Losing Vishal, the brightest of Ammaji’s Chefs – 5 Jun 16

Today I have to give you sad news: one of our chefs has passed away last night. His name was Vishal and he was only 25 years old. He will be dearly missed!

Vishal was one of those chefs whom we employed after having started the restaurant, when the crowd of guests was growing every day and we noticed that we needed a bigger team. He came to lead the Chinese section of our kitchen but soon we found out that he could do so much more: he helped out with continental dishes, he could fill a gap in the North Indian section, too – he was a true all-rounder!

The newly married young man proved to be a real enrichment not only in a culinary sense. He was really enthusiastic about cooking, loved what he was doing and brought a fresh and positive spirit into our kitchen! When there were new cooks or helpers, he would be the one making them feel comfortable in the team, explaining them how things worked, where ingredients were and so on.

He truly cooked with the love that we want to see in Ammaji’s kitchen and which we promise in our meals! His love for food came apparent in his new creations and his wish to have us try them at our own meals.

It was with shock that we received a phone call about ten days ago on which someone told us that Vishal had had an accident. This man had brought him to the hospital – and immediately two of our team members started from here to help. It was clear already then that it had been a serious accident.

At his fall from his motorbike Vishal had broken all three bones of one leg and both bones of the other lower leg. Miraculously he had no other injuries except for some bruises on the arm. The breaks in his bones could be fixed in two surgeries and that’s what doctors did: one day one leg, two days later the other.

All surgeries were successful, we met him before and after. The staff and also management had gone to visit him several times. He was alright, considering the circumstances, talking, even joking. We told his family that we would lend our support until he was fully fine and would come to work again. Ramona and I paid another visit to him on the day he was about to get discharged. In the evening, he was shifted by ambulance to his home.

In the evening of the next day, he had a heart attack. His family took him to the hospital but the doctors could only testify his death. It was a shock. After all surgeries, when he was only going to be recovering – and nobody knows how exactly it happened and why.

It doesn’t matter anymore either – Vishal’s shining light has left us forever. We kept the restaurant closed in condolence the next morning and midday, opening only for the evening. And whatever will be prepared in our kitchen, we will always be remembering Vishal!

Tragic Situation of Refugees in Europe – 31 Aug 15

In the past weeks, I have got a lot of news where were quite disturbing and distressing – as there are millions of people who are suffering.

Europe has been hit by a wave of refugees – one could say. One could also say that the situation in several countries has been so horribly bad for such a long time, that millions of people have lost their homes and had to flee. And now they are entering Europe after often very dangerous journeys and nearly all countries are overwhelmed with the sheer numbers. That’s how refugee homes, mobile camps, gymnasiums, town halls, old warehouses and similar places are crowded with people sleeping on camp beds. Governments are struggling to get the administration to work fast enough and get bureaucratic tasks done quickly.

Seeing the reports, reading their stories and getting to know what these people have been through, makes you feel horrible that this kind of things are possible in today’s time, in today’s world. There are families that started their way together, as a group, but have been torn apart on the way. Parents are searching their children, husbands are searching their wives. Others know already that they don’t need to search: their family members are dead.

They have walked hundreds, even thousands of miles. A lot of them have been in those horrible ships and boats trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Boats, too many of which have already sunk in the waters which means a certain death to thousands of people. Fathers have seen their daughters and sons drown, thrown overboard by the inhumane monsters that have taken horrendous sums of money to promise these people safe passage.

Facilitators, criminals exploit the last rest out of people who have already been torn apart by war and dictators in their country, by prosecution due to their religion or origin. In their hope of finding a peaceful, safe place to live, just somewhere, anywhere, they accept exploitation, beatings and finally the danger to die on the way, suffocated in the back of a truck on a European highway.

 

They climb over and under barbed wire fences to cross borders. They get onto trains without tickets. They try to illegally enter a tunnel to walk a distance of 50 kilometers under the sea. They are already illegal, they are already at the end of their strengths, they have already lost everything but their lives and, only sometimes, each other. How much worse can it get?

Oh it can! Unfortunately that has been proven as well: they reach a place where they are told to be, just to stay until the paper work is done, until they can maybe get asylum, a visa, the permission to work – and then there are people protesting in front of their temporary homes! There are those who put the houses on fire which they wanted to move in! There are those who walk through the streets, protesting against them just being there.

