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Living My Father's Legacy of Love

I'm on a plane flying to my homeland from Bali. I arrive at the airport, and it's a beautiful summer day, and I can feel the hot sun on my skin. I go straight to my mom. I give her a deep hug, and I whisper into her ear. "I'm here now, Mom. We got this." But I knew I had something to do. So I go inside, and I follow the nurse silently. We go down into the basement and, all of a sudden, it's really cold, and I'm having this shiver going up my spine. I enter a small room with dimmed lights. And the nurse—she closes the door behind me. I see my dad peacefully lying there, and I'm breaking down. I'm sobbing. I'm crying. I don't really know what to do. And then I give him a hug, but he's ice cold. That's when it hit me. He's dead. You know, my life will never be the same, but luckily my dad had been preparing me for this my entire life. I wanna tell you a little story. I was six years old, and I was alone at home cos I was a good boy. It was just after my dad's birthday. And there was lots of wrapping paper around everywhere. I grab his favorite lighter, but I want to be smart. So I grab a glass of water and place it right next to me. I take the wrapping paper, strike the lighter, and begin my ultimate experiment. Well, as you can imagine, it didn't turn out too well, and the glass of water didn't help one bit. Things get out of control immediately. There are flames everywhere. I'm running outside. I'm screaming to the neighbors, "The house is on fire. The house is on fire." Next thing you know, fire trucks, police, ambulance—blue lights everywhere. And our home . . . gone. My dad comes home first after work to this madness, and I'm getting interviewed by the police. I'm like, "I didn't do anything wrong. It wasn't me. I have nothing to do with this." I'm scared. So my dad kneels down, and he's like, "Sascha, I am so so sorry. It is my fault. I should have introduced you to fire. I should have made you aware of the danger of it." In that moment, everything shifted. I was no longer scared. I felt safe. Now looking back at this moment, I realized that he took full responsibility for my actions. There was no blame, and there was no shame. And then, a couple years ago, I asked him, and I still vividly remember like "Dad, how did you raise me the way you raised me?" "What do you mean?" "Well, I mean, did you read a bunch of books or, you know, did you ask your friends? Like, what did you actually do? I mean, you're so old. Back in the days, they wasn't even internet around. Remember those times?" And he's just like, "You know what, son. I didn't read any freaking books. We just had one single intention, just one commitment to each other. And that was to raise you with love. That's it. There was nothing more special about it. And we knew we were going to make mistakes. Like not hiding my lighter from you, but we also knew if we raised you with love, everything is going to be fine." And when he said that, I understood why I had a life like a fairy tale. His intentionality to guide and parent me through love was real. And then, just like that, things can change in a split second. My dad had a stroke. And while he was on his death bed and those three days suffering, he wasn't thinking about himself. He was giving my mom pin codes and passwords and bank account details just to make her life a little bit easier in that transition. And I'm trying to get ready to go as fast as possible back to Berlin and Germany. While I'm getting ready to fly out, my mom calls me, and she's like, "Sascha, I don't know what's going on. Dad just called me. He wants me to come back to the hospital." In that moment, I knew that he already knows he's going to die. So I sent him a voice message. "Dad, I'm on my way home. I'm almost there. I'm gonna take care of Mom, I promise you. I love you over everything. And I'm so grateful for everything you've done for me and Dad I already know. And it's okay if it's time for you to go, please don't wait for me. Like I don't want you to suffer." I hang up the phone. I break down in tears. I'm crying. And then Dave comes, and he holds me tight. Like he was basically there during my weakest moments, and Dave, I'm forever grateful for everything that you've done for me and how you've been there for me—really. And then Dave tells me about this meditation. Of course, he's a meditation master. And basically, he says, "Do this." And I do exactly what he says. I'm sitting in meditation and closing my eyes, and he wants me to visualize a staircase. I'm slowly walking up those stairs, and on the left and on the right, I see images and pictures. They're memories and moments of me and my dad. I look to the right. I see us on the slopes during winter holidays. And he was so slow it drove me fucking crazy. And then I go a few more steps up. We were playing pool. We were playing a lot of pool together, and he showed me, he taught me how to use angles to play a better game. And then later, we were in the car driving all across the countries in Europe to all my many basketball games, and he was cheering on