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The Road Less Paxil

10 Feb

Greetings from the frozen tundra of Wettenbostel.  Perhaps that is stating it a bit dramatically, but suffice to say it has been cold.  My litmus test for cold – my Canadian host, raised where it was so cold that a child once died walking to school, agrees… it is cold outside.  And so…it must be true.

It is the reality of hibernation here in Wettenbostel.  We have had no seminars since before the holidays. My painting project has progressed from the ceiling of the seminar room to the walls.  The adventure on the colder days consists of running, quickly from the main house to the Big Dojo where I am painting.  On bolder days, an afternoon stroll.  I must admit that the cold air feels fresh shooting through my body and is perhaps something that I have needed after thirteen years of living in the steamy heat among the bayous of New Orleans.  Even so, I feel like a pioneer living in the big house, feeding the fire that helps heat the house with coal like a mother feeds her child.  I walk briskly, scarf and mittens intact, scrambling from my comfortably heated room through the cold air of the hallways to find respite in the general warmth of the kitchen.  Even in the cold, I am grateful to have the sanctuary of the Seminar Haus to stay for a bit.

I have relocated to an upstairs room which does not regularly connect to the wifi on the seminar haus compound.  I find myself unwilling to leave the cocoon of my warm room.  So here  I am dangling into the bathroom connected to my room reaching and grabbing for a few internet bars.  So far so good.

I have had a visitor here for the week.  A young woman named Rachel visiting from Australia through helpx.net.  Generally, communication is not a problem between us as… for the most part… we speak the same language.  The city of Perth is her home and it heralds a warm climate.  She has spent at least half of her week here in the winter of Wettenbostel looking a little… blue… and not because she is sad, but because she is cold.  I have done my best to pass on my cold weather tips I have gathered… perpetual hot tea, wool socks on feet, scarf on neck, layers, and of course… wool, wool, wool!

The solitude and stillness of winter continues to feed time for exploration… I am exploring the possibility of teaching English as a second language here in Europe and also looking into my next place to visit for a bit (thinking sunny and warmer!).  Of course I am still tending to the fires of my personal healing and well-being.

As some of you may know from past posts, I was on the anti-depressant drug Paxil for about ten years.  I went through the challenge of getting off Paxil about 8 years ago and thought I should just leave that in the past.  But, as Iyanla Vanzant, spiritual author and teacher, says, you know that you have healed something from your past when you can talk about it without anymore anger, sting or trigger.  Me and Paxil – we are not there yet.  I thought perhaps it was best to be quiet about my challenges with Paxil, on and off the drug, and leave it in the past.  However, being quiet does not always set one free.  It can do just the opposite.  It can be suffocating.

Paxil, as some may know, is a popular anti-depressant prescribed for a whole host of things – OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), depression, social anxiety… and more…  I was put on it at the age of 22 in 1993 assured that in a few years I could stop taking it.  I was just to use it as a means to get me through a tough time. I was on Paxil for ten years because of its challenging withdrawal symptoms… As the title of one article about Paxil taunts, Paxil is Forever … As stated by an attorney representing a class action suit against the makers of Paxil, “the scariest part about this is that there are people out there trying to get off this drug who are experiencing these horrible withdrawal reactions. They think it’s because of something wrong with them, when it’s really the Paxil – – and then they take even more and further exacerbate the problem!”  Amen sister.  They’re singing my song.

After doing a little bit of internet research, I found and contacted a law firm that handled a class action suit of about 3000 people on Paxil around six years ago.  The suit was for non-disclosure of withdrawal symptoms.  They won the case and as a result the makers of  Paxil, Glaxo Smity Kline, now are required to make public the withdrawal symptoms and can no longer advertise that it is non-habit forming.  An ABC broadcast tells the story of how Paxil had found in their research that more than 21% of those taking the drug experienced withdrawal symptoms and the company hid that research.  These withdrawal symptoms, as they were with me, can be so severe it seems nearly impossible to get off the drug.  People have written their stories and programs for successfully getting off of Paxil and one non-profit called the Road Back even offers a series of vitamin supplements to assist in the process.

Just a little bit of research has shown me that there are thousands of Paxil and former Paxil users who either can’t get off of the drug or went through a life changing experience getting off of it.  It is almost of epidemic proportions.  For me getting off of Paxil was one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life.  And if I had not been 100% no turning back committed, I am not sure I could have done it.  I wrote more about this experience in an earlier blog, Unburdening. For me, it helped having a period of time where I did not work.  I sold my car to cut down on expenses.  I started taking yoga.  I joined an on-line Paxil withdrawal support group. I bought a pill cutter to slowly wean myself off of it (liquid form is now available for that purpose…).  And when my mind and body felt like they were going to go astray, I kept the book Prospering Power of Love close at hand to focus on and read it like a mantra. Now, eight years after being off of the drug I can say I earnestly no longer have a physical or psychological desire to be back on it.  But there were many times even years after being off of it, I wondered if I could make it and my life and my being felt like they were turned inside out.

