“If I could only tell one story from my life, it would be the story of Punki.
Punki was a homeless guy who I ran into when I was 18 years old, at the time was in the process of becoming a nursery school teacher and saw him every day sitting in front of the train station Sternschanze.
The train station was a grey place, piss, graffiti, and addiction everywhere.
After a while of seeing and greeting Punki every day I started to bring him food and we started talking.
From that moment on I spent every lunch break with him.
It wasn’t only Punki who was in a bad place, I was struggling heavily at the time also.
Like Punki, I was surrounded by people who were good for the worst of me and like him, I was addicted to alcohol, and everything else that was numbing the pain of my existence.
If I’m honest, I didn’t have a reason to live at the time but I wasn’t ready to end myself.
In our “lunch breaks” we had a ritual where he and I daydreamed about what a good life could like for us.
We talked about having a home, a house, kids, we wanted to build boats together in order to become explorers again.
Our lunch breaks became “hope breaks” in which we would create our own universe and fantasized about what it would feel like to be happy again.
These hope breaks were always just a cigarette long, but looking back at it, I think they were the only source of light in my life.
Over time, I fell in love with Punki.
I never told him, but he felt it and made it clear that this could never be because of who he was and how big the age difference was.
In that episode of my life, I was addicted to weed and I always needed to have a lot with me in order to feel safe.
One day, however, I felt an unexplainable urge to quit my addiction, something within me was done with it.
The same day I gave Punki the last rest of my weed because I thought he deserved a peaceful night after all that hardship.
He first told me that weed isn’t good for him, but I convinced him that this would calm his mind.
After that conversation I went home and did a pregnancy test, it came out positive…
I was about to become a mother at 18 years of age.
This was one of the happiest moments of my life, and I felt as if the pregnancy was the change that both I and Punki were waiting for.
Although we couldn’t be together before, now I wanted to ask Punki if he wanted to leave his old life behind in order to be there for somebody else, somebody who needed two adults who had their act together.
The next day I went to bring him my invitation to a better life but he wasn’t there anymore.
I came back the next day in order to look for him, and the next day, and the next day…
He was nowhere to be found.
I later learned that on the night where I gave him the weed, he got very high and stabbed someone to death.
I’m not sure what the moral of this story is.
Maybe this was a sign that it wouldn’t have worked between him and me.
Maybe this was a sign that only hell will await me at the end of my addiction.
Maybe someone had to die in order for me to get back on track.
I don’t know.
What I know is that the arrival of Lola, my child changed everything – including me.
Suddenly I had a reason to live, a reason to transcend my former self, and a reason to leave my old demons behind.
Now Lola and I live the life that Punki and I dreamed about.
I rarely remember his face and I never managed to learn his real name, but sometimes when I see somebody on the bus with tattoos on his arms I imagine that it is him.
I hope that he also turned his life around and that he also is living the peaceful life that he and I daydreamed about in our ‘hope breaks’.”
Last year, while wandering through the district of Ubud, I met a Balinese priest who happened to deliver a prophecy to me.
Just outside of Ubud is the Gunung Lebah, a beautiful path that gave me a gorgeous overlook of the valleys of the lesser developed areas of Ubud.
At the end of that path, I met the priest.
Traveling the world and learning from unexpected teachers played a huge rule in my recovery from depression, so I asked the priest if I could interview him for my movie.
So I sat next to him and asked what it is that he does with his life.
He said ‘ Same as you Daniel, I talk to people and carry their pain for them‘.
I learned that Priests in Indonesia often do the same things that mental health professionals do in Germany, they help people to get their lives together.
There was a big difference though, he didn’t accept any kind of payment from his “clients”.
As a westerner, this was quite odd for me.
While my current life’s chapter is about pushing my way to the top, he was trying to abandon status and power entirely.
After chatting for a while he looked at me, touched my shoulder, and told me ‘ Daniel, I’m afraid that you’ll have to heal a million people until you heal yourself‘.
That stuck with me…
Much of my current entrepreneurial pursuits revolve around the compulsion of justifying my existence to others…
Showing everybody that “I’m enough”.
This man, on the other hand, wasn’t concerned with external or internal judgments, he didn’t try to become anything, he was busy with being who he was.
This got me thinking…
Is the term self-actualization a contradiction in itself?
Maybe it isn’t the great man who conquers the world who actualizes himself but the man who forgets all about himself and who gives his life to the person he loves or to the ones who need him.
