Talking with Michael Kalkowski about wealth, happiness and finding purpose

'Seeking more than just success' has a different meaning for everybody. We explore these diverse perceptions by interviewing the most inspiring personalities of our time.

Evano Interview with Michael Kalkowski, Photo by Michael Kalkowski

When we live in alignment with our highest purpose we light up and shine.

Digital nomad since 2016, Michael loves peak experiences and exploring consciousness, magic, and human potential – from kundalini and shamanism to quantum healing, biohacking, radical forgiveness, and mind-body-rebalancing. He shares the best resources for transformation on his website His favorite mentors are Alberto Villoldo, Benjamin Hardy, Eric Edmeades, James Rouse, Joe Dispenza, John Demartini, and Peter Sage. Michael currently develops a training program to help people grow, live healthier and become more fulfilled. He is also a business angel and serial-entrepreneur in the Berlin start-up scene. He was born in Munich, grew up in Cologne, and lived in London and America. His two favorite places on the planet are Tulum and Formentera.

1. You were able to experience success very early in your life with the companies you co-founded, so that sometimes the body has already reached a point where the mind has yet to follow. If you remember, was there a conscious Eureka experience in your life, or an awakening experience where you became aware that you personally want more than just material success?

Well, for me it was not a single Eureka moment but more of a gradual realization while working as an entrepreneur for 20 years. I co-founded my first Internet company (dooyoo) in 1999. We were one of the first startups and poster boys of the New Economy. When the dot-com bubble popped we had just prepared to take the company public on the stock market. But instead of an IPO we had to lay off several hundred people. It was a crazy time. I learned a lot. After that I co-founded my second startup (GameDuell). We became one of Europe’s leading creators of online games. At age 34 I thought I had finally made it and hit the jackpot. I was now a self-made millionaire.

But happiness never lasted for long. It was an exciting entrepreneurial roller coaster ride, yet in all those years of hustle I rarely felt deeply fulfilled. Tony Robbins teaches that the science of achievement is different from the art of fulfillment. And Henry James said, “Nothing of the senses will ever satisfy the soul.” The only things that will satisfy the soul are gratitude and love of the heart.

I realized I had the “when I have more X, then I’ll be happy” syndrome. I was caught in an endless loop of chasing ‘the more’. Like greyhounds running after the fake rabbit in a dog coursing race. They can never catch the bait because as soon as a dog gets close, the system automatically speeds up. Peter Sage, one of my favorite mentors, wrote an article about this: The Curse of the White Rabbit. It is a game you cannot win. When you don’t have your desires fulfilled you feel angry and frustrated. As soon as you fulfill a desire, a new one pops up and you get greedy. Imagine you go on a trip to the mountains and say “I need to reach the top of that mountain! That will make me happy.”

I realized I had the “when I have more X, then I’ll be happy” syndrome.

So you climb up and reach it. But as soon you reach the top you realize there is another, even higher mountain behind it. You could not see it at first because at any point, your line of vision only sees your next mountain, your current desire. Once you reach the top there is always another one. Even worse, you also develop fear of losing what you gained, like the billionaire who now worries about the security of his money and family. As long as you remain attached to your desires and fantasies you won’t find true happiness. A man once turned to Buddha and said “I want happiness.” Buddha replied, “First, remove ‘I,’ that’s Ego. Then remove ‘want,’ that’s desire. Now all you are left with is happiness.” The only way out of the hamster wheel is a paradigm shift.

The dooyoo Founders in 2001, Berlin

Thankfully I had several of such transformational experiences. These are events that profoundly change your life. In Zen Buddhism there is the concept of kenshō, when you get a glimpse of your true essence. For many people the trigger is a severe illness, a major loss, or the notorious midlife crisis. You grow by overcoming your pain. In psychology it is called post-traumatic growth, as opposed to post-traumatic stress.

The philosopher Ken Wilber differentiates between waking up, cleaning up, and growing up. There is a brilliant interview on the Buddha at the Gas Pump podcast. Waking up is spiritual growth. Cleaning up is shadow work and psychological healing. Growing up is maturing your intellect and your role in society. Interestingly, these are independent dimensions, which explains the many fallen gurus and also why meditation alone can be a spiritual bypass.