the sidelines for me. And then he says to look up, so I look up to the top of the staircase. And I see a figure surrounded by a golden-white light. I know it's him. So I walk all the way up. I'm right in front of him. I can cry with him. I can speak with him. I can talk to him like, "Dad, I miss you. Thank you for showing me the way to choose love first and make me the man that I am today." And then, when I've expressed everything, I slowly turn around, and I walk back down those stairs all the way to the bottom to come out of my meditation. Now, this meditation, we call Stairway to Heaven, and it changed my life. It allows me to go deep into my emotions, and my feelings, and my pain and address it instead of avoiding it. And the most beautiful thing about it? I have a chance to go back up there and be with him whenever I want. Now I have one guiding question that I'm carrying with me every single day. What would my dad want for me? I know he wouldn't want me to like bathe myself in self-pity and cry all day and like stop enjoying life. I feel like that would be the opposite of honoring him for everything that he's done for me. He would want me to make an impact. He would want me to shine my light. He would want me to be that powerful man that he taught me to be by shaping me with his love. So I'm very proud because we are launching this massive meditation initiative for global impact with YogiLab to show people a way out of suffering. It's the technique of the Buddha—Vipassana meditation. And despite the fact that I lost the most important man in my life, we are going to continue to push forward with this to inspire millions of people and to shape the planet and this world with one beautiful intention. Because what my dad has shown me is that we can change someone else's life when we choose love, when we raise ourselves with love and when we take care of others and treat them with love. And for that, I will be forever grateful. Thank you, Dad.

Following Your Heart's Voice for More Love, Joy and Freedom

I'm sixteen years old. My mom walks into my bedroom. She says that she's worried about me. She says that I need to start eating. And then she bursts into tears and starts crying uncontrollably. And the reason she's crying is because she's seeing her youngest girl, her youngest daughter, disappear in front of her. Now my mom never cries, and seeing my mom so upset, in that moment, something breaks open inside of me. I look at myself in the mirror and, all of a sudden, I can see that the white top I'm wearing, which is supposed to be very tight, is actually just hanging loose on my body. Now I have lost fifteen kilos in a very short time, and it all started because of one simple rule that I made up that I was going to stop eating after 6:00 p.m. in the evening even if I had not eaten during the whole day. Now, this just became one out of many rules that I made up so that I could control my weight so that I could look good. I start seeing a psychologist at the age of sixteen. I meet Christer every Thursday morning. And he shows me, he makes me understand the enormous power that my mind has over my reality. Not only how I perceive myself, but how I perceive others and my entire world. And I become probably the most dedicated sixteen-year-old girl ever that just wanted to learn and grow and heal from within. Looking back, I ask myself, "Why did that happen? How did that start?" And I realized that I started to pay a lot of attention to what others were doing, how I thought I should look, what I should do. And all that I really truly wanted was just to be loved, seen, and heard for who I truly was. So I'm five years old. It's Sunday morning. I'm with my parents in this huge furniture store, but I'm lost. I'm walking, trying to spot my parents, and this tall woman walks to me. She has a warm and friendly smile. She looks me in the eyes. She asks me what's my name? And I tell her. I look her in the eyes, and I say, "I'm Pippi." Now just to be clear, my name is Natalie. But in that moment, my mom and dad instantly knew that it was me because who I thought I was and who I wanted to be growing up was Pippi Longstocking. Some of you are smiling. So for those of you who don't know, Pippi Longstocking is the main fictional character of a series of children adventure stories that pretty much every young girl in Sweden either read or watched. Now Pippi Longstocking—she's different. She definitely does not fit in at all. She has this adventurous spirit. She even has a big bag of gold coins in her attic. So this little girl is financially free. She gets to live the life she wants. She can design the life that she truly wants. Growing up, this little girl—she was my hero. I believe that Pippi had a powerful connection to her heart's voice, which I believe is an energy that we all can tap into—a pulse of the universe—if we just decide to tune inwards and fully listen. And when I was sixteen years old, looking at myself in the mirror, I could see that I completely had lost my connection to my heart's voice. I'm twenty-nine years old. I wake up in panic. My heart is speeding like this. I'm drowned