It’s little encounters like that, that humble me because I know that I am like anybody else, a tiny light in the global collective of life.
And who knows, maybe that’s all I ever have to be…
“When my grandmother was a teenager she brought home a guy and introduced him to her family. My great uncle looked at the two of them carefully and said ‘He is the one, this is the guy, the two of you are going to be happy with each other one day’.
Life had different plans though… Grandmother married grandfather who after ten years of marriage, left her and the children behind for someone younger.
Once the long divorce process was over Grandmother picked herself up and went to a career training program and in that meeting was someone she knew… Someone from way back… In that meeting, she saw her teenage crush who coincidently was also divorced, who also was taking care of his two kids. They were together from the moment that meeting was over and they could only be separated again by death years and years later”
Coincidentally, after I’ve heard this pearl of wisdom, something came into my eye, and I got wet eyes…(I would never cry just so you know 👀) and I felt a great sense of relief, faith, and peace in my heart.
Stories like these strengthen my conviction that it’s impossible to make sense of the chaotic pile of puzzle pieces that you have in front of you right now.
In the end, though, all your trials, heartaches, failures, and other puzzle pieces are going to fit perfectly into each other they are going to form one masterpiece of a picture.
If you are still alone, let me tell you this; Your person is on a journey towards you right now.
Whether this journey is external or internal doesn’t matter.
Whether your person is someone from the other side of the world or someone you already met doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you believe that if you keep your heart open and you continue to become who you are that you eventually will discover or rediscover your favorite person in the world.
Daniel: “What’s your advice to people who want to be happier?’
Hero: “Don’t worry be happy”
Daniel: “That’s it?”
Hero: “No, I mean the song, from Bobby McFerrin. Whenever I have a dog shit day I just sing;
oooh, ooooh oo-ooh ooh oo-ooh be happy
oooh, ooooh oo-ooh ooh oo-ooh don’t worry, be happy.”
Daniel: “Hahaha and this works for you?”
Hero: “Like a charm! Try it!”
Daniel: “oooh, ooooh oo-ooh ooh oo-ooh be happy
oooh, ooooh oo-ooh ooh oo-ooh don’t worry, be happy.”
Hero: “works right?!”
Daniel: “Hahaha indeed it does!”
I approached this hero while I was collecting pearls of wisdom on the red light district in Hamburg.
I saw him whistle in front of a kebab store and when I walked past him he greeted me and said: ” Beautiful day isn’t it?”
This one really cracked me up because he was obviously joking.
Meeting this hero having a great day despite having very little strengthened my belief that humor heals.
Laughter is the ultimate weapon against desperation because it consists of anti-depressive qualities such as truth, acceptance, and courage.
To ridicule yourself and your flaws and to laugh at your own misfortune is a vote against seriousness and a declaration that life is livable under all circumstances.
So, next time you have a bad day, you might want to consider calling that one friend who always makes you laugh, crack a joke at your own costs, or sing and dance along to a stupid song of your choosing.
Stay giggly my friends.
📸 Jeffrey Pegas
“This isn’t just a dog, this is Heidi my best friend in the whole world.
Two years ago I reunited with a fellow Englishmen and he took a selfie with me and after I saw the picture I was in shock about what I looked like.
I couldn’t believe that the gloomy eyed rotten Ghul next to my friend was me… this was the first time that I realized what addiction has transformed me into.
That was a wake-up moment for me and I knew that If I didn’t change myself I would drink myself out of existence.
It was difficult though, I’m a punk from fcking Manchester, drinking is bloody second nature for us you know… so it’s fair to say that I had no idea how I could quit by myself.
Two weeks after that epiphany a guy I knew asked me if I could take care of his dog because he had to leave town ‘temporarily’, I owed him a favor so I said yes.
I haven’t seen him since… this is how I got Heidi.
Heidi is a special dog who wants the best for me, everytime I pick up a bottle, she starts to growl and gives me the death stare haha.
To this day I believe that Heide is a gift from God that was sent to rescue me from the depths of the hell that I constructed around myself.
I have been sober for quite a while now and my life is much better because of it, of course, I’m still a work in progress, but then again, who isn’t right haha?”
I talked to this hero three days ago and I’m glowing ever since.
Learning about Heidi confirmed a discovery that I made on my own journey towards sobriety: Responsibility is curative.
People rarely defeat addiction for themselves, it’s almost always for something else.
Whether this “something” is a partner, a child, a job, or even a dog isn’t important, what matters is that you have something that is worth fighting and suffering for.
