothing, and some other big fish out there was awaiting their dutiful inspection. With a sigh, I tossed the flask into a bin and grinned. Surprises on every corner! And a welcome break from the long drive.

Riding into a gorgeous sunset, I arrived in Windischeschenbach and checked into my Airbnb for that night. It wouldn’t take all too long until Morpheus embraced me under the watchful gaze of a plush stag.

Soundtrack of the Day

Day 1: Memories

Sunday, 13th June 2021

After a semi-sleepless night, my pounding heart heralded the rising awareness that my “second real journey” was finally beginning today, on Sunday, 13th June 2021. Given the luxury of a spacious trunk, I packed ALL THE THINGS: guitar, RAV Vast (a hangdrum-like instrument), a year’s supply of books, about 20 favorite shirts, the first three of my “spiritual journals” (the first I started on 14th June 2005, the third was completed in December 2012), meditation bowl, sitting cushions, incense sticks, pumpkin seed oil, … and lots of small stuff – perhaps a tiny bit too much. (We’ll get back to this on Day 2.)

Surely (almost) nobody is actually going to read this …

My brother and I transported herbs and flowers from my balcony to his place. We talked about family matters and I told him about a recent liberating breakthrough. I remembered that our relationship too had transformed way back in May 2005 in the cleansing fire of a fierce clash and the healing balm of our reconciliation. We hugged each other farewell, and I went on my way with his car, a token of love and trust.

(It strikes me as quite extraordinary how the years 2005, 2012 and 2021 keep popping up as siblings and chronological protagonists in this journey. These are the years of most significant transitions in my life, with the current one – the youngest of the three siblings – still unfolding. Like humans, these years ripen over time and progress through stages of maturity with each birth of a new sibling: for instance, 2005, 2012 and I are now developing and enacting a new kind of relationship together.)

Back home I played Tetris 3D by stuffing ALL THE THINGS in the trunk and on the back seat, then took a picture for one of my extremely rare Facebook posts. Once upon a time, I had planned on journal-blogging about my “first real journey” in October 2012. But some things had kept me from it, among them a hesitation about being seen – a kind of social anxiety that today feels all but gone.

Changes … and growth.

My first destination was Sulz im Wienerwald, where incidentally my cousin Michael was busy renovating my late uncle’s house that they had inherited. He greeted me in a dark blue work overall, artfully embroidered with the words “Lord Bughunter” aptly praising his formerly embodied expertise. It’s been a long time since we’ve last hugged. It felt good.

All watched over by machine-rabbits of loving grass.

I took my RAV Vast to the nearby cemetery to improvise some melodies for my beloved uncle. How he would love to see me embark on this journey! The tomb looked different now, more alive. I brushed dark soil from two faux-grass-covered rabbits that had been toppled over by a storm and put them back into position. Clearly the old man still has humor, reflected by the myriad creative artefacts that we mortals are compelled to gather in this ceremonial place, paying homage to the multifaceted human beingness, not only his, but ours too.

Rorschach test: anyone else seeing a divine act of procreation here?

I stretched out on the patch of grass next to my uncle’s tomb and gazed at the trees above, remembering my time in Sulz with him in Summer 2005, just three months after my first and irrevocable “spiritual heart awakening”. He was one of my first companions with whom I was able to talk quite unrestrained about my budding spirituality. In fact our conversations had already been a source of inspiration for years. What a precious gift! Some people have a hard time understanding how this unabashedly hedonic and sometimes hot-tempered man could also be a dedicated Buddhist practitioner and an eclectic spiritual seeker. My uncle had always defied narrow categories. I believe we have that in common.

“There it was!” (Despite my significant growth, the old room looks bigger today.)

Back at the house (read: construction site) my cousin led me through the garden, once fully untamed, now partly shaped by a grass-covered oasis of active gardening amidst the wilderness, all watched over by old Buddha peacefully abiding in the very center. Then we walked through the old house, from cellar to attic, and I inhaled the familiar olfactory uniqueness that had always defined that place for me; knowing that I was seeing and smelling it as such for the last time.

The tiny room in the attic where we, the “BMW” gang (Bernhard, Michael, Wolfgang), had slept as teenagers, was clearly my highlight of this tour through old “Villa Sonnenschein”. Ancient memories were instantly rekindled. I enthusiastically shared with Michael where my bed had been and what significant discoveries I had made there some thirty years ago.

