Another morning in the zendo

Being on a zen retreat is weird. It is not that it feels like you become unstable but it feels like being stirred up. That is how I feel. Did I feel so quiet last night and bloodthirstily angry yesterday afternoon, this morning I feel a lump of sadness that I cannot really explain. Or better: that I can’t explain at all.

I woke up this morning from something very close to a nightmare. I was in a situation were I felt very betrayed and disheartened by somebody dear to me and the people who seemed to be kind to me and wanted to help me ‘get over it’ were people who betrayed me in the past. To be sad in the proximity of people who hurt me before felt unsafe and to find out that they tried to help me was confusing. I wanted to believe they had good intentions but I knew I should be careful.

Dustin Hoffman, The Beautiful Girl & The Inner Mirror

Beautiful girl

Now I want you to watch this video. Dustin Hoffman shares an insight he got from making the 1982 movie “Tootsie”.

In preparation of the movie wherein he plays a man who poses as a woman he explores with makeup artists the possibility of turning him into a believable woman. The makeup artists turn him into a woman but not a woman that he as a man would find attractive. He does not meet his physical expectations and standards and he realizes he would never approach himself on a party. He says: “there are too many interesting women I did not have the experience to know in this life because I have been brain washed”.

The video is beautiful and touching. And it hit home. I realized that I probably would have never noticed the girl I am seeing tonight if she wasn’t attractive.

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A powerful meeting in Hanoi

Roof terrace dinner with Nikki and Bela

The fan is cooling me. Kind of. I am shirtless, sweaty and surrounded by backpackers. I am on on the 5th floor of the Hanoi Backpackers Hostel, the communal space with internet access, a pool table and couches with young, sweaty kids reading books, staring in their phones or preparing their bags as they are heading off to their next destination. I have a bag of lychees within reach.

I feel quite emotional, stirred up. As if I can start crying any minute. These are the times that I want to write because I know I have a chance to dig up something essential. I can feel the knot and I know I can untie it. And I am not too afraid of crying in public. But a little bit more peace and quiet around me would be helpful. So I want to write and I do not.

We Are All Istanbulites

Library Self Defense Bus from Istanbul

I am still in awe about the message I received from my Turkish friend Eda Bozköylü yesterday. She let me know she is fine, not in danger. She has been protesting together with her friends and thousands of other young Turks in Istanbul and – by now – in 70 other Turkish cities. I heard news about the riot police coming down hard on the youngsters and I felt concerned.

What I did not see coming was to receive a message filled with bliss and peace (read it if you haven’t yet!). Otherworldly almost and that was indeed the word Eda used as well. “Taksim doesn’t belong to earth anymore” she wrote. And: “Taksim is another planet, Atalwin. I wish you to experience it.”

About growing up without a father

I never had a heart to heart with my father. All encounters that I had with him were pretty awful and if I add up the hours we spend in the same room during my life it will be less than 24 since 1976 (during the first 5 years of my life he was more or less a normal dad, I guess). So there was no reconciliation or feel-good happy end, something that we as a family perhaps hoped for when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

I did do a lot of work on reconciliation and forgiveness inside myself. For some reason I don’t feel so eloquent in this very moment (bit sleepy) and I find it hard to explain. It has everything to do with the awakening I experienced in 2004. It was actually not just one event but a major breakthrough followed by a whole string of events.

Little victories

A year ago my assignment was to bridge to communication gap between east and west. In eastern cultures there is a pattern of hiding behind a wall of silence when something is asked. In western culture this is experienced as frustrating, impolite, anti social and awkward, to name a few. We just don’t get it. “But there is nothing you can do about it” is the dominant western discourse. What I found out is that the Chinese guys would like to speak up but they have never learned how. They all could see the benefits but we also found what caused the silence: Chinese parents slap their children into obedience. It is hard to speak up to your boss when you have been conditioned to never argue or disagree with your parents.

The Street Fighter And The Boxer

Boxer with a heart

New York is an addictive place, I felt that in the very first minutes I put my feet on the pavement. When I got off the subway in Canal Street and walked into the neighborhood of my friend Jessica I felt something creeping up my spine for the first time during my journey. It was a feeling of ‘yes’ and of excitement. It felt like entering the house of someone you feel attracted to and you know you will make love that night for the first time: a tingling in the stomach and a pleasant desire to perform and impress. It felt quite magical to me. I don’t find it hard to imagine how people will start making sacrifices to be part of that magic You have to work hard and make a lot of money to be able to afford living here.

A few words of advice to a Psycho Bitch from Holland

50 Shades Of Grey quite popular in hostel in BA

The more I love myself with all my flaws and weaknesses, the more I am able to love the other. Judgment, arrogance and bravado are just ways to mask insecurity and inferiority. There are masking mechanisms in many shapes and sizes and they are at work in everybody all the time. So instead of waiting for the mechanisms to go away or to wait for somebody who is free from flaws it I feel it is better to see them in myself and understand them. Then I can see it is not personal. It makes things so much softer when I don’t take the patterns of others as an invention just to hurt me. People are not busy hurting others; they are busy protecting themselves. We only need protection because we feel wounded.

I like the idea of not taking the self (ourselves) so fucking seriously. So we make mistakes, so what? In the case of my reader, she told me she has a hard time with boundaries. Well, that sucks but it is not the end of the world.

The Universe on my side

Don Basilio offering coca leaves

After spending a couple of hours in the mountains and after burning the offering (during which I was left alone with the fire to pray and meditate) I felt very silent and peaceful (to my surprise). Don Basilio, guide and translator Luis and me had lunch together and afterwards Don Basilio told me to go to my hostel to sleep. Indeed I was very tired when I was back at my room. I took a nap. I didn’t really sleep. I snoozed. I got up a couple of hours later.

And I felt totally crap.

I felt defeated. I felt empty. I felt black and dark. I almost felt soulless. I didn’t know what to do and what was happening to me. I walked around like a zombie, doing the things I had to do. I went to bed early with a headache. I didn’t sleep too well. Obviously I hoped to feel better in the morning. But when I woke up I felt just as bad

Looking under the surface


The highlight of the day was when my guide in Chan Chan told be about the beliefs and superstitions that are still alive today. The entrance of the ruins consists a quadrant of small spaces: a ticket office, a room with information and some aerial pictures, a men’s room and a ladies room and a couple of souvenir shops. Turns out that one owner of a souvenir shop went to a shaman after having no clients for a month. The shaman told him that his competitor was using witchcraft and that he could break the spell for a certain amount of money. He thinks it is working but has to go back every month for an ‘update’ of his magic protection. The other shop owner is not so much into superstition. The guide told me they are not friends and always gossiping about each other. There is maybe 1,5 meters between their doors and they sell exactly the same merchandise to exactly the same customers. But since half a year they have a new, common enemy. A lady on the other side of the ‘complex’ (5 meters away) opened up a shop too, with souvenirs and cold drinks. Every morning she perfumes her part of the sidewalk, confirming the ideas of the older man that she is using witchcraft.