Tag Archives: Europe


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 dailyom.com 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…”

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


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.

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.


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!


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.

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