What would our souls want us to do?

I am reading a National Geographic Article about the Ecuadorian Yasuni rainforest– home to one of the highest number of species and greatest bio-diversity in the world – And also, sadly, enormous oil reserves. The government, realizing the global treasure of the rainforest, has asked the world at large for 3.6 billion USD for it to forego extraction of oil. This figure is equivalent to about half of what they would make were they to drill. My husband reading with me declared that the oil will be extracted, and that the life in the forest would pay the price – it has happened so many times before.

This is not a piece on the realism or pessimism of my husband, it is a piece to share my horror that there is even still a question of which way this could go. It makes me wonder at the presence of our hearts in our every day, the presence of our humanity in our decisions, and the presence of our sense of the sacred as we live our lives.

It seems to me that we must have lost the touch with these in the mechanical, soulless systems that we have co-created to live our lives as a global community of humans. I return in my disbelief to the power of money: To run us, to make our decisions. As I return to the story of the Yasuni rainforest, it is with a sense of impotence and infinite sadness.

Today I visited a small school that I am a part of making happen. It has a kindergarten that has been going for a year, and since a week a small class one of seven children who are beginning their life of ‘formal’ learning there. As a school it has a slightly different emphasis to most mainstream schools. The children are there to be supported in learning how to be themselves. To connect with and express their lifeforce in this world. They will learn it whilst learning how to read and write and learn the things that we deem to be important content-wise in our society today, but its fundamental intention is different.

ariThe reading and writing and everything else they will learn are all tools in their expression of self and life. And really what can be more important? It is based on a premise that some may disagree with: That each of us is born on this planet with a deeper soul purpose. And thus our fundamental intention becomes one of  human freedom, to express that which we are here to do. It is a premise which trusts, that as we learn to express our soul’s desire, we are also learning to bring something of value to our world.

Most of the children in the class are so-called farm children. Children who if they were to go to their local farm school would have their trajectory more or less outlined for them – of remaining in poverty, of believing themselves to be at the bottom of the societal hierarchy. This may sound like a harsh judgement, and yet the pass-rate of the local school is 48%, and my experience of so many young people who come through the poorer schools in this country is that their creative spark and sense of drive, has been all but buried. Discipline and ‘respect’ appear to be among the most critical skills for them to learn, keeping them firmly in ‘their place.’.

Today I saw 7 small beautiful children in a classroom filled with love, filled with their work on the wall, filled with play and story, and for me above a sense of possibility. Their ‘farm children’ label fell away – and instead I simply saw 7 bright young children, who might make anything of their lives. They will be in a school, which is about nurturing their sense of humanity, curiosity, imagination, and will. We do not know the future that they will inhabit, and so don’t know the content, which will most serve them there. However supporting them to expand their innate capacity for learning, and for being present in this world, will surely serve us all. Our work thus becomes to support them to grow more fully into themselves, in a world, which oftentimes does not support the presence of free creative thinkers and doers.

childrenToday these 7 children gave me hope. I don’t know which path they will travel, but I know that we are at least allowing them to begin their journey in a way that celebrates them, and invites them into a world that is full of mystery and magic.

And in my heart I must trust that this will – or at the very least can – lead to different choices, and different journeys.

The Ecuadorian President asked for 3.6 billion USD in 2007 to leave untouched an estimated 850 million barrels of oil. By mid-2012, only 200 million had been committed(!). My husband seems to be right – the will to change this trajectory is not present. As I sit in Zimbabwe looking across the world, it may well be that we are too late to save the rainforest in Ecuador. But here we are joining with the many others, who are beginning to work with children to introduce them to a sacred world: To allow them to journey into learning that affirms the sacredness of their bright beings – and the world into which they have been born.

The underlying question, which lives in me, and which we hope to open to our children remains: What do our souls want us to do? The answer, I know, is full of joy and grace and light.

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Reflections on our participation in a world gone wrong

I woke up this morning with an aching heart. The reality of our challenge piercing through the veil of our modern lives. We spent yesterday at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town. An incredible place, where we were brought into the under water world. It was a wonderful experience. We spent all afternoon as a family moving through the Aquariaum. Marvelling at the beauty of the Knysna seahorses, being transfixed by the sheer size of the giant spider crab, and falling in love with the solo green sea turtle. By the end I was inspired by my meeting with Life and distressed by my meeting with Man.

Much of the messaging at the Aquarium was around how man is impacting marine life, with ensuing advice to counter the challenge: Don’t buy plastic bags, stop eating prawns, only eat fish on the SASSI green list (this is a list compiled by the Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative, which groups fish according to a green, orange and red list. Those on the green are still fine to consume, those on the orange pose cause for concern either because of overfishing or because the fishing/farming method poses ham to the environment, and red are fish that unsustainable and/or illegal to fish in South Africa).

