Emerge – Day 2: Research Questions

Thursday, 7th October 2021

Trust the fancy hostel lobby.

My roommate Mikkel lets me in on the ‘sacred secret’ purpose of his journey to Berlin: he just had one of his thighs adorned by a resident tattoo artist. The result looks impressive. A very specific purpose, I think. How specific is my purpose? I am here for the Emerge Gathering, for reconnection with J and W, and for a trip to Hamburg to co-create Mindful Researchers things with Annika. And there is more. There is something I want to lean into, something I want to give myself to, and it is more specific now than it was in June. It has to do with energies and transitions, with developing a certain sensitivity to different worlds and a growing awareness of their inherent inseparability. I know that my journey here supports this revelation. I know it is purposeful. Yet can I be more specific than that?

Trust the bridge across the river Spree.

I check out from the hostel and stow my luggage in an empty storage room. On a long morning walk across the river Spree I am taking in first fresh glimpses of this vibrant metropolis called Berlin. The Coffee Lab café offers three tiny tables inside and some larger tables and benches outside. I am taking a seat inside near the glass front, inhale the scent of freshly ground and brewed coffee, and start journaling while observing the comings and goings around me.

Sometimes I fantasize that I might be a 'bringer of revenue': I sat down with a salmon bagel and a double cappuccino, and a legion of customers has since trickled in: two young blonde Berliners engaging in lively conversation to my left; a short-haired brunette in a rose-brown-ish coat that reminds me of the Dude's morning robe, now sitting outside and sipping coffee while reading a tome about women's rights; a tall blonde-haired dude with an epic beard; a dark-skinned lady in a red jacket with several bright-skinned folks, now standing outside with their liquid takeaway loot; a guy with a grey cap checking things on his phone. (...) 

A wasp comes greeting me at the table in this tiny coffee shop. (...) what I truly care about is connection, not the particular form of connection. I want to hold this affection lightly, without need to give it any label or story. Love flows on its own terms, spontaneously, "a braided and networked process that is fundamentally unpredictable, embedded in situatedness / interrelationality / mutuality / non-explicit reciprocity / adaptivity ..." to paraphrase qualities that Roshi Joan Halifax elucidated vis-à-vis compassion; it is fundamentally enactive. I anticipate that the 'enactive view' is the most profound cognitive update in my life since my spiritual heart-awakening. The unfolding and enfolding of meaning holds the frame, like a 'non-view', to give context to all views. Knowing everything to be enactive, how can one hold views as if they were absolutes?

– Journal entry on Thursday, 7th October 2021

I pause and think back to an image from Dune showing several moons. How would life on Earth be affected if two moons were circling around it, even at different revolution frequencies, causing quite distinct tidal patterns? Yet surely such more complex cycles would also have stabilizing effects. Cycles lead to iteration, to renewal, to establishing patterns of life, to the flourishing of life. While the cappuccino is beginning to affect me, I make a highly unsuccessful attempt to weave a thousand thought-threads into one tapestry.

Life finds ways to accommodate to circumstances. On a planet with a different gravitational field, different composition of elements, different sets of moons and suns, it finds its own ways. Cyclical processes support its flourishing: tides, day-night cycles, seasons, eccentricities of orbit around the central star. Too much variation too quickly can be detrimental. But on our planet, the 24h-cycle seems rapid too. It helps to have several cyclic processes at once, another 'braided and networked process', on different scales of time and space and amplitude. One of our biggest mistakes as humans has been our ignorance and denial of these cycles. Any system that has fundamentally grown based on regenerativity needs supporting conditions to maintain such regenerativity. A logged forest cannot easily regenerate. Extracting too much, converting it all into different forms – coal and oil and gas into energy, wood into ships and houses and paper – is by design a one-way street. The ideology of capitalism demands such short-term gains though; it has no value-system that accommodates for the long term, nor for the genuine care for the flourishing and diversity of life. 

I've read an article by George Monbiot this morning, and I agree with his assessment: you cannot tame and temper capitalism – it seeks profit. It is its own 'paperclip maximizer'. Regulations only incentivize the exploitation of loopholes, and they invoke an army of libertarians. No, it is the value system itself! Streets and cars can never solve the 'problem of transportation'; a 'green economy', a 'green deal', a 'sustainable form of capitalism' can never solve the problem of perverse incentives. It is a band-aid, perhaps necessary to stop the blood loss, yet it can only be a precursor to a deeper healing transformation. And we must take care to not have it shield off our view, lest it conceals the heart of the matter.

– Journal entry on Thursday, 7th October 2021

I chat with the barista and learn that this gentle young man intends to leave this family-owned café and enroll in a military or police academy. Then, heading back to the hostel to retrieve my luggage, walking along the river and crossing underneath a bridge, I catch a first glimpse of the living conditions of the homeless in this city. This is someone’s home. No shelter from cold winds, nor from unwanted attention. A seed of realization is planted in my mind that will take its own time to trickle in and merge with further experience.

Trust the kids.

The luggage weighs heavily on my shoulders. I pause at a bench facing the river. Gazing at the cars, trucks and humans passing by at a distance, a dawning insight has me pick up the journal again. I’m seeing something, an intuition that both traverses and transcends time, yet the verbal expression on paper is one of intellectual grasping, spiraling in on an elusive moment of redemption.