When I stopped taking Paxil I was about 32.  One of my motivations for getting off of Paxil was wondering, if I wanted to have children, what impact these drugs would have on an unborn child, marinated in Paxil for 9 months.   And sure enough, those instincts and, gosh, common sense really, were right.  The latest litigation against Paxil?  You guessed it – birth defects.  I also, of course, wondered what these drugs were doing to me and my brain long-term.  I have not yet found much research on that, but I am still suspicious that some of my current challenges are a result of long-term effects from taking Paxil for ten years.

In my reaching out recently I have been connected with quite a few resources regarding Paxil, getting off of Paxil, and antidepressants in general.  Great information to have upfront if you or someone you know is on Paxil and would like to get off of it.   Please keep in mind that I am not a medical doctor and I did not personally used these resources below when getting off Paxil. Here they are:

The Antidepressant Solution by Dr. Joseph Glenmullen helps safely guide you off of antidepressants like Paxil.

A man named Mr. Fiddaman wrote his own guide of how he got off of Paxil.  If you email him at fiddaman64@blueyonder.co.uk he will email it to you.  He also has a blog about it…http://fiddaman.blogspot.com/

The Road Back is a non-profit organization that has uses vitamins to assist through the withdrawal process.  The website is theroadback.org

And here is a site where you can report your side-effects to the FDA… http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/HowToReport/default.htm.

quitpaxil.org is an on-line resource to support people getting off of Paxil.

And of course if you are experiencing challenges going off Paxil, you can always contact me.

I will continue to write in my blog about my adventures with Paxil.  And what about you?  Do you have any stories or experience to share about Paxil or other SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor) drugs?  Perhaps your own personal journey.  I’d love to hear from you.  Your challenges, triumphs or experiences, encouragement…  Please write!

Love me tender

30 Jan

It is a juicy cold winter day in Wettenbostel.  The temperature is -6 degrees… luckily, that’s celsius not farenheit.  But still, it is cold enough. Bundled in wool, I love it outside, for a little bit. But mostly, I am grateful to be warm inside!

I cooked the most delicious food for myself today.  How is it that sometimes you can cook the simplest of things… broccoli stir fry and rice… and it tastes SOOO GOOD!  I have a little break in painting the ceiling of one of the seminar rooms, my latest task here at the Seminar Haus.  I ran out of paint.  Alas.  So in the meantime simply tending to a little cleaning in the kitchen.

As I bask in the warmth of the kitchen I hear the voice of my friend, Reiki Master and counsel, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin, saying  “Use your alone time wisely” .  Hmmm… I find myself thinking.  What exactly is using my alone time wisely?  I think…in part…I am beginning to find that answer.

As I continue to listen to the story of Iyanla Vanzant on my new audiobook, Peace from Broken Pieces, her story unfolds and I listen intently.  The story has moved past the tragedy of her childhood and has blossomed into her world as a successful spiritual teacher.  What has struck me today as I listen is her spiritual practice of turning to God when she needs an answer for herself and her life. Guidance along her journey. Her practice is to immerse herself in prayer for 5 or 6 days until she feels she has an answer for herself and her life.  That is it, I thought today.  That is wise use of my time… going within, using the tools of my spiritual practices, to nourish myself and to seek and explore what it is I need to know for myself and my life at this point in time.  I check in with the Tarot cards, an old friend and confident.  They agree as they reveal to me the Hermit card… a time for being alone and connecting deep within.

When I was a child I used to have this sort of unusual experience.  The word I used to describe it was feeling like I was in a straw, like a vortex of energy was slipping and sliding right through me…and I was part of it.  As I grew older my recollection of this feeling came and went.  And then one day… it revisited.  I was assisting at a course taught by Landmark Education known as the Wisdom course.  One of my favorite courses in the Landmark curriculum, it was a series of powerful weekends that span over the course of a year.  As someone who was assisting… my role, my function was to be of service to the course and the participants.  The role of assisting during a course always keeps you hopping.  Being present, paying attention, and being available to do what is needed to make the course happen.  Whatever it takes.

It was during the course that I felt this feeling again.  This straw-like notion swirling through my body.  Now a little older than when I was a child, I at least had some modicum of wisdom to be able to pay attention to what it was that I was feeling.  That feeling, that sensation I could discern was oneness, our “we-ness”, that space in the cosmic soup where there is no you or no me… but we.  And it is my understanding that I was able to experience that feeling once again during the course in the context of authentically being of service.  Giving of my heart and giving up my me to be in service to others.  In that space, the I or me just kind of slipped away and what was there?  We!

That moment was a spiritual breakthrough for me.  It reminded me that our spiritual essence has been connected to me my whole life.  I have had that feeling, that straw-like sensation on a few more occasions since then.  Sometimes I experience it during a Reiki treatment.  … and ultimately it seems that is what I am returning to… like a slippery slide.

So here I am…being a Hermit in Wettenbostel.  In the still darkness of winter. A little breath of sun today as the temperatures get a bit more frosty.  Taking time out for a few earthly pleasures like yummy food and, okay, watching a movie or two on my computer.  But intently basking for a few days in my spiritual practices… Reiki, chanting, A Course in Miracles and yoga… exploring that deep place within.  Ah, feels so good.  Feels like some love.  Some time just to…love me… tender.

Photo by me from the snowy fields of Wettenbostel

Healing

25 Jan

Greetings from the cold walls of the kitchen at the Seminar Haus in Wettenbostel, Germany.  My hands are cold and icy as I take a moment to write a little in the cool winter air.  Preparing yet another pitcher full of hot tea… nourishing me on the inside and I suppose nourishing my spirit as well.

