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On Water, Easter and Rituals for a New Start

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

Osterwasser - Easter water?

Easter is just around the corner. The most important feast of Christianity, when Christians celebrate the victory of life over death. As a young child, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, a divorced Protestant woman who lived more or less happily in the community of our hometown. A woman who went to church regularly and took me to the cemetery almost every day.

Every Easter I wanted to accompany my grandmother to get "Easter water". It is water with special powers that it has only on Easter Sunday. It is a ritual whose roots lie in pre-Christian times. For the ritual to be successful, one must get up before sunrise on Easter Sunday and go to a certain spring with a vessel, without saying a single word. There, one catches water in the vessel and returns home in silence. At home, one must wash oneself with this water to cleanse oneself from diseases or perhaps even sins. Only after that you are allowed to speak again. Unfortunately, my grandmother never took me with her because she didn't think I would be quiet. Still, I liked the ritual and every little custom around Easter with its mix of Christian and pagan elements. And also the family celebrations around Easter were all much more relaxed than those around Christmas. So water and relaxation were linked for me from an early age.

Water Rituals, Mythology & Co.

In the following years I learned more and more rituals around purifying water all over the world. I studied ideas and behaviors from different cultures and mythologies from Polynesia, Melanesia, Asia, Africa, America and Europe. In Polynesia, of course, water plays a special role in mythology and history. One of my main interests as a teenager and later at university was to understand how Christianity was able to destroy so many people and cultures around the world, and at the same time convert people to the Christian faith; how it was possible to explain in the first place that some religious groups or other collectives saw themselves as superior to others. And ultimately, how it produced people who often acted as my grandmother did, combining Christian (or other) rituals with local pre-Christian (or other) rituals, some of which were forbidden, some of which were not, creating new ideas, forms, and behaviors in their own kind of syncretism. They lived this "tolerance of ambiguity". I was interested in what beliefs, mythic themes, and god typologies were universal - such as the rituals for special purification by water. Which rituals and concepts were found in the same language family, such as the world egg/cosmic egg "floating on water" as the beginning of all times when the world was created. The Indo-European languages all share this cosmic concept. So do some other language groups and cultures around the world. And I was interested in how philosophical and religious teachings and practices have influenced each other over millennia, and which teachings are simply based on the fact that we as humans are structured the same in thinking and feeling, and therefore share the same experiences in this world, as we all perceive the world as embodied beings.

I studied Cultural Anthropology, Political Sciences and Public Law/International Law and along the way privately studied History of different eras, spaces and cultures, Religious Studies and Philosophy because I wanted to understand; wanted to find answers to my questions. To understand what insights into life people had and have in different eras and places.

And I'm still learning new things every day.

A few of my personal experiences with water

Until my 30th birthday, I believed I was, astrologically speaking, a fire sign. I believed that until I was told at the time: "No, Nora, you are a water sign". In the sense of creative counseling, one could say that these years were also the beginning of a new, at first bumpy road, on which I opened the space for new creative processes, ran into walls and the space was closed again by external constraints and internal reactions. But that really had nothing to do with astrology. As for astrology, three years later, my professional but also closest personal environment, I learned how important astrology is for some people in this world and that it plays a major role in traditional Indian partner selection. I learned that some of the most advanced users of technical devices and IT engineering in the largest tech companies in the world had no problem accepting this tradition and dealing with it in their own way. Again, there seemed to be a very high tolerance for ambiguity. Another year later, I learned about ascendants and their meaning, and that my ascendant is actually a fire sign. So I carry two different, actually opposing elements, again based on water. Some people see this combination as core indicators of my personality, behavior and challenges in life. I guess without closer contact with people from India, I would never have found out more about these astrological things. But well, I did. And today the internet is full of articles about astrology to help people find their own identity.

