The story about Tjaši Artnik Knibbe is a story about a woman from a loving, but addiction-stricken family. She always felt like the one person that simply had to resolve other people’s problems, until the pressure became too much and the bubble burst. She started to perceive the world differently, left her job and delved deep into herself. She decided to listen to her inner voice that took her on an 850-kilometre pilgrimage that would finally enable her to let go of the past.
Tjaši was born in Ljubljana, but her family moved to Primorska (Slovene Littoral) soon after. She spent the first years of her life with her brother and parents – her father originated from Goriška brda and her mother from the Prlekija region – in Lucija but the family later on moved to Koper where her younger sister was born. She remembers her father Franc Artnik that she, like nobody’s business, calls her very own personal guru: “My father was a plumber. An immensely deep person, devoted to empathy, which is why people would always remember him. He had the ability to create a story from the tiniest detail that gave food for thought to the other person.”
The close-knit family was marked by addiction issues. Tjaši remembers: “My father suffered from alcohol abuse and my brother took drugs. Both were people with a strong personality that concealed a large amount of pain within. My father was a visionary that could see the future. He could see people and what destiny held for them. He was a sensuous, loving, present man who liked to walk in nature. He taught me to seek solutions within, not in other people, although he never failed to mention that people were not an end in themselves and that without love, life was not worth living. I never perceived his alcohol abuse as malevolent. It was clear to me that he was different and that he suffered immensely in the environment he lived in.”
Later on, he was successfully treated and he and Tjaši had more than one decade at their disposal to enjoy each other’s company to the fullest. Her brother also managed to successfully overcome his drug addiction for a short while. He was the first person from Slovenia to have joined Don Pierino’s group Meeting, initially in Italy and later on also in Thailand. Tjaši’s parents were the first who opened up about the new drug addiction treatment method in the Slovenian media. But as soon as her brother returned to the local “toxic” environment, his addiction returned and he died. Then cancer befell her mother.
In the meantime, Tjaši obtained her communication studies degree. She returned to Koper for and to volleyball for a while, regularly training and playing for the Koper Volleyball Club. Subsequently, she got a job in Ljubljana where she also moved permanently. She married Remco Knibbe from the Netherlands.
She was employed by the market communications department of the Dnevnik newspaper where she was also in charge of the business Gazelle Awards. She perceived her job as extremely stressful and responsible. She believes that “if your background is filled with addictions and emotional pain, you become used to playing the role of an adult person from an early age. And yet, having to continuously assume responsibility starts to wear you out when you reach adulthood. I took things too personally and pushed myself too hard. I often experienced burnout from sheer exhaustion but was saved after I was assigned a journalist position.”
Her mother’s death four years ago completely changed the way she perceived the world. This is how she remembers those tough days: “When my mother left, a part of me left with her as well. I was present during her dying period to such an extent that it made me want to leave too. Before that, I wanted to attract her illness as I was always the one in the family that had to resolve the problems we came across. A tumour (luckily not cancirogen) indeed developed in my body and surgery was inevitable.”
When you happen to yourself
That is when she experienced a deep inner awakening. “It just all got too much after my mother died. The bubble burst. When it popped, I actually happened to myself. Surrendered to the energy to the fullest, yielding to the current of life. I experienced a powerful inner peace. I started to visit workshops and writing articles discussing spiritual topics in a professional capacity as well. I got to meet many spiritual teachers that still seemed too immersed into their mind, failing to exhibit authenticity.”
Her father died in a completely different way than her mother before – it all happened rapidly. She reflects that “this was probably the only way for it to happen so that our strong bond could break.” She regarded her father’s departure as a challenge to be fully present in the moment all the time and not to allow the pain to suffocate her. She decided to do everything in her power to deepen and expand her father’s knowledge and all that they had created together. “Have the courage to receive what has been given. The courage to show your light, without façades, without retreating. This is what I’ve been doing during recent years. I did not move to the woods but my life left me with a deep spiritual experience in the same environment I had already lived before.”
She left her regular job, completely yielding to her new path. “My husband promised to provide for me so that I could spend a while completely surrendering to the unconditional current of life. Us women have a particularly expressed instinct that our home and family come first, which can prove limiting in such a case.”