If you can only take one lesson from this story with you let it be this: If your why is bigger than yourself, you can overcome anything.
📸 by Jeffrey Pegas
“Coming to Germany in 2006 was a great relief for me. The moment my plane landed I felt as if things were going to get easier from now on, turns out that prediction couldn’t have been further from the truth.
I still remember how I walked enthusiastically into the Davidswache (police station) at the Reeperbahn and asked them if they could find me a job. They laughed and told me that jobs don’t grow on trees over here and that I have to find one myself.
So, it’s fair to say that I was a bit foolish back then!
Reality set in quickly after that…
In Nigeria when your rent is a bit late you can just talk to the landlord(who is your friend) and tell him it’s coming a bit later, here your ass is on the streets if you don’t pay.
The human element is missing here, you don’t really deal with people, you deal with papers and laws.
Once I learned that no help was coming, I needed to find a solution.
Back at my home, I was known as Electro Jon because I was the guy who could fix things.
So one day I just started to knock at the door of a small electronic store in the Sternschanze and told the owner that I can fix TVs for him.
That was my first job here.
Over the years I’ve learned that here you don’t fix things anymore, you just throw them away, so I started to buy broken tech from the internet, repaired it, and sold it to people at a fair price.
Eventually, I created a business out of fixing broken things and now I have my own store and I can do what I love and provide for my family”
While collecting this pearl of wisdom I’ve felt a strong philosophical kinship towards this special individual.
As a clinician, my career also revolves around the understanding that something that was repaired is more and not less beautiful because of its former brokenness.
The most beautiful things in life are forged and tested in fire, and fire leaves scars.
Do not detest those scars, embrace them.
And see the beauty in collecting the potsherds and put them together until your love and your life are a perfectly imperfect masterpiece.
📸 Jeffrey Pegas
“Like you Daniel, I also quit drinking. What really helped me was to start meditation. It becomes quite hard to pour down whiskey in your throat if you’ve truly grasped your self-worth wouldn’t you agree?!
I guess this is something that many of the addicts who come here to eat don’t understand, they forgot how valuable their spirit really is.
But I see it, and I treat and talk to anybody as if they are important people because to me they are.
In my 30+ years of having this hot dog shop in the heart of the red-light district of Hamburg, I’ve talked to thousands of individuals all unalike from each other yet still the same in a bizarre way.
Whether is a millionaire or a homeless person, a drug dealer or an addict, a prostitute or a punter, a domina or a manager, here, everybody pays the same prices and gets welcomed with a smile and an invitation to talk”.
I’ve collected this pearl of wisdom on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, a street in which I’ve spent a big part of my youth intoxicated while I was looking for trouble( and oh boy, did I find a lot of that there).
I must admit that it’s been a while that I’ve met such a curious and enthusiastic humanist.
He introduced himself to me as a guy who sells hot dogs, but to me, it seems that he did so much more.
His ability to truly be with people and make them feel seen and heard is a rare and curative character trait, and I thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot about listening from hearing his story.
📸 by Jeffrey Pegas
“I’ve had many beautiful days in my life, one of the most spectacular ones was the one where I gave birth to my son, another one was the day where my current boyfriend appeared. After two years of not seeing or hearing from each other, he just stood in front of me…
We ran into each other 8 years ago and we were friends more or less … he always wanted to go out with me but I wasn’t in the right state of mind at the time and I always said ‘no’ when he wanted to have a rendezvous with me. But I just didn’t see him ‘like that’.
Our ways separated, without any particular reason, he was out of my life. For two years we didn’t hear from each other.
One day, out of the blue, he visited me at work and stood in front of me. It hit me at that very moment and I know that he was ‘the one’!
I couldn’t even say ‘hello‘ but instead said ‘and, where is my Mezcal?’. (The two of us have a common love for Mezcal).”
We both laughed, the rest is history.”
One of the lessons that I took from this touching story is that our journey towards love isn’t only external, but also internal. To love is to decide to be couragous enough to look within yourself in order to destroy the barriers that you built against it.
Do me a favor; If you run into somebody and they make you feel, be brave enough to let them ok?
And if you find somemone like that, don’t let them go, ever. Even if it is difficult, espeically then, don’t give up and when others start to tell to do so, don’t.
True love is eternal, it only dies if the lover refuses to learn how to replenish its source.
Stay romantic, stay foolish.
One of the most powerful human encounters of my last year I met the rice farmer Wayan while I was shooting my first youtube movie – Remission.
