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!

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