This article is a call for action with which I want to inspire you to live your life in a state of awareness, using all your senses. A life in which „Just do it!” is more than just a worn-out commercial slogan, a life that follows the principle of „immediacy”. This subject is really dear to my heart because I have noticed how much richer life feels and is when you go through it with your eyes wide open, always ready to deviate from your planned schedule without constantly overthinking everything and instead: just doing it.
The very first outline for this article came about already a few months ago and it took me some time to get it together. For a while, I was struggling with writers’ block and when I finally got over it and also felt like I had gathered all I wanted to say about it, suddenly everything changed: Against the backdrop of the COVID 19 pandemic, which is currently restricting all our lives, it somehow seemed inappropriate to publish an article promoting more spontaneity. But maybe this is the best context one could think of … and that’s why the waiting time is over now!
What my life looks like at the moment: 12 days ago I returned from Australia to a Corona-struck Germany. For now, the lockdown feels rather alright and there are many, many things I am grateful for in this situation: I live in a beautiful bright apartment with a balcony, I have my beloved ukulele that I play every day, I even have some paid work that I can do from home, some items on my to-do list which I really want to get done with and many people with whom I can stay in touch with through different channels.
I have to admit, that it isn’t always easy for me to give the days a meaningful structure and of course I miss the physical touch … but on the whole, it’s (still) okay. The biggest challenge I am facing at the moment is to maintain a healthy balance between relaxation and reflection on the one hand and the high demands I place on myself to use this forced break as sensibly and effectively as possible. Whatever that means. Because this unexpected downtime could also be a precious chance to slow down and take a closer look at what I actually really want in life. It’s an unfamiliar and quite paradoxical situation because it is open and limited at the same time.
Now, how do I mean this? One good example is my attempts to plan my future: As a freelancer, I have to get active and try to find new customers all the time. Right now this is difficult because everything is on hold. Aside from that, before I get in touch with these potential clients, I should know how I actually want to live. Right? But nobody knows what our lives will look like after the virus. And nobody knows how long this is all going to last. So whatever I plan is actually an equation with many unknown variables. My eyes are open, yet still, I’m fumbling around in the dark. This has always been the case, even before Corona, but now I am becoming particularly aware of it right now.
What is also altered by the current situation is my perception of everything I have experienced in my life so far. Much of what I have more or less taken for granted, now becomes even more valuable. All the travelling, all the experiences, all the people I have met, the freedom, the carelessness! I also think of the opportunities I missed because I postponed things off until tomorrow. It really makes me quite sad at times that for some of these things I will never get a second chance … and so today I declare that I’m done with postponing!
For there is life after Corona. At some point, the virus will loosen its grip and then humanity will hopefully have understood that we have to change our ways if we want to go on living on this planet.
I wish that then more people will understand what a precious gift this life is and that they start to prioritise in a different way, following their passions and doing what gives them pleasure. Things can change so quickly and every moment is precious and unique. Don’t wait until tomorrow, you might just be fooling yourself.
If you don’t postpone anything, you follow the principle of „immediacy”, which is one of the ten principles of Burning Man. This event, that takes place every year since 1986 in the desert of Nevada. Sadly, not this year, though, due to COVID-19 …
Burning Man can seem like a festival on the surface but in fact it is a social experiment. You can read the 10 principles on the official website. Under Immediacy, you will find the following lines:
„Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.”
It’s all about your very own experiences, about what you feel. It’s about creating sensations and memories, forming opinions, gaining knowledge through one’s own experimentation and actions, not through the stories of others, through social media or even books … It’s about what you do, experience, create and manifest in this world.
„Im-mediate”. That means: not mediatized, without any intermediaries, messengers, or filters, even without the sometimes overly strict filter of your own mind. Immediacy allows for direct experience without „over-thinking”. It is about being exactly where you are in every moment, including the people who you’re with in that particular moment as well as the circumstances and the context.
I once read that it takes only three seconds of thinking to significantly reduce your chances of taking action. So the point is to just go for it, to let yourself get carried away and to be open to surprises instead of following the ready-made plans and being a slave to your schedule. Or to the many assumptions, which are stored in our subconscious. A character in a novel by Rachel Cusk I recently read, brings it all very nicely to the point: „Looking at the world through a long lens of preconceptions by which you hold yourself at some unbreachable distance from what surrounds you, a distance which constitutes a kind of safety but also creates a space for illusion.”
When we live in the illusion thinking that we have everything figured out and under control, we keep the world at a distance. But if we dare to put this „long lens” aside, we might actually be surprised. And I mean this in a good way.
In a way, smartphone, internet and social media also function like such a lens, because they constantly distract us away from what’s really going on, into a parallel world.