Varanasi, India

I ended up not being able to travel back to Australia to visit my friends and my Australian family, and how I shifted my regional research focus to Europe and the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, as best as I could, I lived my life intensely and joyfully, dedicated to finding a good balance of my responsibilities in my professional and personal life. By the end of 2019, I was even able to leave Europe again and travel to Varanasi for Deep Diwali. Varanasi is the holiest city for Hindus. Ever since my friend did research there for her master's thesis and her doctoral thesis, I wanted to accompany her one day. In 2019, I finally had the opportunity to do so. Deep Diwali in Varanasi takes place two weeks after the most important Hindu festival, Diwali. The Festival of Light, celebrating the victory of light over darkness (sounds a bit like Easter or Sol Invictus, which later became Christmas, right? Yep. The celebration of light/ life/ good over darkness/ death/e vil, is also common in many cultures. Thankfully!). Deep Diwali is celebrated in the wake of this, but with a slightly different focus. I tried beforehand to get some ideas and stories about life in Varanasi from former colleagues who grew up there, but unfortunately we had little time to delve into it. So I went there without knowing much. All I knew was that I was going to see Aghoris. I did see Aghoris. And I visited the nightly Aarti rituals on the river Ganga and the holy ablutions and baths of the pilgrims in the morning. I also visited the main tourist sites of Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic and Indian national history and some of the hundreds of temples in the holy city. While in Varanasi, I was also able to visit Sarnath, a founding site of Buddhism, and had a brief discussion with the tour guide about how pre-Christian European cultures also thought (think?) the planets were gods, or at least named them after gods. But mostly I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of this special place on earth at the Ghats; the Ghats and the sacred river Ganga, where all Hindus want their ashes to be thrown in after death to save their soul from rebirth and allow it eternal peace. Varanasi, just like India, is also full of contradictions and ambiguities. So many deities and religions. So many rites and ideas. And then a place of eternal peace in a city that struggles to find peace between groups and peace with its history. Where is the tolerance for ambiguity here? The life-practical "co-incidence of opposites" that Neoplatonism and many other wisdom teachings describe as what we all strive toward? Towards which all being strives?

The Ganga river is now also for me a river with a great personal meaning, because there I made an important life decision and confirmed my will to continue my way and to become completely healthy again.

Go with the flow?

In my late twenties, I was no longer allowed to swim because of my health problems. Swimming, however, was something I always liked very much. Not the "lying half-naked on the beach", but being in the water, swimming, floating, diving. Yes, water is really my element! And in the last 1.5-2 years, since my visit to Sicily, the island of rebirth where Hades (god and ruler of the underworld) and Demeter (goddess of life and fertility and mother of Persephone), wrestle for Persephone's presence on earth or in the underworld, I really enjoy being near and in the water again. Before that was possible again, I had some life-changing encounters with people who probably got me there in the first place. They gave me stories, phrases, and experiences that resonated with me a lot in that particular moment and in the years that followed. One of those phrases came into my life in 2017 and it has to do with water and I'm sure all of you have heard it before. It is "going with the flow" or to put it in a more descriptive tone, "Just go with the flow!". Oddly enough, the phrase was said to me after I, for my part, mentioned the ancient Greek, pre-Christian phrase "panta rhei - everything is in flux/in a flow." So, did I myself initiate the upheaval in the context of my flow? If so, then, we actually do provoke, or rather, co-create, through our actions, how others perceive and approach us and how our river of life flows.

Very well. There was now the call in the room for me to "just go with the flow." This phrase has been on my mind a lot over the last few years. Growing up between Protestant work ethic, slightly hedonistic lifestyle, expectations of the social environment, the risky study choice of "breadless arts" and the responsible change "into business life" there were different backgrounds against which I could process the sentence. After years of hard work in academic, business and personal life, in which I delved into all kinds of topics, in which I tried to be a responsible global citizen, partner, (grand & in-law) daughter, sister, friend, aunt, cousin, researcher, teacher, trainer, coach, consultant, collaborator, team member and human being. In which I have tried to balance the many different worlds, needs, and goals I have faced, while also struggling with an insecurity about my personal health, this phrase sounded very promising. "Just go with the flow! Be more like me, Nora, and don't think too much or take work or your responsibilities too seriously. Just enjoy yourself. It's as simple as that."