My biggest transformation in all three areas came from attending A-Fest. That’s an invite-only event created by Vishen Lakhiani, the founder of Mindvalley. Imagine a mix of Burning Man festival and TED Talks, where 300 high-vibe people come together for a week to help each other grow. Every A-Fest focuses on a theme, for example ‘Love & Connection’, ‘Life Vision’, ‘Longevity’, or ‘Expand Your Influence’. Becoming part of this tribe helped me shift my focus from material desires and achievement in business more to spiritual growth, connection, and contribution.

So transformation does not always have to come from pain and trauma. It can also come from something very inspiring and positive, from a peak experience. I now design my life to deliberately create many peak experiences throughout the year.

2. You met with several of the most inspiring personalities of our time, such as Joe Dispenza, Robin Sharma, Dave Asprey to name just a few. You have traveled to over 70 countries, read hundreds of books, visited shamans, attended spiritual ceremonies and studied the most diverse cultures. In the beginning of this year you told us that you have stopped traveling a bit to focus even more on your inner work. Have you found what you were looking for? And if so, what was the most important lesson you learned on your personal journey towards a happy and fulfilled life?

I first got interested in personal growth 25 years ago when I saw a Tony Robbins television commercial while studying in America. Since then I have easily spent over 100,000 Euros on seminars and personal coaching, and thousands of hours studying some of the greatest masters in the fields of human behavior, transformation and spirituality. It is my #1 passion in life. Isaac Newton said “If I see further than other men, it is because I stand up on the shoulders of giants.” I learned many lessons from each of my mentors. And they build up on each other. Let me use a four-level analogy here that I first learned from Peter Sage:

Level One is the “my life sucks” mindset. You believe life happens TO YOU and blame the world and others for your misery. This is where 80% of the population live. Well, if you are reading this, you are probably no longer at this level.

Level Two is the mindset of self empowerment. You believe life happens BY YOU. You think that if you hustle hard enough you can achieve almost anything. Tony Robbins is great at taking people from the victim mentality of level one to the achiever mentality of level two. Most entrepreneurs operate from here. It is the world of mastery, excellence, productivity hacks and super achievers. Robin Sharma, who wrote The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and The 5 AM Club, as well as Darren Hardy, who wrote the brilliant book The Compound Effect, taught me the most about this level and the science of achievement. But while successful on the outside, it can be very exhausting and unfulfilling on the inside.

Level Three is when you realize life happens FOR YOU. It is a spiritual awakening. In order to get to level three you have to let go of your need for control. It is an illusion. This is very hard, especially for CEOs, Type A personalities, and perfectionists, who love to be in control. I was a perfectionist for many years. What really helped me was reading Stephen Guise’s book How to Be an Imperfectionist. But overcoming perfectionism is not enough to get to level three. You get there by completely changing your relationship with life and the way you view the world. Peter Sage, who was a Tony Robbins trainer for 10 years before breaking through, taught me how. He has a six-month program called the Elite Mentorship Forum where he introduced me to the different levels of consciousness, quantum and metaphysics, and many of the mysteries that had only been taught in secret societies. I now believe that The Matrix was not a science fiction movie but a documentary.

Wooden Sculpture “Ven A La Luz / Come Into Light” by Daniel Popper, Tulum

Level Four is where you realize that it is not about you and your ego at all. You experience life AS YOU. You become one with life itself. Three of my favorite teachers for this level are David Hawkins, who developed a map of consciousness and wrote Power vs. Force and Letting Go; Christopher Hareesh Wallis, who is the leading scholar-practitioner on the Indian philosophy of non-dual Śaiva Tantra and wrote Tantra Illuminated; and Joe Dispenza who teaches neuroscience, quantum healing and how to get into altered states with meditation.

After years of study and practice, a key lesson for me is that lasting happiness cannot be found somewhere “out there”. It is an inside job. Happiness is realizing your own divine nature within. When you look for happiness, you are looking for you! It is ironic. You chase something outside while it is actually you that you are looking for. It is like chasing your own shadow. You are the source of the happiness you seek. It is nothing you can attain or acquire because you already are it. You just have to become aware of it. Happiness IS you. This is why it is called self-realization. Even Google developed a program called Search Inside Yourself to teach their engineers mindfulness techniques and self-awareness. It is now openly available as part of the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute.

