I had the pleasure of chatting with Mario, the founder of Trees of Memory, an organization that brings awareness to suicidal tendencies and mental depression.
What is Trees of Memory about and why does it mean so much to you?
The international project TREES of MEMORY is a hike around the earth to plant TREES of MEMORY in places where the lives of loved ones were lost through suicide. With this, I want to create living memories of people who no longer had the strength to live on. I want to encourage all those who suffer from suicidal thoughts and depression. I would like to call on people to follow their hearts and desires because only in them is the key to happiness and fulfillment.
One day, I came to the point where I forgot who I was. The depression was so overpowering and determined my life until I – or, to be more exact, my brain – took my own life on 28.12.2014. My life partner at that time found me and I was revived. Two years later, on Easter 2016, my boyfriend took his own life. He had severe depression and we had quarreled because he did not want to go to the clinic. After I left, he killed himself. My life was torn into a million pieces. But after I decided to follow my heart and turn the consequences of my suffering into positive and encouraging help, life became a great, colorful gift again. No matter how sick you are, anyone can turn their destiny around. That is why this project is so important to me. It is life important.
What makes you come alive?
After the death of my boyfriend, I felt extremely bad for six months. I cried day and night. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t leave the house. I couldn’t go shopping. My friends kept me alive, so to speak, with their help and compassion. Then the day came when TREES of MEMORY suddenly came into my head, as if a voice without sound had spoken to me. I had the feeling that my soul had spoken a word of command: either you do this or you will be dead in three months. I immediately felt that there was no alternative.
The next day, I sat down and built the website. After that, I logged in to many social networks and specifically looked for people who were depressed or suicidal. One week later, a tsunami of sadness, compassion, love, and hope rolled over me when I suddenly received mail from all over the world. People told me how they felt after the suicide of a child or partner. They were accused of being responsible for the death. They had lost friends. They were stigmatized. They lost their jobs and their mental health. They lived in the darkness of the present with no hope of recovery. The affected people felt what I felt. Often even worse.
That gave me an incredible amount of courage. It gave me a new purpose in life. I had none before. I was a party king, went to work, had a few friends and lots of sex and drinks, nothing more. Suddenly there was this great idea that became bigger and bigger when the press reported about it soon after. Many people thought I was crazy and deranged and said that it would never work out. But I felt deep in my heart that they were wrong. I could already see and feel TREES of MEMORY. Then I had the first conversations and I could see that my plan meant something to people. It gave them courage. Sometimes they cried in my arms. I felt something that I cannot put into words. I still feel it and it makes me happy, content, and drives me forward.
What does kindness mean to you?
I think kindness is something we have to learn through our life experiences. I lived in a bubble for many years. Even though I had been to many different countries, I had never left my bubble. Sometimes I wasn’t fair, acting like a mean spoiled kid. But life changes everything. I was suffering from terrible depression, and after three years of treatment, I tried to kill myself. Then I lost my partner and I fell into a deep hole and hit the ground of hell. On my way back to the surface, to the sunlight I was hoping for, I discovered there are many perspectives, each with its own truth. And the truth is always real and not measured by what the society thinks is the truth or what a video camera has proven is the truth. The truth is what we experience and how our hearts make us feel.
Kindness is the result of accepting that all these perspectives are the “real” realities. If we open to things out there that might be real, even if we have never heard of them or seen them, it’s the first step of the ladder towards kindness. And to live in kindness means to include it in our daily lives, offering others a helping hand, sharing my very own experiences so that they can heal and go forward with their own lives with a bit more inner peace. And of course, the feelings are mutual – I would also listen and take in what is relevant to me for my own inner healing.
What do you hope to achieve for Trees of Memory?
I want to raise awareness about the suicidal problems all over the world, and way more important, I want to raise awareness for the possibilities of psychological treatments for someone who is suicidal. I hope people will have the courage and the energy to help their friends and family if someone is suffering from depression. To be there for them, to listen, to hug, and to help them deal with the little challenges they face in their daily lives. All these are often easy and effective ways to help. If they’re struggling, I want people to say, “Hey, I feel terrible and something is wrong. I have suicidal thoughts,” without punishment, without stigmata. And I hope that those who heard from TREES of MEMORY will remember me and what I am doing and keep going on. Going forward, step by step, even if it means that they have to take one step forward and then two steps back. I want them to realize that with nothing more than a dream in your heart, you can live a fulfilling life full of joy and happiness – just open your heart and you can be sure the light is always there, even if the darkness blinded you.
