Practicing mindfulness

Following up on yesterday’s post, which was really a repost from October 2019, I wanted to add a few things. I chose to repost this blog entry because it still felt perfectly timely. Yesterday in particular I felt this restlessness, haunted by too many thoughts and still going after the next distraction.

But I also realised, it is no longer as bad as it had been when I first wrote that post. I am much more mindful now and I catch myself when I seek distraction after distraction. I know better why that may be the case, which differs depending on the situation.

I can stop myself. Not always, but a lot more than I used to.

I listen to myself very closely. Why am I feeling a certain way? How can I change how I feel – especially when I gripped by negative emotions?

The pandemic has done a number on all of us. But it has given us also a lot of time to touch base with ourselves. Well, perhaps not all of us, but many of us were given more time than we knew what to do with and a lot fewer distractions – at least outside of our own homes.

Given that I live alone and have only a small circle of friends, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time by myself. Admittedly, much more than I would have preferred. And whilst it hasn’t always been easy, I am privileged in many ways and don’t feel a need to complain.

Instead, I am trying to do the best I can. This includes to not just chase distractions and to learn about new things (even if I have felt no inclination to obtain new skills). I’ve delved into my psyche, learnt to understand myself much better than I have in the past and I’ve been practicing mindfulness whenever possible.

Being alone so much has been a struggle, though, so I have given myself permission to indulge in mindless distractions. We might be stuck at home, but our minds need not be stuck as well.

I am more aware now when I am seeking distractions and why. And I am certainly much more present in the moment. Where else should I be if I have no opportunity to make plans for tomorrow, let alone next week?

All we have is each other

But sometimes not even that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship, what it means, what it requires, what a friend could or perhaps even should be. I have no definitive answer and I cannot impose my ideals of a friendship on someone else. How I might be as a friend to someone has no bearing on how they might be as a friend to me.

We can’t all give in the same way, have different capacities for love and different expectations for our interactions with others.

I know what I can give a friend. I know what I need in a friend. I never know what I may get from a friend.

Considering this new project I am working on, I find myself revisiting old blog entries, which is enlightening to say the least. I ended up reading this blog I published in August 2019. Not all of it is relevant for what I am trying to say here. But I must repeat this as it is relevant to friendship and where I find myself at right now:

I believe in fighting for one another. Not against each other. When there’s love, how can we let it become hate or contempt? Sometimes love is not enough, no matter how much we love. When someone is not receptive, it doesn’t matter. But don’t we have a duty to still treat each other with decency?

Is it necessary to be hurtful or cruel? Yes, rejection hurts and there’s practically nothing we can do to ease the pain. Whatever our intentions might be, the other person will still be hurt. And if that’s the case, we should try our best to do the right thing.

What is the right thing? That depends on the circumstances but at the very least we can take responsibility for our actions. Accept the consequences. And perhaps apologise.

Burning bridges and pretending that everything is alright is certainly not the right path.

At the end of the day, I don’t believe in causing pain to one another. Sometimes it happens despite our best intentions. Such is life. I’ve hurt people before. I’m not proud of it. I did my best to own it and make it better. But I can’t heal someone else. They have to do that themselves. I can only apologise and hope for forgiveness one day.

We’re all we have, you know? Ultimately we’re all the same. We’re all human. We have hopes and fears and sorrows and the capacity for joy. We all want to be loved. We want someone to see us. Someone to choose us. Someone to stand by our side.

Sometimes we don’t get these things. Sometimes we don’t get what we need or want. And that has to be okay as well.

Because it is not okay to take what somebody is unwilling to give.

Everything is now

Originally published on the 27th October 2019

We live in constant distraction. I’ve written about this before, but I’ve been guilty of it too much lately and I’m at a point where I need to focus on the only thing we have:

Now

We never just sit in silence and let our thoughts roam. We never allow our thoughts to simply flow, to follow them wherever they may lead.

Instead, we binge on Netflix, watch random shows on TV mindlessly, read the news without digesting them, listen to music in a constant stream, play games on our smartphone or PlayStations. Anything to escape our minds.

We dwell too much on the past and worry too much about the future. But everything we have is now and that is what we keep forgetting with every second that passes.

