Cyprus most northern spot, a wonderful beach, friends, my first Zazenkai and the earthquake (January, February 2023)

After getting off the ferry, I headed straight to the center of Girne to get a SIM card. “To the left, to the left, always driving on the left side” I was repeating in my head. From there, I continued my journey to the most natural area of “North Cyprus” that I could identify on Google Maps.

I found a wonderful, spacious sandy beach and ended up staying there for a week, or perhaps even a bit longer. What I enjoyed the most was the solitude, which gave me the chance to experience my first Zazenkai – a full day of meditation, mindfulness, and no communication. On the magnificent beach in Turkey, I had done my own three-day-long fasting and meditation retreat, but back then, I meditated only when and for as long as I felt like it. The Zazenkai with the Bright Way Zen Sangha, I had become a member of in the meantime, was different. There was an exact schedule that I decided to follow. Due to the time difference between the US West Coast and Cyprus, I started the day in solitude with meditation, and later I joined the others in an online meeting.

Before that day, I had not meditated for about eight hours a day, and I was curious about how it would turn out. I felt confident, and honestly, I think I was pretty arrogant at that point. After six hours of meditation, I felt an unbearable sensation of pain and somehow managed to let it go. However, in the next session, the pain was even stronger, and I did shift my sitting position, but it didn’t help much. In the following session, I tried sitting in a chair instead of the quarter-lotus posture, but the pain was only different but still there, and it was hardly bearable for me. Nevertheless, I kept going. During these painful episodes, all kinds of thoughts and feelings were arising inside of me, and it was more an act of willpower-based endurance than letting go and accepting.

Now, as I write this about three months later, I feel that my ego was pretty hurt and suppressed and rejected a lot of what was coming up inside me. I realize that a part of me did not want to accept what was happening within me – the pain, the struggle, the impermanence. Looking back, it seems like I went into that Zazenkai with a strong ego that wanted to prove it was capable of enduring that day, but I came out of it feeling insecure and disappointed.

A couple of weeks later, I participated in a five-day Sesshin (essentially, five days of Zazenkai), and in my post about that experience, I’ll describe a very different encounter with pain, letting go and other sensations.

During my stay at the beautiful beach, I also went on some long walks along the beach and through the sand dunes. While hiking along the beach, I found an incredible spot for tent living right next to the beach with a sun chair in between beautiful bushes and trees. I also found very accurately “cut” stone formations that looked very out of place. On one occasion, I came across a group of soldiers who were clearly searching for something. After they checked my ID, I asked them what they were doing, but all they said was “nothing.” It’s always the same when I ask these guys – they’re always “doing nothing.” It’s a crazy job they have.

From that beach, it wasn’t a long hike to reach the most northern point of the entire Island. I began my hike, and shortly after that, a friendly guy with a pickup truck offered me a ride for a few kilometers. Just when I started hiking again, another car stopped, and it’s super friendly passengers took me all the way to the most northern spot. That’s how I met Tarzan, a funny and warm-hearted guy from Turkey who had been to some rainbow gatherings. At the northernmost point, it felt like the end of the world, and that end was guarded by a herd of cute and funny roaming mules. I found myself thinking about traveling with a mule again and had a beautiful hike back to my home.

After a few more days, Isa and Arne (who I had met earlier in Turkey) wrote to me that they were tired of the cold weather in Cappadocia and had the idea to take the ferry to Cyprus. Just a few days later, they arrived at the beach, and we had another super nice time together. Sihong and Thomas also joined our little camp, and we had a wonderful evening playing an absolutely crazy version of “Mensch, ärgere dich nicht” (aka Ludo).

The night after the others had left, I woke up in the middle of the night to find Rosinante shaking in a way she had never shaken before. It felt like being in a storm, but there was no storm and the shaking was like a strong nodding. I didn’t think too much about it and fell back to sleep again. The next day, I realized that it was the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, about a hundred kilometers away, that had caused Rosinante to shake in the night and made the sea flood the beach.

5 weeks, one beach part 4/4: No food but meditation and does sadness make a lost love bigger? (December 2022)

After spending three weeks at the stunning beach on the Marmaris peninsula in Turkey, I was conflicted about whether to stay or go. On one hand, I was eager to embark on new adventures, but on the other, I felt like leaving would be like avoiding something. There was an intangible sense that something remained “on that beach” for me to discover or let go. Although I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, I felt that staying was the right thing to do.

Before heading to the Beglika festival in Bulgaria, I had a conversation about fasting with that lovely German family I met at the big lake. I had been curious about fasting for some time and that conversation and its longstanding cultural significance made me even more curious. During my time living on the first beach with Artha, I had experienced how eating less and changing my diet heightened my body awareness. I had felt more attuned to physical sensations and since then I was eating even healthier than before.

A couple of months ago, my attitude towards eating had shifted. It became more significant to me and I often found myself eagerly anticipating my next meal. At times, it felt like a craving. It may have been due to boredom or a lack of structure in my daily life. I began to ponder what it would be like to not eat. So I decided to try fasting for the first time in my life. My plan was to fast for three days and observe the changes in my perspective on eating.

