I am mentioning this as I cannot think of Berlin without considering the pain and suffering that happened to countless people here during the 20th Century, between the wars and Holocaust and Wall, struggle and oppression and violation seem almost palpable under the surface of the kind people and welcoming it seems many immigrants experience here. Granted, for anybody who may have traveled to Germany in the past number of years, the people are lovely and they have gone over and above most of their neighbors at helping with the needs of those fleeing brutal persecution in the Middle East.
I am starting with this as it is easy to miss the animistic notions of life or suffering that I saw some of my classmate colleagues mentioning this week, and one way of sensitizing to the suffering of other than human persons may be by noticing the sufferings of human person and, with that empathy, expanding it in wider ways.
I live in the middle of Manhattan, and the noise and energy that pulsates through the city has a way of drowning out the quiet that is needed for me to be present to suffering and those who are not loud or calling for attention. In this way, when I went for a morning walk through Berlin yesterday morning, I found myself in an amazing inner-city cemetery that felt more like a park as it had grass and plants and trees without seemingly everything in lines or order or over-planning,
and it was in this liminal (in-between) space between life — the birds chirping, the breeze rustling through the trees, the energy of the sun, the little bugs walking on the stone — and death, where I paused to say my morning intentions to the Spirits of Place,
that I had the opportunity to ground myself, breathe deeply, and be more present to the living presence of the earth around me.
I find that when I am in the countryside for longer periods of time, I get used to these things and they lose parts of their mystery as they become the new normal. Only when I bring myself apart in some way that the normal becomes somehow new or unusual (even if it is not markedly special in any single way) and I am able to think of and feel a presence much greater than I am.