Sitting and resting in half-shade across the Mühlendamm-Schleuse, pondering the undeniable aesthetics of Teilhardian visions for the evolution of mankind. I've seen the 'flaw' in it with a felt-sense of certainty, not too long ago. Was that conditioned by the cognitive frame I've held, or inhabited, at the time? How could I claim for it to reflect absolute truth? And now I'm seeing the aesthetic value, akin to that of a symphony, of exquisite art, of profound scientific discovery, of spaceflight, of genetic engineering. Engineering. Engine. Mechanics. It exploits the mechanistic lawfulness of our universe, our cosmos. It exploits. Lawfulness. Law. Regularity. Plausible undeniability. Who can deny this? Who can stand in its way? Yet begging the question of emergent strategy: what is life? What gives meaning? Are we meant to send life to other planets? Are we meant to let them unfold on their own terms? Our quest for survival and flourishing does not 'prove' justification of our attempts to colonize. "Because we can" is not enough. Did we consider Wolf? Did we consider Life? Did we consider Spirit? Do we consider Source?

– Journal entry on Thursday, 7th October 2021
Trust love.

Ever so slightly missing the mark, I let go of pen and paper. The walk leads past Checkpoint Charlie and Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof where I am briefly sensing the intergenerational and cross-cultural import of their associated histories, the ever-morphing impact that keeps on flowing through our shared presence. I cross Gleisdreieckpark and watch humans of all ages play, skate, walk, realizing that parks too shape our histories. With the physical discomfort of heavy weight on my shoulders, beginning dehydration, and a certain cautionary closed-mindedness, I am still feeling somewhat alienated in this city. A couple more hours and this too will pass. And are there not little signs of love everywhere? How long will it take me to notice?

Irina welcomes me into her cozy Airbnb apartment which is located in the heart of a red-light district, as I will only realize later, being of slow wits in select regards. Irina is curious about the Emerge Gathering and I make a feeble attempt to explain what it is about – changemakers and visionaries of all kinds coming together to tackle our sensemaking / meaning crisis with a kind of metamodern-spiritual philosophy and practice? We share our professional interests and personal journeys, she tells me about Azerbaijan, I mention CERN and the Mindful Researchers. Our conversation quickly deepens and zones in on themes of spirituality. Given our immediate resonance and Irina’s strong curiosity, I find joy in sharing my spiritual journey with her; yet a stirring in my belly literally prevents me from speaking about some of the more recent experiences. Does the serpent protect herself? Even so, we are at zero risk for running short of topics. Only my rising hunger commands us to pause.

Trust polar bear.

I walk towards Nollendorfplatz, admire the graffiti artworks, and pull out my phone to search for hints on nearby restaurants. The almighty algorithms propose Bethe Ethiopia as the #1 choice, literally just around the corner. Ethiopia, of all possibilities! I follow the universal nudge and am generously rewarded with the most delicious food: Yetsom Beyaynetu and thyme tea, followed by Brilli Teji (homemade honey-wine) and a yummy dessert made of sesame, almonds and dates. The amiable chef of this lovely family restaurant, a bellied man with a hearty smile and sparkling eyes, teaches me some Amharic and enthusiastically proposes that I’m a natural when it comes to holding the Brilli Teji flask with my fingers and thumb. Of course, the body remembers! I smile as a crow instantly confirms my strange thought: sometimes you do a thing for the first time and yet remember that you’ve always known it.

Back at the apartment, still slightly affected by the Brilli Teji, I partake in a co-creative Zoom-meeting-dance practice with Annika, Mary, and Marieke, in which we sense into co-creating a Mindful Researchers event. Then I don my favorite black Anneke van Giersbergen T-shirt, and Irina and I have a short farewell conversation as I am getting ready to meet J while she too is preparing to leave. Before we part ways, I show her Mark Matousek’s book “Writing to Awaken” that I’ve lately been working with.

Trust this Ethiopian dessert.

J meets me at the Metropol and we hang out for a couple of hours at the nearby Hafen bar. With J being a director and writer, it is only natural that we land on the theme of storytelling. I tell him about my newly re-awakened joy of writing and my intention to blog about this journey. J shares some trade secrets about dramaturgy, proposing that in a good story the characters come first and the plot evolves from their inner and outer conflicts. What is the ‘research question’ that drives the story and the protagonist? What is an appropriate type of character to walk in the protagonist’s shoes? What is their perceived ‘want’? What is their actual deeper ‘need’? What’s up with the tension or polarity between these two, the ‘want’ and the ‘need’? I feel intrigued and challenged. Have I not sufficiently thought this through? Should I?

We carry on talking about life, love, relationships, heartbreak, healing, music, our coming-of-age years, psychedelic experiences, and recent elections in Graz. During his bio break I ‘secretly’ give in to my new drug of choice: Anneke van Giersbergen’s mesmerizing “Jest Oldu” cover version of Karsu’s cover version of Mustafa Sandal’s ballad. (The grande finale always reminds me of Anneke’s incredible vocal performance with Damian Wilson in Maiden UniteD‘s acoustic cover version of “To Tame A Land” at the Wacken Open Air 2011 – just imagine this song mixed with this vocal energy – and I should mention that said Maiden uniteD concert in Wacken ended with this epic cover of “The Evil That Men Do”, melting the iron hearts of even the most moshpit-hardened and wall-of-death-approved metalheads; and I don’t know what gives me greater chills: their duet or the lyrics?)

In the end I ask J whether ‘coming out’ is a multi-layered process, and he confirms this, saying that in his experience there are three possible stages or areas for coming out: an ‘inner’ (personal) realization, an ‘outer’ (public) declaration, and an ‘inter’ (relational) enaction. I sense that this has something to do with my journey and writing here, too.

Trust the … uhm … king!