in sweat. And I look at the clock. It's 3:00 a.m. again. I'm having another anxiety attack. And this has been going on for weeks. I'm shit scared, and I don't know what to do. I walk to my bathroom. I flush cold water into my face. And the reflection of who I'm seeing—myself—makes me sad because I don't recognize myself. My skin is telling me that I'm not feeling well. I don't look healthy. I look quite sick. But instead of listening, I get myself together. Four hours later, I'm at work, suited and booted, showing up with my perfect smile. I'm a senior manager, and I'm greeting my staff with this big smile. At work, I'm performing excellently. Everything is great. Everything is really great. It's just that I feel like I'm slowly dying from within. I feel like I have no pulse. "I can, and I will. I can, and I will. I can, and I will." This becomes my mantra during a transition period where I finally decide to tune back into my heart's voice. I decide to quit my job. I decide to sell pretty much everything that I own so that I can put on my big backpack again and go travel the world because that's all my heart wants to do. Fast forward six months. I'm in Rishikesh, Northern India—the capital of yoga. Rishikesh is surrounded by the foothills of the Himalayas. Through the valley, we had the river Ganges flowing freely. Wild monkeys running freely. There's something magical and mystical and spiritual with the whole atmosphere of just being there. I love it. 6:00 a.m. I'm sitting on the cold stone floor in the yoga shala. It's freezing. I'm covered in layers, and layers, and layers of weird clothes I got at the market stands—elephants and crazy colors. I do not look like I would've done in the yoga studio back home for sure. But I feel like I'm belonging. I'm surrounded by yogis from all over the world. They're chanting in Sanskrit. Back then, I don't really understand what they're saying. I kind of sneak peek like this—kind of trying to understand what they're actually saying. It doesn't actually really matter because, sitting on that cold stone floor at 6:00 a.m. every morning, something peacefully begins to grow within me. So yoga and meditation completely change me. And my time in India brings me back to life. Not only am I traveling again, I am becoming Pippi. No rules, no restraints—just me out there feeling free. I'm not rich in money anymore, but I am oh so rich in spirit. I get to see the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I sit for hours to talk with the locals in the countryside. I get completely lost in the wild, lush jungle of rainforest of Borneo. I dance under the stars under the full moon on the beaches in Thailand. I get to connect with amazing people that I still call my best friends today. I get to have the ultimate Eat, Pray, Love romance in Bali. It was magical. My journey of following my heart's voice has been littered with ups and downs. I can't even begin to share all the mess that I've experienced. It's not a linear path. I've fallen down more times than I can even begin to tell, but I always brought myself back up. Things go sideways. During my travel adventures, I lost my luggage more than once. I got robbed. Of course, I got parasites in India a couple of times. And the amazing Eat, Pray, Love romance? Three years later, a painful, painful heartbreak. My heart cracks wide open. Now, I know that it takes something if I say that I want to be happy. And I've learned that my biggest battles in life, going through eating disorders, burnout, painful heartbreaks, among other things, that these battles have been gifts and blessings because they had me look deep into all the BS that I had living inside me for so many years. I had to learn not only how to love and accept myself, I had to learn how to fully love myself. And this is important—not only how to love the sunny side up of Natalie that I felt was actually quite easy to love. I had to learn how to fully actually love all those sides of me that I spent so many years running away from. The things that I didn't really want to identify myself with. The things that I felt were the dark sides that I didn't want anyone to know about. But because I've been committed to fully, fully, fully, not only face all of these sides of me, but to actually deal with it, and to make peace with it—that means that I'm no longer restrained by any rules. I get to decide and make up my own rules. I get to live my life free. I get to feel that I'm alive. I get to define success and happiness on my own terms. And I get to create my own golden coins. So what I really, really needed to do the whole time, as I understand now, was to give myself permission to just be who I am. And here I am today, standing in front of you, barefoot, living in Bali, which used to be such a big dream of mine for a lot of years. Standing here feeling free, feeling alive, and feeling very Pippified. Now I learned that my magic, that our magic, is to be found in the mess. And it turns out that my mess is my golden coins and that this is the currency that I get to use when I tap into my heart's voice and the pulse of the universe. Thank you.

