Speech at Alumni-Day
Today, I am going to talk about personal development and the process of inner growth. In this context, I will also refer to my own process, it was for me a process which had very unexpected and surprising elements and turns. I hope therefore there will be some surprising elements for you as you listen.
I have structured my speech in 6 paragraphs, each paragraph ends with an insight.
For 37 years I have been deeply involved in personal development. It has been quite a journey and for me personally, a huge adventure. It started from my after school job where I worked for a handicapped woman. She was sitting in a wheelchair, severely paralyzed due to Polio in her youth . In 1982, she began training in gestalt body therapy and I joined to be a quiet listener in the background.
When on the second day of the training two participants came into conflict, I rose to speak. To me it was so obvious how this situation had to be dealt with, that unhesitatingly I shared my thoughts.“What role are you taking?” one of the trainers asked me. Tears ran down my cheeks quicker than I was able to figure out what I should answer. I felt trapped and very surprised to find myself the center of attention of the whole group.
This was my first experience with discovering that my behavior is formed by underlying patterns, which put me on autopilot rather than finding my own authentic answer. This experience however had good long term implications as it made me even more curious to discover who I am beyond the surface level.
First insight: We tend to act on the basis of patterns of behavior, which to ourselves seem so obvious and natural. So we may be blind to see that we do not act on the situation, but on our interpretation of the situation. Thus on the one hand we have these patterns of behavior, which have a pretty stereotype character, and on the other hand there is behavior emanating from our authentic self.
An immature personality trusts in stereotypes, a mature personality trusts in her own ability to create her own authentic answer, which sometimes can be very spontaneous, sometimes has more a character of pondering and balancing.
When we want to develop ourselves, it´s important to refine our intuition of distinguishing between stereotypical patterns and our own authentic, fresh answer which emanates from deep inside ourselves. This distinction not always is an easy one.
There is an example which I remember pretty well:
As a young woman there was a time where I fell in love very quickly — with very attractive men. My interpretation of this phenomenon was, that I am such a vivid, vibrant person that such things just happen. But then there came a moment when I realized that everytime I talked to a friend of mine – every few months I told her about the wonderful, attractive man I had met. I told her this story until I noticed that I told the same story again and again. Different men, same story. I felt slightly shocked by realizing that my story was not an exciting one, but much more of a boring one. Suddenly I could see through this pattern of behavior. It had become translucent. I could see that I only took a small detail of a man and then inflated it until I had created the image of an (in every perspective) extremely attractive man. I pinned this image on his forehead and fell in love. I had been a master of self-deception and after the first shock, I was extremely relieved by this realization.
Second insight: It sometimes takes numerous repetitions until we understand that what we see as our authentic behavior, is just one more behavioral pattern. And it takes a willingness to question ourselves until we experience the reward of relief and letting go.
Personal development often is described as peeling an onion. You take off layer by layer. But what happens the more layers you peel?
I remember a quite sad time in my life. I tried to deal with all the vulnerabilities inside myself, which I gradually became aware of. It was a time of frequent crying and I felt insecure, whether this path is right for me. Perhaps I am just a masochist? I was not sure.
Then one day I was busy with trivial, everyday routines and I took a walk to the next village to take the car from the garage. It was spring and I went along a small stream, dark thoughts circling in my head. But all of a sudden I began to hear the sound of the splashy water. I listened to the most wonderful melody. It evoked such a deep, direct pleasure, which streamed through my whole body and I was catapulted into the here and now. This was the moment I understood that being happy is something extremely easy to get. Life presented itself in it’s pureness and simplicity. Nothing was lacking. All my plans of what I wanted and needed in order to have a fulfilled life faded.
Third Insight: Use your senses and you are happy. Use your senses and you don´t need anything more to be happy. The more you peel the onion, the more the layers of your mind become translucent and dissolve, the more you get an immediate access to the most harmonious and nourishing qualities in life. It is just fantastic.
This is more than 20 years ago now and besides many extremely positive developments in my life there were other difficult situations to come, but the basis was laid and I had a clear orientation of what I wanted my path to be.
There is a book from Michael Bordt, a German philosopher. The title reads: Die Kunst sich selbst auszuhalten. The art of bearing oneself. I agree with his message, we need to become able to bear ourselves with all our anxiety, our loneliness, despair and pain in order to become authentic human beings connected to the deeper levels within ourselves. And I would like to add: We need a stable grounding in our senses as the source of our happiness in order to be strong enough to face our vulnerabilities.
As many of you know, I took part in a 4 year long training of old Tibetan knowledge and could deepen my understanding of personal transformation, of sensing, of being and enjoying life.
The Buddhist descriptions I had read before, I discovered in my own experience. For example, they describe the oneness with nature, the oneness with what you are choosing as the object of your meditation. You sit before a tree and you become one with the tree. I sometimes thought, how can that be? I am here, the tree is there, how can that ever become one?
It seemed to be illogical.
But through my practice of meditation and personal development, I felt that my boundaries became much more permeable, sometimes nearly dissolving. The more this happened the more I felt the oneness between me and the nature around me — also other people can be “nature around you”. And for me especially, to look into the sky and into the moving clouds is an experience of oneness and stunning beauty. It is my personal drug of intense happiness. It is so rewarding to get involved with the deeper layers of our inner nature.
