A tale of BuzzFeed quizzes, throwing up on Ayahuasca, living in the woods, finding love, traveling to India, and YOLO-ing my way through 2018.
When the old year comes to an end, it’s a powerful period of transformation, reflection and devotion. Many people have their own rites for this process. Because I am a millennial, my rite this time last year was taking a random BuzzFeed quiz about how 2018 will be. The result read: “Taking care of you! By the end of 2018, your bullet journal is going to be full of dreams you’ve made a reality. You’re going to finally hike that mountain, read that book, or master that hobby because this is the year of you.” And that’s what I did.
Why? Because one year ago, I was close to a burnout, heartbroken, sleep deprived, emotionally drained and really fucking lost. I just had a very successful year and still wasn’t happy. I published my first book and sold out the Literaturhaus Zürich. I got cool job offers and a column. I had a nice pay and people wanted to hear my opinion on TV. Amnesty International wanted to work with me, I became a postergirl for feminism, my parents were proud and my Tinder profile was on fire. I got all the confirmation I ever wanted but still felt empty, still compared myself to others, still felt like a fucking loser.
And above all, I felt bad for being so hard on myself. For making me want to prove myself so badly to others. For pushing me so hard these last years and not protecting myself well enough. For sacrificing almost my whole twenties to work. For putting success over health. For being so confused that I started to believe the haters. In short: For not taking care of myself. Happiness is an inside job. And I was ready to work.
Chapter 1: Fuck this shit
Swami Kripaluanandaji said: „My beloved child, break your heart no longer. Each time you judge yourself, you break your own heart. You stop feeding on the love, which is the wellspring of your vitality. The time has come to see the goodness that you are.“
So at the end of last year and for the first time in my life, I had no professional ambitions but instead, a million personal New Year’s resolutions. I wanted to set emotional, physical and personal boundaries that are non-negotiable, buy myself plants, learn how to meditate and pause, practice saying the word no, kondo the absolute shit out of my apartment, take time for myself, ban my phone from my bedroom, read more books, give myself enough sleep, drink loads of herbal tea, recharge in nature, learn how to take defeat and despair as a lesson, get to know my demons and welcome them like old friends here to teach me something, love hard but live softly.
On the last day of 2017, I impulse-bought myself a ticket to Goa, the former Hippie hotspot. Project self-love was on with a bang. And then, 2018 started. It started at 3am in a cab that took me home from a party I celebrated completely sober and left when I felt it wouldn’t get any better. The radio played Taylor Swift. I took it as a good omen.
Chapter 2: India
On January 28th, a golden sun was rising in Oman, where I waited for my connection flight to India. A couple of hours later, I finally arrived in this magical country. Flying to India to find myself is probably the most basic middle-class-white-girl-move you can do, but yet, there I was. Before checking in to my ashram, I wanted to fuck myself up one more time and went to a rave. At dawn, I sat behind a random guy on his motorbike, high as a kite and completely wasted, my phone dead. We drove through a forest and I had no idea if this really was the way back to my hostel. It was fucking stupid. But luckily, I got dropped off safely.
A couple of hours and another backpacking romance later, I checked into my ashram. And all I could think was: What the fuck am I doing here? Out of a crowded hippie hostel room near the beach into sheer isolation in a freaking forest in the middle of nowhere India. I was so lost. The schedule was hardcore: Getting up in the cold dark, one hour of meditation, two hours of yoga, breakfast, lectures, a couple of hours for reflection, one hour of meditation again, two hours of yoga again, dinner, chanting or some other ceremony, sleep, repeat.
Did it do the job? It did. It also took some hot sunshine, warm ocean water, sweat, a million tears, spicy chai from my Sangha, a lot of yin yoga, and one groundbreaking Reiki healing therapy. And then, on my last day somewhere near the beaches of Mandrem, everything melted into compassion and clarity. Warmth is where the magic happens. I finally forgave. Myself for not doing better. Because I did as well as I could. Others for not doing better. Because they did as well as they could.
Chapter 3: Praying and raving
Back home, I went full spiritual. It was spring and I cleansed my apartment with sage and incense. I wore patchouli and essential oils for protection, collected healing stones, lit candles, drank herbal teas and slowly turned into a wicca. I healed wounds with marigold, colds with turmeric, headaches with green tea, a tragus infection with salt water, sleeplessness with chamomile, and breakouts with tea tree oil.
