Maria-Carin’s life story; from Czechoslovakia to Germany, Ko Hsuan in England; on to India, Italy and Australia, her home now where she cooks and dances – and is writing a cookbook.
In 1982 my parents and my sister fled from communist Czechoslovakia to Germany via Italy. I was born a year later and, as I grew up, learnt German at the same time as my mother did. My father was the one behind the search for freedom and the driving force to find it. He is also the one that discovered Osho, at that time called Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. While my mother found her ultimate spiritual master in Osho, my father moved on – always on the lookout for further truths.
Ko Hsuan School in Chulmleigh, Devon
When I was nearly 9 years old, my mother offered me the opportunity to attend the one and only Osho boarding school which was in Devon, England. She thought it was the most amazing thing ever to exist on planet earth, a vegetarian school for the new child! Not knowing what I was in for, I said yes. At that time Osho Ko Hsuan School was teeming with about 80 kids and teachers, a colourful experiment that came with a mixed bag of early childhood imprints. My sister went to school in Germany. I remember not being able to speak a word of English and feeling quite intimidated, but I also felt a sense of freedom and excitement.
Learning English did eventually happen along with learning to live a totally new way of life, a commune life. Like all kids I was at first terribly homesick and cried regularly, then slowly learned to swallow the tears successfully and get on with my new life. Some kids had to be taken home by their parents, but I was determined to be ‘strong’. My best friend’s name was Moda, she was Japanese; our quirky characters and our far-apart cultural backgrounds made becoming a teenager an interesting explorative affair. I had a great time discovering the multicultural concoction of the school; the communal movie nights, the meals together, the daily cleaning chores, the summer festivals where Deva Premal and Miten played and that also featured our own theatre shows. I had the honour to take different roles: Paul McCartney, a lonesome vampire from Interview with a Vampire and my highlight, Romeo. The English countryside was there for us to roll in and so we did, walking barefoot in the forest and the mud. I don’t know how I managed to keep my clothes clean – or maybe I didn’t.
Then the teenage years hit me. The kids were often great at being nasty, and I became insecure, retreating far into myself. I couldn’t communicate with people very well and in those delicate challenging years I remember being mostly depressed and misunderstood. Thankfully I had some sweet friends and teachers who still loved and cared for me during that time.
Towards the end of my time at Ko Hsuan I was dispirited, emotionally eating a lot, smoking cigarettes and being very lazy. In hindsight I wonder if being out in the fields of Dartmoor with so much freedom was such a good idea for a teenager like me.
I stayed until 1999 when the popularity of the school was nearing its end. Enrolment was reduced to about 30 students with much fewer teachers, and the energy of the place was low. The remaining teachers did everything they could to make it a good place to be, but I was glad my time there was over. I now have many crazy memories and feel gratitude and respect to the adults that kept the show going. What a job! The teachers and kids were my friends and family and I still feel connected to them.
A step into the ‘real world’
After I managed to fail a few of my exams because I didn’t try very hard, and barely passed the others, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I accepted the offer of my dear friend, Sitara, to go to Pune, to the Osho Meditation Resort with her. I discovered the world outside the Ko Hsuan School bubble. Well, I had ended up in another bubble, but it was more fair, encouraging and positive, and I started to feel that I was beautiful for the first time since I was little. I also attended a computer course and an Ayurvedic massage training as well as learning how to drive. It was a good step into the ‘real world’.
Then it was time to find a more settled place to live. Naturally England seemed like a smart option, but the living expenses deterred me. Seeing that my educational qualifications were useless I decided it was time to re-do them. For practical and financial reasons I chose Munich, finding out later that Bavaria has the toughest schooling system in Germany. During my first week I thought I was never ever in the whole world going to pass these exams but, surprisingly, I ended up succeeding as one of the best pupils in the whole class. That was an experience so surreal, requiring so much hard work which I was not used to, that I said to God: you better not take me now, I really want to enjoy this life now!