I now believe that The Matrix was not a science fiction movie but a documentary.

Last year I spent some time in Bhutan and India and started studying the ancient philosophy of Vedanta. Swami Parthasarathy has written several masterful books about it, including The Fall of the Human Intellect. In Vedanta they say that the main purpose of life is not to earn a lot of money or accumulate a lot of stuff but to free yourself from the constrictions of your own personality. Your mind is the only prison that you are experiencing. There is nothing on the outside limiting you. As Swami Parthasarathy said “It is not the world that distresses you but how you relate to it.” Your purpose as a spiritual seeker is to liberate yourself from your self-imposed prison. In my view of the world everything is happening for us and not to us. Everything is on the way, not in the way.

The problem is that it often takes a long time for people to realize the gift in what happened to them and to see it as something to be grateful for. There is a wonderful video by Eric Edmeades about this. It is called The Hindsight Window. So even your perceived mental prison is there for you; and so are all your desires, perceived flaws, limitations and mistakes. Even your ego. I don’t believe that the ego is the enemy. Waking up and growing up is not about killing your ego. It is about transcending and integrating your ego. It is about growing your level of consciousness from self-centered to self-less and ever larger spheres of awareness. You grow your vision from being just about you personally, to include your family, then also your tribe and community, then your country.

At some point you integrate the whole world and eventually the entire universe. As your vision expands, your sphere of influence and impact grows, and your judgement of others and your suffering decrease.

3. Out of what do you draw your inspiration and what makes you happy from the deepest inside? How do you shape the perfect environment for yourself?

I come most alive and feel most inspired when I live in alignment with my highest values and purpose. I believe that all humans, just like we have unique fingerprints, have a higher purpose and a unique hierarchy of values. You can think of it as your ‘soulprint’. For some of my friends their highest value is wealth creation. For some it is their family. My three highest values are: #1 personal and spiritual growth, #2 amazing experiences, #3 love and connection. So when I learn, research, go to events, have amazing experiences, and connect with like-minded people then I feel most alive and inspired.

Guerrilla Street Art by Olivia Steele, Tulum

It took me some years to get clarity about that. I confused my own authentic values with goals I took on from society because it was socially desirable. I was living the dream but it was not my dream. Now, every year I spend five days on a personal ‘vision quest’ that involves a routine of fasting, meditation, gratitude practice and deep introspection to refine my life vision and purpose. I then map out and visualize my ‘future self’ three years from now in as much detail as possible and create a vision board and mind movie based on it. Carl Gustav Jung said “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” 

The beauty of this is that our life becomes guided by higher intelligence, distress becomes eustress, challenges turn into stepping stones, we are energized and slow down aging, and we feel happy and grateful. It is not “work hard, play hard” but work and play merge into one. When your vocation and your vacation are the same, you have begun to master your life. 

Carl Gustav Jung said “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” 

The Greek philosopher Aristotle used the term télos to refer to our highest potential and purpose in life. The leading expert on teleology, which is the study of meaning and purpose, is John Demartini. His value determination process (which you can do online for free) helped me to get clarity about what really makes me happy and how to align all areas of my work and life accordingly. I would say that of all my mentors John has taught me the most. I am very grateful that our paths crossed. He is one of the last true polymaths. He read over 30,000 books and has the equivalent of 300 PhDs. I have yet to meet someone with such a broad and deep knowledge of so many disciplines, spanning from physics to psychology, medicine, biology, neuroscience, philosophy, anthropology, history, business, wealth creation, cosmology, spirituality, and many more. I just finished John’s Empyreance I program, which is a 10-day deep-dive into the life-long mysteries of human existence, consciousness and enlightenment. If you want to learn how to master your life and become truly fulfilled, I really recommend John’s programs. The best one to start is The Breakthrough Experience where you learn to break through your biggest limitations and resolve fear, depression, anger, low self-esteem, guilt, shame, grief, anxiety or any emotion you would love to stop running your life.

