"True freedom comes from the mind."
Four years ago, we interviewed Sebastian Haffner and his wife Anne together. At that time, they were regularly traveling the world to advance their nonprofit project, SunHelp, which involved installing simple solar panels in impoverished regions like Nepal. In the current interview, Sebastian talks about the family's new travel plans and how he can help people with meditation and hypnosis.
One of your previous plans was to relocate your home base to South France. Have you settled there?
Sebastian: That's correct. We hadn't found a comparable home base on our travels until now. I am half French, and our children also have French citizenship. Therefore, language is not a problem for us. We love Provence because it combines the sum of the qualities of life that are important to us. This includes nutrition – there are many organic farms here, and people have a strong environmental consciousness. We can eat a vegetarian diet without any restrictions. Health has always been important to us, and since we have the kids, we are responsible not only for ourselves but also for them. The area where we live has one of the cleanest air qualities in Europe, and you have a great view of the starry sky at night. We also appreciate the mentality of the people who live by the motto "live and let live."
"We're planning to go on a true world tour."
However, we haven't become settled here yet. We were close to buying a house in Provence. But we simply couldn't find the right property for us. Apparently, it wasn't meant to be that we put down roots here. So, we continued traveling with the children.
We've only been back for a few weeks from a one-year journey. We spent the winter in Morocco and Spain, starting our journey in our van. Next week, we're heading towards Denmark. Our Sprinter is slowly becoming too small, so we're currently converting our all-wheel-drive truck.
Our next major goal is South Africa, where we plan to go in about a year. We have a special mission for our son Valentin: he should be able to see all the animals of the world in their natural habitat. We're planning a true world tour. South Africa is the starting point, and from there, there's a ferry connection to Montevideo in Uruguay. Then, we'll continue along the southern hemisphere to Alaska, and from there to Japan and through Asia back home. This year, we'll mostly be in Europe, preparing for the world tour. We dream of being on the road for about three to five years.
For years, you dedicated yourselves to the mission of "simple solar panels for the poorest people in the world." What is the current status of the organization SunHelp e. V. that you founded?
Sebastian: Back then, our goal was to install 100 solar panels in extremely remote areas where no other aid organization reached and where the government was not actively involved. Since then, with our network, we've been able to set up more than 300 solar panels and 150 solar cookers in five Asian countries. Just a few weeks ago, we successfully completed the last project. Anne and I no longer install the panels ourselves. It was important to us that the project is no longer tied to us as individuals, mainly because of our children. In Tajikistan, we found a charitable organization that supports us and continues our projects.
The coordination of the projects and the financing still go through us, but the implementation is now handled by the organization. We now focus on a single region because it is much more efficient and sustainable. If parts of the systems need replacement, we have someone on the ground who takes care of it. This way, we have been able to make a significant positive impact with the same resources as before.
Traveling the world with young children is unimaginable for many families, but for you, it's routine. How do you manage it?
Sebastian: We embarked on our first journey with our son Valentin when he was just about five weeks old. At that time, we visited Corsica and Italy. We tailored the destinations to his age – the younger the child, the easier the places should be to reach. Especially when children are still in their infancy, you don't need much.
"From the beginning, we were aware that by deregistering from Germany, we were also relinquishing our rights and responsibilities."
A fantastic side effect was that we as a family bonded really well. It was ideal for bonding. Valentin regularly asks when we're going again and where we're going next. And we also regularly ask our children if they still enjoy it and what wishes they have on our travels. At the same time, we nurture their interest in discovering new things in a healthy way.
Most children of that age would typically be in kindergarten or school.
Sebastian: We occasionally talk about kindergarten and school and try to explain the principles behind them to our children. In France, there's a state concept of distance learning (CNED) specifically for French families abroad, which makes it easier for us. In France, compulsory education, or pre-school education, begins at the age of three.
What we were clear about from the beginning is that by deregistering from Germany, we were relinquishing our rights and responsibilities. So, we have no claims on the social system, such as child benefits. Therefore, we consciously realized that we bear full responsibility and have to make all decisions ourselves.
When planning and executing a world trip, information is crucial. Before we had children, we traveled extensively as backpackers without detailed preparations. However, with children, it's essential to be well-informed. For example, when we were in Morocco over the winter, we wanted to cross a part of the Sahara – about 500 kilometers through the desert. In advance, we researched which parts of the Sahara were allowed for crossing, what was politically and legally permitted, and we looked into potential risks like protests, border conflicts, and so on. You need a lot of reliable sources to make an informed decision. Generally, our willingness to take risks has decreased since we started traveling as a family, and we always ask ourselves, "Is this the right choice for the children?"
