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26 Mar

Well things are definitely changing here in Wettenbostel.  The birds are back and … possibly taking over.  Here it is 8:04pm and the loudest sound I hear is the birds singing.  So sweet… it is almost silly.  We recently had a time change so rather than the early darkness of winter, dark outside by 5pm… the day is now stretched and light still remains in the sky as I am writing.

I had some time on my own today to do a little work.  I am practicing my digging skills, creating an edge around the many garden beds here and giving them some shape.  My host refers to this as an English method of gardening.  Gardening in general is one of the areas where you could say I…have room for growth.  But I am willing to learn and find that I really love being outside and being in the dirt and connected to the plants, creatures and flowers.  During the process of learning and discerning in the garden I find I need to have some patience with myself.

It was late afternoon/early evening when my host arrived to do a little gardening himself.  Master gardener that he is, the garden is truly his universe.  As he was immersed in his fervent gardening, I sheepishly asked… are there any other little projects you might like me to do?  Perhaps something I could do today and continue this week?  “Why yes” he said with an enthusiasm in his body and his eyes that can be… almost daunting.   And we headed towards… the roses.

Now the roses here in Wettenbostel pre-spring don’t look all that rosy just yet.  Mostly they are greenish and brownish looking nubs most distinctly identified by their thorny limbs.  The task of the hour?  Pruning the roses.  A new thing for me, I must admit.

What is most new to me in gardening is being aware of myself and the impact I have on all of the little living creatures in the garden.  One false step and I have knocked out the potential life of some unassuming plant or flower.  In its current state it may look like nothing more than a little stem with a green leaf, but one false move and… gone!  I was cautiously warned by my host once, no twice… to “look out!  look out for that!…”  I empathized with him imagining it seemed as if I was carelessly swinging a bat through his china store.  I did my best to listen and… pay attention.

So once I got clear that I was not stepping on his favorite plant, he showed me a thing or two about pruning roses.  Pruning them, as it turns out, gives the roses strength and helps them grow.  I was to clip the brown or black branches all the way down to their base or where the green or “life” began.  The healthier branches still needed a little trimming for best growth.  So those I cut back to a place where there was a bud already growing to promote the growth of that bud… about a half inch above it.  It took me a few times to get the knack of it.  I took a few rounds with my host to get clear what he wanted while I was pruning.  I received a few more reminders not to trample on his garden.  Yes, I kept forgetting about that.  Pay attention.  But in the end it was… fun.  And, a beginning.  I pruned one bed of many beds in the garden of Wettenbostel.  So more pruning to do!

My host encouraged me to keep the beds clean as I was pruning…. don’t leave the clippings behind but instead toss them into the center of the bed that is the general space for “compost”.  I had to laugh as nearly every time I tossed a branch or clipping towards the center it would get caught or hung up on a limb or tree or something… dangling, taunting me.  But it was… a good effort.

The experience of pruning the roses required that I have a more delicate touch and sensitivity.  At dinner tonight as I began to peel the onions to chop for the meal, I couldn’t help but notice how the soft peelings of the onions skins felt new and delicate in my hands.  A different sensation since pruning the roses.

I thought perhaps we all could use some pruning in our lives.  Some things cut back or cut off to make room for new growth….and sometimes we get some things clipped that perhaps we were attached to but ultimately makes us stronger.

The pruning of the day is done and all that is left is the cool evening air and the light that has now diminished to dark.  There is a beautiful bright crescent moon in the night sky and near-bye what looks like a bright shining planet.  It is stunning.  I imagine tomorrow will be another day in the garden enjoying the newness of the warm sun.  Hanging out with the roses… doing my best not to step on other living creatures…and doing a little pruning.

Keeping it clean

22 Mar

It has been a sunny day at the Seminar Haus. It is such a relief to feel the heat of the sun penetrating in a way that actually warms and heats my body!  Ahh!  Feels good!

Things have shifted these past few weeks as the days get longer and warmer weather has brought some life back to the Seminar Haus.  Days are mostly no longer solo as my host has returned to bring his garden back to life.

This past week I was challenged by my host to wake up further from my winter slumber and step up more into action.  Some of it is a call for me to pay attention more… to the cleaning that I do.  Some of it is to pick up the pace of my work.  And additionally, some of it is a call for better communication… on my end and his.

To meet his request I am exploring sharpening some new skills…particularly those of cutting vegetables as we prepare meals for our guests during seminars.  Lately I have been somewhat… hesitant in the chopping department as I have been afraid I might slice and dice a finger instead of the vegetable of the day.  But, I will not give up!  Yes it is possible for me to learn to cut vegetables quickly like a pro… it’s just going to take some practice and some patience… on my part and his.  At the suggestion of a friend, I explored the web and found a friendly and informative you tube video that demonstrates chopping.  We did a little chopping today at lunch, the video and me.  And slowly and carefully, it seems this method may work and keep my precious fingers, if only in my imagination, from becoming part of the dish of the day.  Here is the video if you’d like to check it out!