Shortly before the start of my fasting, Artha told me that her life at the ashram was very intense and that she felt like changing every day. Although she still felt that deep and unconditional love between us, she felt her romantic love for me fading day by day. My heart skipped a beat. Was this what was left on that beach for me to let go? I had no doubt of that deep unconditional love and connection between us and I think that this made me feel very different about this change of our connection than I had felt in situations like that in the past. I did not feel anger, despair or fear, I was not deeply sad or depressed. I did feel that I was losing something and I felt passive. Leaving Bulgaria and Artha, Artha going to the ashram. All of that had changed our connection. But our connection had been changing all the time even when we had been together in Bulgaria.

I still felt that romantic love for Artha. If a fairy would have come by, I would have asked her to bring Artha to that beach. But I didn’t feel like my happiness was depending on her. A sense of freedom joined my feelings of loss. It was not a freedom from Artha but rather a liberation from a part of myself. The part that altered my being by clinging to and trying to preserve our romantic love, no matter what. That made me realize how strong this influence on me had been.

A part of me wondered if it was okay to not feel deeply sad, depressed, or angry about Artha severing our romantic connection from her side. Could our love have never been as strong as I thought it was? Was it all just a fantasy or a dream? How could I not feel sad and depressed about losing it and not be upset and angry with the one who took it?

These feelings and thoughts reminded me of the emotions I had experienced after the death of my parents and grandparents. I had been deeply sad and overwhelmed with grief. It felt like losing them meant losing everything. My life and myself. It was all-consuming. As time went by, I realized that even though we wouldn’t be able to see or feel each other in the way we used to, we would always be connected through love and memories. This realization had helped me a lot to let go of that all-consuming sadness and despair. 

Back then, I had thought about whether it would be okay to stop being sad. I thought how could someone stop being sad about losing something that one loves so much? Wouldn’t that be wrong? Wouldn’t that be a betrayal of that love? Back then in Germany and now at that beach in Turkey, I deeply realized that being not sad, not depressed, not angry and not mad was perfectly fine and would not diminish any love I was feeling at all. I still wanted Artha to be happy and live the life she wanted to live at every moment. And for myself I still wanted the same. And as I would like to meet all people, when we see each other again, I will be open to everything there will be between us.

I was at peace with my feelings and thoughts, but there was still a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I couldn’t quite shake. I felt that the opportunity to let go of this thing was within reach. To focus on it I decided that I would spend my three days of fasting with only meditating, slow walking and yoga, reading the Bankei lectures and sleeping.

The first day of my fasting started and I was feeling very good, calm and curious about what was up to come. I had no plan or structure for these days. I was just doing whatever came up and I did not much think about it. I did a lot of meditating and I never started a timer while doing so. I just sat down and started. When I felt like l laying down, I laid down. When I felt like walking or sitting again, I did that. When I felt hunger arise, I observed that and most of the time, I drank a tea. And I spent a whole lot of time just perceiving the beauty of nature. Doing that for more than some minutes was a pretty new thing for me and it felt wonderful and fulfilling.

At some point I got the impression, that it would not only be possible to trust my pure being (like I had described in the previous post), but that I could really do it. These upcoming thoughts in my mind felt not only less important, they felt obsolete. The commenting voice inside of my head felt like being a commentator of a live game. It was like this commentator told me what was going on and offered topics to think about, but all of that was already known inside of me. Several times I caught myself giggling about how weird that felt.

I started to think about if there were any necessary thoughts. I still don’t know but back then it felt like these arbitrarily arising thoughts that seemed to deliver only things that were already known were of no real use. But I felt like in contrast to these thoughts, the activity of pure thinking was useful. And this pure action of thinking felt much smoother now. Letting go of arising thoughts felt so easy and natural. It felt like my inner commentator had been used to mostly comment something like “hi upcoming thought, I let go of you” or “oh nice, I let go of that upcoming thought” when letting go of thoughts. Now he was mostly silent. The submerging of thoughts felt like a light was dimming itself down. 

Since I had started meditating about six years ago, I had often been longing for the end of a meditation session. Although I did not skip one day of meditating for more than a year, it was not unusual that I had to push myself to start a session. And while meditating, thoughts about quitting a session in early had been not unusual as well. All of this had changed during the time of my fasting. Meditating felt like kind of just having a good time. No part of me questioned that.

Not eating, no phone or iPad didn’t feel bad for those three days. In fact, everything felt very good for that short time. Everything felt very good, light and free. Especially my experiences regarding the unimportance of my inner commentator, the ease of letting go of arbitrarily arising thoughts and the ease of meditating felt super good. They felt so good that from my perspective, as I’m writing this four weeks later, it feels like I was at least partly “high on them” and “high on myself” for being able to experience them. Maybe those experiences and the way I clung to them were the things waiting for me to let go off on that beach.

But in the end it doesn’t matter. I’m happy for the experiences I made and I loved and still love my time at that beach. Everything of it. And I’m very thankful for that.