Michael is a passionate and experienced hiker and mountaineer, who lives a five minute walk away from Lake Constanze. He works as a coach and trainer in an Austrian bank and is the uncle of Simon and David. It was, in fact, after a two-day ski-tour in Switzerland, (where I experienced how it feels to move beyond all known physical limits...) which we both took part in, that I interviewed him.
What makes me happy....I suppose I will begin with what makes me unhappy. I have come to understand that it is my mind or rather the way in which I think, which make me unhappy. I realise that there is a part of me, which is never quite satisfied or content. There is a voice inside of me which relentlessly tells me: No, it's not good enough...it's not perfect and you should have done better. In hind sight I can say that I am, and have been, most happy when my mind is quiet. For this reason, I love being in the mountains. When I am hiking, my mind stops criticizing. I experience a quietness within and I can just feel myself. I experienced this when I walked the St. James Trail. It was then that I realised, happiness is about enjoying the present moment. Happiness for me, therefore, is the ability to live in the moment. To really be able to appreciate and experience the present, without worrying about what has been or what might be.
Formerly the feeling of home meant....Hm. The house I grew-up in, never really gave me the feeling of being home. It was only later in life that I realized the feeling of home, for me, is connected to the feeling of comfort. Furthermore, it became clear to me that my well being was not dependant on common external factors, such as landscape, beautiful surroundings or possibilities a place offers, but instead, on social contact, with what I consider to be, beautiful people. When I am surrounded by people who treat both themselves and each other mindfully, I somehow feel at home, regardless of where I am.
On the other hand, I would also describe the place in which I live, my house, as my home. When I am not well, or going through a crisis, a fixed place to call home can offer security and the feeling of being grounded. The feeling of home could be described as security and stability as well as a source of strength when you are not feeling well. In the end, however, I believe it will always be people who enable you to experience the feeling of home.
I think, the first big landmark for me was something every young person experiences once. When you reach a point and suddenly realize, where the road will lead to.
The first time I was confronted with such an experience was during my time in the Army. I did not, in fact, want to join the Army, however, my application for civilian service was denied and I was thus conscripted by the Army. During this time I observed the actions of a comrade who lived in the Army base with the company. This man would spend his entire months wages on alcohol. He spent his time drinking and at the end of the month he would party with his friends. This cycle continued for years, until he was later fired from a discount store. It was at this point that a very strange feeling of disgust came over me and suddenly I was very clear, I knew: I don't want to end up like that. I stopped partying and when I was discharged from the Army, it was clear to me that I did an apprenticeship... and basically, so my career began.
The second signpost was my son Marco. When he was nearly two years, he wouldn't sleep through the night anymore. He woke up at 2 o' clock in the night and would only sleep again, when I carried him for two hours though the house, singing lullabies for him. It went on until I truly accepted my new life as a dad – and from that day, he would sleep though the night.
Another point for me was for sure the failure of a relationship. Not long after my ex-wife and I were divorced, just like a stereotypical man, I entered into a new relationship. After about two to three years I realized: Oh! We are arguing about the same things as before. I was once again faced with the questions of what actually my responsibility is, what is important to me, what was my part. I found the courage to end the relationship and did not engage in another one for one year.
And the fourth, maybe, no – for sure, the most influential event was a heavy motorbike accident I was involved in. My personality at that time was clearly defined by my sportiness, my body. I am: athletic. That definition was like the pillar on which I had built my existence, and it was exactly this which the accident almost took from me. I was sitting there alone in the hospital, next to me an Italian guy who I didn't understand, but who somehow gave me strength. I was informed that I would have to wait until Monday for my medical results. I could not move or feel my feet, and as I waited, I realized, what is actually important in life. I realised that it is not things like money, a house, ones job or ones status that give life meaning and importance, but rather the special moments and experiences we share with friends and family. As I waited, my son and our adventures were very present in my thoughts.
I had often heard, that when you die, your life flashes before you like a film. I experienced this. My film consisted only of moments which I had consciously experienced. I suddenly realised how many mountains I had run up, focussed only on my performance, on my speed and agility, and thus forgetting to notice and appreciate the mountain itself. I was confronted with a very strange situation. I could only remember the moments in my life which I had lived consciously. This realisation struck me to my core. It helped me to understand: That what really counts in the end, are the beautiful hours and moments which we are lucky enough to share with friends and family. That it is not the big achievements, but rather the wondrous little stories, which hold joy and strength. It also showed me how fragile certain values can be. I had made physical strength my sole pillar in life, and how fragile it was. A millisecond of carelessness could have destroyed it forever. I then realised that there are more of these "pillars". Friends, jobs, sports, but most importantly oneself. Ones very core. It became clear to me that I had neglected my "own pillar", by instead focussing on all the others. This marked the beginning of a new... more spiritual path for me. I began to give myself more importance. I went to Scotland and began to walk the St. Johns Trail. If I could, I would be a saint, but I often think to myself: Michael, when your time has come, I want you to have many beautiful memories.
The accident was like a second chance for me, through which I was able to realise: I want to have more beautiful experiences to look back on. I think this is the core of what I learned through the accident.
I am realising once again, in this moment, how fragile the pillars on which we build our lives are. We often think that a job...that everything we have built is stable and secure. Yet how quickly it can all change. There is, in fact, no security in life.
Maja's question: What is REALLY important in your life?
Really important...I think it is the ability to enjoy! What I mean when I use the word enjoy is not luxury...but the ability to consciously perceive and appreciate ones surroundings and experiences. The ability to acknowledge life's beauty. I believe that THIS is what really matters. Life is not always colourful, but the ability to discover beauty, even in the small things, may be the most important achievement in life.
Michaels question: How can one, faster and at an earlier stage in life, find out what is truly important?