It was good to speak with Michael, a dedicated husband and father of two who helps rebuild a house for his family. Sensing the arc from childhood to adulthood, I can’t help but feel content and proud for us.

I continued my journey to St.Pölten, driving into the sunset as I would be doing for the next couple of days. My aunt greeted me with a warm dinner, and we talked more than ever until major fatigue (salute Major Fatigue!) commanded us both to retreat to our beds. I checked my phone and found that myriad likes, hearts, and text responses to my Facebook posting were pouring in. Old friends from all over the world were wishing me a blessed journey and safe travels, including both my head teachers from the secondary school days – one of them long retired for more than 25 years. Whoa!

Whooops!

The beautiful “unintended consequence” of my posting was now unfolding as an integration of memories and connections that I had made throughout this lifetime. Old colleagues from CERN, new colleagues and friends from the Contemplative Science / Mind & Life / Mind & Life Europe communities, former housemates, classmates, head teachers, Elders, Council trainers and carriers, muses, musicians, artists, writers, extended family, Salsa dancers, people I’ve met at concerts by Anneke van Giersbergen, friends from old and new online & hybrid communities, friends from the European Forum Alpbach, Commodore Amiga computer geeks, men with whom I’ve shared initiatory journeys and sweat lodges, travelers, activists, chess players, researchers I’ve met on my “first real journey” in 2012, meditators, mystics, and more. I’m sure I’ve missed a few categories, but I hope I can weave you all into my story nonetheless. You are already part of this journey as you are part of my life.

Just scrolling through this highly eclectic list of wonderful humans makes me feel tremendously integrated – not stretched apart, as it used to – and very happy. I am blessed by generous offers to visit friends in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. I’ve never been to Denmark before, maybe this is the time?

Soundtrack of the Day

Let me pause here: this audiobook, narrated by the author herself, is among the best I’ve ever listened to. The chapter about “The Honorable Harvest” is forever changing my life.

Also, various songs from these albums:

Freedom

“Why didn’t you ask me?”, he vented with a voice full of disappointment. “Why didn’t you come to me? Who am I to you?

“What do you I expect?”, I shouted. “We have no relationship! You weren’t there for years! You expect me to turn to you for advice? I wasn’t even thinking of you when I made that decision. If I had been thinking of you, I’m not sure I would have consulted you. Maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to! Even with all your expertise, you are not an authority for me.”

It was a bitter pill of truth for him to swallow.

“What were you thinking?”, he asked, shaking his head. “How did you even make that decision? Were you maybe thinking that, hooray, let’s all just follow the … –”

“Do you genuinely want to know?”, I interrupted him. “If you genuinely want to know what I was thinking, you’ll have to give me some silence to collect myself and respond.”

“Yes, yes, I want to know”, he iterated with impatience. “Or were you maybe thinking that it doesn’t matter … –”

“Stop that!”, I said. “Stop making assumptions! Calm down. If you really want to know, you need to calm down and give me some space in silence, so that I can remember and give you my genuine response.”

He agreed. We went into silence. I felt into my body and noticed that the adrenal hormones in my bloodstream were still rampant. I took a couple of breaths, attended to body and mind, and watched the waves of anger slowly ebb and fade into stillness. Eventually, I felt ready to share with him. And he was ready to listen, even though he didn’t like to hear what I had to say.

He told me how difficult it was for him to see us make these choices. I felt compassion and told him that I can see how hard it must be for him to see his offspring make decisions that he felt were terribly wrong. I also made clear that making sovereign life choices is the only way and not negotiable. Our communication and our relationship transformed as we were speaking with unprecedented frankness. We remained in disagreement about the basis for our dispute. Yet we agreed on how refreshing and healing it was for us to have just expressed our anger.

Towards the end, he said precious words and expressed tender emotions that I will never forget. I felt his love and mine – if not in other ways that I had often longed for, then clearly in this moment, in the absolute immediacy and intimacy of our connection.

After 42 years of life, this was our first open confrontation. Despite the sad context of our dispute, I’ve never felt more empowered, authentic, free, connected, and whole. Now I know for a fact that there is nothing to fear: not confrontation, nor anger, nor even love. Now I know for a fact that I am already free.

Who speaks for trees?

