Christoph Engen by nikeborome


									              Christoph Engen

Desert Miracle
 A Healing Way Out of Depression and MS
  How an actor, severely ill with MS and depression
rediscovers God and the joy of life in the Sinai Desert.
        And how his severe mobility problems
            are subsequently improved.

                    Christoph Engen

Desert Miracle
 A Healing Way Out of Depression and MS

   Translated by Katrin Potticary and Barbara Fairlight

   “You might have achieved a lot here or nothing at all.
That doesn’t change one iota of your immeasurable worth.”


Please note


The Miracle in the Desert


The Holy Instant




The Under World

Through the Dead Sea


The Old Bedouin Woman

The Joy-Button


The Inner Smile

Christoph Engen

Please note

My case is not meant to encourage the abandonment of sensible medical help from
experts in either conventional or alternative healing.

Don’t think it is necessary to travel to the desert to heal our often scattered and
exhausted minds. Massive efforts are truly not called for, unless you do not see any
other way—as was the case for me in the fall of 2007 when I traveled to the Sinai
Desert in very ill health.

So, what is truly necessary to heal the mind and then bring about relief or perhaps
even recovery from a physical ailment?

At least we need to open up to the idea that space, time, bodies, suffering, and death
might not limit our being at all. We need to bring an openness or willingness to
experience ourselves as perfect spiritual beings. An inexhaustible wealth of help is
available to us on the path to this realization.


To travel to the desert was certainly the last thing I ever would have wished for. It
appeared to me as if all the small and great fears of my life had been lashed and
tangled into an almost unbearably painful knot of desperate defense. I didn’t want to
be in the desert! My whole life already seemed like a sheer desert of the soul. There
was no need to haul my MS-diseased body into the real desert.

Some friends of mine who are students of A Course in Miracles had planned a retreat
in the Sinai Desert and suggested it might do me good to participate. That idea felt
like an utter threat to me. My mind ran amok. The worst thing was that I couldn’t see
any alternative whatsoever. At most there was the option of taking my own life. Yet
even that I couldn’t do, although my thoughts were obsessing on all kinds of possible
suicide variations. It was the fear of even more pain that made me back off at the last
second—pain for myself and the seemingly few others who were still close to me.

In the final weeks before my departure, I felt as if I were being led to an execution. If
only some truck or bus would run over me before I set out on my journey, or if at least
the plane would crash so I wouldn’t have to ever set a foot in that desert!

Yet it seemed that I had to go through this narrowest gate of my life for it to finally
and clearly open wide. I was equally as vehement in resisting the desert as in
resisting the notion that I was completely responsible for my condition, independent
of so called external circumstances.

The Miracle in the Desert

“What we’re up to today is to actually meet God,” Michael had just said to all of us in
the tent. There were about twenty of us participating in a silent retreat centered on A
Course in Miracles*.
Meanwhile I stood leaning against my rock in the shade and looked at the desert
valley in front of me. It was my fifth day of fasting and my seventh day in this isolated
desert valley surrounded by rocks, somewhere in the Sinai.
I felt so weak I could hardly remain upright on my legs and my crutches. Due to
multiple sclerosis I had gotten used to such standing and walking problems over
several years. But this state of extreme physical weakness was certainly also caused
by the exceptional desert heat plus the fasting.

A voice speaks within me:

“Look into your mind. Look how you create your very own experience: through your
thinking. Give all these thoughts to God. Imagine radiant hands reaching down to you
from above. Place all your thoughts into them. All your feelings. All your wishes. All
your worries. Then see how you are creating the entire world. Literally the entire
world of opposites. It appears as a never-ending cycle, creating itself anew from
moment to moment. Each thought immediately brings about its opposite. Each birth
leads immediately to death. But that is not your experience. Your mind creates a
chewing gum to glue together both ends—birth and death—which then allows you to
stretch them apart. This sticky stuff is what you call life, but your real life is so much
more—so radiant, so powerful and at the same time inconceivably peaceful, joyful
and serene... Go there for a moment...”

I kept my eyes closed and saw how my thoughts, wave-like, created themselves
endlessly against an endless, dark background.
And then Bhakti and Michael, the two facilitators of the retreat, appeared. They were
in my mind. With their help the waves of thought came to a halt.

A dream flashed through my mind—one I had when I was twenty, shortly before I
flew to Auroville, India, with a one way ticket.

In the dream I found myself on a long bridge with no visible end. The bridge was
stretched over impenetrable darkness. People in a state of panic were huddled in
front of me. It was a bottomless dark abyss beneath them that caused so much fear. I
walked over to the handrail and experienced the same panic. I suddenly knew that I
was supposed to jump off the bridge into this darkness. My fingers clutched the
handrail. It was obvious to me that I could never do this alone. All of a sudden there
was a being behind me to the right, then another one behind me on the left. I couldn’t
turn my head, but at my back I clearly felt two light presences. They emanated such
serenity that all the fear went away. Then the being on the left started spinning. It
passed me, spun over the handrail and into the abyss, immediately followed by the
second being on the right. And right there I got sucked down with them. Those two
literally exploded into light. It touched me and now I turned into light myself. My eyes
shot open and I found myself in my little student’s den. But now I was looking down

from the ceiling. This was so shocking that immediately I twisted myself back into my
body that was lying on the bed.
The two beings in my dream merged with Bhakti and Michael. They were identical.
In a phone conversation that we had weeks later, Michael confirmed that he and
Bhakti are mainly operating on the level of the mind to extend forgiveness to literally
everything and to help their brothers and sisters into the light.
I felt as if they were silently holding my hands.
A wave of gratitude flooded through me and an incomparable golden light of peace

In this light, any wish anyone could ever have was fulfilled a thousand times over.

“And this incomparable golden light of peace emerged. In this light, any wish anyone
could ever have is fulfilled a thousand times over.”

Everything is healed in this moment, on all levels. The realization occurs that
suffering and sickness and death as much as birth and wellness and life are nothing
but ideas in our one eternally alive, deeply happy, radiant spirit. And this is the
experience. This is God.

“And you are the one who allows the dream to continue. You are always free to stay
completely in the light of peace, in which all conceivable wishes have already been
fulfilled a million, billion, trillion times over. Or you can choose to go on dreaming.
Realize that it is up to you. Either way, it’s OK.”