But this doesn’t always have to be like that. One really good example is, of course, Burning Man. It had been a particularly beautiful and whimsical day, and as the sun was getting down, the Playa Philharmonics, gave a concert against the backdrop of the crazy structure “A Fine Folly”. As they played Queen’s „Bohemian Rhapsody” the whole audience sang along fervently. A very, very instagrammable moment. And yet: there were hardly any phones up in the air than you would usually see in the „default world” in such a situation. I didn’t film or take pictures either. Yet, I will never forget that moment: The goosebumps I felt, the sunlight which painted broad stripes in the dust that filled the air, the childlike enthusiasm of the cymbal player, the sparkles in the eyes and on all the faces around me …
By living a more immediate life, I have learned and experienced so much in the last few years alone, and I have also found new friends for life. There are many stories I can tell about that. And in a funny way, many of them are inter-connected. One has caused the next and once you start, everything changes … it’s like the domino or the butterfly effect.
The first story happened almost two years ago when I was flying from Berlin to Paris with my family. I had decided to sit in the row behind them so that I would be able to read or work. When my neighbour started talking to me in perfect French, I answered politely but to myself, I thought that I would return to my business after a few minutes of small talk. Never happened. The conversation was just too inspiring to stop. We talked about all kinds of things and were so honest and open as you probably only are with strangers (check out this TED Talk by author Kio Stark: Why you should talk to strangers). His name was (and still is) Austin and after travelling through Europe for a while, he was now on his way back home to Australia. He had quit his company a year ago, would never have to work again and had thus spent the last year trying to figure out what he wanted to with his life do from now on. One of his projects included the acquisition of several beehives. Not that he knew much about the topic, but he would learn, he said.
When we said goodbye, we told each other how much we had appreciated the encounter and exchanged email addresses. This could very well be the end of the story, but I actually wrote to him. And a little later, there was his answer. There were never any romantic feelings involved, but Austin’s mails and our regular exchange of thoughts and ideas became an important and beloved part of my life. Still, I never thought that we would ever see each other again. But we did. My first visit to him was almost exactly one year ago when I spontaneously hopped over to Australia for a few days on my way back to Berlin from Bali. At first, I had wanted to go to Melbourne, but I wasn’t willing to pay the crazy prices for even the most basic of accommodations. So I wrote to Austin to ask him if he knew people who could accommodate me on their couch for a few days, while I was in Melbourne. He didn’t but said that I was very welcome to stay with him and his girlfriend in Gold Coast instead. For a moment I hesitated. After all, despite the mails, I only knew him from those two hours on the plane. In the end, I accepted the invitation and off I went into the next adventure, which also involved a reunion with another brand new friend: Steve, a musician/architect/photographer, whom I had met shortly before in Bali at a yoga class. Austin and I met him for lunch in the little hippie village of Nimbin and from there, Steve led us into the jungle where he was building a beautiful dome house right next to the home of his friends, an incredibly friendly and very welcoming German-Australian family.
Austin and I are now friends for life, as we repeatedly told each other, and we work well even in the weirdest situation: When I visited again this year for a few days, we survived 5 days of pre-corona quarantine without trying to kill each other!
Now I don’t mean to encourage you to go home with the next best stranger. Not everyone is (best) friend material, that’s for sure. And of course, there are days, when you don’t feel like being social at all. But try to give people a chance more often, however short the encounter might be. Because sometimes a door opens between two people and this is where real connection becomes possible. This requires openness on both sides, the willingness to show yourself as you are and to really look at each other. This is possible. Every day, no matter how busy you are. Because life, you see, is not made up of appointments, meetings and to-dos. It’s actually a wild dance, a parade of surprises, of millions of possibilities sparkling as bright as a disco ball.
Another particularly beautiful story happened during the three days I finally did spend in Melbourne after all. It was my very first morning in this new city. The sky was grey and, being used to Bali temperatures, I felt cold. As I already wrote in my article about „the Emotional Jetlag”, my first encounter with Melbourne was rather difficult: All those people, the density, the hectic rush, the visible misery of beggars, alcoholics and junkies around the train station, in sharp contrast to all the wealth and consumption of the shopping streets. And of course the weather …!
And so after breakfast, I strolled over Queen Victoria Market in search of an apple to brighten my mood. You must know: In my case, the saying „An apple a day, keeps the doctor away” is not an empty phrase. I’m addicted to the crunchy fresh juicy mouthfeel they purvey and I actually stark to feel unfresh if I have to do without it for too long. One stand had a few varieties on display that I had never heard of before in my life. So I asked the vendor who was close by if he would let me try them. He would. His name is Stef, by the way, and he’s so much more than „just” a vendor. He is one hell of a talented and crazy artist and now also one of the most important people in my life.
Now, how did this happen? It „happened” because we made it happen. Simply by opening this door that I mentioned earlier. We met each other with open hearts and the willingness to let each other in. When I paid for my apples, I asked him if he could give me some tips on what to do in three days in the city. He said, he couldn’t think of anything, but that he’d be happy if I wanted to have a drink with him in the evening. He knew that I wouldn’t stay and asked me out anyway.