My current project here at the Seminar Haus… painting the ceiling of the Big Dojo, one of the buildings in the collection here.  I must confess, I feel far away from the inspiration of Michelangelo… and I have a pretty good kink in my neck, but in general I am glad for the work.  It feels good to have a place to come to put a little time and energy on something.  To focus on something as simple as dipping a paintbrush into a bucket of paint and then applying it carefully along the seam of the ceiling and its many beams.  While I am painting I have been listening to an Audio book by Iyanla Vanzant.  She is a spiritual author who I have enjoyed over the years.  There was an offer on-line for a free audiobook … so I took advantage of it and downloaded Iyanla’s latest book, Peace from Broken Pieces.  I am not that far into it, but listening to it is like eating some sort of food that I didn’t even realize I was hungry for.  It is satisfying.

My time here in Germany and Europe, as I have written, continues to be a time of healing for me.  A healing path that began most notably with a personal crisis my senior year in college, then ten years of  a steady diet of Paxil … and well, the turbulent journey off getting off of Paxil and life with the puzzle and experience of the trauma that lied underneath.  The journey of healing has shown to me that… it is a process, unfolding, leaf by leaf, flower by flower… and year by year.  You cannot rush healing… perhaps accelerate it at times, but it is its own mystery, its own path.  And at most what you can do is take it and yourself one step, one day at a time to see… and try not to take things so seriously.

I started practicing Reiki about 8 years ago.  I found my way to a first degree Reiki class not long after getting off of antidepressants.  And it, in its own way, was a miracle for me.  The beginning of release.  Sometimes it seems that in healing oneself you must first go down a long and sometimes lonely journey to get to the bottom of the well.  And just when you think you are at the bottom… you are still not there yet.  Still more.  Still deeper.  Still more to lose, give up, surrender.  Healing has shown many different faces to me… despair, loneliness, rage, laughter, unspeakable beauty.  It is in the depth of her invitation that I have found something balanced and beautiful and it is there where I rest my hat.

In Iyanla’s book, she shares her own journey and expresses that she has come to believe that each of us choose our lives… our parents, our families, hurts, traumas, joys and laughter… as our perfect spiritual curriculum.  And it is the perfect curriculum, just for us, as its ultimate goal is to lead us back to God.  And in that way, all the characters in our play of life become heroes… the good and the bad as they have been the exact gift that we needed.  That have sent us to pray, to meditate, to take a different path.

And so, here I am, in the latest chapter of my healing.  I find myself in the lately quiet space of Wettenbostel.  A village of almost 60 people set amongst the potato fields in Germany.  Listening at times to the silly stories of my host and his friends here.  And much of the time on my own and independent.  In the quietness of the woods amongst no one but the trees surrounding me, I see and feel that I am here for my healing.  It is not always glamorous.  I often struggle.  But my time here seems to be folding me into a gentler surrender with myself as the woods and the land hover around me and protect me like a nurturing mother.

Listening to Ilyanla, I am reminded I am on a journey.  I am reminded to be tender and kind with myself.  And I am activated by the idea that my life is my perfect curriculum.  Everyone’s journey of healing is different.  And for now, mine has sent me to Wettenbostel.  Land of the wild pigs at night, late night hot tubs, and quiet nurturing nature.

Photo by Michael Hartly.

Escape to Hannover

19 Jan

Well, after more than three weeks of much solitude in the havens of Wettenbostel… it was time.  Time to get out into the big world.  The opportunity was… Hannover.

It all started with an email from a friend… sharing innocently that New Orleans musician Theresa Andersson was going to be in Hannover on January 17 for a concert.  Hmmm… perhaps I could go!  This was exciting to me on a a number of levels.  I really appreciate Theresa as a musician and performer.  Plus I was ready for a little taste of New Orleans home.  Also, it was a chance to get out for a bit… do something different… so I explored the possibility that I might go.

Ever the budget traveler, I set out to get a ticket for free.  Not an impossible task in New Orleans.  The Big Easy is not so big, with an intimate network with maybe one or two degrees of separation.  With the good fortune of a friend’s connection, I was put on the guest list for the concert.  Hannover here I come.

Hannover is about an hour and a half away from Wettenbostel by train.  With an evening concert, I figured it made sense to go and spend the night there.  The best bet, I thought, was Couch Surfing.  Perhaps you have heard of it?  a somewhat notorious network of  travelers and generous hosts willing to offer a couch or bed for the evening.  It’s mission?  not just a free place to stay… but a network, an infrastructure for connecting to humanity… all over the world! I am a member, but had not yet successfully couch surfed while traveling.  I sent out a few requests through the website to some folks not too far from the concert and happily got a friendly and welcoming invite for a place to stay for the night.