It was about the same time of day two days earlier when I had leaned against my
“rock of forgiveness” with stiff, rigid legs and a buzzing head. Two meters away from
my feet was my sleeping site—suitcase, bag, mat and sleeping bag. I had stood
there for quite some time when I decided to get something out of my suitcase. I had
to get going before the sun came around the hill at my back and while there was still
a bit of shade. Afterwards I planned on walking to the group tent, which was about 40
meters away. In there I could face the boiling heat of the afternoon. In order to open
the suitcase I had to kneel down on the sleeping bag. I sat there for a while resting on
my heels and rummaging through my suitcase. I could feel the sun slowly rising up
on my back and getting hotter and hotter. I mumbled into my six-day-old beard, “I’ve
really got to get going” and tried to get up. I couldn’t move. Sitting in this crouching
position had almost numbed my legs. My head, wrapped in a light blue Bedouin’s
cloth, was so exposed to the burning sun that I almost fainted. I had been told to
simply call out or whistle if I needed help, and one of the other members of the group
would hear me. They were usually close by behind their own rock. But this time,
nobody showed up, not even after I screamed loudly and whistled the SOS signal
three times quite piercingly.

Suddenly I heard Bhakti’s voice in my mind: “Get on your knees”. “On my knees?” I
thought, “I am not going to crawl through the sand to the tent. My pants will get even
dirtier.” I tried to get to my feet again. At the last moment I lost my strength and
dropped back onto the sleeping bag. Again I heard Bhakti’s voice clearly: “Get on
your knees”. And again I insisted on keeping my pants somewhat clean. Once more I
tried to get up, only to collapse again. I repeated this a third time. And again I heard
Bhakti’s voice: “Get on your knees.” The heat was almost unbearable and I felt so
weak. Something within me remembered how I could get on my knees anyway.

Instead of prying myself up with great effort, I could get there by simply tilting my
pelvis. It didn’t take much and I was sort of standing on my knees. In this position I
hobbled towards the tent for three or four steps and back again. I finally maneuvered
myself into an upright position by leaning on the suitcase. Fevered and very shaky, I
headed towards the tent. I just made it in time to sink onto one of the mattresses. I
was too exhausted to adjust my warped position and was simply relieved to have
made it to the shade. My Bedouin’s shawl covered my whole face, yet countless flies
found uncovered skin to tickle and swarm about on. They couldn’t disturb me

My mother Erica appeared in my mind and I longed to see her as she actually is,
leaving behind all memories, good or not so good. It was like a prayer that I thought:
“Please let me see Mom the way she is.” My prayer was answered at once.
What a light, bright, loving, happy being I was shown!
Joy and gratitude were all I felt. This was the real Erica, cleansed of all memories.
I lay there for a long time, basking in the vision of my mother.

* A Course in Miracles is a spiritual guideline for self-study. Its basic aim is the
attainment of real inner peace by means of forgiveness.


What a terrible crisis I had had. At home in Munich I had already repeatedly stood in
high-rise apartments in front of windows and stairwells, ready to jump and finally end
this abysmal despair.
Was that my fourth acute, long-lasting depression? In any case it was the second
one I’d tried to master with antidepressants, and naturally with psychotherapy as well.
I’d already undergone two treatments that had lasted for years. One was a 4-year
body and breath centered treatment and the other 3 years of classic psychotherapy.
Then there were the three years of training as a breath therapist, which could be
regarded as a therapeutic process in its own right. I’d certainly learned and
experienced a lot through all that, but the real breakthrough had not happened. Then
there were the various spiritual paths that I had tried and sometimes even followed
for a fairly long period—such as traditional Christianity, esoteric Christianity, Yoga,
Sufism, Satsangs, Buddhism, Reiki etc. They had often hinted at this breakthrough
and even brought me tangibly closer to it, but in my case, they had not succeeded in
bringing it about.

So, now I was fifty and forced by ill health to accept early retirement, which I saw as
the total failure of my careers, both as an actor and teacher of breath work. Plus I
could hardly move anymore, which from the point of view of conventional medicine
was due to my MS. Somehow everything hurt, was cramped and stiff. My feet burned
so much that I could hardly tolerate socks, let alone shoes. I often ground my teeth
and picked at and chewed the flesh around my fingernails. The only thing I “enjoyed”
was sleeping, except that I was panic-stricken at the thought of waking up and having
to face another day of yawning emptiness, feeling ill, feeling paralyzed, feeling
sudden urges to pee, feeling dizzy. Worst of all were the unpredictable outbursts of
self-abuse. This could take the form of slapping or hitting myself in the bath. Then
there was the other extreme of allowing my body to literally freeze up by sitting in one
place for hours without moving my feet or legs.

Thank God my wife Evi always stood by me and pulled me through even though she
herself was more and more affected by my condition. Of course she had to go to
work during the day and so I was left to myself, my physical ailments, and even
worse, my increasing mental confusion.

Some of the very few people I remained in contact with were the members of an A
Course in Miracles study group that had already helped me a lot during my last year-
and-a-half-long bout with depression.
They repeatedly invited me to join them and take part in seminars all over Germany,
which I occasionally did.
Then they planned a several-week-long seminar in the middle of the Sinai Desert
with the title “Stillness in you” and repeatedly invited me to attend.
The whole thing created sheer panic in me. How was I supposed to survive even the
4 hour flight to Sharm el Sheikh? How was I supposed to get around in the deep
sand with my massive difficulties in walking? Not to mention the intense heat there!
Nevertheless, I had already made my decision to go to the desert months before at a
seminar I had attended in Berlin. Raising my crutches in the air, I had happily
announced, “I am going to the desert!”

But the panic that broke out in me afterwards was sheer mortal terror, for months on
end. It got to the point that I would rather commit suicide than let myself in for this
seemingly so strenuous journey. How was I supposed to move in the desert? Me—
the one who would usually sit in a paralyzed state, fearfully feeling my legs getting
stiffer and stiffer.

Again I heard this clear voice of wisdom within me:

“In truth you have spent most of your time repeating your killing mantra over and over
again. That is resentment, pure and simple.”

