Remember to breathe! (EN)

+++++++++ Einmal für die deutsche Version HIER drücken! ++++++++

I’ve managed to write my biannual Blogpost. If you’ve got precisely 16 minutes during these interesting times, I invite you take in my latest attempt at coherent words aka a blogpost. Hope you enjoy and leave a comment or a message if you like it or don’t 🙂

Most people I know have certain mottos they follow and hold high in their lives. Some people, who are a little bit more in touch with their spiritual side might even call it a mantra. Multiple of these mottos and mantras combined make an ideology or philosophy and if you add a little spoonful of supreme power you get a religion. I find the particular definition of these terms less important than what unites them: It is something that different people to different extents believe in order to get through life more easily. “No risk, no fun!”, “No pain, no gain!”, “Eye for an Eye!”, “Carpe Diem!”, “Hakuna Matata!”, “Don`t worry, be happy!”, “YOLO!”, “Just do it!” or one of my personal favourites “Just the bare necessities!”. There are countless motivational speakers, authors, self-proclaimed Gurus, spiritual leaders and other influential people out there that teach people about their personal mottos every day and are actually able to help listeners or readers to improve their own lives by implementing certain mottos and the attached moral guidelines in every-day practices.  

Don’t get me wrong, neither do I claim to be an influential person whatsoever nor am I great at meticulously following any of the mottos I have implemented in my own life. Remember, “Nobody’s perfect” so naturally, I fail almost every day at sticking to the bare necessities and instead stuff my face with chocolate and spend hours on social media procrastinating. Sometimes I forget about the fact that “what goes around, comes around” and I mistreat people that I’m supposed to love on any  given day. Occasionally, I don’t “leave the world a better place than I found it” and mindlessly leave places a mess. But even if I do follow these guidelines imperfectly, I am still being a better version of Jakob than the version that doesn’t follow any of these maxims at all. I try to be a better version of myself than the day before and if I can’t manage to do that every day it’s absolutely fine. At least I tried. 

Naturally, these Mottos and Mantras change. What seemed important to me 10 years ago doesn’t really play a significant role to me today. The world changes, we change. Every day. And that is fine too. Over the years maxims have come and have gone. “Bare necessities” took over from “Probier’s mal mit Gemütlichkeit” (the oddly loose official German translation of Bare necessities). Even my spiritual belief of early-indoctrinated “Our dear god in heaven wanted it that way” has turned into the question of “Why are we here and what is my purpose?”. You get the point. Things change. 

The latest addition to my personal repertoire of mottos is “Remember to breathe!”. So simple, yet so powerful and potentially life-changing. That is exactly why I’d like to dedicate this blog post to this new motto of mine. How I learned about it, how the last few months helped me to understand its ingeniousness and why I think it can especially help us in times like these. 

As some of you might know, I have recently started to meditate regularly. I did occasionally practice towards the end of last year but really took off this year with a ‘challenge’ called “21-days of abundance by Deepak Chopra” (shoutout to my boy Jürliv aka DJesus for that one). I really started to make it a habit this year and have been able to take out at least 15 minutes of my day and dedicate to just being still and mindful. That’s, as far as I understand it, meditation in a very small nutshell. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would add myriad of other aspects to meditation but for a beginner like me, this is what meditation comes down to. Taking a chunk of time to be MINDful. Pay attention to your mind, your thoughts and most importantly your breath! This sounds very easy but I believe it is much harder than it sounds. Properly paying attention to your thoughts and then not following that thought and lose your attention is something I have found to be very tricky. If you yourself meditate regularly or occasionally, you might be able to relate (Send any tips and tricks my way if you have them 😊). ‘Properly’ (if there is such a thing) meditating requires a lot of practice, patience and discipline. Personally, I find that meditating helps me to be more content with the moment. I find myself drifting off less frequently and I find myself to be more okay with most situations, no matter how uncomfortable they are.  I seem to be clearer about what is really important in life and what is actually just being suggested by our society, our culture or our media and the attached ideologies. And if I ever lose track of my thoughts or drift of mentally: Just remember to breathe! 

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Some of you might also know that I just got back from my most recent adventure in Indonesia. I had already started planning this trip with my partner (in crime and elsewhere) Franzi in December to celebrate her finishing her undergrad studies and because… well, me lovey adventures! We were going to travel from Bali all the way to Komodo National Park, home of the last dragons and the beautiful island of Flores, once home of real-life hobbits a.k.a. Homo Florensis. It was going to be a great, exciting Backpacking trip including some hiking, snorkeling and possibly some diving – which we both had never done before and were somewhat anxious about (well, at least I was).  