She soon shifted from a spiritual seeker to a researcher. The well-known El Camino de Santiago or The Way of St. James constituted one of the challenges she wanted to conquer. Before that, she spent a few months meditating and delving deep into herself. “Presence, neutrality, empathy, and grace. Four key messages that have activated my life like the lives of many others so that we can create a new reality, together.”
Camino’s first lesson
Tjaši discovered that the first lesson of Camino began as soon as she started packing her backpack. “I have opted for a small, 30-litre backpack, weighing my luggage and prudently placing it inside. I cannot help but laugh at the very thought of travelling around the world for a month and a half with so little luggage. Finally. One of the needs that emerged within me during all the changes I have experienced is also to lead a light life without any unnecessary clutter,” she writes in her blog.
The Way of St. James or El Camino de Santiago is the joint name for several pilgrimage routes that take you to St. Jacob’s sanctuary in Compostela (Santiago means St. Jacob). Tjaši embarked on her journey in the village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Porte in France, entering Spain after the first mountain pass over the Pyrenees. She walked 850 kilometres by not completing her journey in Santiago where the majority of pilgrims come to a halt but she continued until she reached the Atlantic coast and the magical seaside town of Finisterra where she ritually burnt her clothes by the lighthouse, throwing all thoughts binding her to the past into the fire. She did not count the days she spent on the Camino, completely oblivious of the time that has passed, even missing her flight back home, but ultimately all is well that ends well. This is how she described her walk: “You walk when you feel it is the time to walk and you stop when your rhythm decides you should stop. It is worth giving it a go as I do not see any other point in undertaking a spiritual journey. Schedules are nothing but mirrors of controlling things, which, subsequently, constitutes a reflection of fear and insecurity. I am truly grateful to have managed to retreat completely.”
She spent the majority of her walk in silence. “People that undertake the Camino pilgrimage vary. Some of them are very fit, others completely unprepared. In the end it dawned on me that the main difference whose Camino journey proved a greater or minor challenge lay in the lesson they needed to learn. Toughest moments were experienced by people seeking to exhibit the greatest amount of control. Those who planned on a daily basis the amount of kilometres they would cover. Those who divided their journey into various stages and read heaps of guidebooks. It does, of course, make sense to sometimes refer to the Camino guidebook, especially in those parts of the journey which are covered by many people and you thus need to act fast enough in the evening to get accommodation. One time I also booked a room soon enough even though I followed the guideline to surrender to the journey completely which obviously does not mean that you should not exhibit pragmatism whenever needed. Call, book, and then surrender throughout your journey, knowing that a room awaits you in the evening.”
She did not wear herself out with exertion while walking. All boundaries that she had been previously positive she could not overcome were overcome easily several times. She also did not train a lot before the Camino even though she was convinced she should have. “Camino is an epitome of how immense spiritual power can enable you to overcome the belief of what you are actually capable of. You surrender to the game and dialogue between your body, spirit, thoughts, and emotions. An automatic process that regulates itself. When you do not do anything but merely allow yourself to be. We are all used to acting: we have to meditate, we have to train, we have to read a specific book to awaken a specific impulse within. But then we ended up trapped in the mindset that something needs to be done in order for us to reach the state of simply being. Quite the contrary holds true: simply being requires a calm mind, no action. Re-activation follows this state. Something I achieved for the first time during the Camino.”
A lot of youth sought her out during her journey; there were times when they addressed her only after following her for a while. They heard that the woman walking in silence bore messages. “The messages I had to convey were extremely powerful. When you walk in quietude, you feel vibrations emanated by people, sensing their stories without anyone uttering a word. Our everyday lives are filled with too much noise. But in solitude and in contact with precious nature you end up experiencing your authenticity, hearing yourself, realising who you actually are.”
She experienced several deep experiences during her journey. “The part during which you walk along the desert, Meseta, is brutal for all people living in their heads. Stricken with fright, many people preferred to take the bus and skip it altogether. The extreme heat strains your body. And, even more interestingly, there are no stimulants that otherwise occupy the mind. There is nothing there, except for rocks.”