Last summer I was confronted with the somehow “downside” of my strong connection to nature. I went to Kloster Bonlanden to give a FLOW TO GROW Workshop and we all spent a lot of time in the wonderful garden and in the forests, fields and meadows around the monastery. When I saw the blackberries, which could not ripen but stopped to grow as small beads, when I saw the trees suffering from the drought, I couldn´t help crying. The suffering of the plants was my personal suffering so close as if my body has been injured. I really felt down and became anxious, not anxious about my personal prospects, but anxious about the future of our beloved planet, which is the basis of our lives.
I was only partly happy about my process, because it was the beginning of quite conflictual feelings and experiences to come. Our planet is extremely “patient”, with what humans are doing here, but signs are becoming more obvious that we are stretching this “patience” over its limits.
One thought came to my mind: “What does it help to support people in their development, while putting the basis of our lives at risk?” And I told myself: “Heika, widen your perspective! Not only look at what you are normally focused on but try to integrate our environmental situation into your thinking and feeling. What does it mean for you? How can you take your share of responsibility?”
Forth insight: The more you reach a personal level of peace and happiness, which allows you just to enjoy life, the more you open up to the suffering around you, the suffering of nature, of other species and other human beings. Again I experienced something, which many Buddhists talk about. The work isn´t done, by bringing your own mind to a more peaceful level. The work is done, when there is happiness for everybody. Probability is high this stays a nice utopic vision. But the point which impresses me, is that, at least how I feel it: you don´t sit back and think: What shall I do: Will I lean back and just look on my own tiny world of happiness or should I become involved in issues bigger than that? The decision comes automatically: You wake up to what is needed and you go.
I started to read a lot. I read about all the technical innovations, which will drive forward decarbonization and plastic reduction and I was surprised to learn, how much promising research is being done, which will hopefully lead into a sustainable future.
Georg Picht, a philosopher, theologist and pedagogue, said: „Die Naturwissenschaft kann nicht wahr sein, denn sie zerstört die Natur.” „Natural science cannot be true, because it destroys nature.“
As coaches we are practising a systemic view. “Nothing exists in and by itself.” A quote from Tarab Tulku, founder of Unity in Duality, the Tibetan training I have attended. When we give coaching sessions, we support our coachees to discover the interdependencies between different aspects inside of themselves and also between them and others. We support them to see how their system is working and how they can change it in a way that serves their’s and other´s needs, interests and values. Developing a systemic view leads to moving wisely in our relationships. The term “wisdom”, as I understand it, refers to really understanding a system and acting accordingly.
So in this sense a natural science which fully deserves to be called natural science deeply understands nature, knows that “nothing exists in and by itself” and uses its capacities wisely.
There are many approaches to do so and I deeply appreciate it, because I am sure that we need technological development to solve our environmental issues.
Fifth insight: The systemic thinking means a deep understanding and preparing the ground to act wisely in the area of psychology as well as in the area of technique and natural science. I mention in parentheses: Of course this also applies to politics, economy and other areas.
But is it enough to hope for technical progress? We are running a race against time and also against an excessive use of resources. For me the question is important, what can I do as an individual?
In my reflection I began to sense that inside of me there is a deep longing to live in harmony, with the nature around me. I am far away from that harmony, but I can move in this direction and I did several small steps, for example I didn´t buy any clothes since last summer. I became aware of inner conflicts associated with these steps. I love be part of our society. Am I still part of the society, when I refrain from our societies’ consumption habits? Will I become the fun killer, who always mentions the carbon footprint, when somebody tells about his or her far away holiday destinations? When you are sensitized to this topic, it is not an easy one not to do so. But to do so isn´t exactly wise either. I tried that with a close friend and it didn´t take long until he called me an eco-dictator, which from his point of view is not difficult to understand. To him it means a lot, for example, to travel in areas where he hasn´t been before. Many people feel like him, but when your strongest wish is to live in harmony with nature, you feel differently: You enjoy not to travel to so many countries, you enjoy to abstain and you experience just this as freedom. It gives you a lot of good feelings to scale down your options. Why should I travel so far? I am happy anyway. Inspiration? I am inspired anyway. Education? I am hopefully educated enough. But also if I experience it that way, I don´t want to push aside what my friend and possibly many of you are experiencing. I am not a radical and I don´t want to become one. And I don´t need to have ready answers. Instead I would like to trust in staying connected and staying in dialogue and letting the answers evolve.
Sixth insight: Steps of personal growth first lead into inner conflicts and then sometimes also lead to external conflicts. So when you change, you better scale up your skills of connecting and communicating. This allows you to appreciate the existence of different realities, which is good systemic practice. Currently we see many examples of different realities leading to toxic forms of polarization. The ability to connect and to stay in dialogue has never been more important than today.
In this sense I am very happy to have you all here, because I see us as a community, which is interested in inner growth and also in dealing with different realities.
Offering coaching is extremely important. Perhaps we are also a community which wants to widen its perspective even more and open up to the challenges we face today which go beyond delivering coaching sessions.
I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
Thank you for your attention!