I was received in my Swiss homelands by participants of the two-year Timeless Wisdom Training that I am taking with Thomas Hübl to engage in healing our individual, collective and ancestral trauma. It has been amazing to feel the web of this global Sangha, connecting with me along the journey. I feel held.
Teodora, a Romanian woman living in Switzerland, welcomed me on my first day in Zurich for a walk through the cobblestone streets and a drink on the banks of the Limmat river, where people jump in to be carried downstream by the currents. She was a kindred spirit who also practices the Work that Reconnects, and we talked for hours about deep ecology, ecovillages, and what it is to travel, following our feet and our purpose. Before and after meeting with Teodora, I walked aimlessly for hours and hours, strolling through museums and sidewalk cafes, letting my body slowly arrive, listening softly to my intuition on whether to turn left or right, admiring the lake and the long-necked swans bobbing gracefully in the water.
Lea and Liselotte, two lovely Swiss women, met me on my second day in Bern, the government center, just a speedy (and expensive) train ride away. We shared a wonderful afternoon and their witnessing helped me to ground. I connected more deeply with the desire to offer my vision to the ancestors who immigrated, so that they could see the beauty of their homelands, again, through my eyes.
Trains are clean, coordinated and efficient as hell here – a public transit system the whole world could learn from. Switzerland is also a direct democracy, in which everything is voted upon by referendums of the people and implemented by a Federal Council. We walked through Old Town and climbed 330 feet up the spiral staircase inside the Münster of Bern, the tallest cathedral in the country, built Gothic style in 1421. The views of the sandstone buildings and shingled rooftops, the Aare river and the surrounding alpine mountains were breathtaking.
I then made my way to Schaffhausen so that I could visit the ancestral village of my paternal great-grandfather, Ernest Vögeli. I had written to the municipality of Gächlingen to let them know that I was a descendent of Ernest and see if anyone could help me connect with any living relatives. I received an email from Elisabeth Vögeli who let me know that she could spend two days with me to show me around. I hoped we might be related somehow, but I soon found out that there are seven different Vögeli families in the village, and we had to do some digging to find out.
Elisabeth picked me up from the bus station and took me first to a traditional Swiss restaurant for a lunch of barley soup, Bratwurst sausage and potatoes. We wandered through the winding streets, which haven’t changed much in the last century, except that the roads are now paved with asphalt.
It is still a small farming village with around 700 inhabitants, checkered with fields of grapes, corn, potatoes, sugar beets, sunflowers, wheat and cows, surrounded by forested hills. Fountains are ever-flowing with clear, clean water offered freely to drink. Triangle shaped homes are adorned with colorful geraniums in window boxes and large barn doors, once built for the pigs and the cows. Decisions are still made at quarterly village meetings with a majority vote and show of hands.
She had arranged with the pastor for us to comb through the church records, which documented all of the births, marriages and migrations in the last hundred years. Pouring through the old cracked books, we found my great-grandfather and the names of my great-great grandparents written in stylized handwriting and iron gall ink.
We realized that we were not of the same lineage and I no longer had any relatives that were still living in the town. After feeling some mild disappointment, I let it go to just be present and soak in what was there.
Elisabeth owns a vineyard and walked me through her grapevines, generously gifting me a bottle of her homegrown Riesling. She introduced me to some of her family: her older brother Hans who runs a farm with 500 cattle and sheep, and her brawny nephew Sven, also a farmer and champion of Schwingen, a folk style of wrestling native to alpine Switzerland.
We had a lot of conversations about what it meant for me to rediscover my roots, something a bit difficult for them to understand, as people who had grown up in deep relationship with the land and their traditional ways of being over centuries. I tried to explain to them how people were forced to assimilate to make a life and slowly forgot where they came from, how whiteness came into being as a means to uproot solidarity between enslaved African people and European indentured servants in the 1600s during Bacon’s Rebellion, about how racism plays out in America, extracting labor and land, attempting to erase whole cultures and people. I’m not sure how much they grokked but they were curious and happy to share what they could about Swiss village culture.
It was hard to survive in these mountains, back in the day, and hunger drove my ancestors to migrate. For those who stayed, however, resourcefulness has become a way of life. The Swiss are known for many things: their cheese and chocolate, steeples and castles, clocks and trains. Of course, there are a thousand variations and contradictions within any culture but in general, they can be described as a modest people, loyal to the bone, private, innovative, punctual and slow to change. Hospitality seems to be also a core value and I am grateful for it.
I ended my day with a visit to the glorious and pounding Rhein Falls. A light rain slid through the sky, and I again made offerings to the Rhine River, delighting in the sheer power and life force of water, falling in love again with the world, after a very difficult year of loss and change. I am only four days into my journey, and I have shed many grief tears and joy tears already, feeling slivers of my soul coming back to life, like scattered pieces that are slowly again becoming whole.