“Together in pain” – Divided Cyprus, a ghost town and a lot of realities (February 2023)

Before considering going to Cyprus for a warm winter and to potentially extend my visa and customs days in Turkey for myself and Rosinante, I had never given much thought to the political situation on this beautiful island.

However, there is a great deal happening there, with many realities to uncover. Honestly, I don’t feel inclined to try and comprehend and describe all the stories surrounding Cyprus, the north, the south, the Cypriots, the Turkish-Cypriots, the Turkish-Turkish of Cyprus, the Greek-Cypriots, the British, the UN, Greece, Turkey, the US, Cyprus as a strategic base, the occupied areas, military bases, abandoned villages, a ghost town, the children of Turkish-Turkish people living in Cyprus who are born with fewer rights, stolen land, compensations for those who lost their land, escapes, rapes, deaths, assassinations, power, and much more.

During my nearly four months on Cyprus, I spoke to various individuals about their perspectives on these issues. Although I have great respect for their lives, at a certain point, I became weary of it all.

Ultimately, the best description I encountered of the situation is: “Together in pain.” I came across this phrase several times in graffiti in Nicosia, and it truly resonated with me.

From my perspective, there exists an unresolved and dishonest situation that causes suffering for some, if not most, of the people involved.

One of the many things that makes this quite evident is Varosha/Maraş (location in Google Maps), a large city area that remains completely abandoned and guarded by UN troops.

Nonetheless, I guess, being human allows us to cope with situations like this, albeit in different ways. Some tend to blame, while others approach it with compassion.

Although this post might give the impression that being or living in Cyprus is synonymous with pain, that is not the case. From my experience, it was a wonderful place with lovely people and what I truly appreciate is that most of the people I spoke to, expressed a desire to somehow reunite in a peaceful way with everybody on the island.

And that’s what is all about, right? Love, compassion and helping each other.

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.