The German culture never made me feel at ease and I fled to Italy to follow my dream of starting a brand-new life. I thought Italians were pretty groovy wild things. My friend, Sujato, invited me to stay at her apartment in Florence while she was in Heidelberg, learning German. I did exactly that but found myself rather shy in the presence of the Italians. Speaking Italian is not for the faint-hearted, you need oomph, volume, power, a whole lot of ‘rrrrrr’ and something smart and witty to say to get along with those mad folks! I did enjoy my time there, but I ended up escaping to India once again, with thanks to my dad for providing my many flight tickets. I was 19 and I loved my stay in Pune and Goa. I was feeling what life was like by myself, out in the world, and was starting to get a little curious.
After India I still didn’t know where I wanted to live and what I wanted to do and was invited by my dear friend Sitara’s mother, Satya, and her partner to work in St. Tropez, France, selling flamboyant dresses made in Goa. It was a great way to make my first money and I bought myself a Swiss watch.
I was still looking for a place to call home, yet strangely, to be close to my actual family never crossed my mind. My father supported me in exploring the world and whatever I did, he prayed I would never get stuck in Germany. After drawing a map of the world, deciding I wanted to go somewhere where people spoke English, that was sunny, warm, preferably with palm trees and ripe mangoes, with the US for some reason not being an option and England being obviously too grim, weather-wise, Australia seemed like the perfect solution. I also wanted to escape the bonds of family and friends, the Osho bubble and everything I knew.
Australia – the perfect solution
In August 2002 I flew to Sydney, with one address in my pocket, no confirmation whether that person was available or not, and a curiosity to discover a new part of the world and myself in it. Luckily I could stay in the home of a kind young man that I had met on my last day in the Osho Ashram/ Meditation Resort in Pune, to sleep through my jet lag. It was a rocky start, but my father continued to support me and my tropical far-away dreams.
I loved the feeling of freedom I felt walking through the streets of Sydney. No one seemed to care what I was wearing or what I looked like. Unlike in Germany, where one gets scanned and scrutinised, in Oz people went about doing their own thing – so I felt like this place was good for me. When summer came I delighted in the sun, the beach and decided to give this place a go. I quit smoking, started moving more, started working and studying and generally getting out there in the world, slowly creeping, stumbling, coming out of my hidden self. Slowly indeed, clumsily, painfully, but one step at a time nevertheless. I did a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat and for the first time in my life I found a ‘way forward’ that felt right.
It took me years to find my feet and for a long time I was unsure whether Sydney was my home – constantly debating whether I should stay or go, but the strict visa regulations forced me to make decisions with a non-alterable time limit. I considered becoming an air hostess with Emirates, but then met a young woman named Blossom that I instantly got on with. She is now one of the graphic designers for my vegan cookbook and we became ‘besties’. I met Blossom through an Osho connection and found that this community provided an opportunity to meet like-minded people. I was grateful for the sannyas connection and a whole new world of people opened up to me through living with 6 people sharing a house. This made my life in Sydney worth staying for and I soon dropped the air hostess idea. The palm trees, parrots and the walk to the beach ensured my love of the ground.
When I started meeting more people that I got on with, I was slowly getting a sense of joy for life. After all, community is most important: the feeling that one belongs, that one can grow and explore life with others. I decided on remaining as “equanimous” as I could be because, according to the teachings of Goenka from Vipassana, meditation was a good way to practice being with what is, letting all emotions pass by, but after some years I decided that I was going to go for feeling the highs and the lows too, otherwise life was just like eating plain brown rice.
I went through all sorts of visa types, did a working holiday year, and finished my schooling in order to have the option of studying at University. To get my immigration papers I completed a hairdressing diploma at the college (I was the only student who was not Korean!), and successfully managed to become an Australian resident without marrying anyone! An achievement worth mentioning! I never bought too many household items as I knew I might not be able to stay, but slowly, slowly, 5 years after my arrival in Oz, my permanent residency came through. I started feeling that I had found my home; I got myself a scooter and a nice big cooking pot!