The train to Hannover went quite smoothly.  I arrived in the main station, called in Germany the Hauptbahnhof, then found my way to the local trains to easily navigate my way towards my hosts home.  With just a short journey and a quick phone call to her, we soon connected and I found myself safe and sound for the night in Hannover.  The concert started at 8:00pm and I learned that Theresa was not the sole act, but the opening performer for a musician named Tommy Emmanuel, an Australian guitar player with apparently quite a following in Germany.  The show was at the Theater am Aegi.  I was not sure what sort of space to expect, coming from the experiences in New Orleans of often smokey rooms, open floors for dancing, and intimate settings.  What I found in the Theater am Aegi was a traditional theater complete with velvet seats and a balcony.  So we wouldn’t be jumpin up and gettin’ down I imagined.  I found my assigned seat and the concert began.

Theresa has created a unique style of performance for herself.  Armed with a gifted voice, talent on the fiddle and other instruments, and a sense of adventure Theresa trained herself to use pedals to record and then loop back as she sings and creates new sounds and rhythms.  Here is a sample of her performing the song Birds Fly Away recorded in her kitchen in New Orleans.  I just love it.  It gives me chills.  Theresa’s performance that night was short… just a half an hour… but still enough time to feel a little joy and lift my spirit.  My neighbors at the concert, a German couple there to see Tommy, had never heard of Theresa Andersson.  But they enjoyed her performance.  When I asked them what they thought they smiled and said, “she’s crazy!”… that’s funny, I thought.  She seems pretty normal to me.  Perhaps it is all that time I spent in New Orleans….

And next was… the main attraction.  The reason why hundreds of Germans came out on a cold Tuesday night… Tommy Emmanuel.  What I learned about Tommy through his performance was not only is he Australian, but an accomplished guitarist.  As he began playing an ease just came over me as he grooved on his guitar.  And the concert continued, original songs, cover songs… and one duet with Theresa Andersson.  Just beautiful. He shared a little about his adventure of meeting his idol, Chet Atkins, and the remarkable story of how, as an aspiring musician, he was invited to Nashville to visit him… and ultimately ended up cutting an album with him that I believe had him nominated for a Grammy. It was a great story! By the end of the night I felt a pleasant connection to Tommy Emmanual and while, not converted to a die-hard fan… I was glad I was there. After the concert, an easy and cold ride back to my couch surfing destination in what felt like the very safe city of Hannover.

The next morning, I was packed and ready to go for 9am as I departed back into the city with my host, Andrea.  She had a morning appointment, but she directed me into the center of town and we agreed to meet a little later for a coffee.  I began the morning with grabbing a little coffee and some warmth, then headed out for a bit to enjoy the cool sunny day.  Mostly just walking the streets, exploring a few stores and shops, I felt like a little kid.  It was fun to be out.  And fun to be on my own.  Seeing new places and enjoying the  fresh syncopation of a European city.  People on bicycles, old buildings.  Charm.  Good bus systems and public transportation.  Delighted, I met back up with Andrea and we traveled by bus to a near-bye neighborhood and enjoyed a breakfast together.

A mom who has raised her kids and now on her own, Andrea was a great couch surfing host and fresh for new experiences.  She recently traveled to India.  She looks forward to visiting her daughter in Africa and walking the Way of St. James, a spiritual pilgrimage in Spain.  She does yoga and she is exploring Archery!  Her enthusiastic spirit was really a breath of fresh air nicely partnered with her grounded stability.  After lunch, we parted ways on different busses… her to another appointment and me to see a little more of the city.  I was grateful for a wonderful time and nice balance of exploring someplace new on my own and having a friendly connection while there.

Eventually… I returned to Wettenbostel.  During my escape, I was glad to see that my aptitude and ease for negotiating the trains and trains stations had increased dramatically.  I connected later that evening with my Wettenbostel hosts in Lüneburg, a town not far from Wettenbostel.  I felt like a well-cared for child, finding warmth and refuge from the cold and the wind in the back seat of their station wagon.

This morning I woke up and deeply breathed in the fresh winter air of Wettenbostel.  Ah, feels good!  And wow, how nice it was for a little adventure in Hannover but also how nice it was now to be in the peace, solitude, space and natural surroundings of Wettenbostel.

Today, it was an afternoon of painting — the ceiling of the Big Dojo that is, one of the houses here at the Seminar Haus.  Slowly and easily.  Enjoying some tunes as it goes.  This weekend I head to Hamburg for the healing seminar lead by my friend Olaf.  A little excitement in my quiet winter life in Wettenbostel.

Words of Wisdom

6 Jan

Mmmm… content in the warmth of my room tonight in Wettenbostel.  The wind is blowing outside.  A little rough.  Some wind.  Some rain.  A door blown open now and then.  It is about 7:30pm, or should I say 19:30… and it is a time when generally and lately I have been at the Seminar Haus by myself.  The grounds itself are fairly big… enough to feel a little separate from the booming metropolis of Wettenbostel.. population I think 60 or something like that.  The wind blew in my hosts this evening with a little food.  Always a delight to see… my hosts… and the nourishment of course.  Some food for me.  Some food for our groups that is arriving sometime tomorrow evening.  I am told the group this weekend is a young Christian group… young as in 20 somethings.  A little different from the tone of seminars since I have been here… often intense groups and subjects.  Generally middle-aged and above diving through issues in Gestalt or couples therapy.  Sometimes yoga groups and then of course the is the Tantra group….but that is another story.  So this weekend should be a different tone from past seminars.