Seeing all of this, although from far away, makes me incredibly sad. Sad even that it has come this far! So many people’s lives have not only changed drastically, so many people’s lives have just been finished, ended! So many people suffering in a world where so many have so much more than enough!

And still there are those who write and shout insults. It is incredible to me!

At the end, however, there is still this hope, the light, a shine of positivity as well: there are others! There are people who help and do it differently! And about them, I will write tomorrow.

How Life continues even after Tragedies – 26 Oct 14

Back in Germany in the beginning winter of 2006, Yashendu and I just worked as we had done before my sister had died. Travelling from one place to the other, staying everywhere for about a week, giving workshops and individual counselling sessions. When something tragic happens in life, you have to go on but tragedies do change life – and you notice that in your every day’s work as well.

We travelled, together with our Indian flute player, to many different towns in Europe. We were horribly sad but even in such a state of mind, we connected with people, did our workshops, smiled and shared. When you occupy your mind with something else than your grief, it is easier not to think of it, not to fall back into the sadness and to just react, think and talk as you usually would. During the individual counselling sessions however, I was reminded of my sister many times.

People come to me to share their troubles and many times those are emotional. When a woman came to me in that time and told me that her husband had passed away, how could I not think of my sister? I shared my own grief with her. Together we just sat for a while, feeling the love for the one who had left and sharing the feeling of missing a loved one in daily life. In the end, I told her we had to go on and we looked at each other, knowing that we both would.

Another time, a young woman came and told me that she had a fight with her brother. So bad that she had finished all contact with him. She told me in tears that she loved him but also felt that she never wanted to see him again, feeling very conflicted in those emotions. I could not help but be glad that my sister and I had never had such a fight. I reminded this woman of the fact that life can be very short. She loved him and knowing this, she should not let this fight be the last thing that had happened in between the two of them. Don’t end it all with a fight – you never know about tomorrow!

Several times I cried with friends who had known her. We remembered her and I felt support once more from those who love me.

Life really moved on and at the same time, Para remained with me and no day went by that I didn’t think of her.

There are no Words to describe the Grief for a loved one – 5 Oct 14

Last Sunday I told you how my sister died on 18th September 2006. The days after her death went by in a blur. I don’t exactly remember what happened when but what I do remember is the extreme sadness of that time.

What were we doing at home, after her death? We actually had nothing to do. We just held onto each other, supporting each other in our grief. Naniji had lost a granddaughter. Babbaji and Ammaji had lost their only daughter. The three of us had lost our sister.

In the beginning, I was still in full shock. I didn’t cry. I held my crying mother in my arms, was as sad and grief-stricken as I have ever been in my life but I couldn’t cry. We talked about Para and thought of a future without her which looked grey, sad and lonely. Everyone cried – but I couldn’t.

I believe the shock had really shaken my mind. I never needed much sleep but in those days, I slept extremely badly. One morning after such a night, I came out of the cave in a kind of half-awake state, a ridiculous idea on my mind which in that moment seemed the solution to everything. When I saw Yashendu, I told him to urgently switch on the computer: we would search for her on Google! That was it, she was not gone, we would find her! I couldn’t accept the bitter truth, couldn’t face reality.

Many people came by in the days after Para’s death. Even more people, friends from all over the world, sent emails, messages or phoned to show their support and send their condolence. With every mail, every word about her, remembering times together or just trying to give mental support, I felt that not only I and not only my family had lost a wonderful person. No, the world had lost one. She was too young, she would have seen so much of the world and with her heart would have moved so many others!

A dear friend, with whom Para was going to stay as well after landing in Germany, even took a flight and came to the Ashram. She joined us, just to be with us in grieving for my sister.

Finally however the point came when I could release. I started crying and cried until there were no tears anymore. It was a relief to let it out – but it didn’t ease the sadness a bit. Nothing would ever be able to fill this space that she had left behind.

The worst Time of my Life: when I lost my Sister – 28 Sep 14

In September 2006, after a wonderful time with my family in Vrindavan, I took my flight to South Africa. It should be a short stay, followed by the worst time of my life until today.

