Don’t take yourself too seriously!

It was time again: another week in the Shaolin Monastery in Otterberg. My second tour there, to the place that had so impressed and inspired me last summer. So I wanted to dive into the world of silence for a second time. Quiet and yet not quiet. A world that feels like it’s working at the core of being human. No frills, no distractions. Without having to explain or justify yourself. Already in the last year I found it remarkable when egos wanted to rear up and gently evaporated into „nothing“, because there was nothing and no-one available to receive them. Lessons that go without words but are understood. Of everyone. If not the first time, then the second or third time.

The Shifus, Novices, Disciples – the entire „permanent staff“ of the monastery are patient and loving. According to the motto: „You are important – but don’t take yourself so seriously“. During the days in the monastery it becomes clear that life does not play a role here, with the urge for attention, for recognition, for having to explain oneself. And you might notice, basically without all this, it gives you a much more relaxed life – especially  outside the monastery walls. The daily hunt for profiling and the satisfaction of the insatiable needs of the ego structure are so tiring, so exhausting and make us sick. On a mental as well as on a physical level.

The joint was to blame


At around 12:00 p.m. I pulled my Toyota into the monastery parking lot. I wasn’t the first to arrive, I was excited to meet my temporary „brothers and sisters“. Kati and her travel companion were already there. Then a participant came along who had made the long journey from the USA to Otterberg. Three long days of travel behind her.

A little later they all trundled in. From France, Luxembourg, Holland, Belgium and of course from all regions of Germany. I was amazed at the number of young participants. The youngest just 14 years old.
I wondered whether the youngsters were all here voluntarily, or whether the „educational“ ambitions of the legal guardians might have played a role?! One thing was clear: the coming days will be anything but a „5-star wellness week“.
When I asked questions later, it turned out that the martial arts and the life of the monks in particular were of great interest.
Only one said with a smiling grin: „My mother caught me smoking weed. That’s why I’m here. But I think it’s great. Exhausting, but great!“

We were then picked up from the parking lot at exactly 1 p.m. and assigned to the appropriate rooms. Afterwards there was a little something to strengthen from the kitchen, words of welcome and a few clear and unambiguous words about behavior and common interaction within the monastery community.

The arena“! The fight for survival.

Then the first training followed: Running! Of course. What else!?

After a small but hilly lap, there were a few more mountain sprints. I hate sprints.

Then directly in the „Arena“, the training ground, which I have named Arena because it reminds me of the gladiatorial arenas of ancient Rome. OK. A bit far fetched, but if you transfer the battle of the egos – who are fighting for mere survival – to this sandy place, it fits quite well again…I think!

This is where inner and outer dramas take place over the next few days. And if you manage not to get caught up in the drama of your mind, you will find peace and no longer struggle with yourself. That’s part of the exercise. Probably the more important part of this exercise!?

„Don’t get caught up in the dramas of your mind!“    Shifu Shi Heng Yi

The main attraction of this afternoon is a training session with Shifu Shi Heng Yi. However, he doesn’t leave us floating on the „cloud of devotion and infatuation“ for too long, as his program throws most of us rock-hard back to reality. No time for „groupie – romance“. It hurts. Body pain! Body tremors. Nobody wants to show weakness in front of the master. Or is it just me? The comfort zone is miles behind. The dramas in the mind go full program. The Shifu „cracks“ us into „Push Ups“…on our fists. For hours… at least it feels like that. The small stones on the sandy bottom dig into our fingers. Ouch! That hurts! Wimp! What are the others doing? Can’t I cheat without being noticed? Pah…I’m doing the best I can and a little more. Then I switch to the palms. The dramas in the mind don’t matter anymore anyway. Mind is „one-pointed“. There is no Shifu, no other, no I…. just something like a shaky, groaning, painful „being aware“.

The first day ends as it ends here every day. After dinner there is a Buddhist-Taoist-Confucian – Question/Answer Time. We have the chance to ask the abbot of the monastery questions about these 3 overarching themes. Gladly in connection with everyday life situations. This is followed by a Buddhist ceremony.

Breakfast – Lunch – Dinner

In the monastery in Otterberg people eat in silence. This is how it is done in all monasteries in the world. This should help to accept the food offered to us consciously and with gratitude. Something we have lost in everyday life. We often swallow the food without actually being „there“. Usually, all we care about is eliminating a feeling of hunger.

The „Arena“: the ego as a gladiator!

The next morning, one thing cannot be denied in its unambiguousness: sore muscles. But nobody really talks about it. Why should one anyway!?

After meditation in the Buddha Hall, breakfast is served. Then we participants pant behind the novices and disciples through the forest over hill and dale. There is still some snow in the shady passages and across the paths of the forest obstacles in the form of broken trees ensure acrobatic running fun. In the last week it snowed heavily here and impressive storms flattened many pot-bellied trunk trees with their force.