On the way back to the apartment, I experience my life’s greatest density ever of being invited to sexy times via fifty shades of “Hast Du Lust?” – I automatically rush past all offers as if speed mattered, soon wondering whether there is also a way for me to relate more fully to these wonderful beings, hearts and souls in passing. After all, one can affirm “no” and still embrace this one human family in this one web of life. Can I learn this? What else is there to learn?

Seeds of Change

(I wrote this in August 2013 and kept it as an unpublished draft, feeling too shy to be “seen”. Here goes, with tiny edits!)

I like to think of some experiences as life-changing. They all are, in fact. Some of them stand out, and you know that they had a specific large impact on your life, because you were there, you felt the change, perhaps a seed of change, and they align you with your old and new dreams.

I know, for instance, that I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t met Sara at OHM2013. Sara does spoken word poetry (and teaching, and more). Imagine a camp-like tent village full of hackers, scientists, engineers, whistleblowers, policy makers, artists, agents, geeks and nerds, parents and kids. Imagine that place hosting a conference with talks and workshops, DIY tents, retro zones, and imagine that somewhere in between a young woman with sparkling eyes passes the flame of inspiration on and on among these human beings, with poetry and passion.

Observe. Hack. Make.
Continue reading

Day 14: Ithaca

Saturday, 26th June 2021

Part 1: Cycles

When you tell the truth, your story changes.
When your story changes, your life is transformed.

Mark Matousek

No rest for Grandma & Grandpa Schröck!

As this travel blog is coming to a close, I feel compelled to sum up what has been unfolding in this 14-day journey, transcribed into these postings over the course of almost three months. A lot has happened along this extended journey. I am clearly no longer the same person I was when it started, and yet I still am that one. What has shifted? What has evolved? What has remained?

For sure, I’ve been writing much more personal and ‘authentic’ here than ever before in a quasi-public space. My commitment to telling the truth has become increasingly sincere. Yet how much of this can be rightfully labeled a high-fidelity account, and how much is still a constructed narrative, an unintentional performance?

But the story isn’t over yet. I still need to return to my Ithaca, the place I call ‘home’.

I wake up once more in neighbouring lands, in the comfortable guest room of the Schröck family home in Bavaria. As the morning unfolds, I make the acquaintance of three Schröck generations: Grandma Schröck invites me to have breakfast with her and Grandpa Schröck, and soon their daughter and granddaughter join us. Who would have guessed that their granddaughter is in training to become a police officer? On that note, I remember the encounter with the highway patrol on Day 2 of this journey. Cycles are closing.

Strengthened by this delightful breakfast intermezzo, I pack up and drive off into the mystical morning mist. Grandma Schröck waves goodbye. What a lovely experience and good omen for the final part of this journey!

Mystical morning mist in Fuchsmühl, Bavaria, Germany.

After a couple of hours, I am crossing the border to Austria. The journey almost closes yet another cycle (related to my late uncle) as I am spotting an exit sign to Lambach in the area of Upper Austria. I write to Aunt Michi to see if she is there and open for a visit. In retrospect, calling might indeed have made it happen; by the time of her written response, I am already too far along the way to Graz.

I take a longer driving pause to zoom into the opening session of an online Metta-Vipassana meditation retreat with Ven. Vīrañāṇi. I wish I could say that the ensuing part of the trip turns into a meditative drive through the alps, but the truth is that I’m trying to get back home as soon as possible while avoiding the highway with its long tunnels and significant fees. The view along this trip through the valleys, with lush green vegetation covering both slopes of the mountains, is outright stunning. Austria, you gorgeous home country! How could I not love thee?

Part 2: Courage

At first, it may be difficult to admit that your story is constructed from false information. Every life is a patchwork of secrets, half-truths, cover-ups, shams, and disguises. The most authentic among us have hidden compartments, shadowy corners, and contradictions we keep under wraps for fear of destroying our public image. As you disclose these secrets to yourself, you come to peel back layers of falsehood and reveal yourself as you truly are: a complex individual with myriad dimensions and conflicting needs. As you do this, you can integrate these clandestine parts into a more harmonious whole.

Mark Matousek, “Writing to Awaken: A Journey of Truth, Transformation & Self-Discovery”, page 13

What's going on? My energy is low, and I am not sleeping well. This is partly by choice; yesterday night I created a full draft for the final part of my travel diary. I feel weird about it. Perhaps I am just naturally afraid of the possible consequences of self-exposure. of being seen in such intimate detail; in particular – ha! – of being seen as 'flawed', 'weird', or ... what? Interesting. Let me try to formulate this fear. Is it a fear that people won't talk with me any longer when they know that I am open to many belief systems and spiritual traditions, from hardcore scientism via Buddhism, Christianity, the occult? That I am talking with trees, or trying to? That I am an earnest seeker? That I am human? That I am a sexual being? 

Conformity is the name of this fear-defense. Two paths: (1) conform and seek a classic career path with 'security'; (2) rebel and seek your own path with 'risk'. Yes, I could lose my marbles. Will the world still hold me? If I went to the farthest end of imagination, experience, and meaning-making, will the world still hold me? If I went "off the deep end", will the world still hold me? Or rather – surprise plot twist! – will I still hold the world, will 'world' and 'I' still hold each other? 

This fear suddenly feels completely natural as much as unsubstantiated. Yes, I am standing at the edge. I'm pulling a book with that title from my bookshelf: "Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet" by Roshi Joan Halifax. A beautiful hardcover book with an evocative cover. Roshi Joan has touched me deeply on several occasions of direct encounter. This book does not come to me now by mere coincidence: it is right for a young edgewalker harboring an old soul, standing at the edge, bound to find freedom where fear and courage meet. <3

– Journal entry on Wednesday, 8th September 2021
Right this book for you is, young edgewalker!