What kind of person does that? Who is willing to invest time and possibly money in someone just passing through? This is what people do who follow the principle of immediacy. And I can assure you: we have a good nose for recognizing our kind. We find each other even in the biggest crowds, even in markets and big cities.
Stef and I spent the evening together and met again two days later to spend my last night in Melbourne together. We have stayed in touch ever since and it is this lovely and crazy encounter, which entailed an incredible adventure the following summer: It was through Stef that I got my ticket for Burning Man and through him that I got to know the wonderful crew Coco Poco Loco. Many of them are now also my friends.
We’re a crew. Like in crew love and true love. One of those new friends is Marina. Following a very spontaneous intuition, we went on a road trip together: From San Francisco through Yosemite National Park to Black Rock City, Nevada in four days in a 28 Feet retro RV called Fiona. It just happened that I needed a ride and Marina was looking for someone to share the ride with and split the costs. We didn’t know each other but simply said yes when the option presented itself. Instead of asking questions like what do you do in life, how old are you etc., we just went straight to setting time, date and place. We met on a Walmart parking lot, just like in a bad novel, and started our trip from there. The rest is history. And all the other questions – and many more – got answered along the way …
And Burning Man again: There, I have experienced countless situations which showed me again and again, how exciting and enriching it is to deviate from the plan. Every day, after climbing out of bed and riding my bike to the portapotties, I took a short tour through our neighbourhood, just to get a feel for the day and go on a little adventure all by myself. When you’re alone without your gang, you tend to discover completely different things and see the world in a different light. You probably know that from travelling.
Speaking of travelling: Earlier this year, I went to India with my friend Götz, which was a super spontaneous decision. I just jumped on the occasion when he told me that he was gathering a „construction crew” to build a yoga retreat center for his Indian friend Nanda in the Southern Indian region of Tamil Nadu. I had never built anything before in my life and wasn’t too sure either, whether I really wanted to go to India. But a voice inside my head, or rather in my stomach, said: „Why not?” And so I went. And of course, it was a great experience. Absurd and challenging – the plan was to be finished in three weeks – and absolutely stimulating on so many levels. I am definitely not finished with India!
But what about immediacy and spontaneity in everyday life? Do I also follow their call when I’m not travelling the world?
At home, I use my bike to travel distances and I like to ride it at a relatively high speed. I just love the wind in my hair and on my skin, but when you travel fast, you can also miss a lot of little things. You’re also a little locked in your own world, especially when you listen to music … I do stop for street musicians, funny posters or notes. But when there is someone who might need help – someone with a pram or an elderly person – I just sometimes think too long before I stop, and we all know now that three seconds already kill spontaneous reactions. You can go pretty far in three seconds on a bike, and so it happens quite often that I „miss” the moment. This is definitely something I want to work on because I want to be the change I want to see in this world 😉 and do my part to make our world more human and empathetic again.
So I’m calling out to all of you: Don’t keep immediacy for holidays and exceptional situations. It’s like a muscle that we have to work on and with. In order to practice true Immediacy, you need to be very attentive and very alert, all the time or at least as often as you can. Sou put away your phone for once and take a look around. What do you see?
One word about the missed chances I mentioned earlier: As a partner in my family’s business, I used to sell french delicacies online and there was this returning customer, who loved our salted butter made of raw milk and our cognacs. In the beginning, our mail exchange was purely business-related, but at some point, we switched over into a more private mode which continued even after I left the company. He was an eccentric, friendly, charming, interesting older gentleman, who, as it turned out, didn’t only love butter, wine and cognac, had also had a thing for Wes Anderson movies and colourful socks and was just as enthusiastic as I was about the movie/book “Call me by your name”, which was released this year. On several occasions, he invited me to come by and visit him at Lake Constance on my travels and emphasized how much this would mean to him. I kept postponing because I did find the whole thing a bit strange. Yet, if I am really honest, I had already decided to accept the invitation – I was just too curious to get to know him. But I never told him and I never went. And then there was a break in our communication. At first, I hardly noticed it, being so busy travelling. He had slipped my mind a bit. But when I didn’t hear back from him after sending him two mails in a shorter period, a sad premonition started to form within me. I searched the internet for his name and found what I had feared: an obituary. In retrospect, I very much regret that we never met in person. I somehow believe that we would have had a lot of shared interested to talk about and I imagine us sitting by the fireplace in colourful socks, drinking cognac and a heavy red wine, eating black chocolate and talking about films and books … I think about him every time that I pass through Tempelhof, one of my favourite places in Berlin because I had told him so much about this place and the neighbouring cookie factory sending out its alluring buttery perfume across the wide space …
And so I’d like to end this article by reminding you (and me) that every day is unique, a unique new chance for us to seize, so seize it!
And what about you? How much space do you allow for immediacy in your life? What are the stories you want to share? Is there anything you think of that you really want to do when the lockdown is over? What do you think we can do better as a society?
Leave a comment or write me a message, I’m super excited to hear about your experiences and thoughts!
„The power of now. A guide to spiritual enlightenment” by Eckhart Tolle