But today was…. pretty good.  A little cleaning this morning and a new task later this afternoon of washing the windows in the “big dojo”.  The afternoon was completed with some innocent garden work – learning how to create an edge around the beds with the shovel.

So… it’s been a challenging week… coming out of the cold and meeting the call of Spring.  I am sharpening some skills, learning some new ones and continuing to practice my work around the Seminar Haus of keeping it clean.

Photo by Michael Hartley from the not quite spring gardens in Wettenbostel.

Happy End

11 Mar

I had to laugh this afternoon.  I began cleaning the Seminar Haus for the workshop this weekend.  I started with the bathrooms.  Typical work – cleaning sinks and floors, restocking toilet paper.  I noticed something that never caught my attention before… the toilet paper brand name is “Happy Ends”.  Made me laugh.

It is a quiet Sunday.  A longtime friend of my hosts came for a visit in her caravan… enjoying some time with them at their home just down the street.  I joined them for a while for breakfast.  The little child in me found some comfort in being surrounded by “adults” for a bit.  We enjoyed a typical German breakfast… plenty of bread and rolls, cheese, butter, honey, fruit.  And tea.  Of course tea.  The conversation of the hour was the closing of the Seminar Haus.  A hot topic these days.

After a few hours I escaped back to the Seminar Haus and started the work of cleaning.  Mindfully I shifted my attention from the time spent with the group to the simple work of the moment.  Wiping the sink clean.  Stocking three rolls of toilet paper in each bathroom.  I am listening to the ipod my friend Dan gave me while I clean.  The music of the moment is a song by Yael Naim, called Far Far.  Her music and lyrics grab me there in the stillness and privacy of the moment… cleaning the bathroom.  She sings, “How can you stay outside, there is a beautiful mess inside…Just look at yourself now… deep inside.  Deeper than you ever dared… there’s a beautiful mess inside.” As she invites me in with her words, I catch my reflection on the silver top of the bathroom trashcan and…I am moved.  I am moved by what is beautiful inside and I catch… just a glimpse. The moment is gone and I am grateful for what felt like a breath of cool fresh air after being held under water… or something like that.

I continue cleaning… bringing each bathroom three rolls…. of Happy End.

Photo from the emerging Spring garden in Wettenbostel by Michael Hartley


10 Mar

The past few days I have been coming undone as the cloak of winter seems to have abandoned me. Spring has started showing her face in Wettenbostel.  Recently when talking with a friend back in the States on Skype, she shared her hesitancy for the end of winter.  She and I are in similar situations… both spending much time alone and both in transition.  She is in the rural Northeast after having lived many years in New Orleans… so the winter and solitude for her too has been an adjustment.  But like me, in some ways she found the forced solitude of winter was like a warm and comforting blanket.  She wondered if she would be ready for the change, the end of hibernation when the snow melted.  I can see what she means.

The good news about coming out of slumber is the beginning of feeling good.  Moving more…mentally, physically.  After being so still for so long.  Shivering in the cold.  And now, as the snow begins to melt and visitors and people speckle the world of the Seminar Haus, the shift for me is sometimes a little daunting.  I feel somewhat like a grumpy bear being woken from sleep.

That being said I see that I continue to grow.  Growth is such a funny thing… it brings one to a space of humility.  For me the humility lies in the fact that many simple things are challenging to me… and being with that and moving through it anyway.  Not stopping.  Taking another step.  And another.

The good news of this emerging spring is the development of strength.  Strength that starts in the physical but I can’t help but think it also extends to the mental, the emotional.  They are all connected.  Since the wake of my host bear from hibernation there has been an injection of energy and a request for more physical tasks to be done around Wettenbostel.  Recently he asked me to help with loading and unloading the lumber that was cut… even the “big” pieces.  And these past few days it has been digging up the garden from last year preparing it to be planted again.

I have to say that I am proud of the work I did these past two days in the garden.  For me, it was no small task.  There were three large patches of garden beds (big by my suburban eyes… not sure what my Canadian host in Germany would agree…) that I dug up and turned over the soil…with a shovel.  Step by step…until hours later … it was complete.  A few people stopped by to say hello while I was working and commented… did Michael (my host) help you out with some of that? Nope!  I said. I did it all by myself!

Being physical feels good right now and I think it is just what the doctor ordered.  But I am still mindful to be balanced and not push things too hard. I am finding my body is stiff and bristly in unexpected places and often my legs feels locked to the ground like led.  Digging in the dirt helps.