Tonight has been a pretty chill night.  My household chores are done and I have spent a little time musing on my computer.  I watched a little video on Ted.com by author Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the book Eat, Pray, Love.  I like her.  There is something about her as a writer, as a woman, that I find comforting.  Her presentation was on creativity.  It invited me in to consider… my own creativity.  And after that, I did a little chanting.  You know, my standard nam-myoho-regne-kyo plus the daily practice of reciting the Lotus Sutra.  These chants are the cornerstone of the practice of Nichiren Buddhism.

I was introduced to Nichiren Buddhism a little over a year ago by a friend, Lilly, who I know through my New Orleans Reiki group.  And then I was invited to their New Years 2010 celebration by my friend and Reiki Master, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin.  It was an afternoon celebration of Nicherin Buddhism, chanting, and a wonderful, warm and social buffet lunch afterwards.  It is then I learned that Elizabeth had become a member and received what is called her Gohonzon, a scroll with Chinese and Sanscrit characters on it and the object of devotion in the practice.  She said she felt pulled to become a member and accept the Gohonzon.  She added that it gave her a breakthrough in her life in an area where she had been stuck for years.  Really, I thought.  “Should I do it?” I asked her. Wide-eyed, she nodded yes.  Ready to jump in, I leapt ahead and made an agreement to become a member of SGI on New Years day 2011 and within weeks I received my Gohonzon.

I received a book with the Lotus Sutra and a practice CD and quickly began to learn to chant the Sutra.  It was fun and I enjoyed having some place to put my attention, devotion and energy on a daily basis.  Lilly, a long-time Buddhist, was thrilled and an avid supporter.  She and her husband updated an alter they had for my Gohonzon and in a whirl of energy they delivered it to my home and prepared me for my practice.

I was encouraged to chant for what I wanted and situations I wanted to change in my life.  At the time I was selling gourmet mushrooms at the local farmers market in New Orleans.  “Chant for your mushroom sales, ” Lilly said. “I guarantee they will grow!”  So sure, I did it… and I have to say… that my mushroom sales went up.  In fact the doubled from what I was selling at the time.  So I kept chanting.

Mostly I was chanting for my healing.  My moving through my “whatever it is” that has been challenging me… most notably since my senior year in college.  Healing from life after ten years of the anti-depressent Paxil, the challenges of life after the drug, and the I wasn’t so sure that was troubling me beneath the surface.  So I chanted for that.  And chanted.  And I still chant for that.

Months after becoming a member everything in my life shifted and left me racing to find my bearings.  So many changes all at once…which opened the door for me to leave New Orleans and visit for a while here in Germany.  So I leapt.  I leapt in a space of enthusiasm and joy.  And I leapt in a space of uncertainty and discomfort in the face of the many challenges I still felt with myself.

I chanted for specific things as I prepared for my journey to Germany, piecing it together on virtually no budget and  a “wing and a prayer”.  I had bought a ticket to London through an online sale.  From there I needed to make arrangements to travel to Germany… and I wanted a place to stay in London for the night before I headed out on the next limb of my travel.  So I began to chant.  Chant specifically… for a free place to stay in London.  Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.  And with Lilly’s insistence, I didn’t give up.  Didn’t give up as the trip was nearing just weeks away and still no place to stay.

And then it happened.  It was a Monday night and I was heading to the Tulane University campus for a Landmark Education seminar.  I was “assisting” or helping out with the seminar.  On my way in, I saw a familiar face in a unfamiliar environment.  He was a seminar leader who lived in Austin, TX.  I knew him from my time living there and participating in Landmark Seminars post-Hurricane Katrina.  I did a double take and confirmed it was him and learned that he and a few other folks were visiting the seminar from Austin.

I arrived in the seminar room and greeted my friend and  “boss” for the evening who was leading the logistics for the seminar.  She knew about my upcoming travels and desire for a place to stay in London.  “You know” she said, referring to my friend and seminar leader from Austin, ” his mom lives in London and she hosts people sometimes when they come to town…”  What?!  I thought.  No way.  You have got to be kidding me!  I was so amazed and delighted and the wildness of events coming together… and my possible relief at fitting another piece of the details of my “miracle” journey… that is how to go to Europe with virtually no money. Later that night he and I chatted and with a little good fortune, we were able to arrange for me to stay with his mom for the night in London.  I was glad to offer her and her husband a little Reiki in gratitude.  And, as it turns out, his mom had practiced Nichiren Buddhism for about 15 years herself.  Interesting…

Nichiren Buddhism has been a lovely segment of my time here in Europe so far.  It is an international organization with groups that meet in villages, cities and towns all over the world.  Here in Wettenbostel, I have connected with an SGI group in Hamburg.  I have met many people there, visited with them and chanted with them in their homes.  I also have connected with Nichiren Buddhists closer to Wettenbostel in near-bye Lüneburg.

While visiting the Black Forest I was able to connect with two SGI different groups.  One in the lovely city of Karlsruhe and the other, an intimate gathering at a home in a village not far from Karlsruhe.  Both places brought me a little… I don’t know… peace.  There was something in me that just felt at ease… much-needed respites on my journeys.  Some care, some comfort and hospitality.  And the comfort of community… no matter where I am in the world.