Exhuming My Story

Two freshly luminous green frangipani leaves clenching one another. I had those memories of playing shadow puppets when I was little. Also, I had vivid memories of cycling with my father, cruising around the village when my feet were entangled. And I do remember my father used a dry banana leaf just to tie up my feet. Oh my God, I was so happy. He did this because he wanted me to be safe and sound because otherwise, I was gonna fall off. In the rainy season, my father dug the ground and made a reservoir, so when the rain fell down, the water was reserved in that reservoir. You know what I did? I jumped in with an exuberant face, totally naked. I can't swim. I was on my father's back. And we swam together. And beside the reservoir, there was a kind of vineyard. Not a vineyard as we didn't have a vineyard on our land. It kind of looked like a vineyard, but I still remember the taste of the fruit. It was sour, sweet, and a little bit salty. And that's how my story begins. So I'm so honored to be standing here to be delivering my own storyline, my story of life. And thanks to Colleen. I think this is not a coincidental encounter meeting Colleen. I also believe in everyone else here. I'm so honored, so privileged to be standing here. Regardless of my shortcomings, I wanna come up with alliance, with a conclusion with all of you here who feel empathy and see the silver lining—the true colors of me. This is me. My name is Gandi. I'm from the small village on the northern side of Bali called Singaraja. My village lies on the northern side of Singaraja city, so twenty-five kilometers from the city. So the vast majority people living there are fishing and farming like my father. He's a farmer. He's the breadwinner in our family. He used to walk hard and spend his whole time in the rice field just to plant rice. As a little child beside my father, I helped him to plant rice in the paddies in order to fulfill our basic necessities. You know what? I'm so privileged. I'm so happy. And I'm so grateful to be living in this sacred and humble upbringing. My mother was just an ordinary housewife. She didn't earn money, but she helped us to grow. She provided food, and she helped alongside my father. You know what? We were living a very simple life where everything was basic. I had an idea to help my parents. I was also a breadwinner in my family because as a child—besides schooling—I had to wake up super early in the morning, around four or five, just to collect the tamarind. You guys know tamarind, right? It falls from the trees. And we sold it. It wasn't not good money, but at least I was so happy because I helped my parents in making a living. In the other season, we also had cashew nut trees. And I went there as a child. "I'm so happy. I'm gonna run. I'm gonna run." So I collected them. You know, the fact is that cashew nuts are more expensive than tamarind and easier to sell because with tamarind you have to break it before you sell it. And I was a happy child with an impulsive mind. I came up with so many ideas, but things go up and down. I have a sister. So there are four children in my family. I have two sisters and one brother. And I'm the last. I'm the Ketut. You know? Everyone knows that the last child is Ketut. I'm Ketut Gandi. So usually, my parents, especially my siblings, were elated with me. But things go up and down. I had to look after my sister, my first sister. She has a mental illness. She's a woman who is not speaking. She lives in silence. She's not speaking at all. She just sits down with nothing to do. So I was a child with a very good energy. I helped my sister. I fed her and showered her, and I was happy at the time. But I had a very relentless life because I had to deal with society's rejection because I'm gay. And they bullied me since I was little. And I had to deal with my family's issues. And I had to look after my sister. I thought it just was so relentless. And what should I do? You know? But in order to settle myself over and over again, I was just like learning, you know, focusing on schooling and studying. So the school sent me to many competitions. I was in English competitions, chemistry competitions, and so on. You know, I'm lucky enough. I never won, to be honest. I was just lucky to have the chance to join those competitions, but I never won. My parents once asked me, "Gandi, what you wanna be in the