There are many words you can use to describe an experience at the Healing Castle.
Intense. Peaceful. Hectic. Encouraging.
But for me, one word stands out above all else: unforgettable.
For the past month, I have woken at unholy hours. I have eaten food I wouldn’t normally digest. I have completed tasks that made my back hurt. And I have grown. I have healed. I have learned who I am and why I am, and in hindsight, everything was worth it. It’s no wonder why these 30 days will stay with me forever,
THE CASTLE GROUNDS
Everything about this castle oozes with 12th century beauty. From the outside, the giant stone walls are imposing, grand beyond belief. They climb to the sky and seem to climb even higher. But when you enter through the thick iron gates, the powerful structure melts into a welcoming cul de sac, inviting you to set your bag downs and smile.
I was given a tour on my first day by some volunteers who had been here before. We clambered up giant spiralling stairs and ambled through long hallways that were decorated with hints of the 80’s. It feels both elegant and homely, exotic and surreal. The rooms are cavernous affairs, adorned with looming chandeliers and paintings that make you feel small when standing beside them. It is indeed a castle, and is befitting of royalty today as it was hundreds of years ago.
Behind the castle is a large garden / duck pond which we walked through often as part of a morning ritual. It is the definition of peaceful: still and quiet, moving only with the flutter of duck wings as they jump into the pond.
When people talk about “getting away from it all,” they must mean somewhere like this. Thoughts of traffic lights or car horns or buzzing televisions fade into nothingness when you’re here. Your mind can breathe. At lease mine was able to.
Working as a volunteer in the Healing Castle will force you out of your comfort zone. It will rip you out, really, dropping you in a sea of the unknown where you either go with the waves or you sink. It can feel intimidating for most–I know I was terrified at first. But over time, you learn to simply co-exist with the intense energy in the castle, and stop fighting against it.
Ingrid, the castle owner, is a powerful and formidable woman. A lot of volunteers view her forthcoming and direct methods as insensitive. I did at first. Then I saw what she was all about: Healing and helping. She doesn’t cater to your needs, doesn’t coddle you until you can’t breathe. She just says what has to be said, does what has to be done, and expects you to go on with your day. She definitely gets along fine with hers.
This is the Healing Castle after all. And healing is simply not possible in a vaccuum of comfort. It demands pressure, tension and advice–three things Ingrid dispenses in droves.
Every morning, we are asked to wake up at 5:50 and be downstairs for 6:00 AM. There, we run or walk under the German starlight for 15 minutes until it’s time for yoga. Ingrid leads the yoga class, which is a functional body movement session, loosing the tightness and the tension we all hold on to each and every day. After yoga, we do some sanksrit chants before heading inside for breakfast.
Breakfast is simple and pure. Fruit, bread, spreads, oatmeal and coffee. What else could you need? It doesn’t try to impress because it doesn’t have to. It is just simple, and that was just fine by me.
Then comes the work. It is a varying sort, changing from one day to the next. Whether it’s painting windows, doing laundry, weeding the garden, raking leaves–everything is expected to be done with a mindfulness for the task. At first it is tiring. Work always is. But once you get used to the idea of it, your mind finds it soothing. I don’t know why that is. But mindfulness operates in weird ways like that.
After work, we eat lunch. Again, every day is something different, but there are some staples that make consistent appearances: potatoes and soup. Hearty, to say the least. This is not a place where you’ll eat like a king or queen. But you will eat, you will be satisfied and you will continue with your day full in the belly. Sometimes too full, if you’re me.
At last, the final activity of the day is a meditation at 6:00 PM. It is typically an hour long and is often set with music in the background. This is the real bread and butter of the whole experience. Science and self-help gurus are touting the benefits of meditation every day. Here, you can finally put it into practice. Through these sessions, you will start to shift your mind away from expectation, away from emotional responses, and steer it towards calmness and a blissful neutrality. Although I skipped many sessions (an hour is a long time), I would say this is the most important part of the experience.
If you couldn’t tell already, this place left with me something more. It left me, myself, bigger than when I came in. I can’t tell you why, but I feel happier and more determined. A lot of it is due to the other volunteers I shared this experience with and Ingrid herself. But maybe it’s the just the energy here that has deeply influenced me.
All I know is that at the end of the day, at the end of the year, at the end of my life, I will always hold this experience at the Healing Castle dear to my heart. It truly was unforgettable.