Sometimes farmers dispose of their straws by burning them down in order to make room for the next seeding in the following spring.
I found that principle tremendously interesting and while I felt the blazing heat of the fire and inhaled the pitch-black hay smoke I asked myself a very straight forward question that I would like to ask you today also:
What part of yourself or your life do you need to let go of in order to make room for your next spiritual blossom?
One of the most glaring commonalities among the most miserable souls I ever encountered was that they all shared an inability to divorce themselves from the worst of them.
If you are not where you would like to be in life it could be because you are shying away from abandoning what drags you down.
This “drag” could be other people, it could an old habit that isn’t serving you anymore, maybe it’s a belief that is outdated or you are aiming at something that isn’t good for you anymore.
Occasionally investigating the degree to which you are in love with your own insufficiencies and faults can save your life and the life of the people who you are surrounded by.
Take a good look in the mirror tonight and meditate on the question: How am I currently the architect of my own misfortune?
One of the most memorable encounters of my previous travel adventures was when I ran into a tangerine farmer near Tamblingan.
He showed me how to pick fruits properly and by the end of it I wanted to compensate him for the tangerines that I ate; he didn’t want to have any part of it and gently responded “I’m good, I got what I need”.
This wasn’t the response that I anticipated after all – everybody loves an extra buck for their efforts, right?
Well, he didn’t.
Subconsciously I entered the conversation with a note of self-imposed superiority and arrogance because I knew that I had more money than this fellow, looking back at it, it was me who was broke in comparison to him.
My currents savings allow me to not work for another year or two max, this guy on the other side does not have to work a normal job ever again in his life because he can live off the land he owns.
Freedom of spirit does not ensue out of having more but out of wanting less.
It is the obsession with possession, more than any other compulsion, that prevents us from living authentically.
Simplifying your life will help you to reduce the complexity of your struggles by eliminating your needless wants.
Antoine De St. Exupery once said that people who travel light often travel happily, this is both true for vagabonding as it is for living.
Travel light my friend.
I interviewed this beautiful woman in Capetown.
She was selling magazines every day, in the same spot right in front of my Air Bnb on Kloof Street.
I walked right past her for 3 days.
She always had a look on her face that was warm, embracing but also prideful.
And every time we greeted each other, she just smiled at me and nodded.
I was a total stranger in Capetown, but this little encounter always felt to me like a small dose of home.
I knew somebody, and that somebody also knew me.
So on day 4, I tried to give her some charity money. She rejected it. This surprised me, and I felt that I offended her.
So I sat down and we talked briefly.
She said, “I’m not a beggar, I’m an entrepreneur!”
She then went on and pitched me the magazine until I bought it.
What fascinated me about this hero, was that she changed her own identity label — and protected it by refusing to take money from me for nothing.
Life comes down to what labels we give ourselves, choose your narrative wisely my friends.
“One example of my mother’s extreme parsimony was that every time grandfather brought home a big piece of meat, she would cut it and saved one half of it for another day.
This drove my grandfather Abdul nuts, he often said that tomorrow isn’t promised and that the time to celebrate life is always right now.
One day, when things weren’t going so great for us financially because of the war, my mother made chicken feet soup for us that tasted like ass.
My grandfather came home, saw what we were eating, and was infuriated by it. He gave my mother a vicious look and left the apartment in anger and came back hours later with a gigantic sack of red lobsters.
After grandfather cooked the crustaceans, each of the kids received multiple lobsters to feast upon.
It was a beautiful mess.
Even though we ate the lobsters of newspapers, for as we didn’t have enough plates, we all felt a sense of somebodyness on that day.
What stuck with me most however wasn’t the marvelous taste of that dinner, it was the aura of security and faith that my grandfather Abdul radiated on that day.
Yes, it was his last money, but the look on his face told another story, it gave all of us to understand that were are protected and that our home was a place of love and togetherness.
A good home.”
It was moments like these that taught me that I’m deserving of the good this world has to offer and that a true man provides for the ones he loves and embodies extreme integrity for as he can count on him and so can everybody else.
This is why we occasionally have to spoil ourselves with lobster or a good cigar son, not because of taste, but because we are reminding ourselves that we are saying yes to life, no to scarcity thinking and that we can always bet on ourselves to be there for us tomorrow. “
It was important for me to share this intimate story of my great grandfather Abdul that my father Elias told me yesterday because I want you to internalize three words that prolonged the life of my father and equipped me with perseverance:
This is it.
