Unbearable

I did not understand it when I first read the book. I even wrote here about other topics discussed in that book, but it was not until months later that I entirely understood what the title meant. The unbearable lightness of being (Milan Kundera, 1984) starts with a discussion about the light and the heavy. We obsess about making life heavy because that provides meaning. And we desperately desire meaning. Anniversaries. Contracts. Conflicts. Love. We feel that turning a round number of years is a big thing. Our heart sinks when we sign a contract for many years. We feel hurt when someone criticises us. We want love to be forever. But all that heaviness is only in our minds. We just turn one day older. Contracts are often widely ignored. Conflict vanishes as soon as we stop caring about it. And love might be the most volatile feeling one could think of. That lightness clashes with our obsession for heaviness, making life meaningless. And that is unbearable.

We just need to be as light as the wind to make the heaviest wind turbine turn

The Eternal Garden

I usually do not remember my dreams. But this one was so vivid in my mind, that I cannot forget it. It was her who came up with the idea. At the beginning, I was not fully convinced. Still, I decided to give the suicide assistance a try. "We will spend the last hours of our lives together. It will be beautiful", she said. We were healthy and we had a good life. "But it will be something new, and we will be bound forever".

The entrance. AI-generated with DALL·E 2.

The place was a garden with nice corners to sit down and reflect on one's life for the last hours before it ended. We arrived there and they explained their offer to us. On arrival, they would inject us the remedy. It would take 24 hours to take effect. During that time, we would feel nothing, and we would be able to enjoy our time in the gardens. Once the 24 hours elapsed, the injection would make effect without pain. If we changed our mind before the deadline, they would give us an antidote.

Time seemed to stop in the garden. AI-generated with DALL·E 2.

It felt as if we were booking our next trip in a travel agency. She looked at me and her eyes were saying "this is going to be great!". We signed the papers in a little temple with a marble table. It was surprisingly little paper work. We were all smiling. Light flooded the temple. It was a celebration.

All done with a simple signature. AI-generated with DALL·E 2.

We went to a bench under a beautiful tree. I don't recall how many hours we spent there, but the light in the park felt like an eternal sunset. It was not too warm, but also not cold. It was just perfect. She lied on the bench, with her head on my lap, looking up into my eyes while I played with her hair. We had nothing to worry about, since in a few hours, there would be nothing left but just an eternal void.

Our last bench. AI-generated with DALL·E 2.

I do not recall what we talked about. Maybe we were in silence. But after about 12 hours, she got up and said that she had changed her mind. I accepted that. They gave her the antidote and she came back to me. I was unsure what to do. I had already made up my mind to die in a few hours. Should I change now, too? She said that I should do what felt right for me. I doubted for a while, but then I decided to go ahead with the original plan.

The nursing room was right next to the bench. AI-generated with DALL·E 2.

A few more hours elapsed. Growing doubts invaded my mind. Is this really what I want? I could not decide. Somehow, both dying and living seemed equally good. The feeling was similar to the stress of having to choose among two dishes on a restaurant's menu, not being able to identify which one would be better. And like in a restaurant, I left the decision to the last minute. Two hours before the deadline, I requested the antidote, too.

A hard choice. AI-generated with DALL·E 2.

While they were willing to give me the antidote, they said that I should reconsider my choice. It was very late. It would work, but it would be very painful. The remedy had already spread within my body, and stopping it now would be a very unpleasent experience. This was a relief, because it made my choice easier. I followed their advice, and accepted my scheduled death.

I would spend painful hours on this bed. AI-generated with DALL·E 2.

In the last hour, a guide took me through a series of locations in the garden. She came with me, supporting me in my last moments. At each location, they showed me a particularly relevant aspect of my life. My hobbies. My childhood memories. My loved ones. The guide smiled all the time.

Each temple housed one memory. AI-generated with DALL·E 2.

I felt that he was smiling too much. I looked at him and asked "This is not real, right? I am not going to die". He looked back at me. His smile grew larger than ever. "That is right, but don't tell anyone. This place is to make our patients realise and value what they have in their life. The things that make it worth living."

The Eternal Garden from above. AI-generated with DALL·E 2.

I felt an enormous relief, and woke up.

The Rain

I was afraid of the rain. I feared that it would constrain our trip. It was not a matter of misfortune. We were aware of it. It is called wet season for a reason. And in Panama, November is apparently the rainiest out of the eight months of wet season. At about noon, a downpour would soak everything and everyone in sight to the bone. I was very confused because in my mind rain is inevitably linked to feeling cold. But it was not cold. The temperature remained unimpressed at stable 26 °C. Further, these daily cloudbursts taught me a valuable lesson, because they forced me to take a break. Instead of trying to squeeze as much as possible out of every single minute of the trip, I enjoyed sitting back under a roof to watch the rain fall. One could not do anything else anyways. And that was wonderful. I believe the rain teaches a lot more about mindfulness and being easy going than any course taught outside the tropics. It is the best therapy one could think of.