When it comes to creating empowering environments, I learned a lot from Benjamin Hardy. He is a psychologist and wrote two brilliant science-based books: Willpower Doesn’t Work and Personality Isn’t Permanent. Ben taught me how to create a life based on my future self instead of my past, the power of strategic journaling, visualization, having one keystone goal instead of multiple goals, measuring the gain of my progress instead of the gap to my goal, how to create habits and use deliberate practice, the importance of my peer group and accountability partners, how to accelerate my growth through courageous power moves and 10X ‘moonshot’ thinking (like Elon Musk and Peter Diamandis), and why distraction-free morning routines and contradiction-free evening routines are so important.

There are several inspiring YouTube videos on morning mastery, for example by Peter Sage, Stefan James, and by brain performance coach Jim Kwik. My own morning routine consists mainly of meditation => strategic journaling => exercise/yoga => followed by creative and productive work on my highest priority. The key is starting the day with positive momentum and proactively creating a peak state – instead of getting sucked into the urgency of the day, the distractions of social media or being reactive to other peoples’ agendas (e.g. email). I first meditate for 20 minutes to tap into my intuition and to open my heart with gratitude. New research has shown that the heart has its own brain with about 40,000 neurons that can feel and learn. I use the HeartMath technology to measure heart rate variability and train my heart coherence.

After meditating I journal for 20 minutes, which allows me to get clarity and focus by reminding me of my goals, my envisioned future, and my recent wins. At the front of my journal is a section that I review before I write. It has five sections, which I update every quarter. The first section is “Where am I right now?” The second is “What are my wins from the past 90 days?” The third is “What are the wins I want for the next 90 days?” The fourth is “Who is my Future Self three years from now?” And the fifth is “Who is my Future Self one year from now?” I learned this from Benjamin Hardy, who has a course on strategic journaling. Writing stuff down is also a powerful form of mental detox, like a brain dump that frees up processing capacity. Most of the great geniuses in history, like Edison, Einstein, Da Vinci, have journaled and kept diaries. 

Tegalalang Rice Terrace, North of Ubud, Bali

In addition to the daily rhythm I also schedule regular rituals in longer intervals, such as a quarterly life review and planning session and yearly vision quests. Overall, I like oscillating between intense periods of creation and deep recovery. Just like muscles don’t grow in the gym but during recovery, most of our best work is not done during work but in the “off” time. Life is all about balance.

There are many other ways to proactively design our environment and make it work for us instead of against us by removing negative and adding positive triggers. You can set yourself up to win. For example, you can program your Wi-Fi to switch off in the evening and your screens to filter out blue light. You can put visual reminders of your goals at strategic locations, post-its on your fridge, affirmations on your mirrors. You can schedule personal growth activities in your calendar – including workouts, ‘thinking time’ and vision quests. It is also great to have an accountability partner to hold each other accountable for your goals and progress.

My evening ritual is to meditate again and then listen to 50 affirmations that I recorded in my own voice and I conclude with gratitude. It is a powerful way to reprogram yourself and strategically connect to your subconscious. And it puts you into a beautiful state right before sleep. Here are some of the affirmations, which are based on John Demartini’s work, that I remind myself of every night:

“What I imagine to be stressful is actually what I need to fulfill my mission and inspired purpose. I know that the universe gives me nothing but great opportunities to dissolve fear, shame and guilt and to discover love. I have been loved every moment of my life. I equally give and receive love with grace. Every life challenge fuels me to ever-greater fulfillment, achievement, wisdom, and gratitude. There are no mistakes and nothing is ever missing. Every event in my life serves me. I am appreciated no matter what I do or don’t do. I enjoy my life as it is. I am grateful that no-matter what I have done or not done I am worthy of love. I am a divine being. I know that life is a journey and not a destination. There is value in every experience I have had and will continue to have. I love and appreciate all that I have done or not done, and I look at the details of my life and see the wise choices that I have made. My past has served me and my future is bright. Everything that happens or doesn’t happen in my life is perfect and in alignment with divine design. And everything reveals itself in the perfect time.”

There is value in every experience I have had and will continue to have. I love and appreciate all that I have done or not done, and I look at the details of my life and see the wise choices that I have made.

4) In the past, you were often very strict and ascetic with yourself regarding your diet or fitness. Which foods cause inflammation, or are not good for the body? If one looks at studies on the diet of the French, which is described by many as not very healthy, one finds out that the pleasure component plays a decisive role in the metabolism of nutrients. How do you combine pleasure and restrictions in your life?