But something felt strange and wrong about that sentence and the way it was revealed to me. My body even really rebelled against it at times. Wasn't I enjoying my life, wasn't I following my dreams under the circumstances? Wasn't I enjoying delicious food, traveling, books, evenings with colleagues, friends and my partner? And wasn't I also trying to do this not on a superficial or hedonistic level, but to search for meaning and significance? What exactly was this flow, if it was not the for me much more meaningful "panta rhei"? Did it mean "following the crowd"/flow and actually doing what others expected of me without paying attention to the fact that I felt torn up inside? Did I need to become more grateful for everything I had and just check off my dreams? Meet all the deviant expectations of professors, bosses, parents, partners, colleagues, or peer group? Should I just follow and do what a person who was interested in me sexually and/or romantically wanted me to do? Was it really that easy (in the 21st century (in Europe)) to drop all ties and responsibilities when something "did not work out anymore"? Was flow the feeling we have when we are completely absorbed by an idea or activity and hardly feel exhaustion or the passage of time when we are in that activity? Or, if we are walking and at some point all thoughts rest and we can just put one step in front of the other and let everything be; on the inside and outside? Did flow mean that I should follow my dreams and work hard to make them come true? Well, of course that couldn't be what was meant, because going with the flow and working hard on the issues that are important to me, were presented to me by this person like contradictions. The person herself was torn between personal dreams and desires and the expectations of society, family and work. So how seriously could I take this person's statement? How reliable was this advice? How helpful and healthy for me?

After years of some difficult life-changing decisions - like the one on the Ganga river - and hard consequences, as well as hard and challenging inner work, I have found for myself that "going with my own flow" is a much better form of expression and living. At least for me. It describes a much better balance and rootedness; a much more soothing way of being grounded. A conscious action and practice that can definitely be full of lightness. A much deeper breathing and soaking up of life and a humor that is benevolent and not hurtful. And it has been the people who have helped and supported me the most over the years who actually describe "the flow" in exactly this way. It is a flow of awareness, inner wisdom, intuition, connectedness, resilience, self-awareness, self-efficacy, self-compassion and practice that we need to get better at every day. A flow that finally gave me the chance to make peace with the struggle, to unite worlds that refused to be united. And thus my form, my flow, to resolve/transcend the conflicts was that of leaving these worlds. A flow that gave me many answers to unanswered questions. In my early thirties, the urgency to find the answers to many of my unanswered questions brought me into action. Not in scientific, academic, or professional terms, but in the practicalities of daily life. I needed to focus on my health and my path and nothing else.

Health had absolute priority, and so gradually everything else fell into place. This decision lead me to open up more and more, to ask all my questions louder than ever before, and to use all the courage, strength and creativity I had left to move forward via the process of trying myself out, failing, going wrong, via reflection, contemplation, trying again, failing, going wrong, and so on. In this process, there wasn't much yet worthy of the name "flow." I had waited too long and had to start learning walking/swimming/moving all over again. A friend once told me, "maybe it's not such a good thing that you're so strong. Maybe your strength just made you hold on for too long?" I don't know.

In any case, at that time there was only one deep inner voice, which had probably always been there, but which was now screaming louder and louder. If I had let it out, everything would have collapsed. Like Shiva, Kali or Ragnarök, the fate of the gods, destroy everything. I could not and would not risk that. After all, I had made promises to which I felt obligated. Well, today I know that all the mentioned mythological stories of destruction also always carry a new beginning. The new beginning also came in the end.