The benefits of my work and growth include simple things… like riding my bicycle down the street to visit my hosts and just feeling so good for that moment in my own skin.  And having that feeling ground and supersede any negative and toxic thought that wanted to brew in my mind.  And sometimes, that is enough.  Noticing these things is the gentle way that I love and nurture myself through my process of growth. The good days, but also the painful days. The awkward moments. Ah. Compassion.

So I am practicing the seeds of compassion with myself as I prepare the garden beds for the fertile grounds of Spring.  Happily receiving the gift of compassion from others here in Wettenbostel during some of the more challenging moments and days.  And… hesitantly… coming out of hibernation.

Photo by Michael Hartley

Being Powerful

6 Mar

Another day in Wettenbostel.  The winter sun is beginning to allow for some warmth and it is a joy to feel Wettenbostel getting closer to the edge of Spring.  Today we saw some geese flying.  Their beautiful “V” shape broke down as their flight pattern shifted into chaotic circles suspended above the fields as if their leader had lost directions or forgotten where they were going.

Today I continued to work a little with my host out in the fields cutting down trees.  At this point the trees have actually already been cut and mostly we are collecting the wood and getting the branches out of the field as the farmers are getting closer with their tractors.  The fragrance in the air lately is less than desirable as the farmers have also begun…fertilizing.

As I work outside with my host, he continues to push me to my “growing edge” in the area of strength.  Not just emotional strength or courage in that way, although he pushes me there too, but physical strength.  Growing up in the suburbs and having lived until Wettenbostel in the city, I do not have must practice or experience with outside physical labor.  Perhaps I was a little spoiled in some ways growing up in the suburbs… not ever really needing to lend a powerful hand outdoors.

Chatting casually the other day while unloading the wood my host and I discussed our upbringing.  His in Cananda, both of his parents professional people who decided to live on a farm.  Inexperienced as they were, it was still part of his culture and world to be in, depend on and rely on the outdoors.  I told him I grew up in the suburbs.  When we wanted firewood we went to the grocery store and bought it!  It would never have occurred to us to go outside and chop down a tree and then cut it up ourselves.  The idea would almost have been funny!

But here I am in northern Germany in the country and fields of Wettenbostel surrounded by forests and homes that rely on firewood to help keep them warm.  So we continue… to collect and chop the wood.  The other day I gave a try at using the axe to chop a piece of wood myself.  Ever the Aikido instructor, my host showed me a method to ground myself, get centered in what he calls “ki” energy, and use the momentum of my body to chop the wood.  This was a very new experience for me… using my body in this way.  The first few tries I laughed as the axe bounced off the wood.  But after a few tries… some success.  The blade sunk a little into the wood and began to split.  That was good enough for me.  I would live to chop another day.

Today while we were unloading the firewood I worked until all that was left were rather large pieces of wood.  I looked at them through my spoiled suburban eyes and thought, I will leave those for him and prepared my mental escape to get away from the work.  Unrelenting as he can be, my host encouraged me that I could actually lift all of those pieces myself.  I just needed to think about things differently.  Don’t use my arms to lift, he said.  Your arms are the weakest part of your body.  But they’re good for holding onto things!… Use your legs he urged and showed me how to roll the large wood to the back of the trailer, crouch down in a lunge and receive the wood with my legs and mostly just use my arms to hold onto the wood.  And you know what, it worked!  I was able to lift and carry all of the large wood left in the trailer.  I noticed it took what in yoga we refer to as core strength… that space that runs through the circle of our middle… that and the strength of my legs.

These experiences bring up for me my own insecurities about being powerful and being a woman.  I notice how I can back away from my own power in the name of being a “woman”.  And not just when lifting logs out the back of a trailer, but in other areas of my life.  I find I am hesitant with power.  Uncertain of its application and my access to it. It is useful for me to be challenged to explore it.

I finished emptying out the trailer as my host shared with me a story of this large Buddha statue he found years ago that was just “meant” to be his.  Beautiful as it was, it was big and heavy! He was able to get it back to his home, at the time in Canada, but did not have the strength to unload it.  And then one day he said, he just “knew” that he had enough “ki” energy to lift it.  So he did.  And he was successful!…

I shared with my host that the other day someone asked how old he was and was surprised when they heard the answer was 65.  They thought he was much younger. My host is not your typical 65-year-old man.  You might not keep up with him if you go out dancing with him and he may possibly be the one to shut down the place.  He maintains a huge garden and during Seminars on the weekends he is cooking up a creative storm in the kitchen.  He commented that with the practice of Aikido and Reiki you can’t quite stop time, but you can access enough ki energy to stay youthful.  I buy it!  For me that also lives somewhere in the space of spirit as I have other “older” friends who also live in the timeless youthful space.

So today, new experiences in being powerful.  And new ideas about the possibility of power.  No matter what your age, your gender and even… if you grew up in the suburbs!


