“Good morning everyone. On behalf of the captain and the crew I would like to welcome you all on board of our flight 714 from Frankfurt to Madrid…” The friendly voice of the flight attendant introduced us to the safety regulations on the plane. As requested I put my seat upright and buckled my seat belt. I looked out of the window where the runway seemed to move backwards at a slow pace. I heard the friendly voice say “In case of loss of air pressure in the cabin, oxygen masks will fall from an opening above your seat. You can adjust the mask to fit by using the elastic strap. Press the mask tightly to your face and breathe deeply and calmly. Travellers with small children: Please put your mask on first, then that of your child.” I looked at the seat next to me where my two year old girl sat nestled into her blanket, and I wondered: “Would I follow these instructions?”
famous trombone player was asked about the secret of his art. He answered: “You not only hear the breath that you use, but also the one you retain.”
I was still a child. But even if I had been older, I would not have been able to say how the carp might have explained his peculiar journey. Some friends of mine had played a trick on him. They secretly fished him out of his pond by night with a net. They carried him in a bucket for kilometers through forest and field. The swimming pool in my parents’ garden was supposed to be his new home. I must admit: we were pretty astonished when we saw him swimming his rounds in the pool water.
It was in September. The water was no longer chlorinated. There was no longer much competition between fish and man, and so Ludwig, as we named him, was allowed to stay for the time being. Winter came, and with it a thick layer of ice. But with the coming of spring it was time to change the water. Ludwig had survived the winter well. The family council decided to bring him home. Once again, Ludwig was loaded into a bucket. An empty paint bucket was the biggest suitable container we found. We brought him through the forest and fields back to his friends and family. Ludwig turned his circles in the bucket. Pretty small circles, because Ludwig had grown over the winter, and an old paint bucket is no mansion for such a carp. Aside from that, he sloshed out more than half the water along the way. But finally we were there. A swing of the bucket and Ludwig landed again in his pond with his old acquaintances. What he did then surprised us: Ludwig swam his rounds there, indeed so, as if he found himself not in his pond, but in a small bucket. He swam six or seven circles, with a circumference of not even half a metre. Then the circles became a spiral, first narrow, then wider and wider. Finally Ludwig realised where he was. In one long, straight line, he shot out of his bucket carousel.
There are people who can listen well. And there are others who can observe well. I knew a man once who could do both really well. More than anything else, he was a good empathizer.
When he met another person, in thought or in action he took on his behavior. He looked as the other did, he breathed in and out like him, he moved like the other, and also took on his voice. He felt how a man felt, when he expressed himself and moved in such a way, as the one he met. Then he often asked himself, how a bridge could be created which led away from this experience to another, to a much more powerful, free, and liberated existence.
This man understood many languages. He not only understood them but he spoke them too, at least when he wanted to. Sometimes he spoke the language of an offended person who kept a tear in his voice and held his left hand at his throat, who rubbed his eye after a painful word and coughed at upsetting words. Sometimes he spoke the language of a melancholic person who breathed as if drawing deep breath caused him pain, who spoke of all the things which are lacking, and who almost unnoticeably and yet persistently, shook his head from side to side. He spoke the language of an angry person whose jaw is as hard as a fist, and in between whose shoulderblades one could effortlessly crack nuts. He spoke the language of a sick person, to whom all talk of health seemed disrespectful towards his suffering, and the language of one racked with pain who, for a long time, had no longer searched for words for joy and desire, enjoyment and well-being. He knew the languages of the body, the voice and the breath, and also the ones of the organs, which indeed have their own words. From time to time the empathizer also told a story to the people who came to him. And such a story began, without fail, in the language of those with whom he spoke.While the empathizer spoke in the language of the stricken, flowing from his mouth came the air of the daring. The language of one who no longer cared became the language of one who is propelled by curiosity, and the expression of the suffering became the gesture of the calm and relaxed, who, minute by minute, forgets his pain. And the strange thing was that the people who listened to these stories changed with them. Sometimes this happened secretly and unnoticeably, and sometimes surprisingly, yet the changes had been long on the horizon. Such a story often became a bridge, widely stretched from the suffering of the people to their longed for goal. For the people around him it was a miracle – he simply called it a transformation. This transformation succeeded because the empathizer always secured the first pillar of the bridge near the cliff of their suffering – and never forgot the second pillar of the bridge on the side of desire.
A man travelled across a desert. All around him there was only sand, stones and rocks, the luminous blue sky, and above him the glowing hot sun. Halfway it so happened that he wanted to have a rest and he looked around for a suitable place. A little further away from the path he found an overhanging rock which could offer him shade for the duration of his rest.The man went to the spot. When he arrived, he saw something unusual. In the shade of this rock, there actually grew a blade of grass.
“Well, well, well, where do you come from?”, asked the man, and then laughed at himself: “In my loneliness, I’m already talking to the grass. It would be better if I were to investigate where the blade of grass comes from”. He pulled the little plant out of the sand and laid it carefully to the side. Then he dug deeper and deeper. Although he didn’t exactly hit a bubbling well, the earth here was truly somewhat damp. As the man continued on his way, he did not forget to place the blade of grass in the damp earth again. He built a small wall in front of it with a couple of stones to protect the plant from drying out through the hot desert wind. Then he went on his way.
On his way back he passed the spot again. Naturally he looked to see if his plant still lived. He was very happy: a proper little tuft of grass had grown out of the blade. The man dug a little deeper in the earth and pushed it in even damper earth. With a scarf, two poles and a pair of ties, which he had taken with him for the return journey, he improved the wind-protection for his plant.
Many years later, a friend of this man had to travel across the same desert. The man bade his friend: “Take a look and see what has become of my plant – whether it is still there!” The friend promised he would. When he returned from the journey he reported: “A small meadow has grown out of your blade of grass. Other travellers have discovered the spot. They have made the wall bigger and placed more poles with scarves there. Someone has dug a well there and covered it with a piece of leather. A beautiful fig tree is growing next to the well. A cricket chirps in its leaves.”