So I continue to chant.  I chant for my healing, my life and my journey.  I chant for my friends and my family.  In this Buddhism they say the most important thing is to be happy.  And that is why we chant.  And I am learning from my time and practice that being happy isn’t about blissfully eating bonbons on a cloud.  It is meeting the challenges of my life as the unfold, doing my best to take responsibility for them, and continuing to move forward in my life and face them.  And not ever giving up.  So I chant, I chant for courage to face the challenges and discomfort with myself and my life.  I chant for healing.  I chant for inspiration.  I chant for love.  Ah, it is so good.  Nam-myoho-renge kyo, which literally means “I devote myself to the Lous Sutra.”  For me, true words of wisdom.

Coming out of the dark

4 Jan

New Years greetings from Wettenbostel.  I am hibernating alone tonight in the Seminar Haus.  An evening of  shameless treats – watching the movie 27 Dresses on my laptop and eating popcorn in bed. So far it has been a good year.  Some time to spend with friends.  And now the celebration and the people have left.  All of it a gift to me.  With the Seminar Haus mostly to myself again, I have some time to simmer in the possibility of the new year.

As we often do with New Years, I find myself making shifts and new decisions within and about myself.  New thoughts and fresh ideas for my European escapade.  I am grateful to have time to explore these ideas nestled within the mothering borders of the Seminar Haus.  Deep in the stillness of winter… well sort of winter, the weather being unseasonably warm.  I continue my work here in Wettenbostel… which is at least in part preparing the house and the space for seminar guests visiting this weekend.

And my other work here in Wettenbostel… well it continues to be things that look like growth. Feeling good about myself and seeing, little by little, day by day… who I am, what I want, what moves me.  As we roll into this New Year, I intend to shift the focus of my blog and my writing… just a little.  I will still write about the adventures of my experience wherever I may be, but I am also going to write more about my journey of well-being and spirit, both past and present.

I am writing to support myself and others who may have struggled with being on antidepressants, life without them or the difficulty in getting off of them.   And the challenges and gifts of living life and exploring the underlying trauma that sent me to antidepressants in the first place.  Like putting together pieces of a puzzle… the questions of  “why do I feel this way?  I just don’t get it…”

So this journey of life in Europe continues to be… growth.  That is the best way to put it.  Not always easy. But there are many wonderful experiences every single day that I am deeply grateful for.  Living life in Wettenbostel being surrounded by potato fields and waking up to Michael’s gardens.  New and flavorful people in my life… people who are light and bright spirits that help me see myself and the world differently.  The joy of learning to communicate and being with people who speak another language and the discovery in that.  New tastes. New sounds. New skills.  And possibilities available to me that truly delight and inspire me.

So Happy New Year!  Raise a glass and have a toast!  As I have learned here in Germany, it is important that you look your “toastee” in the eye when toasting or else, it is said, you will have seven years of bad sex…. that is what they tell me.  New Years for me, well it was rung in from the infamous outdoor hot tub of Wettenbostel with the glimmering of neighborhood fireworks exploding in the stillness of the cold night sky.  New Year’s set in the intimate darkness of Wettenbostel… welcoming in the brightness of the New Year.

Gratitude

30 Dec

It is a warmish winter day here in Wettenbostel.  The quietness of my solo experience at the Seminar Haus is shifting as familiar and friendly faces begin to make their way back into my world.  Last night my friend Jörn made his appearance, returning to Wettenbostel after a three-week hiatus in near-bye Lüneburg.  And today, my American friend and former porch companion, Dan, will return with his friend Ulla to celebrate the New Year.

The sun is shining today.  A nice break from the wintry darkness that has been mostly filling my world for the past several weeks.  Days have gotten very short here in Northern Germany.  When I wake at 7:30 or 8am it is still dark outside and as the evening nears 4pm the day already feels like it is coming to a close, dark by about 5pm.  Days are getting longer, I am told by Christian, Wettenbostel regular and Seminar Haus electrician and general do-everything person.  He says that the 23 or 24th were the shortest days of the year… so slowly we begin to expand and creep out of the silent, darker days of winter.

The New Year is bright on my mind, taking time to consider and honor this year that is passing away, a quiet death making way for a new beginning.  And what a year it has been!  It seems that gratitude is the key for me… to the MANY people who have been there and touched my life this year.  My many friends and supporters in New Orleans and throughout the US, the international Reiki Community as well as the international SGI Community.  New friends, helpers and companions I have met on my travels.   My family. Without the inspiration and support, personal, spiritual and financial, from the many friends and family this year would not have happened, would not have been possible.  So it is with humility that I take note of all of them, young and old, and thank you for who are in the world and in my life.

The day is still very early by Wettenbostel standards…. particularly over the holidays.  It is around 10:30 am and so far I am the only being that is moving around the grounds of the Seminar Haus.  I am told Dan arrives sometimes today and I have heard a passing word of a spaghetti dinner for this evening.

A mostly quiet time intended for me for this New Years eve, known here as Silvester.  Honoring the old, the waking of the new and celebrating and laying the groundwork of good intentions, healing and prosperity for the year to come.  Good fortune to you as this year comes to a close and much fullness of life, love and richness in the New Year!