A couple of years later, Germany opted to have dual citizenship. I applied for it and became German / Australian. During the hairdressing diploma studies I discovered that I obviously loved food and I didn’t care at all about hair colours and the like. I used the new clean brushes, designated for applying bleach, in my kitchen for cakes. I enjoyed giving head massages, but not brushing hair. Something was going on and I was noticing it. By doing something I didn’t like, I found what I did like: food and touch. So, around 2006 I found my healthy food passion, studied Food as Medicine, and came up with the idea of publishing a wholefoods cookbook that was not boring, but deliciously exciting and healthy.
My father had read a lot about a tantric way of life which he could talk to me about for hours. I loved the notion that whatever you do is meditation, is holy, is a prayer. I grew up believing that one should aim to reach enlightenment at some point in one’s life, then everything will, if one reaches this barely attainable goal, make sense and be okay. What a joke! I now fully embrace the notion that everything I do – not just sitting silently – cooking all those dishes, running through the forest, quarrelling with my sis, creating websites and figuring techy stuff out, even doing taxes… everything, in fact, is all part of me being in the world, creating, daring, trusting, trying, being alive, without looking for some big boom of streaming consciousness to zap me into permanent bliss. That is freedom.
My flatmate, Garimo, Blossom’s mother, who I was living with at the time, saw an ad for an ‘organic cook’ for a family in the local paper. I was passionate and determined to get out of waitressing but the drawback with this job was that this family wanted meat cooked. Even though I had never eaten or prepared meat before, I thought it would be interesting to take on this challenge and so I started reading about preparing meat, fish and poultry and took the job. When I cooked meat, my clients said it was delicious! It wasn’t always perfectly cooked, but they allowed me plenty of room for learning. Thank you, Kathryn, for being so open to my learning process. I slowly created my own style of cooking and became a personal chef for families, celebrities and singles, getting around on my scooter all over Sydney. It was a great way to learn a new skill, not in a school, but out in the world.
The cooking schools at the time had absolutely no vegetarian option and there was no way I was going to learn how to skin an animal. After cooking gluten-free, organic meat for this family I decided that I was going to continue on my vegetarian path and ditch the meat cooking as preparing a dead animal for food really did not interest me! Shortly after that I focused on mainly vegan recipes and still do today.
My father’s death – a new beginning for me
In January 2009, out of the blue, my father died of a heart attack. He was only 60 years old and because of him my interest in health became a seriously conscious choice. When I returned to Oz from his funeral and packing up his home in just 2 weeks, I decided it was time to study Nutritional Science. It was obvious to me that life can be so very short and there is no time to waste to do what one really wants to do. I was going to help others learn about their health and inspire them to cook healthier foods. So, I started giving vegetarian / vegan cooking classes and also finally dragged myself to a 5Rhythms dance class that I’d been wanting to do for years. I also studied Lomi Lomi and Kahuna massage. Previously I had been too preoccupied to do those things, too insecure etc, but I now felt I had to make the most of the time I have here on the planet.
Starting to dance was the best thing that I could have ever done. I was hooked for life after my second class. I found a way to manoeuvre through life that felt more alive, more real and raw, more ecstatic! My cooking career was firmly backed up by my dancing journey and it all weaved itself together to start catering for yoga teacher trainings and massage trainings, also bringing cooking demos into businesses such as banks, private cooking classes, dinner parties, birthday parties, weekly market stalls, you name it. Dancing and therefore going within was an undeniable balance to serving people. Expressing frustration and anger about the death of my father, or the fact that selling healthy cakes at markets wasn’t making me a living, was all allowed to come out on the dance floor. I stomped so hard I hurt my knees, but that’s another story.
Australia felt like freedom for me, but Sydney is a very expensive place to live, requiring hard work, so after 12 years I moved to the Blue Mountains with a sigh of relief.