It is the only thing that belongs to us, where we are at home, where we are present. And the Now is so fleeting that we cannot truly lay claim to it. Before we know it has arrived it is gone again.

Sometimes we just need to be. It should be okay to sit in silence and not seek escape.

For the past few months, I’ve been doing all of the above too much as well. The television provides constant background noise. Or I put on my headphones and dance through my apartment, cleaning, tidying and dusting along, distracting myself from whatever it could be that would gnaw at me if I were to stop and be still for a moment.

No more.

I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s like some sort of addiction, this constant distraction. I don’t need to check my phone every five minutes. I don’t need to update the news app every hour. The TV does not need to be on all the time.

I have the feeling that I am looking for something without knowing what it is I am looking for. There’s a longing I can’t quell. I try to leave the past behind, but it keeps clinging to me. I can’t shake it off.

I’m looking to the future, making appointments, planning my month ahead, looking forward to this, dreading that, procrastinating over yet something else.

But it is all so pointless.

It is pointless when I forget that I am here now. I can worry about something that might happen the day after tomorrow. But to what end? It ruins my Now. It gives me anxiety and it makes me restless. I have a knot in my stomach, and I can’t eat.

In this very moment, however, there is nothing to worry about. I am at home. It is warm. Candles and a few other lights give off a gentle glow. I’m perfectly safe. I could be perfectly happy. I am not incomplete.

There is a pain in my heart I can’t quite shake off. But it’s okay. I’m breathing. There’s peace to be found in the love that is also still in my heart. I’m alone. And I’m not.

Now is good.

It is all I have and whilst I am not sharing this moment with somebody close to me. I am sharing it with you, whoever you may be.

City of the Dead

City of the Dead

Today was the perfect day to visit a cemetery.

When you have two days in Paris, you have to know what you want to see, where you want to go. There’s no time for leisure sightseeing, because you won’t really see anything. My main prerogative had been to see the Louvre. That accomplished, I had also decided to visit Pere Lachaise, when I booked my hotel last weekend and realized that it was very close to the famous cemetery.

Most people know it, because Jim Morrison is buried here. That is whose grave they come to visit. But quite a few other famous people are buried here was well, I set out to find a few of them, safe for one, all of them writers.

If you want to go to Pere Lachaise, go in fall, or autumn, if you prefer. It supplies the graveyard with the right kind of mood. Falling leaves, clouds, possibly rain, the smell of rotting leaves, a certain dampness that clings to everything.

The rain had gone when I arrived, which was good, but it wouldn’t have kept me away. And even though everything was as described above, it wasn’t a cold day. I only got chilly after I’d been strolling around the tombstones for about an hour and a half.

I’m not in a habit of visiting graveyards and I’ve never seen one like this.

Wandering around, seeking the graves I’d been coming here for, I photographed a few tombs that were quite stunning, really beautiful ones among them.

I posted a selection over here on Tumblr:

Our obsession with death is remarkable. The number of intricate designed tombstones, sculptures, graves is astonishing. The money that must’ve been poured into this cemetery is something I couldn’t even guess at.

Some sculptures seemed to positively glorify the dead, though not death itself I guess. Others spoke of immense grief and sadness. I wondered who commissioned those graves. There were many, many family tombs; supposedly the whole family would be paying for those. There were graves for children with sculptures of children, presumably the deceased, on top.

Many graves bore the likenesses of those interred.

This sort of thing doesn’t come cheap. Considering the money that a coffin alone costs, these tombs could be worth quite a bit of money, it’s a veritable property to have.

And then there is this: according to estimates there are approximately one million people buried in Pere Lachaise in one form or another (this does count the cremated ones). It is still an operational cemetery and there’s still room. But apparently the waiting list is long and not everybody gets to be buried there just because it’s where they want to be buried.
It is indeed a city of the dead. They far outnumber the living, even though this is a cemetery that has its own influx of tourists.

In case you are wondering, who I came to see, here is the list:

Honore de Balzac

Marcel Proust

Oscar Wilde

Gertrude Stein

Edith Piaf

I found them all and only now that thought is starting to sink in. Mostly they had quite simple graves, in comparison with the neighbourhood anyway. The strangest one was Oscar Wilde’s, which I will have to read up on.