I found very nice places to watch the rain fall

Expansive Stress

Stress is gaseous. No matter its intensity, it expands homogenously, filling up the whole mind. It does not matter whether the problems are huge or tiny. The stress is everywhere. Every thought, every action, every feeling is soaked in stress. This notion is my favorite insight from the famous book Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. It sticks with me even months after finishing the book. The sufferement described in the book is in no way comparable to stress. Still, the metaphor holds for all scales. It also ties in wonderfully with the understanding of thoughts that I learned over the past years from meditation. As any other thought, stress is insubstantial, even if at times it feels heavy as a rock. Just like a gaseous substance, it dilutes and vanishes as soon as we let fresh air flood the mind. Meditation is the equivalent to a CO2 measurement device that beeps when it is time to open the windows and look at the situation from a fresh perspective.

Ready for some pressurised stress?

The Postcard Experiment

It did sound a bit weird. I hesitated for a second, but then published the ad. After all, it was just an experiment. I was curious to see what would happen. Beyond family and close friends, kindness and affection are rarely for free. Everything is in exchange of something. Money, information, time, attention. Something. We pretend to be strong and numb to withstand that, even if in reality we are all incredibly vulnerable. In so-called mettā meditation, the focus lies on genuinely offering good will, kindness, and care to others in exchange of nothing. And that is where the ad came into play. I found an old postcard booklet and wondered how it would be to send them to random people to show them empathy and affection, without demanding anything in return. The ad was viewed 297 times, out of which five people contacted me. I will never know what an effect the postcard had on them, if any, but I hope that it made their day a little bit better, even if just for a moment.

The postcards are from a trip to Washington, D.C., back in 2014

One at a time

Driving on the Amalfi coast is challenging but incredibly rewarding. As the road curls along the steep cliffs, beautiful views await behind every turn. While I enjoyed every bit of it, my friend on the passenger seat felt rather stressed. The road is narrow, the traffic is significant, and the Italian driving style is an acquired taste. I have to admit that, after the ride, I also wondered how I made it. But the answer is simple. One turn at a time. The same holds for almost every challenge, even if our anxious minds tend to catastrophise the outcome by visualizing the gory details of all of the things that may go wrong, instead of focusing on what actually matters: the present moment. One day at a time. One hour at a time. One breath at a time.

And bit by bit, one reaches the destination

Pandemic Dust

I had not bought that soap in a long time. I noted the scent as I washed my hands. And all of a sudden, it was the summer of 2018. I had just moved into my studio apartment in Munich. I felt boundless at that time. Everything was possible. I had countless projects and ideas that I wanted to work on. I had learned the value of needing little to be happy. I felt I could do anything because I finally understood that I already had everything. It was the time when I realized that even the most mundane thing is interesting and that I could learn from it. Sometimes I wonder what happened to all of that. And then I realize that it is all still there, just under a heavy coat of pandemic dust. Ironically, it is just one hand washing ritual away.

No wonder I did not buy it for so long; this time machine comes in plastic

Dead End

I spend most of my time alone, in particular since the pandemic started. It took me a while to understand why exactly this is so dangerous. When alone, thoughts do not find any resistance. There is no one around to hold one accountable and to provide a different perspective. Any statement stands with no objection and turns into truth. The mind becomes narrower and all dimensions that do not fit one's understanding, vanish. However, no individual has a full picture of the world. Each of us has only one piece of an infinite puzzle. Attempting to live by a single piece of that puzzle may sound tempting, but is a dead end. The only way out is (healthy) confrontation and dispute. And that cannot come from within oneself.

If one does not see the forest for the trees, time to climb a tower and get some views

True Colors

We often cannot control what happens. And while events by themselves can be devastating, their effect strongly depends on how they happen. For example, if one makes a mistake and tries to cover it up, it is likely to be much worse than if one admits it right away. The mistake itself is the same but the way in which it impacts how others around us feel is massively different, which may result in long-lasting ripple effects. This is the essence of the Life is Strange games. The games tell a story which apparently is almost the same in spite of the dozens of decisions that the player can make. But while the what barely changes, the how is poles apart. And this is key, because what we feel shapes how we perceive the world.

The protagonist is Alex, who arrives as a "transplant" to a small town in Colorado

The idyllic little town of course holds a few mysteries to be clarified

The three main characters get involved in a "David and Goliath" kind of plot

And indeed, the little town does hide a few not so nice secrets

Music plays a central role in the game as a key tool to express feelings

If a real guitar is not available, a broom will do

Headphones are omnipresent, often as a means to escape reality

The strength of the game lies in expressing what the characters feel

Slight expressions reveal the impact of the player's choices, in this case a joyful surprise

Fear is the most prevalent feeling in the game, just as in real life

Blind Mind

I have walked down that street a zillion times. The grocery shop is there. The doctor is there. The parcel pick-up point is there. Yet, I had never looked at the street because most of the times my mind was not there. It was too busy thinking about what I needed to buy, what I was going to tell the doctor, or what ephemeral joy I was about to unpack from that parcel. The vast majority of the time, my mind is somewhere else, worrying and stressed about even the most insignificant thing. The brief moments when the mind stops doing that, feel incredibly liberating. All of a sudden, the world becomes incredibly beautiful and interesting. And the mind-blowing thing is that this amazing world is there 24/7. We are just blind to it.

After a streak of 364 days in a row, I believe meditation does help the mind