Lessons from leaving the big city
As the year 2020 is coming to an end, it is time to reflect on this year and my path. I can only say: What a crazy ride, full of struggles and suffering but also miracles and surprises! I came across this Twitter tread I did in October 2018 where I visited a David Icke event in Poland:
This only has been two years ago but it feels like an eternity has passed! And the crazy thing is that my viewpoint about David Icke is still valid today, i.e. I would state it exactly the same way. This goes to show how valuable and accurate my intuition has become – it has never betrayed me or let me down!
One of the most important decisions I ever made was to leave the big city and move towards the country side, spending more time in nature and with myself doing inner work.
Finding out that I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
I had been living far too long in a big German city, almost 10 years! I never really liked it there and I felt terrible many times but I wanted to “fit in” to be “part of the cool kids” so to speak. I often was overstimulated by so many people, noises and events but I tried to force myself to change, which of course did not work! Fortunately, at some point, I realized that I am a “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP), which means that my entire nervous system is much more sensitive to external stimuli than that of the average person. This explained why I always needed so much alone time and was so quickly exhausted when I was at loud parties or events! It was a major breakthrough to have some official psychological models explaining why I am the way I am. It gave my mind something to justify that I am just different and could accept myself the way I am a little bit more. Actually, my path towards unconditional self-love and acceptance was still a long one though!
My burnout experience
In late 2015, I had a burnout at work, which basically was a mental and bodily collapse linked to a perceived lack of purpose and direction. I always was very ambitious and goal-oriented but at some point started feeling so off that I was staring at the computer screen in my office for hours without actually being able to do anything. I usually had a lot of creative ideas and innovative solutions to complex problems, which greatly helped me to tackle the challenging research projects I was working on. But gradually, those abilities faded away until they disappeared completely the more this burnout was manifesting.
I remember one afternoon, I was sitting alone in front of my laptop and had such an intense headache as well as heaviness in my chest that I was unable to come up with any thought at all. And even coffee did not help any more, so after my 5th cup of coffee that day, I locked my office from the inside and collapsed onto the floor to just lie there in a fetal position. Another aspect of this was a lack of romantic relationships, as all of my friends had partners and some were already married. As I was lying there on the floor, I wondered: What the hell am I supposed to do?
And suddenly, a thought popped up into my mind: Meditation. I remembered that I had read somewhere that meditation allegedly helps against burnout and depression. So I instantly got back up to my laptop (while the office door was still locked from the inside) and started googling “meditation classes”. And there it appeared: An MBSR (Meditation Based Stress Reduction) course starting the following weekend! I immediately wrote an email to register and quickly received back the reply: “You are lucky, there is exactly one spot left”. Truly incredibly, what a coincidence!
As I started this MBSR course, the burnout quickly got better and my life trajectory moved in a positive direction. The teacher of this course, Susanne, was a true angel and I am so grateful for everything she taught me. Essentially, I learned to be present in my body in the current moment by focusing on the breath as an anchor. We did many other exercises together, such as presently walking and eating, as well as journaling and gratitude. I went to every single lesson and soaked up the knowledge Susanne was teaching.
I proceeded to integrate a meditation routine into my day, which was one of the first things I did after I woke up. I even had a special armchair in my flat dedicated only to my daily meditation in the morning. This was a turning point in my life, it only got better afterward. My performance at work normalized and even surpassed previous levels and I also met a girl-friend just two months later. Funny how life rewards us for doing internal work, isn’t it?
One of the main lessons I realized from this: Pain is an excellent teacher and a necessary part of life. The quicker we accept this, learn from it and move on, the easier life becomes.
Wrapping up my job in the city
Finally, at the beginning of 2019, I did quit my job at the research institute but continued to stay there for about half a year to wrap up everything. I consciously used this time to clean up all of my projects, finishing them with excellence, heal some relationships with coworkers and focus on my personal growth. There is one key story which was a paradigm-shifting experience:
In November of 2018, I worked on a very complex project related to self-driving cars. We needed to create a running prototype with an actual vehicle inside a parking garage and I was in charge of the software architecture and key components. It was probably the greatest challenge I ever faced but not only technical as I needed to coordinate the work of several other employees and external partners.
Unfortunately, the time to implement a running prototype of our self-driving car was running short and one of my students had totally messed up a core component for controlling the vehicle movement. His approaches were good theoretically but they did not work at all in practice! So what did I do? Well, I rewrote this key software component myself in a very basic yet pragmatic manner. I only had about 1 week to finish this monumental task and while I had many breakthroughs, I eventually got stuck at some complex problems. I remember sitting in my office alone on Friday evening at around 8 pm and my mind just could not grasp what the hell was the exact issue!
It was frustrating and I went home feeling extremely tired, uninspired and overwhelmed. Suddenly it hit me: Why don’t I go on a long hike on Saturday morning? The next morning, I took an early train and after a 45-minute ride arrived in the countryside where there are beautiful forests, unscathed nature and serene hiking paths. I found it strange that I lived in this city for almost 10 years, yet it never had occurred to me that I can actually go for a hike in the outskirts of this city. The vibe after a 30-minute train ride is almost diametrically opposed to the vibe inside of the city. I was mesmerized by this thought when I started to go hiking, breathing in fresh, clean cold air and immersing myself in the beautiful scenery of this dense forest.
After an hour of hiking, I reached a clearing in the forest where I sat down on a large tree that had fallen down. I calmly observed the scenery and all those calming sounds around me of birds tweeting, the wind carefully moving the branches and other peculiar animal noises I did not recognize. My mind was totally empty as I just sat there and enjoyed it all, it was a truly beautiful experience!
And suddenly it hit me like a lightning strike: A stream of ideas and solutions for the unsurmountable problems I had the night before started flooding into my awareness! This stream of insights was accompanied by an electric feeling in my body that I had never experienced before in this intensity. I started taking out my phone and writing down all those ideas which came to me almost out of nowhere. There were so many ideas that it almost took me 10 minutes to write them all down. The crazy thing is: Those ideas and solutions were a hundred percent spot-on! They were exactly the things that I needed to successfully finish this self-driving car prototype.
As I came home from this inspiring hike, I immediately went to the office and started implementing those ideas. It took me only a couple of hours to make it all work, even though I had struggled with these challenges for days previously. What a magical experience! It was such a paradigm-shifting lesson to me as it was the proof that my best ideas are streaming in once I completely “let go of the struggle” and allow them to flow in. Ultimately, the project of the self-driving car was a grand success for us. While it certainly was not perfect, our prototype did work and on “demo day” a lot of people were impressed by our system and we could acquire several consecutive projects because of this.
I am so grateful for all of these experiences and that everything turned out the way it did! All of those dark and painful experiences are to me what a rubber strap is to a slingshot: The more we pull it back, the farther the projectile will be propelled.