This whole journey has not been a simple and straightforward one. It has led me upon blissful heights and through dark chasms alike. Amidst all complexity and ambivalence, there is much to be grateful for. I recall precious times with family, friends, and children. The excitement of my first podcast interview. Long car rides with back pains and my first oil refill. A most gorgeous temporary home in Groß Nordende. Precious times with Annika and the Mindful Researchers. Expeditions through wood and water. Intimate encounters with trees and crows. Wild dreams and Kundalini energies. A first visit to the lands of Vikings and their heritage. Swimming in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. Meeting old friends and making new ones. Deeply spiritual conversations. Sleeping in a treehouse. Pushing through layers of pain and love to discover a greater freedom beyond. The courage to walk in uncertainty along the edges between worlds. Planting myriad seeds, of which I could not possibly fathom the fruits they would bear soon enough.

Also, with all the distance traveled, my carbon footprint has been significant. :-(

Part 3: Homecoming

Home sweet beautiful home.

My old home greets me with a sense of comfort amd familiarity. Yes, this is a place that I have made ‘mine’, and it feels good to return to my Ithaca. And yet I know that my days here are numbered. I have made a resolve that in one year I will no longer live in this place. Not because I don’t like it here – I most certainly do! –, but to heed the call that has stirred my heart once more. Will it lead me to Denmark? Norway, Sweden, Iceland? Ireland? Portugal? What luxury to be able to consider such travels and to freely pursue such relocations! I wish we all shared that same privilege, but with current worldly affairs, some humans are treated more equal than others.

I finish unpacking, then return the car to my brother. My 2-year-old niece Ylvi rejoices at the totally age-appropriate gift of a female Viking doll holding a little axe and shield. (Get ’em early, get ’em young!) Her parents receive one of the Danish mustards and beers; in the end, I only keep one beer called “Lagertha’s Bryg”, which is ceremoniously consumed three weeks later with Frédéric near the campfire of a Council gathering at the wonderful Scharmützelhof.

I can has lootz from teh raids in Vikingeland?

The water element is calling me. Walking to the beloved river Mur that flows through my hometown Graz, I listen into a “Cortona Pearl” presentation by Fritjof Capra, and then Zoom into a writing session led by Mark Matousek, encompassing juicy themes such as: saying “no”, people-pleasing, guilt, pretense, entitlement, privilege …

On the way back, I serendipitously meet my massage therapist Antonio whose deeply healing Shiatsu treatments never fail to lead me into altered states of consciousness. Antonio invites me to join him for an early evening jogging round, and I spontaneously accept, which totally crowns the day and paves the way for a well-deserved tight sleep (and sore muscles the next day).

And this brings me indeed to the end of this chapter.

Part 4: Closing

When thy song is shield and mirror
To the fair snake-curlèd Pain,
Where thou dar’st affront her terror
That on her thou may’st attain
Perséan conquest; seek no more,
O seek no more!
Pass the gates of Luthany, tread the region Elenore.

From ‘The Mistress of Vision’ By Francis Thompson

Has this journey been in any way ‘exceptionally special’? I think not. Most of the things that I have experienced might as well happen to you, and some of your unique experiences I could never begin to fathom. I simply choose to imbue them with meaning, opening myself to whatever layers and levels of experience might become available. This has become a kind of spiritual practice in itself, through which I hope to (re-)discover the spiritual practice that will sustain me further along the path.

All that, and the unexpected fruit of discovery that I am also an edgewalker. The appearance of “coindicentiae oppositorum” in my life does not happen by accident. I am beginning to gradually understand and embrace this as the journey is being integrated.

ALL love is equal.

There has never been an urgency to write about all this, except for a mysterious ‘calling’ to do so, for the sake of discovery and integration, for the love of writing itself, and to finish what I have started. I believe that the practice of writing has changed me and has accompanied an ongoing transition. I am now writing regularly, old-school pen-and-paper style, currently working with Mark Matousek’s book “Writing to Awaken” and the many challenging prompts therein. Perhaps soon there will be more writing here about other themes that I care deeply about – science, spirituality, nature, humanity, love, death, life, … We shall see. I also remain open to the harvest of unexpected fruit from all this; and maybe you hold the key, indeed?

Whoever, wherever, whenever you are: YOU MATTER. You are beautiful. You are loved.

This last picture is taken upon my return to Graz right before unloading the car. The T-shirt (one of my favourites!) has been acquired at a store in The Castro district in San Francisco during the memorable journey of October 2012 – another cycle closing.

Lastly, I’ll share with you a very personal note that I might indeed have written to myself, but it came as a gift from someone who knows me very well, while I was in Denmark:

"Now with the shift in your relationship to (...) you are finally free to love and be loved as you truly desire, in relationship to a woman who's available, open, (...) a person who simplifies your life rather than complicates it, who doesn't send mixed messages or keeps the "tragic romantic" inside you starving and on tenterhooks, addicted to longing, waiting, hurting, and hope. Enough of that! You're a smart, kind, attractive guy with a LOT to offer the right woman. Now that you're (getting) free at last, I trust she will appear fairly soon, and you will finally have the relationship between equals you've been waiting for."

Speaking my heart,
Freedom at last:
May it be so.

(… to be continued …)

Day 13: Unicorns

Friday, 25th June 2021

Part 1: Farewell

One last night’s sleep in what I still consider the best bed ever. One last breakfast on the balcony. Packing ALL THE THINGS into the car trunk. Cleaning the house. A couple of messages with my host. O captain, my captain, yours was a most delightful place to stay!