In our 20ies we can get away with a lot of foolish things like eating junk food and drinking all day and still have six-pack abs. But as we get older eventually our body reflects our lifestyle choices. Little things become big things. An important teaching in Vedanta is that what we think is pleasure and comfort is actually harmful to us and leads to unhappiness. Our primitive ‘animal’ part of the brain has only short-term vision and does not understand temporal consequences. When we let the lower mind run our life we are no more than a well-dressed animal. Just as wasps are drawn to a deadly sugar trap, we are drawn to the easy pleasures of life because they give us a rush of instant gratification. Most of what we desire is not good for us. And conversely, that which appears painful and uncomfortable is often very beneficial in the long run: Going to the gym, eating healthy, learning, investing instead of consuming. Napoleon Hill said “opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.” Some of the biggest gifts in life come wrapped in a shit sandwich. Lasting joy appears in a mask of sorrow. And sorrow appears in a mask of joy.

On Top of Table Mountain, Cape Town

You can avoid this pleasure trap by cultivating your intellect and making it a habit to overcome initial resistance. It is not our higher self that seeks instant gratification. It is just a tiny part of our animal brain. And instead of letting it run us, we can train it. We can train our brain to love going to the gym. Let me use a dog analogy: When untrained, the brain is like a misbehaved little puppy. When trained, it becomes like a service dog and our best friend and ally. Thanks to neuroplasticity our brain is incredibly adaptable. All behavior is addictive and seeks more of itself. Positive behavior seeks more of itself, negative behavior seeks more of itself. If we wake up early in the morning we get more and more addicted to morning routines. It becomes our new default neural pathway. We are constantly reinforcing our brain in some form of behavior, whether we are intentional about it or not. If you are unintentional you set yourself up for failure. So what is it that you want to condition and feed?

Now, having said that, life is of course all about balance. If we only invest and never spend, we may generate a huge amount of savings but end up as the richest person in the graveyard. So I like what Oscar Wilde said: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” I eat healthy most of the time but I also love my pizza and tiramisu once or twice a week. And when indulging in a sensual pleasure then it is wise to do so with an attitude of joy, not guilt. There are studies that show the effects of feeling guilty after eating junk food are worse than the food itself. When I asked Peter Sage whether he thought certain foods were healthy or not, he said “It depends. Compared to what?” Is eating a steak healthy? Compared to junk food, yes. Compared to a salad, probably not.

A few years ago I became obsessed with studying nutrition and healing, after several people very close to me developed serious health conditions. The “modern” medical and pharmaceutical industry were unable to help them because their business models are based on selling interventions and pills that mostly treat only symptoms. I was blessed to personally meet some of the pioneers of functional medicine and true healing, like John Demartini, Mark Hyman and James Rouse. You just have to look at them (their healthy skin, clear eyes, vital energy, mental acuity) to see that they know what they are talking about.

So based on their recommendations I went to study the root causes of disease and the mind-body-connection in healing. I recently also took part in a training by Sarah Ballantyne. She is one of the leading experts on autoimmune disease. It was absolutely eye-opening to examine the havoc that food compounds such as prolamins, agglutinins, saponins, glycoalkaloids, sugar, and other toxins can wreak on our immune, nervous and digestive systems. That completely changed my relationship with food. Many people already eat gluten-free. But what surprised me was that these inflammatory compounds are not just found in grains but also in foods that are considered healthy, for example in tomatoes (tomatine is even used in vaccines as an adjuvant to stimulate the immune response), dairy, beans, hummus, cashews, cucumbers, potatoes, and chia seeds. I went on an elimination diet and my health improved significantly. I realized that we are both the source but also the solution to our own problems.

Unfortunately, my new-found knowledge came too late to help some people close to me before they died. But this whole experience touched me so deeply that I decided to put together a whole set of resources on mind-body-healing and how to lose weight in a healthy way. So if you or a loved one are struggling with health issues or obesity and are interested in learning how to get your health and life back, feel free to reach out to me.

5. Do you know the story about the wolf of hate and the wolf of love inside you? The two forces that everyone carries within themselves and a lot of not so mindful people try to get rid of the dark side and cut out an important part of their personality. How do you keep both in balance or use the advantages of both sides for your well being?