At the entrance to the cedar’s grove, the old tree pushed me backwards and knocked me over from the distance.

Surrender.

I paused in awe. Tears filled my eyes. I slowly surrendered. An eternity passed. I accepted that this was not my time to enter, that I had been too hasty and too preoccupied with my own thoughts and projections, that I hadn’t been listening to her. In this very moment she invited me to come closer.

Listen.

My eyes beheld a golden leaf before me, reflecting the sunlight. I felt my body rise and walk, yet it was not I who rose and walked. I slowly followed the golden light into the grove, inwardly reciting the ancient poem “The Mistress of Vision“. Half way towards her, I waited and listened to the mosquitoes humming “no, no, no” until their song changed.

Ask.

I asked to approach her. Will you allow me to receive you? I came closer. She accepted in silence. I sank to the ground before her, filled with awe.

Rise. Feel your roots.

I rose up to stand tall before her, stretching out my hands to become a tree like her. My feet were rooted firmly, yet gently, on the ground.

Rise up, stand tall. If you do not rise, I will fall.

I wept. What can I, a single human, possibly do to change this course? I wept for her, for all of her kind, for all of our kind … for all beings.

Speak. You must speak up.

I promised her, in some kind of language that I could not understand. Enthralled by the mosquitoes not biting me, not even attempting to, she taught me again to ask. I asked the mosquitoes to refrain from sucking my blood unless their lives depended on it, for then I would willingly give it to them. They spared me, humming. I knelt down again.

Enter me. Come inside me.

I closed my eyes, weeping again in gratitude – how much you trust me! – me, a man who was only learning how to listen, and yet a man who was willing to surrender to just that. I dared not enter her fully, yet I sensed a budding glimpse of our spiritual union.

Feel me.

I reached out my hands, very slowly, listening to who it really was that spoke. Trusting, I placed one hand on her leg, or was it her hand? I touched her. I gently placed my other hand on her. I feel you! I was learning how to feel her. You are alive!

Remember. Remember my brothers and sisters.

I rose up and looked around me. With new eyes I saw their sentience, I saw her brothers and sisters whom she was lending her voice. Yes, I will speak up for you all. I will honor you. I felt complete and began to leave.

Remember.

I stumbled and fell backwards again. She wasn’t done with me yet.

Remember my brothers and sisters. You are among them, too.

I saw a yellow leaf resting on the trunk of a tree before me. Are you mine to pick up? I asked permission. I held the leaf up high, and suddenly three other leaves were falling around me. Clearly, the one that landed before my feet was mine to bring back. I carefully placed that first one back on its trunk and picked up mine. Finally I left the grove, focusing on my steps, filled with a knowing that I did not need to look back.

Don’t look back, remember. Remember us.

— based on a journal entry on Monday, 22nd June 2019 @ Seattle, Washington, USA.

How to (not) fail at Human Rights

Today is Blog Action Day 2013. There are thousands of ways to write about this year’s theme “Human Rights” – and today you will find an abundance of inspiring posts in the blogosphere, from legislation to activism, from personal experiences to new world visions.

I will take you on another journey (and shamelessly re-use ideas from my unpublished draft for last year’s Blog Action Day). My contribution is about mindsets and worldviews, in-groups and out-groups, and compassion. I want to complement all the other amazing contributions and ask: now that we have a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, what do we need to actually walk the walk? How do we need to think and feel to turn this profound vision into universal reality?

My concern is this: Human Rights are meant to apply to every human being. Not your friends, not your neighbors, not your tribe, not your country – everyone. But as long as we differentiate between in- and out-groups, as long as we fail to show genuine compassion also for those dissidents and strangers and outcasts and so-called enemies, the whole concept just doesn’t fly. We will be doomed to stick with the struggle of activists against the lip-service of decision-makers. We will fervently complain about the scandalous news while ourselves turning a blind eye on the needs of next-door minorities we dislike.

I am not proud to say that I speak from experience. It is so easy to fall into this trap. Look, I already fail at Article 1:

  • All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Do you see what I mean? Yes? Then let’s start from here. (We’re probably not arguing with the important rest anyway: discrimination, liberty, slavery, torture, detention, freedom of thought and speech and what not.)