I paid a visit to the side of the graveyard that pays remembrance to the holocaust with a number of intriguing statues. I stood in silence.

Je suis desole.

Even though I wasn’t there or a part of it and it’s been 68 years since the last concentration camps were freed. It’s the guilt of an entire nation.

I did stroll past Jim Morrison’s grave and had to wonder what all the fuss was about. Poor guy can’t even rest in peace, because of this crowd of people all clambering over each other to get a view to snap a pic.

I continued on, breathing the air, watching the ravens, escaping American tourists, who called Oscar Wilde a playwright and wondered who Gertrude Stein was.

The graveyard is not an oppressive place to be, not depressive either. It was very peaceful and mostly I managed to stay by myself. What would the people buried there think of their visitors? What would they think of their own tombs and gravestones?

I thought of “The Graveyard Book” and wondered if they knew. Or if they cared.

Death is inescapable. Going to a cemetery doesn’t necessarily serve as a reminder, nor does it make you feel more alive. I paid my respects and I made sure to respect those few legitimate mourners tending on family graves, or calling on dead relatives.

Curiously this city of the dead is much more for the living than for the woefully deceased. It is us, who go there and care. It is our place of mourning, somewhere to go and visit, to speak to those that have left us, sometimes too soon.

I felt affirmed in my resolution to be cremated, though, or whatever they’ll do to your remains when the time arrives in the far future. Return to the dust I came from. It seems to me the most poetic thing to do.

The atoms I am made of were born in a supernova. I can’t return the supernova, but my atoms will be redistributed. Just the way I want it and as it should be.

And as for my soul, if it is a real thing, I hope it’ll go and explore.

Original posted on the 21st October 2013

There are museums and there is the Louvre

The French are not the best sandwich makers in the world. When I wrote this I was eating a somewhat stale baguette with cheese. That’s it, no slice of tomato or cucumber, not a single leave of lettuce. Just a few slices of emmental. And butter, I believe, beure.

But then I don’t suppose that one visits Paris to eat sandwiches. There’s far better food to be had and even if it was simple, I had a wonderful omelette for dinner last night. And a crepe for breakfast, which was lovely as well.

I didn’t come for the food, though. I came to visit the Louvre.

When I visited Paris the last time, which was also the first time, I came with my family. It was our last family trip before my brother and I started to take off without our parents. I was 18 and I had an obsession with the French Revolution.

My Mom gave me the newly acquired map of Paris and told me to show us around the city. For the better part of two and a half days I dragged us around the city, we managed to see every major sight, even went to Versailles.

But when we arrived at the Louvre, it was closed. It was a Monday. I still vividly remember. I was so disappointed. It’s not uncommon for museums to be closed on Mondays, but who remembers these things when you’re excitedly discover a city that you’ve been dreaming of?

We were leaving the next day so that was that.

I’ve been wanting to come back every since, but didn’t pursue the option while I still lived in Germany. Curiously it wouldn’t have occurred to me to just come over by myself. Then I travelled the globe and since I returned to Europe I was set to visit.

But as it is with most things, you either book the flight or train or you keep talking about it without ever going.

A few weeks ago I decided it was time to see the Louvre, so I booked the train and in this approaching week, have been stupidly excited about it.

I wasn’t exactly excited about getting up at 5:45am on Saturday morning to go to St. Pancras to catch my train, I was, in fact, decidedly tired. Well, I got over it and when I arrived at Gare du Nord, I took the Metro to Cite, paid Notre Dame a quick visit, ran across Pont Neuf and almost without further distraction made it to the glass pyramid, the main entrance of the Louvre to stand in line.

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I was almost literally over the moon, went nuts with my camera and thought to myself that nobody should be this excited about going to a museum. Must be the geek in me, or is it the nerd?

After an initial orientation, I dropped my backpack off and visited almost the entire museum. One could quite easily spend an entire day at the museum. And still wouldn’t have seen all of it, if half. The building complex is gigantic. Due to part closures the wings aren’t exactly easily accessible either and I had to run up and down the stairs numerous times in order to move between wings.

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Needless to say that quite a number of muscles in my thighs are aching today that I seem to have forgotten exist. The lesson to be learned here is obviously that I need to climb stairs more often.