1 Mar

For years now I have had this feeling… like I have been bound up as if tied up with tape… perhaps gagged and often unable to move very freely, let alone breath.  This feeling expands and contracts.  Sometimes very noticeable.  Other times less. If you would like a mental image for it, you can refer to the tarot deck.  The 8 of swords…  there she is. Tied up with seemedly no place to go.  In my years of reading the tarot she has shown up more than once in my own readings.  “There she is again”, I would think… never quite sure what to do with her.

My experience with the 8 of swords and being in “bondage” is that it usually takes someone besides yourself to get out.  Kind of like that game where a bunch of people join hands and make a human knot… and then often an outsider is required to coach the group as they detangle.  When detangling oneself, it helps if that external person is someone wise who you can count on.  With that in mind, I have started back seeing my therapist from New Orleans.  We are meeting every other week via Skype. She has a good eye for detangling… and can see things and offer suggestions in ways that just would not occur to me.  She is resourceful.  In my work with her, the  theme for me is “softness”… learning to explore and be with the challenges I feel and face in my being and my body in a way that is soft.  Holding them, as she says, in a way that is loving, patient and compassionate.  It is a good practice for me. I have a habit of being a bully with myself.  It is also a practice for which I need… support.  And an external eye to see things that I cannot see.

The past few days in Wettenbostel my host seems to be coming out of his winter sleep.  No longer frost on the ground but still a good bite in the air, he has a fiestiness to his energy like a bear coming out of hibernation.  He has recruited me to be of assistance in his latest project… chopping down trees.  Here in Germany, or at least in Wettenbostel, the local Forrester goes around and marks all of the trees that are suitable for cutting.  Then those trees can be cut down by, I believe the end of February.  So these past few days, chop, chop chop…down they went.  I made myself useful by pulling the cut off branches out of the farmers land and into the clearing of trees.  “You did that must faster than I expected…” he said.  Always nice to receive a complement.  And what can I say, I thought, I just moved… and dragged the trees.  And then it was done.  It was good to be out in the fresh open air and doing some physical work and I may have had  little vigor myself in my movement.  Sometimes its nice just to work and not have to think.

Today we continued to clear out the trees and loaded the trunks which my host cut with a chainsaw into his trailer for chopping.  He tried to recruit me to use his smaller chainsaw the other day… but even it felt “heavy” to me.  Not quite what I wanted to be doing… holding something that felt “heavy” that happened to be a chainsaw!  He teased me and said I am a physical wuss.  Well, perhaps so… but in that moment I did not see using the chainsaw in my immediate future.

He intends to teach me how to chop wood.  Something I am open to and willing to give a shot… yet, of course as a physical “wuss” I will not push it too hard as I imagine those are musicles I have perhaps… never used.  As he is also a martial arts teacher, I imagine there will be some technique to the chopping besides swing the axe and hit the wood really hard.  We will see.

But no chopping for me today.  Instead I departed my work with my host and went to give a reiki treatment to the queen of the Seminar Haus.  They are both Reiki Masters and enjoy receiving treatments.  It is not quite a regular thing around here, but Reiki is readily used to heal physical wounds and also help smooth over and move through challenging times and emotions.

I have been spending some time lately on…a website for international work exchange.  It connects hosts who have a room and board to offer to travelers in exchange for some work in their home, business, farm…castle…  I am taking some time to see what else is out there in other countries and perhaps someplace or places new to stay.  It is an amazing website and resource.  Some hosts welcome travelers for shorter visits like a week.  And other are seeking “helpers” as they are called to be with them for months.  We will see what unfolds.

And otherwise, just another quiet evening in Wettenbostel.  Some good energy in a little outdoor work.  A skype appointment with my therapist today.  And practice, and experience in being kind, patient and compassionate with myself… with the intent of being unbound.

Nothing is Permanent

27 Feb

It is a quiet Monday with a morning-like feeling that has drifted into the early afternoon.  The business of the seminar weekend is over and so far today the only sound I hear around the seminar house is the birds chirping outside.

This past weekend we hosted a group that does Gestalt Therapy.  They are a regular group here at the Seminar Haus and long-time customers.  So, they were quite surprised when they received some news this weekend.  The Seminar Haus has decided to close.  I feel a sadness in me even as I write it, but after many long years of hard work and an unusually slow season the decision has been made.  It’s funny, even though I have only been here for a short while and understand the decision… I still find it hard to believe it is closing.  I guess as with everything, there is a time to stay or hang in there and there is a time to let go and move on.  Things come and go in our lives.  Nothing is permanent.

I have learned this lesson so well as much of my life and my world slipped through my fingers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  Today my relationships and my life is very different from before Hurricane Katrina.  The remnants of my belongings are kept in a small closet-like storage unit just outside of New Orleans… and even that I am conspiring with local friends to be rid of as I plan for future travels beyond my one year adventure.  As my belongings and many friendships and relationships have changed or fell away like sand drifting through my fingers, here in the midst of the latest change at the Seminar Haus, it seems for me there is still more to let go of.  It is not always clear to me what that is, but they live now in my life in the form of ideas, old attachments and resentments, my identity – who I think I am or who I think I should be.  In the ebb and flow of change, it continues to give way.