All right, then. Back to the voice. Some call it "calling". But I would not want to choose this word. And I followed this voice and came out of my inner emigration step by step to follow this voice (calling?). And with that I lost important people and beliefs and structures that held me until then. Much; almost everything that had given me support until then. At the same time, little by little, the now "right" people and the right inner attitude came along, the space for ease, spontaneity and calmness and a felt explosion of pent-up energies that helped me to find the answers. With that, I can now focus on new questions that came with those answers. Focusing so that I can gratefully reject or let go of more and more non-helpful advice, beliefs and people and continue to learn freely as life moves forward. And with that, I hope I can be a much better help to others than I was before.

Helpful words from the "right people"

What do I mean by "right" or "helpful people"? On the one hand, I mean people with whom I can be (and become) exactly the person I am and get what I need to go my way. Also, I've gone from people who said phrases like "You'll always be in my heart" in moments of goodbye to people who tell me "This isn't farewell or goodbye. I will always be with you wherever you go. Just focus on your path". And that feels much more calming and freeing and much more in line with the flow I want to go with than "the flow" I was told about a few years ago, which had more of a flavor of "not caring about life" or just "reacting to life" than the latter. For example, in the Swedish series, Bonus Family, there is a martial arts coach in some episodes who takes life (for himself) very lightly, who also uses this phrase "just go with the flow" a lot. For me, he does it in this "carefree" or "not caring about others" way. And he doesn't manage to pick up others where they are and allow them to find and live out their own flow. Of course, it's nice to be in the heart of someone special for eternity. But I don't want to feel trapped in one particular place or in several. How torn would I then be again? I prefer to follow my flow and have the love, care and wisdom of the right people along my path. And knowing that someone is always with me in a good way has more to do with me and less to do with the person saying that phrase. There is something selfless about the person saying it. And the relationship expressed in this is very different compared to the person whose heart I am in or who, possibly, actually wants me to follow his/her flow (?). My deceased grandparents are always with me, or so I was told as a child. That is good to know. My aunt just reinforced this in her recently published book. So why shouldn't others be able to do the same? My families and my friends in Australia, Germany, India, Ghana and elsewhere do. Everything is connected to everything and everyone is connected to everyone. Isn't that beautiful, comforting and reassuring?

Cape Coast, Ghana

The last time I heard the phrase "I will always be with you no matter where you are" was from a Rastafarian dancer and musician in Ghana last year on my last night in Cape Coast, Fante Land, on the beach. He is a Ga from Accra and left his parents to follow his calling, his passion. That is dancing, making music and living with the other Rastafarians. The weeks before we had very interesting conversations about life, spirituality, people, meditation, listened to music and danced on this very beach. The beach is right next to Cape Coast Castle.

Again, a very impressive place of contradictions and ambiguities. Rastafari dancers and drummers meditating or giving classes to tourists during the day and playing music for a living in the evening. Street artists selling their works, tourists enjoying the sun, the sea and life. And a place where water and Christianity had a sad historical interaction.

On the coast of Ghana there are several forts or so-called "castles" where the Europeans captured and enslaved the Ghanaian and West African population during the colonial period.

Those who survived the several months of captivity were taken by ship to the Americas and Europe.

The feelings I had when visiting the "Castles" were similar to those I had when visiting concentration camps in Europe.

Each time it took me hours or days to calm down and process the experience. And the people with whom I communicated virtually or in person on those days can certainly attest that I was not "master of my emotions." I had important realizations and insights nevertheless - or maybe exactly because of that?

An important part of these "castles" was always the chapel. The chapel directly above the dungeons. And the guided tours were visited by pilgrims from the USA who were searching for their roots and walking in the footsteps of their ancestors, but also by tourists from European and African countries. I remember well a Christian man from Ghana who simply could not understand how the Church could be present in a place of such horror and tragedy. The only explanation he had was that "the devil" must be responsible. Our tour guide did his utmost to emphasize that "the devil" could not be held responsible for everything bad in this world. That the "castles" are there as memorials of history. As memorials and warning signs of what terrible things our species is capable of, and as warning signs that slavery and torture are not just history, but are happening today; every day. And that we as humans have a responsibility to fight it wherever we can.