Fare thee well, o best bed ever, ye enabler of many a most refreshing sleep.

And so it is time to leave Groß-Nordende. I set my first destination coordinates to Annika’s new home, a shared flat in the heart of Hamburg. This course inevitably leads me one more time past the area of Y’s whereabouts.

I feel a great ambivalence in my heart: one voice is making a passionate plea for our freedom, reminding me of the readiness to break old patterns and to leave old dreams behind. The other voice of the “tragic romantic” within reminds me of heartbreak and longing. A strong emotional tension assails me: is the rare time window for our face-to-face communication closing now? Should I not insist on a short meeting, to clarify things between us once and for all?

Or is this just an illusion? A trick of my imagination?

I decide to let go of it. This also means: I decide to feel everything that comes with this choice. I let roars of liberation and stings of heartache flow through me. Phenomena arising and passing away.

Tightly packed car trunk is tightly packed with ALL THE THINGS.

I bring some food items to Annika that would not survive my journey, and shells from the Baltic and North Sea. Annika shows me her new place. Being preoccupied with my inner motions, I am not very attentive, and so it takes me a while to become aware of Annika’s own emotional turmoil at this time. We have a short chat, clearing the air. Being human together isn’t always easier, but ultimately much better – even if we walk on separate journeys.

Setting my destination coordinates to an Airbnb in Bavaria, I see a good 7 hours of driving to come. The first half of the trip is mostly unspectacular. Feeling hungry, I seek out a highly (over-)rated Thai restaurant in Osterode am Harz. The first obstacle is online registration. Oh yes, Covid is still a thing here – I had almost forgotten! Succeeding with the procedure, I am led to a free table.

I cannot shake off the feeling that the interior design composed of dark wood, plastic Buddhas and other Kitsch has nothing to do with Thailand. “But you haven’t been to Thailand yet”, I tell myself as I devour a Pad Thai which tastes absolutely unspectacular and should perhaps be more accurately labeled “sodium glutamate with noodles and veggies resembling what we think you ignorant fools will think of as Pad Thai”. Bon appetit! My only journal entry of today reads, “I hope this Pad Thai will come out where it is supposed to.” (Spoiler: thankfully, it does.)

At least no longer hungry, I continue on the unspectacular journey. But wait … what’s this? A highway exit sign that reads, “Einhornhöhle” (Unicorn Cave)? Surely I have no time for such detours! My hands steer the vehicle accordingly to … the right, taking the exit. Oh well. Unicorn Cave and Burg Scharzfels, here I come!

Welcome to the woods hosting Unicorn Cave and Burg Scharzfels.

Part 2: Unicorn Cave

Feeling lonely and content at the same time, I believe, is a rare kind of happiness.

Nightwish – “Lagoon“, based on a quote from “Bag of Bones” by Stephen King

Passing a sign that says this place closes at 8pm (oh, it’s almost 8pm!), a lone road takes me to an empty parking lot. I see nobody around, hence perhaps nobody will be physically closing this area. A risk to be taken. Why choose the easy way when the finishing line of this journey comes into sight? Nothing beats a good unexpected adventure.

The woods pull me in. I follow the paths that lead to the Unicorn Cave, which is of course already closed at this hour. A wooden unicorn skeleton reminds me of the dried horse at Ribe Vikingecenter the day before. Now I could turn back, or … find Burg Scharzfels while there is still daylight. (You see where this is going!)

Skeleton unicorn guards this cave.

I walk on, passing a tiny bridge, following a sign or two, while making an audio recording in which I reflect on these days, recent weeks, past learnings, challenges ahead, mankind and nature. My unabashed musings bring forth clarity and aha-moments, including:

  • “Might it help if they (trees) know who we are?”
  • “I’ve shied away from these kinds of confrontations all my life, for decades. Now how would I be able to do that within a couple of months?”

(Referring to several key confrontations, which actually did happen in recent weeks.)

  • “If I would go back to my early days with (…) – I’ve had my intuitions, and of course there were things that I’ve had to learn, but I would have said: ‘Hey, I have these intuitions, I have these feelings. I feel things, I sense things. I see when things are off or inconsistent or incongruent. And if I am not speaking up, I am doing a disservice to us all.'”
  • “I can be wrong. I most likely am wrong, and I want to learn how to be less wrong. And I may be right! It’s not even about wrong or right, it’s about the natural impulse. Suppressing that voice in order to find my true voice in another way, that’s a fucking mixed message! It’s not working, quite simply. It’s like pulling into two directions at once, opening something and shutting it down, with one hand each.”
  • “Oh gosh, I couldn’t even name a single person with whom I haven’t done this: where I firmly believed that I had ‘seen’ something, and I communicated it, believing it would be good for that person. And then it turns out … well, who knows? – The point is: I need to communicate these things, and I need to learn how to not hold expectations. I guess that’s the key, a kind of ‘share-and-release’. Just offer our discernment – maybe listen first: ‘Is this the right time? Is my perception, my sharing wanted right now? Is there an opening?'”
For some people this is just an interesting rock formation.

And of course –

  • “Oh fuck, I’ve clearly lost my way!”