The building map that you can get for free gives you a number of highlights on each floor in each wing. I managed to see 90% of those highlights, only skipping those I truly wasn’t interested in.

I saw the Mona Lisa from afar. I had no inclination to wrestle with the masses in front of her, held back only by a feeble looking barrier. I got a sideways glance at her and moved on.

I couldn’t help thinking that it might not even be the original, if you believe the movies that is, which would then be kept in the vaults. I would’ve liked to see her closer up, not because of her fame, but for her creator, if it truly was the master himself, who painted her.

I spent four hours skipping around not just centuries of human art and history, but millennia. I wandered through the Egyptian collection, Greek sculptures, met Rembrandt, sighed over Caspar David Friedrich and marvelled at Jaques Louis David.

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And then there was the Louvre itself. The building complex is utterly remarkable. I posted some impressions of it over on Tumblr last night. I just loved wandering through the halls. When I used my camera, it was more to capture the architecture than get a photo of the Venus of Milo, though I did that, too.

Sufficient to say I need to go back.

If I lived in Paris, I would come here every other weekend, visit one part of the museum at a time in order to get to know all areas as well as they deserve to be known. In four hours I practically flew through the exhibition. I saw everything and nothing, only paused here and there when something in particular captured me.

But there is so much more to discover, so many things that will take your breath away.

The length and width, the breadth and depth of art that human kind is capable of is astonishing.

How this is true for the same species that causes so much willful destruction is utterly beyond me. Sadly, fewer men and women seem to create art than wage war. Or they do neither, instead look the other way, because war doesn’t bother them and art doesn’t inspire them.

Of course reality isn’t that black and white, but when you look at so much “white” everything else seems to be “black”.

What a curious species we are.

Anyway, next weekend I’m going to the British Museum, because it’s been too many years since I went and it’s quite the English counterpart of the Louvre. If I can’t go back to the Louvre anytime soon, I will at least appreciate what I have at my doorstep.

Originally published on the 21st October 2013

Am I lazy?

Yes, one could argue that I am. But only when it doesn’t matter. As in, I can just kick back, relax and do nothing. Or do irrelevant, distracting things. Like browse social media.

Also, I am extremely good at procrastinating. Postponing tasks that need to be done in favour of less important things. Those also need to be done, it’s just not that urgent. The good thing is, doing less important stuff still makes me feel somewhat productive and I feel less guilty for not doing what is more important.

Whether I consider myself lazy or not does depend on how I measure myself in terms of productivity, though. Being productive is not my main purpose in life.

I have totally unproductive days when I am unwell for some reason. I don’t do my freelance work (which is usually not super urgent), won’t do laundry, won’t cook or tidy very much, and only go for a shower because it absolutely makes me feel better.

I also have simply lazy days, when the laundry can indeed wait another day and I much rather read a book or watch a TV show or sit and listen to music or go for a walk or bike ride.

But is taking time for relaxation really being lazy?

Only if you measure yourself according to your productivity. Which fails to take into consideration that we need those self-care days and time to unwind and do nothing. It is okay to be unproductive.

I am not lazy when it comes to the things that matter to me and the work that I cherish. Sometimes I have to write a freelance article that bores me to tears. It may take me a while to get it written, but I will put as much effort into it as I would for an article, I am invested in.

Similarly, nobody would ever accuse me of being lazy in my second job, where I am a team lead, and usually the one putting out all the little fires and helping everyone with everything. And not only do I not mind, but I also actually enjoy it.

And during normal times when there is no global pandemic forcing event and concert venues to remain closed, putting me on furlough, I do a lot of overtime as well. We’re talking about a job here I do because I truly enjoy it, not because I need the money it pays.

So, am I really lazy?

I think not. Never when it matters.

Why write?

It’s probably the first question you need to ask yourself. Or in this case, I am asking myself. Why do I write? Why do I feel the need to? Why does it seem to be the only thing that helps sometimes?

Anyone creatively inclined will have their thing… the thing they cannot live without. Have to pursue. Must do. Music, painting, drawing, sculpting, knitting, baking… make something… out of words, sounds, paint, clay or whatever materials are at hand.