At any rate, there was an angel who came with me to the airport (most of the other
participants in the seminar were already in the Sinai) to hand me off to the next
caring angel who took me under his wing during the flight to Egypt. And then there
were all the other angels who would encourage and support me, mostly over the
Before I knew it, I found myself in a wet sleeping bag one night in the middle of the
Sinai Desert under the stars. It was my first night in the desert and in the sleeping
bag. There was a cold wind. I was so drowsy that I didn’t hit the peeing jar in the
dark. The others were laying spread out behind rocks and gorse bushes. Of course I
got help with my wet sleeping bag, but as far as I was concerned it was not enough. I
wished for someone who would do nothing but look after me non-stop—someone
who would anticipate my every wish and do everything for me.

When I was supposed to get dressed quickly to go to session in the tent at 4:30 in the
morning, I lost it and blared uncontrollably, “What is this shit?! I didn’t come here to
get more stressed out!” I yelled into the quiet, predawn desert. Here and there, a
figure on its way to meditate glided in the direction of the tent. There was no answer.
My roars faded into nothingness. All I got were a few words of admonition afterwards
in the tent from Michael, the facilitator.

Later on, Ana and Bernhard, who had helped me so often before, and who had slept
right near me this first night in the desert, moved their things away from my sleeping
area without explanation. Again I had another reason to feel hurt. And of course I did,
until the two co-organizers of the desert excursion, Maria and Hans-Juergen, took
pity on me and suggested a new sleeping spot about thirty meters away from them.
The next morning at breakfast on the sand dune I had to speak out, “I’ve got to have
more help. I can’t cope here.”
Quite apart from the symptoms of paralysis, as a result of my deep depression I had
developed increasing difficulties managing the simplest daily tasks. For instance, it
would sometimes take me hours to decide which socks I could tolerate with the
painful neuropathy in my feet. And I was often overcome with such leaden fatigue
that in the midst of doing something, my movements came to a halt and I fell asleep
in whatever position I happened to be in at that moment. I had trouble coordinating
even a simple series of actions. I had only a suitcase and a bag to keep track of, yet
even with these few belongings I was worried and fearful that chaos would take over.
On top of those concerns, I realized that moving on the sandy terrain was much more
strenuous than I had thought.

“This situation here is your own responsibility”, was the essence of Michael’s answer
when I asked to be taken care of more. “Nobody forced you to come here. I had
suggested that you attend just the part of the seminar that we’ll spend on the beach
by the Red Sea next week, because we thought—and so did you—that this might be
a little extreme for you. Well, you’re here now. But don’t expect to get special
treatment from anyone here. There will be help if you need something specific—there
are enough people here that you can turn to. But be clear about what you need. It’s
not our job to support you in weakness, helplessness and confusion that is of your
own choosing. You are just as capable and powerful as anyone else here. If you
don’t like it, call a taxi and go back to Sharm el Sheikh and fly home and get care and
assistance. You have enough money. Is this brotherhood and love in action?”
Everyone in the circle said loud and clearly, “Yes.” Everyone except me.
After a little pause Michael added, “And if you want to be depressed, be depressed.”
“I don’t want to be depressed at all,” I said.
“Good, then don’t try to get our attention with it. You are a whole, holy, perfect child of
God like anyone here. All power is given to you. So if you want to mope around being
depressed, do it. Feel free. But keep it to yourself, and be assured that it doesn’t
bother us if you do.”
With this the conversation ended.

I was told later on that I didn’t show much reaction on the outside, but all hell broke
loose inside of me. It felt as if all the negativity of my life had narrowed down like a
spearhead and concentrated in one single tiny spot. It was the essence of hurt and
humiliation and the helpless rage at feeling that way. I could have killed them all --
those seemingly healthy ones who tell you that you are responsible for everything.
They were worse than those who bombard you with well-meant advice.
All I wanted was to finally die. Finally leave this cursed vale of tears called “life”,
where everything was futile in the end. Where everything has to die eventually.
Every now and then this disastrous multiple sclerosis had seemed to me like a slow
death—like taking leave of one healthy bodily function after another in a kind of slow
motion which offered the hideous privilege of experiencing every bit of it in detail. I
abhorred every bit of it.

I lay in my sleeping bag seething with rage. I brooded over how I could manage, in
my debilitated state, to arrange an early flight back. But what would I do back home
in Germany with my little bit of severely disabled life? To drop out now wouldn’t
change any of my despair. It would be sheer poison.
The very next moment I wondered how I could manage to climb one of the high rocks
in the area and jump off. But it was no use. In my condition I would never muster the
strength to even get up on the rock.
Then I again felt this bottomless rage towards the people here and especially towards
Michael and the cool, matter-of-fact manner in which he had flung his wisdom at me.
In my mind’s eye I saw how I wiped everybody out with a big machine gun.

Days later Michael said to me, “You have no idea how much Bhakti was with you in
spirit after our conversation.”

The Holy Instant

“This ‘I’ who hates is exactly what we call the ego. In the end, it’s none other than a
savage attack on yourself. And the task of the spiritual teacher is this: to make you
aware of all your negativity and all your grievances, to show you that it is all of your
own making, and to show you the tool that you can use to repair this false construct
of your infinitely free and loving spirit: forgiveness. This is the practice of the Holy

“Sooner or later you must see that the ultimate goal of this hateful ego is to kill your
Self. But that’s not all. You can only achieve true liberation through the realization
that you alone brought this ego into existence. This is why we repeat over and over
that you are responsible for everything in your experience. This includes death, of
course. It is your ultimate personal choice to experience a world in which everything
dies. Strictly speaking, you are here because you want to die. You are here because
you want to experience limitation. That is the only reason, and the ego is the faithful
agent of your divine will. Do not forget that your will is given to you by God.
So what is the solution? Bring all of your grievances to the Holy Instant. All this
turmoil. All this nervous excitement. Bring all your despair and all your self-loathing.”

Michael had repeatedly mentioned that in the sessions, but it wasn’t clear to me how
it was supposed to be put into practice. When he talked about it, Michael had often
gestured upward with his hands and eyes, so I visualized releasing all my thoughts to
someplace up above me.
It was the only thing I could do. Every other course of action was blocked. Again and
again, I made the effort to envision myself handing over all my rage and inner fury to
God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit or a loving higher consciousness.

“Yes, that’s right. That’s the way. Imagine light-filled hands that come to you from
above. Place everything in them. You don’t even necessarily need to see that it is
your own mind that creates all of your feelings and all of your desires and all of your
distress. It is sufficient that you no longer keep anything for yourself. That is what
letting go really means: you release all of your thoughts and feelings, whatever their
nature, to the Intelligence that knows the way to the light, the way to freedom.”