This seminar weekend was a little crazy for me.  Like a car sitting in the cold of winter for months without use, I found myself a little slow as I attempted to start my engine to shift from the silent pace of my winter life to the quickening of preparing the house and then working this weekend at the seminar.  A quick shift from months of quiet days with time to myself, I found it a stretch for me to extend myself and my energy to the more intense pace of a typical seminar weekend – a busy house-filled with guests, earlier mornings, full days assisting with preparation of food and cleaning up after meals.

Even amidst feeling somewhat frantic and squirrel-like in the activity of the weekend, I noticed and felt a shift within myself and my relationship to the participants of the seminar world.  In the past working the seminars I was nearly unseen in kind of shadow in the kitchen.   I now take heart in seeing, feeling and being more connected to the returning and new participants.  As the guests left this weekend I was grateful to receives hugs in departure.  It felt so good to be appreciated and to hold onto another human being, even for a moment, as they left on their way.

One participant asked me this weekend, “how long will you be here in Wettenbostel?  are you planning to stay?”  “We will see”  I respond as I am still exploring new places to be and visit.  I have to trust what is next for me will unfold even when I am uncertain…

My only defense in my changing world when it feels that things are slipping away beneath my feet it is to continue to practice being present.  This weekend a seminar guest, also a fan of Dan Millman, shared that Dan says we are all peaceful warriors in training.  I appreciate the in training part as I often notice my feelings and emotions darting from side to side.  Lately I find I need to exercise, go take a run just to allow some of its intensity to leave my body.

The weekend seminar has come to a close and I take a little time to feel my feet walking on the soft ground around the Seminar Haus.  Connecting to the earth and  the golden fields, I do my best to return to the only place that is now home to me.  The quietness of the moment.  And noticing the tenderness and strength of my own heart… even amidst what feels like an instability.  Alas, I see it is true.  Nothing is permanent.  And I do my best to soak in the moment and allow what is gone or is leaving to be on its way.


21 Feb

Another day in Wettenbostel.  It snowed last night.  My child-like delight for snow has diminished some after a month walking on the frozen earth.  Nonetheless we got a little sprinkling of it, just when I thought Spring might be marching in.

We are preparing for a seminar this weekend.  Generally a typical thing at a Seminar Haus, but alas as it has been quiet here for the past two months and my preparations today for this weekend feel a little unrehearsed.  I did my best to get the house ready as the new group arrives on Thursday.  We had some unexpected problems today with a few pipes breaking and some water leaking.  My hosts amaze me at times with the work and pace that they keep up.  Responding so quickly to the next emergency at hand.  Today it was the pipes.

When things get a little hectic in life or in the day I find I need to pay special attention to myself to keep me grounded.  Today I took an afternoon break of chanting, a little yoga and a walk down the road just to feel my body and my feet connected to the earth.  I feel so many changes happening within me, sometimes I feel like I might fly away.  I do my best to shift my focus to the here and now and not get lost in emotions and excitement of people around me.

I had an unexpected gift today.  As my host was working on fixing the pipe leak, his student unexpectedly arrived at the Seminar Haus.  He is a young German boy/man, about 17, preparing for his final test when he leaves what we would call high school.  It is a challenging exam that is the entry way for students to study further at university.  He meets with my host, a native Canadian, every week to practice and ask questions  regarding his English.  My host needed to pay attention to the leak at hand and couldn’t shift his energy to his student… so he asked me… to teach him instead.

When the student arrived I could see this may be happening and started asking myself if I would do it.  Should I offer to do it?  I asked myself… shying away, I thought no… no… no…  and then I was asked, and of course I said yes.  The student’s name is Marcel and I am impressed with him and what he is undertaking, what he knows, and what he wants to know.  His extensive test requires that he take an oral exam where he communicates completely in English.  Not a small undertaking.  Marcel mentioned his challenges with speaking and writing English, but he was able to communicate this all quite clearly in English!  I compared him to a typical American student with a second language and his capacity and expectation for speaking and writing English was far beyond what is typical of a second language in the states.

Now we get to the courage part.  As I have mentioned before, I sometimes feel uneasy with myself.  This feeling can be very intense and hit me at unexpected times.  A success for me can look like having an entire meal in a restaurant with a new friend where I don’t feel like I want to crawl out of my skin the whole time.  I don’t totally understand why this is so for me, I have some ideas, but alas there it is… and here I am in my life now… feeling this way.  So while on one level, helping Marcel out with his English studies was easy.  I am confident with my English and have taught in the past… on another level for which I cannot explain… it is … hard.  And that is where the courage part comes in.