I was working like I did in any other place, giving private sessions, workshops and lectures. After a few days, on 18th September 2006, I got a phone call in the early morning. It was my younger brother Yashendu, calling me from Germany. With a choked voice and under tears he gave me the most horrible news a brother will ever have to hear: our sister had died in a car accident.

Purnendu and Para had been on the way to the airport that night. Para was supposed to fly to Germany where she was going to meet Yashendu and later I would join them. Her second journey to Germany.

But now, she was dead. They had had an accident. Purnendu was in hospital. Yashendu said he was going to book a flight now.

My hands and legs were shaking. I was sweating and for a few minutes, it was difficult to think anything. Then I phoned our father and told him I would come immediately.

The next flight to Delhi was via Dubai. I bought the ticket and rushed to the airport. I cannot describe my feelings. Never before or after have I felt this shock, this pain, the disbelief and then again pain when reality hit me again. I didn’t cry a single tear. Somehow I managed to pass these hours, the most difficult flight I have ever had.

I landed in morning time and reached the hospital where my parents and Yashendu were waiting for me. Purnendu was in the hospital room, his leg broken and in plaster. Apart from that, he was fine. A few scratches, a small bandage here or there. He had been sleeping before the crash and had been unconscious after. He had woken up in hospital. I fulfilled the difficult task of telling him that Para was no more.

As soon as Purnendu was discharged, we took Para’s body from the hospital and took off towards Vrindavan. On the way, we made phone calls to prepare the funeral. We didn’t want to wait a minute longer than necessary. Everyone was crying, Ammaji was destroyed over the death of her daughter and we still had to tell our grandmother who was waiting at home, not knowing of the extent of the tragedy.

At the Ashram, people had started the preparations for the funeral. From this, Naniji had understood that the worst had happened. It were the darkest hours for our family.

Everyone was crying but I didn’t find time or space for tears. It seemed as though my mind had not yet arrived to accepting what had happened. I once even lifted the cloth up and looked at her face, as if I could not believe this had really happened. It was her.

We brought her body to the funeral place, Purnendu staying at home because of his broken leg. I have seen death before and after but until today, this remains the most horrible moment of my life: when we put fire on the wood beneath my sister’s body. She was gone.

How to deal with Grief – just never suppress it! – 12 Dec 13

I yesterday told you that I believe religious philosophies do not help at all when someone is in grief about the loss of a loved one. I told you that you just have to accept it. Of course that is the reality but there are some stages to it and I would like to tell you from my own experience how I think that process looks like.

First of all, there is a time of shock. Of course the depth and length of this shock depends very much on the question whether it was an expected or unexpected death and how close you were to the deceased.

If I speak of myself, it was one week in the case of my younger sister, who died in a car accident in 2006, while I was not even in India. For a complete week, I was like a madman, not able to accept what had happened. I did not cry and couldn’t let it out. One morning I got up and told my younger brother he should search for her on Google, we would find her there, she would be there! I was simply in denial of reality. One day however, reality reached me and I could finally cry.

After Ammaji died with all of us around her, in spite of our effort to take her to the hospital, I felt like a stone again. Since the moment we knew that she had left us forever until her cremation was over, no tears reached my eyes. Only when we came back to the Ashram, an empty Ashram without my mother in there, grief hit me and I cried. We all cried.

This is, I believe, the next step, and a very important one, too. You need to let the grief take over. Allow the sadness to pour out of you, in the form of tears and sobs, let your crying shake you. It is necessary to go through this and to not hold your emotions back!

I know that many people don’t let this step happen properly. Whether it is their own nature or their culture, they keep up that wall of stone around their heart and just don’t let the pain get out. They suppress, something which is never good. You have to allow it for it to pass. You can do it alone in your room but I tell you, nobody will judge you for those tears! Sharing the grief with someone else will not only give you faster relief but it will eternally connect you with this other person!

Life will go on. You will need to adjust and maybe that gap that this person left will never be filled. For a time I was not able to look at my sister’s pictures at all. Even with Ammaji’s pictures it was hard. But I believe it is healthy to take them out after some time and revive the beautiful memories of an earlier time.

There may be people who in our situation would never again eat Gakadiya (bread on open coal fire) or Gajar ka Halwa (a sweet carrot dish) again – because our mother made the best of the world and we only ever ate it from her hands. We know how to prepare it though and we have staff who learned from her, so we cook and eat. While we eat, we remember the taste of Gakadiya and Gajar ka Halwa made by her hands and then maybe shed a tear or two together or just eat together in memory of her love.