All of a sudden a touch of completely detached serenity came into my mind.
How I could suddenly start to grin was completely incomprehensible to me.
At least I fell asleep while I was doing it.

Of course, when I opened my eyes at about 4 in the morning the sheer panic was
back. How would I get dressed, how would I get myself together, how would I endure
all of this without freaking out?

After the following session, which I again barely understood, Michael once again
made the suggestion that anyone who so desired could make use of the time by
fasting for five days—not for physical reasons, but as a way to free ourselves from
the mental knots that are nearly impossible to undo in any other way.

I was game, admittedly only because I was certain that during the eight or nine days
in the desert I’d be constipated anyway. Surely that would be more bearable with an
empty stomach. Yet they had made a special “throne” just for me—my friends had
sawed a hole in the seat of an ordinary plastic chair...


“I am responsible for what I see. I choose the feelings I experience and I decide upon
the goal I would achieve.”     A Course in Miracles

”And don’t forget to steer clear of Christoph. He really needs solitude.” Those were
Michael’s parting words after our group breakfast on the deep sand of the dune. He
had said it once before during his morning talk, and the words were like a punch in
the gut.
Solitude—you’ve got to be kidding! I’d had more than enough of that at home. It was
the last thing I needed now.

Since my depression had set in over a year before, I had gotten myself so wrapped
up in the symptoms of my MS that loneliness was the logical consequence. My
thoughts constantly revolved around all the things that were going wrong, all the
things I couldn’t do. Of course everyone soon got tired of hearing about it. At the
same time, I couldn’t stand the people who did want to hear about it because they
saw it as a validation of their own suffering.
As a result, I’d gradually broken off most of my social contacts, and I mostly sat or lay
around the apartment and observed myself gradually losing my mind.
On top of all that, my physical capabilities were deteriorating. I’d lost not only the
ability to walk—I now used crutches all the time, and occasionally a wheelchair—but
also, due to the buildup of excess urine in the bladder, I was incontinent. This had so
often landed me in embarrassing situations where I couldn’t hold it and had to pee
somewhere in public that I had become pretty thick-skinned about it. I always carried
a so-called “uri-bag”, a small plastic bag that you could fold up and put in your
pocket, ready to use when the urgent need arose. Once, standing in the checkout
line of a supermarket, I even managed to pay with one hand while I did my business
with the other. I did this without anyone noticing—at least I don’t think anyone did. Of
course, that was during a period when I wasn’t depressed; otherwise I wouldn’t have
dreamed of pulling such a stunt…

So—I had begun to fast. I pulled the list of contraindications for my anti-depressants
out of the packet and once again read how dangerous it was to abruptly cut them off,
that you shouldn’t do so without consulting a physician. Then I crumpled the whole
thing up and threw it in the small trash bag that lay on the sand beside my suitcase.
The meds hadn’t changed my feeling of isolation one bit anyway, and they couldn’t
fulfill my desire to die.
My wife Evi claimed that my state of mind had brightened since I’d started taking anti-
depressants nine months before, but I hadn’t noticed much of anything. I just kept
yearning to finally be more involved in social activities again, and I was sure that it
was the only way I’d be able to truly defeat my depression. Yet when the social
events took place, for example a get-together with friends, I felt all-too-quickly
overwhelmed, and was happy to be alone with Evi again, not having to talk about
something that didn’t interest me. Most conversation focused on the ephemeral
anyway, without offering an imperishable alternative.

“What is loneliness, then? It is not a thought of God. God has no thought of suffering.
The entire divine creation is God’s thoughts. You are a thought of God. Loneliness is
not a thought of God, yet there seems to be someone who experiences it. Is it you?
As a perfect child of God, can you possibly experience anything as other than
perfect? No. You need something to do that for you. An instrument. That which you
call the ego. And since God doesn’t provide this agent, this instrument, you’re forced
to do so. That is to say that the ego that perceives itself as separate from others is of
your own design. This construct makes it possible, through your own will, to perceive
a world full of imperfection. So it is only through the ego that you can possibly
experience something like loneliness. Then what is loneliness, really? Your will. What
is impermanence? Your will. What is hate? Your will. “

At home, how often I had envied small children being pushed in strollers by their
parents—children who seemed to know nothing of a hostile world and who had their
whole lives before them.
How often I had been watched anxiously by seemingly healthy people as I laboriously
dragged myself around on my crutches. Their looks said: “I hope that doesn’t happen
to me someday.”

”And all this self-pity. Know that it is you who calls it into being.”

Again I recalled that it was indeed entirely my own doing that I now found myself in
this sick and hopeless state:
A good year before I had let some promising career prospects slip through my
fingers, as translator and reader/performer of poetry by Rumi, the renowned Sufi
mystic. I’d been unable to publish a book of Rumi’s poems that I had translated from
the American version of his works by Coleman Barks. And I’d subsequently backed
off from an appearance at an “Evening with Rumi” that a friend Claudia Matussek, an
overtone singer, and I had already put on twice before. I had cancelled for fear of
another attack of dizziness or incontinence, or so I told myself. The reality, very well
concealed behind a wall of insecurity, was that I just didn’t feel like making the effort
any more. After all, I could justify all my failures with two words: multiple sclerosis.

“This unconscious refusal to pursue your project—where would it take you? To
feelings of guilt and failure. And where would your guilt take you? To solitude. And
where would your loneliness take you? To death.
Mission accomplished. MS is a great means to that end, because what really
happens with it? Your capabilities shrink more and more. Remember, the more your
belief in your illness grew, the less you were able to do. Hence your fear of this trip. It
forced you—literally and physically—to be once again capable of more than
someone who’s on his deathbed.”

Lying in my sleeping bag the following night, for the first time in a year I felt like
moving and stretching my limbs, even doing a few light muscle-building exercises. In
the cool of the desert night it was much easier than in the heat of the day. While I
was doing that, I got the idea of arranging a seminar for Michael and Bhakti in Munich
if they wanted, and all at once the long yearned-for feeling was back: joy in being

“This was the first time in a long time that you’ve given a thought to someone other
than yourself.”


In the days that followed, I gradually recovered the ability to organize myself better
and with less effort. Just as I’d experienced with my two previous bouts with
depression, it was an uneven process—a brief ray of hope followed by longer periods
of fear and confusion. Then another bright spot that lasted a little longer this time.
Then the darkness of the soul, then brightness again.
It went like that for the remaining days of the fast, but with increasingly longer periods
of brightness. Little by little, I regained confidence in my ability to keep my belongings
in order.