Yes, I heard various versions of that wolf analogy. One is a story by the American Cherokee people. Tribal traditions may appear primitive on the surface but there is a lot of deep wisdom in them. In 2017 I went to Peru for a plant medicine retreat and became interested in shamanic teachings, especially from the Shipibo in the Amazon, who work with ayahuasca, and the Wixáritari in Mexico, who work with peyote. In the Shipibo language there is no difference between seeing and hearing. It is all vibration. Isn’t that interesting! The shamans perceive the world as vibrational patterns not that different from how it is shown in the movie The Matrix. When someone has a disease or trauma the shamans see it as a specific pattern in the energy field.

…life is of course all about balance. If we only invest and never spend, we may generate a huge amount of savings but end up as the richest person in the graveyard.

A great resource on bridging Western science and shamanic practices is Alberto Villoldo. He spent many years training with the medicine people of South America. His latest book is The Heart of the Shaman. A key concept found in many indigenous cultures is the medicine wheel. It is an ancient map, a technology for healing past traumas, upgrading our energy fields, stepping into our personal power, and communing with our true eternal nature – the one that was never born and will never die. The medicine wheel is a symbol of the great journey of transformation. Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, termed it the hero’s journey. It is a four-fold sacred path along the directions of the sky, from south to west to north to east. Each path also represents a different level of consciousness and a new experience of reality. I found this to be a really good guide for my own spiritual journey.

Artwork inside Demetria Hotel, Guadalajara

The journey of transformation starts in the south, on the level of the body with physical healing and illumination work. It is represented by the serpent that teaches us to shed our old skin which no longer serves us, and walk with our belly against mother earth, which is beautiful, reconnecting with nature and purifying our body through healthy nourishment. The language of the body is physical and chemical. It is about nutrients and diet; but also touch, sound, smells, movement and other sensual experiences. In addition, healing the body involves illumination work on our energy fields. When we are healing, we are not only dealing with our mind and psyche because trauma is literally stored in the physical body. In dealing with my own wounds I was able to reach a whole new level once I worked on my mind and body together. For the physical healing part I learned somatic experiencing from Peter Levine using touch and movement exercises. And from Irene Lyon I learned various methods to reset my nervous system that had become overstimulated and miscalibrated after years in the entrepreneurial arena.

The journey continues to the west, to the level of the mind and the path of the spiritual warrior and extraction work. It is represented by the jaguar, who teaches us to courageously confront our shadow side and deepest fears, including the fear of death. Joseph Campbell said “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” The mind is the realm of emotions, beliefs, addictions and hungry ghosts. The language of the mind are words and belief structures. On this level you can work with affirmations and reframing perceptions. Stress and trauma are major factors in many health conditions. At this level you learn that nothing is only what it appears to be and that you can change the limiting stories that live within you. They are based on one-sided and imbalanced perceptions.

As spiritual warriors we let go of all the inauthentic masks we wear and the fake roles we play. We extract all energies that are not ours so only our true essence remains. The shamans say that trauma is not what actually happened to us. Trauma is the way that the story about what happened continues to live within us. And once you change your story, once you understand the wisdom behind what happened and see the gift that the universe was offering you, then the wound heals.

Trauma can be a life-long limitation or an incredibly powerful driving force, depending on the meaning you choose. How you respond to adversity can break you or make you. Shamans believe that the way to heal is to follow jaguar on the journey beyond fear and death so that you become fearless and discover that you are none of those things that happened to you. These were simply events that occurred but the stories no longer have to live within you. You have the power to choose the meaning you give to whatever you have experienced in your life and re-write your stories. It is never too late for an empowering childhood because it is not what you look at that matters, it is what you see.

The shamans say that trauma is not what actually happened to us. Trauma is the way that the story about what happened continues to live within us.

Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, summed it up beautifully: “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose… Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom… Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” We cannot go back and change the content of what happened to us. But we can always change the context and choose a more empowering meaning.

The journey continues in the north, at the level of the soul and the path of integration, inner peace and soul retrieval. It is represented by the hummingbird who teaches us to practice stillness even in flight and drink from only the finest nectar of life; reconnecting to joy, bliss, and the unlimited abundance of all there is. We break free from our monkey-mind and practice perfect stillness, like the surface of undisturbed water that reflects everything clearly. We retrieve any soul parts we may have lost while we experienced trauma and integrate them back to become whole again. The language of the soul is images, poetry, drums, candles and ceremony. At this level we work with visualizations and the mind co-creates reality with spirit. Soul retrieval cannot fully take place before we have done illumination and extraction work and created a purified vessel.