In Germany with my mother
Two years later, in November 2015, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and so instantly, without asking for any second opinions which I usually did, I moved to Freiburg to be with her. I had always thought I would spend time with my parents some time later, but I missed out on my father – and now my mother was at risk. For the first time since I left at age 9 I got to live with her and it was so good – camping on her floor, sleeping on my sister’s couch, sleeping in mum’s bed with her, holding and cuddling her, getting angry at her and everything in between. It felt wonderful to feel my family. We said everything to each other in these 10 months to follow. She deteriorated painfully, slowly – the cancer eating away at her fragile but determinedly strong body and mind. I danced and danced and danced during this time and cooked for a school to keep my feet on the ground. I made peace with Germany and the culture, found love for the Black Forest, the rivers, flowers, birds and people. We juiced barley grass until the cows came home and made sure to avoid sugars, refined carbs and other processed foods in order to help her body heal.
We tried everything nutritionally, countless therapies, to help her, but then I gave up and enjoyed the last moments we had. She certainly never gave up, not until her last breath. She died on the 16th of September 2016 looking beyond my eyes, being held by my sister and our dear friend, Mori, who had gracefully and lovingly accompanied us on this journey. The whole dying process, which could have been described as a survival process, was the most profound experience of my life. I am grateful for all the people that were there, visiting, bringing food and flowers, massaging her feet, (actually we all massaged each other!), meditating. I danced around her bed, listened to Osho discourses and helped with getting her compression stockings on.
Undoubtedly it was a painful way to leave this earth and infuriating to watch, resulting in many agitated moments. I felt angry, sad, frustrated, letting go, holding on. It certainly didn’t make sense to me why she would get cancer, but so many things in life don’t. I organised a farewell celebration while she was still alive which came while I was dancing at One Dance Tribe, which is an international community of people practising conscious movement as a pathway for personal and global transformation. I am so glad I had this insight of celebrating her whilst still alive. She died a few months later. We covered her in rose petals. At the death celebration we listened to a snippet of Osho, danced, sang and each picked one of her tarot cards that she used to use in her public tarot card readings.
Movement and meditation as important as healthy food
For years I had focused on using dance as a therapeutical practice and attending workshops. Since my mother’s death I can see clearly that not only food improves our health, but also movement, meditation, breath and expression. The soul’s well-being, our beliefs, our joy for life, are just as important. I can now see it is time to bring even more aspects of our human health together. I have recently been giving vegan cooking classes for cancer patients at a radiation therapy centre in Freiburg and teamed up with Mori to offer workshops in awakening one’s senses, one’s mediumistic qualities through bodywork and vegan cooking, to explore and open to the supernatural. However, as I continue dancing the 5Rhythms I am more and more pulled towards a deeper exploration of this dance meditation practice. Besides, I really adore good music and want to learn how to become my own DJ.
I cooked organic vegan food for a school for two years. Now that I quit the job I can go on with writing my vegan gluten-free cookbook and continue with my dancing path. The book project started 10 years ago: to share healthy and delicious recipes with the world! After so many years of testing the recipes I have now finally got them down on paper and have wonderful photos made – and am now looking for a publisher. I am so excited to share this book with you all.
For me Osho created a global community that is still thriving today and is open to all people who have a dedication to a higher purpose that is not dogmatic. It is a platform that supports us as a global community – to share information, offerings, to assist the individual in finding their own strength, purpose, joy for life. There are abundant therapies, opportunities to connect, retreats, experiences of being together. It is a wonderful way to inspire each other.
In my opinion Osho’s world is an excellent portal for all seekers to discover new ways of living.
I like to be open to the whole world and through my cookbook – with all those recipes that tell the story of my life – I hope to excite, inspire, heal and nourish, whoever you may be on all levels, wherever you may be on your journey. Anyway, there is really nowhere to go, so enjoy the now because that’s all there is.