All you have is right now, so make every moment your personal masterpiece.
“Man, basketball helps me to preserve my sanity. The game is just so pure, all you need is a ball. That’s it, you don’t even need a hoop or other people, you can just practice your game on the street. I’m in Rome now for 3 years, I found a job at a restaurant where they didn’t mind that I had no papers. I used to crack jokes with the customers and the tip was so great that I started to send money over to my family in Africa. I was happy, than the pandemic hit and everything changed. From one day to another all restaurants closed down and I lost my job like that.
BAM. Sometimes life punches you in the mouth you know. It took me a while to punch back.
I was devasted, I had nobody to turn to, the government wouldn’t take care of illegal immigrants, so I had to take the last 40 euros I had and buy a tent. The worst thing about living in those tent cities is that you can’t relax anymore, all that separates you from criminals and drug addicts is a tiny little fabric.
What helped me through that time was that I had my basketball with me in my tent. I even named that fucker, his name is billy the ball haha
It sounds ridiculous, but that ball helped me to overcome that period of my life. The value of some things can only be discovered when everything else is taken away from you.
The restaurants are open again and I have my old life back.
I’ve learned some things about myself while I was living in that tent, one of those things was that I am stronger than I thought. People offered me shady ways to make money but I did not betray my god or my family. Not even for a day.”
This hero is, in fact, a real hero.
A South African freedom fighter who was imprisoned due to his political involvement with the ANC (the military wing of the African national congress that fought against apartheid in South Africa together with Nelson Mandela). I talked with him about sacrifice, willpower, and his take on depression.
“My first involvement with the ANC got me expelled from school. At that time I knew that being a freedom fighter will come with a price. Here on Robben Island, I was imprisoned together with all the other political leaders of the resistance against apartheid. Right over there Nelson Mandela planted his tomatoes and hid his manuscript for his autobiography. The guards found it anyway and burned it. So he lost 4 years of work.
This place was known to us as the university, it was not only a prison but a place where we learned from each other. A place full of leaders and fighters. We saw this prison as a continuation of our struggle for freedom and against the apartheid regime… The worst thing for me was that the guards used systematic starvation in order to keep us down. They were afraid of our mind, and a hungry mind can’t revolt. The worst thing was that they took away the letters that our children and women wrote to us. “
Daniel: What was the difference between people who were falling into despair, depression, and suicide and between those who kept their mind strong?
“If we saw someone be depressed or isolating themselves, we, as a community choose teams of 3-4 people to go and talk to the person who was in pain. We listened to his problems and tried to give him support, unity, and solutions.
Daniel: Like a depression watch?” “Yes, we knew that only together we can win the fight. Community is the key. Besides that, in order to not succumb to depression, we tried to stay busy. Read, exercise, talk with each other, and play rugby”.
One of my favorite encounters of my last journey through Europe was with the rather “different” gentleman that you see on this picture.
Even though he was homeless and obviously in a world of hurt he smiled and told me that he has faith that things will soon get better for him.
It always amazes me how unbelievable resilient people can be under unbearable conditions.
In the conversation with this man I learned that he lost his job, his family, his money, his health, and his friends.
What he did not lose however was his ability to smile.
How this individual managed to preserve hope and optimism is beyond my understanding of the human psyche.
Happiness isn’t produced by having everything handed to you on a silver platter, it is produced by surviving one storm after another until you outgrow your current catastrophe.
There is more to you than meets the eye, don’t forget to occasionally show the world your middle finger and act in spite of your suffering.
Last year I traveled to a toxic lake near Munduk in order to bring a metaphoric life rule alive that I learned on my journey out of depression:
“The degree to which you cling to the parts of your life that are dead determines the extent of your self-imposed psychological agony.”
The tree in this picture died because of the hellish lake that it was born into, many people share the same fate and never leave the external and internal nightmare that they architected around themselves.
The good news is: You are not a fucking tree.
You can move and if you encounter something that is impeding your development, it is your moral obligation to sacrifice everything that is dragging you down in order to move towards your destiny.
This could mean leaving friends, wives, relatives, jobs, or even entire parts of your mind behind in order to preserve the divine spark within yourself.
Move, make sacrifices, and become who you were meant to be.
I had a beautiful encounter with a carriage driver in Bruges. He was incredibly well-spoken and educated us about the history of the magical little town. I asked him about friendship and what happiness means to him, click here to listen him speak.