Finally, we move east, to the level of energy and the path of the visionary and destiny retrieval. It is represented by the eagle and condor, who can see the bigger picture from birds-eye view with clarity. We connect to our higher purpose and develop a future vision for our life. We learn to spread our wings and inspired and guided by our soul we are able to fly to the mountain tops we only dared to dream of. We grow beyond ourselves and contribute to the planet and universe. On this level we are beyond time and space and the reality of the senses. We are in the quantum field. It is the level of pure light and potential, the invisible world. Until the level of hummingbird there is still a ‘you’. At the level of eagle there is only unified consciousness. You are no longer there. You become the witness. We become one. Like in the Rumi poem where he says to the beloved “I have ceased to exist. Only you are here.” The language of this level is energy and dreams. From here we can dream the world into being. So don’t be afraid to dream big. If people are not laughing at your dreams, you are not dreaming big enough.

These topics have of course also been explored in the West. To understand the shadow side, addictions and trauma I found the work of John Demartini the most effective. In addition, Gabor Maté, who wrote When the Body Says No and In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, as well as Colin Tipping, who wrote Radical Forgiveness, are great resources. Biohacker Dave Asprey has a research lab outside Seattle that looks like a scene from an X-Men movie. There a team of specialists perform brain upgrades with neurofeedback training. It is named 40 Years of Zen after the idea that technology can now train our brains to access the same deep states of mindfulness as monks who meditated for 40 years. When I did this weeklong training we spent a good amount of time on forgiveness exercises. Why? Research shows that letting go of anger and resentment is one of the biggest factors for cognitive performance (IQ, EQ, creativity, …) and the ability to access altered states of consciousness, which in turn allows you to do extraordinary things. That is why more and more business leaders and entrepreneurs now explore shadow work.

Neurofeedback Pod training at the 40 Years of Zen laboratory, Seattle

In my interpretation the two wolves do not represent ‘good’ and ‘evil’ but the healthy balance of the human psyche. Like Yin and Yang. So contrary to popular opinion I do not believe that shadow work is about getting rid of your shadow or your dark side. That’s actually impossible. Where there is light, there is shadow. Imagine a person running around and trying to get rid of their shadow! That’s insane. And in fact, whatever we repress or try to get rid of, will express in some other way – usually in the form of illness or by attracting into our life the exact thing that we fear or resent the most. And we continue to attract it, again and again, until we learn the lesson and love all parts of us. So shadow work is about integration, not elimination. Our shadow can be one of our best allies and teachers because it shows us what we don’t yet own and love. Like a sundial the shadow shows us where we are out of balance and not aligned. It can be our greatest source of transformation. Rumi said “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Once we see how our shadow is actually helping us, once we become grateful for the role it plays in our growth, we heal. When we become perfectly balanced in our mind and aligned with the light of our soul (imagine a light shining exactly from above) our shadow completely merges with us and disappears.

…I do not believe that shadow work is about getting rid of your shadow or your dark side.

So why would you get rid of your shadow? You also would not want to get rid of Yin or Yang and just have one of them. Both are necessary and serve a purpose. And both together create perfect harmony and oneness. Our light and shadow sides are both essential, just as creation and destruction are both essential for life. In the teachings of śaiva tantra, destruction (saṃhāra) is literally understood as ‘reabsorption’ or ‘retraction’. It is the drawing back of what God has created into the unmanifest being. What appears as destruction is truly reintegration into the pure potentiality into which all things ultimately dissolve. This understanding also helped me to let go of the fear of death.

6. Did your definition of success change over the last 20 years? What was your definition at the beginnings of your twenties and what is it now?

Yes, how I measured success and self worth, but also how I viewed failure, has changed a lot throughout my life. And it will likely continue to change.

When I was a teenager I was driven by my need to be liked and accepted by others. I was seeking validation from my parents and peers. Nowadays many teens obsess about their followers and likes on social media. It can be quite depressing when everybody creates a highly filtered, fake and polished image of themselves and you measure yourself against that.