I let all my body hair grow in order to find out if I could truly be at ease with every raw part of myself. The confused looks of people seeing me with girly dresses and hairy armpits slowly didn’t bother me anymore, but rather amuse and finally, empower me. I felt wild in all the best ways.
I spent some Sundays at the Hindu centre of Hare Krishna and kinda liked it. I read the Bhagavad Gita and liked parts of it. In the end, it was Buddhism that stuck to me. Not as a religion, but definitely as a philosophy. I wear my blessing cords every day. They’re yellow because a Sikh once told me that this was the colour of my aura. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
In February, I went on my first burn and it was four days of absolute madness. At any international burn, they follow the principles of Burning Man. You can’t buy anything, you bring stuff and get stuff. And it totally works. I went there on my own without really knowing anybody and was pretty nervous. But it’s all about authenticity and mindfulness. I brought some fairy lights, some fairy tales, some champagne, some glitter, a lot of love and light. I found my place in the loveliest room with the most magical people. I found myself when I set my boundaries because a burn is crazy and it’s all about self-reliance. I lost my shit by looking at snowflakes and wasn’t even tripping.
The playa provides, they say. And it did. We read fairy tales, made love, went crazy, came down, visited workshops, and helped each other just by being ourselves. But what happens after that? When you‘re back in the real world, it’s all about implementing. Did your perception of normality shift? Do you want to live your life the way you do? What do you need to be happy? Who are you? Where are your boundaries? What do you want? If you manage to grow after a burn, it changes you. Otherwise, it’s just a really nice party.
Chapter 4: Into the woods
So what about real life? Work and stuff? You know, the thing that pays my rent? I changed my attitude towards that too. I gave my heart to tell the stories I got signed up for properly. But I stopped killing myself for a job that would replace me within a week if I dropped dead. And to whoever reads this: I think you should too. You are not your job. You are not your reputation, your title, your pay, your output or your network. They don’t own you. You are a human being worthy of a life of dignity, love, respect and your very own pursuit of happiness and purpose.
I don’t think this capitalism thing has anything to do with what we are supposed to be as human beings. So I escaped. I spent most of summer living part-time in the woods, making love under the stars, collecting herbs, making fire, reconnecting, going on adventures and back to work the next day with unwashed hair and some guy’s oversized sweater that smelled of last night’s bonfire.
„I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.“ That’s what Henry David Thoreau wrote. Reality was different. I drank river water and got a stomach flu from it because I am an idiot from the city that would probably die in the woods after literally one day. That’s not the only stupid thing I did there though: I also started a fling that I mistook for love. But more on that later.
Chapter 5: When things got weird
What else was there this summer? Ayahuasca was there. After giving up looking for it, the plant found me and made me travel high up into the mountains. We started around 10pm when the group reflected on the night before and did a really beautiful group therapy. Around midnight, we got tobacco blown into our noses and a disgusting powder in our mouths. And then, six people and I took a cup of Ayahuasca. It tasted thick, earthy, sweet, spicy, and really fucking bitter.
I felt dizzy right after it and after half an hour, I felt my body dissolving and started having crazy psychedelic visuals. Then I thought about a million random things and eventually, I was the first one throwing up. They say this purges you from all the negative things. It’s like a ball of fire that leaves your body.
And then, shit gets real. They say you get to the bottom of some deeper issues that you don’t even realize, or at least reconcile some of the ones you already have. But none of that happened. Maybe because I really did find peace with myself? Others were hyperventilating or crying. I was just exhausted and frankly, not too happy about being unable to walk. Mother Ayahuasca didn‘t call. I was never visited by any spirits, nor saw any distant memories. They say the effects can be subtle and evolve in the weeks after the experience. The next morning I took a shaky walk in the sunlight after barely any sleep and no food since ages. I felt light. And glad that it was over.
At that point, I kinda found my esoteric limit. The shaman music annoyed me, the chants confused me, and I could never force my body through such a violent thing ever again even though they recommend doing three retreats of a couple of days each year which I think is crazy. I think healing should be sober, slow and soft. And after trying a couple of psychedelics, I was really over it. I believe that the human being is capable of amazing things without drugs when you are radically open. I want to be present in my life. The real world is full of beauty if your heart is open enough to see it. Was that my lesson? Maybe. Then I guess it was worth it.
Chapter 6: My home is a castle
In September, I moved into another fairytale castle in the south of France expecting it to be as magical as the one I used to live in back in 2014. It wasn’t. My ex boyfriend decided to join me which sounded like a good idea. It wasn’t. I expected us to wake up in my princess room, go on adventures together, spend our days doing yoga in the ballroom and our nights talking under the stars. We didn’t.