-Photo of sweatlodge constructed in the woods of the Seminar Haus, 2008, by Michael Hartley

Twas the night before Christmas

24 Dec

It is December 24. After a full day of train travel yesterday,  I am now back in the cool and open land of Wettenboste in Northern Germanyl.  My home away from home.  All of my other Wettenbostel playmates are nowhere to be found.  And, aside from a few visits from Michael, one of my hosts here whose home is a few blocks up the street, I have the place all to myself.  A little intimate time with me and the seminar haus!  I have a fire going in the fireplace, prepared a nice meal for myself, and have some good music playing on the stereo.  I even made some homemade apples-sauce today!

It is the night before Christmas… or perhaps in Germany it IS Christmas… it’s hard to say.  I do know that in Germany they do their gift giving on the night of the 24th, rather than December 25.  Presents arrive from Santa Claus, much the same as in the United States.  “But how”, I asked Imke, my host while visiting the Black Forest, “does Santa Claus come when the kids are still up?”  She described a typical diversion.  One parent thinking they saw Santa Claus and the reindeer outside, attracting the children while the other unloads the presents, mysteriously appearing from Santa Claus.  Santa does not come down the chimney in Germany.  According to Imke, some families say that it is the Christ child, not Santa Claus who delivers the presents.  Now how this little child does this we do not know… probably about as easily as Santa Claus does with his sleigh and flying reindeer!

As a child growing up, Christmas was spent flooded with family visits.  My dad’s mom and dad on Christmas Eve… my mom’s mom on Christmas day.  And later that day a BIG celebration at one of my mom’s uncle’s homes.  As the years have passed traditions have changed.  Families have shifted and now it is my parents who are the grandparents.  And me, living miles away from my family, well, I have often been on my own for the holidays.  Sometimes being adopted by the families of friends, or spending time with other “orphans” as we lovingly called ourselves… over the holidays.  This year in the midst of my wanderings I am content to have a warm welcome place to be for its duration.

So, as this Christmas Eve slips its way into Christmas Day, I will be tending the fire in the Seminar Haus and thinking of all the wonderful people, family, new friends and old, all over the world, who help to tend the fire in my heart.  Namaste and Merry, Merry Christmas!

Full

22 Dec

It has been a juicy few days here in the Black Forest.  A good balance of new experiences, and some of the comfort of home.  The hills of the Black Forest are greeting me from my window.  The sleet and rain tempting me to stay warm and comfortable inside.

I am coming to my last few days in the Black Forest with Michael and Imke.  Changes always met with mixed emotions.  Yesterday their daughter Skadi gave me an art project she made, a hedgehog called in German “igel” (pronounce eagle!).  It is little things that I notice and I am grateful for.  It has been nice to be surrounded by the warmth and, well, the reality of a family.  Michael and Imke have shown me that life can be simple… even with responsibilities.  Even in the midst of the chaos of having a family and small children.  And they have shared their experiences, their “german-ness”, and their interests generously and lovingly with me.

Here is a little snippet of German culture I learned yesterday… Michael got a haircut… and I asked Imke… “did Michael get a haircut?”  “Yes,” she said.  And added, “In germany, when someone asks if you got a haircut, you respond..’no, I fell down the stairs…!”  What?.. Now, I can’t say that I exactly “get it” , but I like it.  Shortly after I arrived at their home, I used the statement, “That is not my cup of tea..” and Michael offered that in Germany instead they say “that is not my beer..”  Okay, sure.  Why not? And it continues…

Yesterday I took a long stroll again through the near-by path in the valley of the Black Forest in Hilpartsau.  A recent discovery with the direction of Imke.  I was just amazed taking in the beauty… so different from the nature and landscape of Louisiana.  Strong, powerful streams, hills flooded with trees… and these great big… birds!  I first spotted one on the top of the building.  It was there, larger than life, unmoving and I thought… Is that real?  I stopped, and watched, and then… it moved!  Big beautiful bird.  It looked similar to birds I have seen in Louisiana, but bigger, and well… different.  There was a man heading up the path way and I stopped him asking… of course, “do you speak English?”  He nodded and then spoke in a friendly way, but mostly in German!  He offered the name of the bird, “reiher” he said.  I learned later that in English this means heron and it was a grey heron, popular in this area.  I repeated trying to mimic his expression.  And from there on, he became my guide through the woods.

Listening to someone who does not speak the same language as you takes a lot of attention.  He was very friendly and willing to communicate with me using expressions and acting out and pointing when necessary.  He had a few English words in his vocabulary, and I had a few German words in mind so between the two of us we communicated… perhaps!  There was just a small moment when he was speaking in German that I actually understood what he said.  I could pick out the few words that I knew and fill in the blank.  I felt, a little… successful!  But beyond that it was often just unknown to me.

We came to the end of the trail in the next village… a point where all I knew was to turn around and go back.  As a good guide he insisted I follow him and we headed into town just a little bit, then up some stairs and headed towards the hills heading back towards Hilpartsau where  we came from, but from a different view.  I loved walking amongst the hills and was surprised to find that the sometimes silence walking with this stranger was not uncomfortable.  We went to a spot that had a lovely view of the next town and then he showed me the trails in the dirt from the wild pigs that come out at night.  And then, eventually, when we returned to almost home we smiled and parted ways.  “Next time” he added in German and through demonstrating with his hands  “we need to bring an English/German dictionary!”