I turn around, ready to give up on Burg Scharzfels and to get back to the car (there’s still daylight, after all!), and then …

  • “It’s the ‘Council attitude’ that helps a lot, the ‘Council Way’ of giving the other person space, so that the other person knows about the gift and is not going to … –”

I stop mid-sentence. What’s that? A sign that shows the way to Burg Scharzfels? Invigorated by the discovery, I ascend a steep path through mesmerizingly mystical woods. The recording reflects my awe, my deep inhalation of the wonders of nature, in a trembling voice:

  • “It smells amazing! And I’ve read that I am walking between hundreds of millions of years – one rock formation upon another that have arisen as the rock that they are, and I wonder how that happened. One was created 250 million years ago, the other 350. Million. Years. Ago. Whereas our human ancestors have been around for two million years. It’s kind of nothing. It’s like comparing a toddler with a wise old person, saying: ‘Is this the same kind of life experience we’re talking here, the same kind of learning?’ – Well, I’m not so sure. And that is our ancestors, long before we created anything like cultures and civilizations that we know now, let alone our modern world, let alone science, let alone computer technology, mobile phones. It’s crazy. It’s happening so fast. And we get drunk by the velocity, because we can – as if a thousand devils were behind us, as if extinction would be near and we needed to accelerate; but I worry that it is our acceleration that marks our extinction, our downfall.”

And there she is. The castle ruins of Burg Scharzfels rise semi-majestically from a wood-clad, rock-covered plateau. I choose to explore the ruins, and I may or may not choose to slip through a gap in the barrier that (almost) covers the entrance. Why not risk a little fun? This castle was long considered to be an invincible stronghold – that is, until the French conquered it in 1761. This reminds me of our Schlossberg in Graz, which was actually never conquered (take that, France!), but was surrendered to Napoleon (d’oh!) in July 1809 in the aftermath of a ceasefire and later razed by his forces, following the Treaty of Schönbrunn.

Majestic natural rock formations including Burg Scharzfels.
  • “I see the city [of Barbis] from here! They too must have seen the city in the days of old, when it looked quite different. We forget how much we have achieved. Cities of times long ago were threatened to crumble and burn, so now we have made things quite stable and enduring and solid. It seems we know how to repair, we know how to develop further. As a human species, we made it. We don’t have to do more. But we forget. We want to build more, and larger, and win somehow against ‘the others’, and I wonder why, I wonder why? Who wins? Who gains?”

I let my gaze wander across the horizon, beholding the city of Barbis afar. My eyes also spot little plants growing from the cracks in the walls around me. This has always amazed me: little seedlings find enough nutrients to grow here. Imagine that! They grow and they perish; they take and they give. The Honorable Harvest. The Law of Reciprocity.

  • “Yes, I understand: trying to break new frontiers of knowledge, traveling to the stars, colonizing Mars. I understand that wish. Yes, I would do the same! But it has a cost, and we don’t know it. I think the cost is much different, and the Law of Reciprocity is not guaranteed. We take, so that we can achieve this, but what do we give? What do we give? And why the hurry, this restlessness, not being contented?”
Creepy wooden bear stands guard.

While abandoning the stronghold, I remember my conversation with Björke the day before – it already feels like a year ago – in which we discovered that sacred place of “… being contented exactly where we are: nothing is needed, we have everything. If I lost this mobile phone now, I would still have everything. Even if I lost my life – not that I plan to, but I would still have everything.”

I walk back to … oh, what’s that path to the left? (And there is still daylight, after all!)

I decide to roam these woodlands further, off the beaten track, feeling irritated by plastic litter all around. As I want to turn back to the beaten track, another inconspicuous path leading to the Frauensteinklippe reveals itself. A wooden bear stands guard along the way. Here, for the first time in ages, I am feeling genuinely creeped out. I’m not sure if I believe in spirits, but along this track I’m sure the spirits are dancing while not giving a f*ck about what I believe or not. I hasten my footsteps.

The Frauensteinklippe, a natural formation of dolomitic rock, resembles a human face (mmmm, creepy!) and gives me a Kundalini sneeze as well as imaginary flashes of “seeing” at least one human – I think a woman – having jumped to their death here, stricken by madness and/or despair. Or is it just my vivid imagination?

I decide not to follow their example. I bow out and rush back, past creepy passageways, past creepy wooden bear, and now finally back to … wait, what’s that? A strange tree! Might it talk with me? It is called “Schäferbuche“, one of the oldest trees around. We hang out for a while.

Creepy Frauensteinklippe looks like a face.

At some point, I actually do walk back to the car. Or rather, I’m trying to. This wanderer is now completely lost in these woods, and even Google Maps ain’t helping. Daylight fades. Nightfall is upon me and these lands. I surrender to a melange of intuition and reason, in which I feel strangely safe and certain, hastening my footsteps. I begin reflecting on life and love, as if it were time for a last confession before the darkness swallows me whole.

  • “Of course I love S, and of course I love Y. That is not the question. ‘What is mine to do?’ is rather the question. (…) It’s very hard to let Y go. Yet letting go I must, for some reason. I don’t think I can tell what will happen when I do, I just know I must. Not sure that I know how to communicate it, or is it not about communicating? How does one let go? How does one let free? I want her to be free, and I want myself to be free, even more than I want our love. (…) Therefore this journey, being alone in Denmark and Germany, did serve. To ‘be my own man’, content with myself, being able to love myself, able to take good care of myself. Being able to take risks and to recuperate from the mishaps. This was a very important lesson, and it could only come about when I gave up waiting and hoping.”

There! This is the path I have come from. Past the Unicorn Cave, back to the parking lot. Maybe I can make it to the car just in time before nightfall?