In my 20ies I was seeking experiences. I traveled the world, I was looking for love, and experimented with many things. A good motto for me could have been “collect moments, not things.”

In my 30ies I defined my self worth by my net worth. Success was tied to my business metrics, like “how much revenue do we make?” and “do we have more users and employees than them?” You need a team to build a dream but today I would rather have less than more employees. Successful entrepreneurs can leverage themselves through a network of great people. Your network is your net worth. As the saying goes, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.”

Now in my 40ies I focus on happiness and spiritual growth. Success has also become more about contribution and giving back. My friend Sumedha Malhotra from India, who hosts the YouTube channel Spiritual Superstars, taught me that “the art of living is giving”. Your greatness is not what you have, it is what you give. We rise by lifting others. Today a successful day for me is when I grow myself and when I connect with others and help someone transform.

I don’t think any of these definitions of success are right or wrong, or that one is better than the other. They all serve a purpose. It depends on where we are on our journey. A baby is a perfect baby and you don’t judge it for not being able to walk or talk yet. You don’t judge a caterpillar for not yet being a butterfly. So if you asked me about my biggest failures and regrets I would say I don’t see it that way. But that was not always so.

For example, I used to regret not spending more time with my loved ones, not having been able to help my mother as much as I wanted. I used to regret some things about the relationships with my ex-girlfriends. And in business I had many resentments about others and myself. The way I look at it now is that even the failures and regrets are part of divine perfection. There are no mistakes and nothing is ever missing.

Success has also become more about contribution and giving back.

An interesting thing I learned from Tony Robbins and Peter Sage is how our criteria for success and failure can really f*ck us up. Many people make it incredibly hard for themselves to feel successful. They have a long checklist of criteria that ALL need to be fulfilled before they allow themselves to be happy. “If I have A + B + C + D + E + F… then I’ll be happy.” On the other hand, their failure criteria are more like “If there is A or B or C or D… then I feel shitty.” What if you reversed that and made your success criteria an OR-list and your failure criteria an AND-list.

Peter Sage says one of his criteria to feel healthy is to breathe. Another one is to drink water. Another one is to meditate. Imagine you feel healthy every time you breathe OR take a sip of water OR meditate. Comparative studies on happiness in different countries show that people in Bhutan and Denmark are among the happiest because they have moderate expectations. The richest man is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. There is also a similar concept called ‘measure the gain, not the gap’.

It is smarter to celebrate your daily wins and to look at the progress you already made than to measure how far you are still away from your goals. The key here is that you set your own rules for success and failure. So choose wisely.

7. Is there one important thing you want to share with the world? If so, how can people support you on your mission?

I don’t really have that one important thing to share. There are many paths, not just the one. We all look at the world through our own unique filters. It is an interesting question though. I have heard it in various forms on podcasts, like “if you had a billboard, what would you put?” Would you put an important message such as ‘Stop climate change!’ or ‘Love is the answer’? I think I would just put a blank billboard because in my view of the world, nothing is ever missing. As I remind myself with my evening affirmations “I am not here to fix things. I am here to love things as they are.” Well, I guess that would also count as an important thing to share, that I don’t have an important thing to share 🙂

However, if you asked me what advice I would like to give to people I would say this: Find out what makes you become most alive and inspired. And then pursue that. Pursue what captures your heart, not what catches your eyes. For example, my long-time business partner Boris Wasmuth is super passionate about the environment and the future of our planet. In 2019, together with a group of leading entrepreneurs, he co-founded Leaders for Climate Action to combat the climate crisis with our own actions and to demand stronger measures from political leaders. His mission is to make the biggest possible contribution in the fight against the climate crisis. This work makes him inspired and come alive. You can see him light up when he talks about it. For me however, that would not be something I would love to spend my time on. But I loooove personal and spiritual growth. What is it that makes you become most alive and inspired? When we live in alignment with our highest purpose we light up and shine. It brings out the best in us and the whole universe conspires to help.

If you feel inspired to support me on my mission of helping people transform and grow, I appreciate your help as well. For example, I would love to get feedback if and how my answers have made an impact on you. Also, if you have some interesting resources for me about these topics then please let me know. You can reach out through my website

Photography: Michael Kalkowski