During the sessions—Michael’s talks—I also began to understand what he was
talking about more and more. Then one evening I began to mentally translate
Michael’s words into English as he spoke. After all, during our long telephone
conversations in Germany before this trip, one of the reasons that Michael had tried
to persuade me to come along was so that I could act as an English interpreter later
on in Israel. So—I decided to get some practice. Silently translating Michael’s words
in my head, I sometimes felt almost euphoric. I saw how the mental activity not only
strengthened my ability to think, but also that “right-mindedness”, as the Course
called it, returned to my conscious awareness. As Michael spoke, I could feel how he
was accessing an inner voice that was whole, holy, truly healthy, truly loving, and
able to distinguish the difference between truth and illusion. As I took in his words,
they began to awaken my own whole, holy, healthy, happy inner voice. In other
words, his love called my love to mind, and it was clear that it was not a case of two
different loves. Just as God is One, genuine love is One.

Then there were situations where I was wild with rage and desperation. For instance,
the time that, in the middle of a session, I suddenly had to pee. I somehow managed
to struggle to my feet, tottered outside and staggered around the corner of the tent—
and there sat two of the Bedouin attendants looking over at me. So I went off to find
someplace in the open desert. I just made it to a gorse bush that I could hold onto in
a pinch. Wobbling precariously, I did my business and was attacked by the usual
insane swarm of flies that were attracted by the yummy urine and mucous. The
crowning glory was that I lost my balance and fell in the deep sand of the desert.

No one came to my aid, but in the light of the luxuriously setting sun wise words
sounded softly from the nearby tent...

”Forgive… ”


“It’s beautiful that we have come so far. From here on, from now on, our two voices
will join and be one. Therefore let us put the past completely to rest; let us put to rest
all the thoughts that want to make us believe in the importance of finishing this report.
It is already written in the heart of God. Everything is already fulfilled. There truly is
nothing that needs to be accomplished. In reality, no effort whatsoever is necessary.
What could be more important than fulfillment? More important than being completely
filled with peace and joy and life?

To extend them.

“Who says so?”

A Course in Miracles.

“What does A Course in Miracles say? At the end it says: ‘Forget this Course’. It is
not about the Course any more than it’s about this story.”

Unless… you do something simply out of joy. And because it brings joy to others.


As I said, in my sleeping bag at night I’d resumed my simple stretches and easy
isometric exercises for building muscle. To lie awake in the cool desert night, making
plans for seminars and feeling the muscles in my own body—muscles I had refused
to move for so long—was like waking from a long nightmare that I had stage-
managed in order to experience it myself.

Waves of gratitude filled me as I chewed my first date after six days of fasting and
listened to Michael during our shared breakfast. Gratitude for the great clarity in
which Michael would let this whole, holy, joyful, earnest inner voice come through.
Gratitude for this wonderful spiritual teaching A Course in Miracles. And gratitude for
this small, determined group of seekers and finders who had gathered here
somewhere in the Sinai Desert to be free.

Of course, A Course in Miracles also consists of concepts and ideas and is therefore
disputable. As such, it might be nothing more than a basis for discussion. And yet—
when those concepts were allowed to unfold within the mind, when they were
accepted as a possible truth and taken to heart, or better yet, ones own heart is set in
motion by them—then these concepts offered an inner grounding, a peace and
freedom I had never experienced before.
The crucial idea is to accept total responsibility for literally everything you experience.
Which should not be confused with being guilty. Yes, you made mistakes, but they
are gone. Yes, you make mistakes, but in the next moment they are past. Lightning-
fast we make a sort of recording of an event we just experienced and replay it in our
minds over and over like a movie. This is the only reason that a past event affects a
current situation. Once you become aware of that process and stop the recording—

which is what forgiving is—we experience the present moment completely without
judgment and everything can flow into it that is true life, whole life.
This cyberspeed recording that we do in our own mind is usually concealed in a fog
of unconsciousness, and we are even less aware of the fact that we are compelled to
judge the experience. We divide into good and bad: positive and negative memories,
light and dark, black and white. We create our entire world from this judgment game.
We are also unaware that all this arises from our conscious decision to experience

The Underworld

“What seems to be the fear of death is really its attraction.”
A Course in Miracles

So many people had prayed for my healing or at least an improvement in my mental
and emotional state during the time I was so doing so badly.
First and foremost, Evi, my wife. She didn’t expect to be patted on the back, but
quietly showed her love and compassion by keeping the whole practical side of our
lives on track. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for her to deal with my
illness-fuelled mood swings and unpredictable outbursts on top of her professional
duties. And I am eternally grateful for her unwavering determination to withstand the
strong negative pull with which I attempted to bring down everything in my

My intent to commit suicide had called forth all the demons of the underworld. Of
course, they were all creations of my own mind, but at the time I didn’t know that.
My own death-oriented thinking, which was for the most part unconscious, had called
these demons into existence. And I didn’t know how to stop this negative self-talk, or
rather, I didn’t want to. I wanted death. I wanted to be dead. Not to be dying anymore,
but to finally be dead. How well I could understand all the fragile, lonely people who,
perhaps without realizing it, wanted to finally be dead in order to have a fresh start.

What a tremendous pull those death fantasies had for me. New lives flashed through
my mind. Unhappy lives. They were forged from scarcity thinking, seemingly
irresolvable conflicts, and irrational longings, and they played out in disadvantaged,
underdeveloped regions of the world. As negative as they were, such images had a
magnetic attraction for me.
I could actually feel how, in them, the next incarnation of my mind wanted to be pre-
At the same time, it was those images that kept me from killing myself. I knew that
nothing good could come of a suicide that would only bring pain and grief to family
and friends. As confused and miserable as I was, I did know that you may only take
your own life when you’re in a good mood, at peace with your fellow man.

Along with Evi there were others who stood by me during this difficult time, in both
visible and invisible ways. They sent me their good thoughts and prayers. Among
them were certainly my father and my mother, and also my son Gwendal, who
always wished only the best for me in his own special way. Other friends and
acquaintances helped as well: for example Helga who voluntarily looked after me
twice a week, and Dr. Bumm, my psychotherapist.
I am also so grateful to Michael and his group. Michael repeatedly told me how he
had had visions of me at the edge, ready to leap, and he had held my hand in spirit.
And his friend and event organizer Wolfgang Bernardo and his wife Ana had often
done so in reality by repeatedly getting me out of my hole and inviting me to their
home and to seminars.
Since I had gotten to know Michael four years ago at one of his seminars, he had felt
committed to helping me through this crisis. Three, four time per week I received

letters from him and so often we had talked during seminars and on the phone. At a
time, when apparently many others had turned away from me.