So even with my best intentions, and “nod-nod yes of course we’re all equal”, I treat people quite differently, putting the ones into the shiny comfy “in-group box” and the others into the dirty let’s-ship-this-far-away “out-group box”. It seems quite natural to do so, especially since we learn mostly how to compete against each other, and not so much how to cooperate with each other. There’s a fascinating experiment with pre-school kids who can give stickers to groups of other kids: by default they give far more stickers to their friends and almost none to those whom they do not like. You think that’s proof? See, even the kids do that! It must be natural then. Well … not quite. I’ll come back to that later.

To act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood requires, as far as I can see, a heart-mind that does not discriminate between who is and who is not a brother or sister, disagreements and their settlements notwithstanding. The only way to realize this is to overcome the limitations of in-group/out-group thinking. This, in turn, can be accomplished by compassion.

In Buddhism the four brahmaviharas – loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity – are defined as boundless states. The practitioner takes time to develop these inner qualities with regard to the entire universe and all beings within it. You don’t need Buddhism for this, nor Christianity, nor any form of spirituality. For the science lovers among us, the effects of compassion training can even be measured directly in the brain via fMRI scans! I’ve recently been to the Mind & Life Europe Symposium for Contemplative Studies where Tania Singer and her students presented many fascinating research projects and results on this subject.

As for the kids from my earlier example: after some compassion training (a few minutes each day for a couple of weeks) they gave about the same amount of stickers to everyone else, no matter whether they liked them or not. (And I say that’s our native mode.)

I fantasize about an xkcd-style t-shirt: “Compassion. It works, bitches.”
Yes, that would be something.

Here’s another take: worldviews. How about the integration of all possible scales and flavors of mindsets and worldviews? I’ll try to explain what I mean with this, why it matters, what we can do with it, and how we can do it – including compassion (big surprise).

Our worldviews can be as large and powerful as we want “us” to be. They become actualized and gain momentum by the actions we take as individuals. Therefore let’s start small: let us look inside ourselves first. We can think of the scope of our world-view in terms of where we draw the (artificial) line between “me/us” and “you/them”. These categories fluctuate and evolve from moment to moment, like a dance of viewpoints.

The smallest unit would be called “egocentric”. That’s classic “I versus you (all)” thinking, likely to be activated if you feel threatened, or during competition. Here you care for yourself, period.

Next come various flavors of “ethnocentric” – families, cliques, tribes, cultures and the like. Here we talk of in-groups versus out-groups, “us versus them”. We feel larger. The power of a group. Collaboration. Competition. War. With us or against us.

Take one step beyond and you will encompass all humans, all life on Earth. This mindset can be called “world-centric”, or if you expand it even further, “cosmo-centric”. We are all connected. We belong together. The planet becomes one large living entity: Gaia. Deep ecology. Systems theory. Caring economics. Now our interests shift towards global or universal cooperation. Here you have a link back to compassion and the brahmaviharas – these states of our heart-minds that do not discriminate between friend and foe, inherently boundless and unconditional.

This is the mindset that we need, in my humble opinion and experience, to truly grasp and realize Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I think these world-view ideas are described in greater detail in Ken Wilber’s work, and also somewhat reflected in “Spiral Dynamics“, but let’s not get too distracted here. I don’t know what exactly Ken Wilber and the “Integral” people propose, but I believe that it’s also about the cultivation of more integral mindsets, akin to the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion. The best way that I know to achieve this is meditation. I also find that traveling opens my heart-mind.

I’ll close this contribution with a quote from one of my earlier journals:

[…] 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.

And here a sense of ethics plays a role: will we use this capacity as in our past for “one group versus another”, I versus you, us versus them, … in the egocentric, ethnocentric or world-centric sense? I believe that we must get to world-centric 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 universe-centric 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.

Your comments will be warmly appreciated (and your critique will have me put these outlined principles to test :-)). In any case, thank you for reading all this!

Changing Arts, Changing Hearts

Some of you know it already. I am going to write a book about my journey. Last year, in September 2012, I knew that the one book worthwhile writing (assume you can write only one in your lifetime) would be about my experiences of that summer. The work craze, physical breakdown, fear of death, recuperation, realizations, life-changing experiences.

On my journey through California, three weeks in October 2012 which will become a major part of the book, I made up my mind to include those without whom I wouldn’t be there – I’d start every chapter with a phrase like:

“I wouldn’t be on this journey if it weren’t for [your name].”