Often when sitting one on one with a person talking I become extremely self-conscious and I cannot breathe.  And then I become aware that I cannot breath, and that just makes the cannot breath part worse.  I become hyper sensitive with myself and my body and being in relationship to the person across from me and it that moment it seems there is little I can do about it… almost like something in my body or being is locked up and cannot be released.  And while this is going on, I am doing my best to not look like this is going on…It is not fun, but I suppose it is something I must continue to explore and work with for my fun, my life, my healing.  So meeting and talking to a new person, and teaching one on one with an unexpected German student, for me takes… courage.  And so it goes.

I suppose we all have our little things for which we must summon up our own personal courage.  Things that perhaps we judge ourselves for or hide from others… I have to be patient with myself.  I cannot respond to myself as I think I should be or wish was so… but rather what is actually so.  Because that is where I am.

That being said and breathing challenges aside, it was great to work with him for a little bit.  He is smart and it was fun to assist him with his work and his studies.  And we may do more in the future… which will help him and… yeah, it will help me to.

So what about you?  Are there any little challenges that you face in your life that for you take big courage?  Where are your secret places where you summon your courage that go unnoticed by the world?  I would love to hear from you!

And for now, it is soup and fish and me having a little dinner in the Wettenbostel kitchen.  Bye for now from the still snowy days of Wettenbostel.  Calling for a little warmth and sun as we prepare for our weekend seminar.


20 Feb

I am just getting home from a weekend in Hamburg.  It’s funny to me what a relief it was to arrive back on the grounds of the Seminar Haus even though I was only gone for the weekend.  I am tired and relaxed from my weekend and in the kitchen drinking some tea.

I traveled to Hamburg to attend another healing seminar led by my friend Olaf Cobus and his colleague, Lore Bergmeier.  Together they make a great team.  It was the fourth seminar in a series of five.  The theme for this weekend was… “Loslassen” which is a German word that means “let go” or release.  It was a powerful workshop.

We began the seminar with exploring the idea of holding on to something. We each were given a pillow and were invited to hold onto it the way were holding onto something… anything in our lives.  We were asked to get comfortable with it and find that special posture, that special way we were kept “it” ours… perhaps we may even feel the need to hide it or protect it.  Or maybe, we had more than one thing to hold on to… and if so, we were encouraged to grab other pillows, blankets etc.  And then, once we had fully appreciated our pillow and our experience we were asked to consider, like apples on a tree.. how ripe was the “apple” that we were holding on to?  Was it time to let go?

Lore compared our life journey to a boat floating down a river.  The scenery is always changing.  She said there are times in life when we are called to hold onto something and it is ours to hold.  And then the scenery may change and it is no longer there… and often rather than let the boat move on and allow the scenery to change we reach for a tree on the side of the shore and try to stop time and stop the scenery from changing.  It never works, but there we are left grasping and clinging trying to keep what was ours.

Later in the day we did movement work with Olaf.  His work is very different from anything I have experienced so far on my healing journey in alternative medicine and healing work.  His work encourages you to be in your body and pay attention to things… you never really considered paying attention to before!  My favorite exercise of the day was when he had us experimenting first in our own bodies, how it felt to let our feet and hands guide us in movement throughout the room…listing to our hands and feet… not our brains!  As we became more comfortable with that, we found a partner and explored being in our own space in our own body, but also being connected to that person.  Feeling their energy in relationship to ourselves.  We experimented with how far we could go away from that person and still feel connected to them and when we needed to draw closer.  And then we moved to the idea of group… feeling ourselves, knowing that our partner was there and also being aware there was a group there.  It was lighthearted and fun and a playfulness fell into the group.

I was glad to see in myself growing the possibility that I could feel me in relationship to someone else and a group.  The exercise had me feeling safer within myself… actually being able to feel me and be conscious of myself in relationship to others.  It was particularly interesting for me when during the exercise I was partnered with a man.  I was so nervous.  I wasn’t sure I could do it.  My partner was someone that I have some relatedness to so we could laugh about it as I shrunk at the idea of letting my guard down and being open in relationship to him… I just didn’t feel safe.  And then Olaf coached us.  He suggested that my male partner take a supporting role… and that I be in charge.  And I was amazed at what a difference that made.  I felt much more at ease in being there and playing with moving hands and feet with him and we both noticed a dramatic difference in the lightness of the energy between us as we did the exercise.

The day was good and hearty and long.  I spent the night in Hamburg and today made the somewhat long journey back to remote Wettenbostel.  And now, like a slow-moving boat… I can feel something shifting in me in its wake.  Something new is letting go like waves rumbling deep beneath the surface.  I am feeling the flow and the changing scenery of the passages of my world.  Tired and grateful for the nourishment of my time in Hamburg.