Whilst this messaging was a big part of the displays they were at the same time prominently presenting their sponsors: I&J the largest fish processing company in South Africa, and the Ocean Basket, the nation-wide fish restaurant chain. Even these companies in their messaging at the aquarium were encouraging us to only eat fish off the green list, and yet I am certain they themselves sell fish that are on the orange list, such as prawns, kingklip, or line-caught mackerel. It reminds me of conversations at the recent WEF summer meeting in China around sustainability. They mostly focused on how to get the consumers to want to buy sustainable products. The sub-text seemed to be, “for as long as they are willing to buy products that destroy the earth, we will have to continue to provide them.” “We have to stay competitive”. And so passionate men and women were working together to educate the consumers. Whilst this is obviously important, I did not encounter conversations on how we might tackle the challenge further upstream; how we might begin to shift a system, which requires constant growth for a business to survive. Grow, grow, grow. Or die. And so as a result we turn mother-nature into a commodity – into many! – and relationships into services, moving further away from community and into trans-actionality. And this we assume to be the natural way. In fact it seems to me that anything that questions this is radical, counter culture, activism – words that all have negative connotations.

So the wonderful woman at the aquarium was teaching us about the penguins and the tragedy of the plastic bags, and the bottle caps that kill so many birds and seals. I am sure she longs for a world in which these animals that she cares so deeply about can live without being threatened by man – and yet she is also living in a world where her daily existence, shopping, eating, driving to work, are all directly contributing to this plight, which she wishes to alleviate. We each are. I recently read an article about a woman who has spent the last five years not buying any plastic. As she has not started making things herself, it has meant living without bottled water, meat (most is wrapped in some kind of packaging), yoghurt, etc.. She was described as a zealot. I take it that living sustainably in today’s systems may require zealous behaviour.

My mind returns to my work in Zimbabwe. In which we are entering more consciously questions of sustainable living, natural and organic food and products for the home, where we are learning how to grow and make our own medicine – and, this is the new part, begin to turn that into our own local economy, to begin to be able to exchange these products filled with goodness, and even love, with each other. And in so doing to strengthen our communities, to re-create even, bonds that have been weakened or severed by the advent of a consumer focused monetised world. And let me be clear: Money is not in and of itself the problem. Having it enter every single human and natural domain is. Having it be designed to create scarcity through its creation as debt, so that more always begets more, is a deep-seated problem of our monetary system.

So I wonder – as I feel a pull now to not only live our own small but important experiment. I wonder what might be our contribution to the larger shift of which I hope we are a part? How might we, with the many many others who are stepping out of a system, a machine, that we can see no longer serves us; how can we be a part of changing its DNA? Business is not inherently evil. But business is no longer, ultimately, in the business of producing quality products and services to people – things they believe in and are proud of contributing to the world. Business, through this inherently growth-propelled system, which we have co-created, is in the business of growing money – and that is a very different bottom line.

So this is my question – what can we do? We are probably millions of us, perhaps even billions who want a different reality, who have begun to take the steps towards it in our respective locales, who often have found the need to unplug to varying degrees from the machine, and yet recognise that we are needed to support the fundamental change to its DNA. Charles Eisenstein’s work has helped me see how some of the basic workings of the monetary system perpetuate our situation, and has thus also helped me recognise that it can be different. I no longer think it is just the way it is, and human nature of greed and competition will always produce something like what we have today. No. We don’t need to have a system, a global system, which is devouring the earth, community, love and ultimately itself. It can be different – where money is in right relationship, where communities flourish, where creativity is alive, children cherished, natured revered, where a forest standing is worth more to most of us than a forest felled. Intellectually I can even see what the different components might be to enable this, and there are many books out there to read if you want to learn more. What I don’t see is the pathway that will take us there, and more importantly for me in this moment, I don’t see my role in helping make that shift. My work in Zimbabwe is important, and I will continue doing it, diligently, with great passion, joy and love. And, yet, still I have a sense of a need to connect the dots, to hook up across  the planet, somehow…

Perhaps simply being in the question is enough for now. Being in the question of what will it take for us, who long for a shift, and what can be my role to support that shift, from the wonderful gritty practicality of the local, to the larger shift of the global.

Ah – that we may be a part of it – a return to a world that our hearts long for; and that our hearts know to be possible… but that our minds cannot yet grasp.

May it be so.