Leaving the book-to-come for a while, and turning to the present: I wouldn’t be writing this blog entry if it weren’t for Ling and Amanda Palmer.

Ling is a former colleague, a soulmate and an inspiration to me. She used to work at CERN for over three years before taking her writing passion to become an editor at Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Doing so she admirably followed her bliss, and this is one way in which she inspires me. But she is also someone who makes me write. No, not with the whip and chain. ;-) Simply by the very occasional contact that we have, she is bringing the muses within me to life. I don’t know what is more surprising: the little that we see each other, or the fact that despite this scarcity I unhesitatingly call her my soulmate, without even worrying for a second whether she feels likewise. Sometimes you just know that you know someone, and I don’t mean detailed facts about one’s life.

Amanda Palmer is an artist, a game changer and also an inspiration to me. Kudos to my brother for bringing her to my attention some years ago by showing me some clips from her “Who Killed Amanda Palmer” video series. Her punk-cabaret / alt-rock style wasn’t getting me nearly as much as the fact that she had started to give away her music on a “pay what you want” basis. I loved the concept, often told others about it and occasionally checked her website.

Fast forward to July 2012, still amidst my work craze phase, a few days before my health came crashing down faster than I could possibly have spelled the word “testament” on a Thursday night. I learned about The Humble Bundle, an initiative that lets you choose how much to pay for a bundle of games (with a clever “beat the current average and unlock these bonus games” twist and sometimes later gratis additions to what you have already bought) or e-books, and also lets you decide who should get the money (arbitrarily split between charity, developers and initiators).

Ever since that time I occasionally buy a Humble Bundle even if I never play the games, simply because I find the idea so awesome. I see it as a donation, and I am surely not alone in this. Even better, I just realized that my Humble eBook Bundle, with its contents still untouched by my gaze, actually contains the graphic novel “Signal To Noise” written by Neil Gaiman – Amanda Palmer’s husband! Now that’s one for my reading list, and the keyword to return to the main storyline.

So let’s fast forward again to January 2013. By coincidence I check back on Amanda Palmer’s website, read her blog articles about bullying, admire the heartfelt comments exchanged amidst her community, and leave the tab open. (I have type IV tabberitis: I cannot close tabs of pages that I want to revisit at some time in the future, so their number grows as 2*pi*sqrt(days) until I lose them all in a browser crash or make a backup.)

A few days later Amanda writes this blog article about her invitation to TED. And she touches and inspires me, because – s/herinvitationtoTED/talksIdreamtogive/g – I know the feelings she describes, so I take action and send her an e-mail of epic proportions (unwise because she’s mostly twittering and tumbling and blogging, where she receives lots of fan love to read and respond to) and submit an abstract for a talk that is going to change the course of my life. Then I share my inspiration and Amanda’s blog entry with my family and tell them she is going to be a game changer of arts – not sure whether anyone save my brother actually understands my enthusiasm, but what the hey. And from that day onwards I keep my gaze on Amanda’s tweets and blogs and silently participate in her excitement about her upcoming talk. (Plus, her community unknowingly prevents me from becoming an alcoholic. But more on that later.)

Fast forward again to 27th February 2013. The TEDxCERN organizers have arranged a TED Live stream in the Main Auditorium at CERN. We see exactly the session with Amanda Palmer’s talk in it. I’m sitting through all other talks in nervous anticipation, then start floating in my seat as soon as it’s her turn to take the stage. As for how she performs, I let my raving review in her web forum speak – and I point to the simple fact that her talk now has officially the fastest-growing viewing numbers of any TED talk in history. In other words: the world starts talking about this. And it is due time.

But this is not just about the numbers, and here’s one reason why. By now, Ling and I have found out that we are both fans of AFP (short for “Amanda Fucking Palmer”, if you don’t know her already). So last Saturday I ask her whether she has seen the video of AFP’s talk, and I send her the link to my review. One day later Ling responds:

“YES OF COURSE i watched Amanda’s TED talk. :D I am so glad you brought that up because for days I have been dying to find someone to talk to about how wonderfully awesome it turned out to be. You know how she has been going on and on on twitter about her talk and me being me, just couldnt help to worry for her that the talk might fall short. But damn she NAILED it. Your review is SPOT ON (as you can see, i have caught on AFP’s affinity for ALL CAPS)! :D I loved how real she was, and how she kept her promise of involving the community that she has so painstakingly built in her talk. And yeah, the moment she uttered ‘Thank you’, i almost cried too.”