Graduation Part 1

16 Feb

Well, the snow is beginning to melt in Wettenbostel, although this morning the green grass is coated with a layer of frost.  Is this the beginning of the end of winter hibernation?  While there has been joy and satisfaction in my snowy, isolated winter escape, I must admit this extended period of time alone is starting to rattle me a bit.  I am exploring new places to be.  My inner voice reminds me to be patient even though I feel a sense of urgency within me.   Ah.  I breath in and out.  I try to ground myself in my body, feeling my feet in my slippers as I walk across the cold house floors.

I watched the movie Peaceful Warrior last night.  It is a film based on the book and true story of Dan Millman.  I was drawn to it as I am taking an on-line class of his through called the 4 minute workout.  What I like about the workout  so far is its careful attention to stretching and moving all parts of the body – even parts I had forgotten about!  The movie is based on the story of Dan, a talented college gymnast, who meets an unexpected spiritual teacher at a local gas station who can do things Dan can’t understand or even imagine.  After shattering his leg in a motorcycle accident, Dan relies on this teacher to help him reshape his thinking and his world.  The film is a good reminder of the art of being present.  A concept I will employ as I continue here in the quiet halls of the seminar haus.  As my Reiki teacher Elizabeth and Mr. Miyagi say, “wax on, wax off.”

The other day on Facebook I noticed a quote from spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant that caught my attention.  She said “There are times when we do not recognize it is the time to move forward.  When life is ready for us to move and we resist, life will move us by any means necessary.  What may feel like a disaster is actually a graduation.  Remain open to being guided, supported and protected by the universe.”  I really appreciated that in the face of the “disasters” in my life.  Reframing those situations, feeling them in my body and mind as a graduation feels like a useful shift in perception.

One of my life’s graduations happened about 6 years ago now… known by many of you as Hurricane Katrina.  When I was writing my last blog entry I described getting off of the drug Paxil as one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through… As I wrote that, there standing in the background begging for attention was yet another challenging time..the experience of Hurricane Katrina.

I was living in a ground floor apartment in New Orleans at the time.  On Carrollton Ave.  I had been off of Paxil for about 2 years and was still a little daunted from the journey.  I clung to the safety of my apartment and had just a small handful of people I allowed into my life.  I had recently taken my first degree Reiki class.  With it came development in my healing and a new  community of support.  I was living a very “bohemian” lifestyle.  I had no car and rode my bicycle everywhere, I read tarot cards in Jackson Square and had a part-time job selling kites at a local store in the French Quarter.  While there was much about this colorful and simple lifestyle that were dear to me, I screamed out for something that felt more secure.  Money was scarce.  I sometimes found myself digging for ten or twenty cents so I could buy myself a banana or two. I yearned for something that felt more stable.  “I want to live more civilized!”  I cried out to the universe.  And I guess she heard….

It was August 2005 and I was preparing to attend the Landmark Forum, a weekend seminar designed to help you transform your life.  I was inspired to attend by my friend Christian.  He invited me to an introduction to the Landmark Forum, and after attending I felt a little spark in my eyes that had long been in the shadows.  The only things that seemed to be in the way was… the money.  In the Landmark Forum, when registering you are encouraged to look at what is “stopping” you… as likely that same issue stops you in other areas of your life.  And they say that is when your Landmark Forum begins… during registration and the issues and challenges you face.  So there it was.  $400.  It looked like a mountain to me, someone who had been collecting change to buy bananas.  My friend Christian had contributed the initial $100 for me to register.  Now I needed the remaining $300.

It was mid-August and my Landmark weekend was just around the corner. The new owner of the home where I rented my apartment was an old friend of my Reiki teacher, Elizabeth.  And, as fate would have it, she used to be a seminar leader for Landmark Education.  Elizabeth suggested that I call her for advice.  Nervous and shy to reach out to others, I mustered a little courage and gave her a call.  And here is what she said.  She told me to make a list of all of the people I could borrow money from and then pick the last person I would ever ask and start with them.  I told her that I did not yet have my money for the next months rent and I was concerned about doing the Forum and coming up with rent.  That she advised me was my risk, my decision to make and she wished me good luck.  While we were still talking, my sister called in on the other line.  There she was, the last person I would ask for money.  I answered the line and took a leap and asked her for the money.  She and her husband responded in a most generous way and agreed to give me the total amount I needed to attend the seminar.  We made an agreement for me to do a little design work for her husband’s business in exchange.  Still not knowing how I would pay for my rent, I threw some caution to the wind, completed my registration and I was on my way!

The night before I was to leave for the Forum, Elizabeth, her husband Bob, Christian and my friend Mark gathered in the living room of my little apartment to see me off.  I was surprised at how nervous and emotional I was.  “I am just going away for the weekend” I thought.

