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Tina on the Danish island of Bjørnø

Part I

In September, 2015, I interviewed my friend Tina Kragh Rusfort in the village of Vester Skerninge, Denmark. I posted the interview in four parts in May, 2016, followed by a piece on a painting of hers that hangs in my living room. I'm reposting my interview with her because it will be followed by a new interview that represents a companion piece to this one. And because what Tina has to say about spirituality and creativity is of value.

I have known Tina Kragh Rusfort since the first time I lived in the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School’s Copenhagen ashram in 1991. In fact, that first time, I sublet her room for part of the time. Since I was only in Denmark for the summer then, I’d get shunted around from room to room, but I was glad to have a place to stay. I was there so Cheyenne could spend time with her other mom and her dad’s family, both of whom are Danish.

Most of the folks in the ashram were yoga teachers or teachers in training, but there were always a few of us who had studied yoga and meditation intensively and wanted to live the yogic life, Scandinavian style. I formed my strongest friendships with those who weren’t teachers or who ended up leaving the ashram—the questioners, the ones on the fringe. Tina was a graphic designer with her own studio and a prolific painter, whose work spoke to me from the beginning. We bonded quickly and deeply, and our friendship has stood the test of time.

Even though I always live in Copenhagen when I’m in Denmark, and Tina now lives on the island of Fyn, it’s rare that we don’t see each other while I’m there. One year, when I’d been to Vienna to interview Viktor Frankl’s widow for my book Viktor Frankl: A Life Worth Living, Tina had come to Copenhagen for a yoga course. I got back to the city on the day she was leaving, and we raced to the train station together. I hopped onto her departing train and rode a short distance for our shortest visit ever, and then hopped back off after a quick, heartfelt hug.

Last summer and fall I spent eight weeks in my favorite city in the world. One of the highlights of my visit was a venindetræf (girlfriends’ meet-up) on the tiny island of Bjørnø for Tina’s birthday celebration. It was a weekend of island hikes, kayaking, yoga, meditation, willow-weaving, delicious food, time spent in beautiful thatch-roofed cottages, and most of all, deep conversations and warm laughter among nine women. On the way back to Copenhagen, Tina’s cousin Charlotte and I stopped at Tina’s home in Vester Skærninge for lunch in Tina and Rudi’s gorgeous garden. After lunch, I interviewed Tina about her spiritual journey while she busied her hands with ongoing willow-weaving.

I started by asking Tina, “How did you experience your spirituality as a child?”

This question always seems to take people somewhat by surprise. I’m not sure what they’re expecting, but it isn’t that. Tina had to think. “Hmm. Actually my first spiritual memory is me standing in front of the house, looking at the sky, thinking, ‘Whoa, this is beautiful. I need to share this.’ It felt very spiritual and like this sharing was my task—all the beauty and gifts in the world. I felt connected and like I was here for some reason. I was about eleven or twelve.”

She stopped to think again, and then went on, “Sometimes I felt I could read others’ minds—like I could say what they needed to hear. Like it was coming from somewhere else. I understood that it wasn’t coming from in me. I had the feeling that I was sharing something that wasn’t only mine. It was something that came through me—intuition, reading the larger image. At the same time, I was aware that I was the one doing it.”

Tina’s hands continued to work the willow shoots. I asked, “What about your spirituality as an adolescent?”

“I did have a problem with our priest,” she said. “I painted a picture of him. I started painting at thirteen. Spirituality is very much connected to imagery and painting for me. The priest who taught our confirmation class, I wasn’t able to connect with him, and I felt that strongly. I painted this picture of him, and it’s not very sympathetic; it’s very naked. I sensed that he wasn’t in tune with what he was teaching. I believed in God as a Christian and had no problem with that, but the way he taught, his personality—there was something very strong, a core thing that made me feel that maybe the way I connected was different from the way he was connecting. I felt alienated from him, a dissonance, a disconnection. At the time I thought maybe I just didn’t like him. Later I found out that I don’t like expectations in churches.”

“Can you give me an example?”

“In the preaching. I didn’t feel that I belonged. I didn’t understand why I didn’t feel belonging. A search started with this guy.”

“So in a way he set you on your way,” I said.

Tina nodded then added, “But I was in the State Church with my school pals. I didn’t ask myself if I wanted to be confirmed because I believed in God, and I still do.”


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