Life goes on and we go on along with it. We keep the memories in our hearts and feel the love. Don’t try to ban the memories from your heart. Live them, love them and feel how they bring that person very close to you again, in your heart.

Death of a loved one – where religious Philosophies fail – 11 Dec 13

Of course after Ammaji’s death I was contemplating ways to deal with grief, back then and also now, looking back on the time one year ago. What can you do for your emotions when a loved person dies and thus leaves your life forever?

For some people, the death of that loved one comes as a shock, for example due to a heart attack, like in Ammaji’s case, or an accident, as my sister passed away in 2006. For other people’s deaths you are as prepared as you can be – the person has been ill for a long time, has already suffered for months or years or is simply very old, an age when death can come any day and any second.

It doesn’t matter whether it is a surprising or an expected end to life, sadness comes along with it and sometimes that grief can be overwhelming. What to do?

If you look at different religions, you can see different approaches for trying to console the grieving ones. Some religions will tell you not to be sad because the one who passed away was a good person full of virtues, so his or her afterlife will be beautiful as well. The deceased has reached heaven until now and is sitting in God’s arms. He or she has joined those family members and friends who left this world earlier. They all are united and happily waiting for you.

Another concept is the one of the body only being a temporary form, like a vehicle that was now deposited of. The soul is not dead, it is still around, there with you, ready to comfort you and help you in your life. Some religions claim that this soul will one day find another body and thus be reborn. So you don’t need to be sad, he or she will join you on earth soon again.

The reality is however that in this situation, you can come with any wise philosophy but the grieving person will just see one thing: this loved person is not there anymore. Such wisdom is always good for another person but once you are yourself in this situation, you know that this all doesn’t help. You imagine what would be if this person had not died, how you would laugh, play, enjoy and be together. Any explanation is only an illusion. My experience is that there is no comfort in the philosophies of religion – and while people know this, they still offer them to grieving ones in an attempt to make a difference.

But it doesn’t. There is just this one fact that needs to be accepted first: this loved person is gone forever. It is irreversible, the one thing you can never change. You just have to accept it. Keep the memories and love in your heart – that will remain with you.

One Year without Ammaji – 10 Dec 13

So today is the first anniversary of Ammaji’s death. It has been one year but we all remember the night and day of her passing as if it was just yesterday. A full year has passed but still we are thinking of her daily and are missing her very much.

For a long time, the pain was too fresh for us to put up any picture of Ammaji. I even avoided looking at her photos on the computer, especially when Apra was close-by. Apra was missing her and we had the feeling that whenever she saw a picture, she was sad as well, not able to understand why Ammaji is no more with her. On this Diwali however, we had a big picture developed and hung it on the wall in Babbaji’s room.

Babbaji tells that now he says good morning to her and good night to her by looking at her picture. Her place on his bed remains empty and we all can just imagine his grief for losing the woman he loved and had by his side for fifty years.

All our lives have changed after the 10th December 2012. The whole Ashram has changed. The kitchen was her empire and it lost its empress. Many of our staff members are the same and they have been trained by her but we still notice that things are not going as smoothly as they should. Everything is going on, nothing stops but there are these two hands missing. Food tastes good but it doesn’t have Ammaji’s love in it.

It cannot be the same taste and that’s how the memories of her loving preparation and the pride of presenting a new dish or one of her specialties have often brought tears during food time. At the same time however we are cooking, mixing spices, trying new recipes and thinking of her joy in the kitchen, imagining how it would be if she was still there. How she would have ideas and transform them into delicious creations. How she would give us ideas of putting more of one or the other spice. How she would teach our little Apra to roll rotis or stir the vegetables.

Ammaji’s vegetable garden has gone with her. None of us has the patience or dedication that she had for growing those plants and nobody wants to step into this small fenced area of our garden, remembering her pride with which she brought out fenugreek, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplants and so much more.

There are so many more memories, thoughts, feelings and emotions and it all just comes to this conclusion: we are missing our mother, wife, daughter, mother-in-law and grandmother. But with the joy of raising Apra, also our world continues to turn as we think of Ammaji with love every single day.