  • “It’s gonna be quite some way back. I hope there won’t be a roadblock, or I would have to sleep in the car, and I would have a very long ride tomorrow. It’s gonna be a long ride as it is. But I wanted this! I’m kinda glad that the journey isn’t yet over and that I’m not yet in safe waters of my harbour, my homestead. Still ways to go. – Oh, this is a steep ascent! The ascent of humanity. I remember the first time I read about Charles Eisenstein [in 2013], and I felt … I was envious! My goodness, I was such an uncouth youngster. I went to these places and thought I had to be somehow ‘better than’ these people. So much has happened since! So I read Charles Eisenstein’s bio and thought, ‘man, this all sounds very good, but he must have this wrong and that’, and I guess I was filled with a little bit of General Semantics pride and arrogance of some kind, thinking that I ‘knew’. And I had ambition, and I had much less humility. More insecurity and less humility. (…) So I don’t know what’s happening in my life, but I can see now that there are big changes. How good! (…) And I know that a lot [of change] has happened just lately.”

(I should add here that Charles Eisenstein has become one of my biggest inspirations, and I immensely treasure the times we’ve met in person. More stories to tell.)

Almost out of the woods, embraced by dusk.

Inwardly turning towards my mentor, with whom I’ve had a kerfuffle some weeks ago:

  • “Yes, he is right about the Dharma, and I’m sure he’s got a valid perspective and a lot of experience and direct knowledge in various ways. And the path works for him, and I’m very glad. And I suppose if I were able to take it up, it might work for me too. That said, I feel like I have to take up a different path that I have yet to discover. (…) And he has to accept that. He can tell me any stuff that he wants to tell me, give advice, or even nudge me. I just will be firm about my own discernment of what serves me.”

Are these words coming from wise discernment and/or egoic delusion?

Final challenge of the day: find my Airbnb in Fuchsmühl, or prepare for a wild night in the car. Strange roads are winding through foggy woods, uphill, downhill, without cell reception, while a sizzle and my inferior nighttime eyesight make this part of the trip particularly unfun. With my senses on high alert, more than three hours later at 1:30am, I finally pull into the parking lot and sneak into my room, where a comfortable bed awaits this quite exhausted adventurer.

Finally, a bed!

Soundtrack of the day:

Nightwish – “Century Child” (album)
Nightwish – “Once” (album)

… and a whole bunch that I cannot remember.

Day 12: Himinbjörg

Thursday, 24th June 2021

Even spiders partake in this dawn chorus.

Himinbjörg eru in áttu,
en þar Heimdall
kveða valda véum;
þar vörðr goða
drekkr í væru ranni
glaðr inn góða mjöð.

From Grímnismál, “The Lay of Grímnir”, normalized text by Guðni Jónsson in 1954

27 years ago in high school, some friends in my class wanted to create a band. I’ll keep the anecdotes for another time, save for our chosen band name: for some reason, “The Urban Bambi Punchers” (yes, there’s another anecdote about the origin of this name!) won against “Pyrrhic Victory” and “Dawn Chorus”.

27 years later, I awaken to an actual Dawn Chorus of chirping birdsong in Himinbjörg, a castle in the sky at the end of the rainbow bridge Bifröst, where Heimdall dwells – or rather in my own version of Himinbjörg, a small cabin high up in a tree on Danish lands. Even with rather little sleep I am feeling wondrously refreshed, enjoying the muesli that has been soaking in oat milk during the night, then swinging in one of the hanging chairs under the trees while singing a belated happy birthday message to Aunt Michi. My host comes along to say farewell. I take a shower in the main house, then return to the treehouse to pack up. Sitting at the base of the tree, I play songs to express my gratitude for its support and to bid this magnificent sentient being farewell.

Farewell to Hanging Chair, farewell to Himinbjörg, farewell to this magical place!

From the treehouse it is a reasonably short drive to the Ribe Vikingecenter. The empty parking lot indicates that new arrivals are among the first visitors today. Whilst applying sunscreen on the most exposed parts of this pale Austrian skin, an older German couple parks their car next to mine, and we begin to chat. It turns out that they intend to move from Germany to Denmark within the next few years! The husband tells me all about housing, cars, loans, regulations – especially how affordable houses are around here. it feels like a strong serendipitous sign that whispers, “yes, Wolfgang, soon you shall move to these lands.

Guarding the entrance to Ribe Vikingecenter.

Next to the entrance, a sturdy man builds a small new house from woodden planks. Upon my interrogation, he reveals his secrets and confides to me that all houses here are constructed in the old Viking ways, with only the least possible amount of help through modern tools. Armed with such knowledge, when you ever set foot into a traditional Viking Longhouse, you will likely be as impressed as I am! Despite its dark interior, with only small windows allowing sunlight to enter, and with the illuminating fire of small candles, this place feels cosy.

Cosy traditional Viking Longhouse feels cosy.

I take interest in the nearby farmhouse while a Viking villagers’ procession with music unfolds nearby. The farmers among that group are bringing animals to the farmhouse, most notably two ancient huge cattle, each of whom is easily twice the size of our domesticated Central European cows. I feel compelled to touch these giants, and Karin, a grey-haired villager, tells me how to best approach them. Although there is some temper in these beasts, to me they are tame. The same goes for a cat that enjoys my advances while lolling around in the grass.

Huge cattle are … way larger than the photo suggests!

“Be careful”, says a young villager clad in simple Viking clothes. “She can be quite passive-aggressive!”

“No worries”, I laugh as I continue stroking the cat. As if to prove the point, she playfully nibbles on my hand, then returns to chillout mode. “We’re getting along well. I can handle passive-aggressive beings. I can be like that myself.”