With that she makes my day, and my heart grows to world-emcompassing proportions, and I know I must write this blog article (done – WIN!), and just stop being shy, and write more, and share more, and dare more, to become fully alive.

So now you are witnessing me crawling out of my safety shell, but I’ll do it even if you’re not looking, because I simply must.

At last, once more back to Amanda Palmer’s TED talk (by the way did I mention that she recently gave a TED talk?). Fortunately she has created a lot of debate. Tons of people are profoundly inspired, and some are profoundly offended. The latter group insists, for instance, that less known artists can’t survive just by crowdfunding, or that she has made an ethical mistake in asking people to play with her on stage for free, even after her huge kickstarter success (she collected 12 times the money she had asked for). Ling put it well by saying that there is no “must” here (as in “thou shalt use kickstarter! thou shalt live only from donations! thou shalt have no other business models beside me! thou shalt starve while playing with AFP for free!”) – it’s just another option. This is diversity. All that Amanda is trying to tell us is that it is okay to ask without shame.

No, actually that is not all. I think beyond the layer of music industry / arts / kickstarter dwells another, much more powerful message. You probably feel it while watching her talk. You may also read it in the hundreds of comments. This is about connections, intimacy, trust, sharing, authenticity, vulnerability, daring greatly to ask and to receive and to give something in exchange. This is not just about changing arts – it is also about changing hearts.

I for one am happy and grateful for the change that is taking place within me and others. And as for that book I’m going to write – you can already tell what is coming now, right? – damn right, I’ll give it away for free as a free hug. (Donations will be gratefully accepted for sure.) Because you know, there is such a thing as a free hug. Contrary to popular belief, there is even free lunch. It’s just not common knowledge yet, but the time will come for sure.

Thank you Ling, Amanda, my family, friends, YOU (do we know each other yet?), and everyone else out there. :-)

The Art of Living

You’ve surely encountered the advice, “Live each day as if it were your last.”

Frankly, I’ve always found this instruction difficult to compute. The stress of choice under the looming sword of Damocles. The danger of carelessness. God/Fate/your-favorite-higher-power wiggling the almighty finger: you better do it right, or else!

Today I’ve read an alternative version in Mark Matousek‘s wonderful book “When you’re falling, dive – Lessons in the Art of Living”:

[I want to] live my life in such a way that I wouldn’t have to stop or change what I was doing – or being – if I was going to die tonight.

quote by Jim Curtan – taken from “When you’re falling, dive” by Mark Matousek


Oh yes. Now it computes. :-)

And it’s worth taking time to reflect upon.

From Struggle To Juggle

We all struggle at some points in our lives, and some of us may wonder: “How can I turn the tide?” … or perhaps even:

“How can I get from being ‘my own greatest enemy’ towards ‘my own best friend’?”

I will simply share my own personal experience. Your mileage may vary – it almost certainly does! Yet perhaps you may find one or another detail inspiring for your individual solutions. There is only one way to find out. :-)

The Struggle

Four years ago I was going through a very difficult time, struggling with emotional pain and especially with myself. Today I realize better how deeply stuck I was back then – including that my self-esteem was completely trashed and that I was actually sabotaging myself in very subtle, yet oh so powerful ways. I will spare you the details, because each and every one of us faces their own personal Nemesis from time to time, so the actual content does not matter. Hermann Hesse puts it eloquently in the “Steppenwolf” – “… wie denn jeder Mensch die ihm zufallenden Leiden für die größten hält”. The experience of magnitude of any personal challenge is per definition relative. So what does matter?

  • First of all, there is always a way.

(Sounds corny, I know, but it has proved to be true over and over again. And if there was none, what would be the point in trying anyway? But this you never know. See it as your personal variation of Pascal’s wager.)

  • Secondly, there is only one person who can find it – and walk it.

(Thinking and talking about it will not do the real trick.)

The Puzzle

But what is the way, and where can you find it? Many possible answers: it’s within you, you are already on it, blah blah. That probably does not do the trick either. But everything is changing, and as far as solutions to challenges are concerned, there is a two-fold change involved: internal and external. They are mirroring each other. The change happens anyway, it cannot be otherwise, so the idea will be to give it some “beneficial” direction. Let’s assume we get ideas for that – pieces for our puzzle.