Through the Dead Sea

“There is a change for the trip back,” said Michael two days before our departure
from Camp Zman Midbar, in the Israeli desert close to the Dead Sea.
“On the way to the airport we’ll stop for a couple of hours at the Dead Sea. It will be
good for Christoph to take a dip in it.”

Here we go again: I was panic-stricken.

The last two weeks after our stay in the desert—first in a simple camp on the Red
Sea, then a short week at another seminar with Bhakti and Michael in Israel, near
Arad—my mental state had become more and more stable. Most importantly, I had
gotten my fears around packing my suitcase under control. Now I had thought that
there was only one more time that I needed to get my stuff together, and after that
the long journey back would be a snip. The drive of a few hours to Ben Gurion Airport
and the waiting period before the flight, which would leave after 10:00 PM, were not

Now all that had changed: I had to get ready for two legs of the trip, and they
demanded different clothing. How was I supposed to cope…an excellent thought for
producing fear again. My glands obeyed my unconscious command to the letter, and
sure enough, my body broke into a cold sweat. At the same time my brain got
another chance to produce the state of mental paralysis.

Then at the Dead Sea…

The blazing heat at this lowest spot on planet earth. The steel blue sky. I only made it
into the jelly-like sea-salt concentrate by tottering over the burning sand in slow

“Just think,” Michael had said before our departure, “the Dead Sea is really dead.
Dead as a door nail.”

Deeper in the gooey liquid, at the place where you couldn’t stand up anymore,
Michael and Bhakti were showing me treading movements that I imitated with great
How happy and alive those two were, and the others as well.

At one point I lost my balance and was dunked completely under water because of
the powerful upwelling of the Dead Sea. At that point I was apart from the others. The
acridly salty water penetrated every opening in my head. All my muscles contracted
abruptly; I became stiff as a board. I kept my eyes squeezed shut, they burned so
hard. To breathe through my nose was unthinkable. It was just oozing. Thank God
Brother Felix, a young computer scientist, had just waved cheerfully at me and I
could hear him on his way to rescue me. Floating face-up, I bobbed up and down in
this Sea of Death, stiff and rigid and incapable of improving my position in any way.
In my head it burned like fire.

As Felix pushed me toward the beach like a log, the intensely salty water poured out
of all the openings in my skull. All I craved was clear water. All the while, Felix and I
chatted animatedly in different languages and dialects about various questions
concerning enlightenment techniques. Above all, I remember how grateful I was for
his safe conduct.

On the beach Bernardo was waiting for us with a bottle of water. It didn’t take long till
I could open my eyes again and take a shower under the curious gaze of some of the

Again I heard my inner voice:

“Yes, my dear, now you have written it. This is the power of memory. The whole of
human culture consists of memories. Yet it is about moving on beyond memories to
find your way to the Life that extends on and on.
If you let go of your memory in every moment, you open up to the formless. That is a
joy beyond compare.”


„When we are thankful, we can see.”        Reshad Feild

I’ve now been back from the desert for four months. So strictly speaking, I’m now four
months young, even though I’m still hobbling through the world in a 50-year-old’s
body. Some times are easier, some harder, though my overall ease of movement has
increased. Whereas before my experience in the desert I was only able to think and
act two-dimensionally, I’m now, day by day, regaining my physical capabilities. For
instance, I can now take a shower without holding onto something, which had
previously been possible only with the greatest caution and exertion. And while
before I hardly dared drive a car anymore, now I don’t give it another thought.
I have also started doing easy stretches along with balance and strength exercises,
for example with a large exercise ball. As for my bladder problems, certain exercises
for increasing awareness of and strengthening the floor of the pelvis have been

What has helped me the most with my physical problems is an ancient Chinese
exercise and regeneration system called Hsin Tao, which is said to be the precursor
of Qi Gong and other disciplines ( A substantial part of Hsin Tao
has to do with a calm and effortless mindfulness. The simple movements have very
descriptive names that allude to their spiritual roots. Through an exercise called “The
Saint Stretches His Waist,” which is done in a standing position, I learned how
important the muscles of the core are for standing and walking. For years I had
completely overlooked these muscles and relied on the muscles of my upper thighs
to hold myself up, which inevitably led to balance problems, the familiar lurching gait,
and my quickness to fatigue.

However, my work with A Course in Miracles, which from the outset makes clear that
we are primarily spiritual beings, continues to be of central importance to me.
After having, more or less imperfectly, done the 365 daily lessons over a period of
years, I can now effortlessly use this comprehensive teaching material. (This would
have been possible before if I hadn’t been so contaminated by my self-created fears
and feelings of inferiority.) Now I read part of the book daily, primarily in the early
morning hours, even if it’s only one sentence. In no time at all, it lifts my spirits and
sets me on the right track. In no time at all, I know that I am connected to life and to a
creation that is so completely free and joyful that sometimes tears of gratitude come
to my eyes.

For example, if you take one line, such as Daily Lesson number 50:

“I am sustained by the love of God”

and let it simply unfold in your psyche for a while, it can lay all your worry and fears to
rest. If you truly open yourself to such a statement, putting aside all reservations and
intellectual doubts for a moment, then the miracle really can happen—and suddenly
you’re home.

The Healing Continues

I’m now a good ten months old. My fear that once back home in Germany I’d relapse
into MS and depression has evaporated. I do, however, maintain the same daily
routine as in the desert. I love getting up between 4 and 5 AM while it’s still very quiet
to do my physical therapy and Hsin Tao exercises, watch morning TV, and immerse
myself in the universe of the Course in Miracles.

I work with this spiritual guide line in my own idiosyncratic way. Over the years,
largely thanks to Michael, I had come to better understand the language and
concepts of the Course, and it became increasingly clearer to me that there was an
autonomous intelligence at work in this thick blue book, an intelligence which often
seemed to automatically direct my eyes to certain lines or passages that were
important for me at that moment. In those cases it was clearly my own inner guidance
at work, which I also experienced more and more often as an inner voice.