Then a big, crown-shaped turd hit the fan in Europe and the rest of the world and pretty much screwed with all of our plans. Cancelling the trip completely did cross my mind in the beginning, but driven by youthful folly and a good portion of “no-fucks-givenitis“ we decided to go ahead with our trip and see how it goes. 5 days before Austria and Germany went into an official lockdown we got on a plane to Denpasar.  If you are thinking “You irresponsible morons, how could you?” I honestly don’t blame you. I’m the last person who light-heartedly wanted to become a super-spreader of a deadly virus in a country that already has quite a bad reputation in terms of healthcare and medical infrastructure. However, please trust me when I say that not a single move, we made over the last 6 weeks came easy. Every thought was much rather turned and twisted like a Rubik’s Cube in order to find the correct decision. A lot of my peers were surprised and some highly critical that we ignored the call-backs by our foreign ministries and I can totally understand that. Others were supportive, wished us best of luck and were hoping that we are going to be safe. Heck, I wasn’t even sure if we are doing the right thing or what the right thing even was? Who wants to cut their 8 – week trip short by seven weeks? Who wants to get trapped in a 8m² Hostel room for 4 weeks? Who wants to get stranded on an island with no clinic while coughing their lungs out? None of these scenarios sounded particularly fun. The first week of our trip basically consisted of me trying to stay as informed about the Covid-situation in Indonesia as I could, and Franzi getting more and more annoyed with my rising concern slowly but thoroughly turning into low-key panic. Just remember to breathe! 

Five days into our trip a turning point happened. We had rented a moped from our Homestay in Ubud and were planning to do a little road trip to the nearby Tegallalang Rice Terraces. Socially distance-approved, of course. First stop was a 900-year-old Temple/Graveyard called Pura Kunung Gawi. Usually somewhat of a tourist trap with endless gift shops and little Warungs  (typical, family-owned Indonesian restaurants). Not this time around, as we were the only tourists besides an older hippy lady from Switzerland and a fellow Russian backpacker. Corona had already hit the place hard. Once we stepped down the few flights of stairs, we suddenly entered this really idyllic world where the only thing we could hear was the river flowing and the birds singing. My first thought was: I am going to meditate the shit out of this rock next to the river, right there! A short climb later and there I was, sat on my Sarong, that the ladies in the gift shop basically coerced us into buying. Legs crossed and ready to enjoy the stillness of this place.

Not that anyone cares, but it’s relevant to the story that I use the App Headspace for guided meditation. So, I had my phone lying on the rock next to me contemplating about how a Virus shouldn’t be causing fear and panic within us. It is a natural thing for parts of a population to die from disease and that it’s really our system, our society, our media and culture that is practicing fear-mongering at its finest. I’m aware that this might not be the most popular opinion out there, but in that moment I was thinking, that maybe this is a harsh way of Mother Earth showing us who is still running things around here. We have advanced so far in technology, science and innovation that over the last decades Homo Sapiens has somehow started to think we are demi-gods and therefore above nature. I’m really not trying to sound cynical here but I genuinely believe that we are currently being brutally confronted with the mirror of our reality: Life is always followed by death and it’s around the corner at all times. No matter how much you meditate, how healthy you eat or how careful you are not to get yourself in a dangerous position, nature doesn’t care. 

I was thinking, that we have become slaves to our technology, the true virus is a small device in our pockets. We barely put the phone away and even in beautiful, serene places like the very one I was sat at, I’m still holding my phone to take pictures and have it sitting next to me to run a meditation app. The next thing that happened, sounds like it’s made up but I shit you not, during that exact thought I tried to switch my crossed legs and *plop*. A few seconds pass and my Headphones stop working. I open my eyes and the realization hit me: my phone just fell in the river. I call over to Franzi who was sitting on the next rock to give me some space and she can’t believe it either. Within a few seconds I’m in the river retrieving my phone that was luckily just sitting there in the river bed. I couldn’t help but laughing at the situation that had just unfolded. Such kind of irony can just be painted my life. Not having a phone, not getting news about the Covid-Situation and not being confronted with everything everywhere else was a huge relief. I was much more able to be in the moment and see the untainted beauty of the place we were in. After getting a bag of rice from the closest Warung in order to try and rescue my phone, we went on to the Rice terraces. Little did I know that this event wasn’t going to be the only revelation of the day. Just remember to breathe! 

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Next stop were the Tegalallang Rice terraces, which are another very popular tourist spot but again, there were just a few handfuls of tourists around and definitely enough space to be safely distanced from each other. As we were enjoying the view over a few free tea and coffee samplers we got into some small-talk with the barista. Dewa – by the way one of only a few common names on Bali – was a very talkative young Balinese and super friendly. As the conversation went along, naturally the topic Covid-19 came up. I asked Dewa how he thinks the virus is going to affect Bali. Obviously, having barely any tourists is going to have massive consequences for the communities that rely mainly on tourism. At that point in time, tourists were still allowed to fly in and out of Indonesia but shortly after, the government forbade any foreigners from entering the country. However, Dewa was not afraid. Bali is a very spiritual island, also sometimes referred to as the “Island of the Gods”. Most homes almost remind you of mini-versions of temples and people prepare offerings for the gods multiple times a day. Dewa genuinely believed that Bali will not be devastated from Covid-19 because they are good people with good Karma. He told us he wouldn’t be sad if he or his relatives died from the virus because he knows, they lived a good and happy life and will be fine in their next lives. I can’t and won’t say that my belief in anything is strong enough to support that theory but what I can definitely confirm is the kindness that we encountered in Bali. Even in times, where many communities will have their main source of income completely wiped away by a virus that might stick around for months, they remained friendly and helpful. Even in times of crisis, just remember to breathe! 

