Here is a wonderful letter from Johannes about his experience during this summer’s School at Bad Neuenahr and after. Originally published in last month’s Parlor, it is worth reading again and again. Thank you, Johannes!
Sorry, that my English is so bad. Therefore I have to write in German. I hope, there is someone who can translate it for you.
[The rest of the letter is in German and has been translated (with some polishing by Stephen) by Gabriele Brunner, who does such an excellent job translating my words at the School for The Work in Germany. I highly recommend her. Her email address is gabribrunner [at] yahoo.de.]
I was a participant at the last School and am still full of gratitude for this great experience. I have invested a lot in my process of personal growth and spiritual development up to now, but what you gave me in the School certainly made it the best and most effective thing I have ever done. I got exactly the right tools for the rest of my life and I have the option now to explore to the depths the question “Who am I without my story?” and to find peace within myself.
My father was a Protestant minister like almost all my ancestors back to the seventeenth century. He was a man who was very torn inside, who could find no peace in God, but who fought as a warrior of faith against the evil world and wanted to convert it to his faith.
I was given my first name in honour of an eighteenth-century theologian who had written a catechism. I recently looked at the old book and discovered that, funnily enough, the theologians of the time did The Work in their own way to provide believers with answers to their religious questions. After each religious belief is stated, there is the question: “How can I know that this is true?” For example: “God created the world—How can I know that this is true?” And then comes the explanation.
When we did the exercise about the worst stories that had happened to us, I was dealing with my family history, the whole terrifying tradition of Christianity, all these warriors of faith and desperate God-seekers and how I ought to hold that. When I deleted the untrue thoughts from the story, I distilled it down to this: “Johannes Quistorp—the story of a family. His great-grandfather was manic-depressive, and he named his son Gottfried (peace in God). This man also named his first son Gottfried, and this Gottfried died at the age of eighteen. His second son (my father) was manic-depressive and gave his son the middle name of Gottfried name in memory of his brother. This Johannes-Gottfried (me) left the church, had himself sterilized and is doing The Work now. He is beginning like a child, over and over again, to find his peace in “God.”
I have to report another beautiful experience that happened during the School. I was in my room, still lying in bed when my roommate, Jim, came out of the bathroom and said something I misunderstood because my English is so bad. He said, “It’s all yours.” And my very first thought was: God shows Adam the Garden of Eden and says to him, “It’s all yours.”
During the morning walk, in the “Naming the World” exercise, I heard over and over again a voice within me saying, “It’s all yours.” It also crossed my mind that God had added a but: “But you may not eat from the Tree of Knowledge.” I had the feeling that once I had named the world with its original names, I had spat out the apple of the Tree of Knowledge.
Then, at breakfast, when I wanted to eat an apple I looked at the apple and looked at the world and said to myself, “It’s all yours.” I see the apple, I see the world and (!) I bite into the apple. I am no longer in the Garden of Eden, I have fallen into duality and this is why both are there: “It’s all yours” and the bite into the apple of knowledge—they’re equal and there are always both of them. I am a human being, who knows about the world and knows about where I come from, where my home is.
On another morning walk I had another exciting experience. We were walking down a street lined with trees, on the left and on the right, and after a while, when I looked exactly and saw “literally” what was happening, the truth was that it was not I who was walking down the street but the trees that were coming toward me, passing me and disappearing behind me: in other words, the world was passing through me and I was always exactly where I was. When I looked through the trees up to the sky the truth was that the trees were passing me as the movement happened, but the sky, just like me, always stayed in the same place. I am always connected to the sky when I am not hurrying through the world in search of some kind of experience, when I really am where I am.
The next morning, while we were walking in the woods, single file in a long line, I had the same perception and simultaneously felt deeply connected to the whole School family. You can also perceive the same thing when you drive your car in the countryside. The landscape comes toward you, passes you by and disappears in the rear view mirror, but I am in my auto (which literally translated means “self”), I always stay in my “auto,” in my self, and I am actually not moving.
During the next morning walk, I closed my eyes again and again in between naming things, to collect myself and to see the world with my inner vision. This resulted in the following rhythm: 2 steps—open eyes—breathe in / take in, 2 steps—close eyes—breathe out / give away—or vice versa. Or 4 steps—close eyes—breathe in and out, 4 steps—open eyes—breathe in an out, so that in the end the inner and outer vision, taking and giving, were one and there was no longer any difference between them.
Finally I would like to tell you about my experience sitting on a bench in Cologne. I closed my eyes, and in the beginning I was still identifying what I heard. Sometimes there were so many noises that I was not able to differentiate them: there was just space, listening and naming. Everything goes straight through me and I can collect myself. My ears turn more and more toward the inside and I become very vast. I hear/feel my heartbeat and I am all ears: I become one big ear. I am so open that even when there is a sudden loud noise, I notice, very precisely, that nothing contracts within me. At that moment an expression by the great German poet Rilke came to my mind—Rilke had named the experience so strikingly, with a single (!) word that is not a metaphor, but reality. He called it “worldinnerspace” – a true primal word for this experience.
Later I am standing at a spot close to the Rhine. I close my eyes again and listen to my heartbeat and feel that I am the center of my world. Many different sounds are coming from all sides. At first my closed eyes are still going in the direction where the sounds are coming from, but then they give in: the things outside fall into the inner world and pass through me as if there were no me at all. Outside and inside become transparent. The more I enter the receptive, the more subtly and clearly I can let everything through. All over my body I feel my heartbeat, every single heartbeat very precisely, then I open my eyes very slowly, slowly let my gaze go wherever it wants to go, always in contact with my heartbeat. And I see my heartbeat: the whole world moves in the rhythm of my heart. In the seeing I feel my heartbeat, each heartbeat, wordless seeing, without meaning. Moment by moment. When I look and feel my heartbeat, my inner world and the outer world remain directly connected with each other.
In front of the cathedral, in the midst of the many people, I stood again with closed eyes, and felt my heartbeat inside me. And there was a vast, open space and the world was flowing right through me. I have been living in and around Cologne for fourteen years, but in all these years I never perceived as much of the city as during these four hours. I was never so present in the city – and at the same time I saw nothing of Cologne: at the moment of the experience there was no Cologne, no city, no place. I was just in the world.
When I left Bad Neuenahr on the train and had to show my train ticket, I reached into my pocket and I accidentally gave the conductor the little yellow card with the four questions. I had to laugh out loud. That’s how I took The Work into my everyday life right away.
I had seven dreams the week after, in which I did The Work, three of them in one night. Usually I was not able to go back to sleep afterward because I was so moved by them. In one of the dreams I was in a big group and did The Work with two people. The result at the end was: I can honestly see the way it is; I can honestly say the way it is; I can honestly leave it the way it is – no more and no less. In one of the dreams I did The Work on three issues and each time I emptied myself even more, layer after layer, until only an outer contour of myself was left and the inside was nothing but radiant emptiness. And when this image came up, I knew that I had succeeded in the real turnaround: I am You and You are Me. I am just amazed and I am full of gratitude for how much I have obviously integrated The Work inside me already.
Many many thanks to the translator for her effort, since the letter has gotten pretty long.
Dearest Katie, I hug you full of gratitude