The night before I found myself basking in the welcoming hospitality of  Beate and Lefteri who live in a village not far from Hilpartsau.  They are a  German couple, Lefteri of Greek heritage, and members of SGI, a Buddhist organization of which I am a member.  I called them through a contact of a friend of a friend.  Originally I left a message on their answering machine in slow spoken English, hopeful there was an English speaker on the other side.  Later that day I received a friendly return phone call, directions and times for the train, and a welcome invitation to their home for the SGI gathering.  I arrived the next day  in the early evening, greeted by Lefteri at the train and was welcomed by their warmth and gentleness at their home.  There was one other member there, Andy, and their two children.  We chanted together and then shared a little personal information about ourselves and our experience with SGI and Buddhism.  We were gathered on the comfy floor surrounded with a fluffy carpeting and a variety of pillows.

They were generous and curious about me and my experiences and lovely in their sharing about themselves and Buddhism.  They spoke English and told about their beginning with chanting and Buddhism.  I was reminded through the conversation the importance of the practice is responsibility for the self and our own lives, no matter what our challenges or experience.  That is why we chant everyday… returning to and connecting with that greater larger self known in Buddhism as “Buddahood”.  We are all powerful, all part of the great whole.

Afterwards, we gathered in the kitchen for a bit and enjoyed some conversation and some good bread, greek cheese, olives and other goodies.  Beate sharing that when they went to Greece to visit family, the parted with a large chunk of Feta…to get them through the winter!  We took time to share a little about our lives, about America and Germany.  Our understandings and experiences.  And then it quickly was time to catch my train.

I returned home to Imke and Michael’s to receive an email from Beate and Lefteri.  A gentle reminder of the connection and time that we had.  A feeling extended like a warm blanket encouraging me as I continue on my journey.

I am almost packed for my departure from Hilpartsau.  Still secretly hoping that I get into the Vipassana retreat that starts tomorrow… I am on a waiting list and have been holding out making plans in hopes that a list minute opportunity comes my way.  But one way or the other, either the retreat or return to Wettenbostel, it seems I will be leaving tomorrow.  The bittersweetness of good time spent and the interest of new times to come.

The children are bustling downstairs and I imagine Imke is preparing a meal for lunch.  Imke is a great cook.  The food we ate the other day was so good I could almost scream.  “What is it that you put in your food? ” I asked.  She responded, matter of fact, that it’s love.  And its true.  I can feel it and taste it… that”x” factor.. something undefined in the food that invites you in to enjoy it.  And so with that… with the good experiences and good loving, nurturing food I have enjoyed here I find I am … full.  Full as I prepare to leave the Black Forest.  Well fed.  In many ways.

Winter

20 Dec

Well, it seems that winter is here in the Black Forest in Southern Germany.  A nice surprise for me after spending many years in the mostly snow-free zone of New Orleans, Louisiana.  I woke up this morning, looked out the window to see the snow coming down, white powder collecting on the roof of Michael’s BMW Wagon.  A big smile crept up from within me… unexpected – a childlike delight at seeing the snow coming down.

It seems that the winter, the cold and the snow are calling for things to slow down a little bit.  The chill in the air and the holidays around the corner are setting the pace.  I am enjoying the simple things of spending time with Imke, Michael and their children.  And I have some time for a little peace and respite on my own in the privacy of their ground floor.  I am noticing little joys here like drinking Black Forest water… native to the area and distributed… free! at the local grocery stores.  When Michael and Imke return from the grocery store, Michael reminds me that it is at its natural temperature… cool and refreshing!  And recently to discover that the Black Forest Chocolate cake I have eaten since I was a kid… is in fact from this area in Germany… the Black Forest.  Of course!

Yesterday I took a nice walk not far from their home… just meters away, a long fresh walk surrounded by the Forest and the hills.  The walk was kind to my New Orleans flat land loving legs… some incline, but modest… yes… kind.  The path was dotted with sculptures… but to me the real beauty was the landscape.  Sometimes I feel like I just need to disappear into the outdoors for a bit… lose myself in something… greater than me.  Surrendering to the outdoors which somehow feels… limitless…

I continue to be of simple assistance here, a little vacuuming, cleaning up after lunch and dinner.  Sometimes at night I indulge myself in watching  videos of the television show House.  A little American escape.  Michael and Imke also watch the show, but when they watch House and his colleagues are speaking German.  Here in Germany most television shows and movies are from other places, with German voices dubbed in.  For the first time the other day, watching House, I had an experience, a thought of United States and American culture being something separate… something other from who I am and where I am… a piece of the puzzle, yes,  but not the whole pie… Previously after so many years of swimming in the big pond of the States, it has seemed like that’s all there was.

I will be here for just a few more days with definite plans of what’s next still to unfold.  I was reminded by my host, Imke, that Winter is a time of things being stagnant, dying off… and then in spring things begin to bloom again. Giving myself permission to surrender and enjoy the slow pace that is presenting itself.  In that spirit, she encouraged me to.. of course… go with the flow.

And in that spirit, I will enjoy my day in the Black Forest surrounded by a little white powder, cool fresh air outside, and a warm fire inside.  Just another day.  In winter in the Black Forest.

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