Slowly moving along, I find my way to the archery range. A beautiful, blonde-haired, voluptuous shield maiden instructs me about the different kinds of arrows. “And what do you think is that one for?” she asks while pointing to an arrow with a blunt rounded wooden tip. A clever Heimdall guesses partly right: such arrows have been used for knocking out animals whose skin and fur shall remain unharmed, and – as the shield maiden reveals – especially for catching birds! This makes eminent sense when you consider that sharply pointed arrows would miss their target more readily and might also get stuck in higher tree branches.

Villagers at the farmhouse, with parts of the traditional Longhouse in the background.

The archery range with its Viking longbows, arrows and targets is guarded by Björke. I am surprised by how fast the arrows fly, while confidently missing all shots. Björke defends my honour by declaring that this is the vegetarian archery style: you don’t shoot the dummy boar, but real plants instead! Even with my catastrophic track record, I can’t help but notice the meditative quality of archery. Björke resonates a lot with this observation and muses about Zen and the Art of Archery. Then he asks if I want to try one more shot with the strongest longbow. This is one of the moments in life in which I already know what comes next: this single shot will inevitably hit the target. And so it happens: the tension builds, the eye squints, the right hand releases, the bowstring whizzes, the arrow hisses, the air is cut, and the boar is pierced at the shoulder close to the neck. I might have felled the beast with that precision shot. Legolas would be proud!

Zen and the Art of Shooting Vegetables.

Björke and I talk more about meditation, life, mythology, religion. We discover our shared delight about stories from the Edda, of Ginnungagap, Auðhumla, Ymir, Odin, Wili and Wé – “all of creation is actually brothers & sisters”, he says – and of course Heimdall, Loki, Thor and Freyja in the Þrymskviða, as well as our shared need for stillness and wilderness (a word that probably derives from Old English: “wild-deor-nes”). “I’m sometimes yearning for human connection”, Björke confides, “and I also need to spend time alone in the woods, to be only with nature.” This makes us brothers in spirit, forsooth. In these shared sacred moments we realize how little else we need: for we have everything here and now to be content. Mankind has more than enough of everything, if only it were fairly distributed. Wherefore such endless striving for more?

We have everything right here … even runestones!

On the note of religion, I tell Björke about my encounter with Zhigger at the European Forum Alpbach 2017. The details of this story might perhaps forever remain too sacred to be fully shared in writing. Suffice it to say here that in the midst of a crowded Gasthaus Jakober in the heart of Alpbach, one Muslim and one Christian-Buddhist entered a sacred space of dialogue and touched paradise together, “meeting at source” on an infinitesimally small point – as if two pins, approaching from opposing sides, would precisely touch at their very atomic-scale tips. Since that day, I daresay that Zhigger and I know for certain – not from intellect, but through immediate experience – that all religious wars and human disputes about conflicting worldviews are nothing more but tragic mistakes. And we know in the same experiential manner that “meeting at source” can fundamentally heal such divides. I can barely imagine anything in this world that would make greater peace.

We have everything right here.

Wandering on, I meet Merlin from Estonia sitting in an open tent, selling handmade jewellery and puppets while meditatively knitting pot holders and other items. I am intrigued by a brass ring in the shape of a coiled snake that fits perfectly on my ring finger; curiously, the significance of a spiraling serpent – a symbol for Kundalini – eludes my conscious awareness at this point.

A highlight of the otherwise unspectacular Vikingemuseum in Ribe.

Merlin and I strike a conversation on the differences between natural and rural areas and cities in Estonia and other Baltic countries. “Once you’ve seen one city, you’ve seen all cities”, she asserts. I buy three handmade puppets and the brass ring. Putting it on my right-hand ring finger does not render me invisible, nor does it bestow other superpowers; yet it feels as though I am marrying myself, sealing an eternal bond of love.

Come to think of it, isn’t that a superpower in itself?

I still my hunger with a sandwich at the (far too modern) restaurant on site, before watching further attractions from the distance, including a Falconer show. Eventually, a growing unrest in my heart heralds the need to leave this beautiful place and return to Germany. Along the way I pay a short visit to the rather unspectacular Viking museum in Ribe. A certain kind of sadness fills my heart as I am passing the border from Denmark to Germany, saying farewell for now to these beautiful Viking lands. Yet there is also an inextinguishable fire within, in the shape of a tiny flickering flame, yet no less potent – and holding a deep knowing: I will return to these lands.

Quiz time: what ‘is’ this? (a) Ginnungagap, (b) inherently ineffable, (c) an ancient church window?

Back in Groß-Nordende, I spontaneously join a Zoom meeting with my “Kauri Tree Friends”, a group that had formed during the recent Mind & Life Summer Research Institute as a “Storysharing Pod”. As one participant shares about her “impostor syndrome”, I realize that this old friend of mine seems to have departed! I can no longer feel its presence in the old familiar ways. I wouldn’t be writing all of this here if I still suffered from impostor syndrome as I used to. Perhaps it is still hanging around in traces, but it no longer holds sway over me. This surprises me. Might the changes be subtle enough to not notice their unfolding in real time, yet they suddenly become apparent through momentary gazes into such mirrors of experience, of dialogue, of contemplation?

Soundtrack of the day:

I cannot remember any music from that day. But if I had known them at the time, I would surely have enjoyed listening to the mesmerizingly beautiful albums “Folkesange” by Myrkur and “Från Tidernas Begynnelse” by Hindarfjäll.

On that note: I also love Hindarfjäll’s rendition of “Þat Mælti Mín Móðir” featuring Peter Franzén (the actor of King Harold Finehair in “Vikings”!), artfully visualized by Grimfrost.

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