A silent Comfort during Times of Grief – 7 Jul 13

After the Radhashtami celebrations in 2005, I left India again to go on another tour in Europe. I had several stations again and of course came back to Germany as well. During this trip however I decided that I wanted to spend some time in silence. I had done this before and it was always a nice experience for me.

I was actually not going to spend the whole trip in silence. Not even full days. I wanted to have a set time period of some hours, six or eight, I don’t remember exactly, during which I wouldn’t need to talk. I would otherwise just do whatever I was regularly doing and simply not talk. I told this to my organizers and although it was something new for them, they understood why I wanted to do it. Just withdraw my senses and not spend much energy on talking.

So I kept my silence for certain times and everybody accepted it. People actually appreciated this, too, and I think several people tried the same way of retreat for themselves, too, after seeing me do it. In that time I did not communicate in any form except with the eyes. I did not make signs and I did not write – that would not have had the desired effect. I did not communicate in any way.

I don’t know how it came then, on a day like every other, I saw by chance that my phone was blinking. It had received a message. I picked it up and read a sad SMS: my friend of several years, my first German friend, the doctor from Luneburg told me in short words that his father had expired.

Of course it made me sad to hear about the sadness that my friend must be feeling. I was in Stuttgart, a few hundred kilometers away but I knew that I would meet him in a few weeks, when I would come to Luneburg. For now however I wanted to send him a sign of comfort.

I sent him a blank message back.

My friend knew that I was spending my days in silence. He was sitting in grief in front of the dead body of his father, my message came and he looked at it, probably expecting the usual words of comfort. Blank space. Silence. A hug, love, everything expressed through some blank space. In spite of the place and situation he was in, he had to smile. ‘Only Balendu can do that!’ he thought – something that he still tells me today when we talk about that day.

The Irish and the Alcohol – seeing a common Stereotype confirmed – 19 May 13

I told you that on my trips to Ireland, for example in summer 2005, I found the Irish in general to be very jolly, happy and absolutely not shy. I did notice something though, which you could call the confirmation of a prejudice. A stereotype image of the Irish man is that he drinks. A lot.

I had lots of individual sessions when I was there and many people, as usual, came to tell me about their problems. These were usually really spread very widely about everything that is going on in life. People had relationship issues, troubles with their emotions, pains and illnesses, mental difficulties, sadness or restlessness, were looking for inner peace, strength or were trying to leave an addiction. In my sessions in Ireland it was a noticeably big amount of people whose problems were related in one way or the other to alcohol.

There was a man who had fallen into deep depression. He told me that it all started when his girlfriend left him. He was sad and decided to have a glass with a friend. He felt better, be that through the alcohol or the company of his friend. Whatever helped him once, he tried the next day, too. The alcohol seemed to reduce the pain and let him think of other things – or nothing at all. He slowly started drinking more and more and at some point it obviously stopped giving him good feelings but made him moody and feel bad. He underwent an addiction therapy and left the alcohol – but was still not stable in his mood.

A woman told me that she had been drinking regularly for such a long time that she had serious health problems. She had gained a lot of weight, which she told me was only due to alcohol, and doctors had told her to stop immediately if she wanted to save her liver. She was addicted though and had big problems finding the strength to quit.

Another man told me in tears how much grief alcohol has caused in his life and it was horrible to listen to the pain in his voice. One of his best friends had been at a party with him and the whole group of friends were drinking, as usual. He stayed overnight, knocked out on the sofa but his friends decided to drive home. It was raining, there was a turn and they could not keep the car on the slippery road. Two of them died. Years later, his wife is on her way home from work. A drunk driver hits her car. She never made it back home.

Nevertheless, people kept telling me, young people seemed to drink even more than the generations before them. Binge drinking, pouring alcohol into their bodies until they wake up in the hospitals. Alcohol the biggest danger out on the road and the reason for most people’s illnesses and grief.

I had not been aware that this image of the Irish was so true. Of course, there are also people who don’t drink and I guess that I met a lot of them, working in the spiritual scene where people are more aware of their bodies and the bad effects of such drugs. Still however I heard a lot, really a lot of stories and it made me sad.

I hope not only the Irish but people all over the world will understand some day that alcohol is dangerous.