She admits that the emptiness proves a severe shock to the system. “We are no longer able to live without stimulants. Whereas I felt like a duck on water, able to acquiesce to the experience totally. I even experienced one of the most beautiful and deepest meditations of my life.”
Once she made the decision to consciously take up a greater burden than she felt she could handle. She wanted to experience her boundaries. She decided to help a disabled person on a wheelchair and the man’s friend that was pushing him along the Camino. “I kept running into them and, at some point, knew I had to approach them. Pushing the wheelchair, I even walked faster than the man that had been performing that task before, but back then, incredulously panting behind me, trying to convince me that there was definitely something wrong with me that I was able to walk with such speed. Surrendering to the energy, I did not trouble myself with anything.” She laughingly told me: “When I ended on the top of the hill, the wheelchair-bound man told me that we should wait for his friend.”
That very day she discovered how much she was actually capable of. She went all out physically, mentally and spiritually, and then woke up the following morning, refreshed, at 4.30 in the morning, joyously setting on her journey, even though it was raining cats and dogs. That is when she covered 40 kilometres, realising how our minds placed unnecessary limits on us. This is what she told me:
“Carrying so much emotional pain, the Camino suited me down to the ground. Walking also strains your body and makes you sweat, which did a world of good as well. My pain was oozing out towards the surface and surrounding nature made me feel safe enough to be able to stay in touch with it all the time. Walking is a highly rhythmic endeavour, bringing into balance the body and calming down the psyche. Especially if you spend long hours doing it on a daily basis. I gained a lot of physical power during the Camino and my body changed to the extent that I am still sometimes amazed by my new appearance.” Initially, no text on Camino was in the works. She did not even take a camera with her unlike so many others to publish a travellog after their return from the journey. She did not communicate with her friends on Facebook, she merely send a message here and there to her husband, whom she nevertheless asked not to follow her in his thoughts and not to worry.
But when she returned, the desire to write arose again. Surprisingly, given that she had lost the will to write, overcome by grief after her father’s death. She published her first blog entry and things went on from there. She knew she had to speak out about her experiences.
Her blog entries on sparklyreality.com are also currently being translated into English and German. Short video messages are also in the works. Even though she preferred to lead a solitary private life during recent years, she easily found a way to reach out to people. She is positive that “spirituality is our true nature but we need to discern here, on Earth, what that means in practical terms. We need to practice authenticity: to see each other, to notice one another and to not simply pass another human being if they are in pain. You need to make the time to listen, to always strive to seek solutions, not conflicts. When you are in touch with yourself and nature, you need only little to lead your life. You become naturally inclined to socialise with kindred spirits, aware of the significance of creativity. There is no point in keeping the energy within, it is so much better to express yourself.” Seeing her role in writing, she also prepares group meetings and meditations, seeking to help people become aware of behavioural patterns that prevent them from surrendering and leading a full life.
She still has a list of things she wants to accomplish until she hits 40 in her head. She started to make her wishes come true this year. She wonders: “There are so many things we tend to say that will be done at some point in the future. But when my parents left this Earth, I began to wonder when that ‘point in the future’ would come for me. When would I stop saying that I do not feel like doing something or that there is something that I cannot do?”
List of passions
When she asked herself what her earthly passions were and what she would regret not trying once in her life, she thought of many things that she has been doing one after the other. This past summer, she learnt how to surf. Her “bucket list” also includes an English book that she wants to circulate all over the globe. She also wants to attend a free diving course in the depths of the Red Sea with her sister Alenka Artnik, whom most people will remember from her free diving records during recent years.
She is not worried about making money. She is convinced “that if you are in touch with your inner abundance, your financial situation will be taken care of as well. Material goods no longer constitute a compensation to lead a full life on this Earth but constitute merely a natural consequence of the abundance you feel within. It is of importance to re-learn the rhythm of giving and receiving, greatly empowered by this group dynamics. Individualism that so many people today mistake for freedom is baring its teeth. Let us reach out to others and give a helping hand like we used to. Then we will learn that happiness requires little money but heaps of love. How does that song go again? “Life is beautiful if you live it.”
Translated into English by DORA DEBELJAK
Link to Tjaši’s website: http://www.sparklyreality.com