In reality, I was crying every day. I mean, I am no relationship expert, but I eventually figured that if a guy makes you cry all the time, he probably isn’t the one. So I broke up with him after one week in the castle and the amazing woman who runs this place kicked him out. I broke up with him two more times. The last time, I was gone for good.
My wonderful castle family decided to take me to the ocean. There, I let the salt water wash the mess away and leaving some clarity. That you don‘t need a relationship to be happy or not alone – it doesn‘t guarantee either. That you can’t fix other people. That self-care means work. That you have to do your emotional and spiritual homework. That the feeling of being enough, being whole, being valuable is something you have to practice. Every day. And when it comes to love? You deserve someone who is proud to have you and takes care of you. Stop settling for less.
Chapter 7: Out of the woods
Rumi once said: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” And I think he’s right. I don’t think you can truly love someone unless you truly love yourself. Otherwise you’re just projecting. If you’re not happy with yourself, you won’t be happy with anybody else. If you spend your whole life thinking that you have to be special in order to be worthy of love and attention, you’re never going to give anyone the chance to see your true self. And if you need someone to complete you, you’re just using them and making yourself dependent.
The only healthy and honest thing you can do is to see the other person as a gift. I met mine on my birthday. Ironically, when I felt I was truly enough being single. It’s funny how life happens like that. When you expect nothing, you receive everything. In “Eat Pray Love”, the heroine says to her love interest that she doesn’t need to love him to show herself that she loves herself. And she is right. I don’t need him to be happy. I don’t need him in my life. But I am so grateful to have him by my side. I appreciate everything he is and gives. Without any expectations. When he takes my hand, everything melts. And that is love.
Rupi Kaur writes: “It was when I stopped searching for home within others and lifted the foundations of home within myself, I found there were no roots more intimate than those between a mind and body that have decided to be whole.” And on love, she said: “If you soak yourself in love, the universe will hand you those who will love you too.”
I decided to dedicate this whole year to loving myself – aware of the fact, that having the freedom to explore all this was a privilege. And I stand at the end of this year as a truly emancipated woman. I don’t give a shit about being successful anymore. Because I learned that I am enough. In a society that profits from your self-doubt, this is a rebellious act. People expect women to care. I chose not to care anymore. I cut my hair short, became raw again and chose to live fearlessly. I had mountains to move and did. I’m turning 30 next year and can’t wait for what comes next. I no longer let society tell me that I need to perform in order to be of value. And yes, fuck your beauty ideals.
Chapter 8: What I learned
Instead of working myself to death, I lived. I found redemption in an Indian ashram, ate the best pizza in the world in Naples, climbed a volcano, swam in a hidden beach of the Amalfi coast, saw the world’s biggest pop front row at Wembley stadium, learned to collect herbs and do backflips, took acid in an amusement park and blacked out on a roller coaster, read tons of books like The Fountainhead and Brave New World all the way to Gandhi’s biography, lived in a van in the woods, walked the Hyde Park barefoot, and jumped into ice cold rivers.
I travelled into my childhood with Ayahuasca, moved into a french fairytale castle, cried in Amsterdam’s Anne-Frank-Haus, visited the Masoala rain forest, learned to dance salsa, visited a sound healing meditation, experienced breathing therapy, cut my hair, went to Paris, got a piercing, painted pictures, survived my first burn, went ghost hunting in an old sanatorium in the woods, got high during my first ecstatic dance, lived ascetic for two months and signed up for a new education next year because I feel like reinventing myself.
I don’t believe in bucket lists. I believe in being radically open and unconditionally trusting the universe because it will provide you with shit so epic you couldn’t even picture it in your wildest dreams.
Change always happens within. So be kind. To yourself and others. Throw kindness around like confetti. Especially towards the unkind ones for they need it the most. Have empathy for yourself and for others because empathy will heal everything. Heal yourself and you will heal your ancestors and everyone around you too.
If Buddhism is your thing: Learn to accept things, embrace change, dive into your pain and solve it, have compassion, meditate often, be present in your life, do no harm, don’t identify yourself with your thoughts, don’t let your ego take control, replace craving for what you don’t have with gratitude for what you do have. Trust the Buddha (the enlightenment), the Dharma (your path), the Sangha (those alongside you).
Or just take a random BuzzFeed quiz.