The tips I received from this inner voice were not limited to spiritual matters; they
could just as likely be down to earth and practical. For example, one morning it
occurred to me to submit my translations of Rumi’s poems (which I’d been unable to
get published on my own 18 months before) to a professional publisher in a slightly
different format. I pursued this impulse and encountered nothing but open doors.
Eighteen months before, I hadn’t been able to get anywhere with the publication of
my renditions of Coleman Barks’ Rumi, but now everything suddenly fell into place.
All obstacles and complications were easily overcome as soon as I made the
decision to hand over the entire project to Divine Intelligence without giving a thought
to success or failure.
— Die Musik, die wir sind (The Music that We are), Rumi, Arbor Verlag, 2009 —

Then, two months ago, I returned to the Sinai for a second time, this time with Evi.
We wanted to pay a visit to Maria and Hans-Juergen on the Red Sea. They had
organized the first meditation retreat in the desert, and we had become good friends.

It was late May, early June, and already quite hot in the Sinai. It had taken nearly a
whole day of travel to get there, and that evening in our small hotel room on the
Red Sea we were exhausted. Evi got acclimated amazingly quickly and even had a
beer with our friends that evening, but I was totally wiped out. I felt feverish; I could
hardly stand up, and my equilibrium was seriously messed up. Suddenly the old
panic was back—the confused disorientation that I thought I’d long since vanquished.
How was I supposed to unpack my bag and get myself organized, in this condition? I
stood next to the bed, paralyzed. The nearby bathroom seemed miles away. Just as I
had done in the worst phase of my depression, I started to stammer to myself that I
had no idea how I could go on. Evi noticed my state, became alarmed and tried
unsuccessfully to calm me with a few words. All the panic I thought I’d overcome a
good eight months before in this very desert suddenly had me in a stranglehold, as if
I’d come back here to retrieve the depression I’d left behind. It was unbelievable! I
heard the words “Lie down,” inside me. “Lie down,” the voice repeated over and over,
and that’s what I finally did. Barely undressed, I sank heavily onto the bed beside Evi.

Everything was spinning inside me. With my eyes closed, all my fears and confusions
raised their ugly heads. My heart raced.
“Help!” I thought. “Please help me!”
I could clearly see how the panic had taken complete possession of my
consciousness. All that remained was an enormous dark cloud, and I lay under it,
whimpering and trembling.

When I was little, I’d had recurring dreams of dark clouds that rolled toward me slowly
and inexorably until they finally buried me. There had been a period when I had the
nightmare almost every night, and I always woke up screaming, bathed in sweat.
There was no escaping it.

In my therapy sessions I’d often relived this nightmare and worked through it. By now
it was fraught with every possible interpretation, but the way A Course in Miracles
framed it was completely different. The Course stated adamantly and
uncompromisingly that everything we feel is of our own choosing. So if I felt fear, it
was because I had chosen to feel fear, and I alone could make the decision to
choose it again at any time.

As I lay there, stiff and frozen with panic, phrases from A Course in Miracles came
into my head: “God goes with me wherever I go”…”I am sustained by the love of
God”… ”I am the light of the world”…

These sentences were tiny points of light in the oppressive darkness that enveloped
me. I clutched at them like a drowning man. Suddenly the darkness began to revolve
like a massive wheel. Amazed, I watched the whole scene unfolding clearly in my
mind’s eye. The darkness was in my mind. Light arose in my mind. The choice was
mine alone to make. I relaxed more and more and finally fell asleep.

When I awoke it was still night in the room. I was able to move again, and I groped
my way through the dark, tottered to the sliding glass door leading to the terrace and
gazed, filled with gratitude, at the dark, empty beach and the calm Red Sea.

Dawn crept in gradually. It was getting light, and in the stillness a small sparrow
fluttered onto a nearby antenna cable. He hopped back and forth on the wire and
chirped at me boldly and cheerfully.

The Old Bedouin Woman

It was the day before our departure from the Sinai. Evi and I were sitting in one of the
pillow-strewn encampments on the Red Sea beach along with our friends Hans-
Jürgen and Maria, the trip organizers, and a middle-aged Israeli woman we’d met a
short time before. I was just about to read aloud a lesson from A Course in Miracles:
“Love is the way I walk in gratitude.”

Then an old Bedouin woman came wobbling in our direction from the deserted
beach. As soon as she saw us she began to croak loudly, praising God at the top of
her voice with a nearly toothless mouth. Again and again she threw out her chest and
opened her arms wide toward the sky, and we could often make out “Allah!” in the
torrent of words.

“Love is the way I walk in gratitude.” My reading was over for the time being.
Chattering loudly and unselfconsciously, she broke into our circle and made herself
at home. It was clear: she wasn’t coming to our place but rather, we were her
indulged guests. The old Bedouin woman began taking things out of her sack and
presenting them to us as she squatted in front of us—little handmade necklaces,
bracelets, and other things of that sort. I noticed the drive with which she swung her
old body into a squat—without the least pause in the flood of words. Here and there
came another “Allah” and a look or a gesture upward.

“Love is the way I walk in gratitude.” My attempt to interrupt the old woman and
postpone the dealings until later was quickly shot down. “Now,” said Hans-Juergen.
“There is no ‘later’ for them.”
So each of us bought a necklace or a bracelet, and since we evidently paid a good
price, she gave us an assortment of good luck charms free of charge. The old woman
made quite sure that we wore them, too.
Then she swung her pelvis back and up, stretching her body upright with a groan.
She croaked her thanks to God-Allah, blessed us at the top of her voice, and went on
her way.

“Love is the way I walk in gratitude”

read Maria and I finally, alternating German and English. As we read, the sea rolled
quietly toward us, and God was tangibly present.

The Joy Button

After our return, other teachers and students of the Course like Gary Renard or
Kenneth Wapnick became increasingly important to me and helped to deepen my
understanding with their books and CDs. The central tool and theme of the Course—
forgiveness—is presented in their work in a way that makes it easy to understand.