future when you grow up?" I said, "I don't know." I had, I think, unrealistic dreams, and they directly answered, "You have to be in the army because you're strong. Your body's meant to be in the army." I think No, man. I'm a gay guy. How do I come up with this? This was so funny. And I didn't hear them. I just disobeyed them with those words. So long story short, you know, I'm indebted to those two fruits, tamarind and cashew nuts. I'm so indebted to them because they're my jewels. You know, because of them I lived. I survived. There comes a day, there comes a time, when I do fully realize there I am gay. You know what? As a Balinese, it's really hard. When you are a gay guy, you have to deal with so many rejections especially coming from this society. Because when they know, when they notice that you are a gay guy, they're gonna keep their distance. They're not gonna come to you and say, "Hi." They're gonna go away. So at the time, I was feeling alone. I was lonely, to be honest. I was abandoned. I had a lovely cousin who passed away. We used to be together since we were little, and he passed away. And my brother and sister went away. There was only one, the first sister, with me because I had to look after her. And I was crying a lot. I was hidden, you know. I didn't wanna come out. I didn't even wanna go out. I was focusing on my studying because I was sad. I was crying a lot. So many rejections, and to build up self-esteem is really hard without any support because my parents are very conservative parents where they taught me about living in that cage. You know what I mean? Like we have certain rules that are Balinese and passed down to all the generations. So I had to follow those rules. So I don't have any freedom. I can't liberate myself or free myself. So I was kind of literally stuck and had nothing to do. And when I made a mistake, my parents, especially my father, he punished me with relentless tasks because we were . . . sorry, guys. I don't want to emphasize this, but Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch at the time. Right? And he used to give very relentless punishments. And when my father was a child, he used to be tied with rope and hung on a tree because of my grandfather. So, you know, for around seven hours because he had made a mistake and ants came and just scattered all over his body. So those rules were passing down to me. So I was so tough at the time. I was so strong. But, you know, in order to not just be sad all the time because of my hardships and all the burdens that I went through, I kept praying, "God, show me the way. Am I destined to be like this? To be a gay guy who got rejected from society. Who has so many insecurities. I don't know which direction I should take because I am living in poverty. I don't have people supporting me. I don't know what to do. God, please help me." And then I saw the end of the tunnel, the things I had prayed for—a divine spirit of light. So sacred. It approached me and said, "I'm with you. You don't have to worry about it. I'm embracing you. I'm gonna lift you off the universe." And I was like, Oh my God, this is such profound energy that came into my life. And I had no idea. What is this? I was a seventeen-year-old boy. Okay. I'm gonna be strong. I'm not gonna let myself down. And then, from that moment, I'm stronger. I'm tougher. Sometimes I would imagine myself traveling across the universe and see my other persona lift and support me, support each other. I came up with that idea. This is like a weird story, but you guys get that right? And about being rejected as a gay guy, I don't care about society anymore because I came up with self-gratitude, motivation, and kindness. Everyone who sees me as a queer, that's just your problem. It's not my problem because you have to know that we are full of a variety of colors like a rainbow. We see these people coming from different countries and different upbringings. So I don't care about it. I don't need to emphasize that anymore. I'm strong enough now. Viola Davis once said, "There is one place where the people with the greatest talent are gathered. One place, and that is the graveyard." Yes. Right? "Viola, what kind of story do you wanna tell?" Viola said, "Exhume those stories. Exhume those bodies." And now I'm representing myself exhuming my own stories. Thank you.
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