Despite the many sadly touching places and stories, I found in Ghana a sense of inner peace and home. And it was there in Ghana, on the Atlantic Ocean, that I made another life-changing decision. I decided to make my wish come true and not to found "just another German/ European NGO in Ghana", but to found a non-profit organization with realistic projects coming from the local people themselves. Hereby I wanted to do my part to connect the worlds that are open to it in a good and healthy way and to support the people to create their own healthy world. So the igdra space got a clearer outline here. And on top of that, I myself also have the chance to let off steam artistically and creatively 😉.

On Temples and Churches

Cape Coast (Ghana) and Varanasi (India) have another interesting aspect in common. Just as India has many Hindu temples and other religious sites from ancient and modern times, gods and rituals that are deeply rooted in geography and traditions, Ghana has many different churches and mosques lining the streets. One of the questions people ask in Ghana when they meet you is, "Which church do you go to?". At the same time, there are traditional priests and healers practicing their rituals. People can go to them with their concerns, and the priests work with them to heal and help. So syncretism exists wherever we humans live. I too was offered to participate in such a ritual for my Ghanaian name, but I politely declined. Maybe because I was still a little disappointed by the old Sicilian woman who had read me the tarot cards a year before, and whose readings were ultimately based on statements she had been told about me, after all? 🤔

Back to the Flow

One of the helpful people mentioned above, recommended that I learn more about the teachings of Thomas Hübl last year. But I was still busy closing private chapters and making new plans for life-changing actions. This year, another person also recommended Thomas Hübl to me. And now I devoted myself to his texts and courses. In Thomas Hübl's course "The Art of Transparent Communication" I heard a lot of what I had already dealt with and read, researched and discussed before. And of course, as I went through life and Thomas' virtual lessons, I learned more about how we can evolve personally and how we can find ways to connect worlds to create a better way of life for all of us. And in Thomas' course I felt an inner resonance, calmness and a sense of agreement with my interpretation of the phrase "go with the flow."

Thomas Hübl ends his course with the statement that I would like to reproduce as follows: many people simply let themselves drift in the sense that "life happens to them like a theatre play." They are very passive and purely reactive. "That's not what we want," he says. "We're more like the directors" who actively participate and help shape life. We want to live life consciously, to be our own river and to meet others in a way that two rivers meet and flow together. They flow together, exchanging water, molecules and all that they are, and eventually sooner or later they separate again or turn into a lake or the sea.

I like this statement very much because it describes exactly what my understanding of "life in flow" means in a good and healthy way. It describes our being and communication with our inner world and the outer world as a dance with life, the people we encounter, and thus ultimately, describes it like the Neoplatonists as a "dance around the Absolute." I am glad that swimming and dancing are firmly part of my life again.

A last anecdote

Thomas Hübl's metaphor also reminded me of a work experience. It was during my first years in project and communication management when I dared to indulge my penchant for pathos - which all readers should have noticed by now 😉 - and paraphrase a sentence from a song by Chris De Burgh to visualize the cultural change process that lay ahead of the company. The lines read, "Just like every drop of rain many drops can someday make a river. And many rivers go down to the sea and the sea rolls on forever. "

The end

Today I have given you some insights into the importance of water in my life. I shared some rituals and metaphors around water and some important decisions and experiences around water in the countries of our founding team, India, Ghana and Germany. And I gave a few hints that I not only have experience in change management for others, but have been going through my own personal major transformation processes over the last few years. Just as in 2019, a nurse gave me as an assignment, "Now you are the change manager for your own life." And I am grateful for all who have supported me in this process.

I wish you all a happy Easter and maybe you will find your own (water) ritual that gives you the chance for a new start and for finding your own flow, so you can practice being yourself and unleashing your own creativity.

All the best!


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