#17 Returning to the Old World
Coming home after a year of traveling can be an utterly confusing experience. To me, it was a time of things falling apart and new beginnings. Life comes in waves, they say. Let me tell you about the ups and downs I experienced when I returned to Germany after one year of searching for myself and meaning out there in the world.
I was sitting in the back of my parents car, after they picked me up from the train station. Looking out of the window I saw the oh-so familiar streets of my hometown flashing by. Moments later I stepped into my parents house and breathed in that unique warm smell that I really only can label as “Home”. Everything felt so familiar and so foreign at the same time. There were many dueling dichotomies inside of me. Familiar were my father’s questions and comments. Sitting in my mother’s kitchen. The daily family rhythms. What felt foreign was – me. Or rather, the way I perceived the old familiar world. It was like someone had taken off the pair of glasses through which I had seen life before. Now I felt like I perceived things with a new clarity. It was like something had cleaned the dusty lenses. Everything seemed UltraHD.
I had learned so many new things from other cultures, people, experiences and reflections during my year of travel. My mind was blown wide open. My whole being was expanded, which was freeing and wonderful – yet the confrontation of coming home made me feel like an expanding balloon trying to fit into a box. “I can feel the vastness of the world coming inside of my kitchen with you and your stories.” my mom noticed one night.
On my first weekend back in Germany I traveled to Bavaria to visit my grandparents. I felt such deep gratitude that I got to see them again. The realization of mortality really does make life more precious. While I was standing on a train platform somewhere in Bavaria, waiting for my connection and pondering the reunion, it happened. I received an email from the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute with the subject: CONGRATS! YOU’VE BEEN ACCEPTED TO THE SEARCH INSIDE YOURSELF TEACHER TRAINING! It was like taking a first deep invigorating breath after being under water for way too long. My entire being relaxed as sparkling joy filled my heart. I found it. I found what I was searching for – my personal purpose that would allow me to serve others. Really ironic, that name “Search Inside Yourself”. Wasn’t that what I had been doing for the last year?
A few hours later I was sitting on the big dinner table of my grandparents. I tried to share my joy of the news that I was to become a mindfulness teacher with my sweet grandma and grandpa. Quite the challenge as you can imagine. How do you explain mindfulness and emotional intelligence to people from the Silent Generation? We settled on me becoming a teacher. That was understandable and respectable. “Oh, now, did you know that you come from a long line of teachers in your family?” My grandpa asked. “Let me tell you about your great-grandfather…”
I knew that I needed to make a very important call, or rather, have a difficult conversation. Because becoming a mindfulness teacher felt so deeply true and right to me, I wanted to do the right thing as well. That meant calling my very pragmatic and rational father to ask him for his emotional support. My hand was shaking as I waited for him to pick up the phone “Dad, I want to share very happy news with you. This news might not seem so happy to you but it would mean so much to me if you can give me your support on this path. I was accepted to a certified teacher training to become a mindfulness teacher. And this is what I want to do. Would you be willing to accept and support my choice?” And wondrously, he did. Not with enthusiasm, but he did.
So far, so good. It was a new spring in Germany. Starting my teacher training in Berlin soon gave me so much hope. Even Matteo and I, unable to let each other go after our time in Central America, lived a revival of our love. He had moved to the village he was born in, dreaming of building a beautiful life there. So here we were celebrating our reunion with scooter tours through the vineyards during sunset and meditation sessions during sunrise. Yet as fast as spring turned into summer, something turned inside of me too. Soon I found myself feeling an uncomfortable sensation in the pit of my stomach. My heart became heavy and dropped when one night a realization hit as I lay wide awake next to sleeping Matteo. This was not working. I felt like a bird that was sitting in a cage with an open door. To be sure, this was a hippie-comfy cage with a wonderful boyfriend bird. But the truth of the matter was that it was not my cage. I didn’t want a cage. I wanted to fly freely. I wanted to continue going with the flow and following the wind.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
― Jon Kabat Zinn
I saw no other way of staying true to my gut feeling and to the future Matteo envisioned, so I ended the relationship. The unraveling of our partnership caused so much pain, to the both of us.
Experiencing a so-called reverse-culture shock (or as my best friend Maike calls is counter-culture shock) when returning home after spending time abroad is quite common. This confused feeling of being an alien in familiar water. I have noticed that there are two kinds of people: Some that enjoyed the journey but on returning home realize that this is their place or country. During my first weeks back in Germany, a part of me wanted nothing more than to belong to that group. But trying to fit back in made it even more evident that I happen to belong to the other group. To the nomads, the seekers. The people who are born with what one of my favorite authors, Liz Gilbert calls “the itch”, the insatiable and relentless curiosity to understand and explore the workings of the world.
I knew deep down that I had this itch. I was seeking a free, creative and meaningful life. I wanted to search inside myself and in the world and delve into mysteries.