Reflections on Akka Janssen

Reflections on Akka Janssen
1956 – 2017
by Alfred Von Mirbach

Words will never capture Akka’s gentle, quiet and profound essence or spirit, but maybe these reflections can at least give hints at how her presence played such an important role in shaping the path of my life.

These reflection are in no particular order, and cover both “events” that she played a part in, and “concepts” she helped me to grasp and embrace.

Magic at Crotch Lake. Akka and I did an overnight canoe trip on Crotch Lake, in the peak of fall colour change. It was a truly beautiful trip, with one part that absolutely took our breath away. In one hour, we experience three “incidents”, involving a bald eagle, an otter, and a vortex of wind.
All three defied description and evoked something profoundly spiritual. We sat in silent witness, so grateful to share the experience.

Vision Quest. Akka and I both did three day vision quests with Andy Fisher and Jill Dunkley, Akka a year or two before me. I knew about these vision quests, but remember being surprised to find that all of a sudden I had signed up for one. I’m sure a good part of it was knowing that Akka, a kindred spirit, had done one. I’m so glad I did.

Acceptance. I’d heard and read about “accepting what is”, but only embraced (and was
empowered by) the concept after many walks along the Tay with Akka. Somehow, she would quietly say a few words, ask a few questions, and it would sink in. I never thought I would use a Star Wars analogy, but Akka had Yoda-like moments, of saying something simple and profound that stripped way a whole bunch of “noise”. I was having major struggles with depression at the time, and she helped me to see that struggling with it, trying to change it, was futile. Just accept it. I did, and it passed.

Tisarana. I knew about this monastery, from a variety of people, and kept thinking I “should” check it out. But the person who got me there was Akka, as a quiet companion. My gratitude to Akka for that, and to the monastery for how it has nurtured my understanding of myself and the world, is boundless.

Space. There is a profound quote of Viktor Frankl – “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”. Akka is the one who introduced me to that quote, and it has become a cornerstone of my core beliefs. Don’t just react – sit, even if for one second, and feel your way to a wise, compassionate response. Like Akka.

Wintergreen. Another place, introduced to me by Akka in her quiet way, that has become an important part of my life. Another pond, where she was the pebble and I continue to feel the ripples. A blessed space with blessed people

Moon over the Tay. Early on in our friendship, I suggested an evening paddle down the Tay. We paddled through the golden hour to the vast marshland downstream of Perth, and an indescribably beautiful full moon rose before us just as we entered it. Akka always believed I had planned it carefully, figuring out when the moon would rise and where, and timing our paddle accordingly, but in fact, it was largely fate. I knew it was close to a full moon, but I’ve always preferred to astonished by the magic of the moon and stars, and deliberately never look into the science or timing behind them.

The Camino. It was Martin that inspired me to do the Camino, but Akka played an important part in my embracing the spiritual journey aspects of the experience. I can so imagine her doing the Camino – probably not the popular Frances route, though. She would have opted for the Norte and/or Primitive routes, I think.

Poetry. I never “got” poetry – until Akka. She would pass on short passages, from Rumi, or Mary Oliver, or Rilke, and slowly, poetry took root. Now I love learning new poems, inhabiting them in the process, and reciting them to myself, and to nature, while walking the land.

House and Land. When I got to know Akka, we were both somewhat homeless, in our own ways. I was content with the freedom that gave me, but then saw Akka move into her home, and land, and become part of it, in a Wendell Berry way. And I saw and loved her wonderfully simple small, sun-flooded home. And then built something quite similar, and am stewarding the land around me in much the same way.