A core idea of the Course is that it is our own decision to separate from God or our
Source or our Perfection. And that we feel enormously guilty because of that.
According to the Course, it is guilt that fuels the part of us that has made the
experience of separation possible in the first place. The Course calls this entity the
ego. It’s the part of us that thinks “I” and that limits itself to a physical body with its
appearance and its experiences—in contrast to the bodies of others, different in
appearance and with different experiences and knowledge. Other traditions also
regard this form of “I” as the only obstacle to happiness. In Buddhism as well as in
Advaita, the non-dual essence of the Indian Vedas, there is no reality whatsoever
given to the ego.
Just as we can clothe ourselves with the ego and its dreams of guilt at any time, our
escape or salvation from it is also possible at any moment.
How? Look at the intense desire of your mind to blame yourself, others, or any given
situation (e.g. bad weather, illness, lack of money, infidelity, etc.) for a perception of
lack. Release yourself and others from that. Forgive.

We could only be bound to our nightmares of sickness, suffering, death and
separation because of the construct that keeps us bound to them, namely: the ego.
This is the entity that says, “You are guilty,” or “I am guilty,” or “I am better,” or “You
are better.” These thoughts are false because they simply do not express God’s
unconditional love. Perfection does not create imperfection. Neither we nor our
neighbors are flawed. We are only flawed if we believe we are. This belief can be
corrected at any time. See your neighbor as perfect, as God sees you both, and the
whole thing will go up in smoke.
The joy of life, free from conditions, is reactivated. You could also say: we push the
joy button.

This joy button is really available to us at all times regardless of our present situation.
Real joy of life absolutely does not depend on anything. We have merely buried that
knowledge deep inside our unconscious.
I realized a lot about that when I watched the audience’s reaction to a tie-breaking
goal by their team on television. Before their team scored the point that saved the
day, most of them looked like they were about to hang themselves. The mood was
extremely downcast. When the ball hit the goal, they burst into cheers as if following
a secret command and hugged each other, overjoyed. The joy button got pushed,
apparently by the goal they’d witnessed. How quickly the mood swung from one
extreme to another—from terminally depressed to overjoyed.

It’s exactly this change in spirits that happens first in our mind. We habitually make
events “outside of ourselves” responsible and do not realize that the potential to
change for the good is available to us at any time—in our mind.


On a quite practical level I became more and more conscious of my pelvis as a result
of my daily Hsin Tao exercises. I often remembered the scene with the old Bedouin
woman at the Red Sea and how she had swung her pelvis down into a squatting
position and then up again to a stand. She maneuvered her pelvis like a captain
navigates his ship through the waves.

The more I realize that—physically speaking—my center of balance is located in my
pelvis and let my body find its new center accordingly, the more I can free myself
from decades of holding myself upright the wrong way. I also experience how
essential the rhythmic contraction and letting go of the pelvic floor is to keeping my

My physiotherapist had already pointed out the importance of the pelvic floor years
ago and had shown me appropriate exercises. But I was so overwhelmed by my
obsession with illness that I simply couldn’t pull myself together enough to do them—
though of course I could have done so at any time.

When it comes to any form of practice, to relate to the divine, our spiritual home, our
Source, is absolutely crucial. Everyone has their own words for this—that doesn’t
matter. What counts is a belief, however weak it may be, in a benevolent intelligence
that is mightier than one’s ego. It makes a big difference—no matter what you do—if
you can feel this relationship with the divine or not.
One way to cultivate this relationship with the divine is to mentally hand over the
problem, your illness, your worry, to “Him”—this intelligence, this light of spirit. It
might feel awkward, especially if you don’t believe in God, but maybe you could play
with this inner gesture for a while: What will happen if I surrender everything that I
find uncomfortable in an upward direction, sort of into the hands of heaven—and stop
trying to sort it out for myself? Will something become lighter that way?

The effectiveness of this inner practice was a lifesaver for me in the desert.
Because I kept practicing it there over and over again, it has turned into a kind of
mental first-aid-kit that can be applied under all circumstances (see chapter: The Holy

If you wanted to, you could surrender even the positive and desirable to the divine. In
the end you won’t keep anything for yourself and paradoxically you win everything—
indescribable peace that surpasses all understanding.
And in time, you notice with amazement how problems begin to resolve themselves
in the simplest possible manner.

The Inner Smile

“To find reality and rest in it is performing miracles”.
Ramana Maharshi

A few weeks ago I reencountered the teachings of the great South Indian sage
Ramana Maharshi, and this time I was touched by them very directly. When he was
still a teenager, Ramana had gone through a death-and-enlightenment experience
revealing to him the utter unreality of any individual “I” separate from everything else.
Ramana had never let go of this enlightened vision again. How could he have done
so anyway, with no individual “I” left that wanted to be apart?

There is a well-known old photograph of Ramana. He looks as if he was both smiling
benignly at the strange drama of all separation fantasies and at the same time
virtually bathing in the inner light of peace that we are in reality.

Precisely the same inner light is expressed in the peaceful smile of Ratziel Bander as
he demonstrates, with eyes closed, his regenerative exercises of Hsin Tao.

“The inner smile” is also a well-known Qi Gong exercise. It presents just another door
to realizing this incredible light of peace, as I experienced it in all its grandeur and
glory in the Sinai Desert one and a half years ago.

The easiest way to let this inner smile come about is to hold a truly whole thought in
your mind, for example: “All is well”. It’s obvious how difficult this can be, especially if
economic, social or physical problems are smothering you. In the past I would have
often regarded a sentence like “all is well” as nothing but mockery, considering the
glaring injustice all around. And yet such a statement expresses the deepest truth of
our soul, beyond all struggle and effort. Each and every one of us is always free to
leap into the peaceful light of this truth at any given moment and be healthy and

Close your eyes if you like, relax for a few moments and then let the light of this
statement dawn in your mind:

“All is well.”

Join the unfolding smile with your awareness and dive deeper and deeper into its
radiance. Welcome home.

                                                           Christoph Engen, updated March 2010

Christoph Engen, born 1957, was interested in various approaches to spiritual
growth from an early age. The increasing breakdown of his mobility due to multiple
sclerosis (MS) led the longtime television and theater actor to learn and teach breath
work and to give poetry readings. The progressive deterioration of his health
intensified his longing to become grounded in the living divine. Working with the
spiritual guideline A Course in Miracles helped him a lot in that respect. The most
serious phase of his disease culminated over a period of six years and finally
dissolved in an experience of God in the Sinai Desert. Since then his depressions are
overcome. Besides his mobility keeps improving again—also through regenerative
exercises in mindful movement and breathing.

Today he works as breath educator and translator and gives lectures on the Course.

Phone 0049/ (0)89/ 388 699 79


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