As we are, such are the times

I recently read a thought-provoking article titled ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.’ It was about a high profile woman (first female director of policy planning at the State Department in the US), who after two years in Washington, decided to return home to her husband and two teenage sons, because there was not enough time in a day, or a week or a month for the demands of the job as well as being the kind of mother or partner that she wishes to be. She spoke of how many of her female friends had scorned her decision, and several of her feminist friends, had lamented her inability to prove that women can indeed ‘have it all.’

I can’t begin to imagine why anyone would want the kind of job she described, rising daily at 4.20 to get to the office, and working til late into the night. For two years she only saw her family on weekends, and during vacation amounting to six days a year(!).

Soon after reading this article, I came upon a quote by Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430). He stated that:

“If we live good lives, the times are also good.
As we are such are the times.”

As we are such are the times… I believe that a part of our challenge is that we are trying to figure out how to run the world, fix the world, make the world as we would like it to be – in a way that will ultimately not lead to anything but more of the same. I believe that the quality of what we create is determined directly by the quality of the act of creation. I wrote about this recently in ‘What if being human is enough?‘. I quote from that post:

“Wholeness cannot be in what we create, if it is not in the process of creation. Thus the future is not divorced from the present, the end cannot justify the means, if it is not carried out in the same spirit of that which we are seeking. As we dive whole-heartedly into our change initiatives, many of them are characterized by an absence of wholeness, an absence of balance, and an absence of sustainable vibrant aliveness. How then can we create that which we long for – if we are not learning to live it today?”

It is similar in many respects to Peter Block’s work with citizenship, in which each gathering has to become a lived example of the future we wish to create, and also architect Christopher Alexander’s work in which wholeness, which has an inherent quality of aliveness has to be present in each step of the design and process of forward movement, for it to be present in the final product (or building as is the work of Alexander).

Wholeness to me is not waking a 4.20 each morning, and only seeing my family on weekends, and having 6 days of vacation in a year. Thus if stepping away from this is equal to not having it all, or to being a failure – then by all means let me ‘fail’.

As soon as I say that, I do wish to revoke it though by saying that it is not a failure. It is perhaps the first step towards a more whole world, a world which many of us believe to be possible. A world which we know to be on her way.

“Another world is not only possible,
she is on her way,
and on a quiet day, if you really listen,
you can hear her coming.”
Arundhati Roy

“If you are looking for the new, look to the edges”

Peter Senge

My experience is increasingly of learning to trust a different kind of wisdom as we move to a more whole world.

I recently co-hosted a workshop with 10 amazing women. It was a workshop of slowing down, of reconnecting with ourselves, each other, the natural world of which we are a part and our stories. The intention was to be able to – in that place of deeper connection – find the clarity of our voice, and our self. To reconnect with the deeper truth of who we are and why we are here. (Read Bev’s wonderful poem of that rich time). Several of the women spoke of feeling a little self-indulgent in taking this time. Even I did not expect it to be a very practically minded workshop – it was about reconnecting after all – and yet what I found as we journeyed together was that the fruit of this time were incredibly practical inclinations towards a future we long for.

We found ourselves entering questions of how to preserve a wetland in our city, which has been demarcated for ‘development; of how to break the chain of factory schooling, which may well keep our children in the same rut as so much of society is finding itself today; of how to release ourselves from the limitations of money in enabling us to live our dreams; of how to build community in an urban environment around good, organic, local food… and more. Not that we returned with answers or clear plans, but it was the beginning of a conversation, which will undoubtedly spark and stimulate initiatives, and collaboration. And it was a conversation that sprung from a different place than problem solving. Thus I noted that from a place of stillness and deep connection arose impulses for different forms of connected action, that is ultimately based on our hearts’ deepest desire.

To the outside world, perhaps having stepped out of the track of career (I suppose I may have never really entered that realm :), living on a farm in rural Zimbabwe, and choosing to live more slowly – even as I work for change – may seem like a cop-out. To me, in this place, with these people, many of whom live lives that can best be described as being on the fringe, it seems that we have a possibility to create something fresh, something new, something sacred.

“Are we so broken, that we would aspire to anything less than a sacred world?”

Charles Eisenstein.

It seems to me, that at this time, or perhaps for as long as we can remember, the feminine impulse (which resides more strongly in women, but is not exclusive to them), is one that intuits, senses, and knows how to build in accordance with life. We are lost – as a world – so terribly lost, and so we try to work harder, faster, with less and less clarity, with less and less success. I could – but I shan’t dredge up the stats of how the income gap has grown steadily during the last decades, or how the planet is suffering under our aim for relentless growth, or how children are dying in every corner of the earth, although food and medicine actually exist in abundance. Faster is obviously not the answer to our challenge.

“Wholeness cannot be in what we create, if it is not in the process of creation.”