How is the progress of Trees of Memory so far?
At the moment, I am on my winter break in Berlin. Here in Europe, you cannot plant trees from December to March or April. Therefore, I use the time to work as a journalist, teach at the university, and of course, I have to organize a lot because I start my hiking tour again in April. I also started writing a book.
So far, I have walked about 3300 km. On 31.3.2018, I started in Frankfurt am Main. I am walking from tree planting spot to tree planting spot, so I knot a green ribbon around the earth. My path led me far along the outer borders of Germany. That was a coincidence. Last year I walked as far as Coburg in Bavaria. I’ll start from there in three months. Then I will walk to Freiburg on the French border. From there, I will walk to Berchtesgaden at the border to Austria, and with a little luck, I will manage to leave Germany this year. I hope that I will make 2500 km this year. So far, I have planted 22 TREES of MEMORY. In Germany, another 15 are open to being planted. In total, I have orders from 13 countries and people from 85 countries have invited me to stop by their homes on my hike around the world. You can follow my trip on my website.
How does Tree of Memory help to prevent suicidal thoughts/depression?
This is a very difficult question. It always depends on whether I can reach people’s hearts. If I can, then I can touch them and also motivate them. They must want to get healthy and want to fight for their health. If this is the case, I can reach out to their subconscious. This is built like an onion, layer by layer. Our memories are linked to emotions, and from this, good and bad beliefs are born. It is possible to reprogram the learned behavior if you create positive experiences and emotions. This takes time. An example: As a child, someone was bitten by a dog. This is the memory. This memory is connected to the emotion of fear and pain. As a reaction, the child started having panic attacks when he met a dog. This is a behavior he has been living for 50 years. Now as an adult, he has to learn that you can pet dogs and not get bitten. It is all about proving that the “I can’t” can be exchanged for an “I can do this very well” at any point in life. Changing the emotion will change the behavior. This is the first step.
In the next step, I work my way forward to a new layer that surrounds consciousness. I have to prove that faith in yourself and the visions you have can become a reality. No idea is too crazy not to work. Many people told me that TREES of MEMORY wouldn’t work. But look at me. It works. I walk and I plant. It became an international non-profit association and people from all over the world follow me. A vision became a reality. Many affected people don’t dare to start a life that is only based on a dream or a vision. They think that they would starve to death. But they don’t. Everybody is the creator of his reality and we can achieve just about anything. People must learn to have a basic trust in the universe. Life will not disappoint them. But we also have to live our karma, like harvesting what we sow. That is very important. Affected people often don’t believe that they will have a better life if they have less stress, earn less money, live in a small apartment, and exchange their car for a bicycle. In Germany, prosperity is equated with health. But this lie does not work because we pay for prosperity with our health. In the end, we might even kill ourselves because we can’t do our daily life more. Follow your heart, live your dreams, go step by step towards the future you are always dreaming about. You can do it, no matter what.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered, and are perhaps still encountering, while setting up and running “ToM”?
Let go. To let go of my life, to let go of my belongings, to let go of my job, to leave my old friends. To let go of my grief. To let go of the love I felt. To let go of everything and put my life into the universe’s hands so it will guide me through whatever comes. I am paying with “let it go” and not knowing what will come in return.
How can people actively get involved in your organization?
Well, TREES of MEMORY needs funding so that we can provide the help we need to those people who lost someone. To realize all of that, we need members to sign up with our NGO, members who are willing to pay 50 Euro a year as a membership fee. And we need donations – small ones and big ones. 1 Euro or 1000 Euro – every amount, small or big, will keep me going. And one or two sponsors would be great to help me succeed on my walk around the world. And if someone sees that I am walking near your vicinity, I will always be thankful for a bed, a soup, or a shower. And every time someone shares my story on social media, they are spreading hope. Do donations and followers on all major social networks will help Tree of Memory to keep going too, as this might attract those who can and want do more than just watch.
What’s an act of kindness that you’ll never forget?
That is the saddest part of this interview. I think and I think and I think, and the more I think, the more I become aware that in my direct daily life, I never have seen or experienced something I would describe as kindness that impressed me forever. Of course, there are good people, but being a witness of kindness, mmm…I cannot remember and I hope it is just my old brain and not the reality.
*The replies given by the interviewee have been edited to keep it as close as possible as to how a native German speaker might means.