Back on the monastery grounds, it’s back to the „Arena“. During the 2-minute break, you can give your body something to drink and, if necessary, change your shoes. Last year I was late and had to do 80 penalty push-ups. I am late again today. But nobody notices. Phew! Lucky me.

„Combat Kung Fu“ at its finest !

Then we got to know our combat – shifu. We should complete a number of training hours with him over the next few days.

A longer run the next morning took us through the beautiful heathland, pine forests and usual undulating terrain with great weather and forgotten muscle twitching. Then again gladiator fights in the arena. But: noticeable that, now in the middle of the week, there is less blood and severed heads * in the sand.

* as a metaphor for pride and ego

Working Meditation

Every morning from 11 a.m., the so-called „working meditation“ is on the daily schedule. In Japanese – ZEN this is called „Samu“ and it is an essential part of monastic life and the regular meditation phases (sesshins).

Work and meditation – isn’t that a contradiction in terms? Aren’t we conditioned so that when we get to work, we’ll do it as fast as possible, effectively, profitably, and with maximum commitment? Isn’t „multitasking“ the measure of all things? So, as many work processes as possible at once? And doesn’t meditation mean rest and stillness? Being one-pointed? How does that fit together?

The working meditation has a different aim. In fact, there is no purpose or aim at all.
When you pull weeds, you only pull weeds and you are only with that. Of course, thoughts come, but you let them go, don’t stick with them. Thoughts like: „There’s still so much weed, that sucks, I need days for that…“ may arise, but move on, let them go like clouds. You pull weeds. You become „weed picking“. The babble of thoughts in the mind stops over time because you are no longer paying attention to it.

We need to learn to live in the moment, to be with what we are doing and not to be constantly exposed to our thoughts, feelings, emotions, countless guesses and speculations (fears, worries, needs). We live beyond and around life all the time because we are never really there. Even worse: we are not only really there, we are constantly chasing after life. We are in a hurry, nothing is ever complete, something new is always piling up. We are not satisfied. What follows is dissatisfaction, burn out, depression…..if we don’t take care.

 Good and bad!

During the evening question time, there is a lively exchange of conversations. We were talking about it again and again over the next few days. On the one hand, it says, „Alcohol is fundamentally bad, if you look at the consequences of abuse,“ and on the other hand, „Alcohol is not fundamentally bad, it depends on how you deal with it.“
In this context, the question of whether Buddhism is not particularly concerned with transcending the duality of „good“ and „evil“?
In this regard, I would like to quote a few lines from a great and well-known Zen master:
The most important thing in our practice is to realize that we have Buddha nature. Intellectually we may know this, but it’s quite difficult to accept. Our daily life resides in the realm of good and evil, the realm of duality, while Buddha-nature resides in the realm of the Absolute, where there is no good or evil. There is a double reality. Our practice is to go beyond the realm of good and evil and realize the Absolute. It can be quite difficult to understand. – Shunryu Suzuki from Not Always Like This: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen

    The Stairs!

Since a german tv -channel broadcasted a wonderful report about the „temporary monastery“, insider circles have been rumored about a very special training session: THE STAIRS!

Nobody talks about it too much. It’s a bit like Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter stories. You just don’t mention the name. If so…you are in trouble.

We were spared that last year. But this time it should happen. Our group made our way to Otterberg in a jogging manner (as usual). I can’t remember exactly how many kilometers it took there, but it wasn’t only just around the corner. Once there, things got down to business without much preliminary banter.

Some of you may know such moments. You face a situation and you think:

“ Come on…. you’re not serious. This must be a joke.“ And while you’re thinking that, you know fully well: it’s not a joke, it’s undoubtedly downright serious.

So then: jumping up the stairs and down again. Then up and down on all fours, piggyback, wheelbarrow…… goodbye comfort zone! The most impressive thing for me was the perseverance of all participants, especially those who basically and obviously didn’t have much to do with sport. I always felt particularly bad when I went into a resting position for a moment in the middle of it. Very briefly of course…I swear.


After an extended and good-humored „Kneipp break“ we went back on foot. And when we got back in the monastery, the brothers and sisters beamed from all cheeks. It was exhausting, yes, but everyone felt happy and content. So it works. „There’s more inside of you, than you think…just don’t get caught up in the dramas of your mind.“


On Friday we received another impressive lesson in the arena and on Saturday it was time to pack our bags again. How quickly such a week goes by.

There is always a conclusion at the end. This time there is NON. Because there is no end. It goes on. Gladly in this wonderful place with these wonderful people. But the location doesn’t really matter. I think only one thing is important: Don’t get caught up in the dramas of your mind.

With that in mind…see you! In Otterberg.


……..a world, quiet and yet not quiet. A world that feels like it’s working at the core of being human. No frills, no distractions. Without having to explain or justify yourself. Remarkable when egos want to rear up and softly fizzle out into „nothing“ because there is nothing  and no one available to receive. Lessons that go without words, but are understood. Of everyone. If not the first time, then the second or third time…

Amituofo !


Many thanks to Zheng for his photographic view!