The next day I rode in the carpool of folks driving from New Orleans to Houston, about a 6 hour drive.  I stayed in Houston with a Landmark Forum graduate, a friend of Christian’s.  Her name was Kess.  A sweet tender-hearted woman, her little apartment was the perfect place to stay.  It felt friendly and welcoming.

Attending the Landmark Forum was kind of an “outing” for me back into a more mainstream American society.  Tucked in the bohemian world of New Orleans, I had not been in high-rise buildings, intense central air-conditioning, flourescent lights, and square rooms with beige walls in at least two or three years.  I had not been in rooms filled with professionally dressed people and women wearing make-up and neatly done hair-dos.  It was a little startling at first, but little by little, I made my way.

It was Saturday of the Landmark Forum when they made the announcement that there was a category 5 hurricane heading straight for New Orleans.  In the context of the Landmark Forum they teach that we are “meaning making machines” and the stories of our lives have only the meaning that we assign to them.  So within the context of the course, I did my best to view the news in a positive light.  And the weekend course continued.

By the end of the Landmark Forum, I saw someone new and yet familiar when I looked in the mirror.  It was me.  Only somehow, it was me that I had not seen in a very, very long time.  My eyes looked focused and clear and there was even a glimmer, dare I say a spark of light in them.

My friend Mark had called.  He at first thought he might stay in New Orleans and ride out the storm, but then late on Saturday night he had a strong gut feeling to get the hell out of there.  So he packed up a few things, and grabbed his cat and his neighbor.  Next he went by my apartment and grabbed three things – my laptop, my cat Sophie and my guitar.  They made their way together through the grueling traffic-ridden evacuation on his way to meet me in Houston.

Mark and I had been friends in New Orleans for quite some time.  In the wake of getting off of antidepressants he was the first person who I felt I could relax with… exhale. And one of the few people I felt could actually understand what I was going through.  To say that Mark was “my boyfriend” were never words that felt quite right coming out of my mouth.  But he was someone I was connected to and could count on.

Mark and company arrived in Houston after being on the road for some 22 hours or so.  Kess was generous enough to welcome everyone into her home.  Me, Mark, his neighbor and the two cats – we all camped out in the living room of Kess’s one-bedroom apartment.  The hurricane came and went and it seemed perhaps the worst was over.  But then the flood waters started to flow.  Levees had broken and the water from Lake Pontchartrain began to fill the city.

Living in New Orleans, prior to Hurricane Katrina, you hear and you read that the city is a bowl.  New Orleans is below sea level, and shaped bowl-like surrounded by water.  We were always told, when “the big one” came the city would fill up and be flooded.   It was just a matter of time.  Secretly I thought we were exempt from that.  That it would never happen.  And there it was.  It was happening.  I have to admit, as the waters began to roll into New Orleans, I silently hoped it would give me a way out of my life and life circumstances.  There were so many things that I just wanted to wash away with the storm.

When it became clear that New Orleans was in the midst of something of disastrous proportions, we all began to plan and explore our next step from the bunkers of Kess’s living room.  Cell phone reception for New Orleanians was down which made it difficult to be in touch with people.  Mark and I had decided to see our way through this together and his neighbor was seeking a new place to find refuge.  In the wake of the Landmark Forum, I suggested that we look at this as an opportunity to create something that we really wanted.  It was apparent that for at least the short term going back to New Orleans would not be an option.  We did not want to stay in Houston.   I called my parents and heard that a college friend from Austin, TX had been in touch.  Her message was, “I just have this feeling… I know that Nancie needs to come to Austin.”  Mark and I agreed, Austin seemed like a good place to be for a little bit.

Mark and I did our best to be responsible and handle as many details as we could up front.  We made the smart decision of calling FEMA right away and filing an early claim.

Elizabeth and Bob had evacuated to Houston and we met at a Starbucks.  We sat with one another in a state of shock and disbelief.  It was good to be connected  even in the foreign territory of Houston with  its big, busy modern ways and landscape.

I called my friend in Austin.  Her name is Rita, a powerful little Indian woman and a force to be reckoned with.  She armed us with phone numbers from craigslist of Apartment complexes offering deals to Katrina “evacuees”.  She and her husband generously offered to put us up for a week in a hotel in Austin while we found a more stable place to be.  By the end of the week we departed Houston and made our way to Austin.

We arrived in Austin, wounded and weary, and met up with Rita and her husband at a local taco place.  Welcomed into the bosom of Austin, the owner of the restaurant treated us to a complimentary meal that evening and gave us free t-shirts from his place.  We spent that week in a hotel considering what was next.  Amazed, we found ourselves looked for apartments as we needed a place to stay.  Neither Mark or I had any money.  But within the week, with the blessing of a “Hurricane Katrina” special and a free first months rent, we found ourselves signing a 6 month lease.

I called Elizabeth from the new place.  In a state of shock I said to her, “…I think I live in Austin…”

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