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I can’t really explain why or what happened, but that particular day changed something in my mind and demeanor. For some reason I was more content with being where I was, I wasn’t so worried about what would happen if the Virus hit Indonesia. I know it sounds weird, but I was thinking the worst-case scenario is for Franzi and I to get stranded somewhere without drinking water and die from dehydration or alternatively be within the tiny margin of people in our age group that die from respiratory failure because of Covid-19. Regardless, somehow, I was fine with that thought. If it ends it ends but at least it ended while I was doing something that I love with someone I love. 

We spent the next few days in and around beautiful Ubud and in a quiet town called Sanur. We only stayed there in order to get our Visa sorted for an additional 30 days and because we had planned to meet my good friend Willis, whom loyal readers might remember from some blog posts from China. Major shout out to you, brother! Together with Willis we headed to Nusa Penida, a much smaller island just off the coast of South-East Bali. Admittedly, the ferry ride over was anything but Corona-safe and anytime I heard someone coughing I cringed inside but hey, we survived. Willis was an absolute gem and pretty much organised everything for us while he was with us. As it happened to be Franzi’s birthday that weekend, he had arranged for us to go diving with Sanctum Dive, a dive shop he had done trips with in the past. Since diving for the first time isn’t already treat enough, Willis organised for us to go to a dive site called Manta Point. You might be able to guess, why that sounds particularly exciting. Before we were ready to go on our first so-called “Discovery Scuba Dive”, we got a little introduction session in the pool. What are the most important dive signs to indicate you are fine or have any problems, how do you handle your gear correctly and most importantly: Don’t panic and just remember to breathe! 

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The next day I felt like a little kid on the 24th of December. We got our equipment on the boat, got a little briefing with all the fellow divers about the topography of the dive site and were good to go. Being excited is probably an understatement. I was hyped. The 40-minute boat ride to our dive site, felt much longer because I couldn’t await to hop in the water. All of a sudden there it was. In beautiful, oriental-mandala style letters: REMEMBER TO BREATHE!  Tattooed on the lower arm of a gentleman from Finland with his wife who were on the same dive. There and then I decided to close my eyes and just repeat that sentence to myself like a mantra. After a while our dive master and instructor told us to get the equipment on, when I realized that I wasn’t just excited and hyped. I was bloody nervous! I was nervous that something might go wrong, that my ears won’t be able to handle it or that I might not be able to equalize properly. But then I remembered what I just had repeated to myself like 50 times: Remember to breathe and you’ll be fine. 

Alright, thumbs up… errrm I mean thumb and index finger together to form a circle and let’s fucking do this! (Because thumbs up in dive language means “going to the surface”) Weight belt on, Oxygen tank and BCD on, mask on, fins on, regulator in, legs crossed and off we go. Everything okay? Everything okay. Let’s go down. Oh shit, squeeze in my ears. I got a problem. Wiggle your hands. Alright, let’s go slower. Equalize, deflate, equalize again. HOLY SHIT there are two 4-metre-long Manta rays swimming directly beneath me. Shit, the GoPro wasn’t recording yet. Switch on the GoPro. Equalize again. Holy fuck, another 6 Mantas swimming right in front of me! Remember to breathe! 

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There is SO MUCH going through your head and so many things to think of during the first minutes of your very first dive that it becomes a real challenge not only to safely conduct the dive but to enjoy yourself while at it. Once you are in the water for a while and kind of get the hang of it, it becomes almost meditative. You breathe in, you breathe out and you just enjoy the moment of being 15 metres underneath the surface looking at life forms three times your size. It’s absolutely astonishing and I completely understand why diving is so addictive to so many people. After doing an open-water course and getting in a few more dives you start to stop thinking about everything you need to be doing underwater in order to survive. You just be! Remember to breathe! 

For the next five weeks I thought about that dive and especially that mantra often. If you ask me, it’s the single most suitable motto there is. Stressed because you’ve got three toddlers at home, waiting to be fed? Remember to breathe! Received a bitchy email from your co-worker with the whole company in CC? Remember to breathe! You are getting into fights with your significant other because you’ve spent the last 5 weeks socially distancing together? Remember to breathe! Someone throws an insult at you in front of your squad? Remember to breathe! Your sibling annoys the shit out of you because they are bored? Remember to breathe! Anxious before an important presentation? Remember to breathe. Existential crisis because you haven’t achieved the same things as everyone on social media and your life seems shit? Remember to fucking breathe! 

You catch my drift. I do realize, that this might sound easier said than done and like I’ve said earlier, by no means am I an expert at staying calm and just breathing. I’m just here because I feel like sharing this. Because to me, it seems important to get this message out. If at least one person reading this gains inspiration on how to possibly improve their own lives, I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish.  

Kisses on your belly from the friendly neighborhood bear!  

PS: REMEMBER TO BREATHE! 

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