Here (just as everywhere) a doubt may be lurking around the corner. Can you really do “it”? Do you have what “it” takes? Will you ever learn “it”? Especially when you feel you have “failed” so often?

Two things have helped me there:

  1. For a movie scene you do as many “takes” as necessary … until it works.
    (trial -> error -> more trial -> success)
  2. Success is often a matter of “strategy” rather than “ability”.
    (choose a strategy that works for you, and you will succeed)

The Strategy

So we need a good strategy, which perhaps means input from external sources. And now we arrive at the vast marketplace of “good advice”, collected wisdom, mentors and friends, coaches and therapists, books and blogs, you name it. I was seeking answers in all those areas. My result:

  1. None of them helped.
  2. All of them contributed.

It’s much less of a contradiction as it seems. Even the best input does not walk you along the way. You walk, at your own pace. You’re not even “too slow” – seriously, who could judge that, and by what measure? (I spent a lot of energy on this one.)

You choose what you try, and you find out what works for you, and how it works for you – it will be a combination of many things. This is how everything contributes. Indeed it cannot be otherwise. Again, everything is changing, and we are already alive, so all it takes is to keep our senses open. Be an explorer if you like, or an adventurer, traveller, conquistador, a curious child. You are allowed to enjoy the ride!

What actually worked (and still works) for me?

I will go into detail next time. Just one main ingredient for now: juggling. And that’s where the title of this post comes from. :-)

Post Scriptum

It took me four years to write this post, and judging from today’s perspective, every single day was worth waiting. Thus I might wait another four years, but then it may never see the light of day; or I give birth to it now and review it in four years. May the latter choice prove better. And may you be happy at heart. :-)

Too Many Mind?

In the movie “The Last Samurai”, Nobutada (Shin Koyamada) exclaims “Too many mind!” to Captain Algren (Tom Cruise). Sometimes I feel just like that.

The novelist Ödön von Horváth once said something like “I am actually quite different, but I rarely get down to it”. Sometimes I feel just like that, too.

Too Many Wolfi. My friends often ascribe some characteristic or habit to me as a part of “typical Wolfi”. However their visions of “typical Wolfi” are not necessarily congruent. Apart from some “common denominator”, it seems more like a collection of individually conditioned patterns to me. Conditioned by an interplay of “self” and “other”, of me and my environment (indeed they cannot be successfully separated, even the less in light of the “anatta” or “not-self” principle). I find myself adapting to my environment, switching my viewpoints and “modes of behaviour”, creating new patterns or following previously established ones: Wolfi1, Wolfi2, … Wolfin. (now what is Wolfi0 like?)

Modes of Wolfi. Some of these “modes” are matching “subpersonalities” of others within me, e.g. WolfiAndi (my current internal representation of Andi). This sometimes results in rather beneficial effects (e.g. better understanding). The downside of empathy arises for instance when the “subpersonalities” within me come into conflict with each other (or even with WolfiWolfi, my so-called “self”). How can I resolve such internal conflicts within myself (rather than trying to “solve” other people’s problems externally) without creating an overload? Besides, how can I reliably draw the line between fact and fiction?

Too Many Mind. I recently became aware of this at my birthday celebration. When many people come together, I cannot fit into all the previously established “modes of Wolfi” at the same time. This leads me to some sort of muddle-headed hyperactivity. I start jumping around mentally, verbally and physically. “How typical!”, my friends exclaim and delight in this intensified display of likeable confusion. Too many mind, indeed. :-)

Too Many Blame. However, I had set myself the goal of “maximum integrity”, so that I would address any internal conflict as soon as it arises – if the situation allows for it. Now in the course of this evening, I could not address everything as intended, and I blamed myself for this incapability, becoming more and more tense. I measured myself as if I were solely responsible for the well-being of others. And I blamed myself for not giving everyone an equal share of attention, knowing that I had more or less consciously chosen such an imbalance. Talk about how to not enjoy your own birthday celebration!

Many Kudos. Having said that, let me point out that I had a wonderful and highly enjoyable evening nonetheless. I thank you all for your company and look forward to our next encounter. :-)