In essence, I'm more adventurous, while Anne is a bit more cautious, so we make a good mix and complement each other well. My guiding principle is also, "It doesn't have to be boring without being dangerous."
Professionally, you have now found your calling with "FREIgefühlt" ("FREEdomfelt"). What is your business model and how did you come to this profession?
Sebastian: A few words about the context: For a long time, we financed our travels through our blog "reisefroh" ("traveljoy"). We were fortunate to receive a good purchase offer just before the pandemic, which we accepted.
When we decided against buying a house in Provence and for traveling, the pieces of the puzzle came together automatically. Sometimes, good timing is everything in life. Because of the sale, we had the flexibility and freedom to develop something new at our own pace. We used this space to delve deeply into what truly resonates within us. This allowed us to follow a path that is not only monetary in nature but also fulfills us and brings us happiness.
"Meditation means listening to your thoughts."
We consciously allowed ourselves to be guided and looked at where our travel experiences had led us. And then everything crystallized very quickly. On our travels, we met so many people who had already discovered hypnosis, meditation, and energy work for themselves, and as a result, we had very personal and touching exchanges. It became clear that we wanted to pass on this knowledge and professionally develop ourselves in this field.
Where does the practice of meditation originate, and why does it have such a healing effect?
Sebastian: Meditation has been practiced for millennia, especially in India and Southeast Asia. In general, meditative practices can be found in every religion and mystical tradition. The core concept is the same everywhere: it's about being aware of the present moment, becoming conscious of oneself, something that is often overlooked in everyday life. The mind drains our energy, and we are rarely fully present. Through meditation, we reconnect with ourselves, creating a space of silence. This gives us inner peace, while the world around us is in constant motion.
Meditation practice has two essential components: one is the spiritual aspect, which allows one to recognize their core essence, leading to self-discovery and self-awareness in its truest sense. The other is meditation as a technique with the goal of stress reduction.
Stress is a clear phenomenon in our modern world, and stress has been scientifically proven to cause illness. It has even been discovered to have a physiological impact. For example, under stress, cellular aging accelerates.
There are millennia-old meditation practices, such as Vipassana meditation, attributed to the historical Buddha. This technique has been rediscovered throughout the millennia, and it has reached the Western world since the 1980s.
We are all seeking happiness and inner peace and need a foundation to navigate daily life. We cannot control external circumstances, but we can manage the internal ones. Meditation plays a crucial role in this. Ultimately, you can only share what you have cultivated within yourself.
What is the power of hypnosis, and how does it differ from meditation?
Sebastian: In hypnosis, you make changes at the subconscious level. Hypnosis is the most direct access to the subconscious mind. Our thoughts and feelings create our behavioral patterns. The average person has about 60,000 thoughts a day, and most of these are repetitive thoughts. Up to 95 percent of these thoughts occur at the subconscious level. Meditation, on the other hand, involves listening to your thoughts.
"Hypnosis is a solution-oriented journey."
In hypnosis, you guide the subject into a trance, which is a very natural state that occurs when we become absorbed in something and forget the world around us. Through hypnosis, you can bring about positive changes in the subconscious mind. In many cases, hypnosis can lead to quicker behavioral changes than traditional talk therapy. It's like a shortcut with typically less analytical work involved.
Unlike in psychotherapy, during hypnosis, individuals don't necessarily have to relive everything. Hypnosis is more like an experience, a mental journey that is solution-oriented. You don't always need to identify the root cause of a problem for it to be resolved. However, the success of hypnosis largely depends on the individual's willingness and their genuine commitment to the process.
What makes my approach unique is online-based hypnosis. We wanted to ensure that we could do our job from anywhere in the world.
Your company is called "FREIgefühlt" ("Freedom feeling"). What does freedom mean to you?
Sebastian: The company name is meant to convey that everything is based on feelings! Our world is highly rationalized; we're told not to show our feelings and to keep them in check. However, mental health relies on feelings – emotions are the key to a happy life.
At the same time, we need to relearn how to connect with our feelings, such as self-love. You have to feel free to bring about desired progress and changes and to experience happiness and love.
My personal concept of freedom is that it begins in the mind. It's about being free in spirit, making a conscious choice for a better life. And for that, I need a healthy relationship with my emotions... That's what enables me to gain inner clarity and enjoy the freedom that the world offers. I often observe that many people are trapped despite having very good life circumstances. I believe that this can be changed using meditation and hypnosis techniques.
What does spirituality mean to you – especially in light of your experiences and "worldliness"?
Sebastian: Spirituality is something that connects all of us – there is no person in the world who is not spiritual. There may be individuals who don't have access to it, but spirituality is related to our core essence. I can be a Christian, Hindu, or Muslim, it doesn't matter – it's the connection to the deepest and highest self. Therefore, spirituality is global and universal.