The question should obviously be: why make art? Why follow any creative pursuit?

I use words. Always have. I have loved the written word… stories, really… since I first heard them and later learned to read them. And it wasn’t a big step to start making stories up myself and eventually to write them down. I’ve always had an overactive imagination. I’m an introvert. Most things happen inside of me before they are expressed outwardly if I let them out at all.

The answer is: just because…

There is no better answer. It’s part of human nature to create. To make things. We’re also incredibly adept at destroying things. But we do get to make things and have done since the dawn of time. It’s one way for us to express ourselves. And a way to ask questions, perhaps to attempt answers.

If there’s something you cannot live without, it’s worth keeping. That is true whether you create something, pursue any kind of sports or love someone.

It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it professionally or simply as a hobby. If you must write, then write. If you must run, then run. If you love someone, see if you can keep them around.

It’s what makes life worth living. It’s what makes life matter.

That’s the only answer I have. For me, it’s good enough.

Originally published on the 19th July 2018.

7 years, 3 months and 15 days ago

That’s when I should’ve started this blog. I could’ve started it 8 years ago, when I first planned my Big Trip. I definitely meant to start it at some point.

Well, I’m ready now.

Unfortunately this means that I have a lot to catch up on. I mean a lot. It needn’t be so bad, but I decided to start at the beginning. And I will include photos, because I have about 10,000 of them. Fear not, though, I won’t post all 10,000 of them. Only a selection with every post as suitable.

I considered using a dedicated travel blog, but I want something that is uniquely me, not something generic where I can chose the layout, font or even background colours.

Eventually I may take even more creative control, depending on how this goes. I have an idea of my ideal travel blog; I’ll see what I can do with the chosen layout and theme for now.

I’m actually excited about this. It’s been a long time coming. I will reach back right to the beginning of my trip. It’s been quite a journey and this blog will get personal sometimes, whenever I want it to be. But I will stay on topic, this is going to be a dedicated travel blog.

I’ve chosen the title for it from a Richard Bach novel of the very same title. I’ve written about it on my regular blog of randomness, not the novel, but why I always end up running from safety. I’ve mentioned it here and there.

Anyhow, I very much hope that you’ll enjoy hearing about my past, present and future travels. At least I am not forcing you to sit through a lengthy tale I’m telling you. You’ll be reading this, because you want to know more.

So, thanks for stopping by and happy trails.

Always following the sun
Always following the sun

Originally published on the 21 October 2013

A New Adventure


Be fearless in the face of what sets your soul on fire.— Unknown.

The first time I sat on a motorbike it simply felt right. I’d never been interested in getting a driver’s license to drive cars. I’ve never been interested in driving cars. I’m from Berlin. It’s not necessary to drive a car there or own one. And I just never felt the attraction either.

I honestly wouldn’t even have known what kind of car to get. It was all so boring. Plus, I have a tendency to get car sick. I can’t ride in a car on an empty stomach. Makes me nauseated.

Life on two wheels was always more appealing to me and it’s healthier – as long as we’re talking bicycles.

As a student, I worked at a motorcycle exhibition. I had the night shift and we were playing around a little and tried sitting on some of those bikes – super carefully. Well, I tried one. And I felt immediately at home. I took a picture of the bike and knew that one day I wanted one.

This is the first motorbike I ever sat on and to this day I want a Triumph.

Before I could settle down enough in life to afford getting a license and then a motorbike, I decided to leave and travel the world, live everywhere but at home and after 10 years finally returned. Not to Berlin, mind you, but to Hamburg.

I never forgot about my desire to get a motorcycle license. But most of the time I just didn’t have the time, opportunity or the money to get it.

Last year, I suffered the worst heartbreak of my life. And that’s when I decided that now was as good a time as any to finally get a license. I wanted to do something for myself. Something that would give me joy.

I wanted to get started in April, do an intensive course in two weeks or so, get the license and be ready once the season took off.

Alas, my friends had other plans and dragged me on a trip to Japan, which ate up my starting funds for the license and gear. But since my birthday was coming up, I asked for support for the license and got it, and saved up in the meantime.

I signed up for the course on the 2nd July. And I’ve been obsessing over motorbikes and riding ever since.

Originally published 30th July 2019