My son Joseph collecting beets in our garden

Thus as I sit in my circle of women, moving my body to the slow motions of Tai Chi, listening to the stories and questions of my sisters and friends, as I am learning once more to grow my own food, and to make my own medicine, I know that there is something here, that is needed in the world. And it makes me want to call more circles – initially of women – but eventually with anyone who is willing to learn to listen to the wisdom of the feminine impulse, and begin to discern what it has to say to us about the very real challenges that we are facing.

It cannot be an intellectual exercise. The feminine principle does not reside in the intellect. It is a whole body, multi-generational, connected to nature, communal exercise. It will be messy. It will be sweet.

It feels like it is learning to move a muscle that we did not even know was there.

And so as our former Director of Policy Planning leaves the white house to be with her family – in essence seeking more ‘wholeness’, I say let’s celebrate. Let us take it not as a failure, but as yet another human being listening to the wisdom of her heart. Seeking to live a life that accords with the clarity of her soul.

“As we are such are the times.”

I am not belittling the need for wider systems change, for us to redesign our monetary systems and our systems of governance, etc.. Not at all – this is indeed needed. But as we learn our way into what is needed, I am asking us to not belittle or disregard our inner voices of wisdom, even as they goes against the grain of our modern culture which hails growth, and defines success as something that can be measured by dollars and cents and titles. This will not take us to where our hearts are biding us to go.

I am inviting others to join the growing multitudes as we make our small – and large – experiments of what is needed to live with wholeness and beauty and joy today.

Stay tuned as we share our lessons 🙂

This post is also on a new blog of a community of women in Zimbabwe sharing stories of our lives and journeys towards wholeness: www.spiralsoflife.net

What if being fully human is enough?

I had a conversation with an old friend yesterday. We have been out of touch for a long time, and reconnecting after years was sweet and surprising. We realized that we are both – though of course the same – also very very different today. It is like something quite fundamental has shifted, and something quite elemental is going on inside us. A deepening, an awakening, a quickening. I don’t know what words to put on it. It is an experience of a fuller, a more vibrant and yet also quiet experience of life all at once. Perhaps it is simply – getting to know ourselves more fully – in connection with all of life.  Not in isolation.

It seems that many of those around us are in similar places, with similar experiences. They are not all sweet. Some are painful, of waking up to being well and truly lost. But to be found, we must first be lost. So it is a good place to be. To be healed, the alcoholic must first acknowledge that he has a problem. To wake, requires to realize and acknowledge we were fast asleep. How many problems in this world would shift if more of us would wake to the possibility that we are lost. That we don’t know the way home.

As I write I can feel the sun on my face as it is entering my office, from across the fields, through the trees, the window, and onto my cheek. Caressing me, this morning. How can I not feel loved in a moment like this?

We wondered together, yesterday in our conversation, about our work in the world. We shared in particular moments of vitality and flow, those moments where we experience how it is when everything is in flow, when life is in harmony. When the mundane falls away – although for someone looking in, what we are up to might look mundane. Moments of play with the children, or deep connection as a group of friends jam together, song, dance, instruments, spirit all mingle to create pure magic. “This is it – this is the real thing!” we find ourselves thinking with surprise and excitement. And then everything else that our lives are made up of lands on top of it, and clutters, and gets in the way of staying open to this moment, and the flow that is and exists all around and through us; the flow that we shut off from, more often than not in our busy pre-occupied lives.

It was our sense that during this time, more of the people we know are accessing those experiences. And as I sit here this morning, and as I went to bed last night, and looked up at the starry skies, I realized that in a way my present experience is one of being called. And let us not worry so much about who is doing the calling. Sometimes as we try to be pragmatic about these things, we kill them, and shut them down.

So without going into too much analysis I can simply say that in the last few months I have been called into being more of who I am. I am being called into being me. It is quite a glorious place to be. At home in myself. At least for moments – and more and more of them.

I know what it is like to not be able to be myself. To have landed in a place where I feel that who I am is not appropriate. And then to begin to censor myself….. It is a lonely and painful place to be. So what a joy to begin to notice this beckoning to become more of me, and to dare to follow it.

I am being called into the forest. Quite literally through a longing and desire to spend more time with the trees, just as I am being called to work with the land, to put my hands in the soil, and to be part of nature as together we grow something here, in my garden.

I am being called to move my body – to dance! To play with meditative movement.

I am called back to sit on my cushion each morning, after years of young children distracting me from that basic practice.

I am called to write.

And to connect to people from that place of knowing that each one of us is a miracle to be discovered. In that perhaps we can remind each other of this, as we so often forget it. Many of us have never believed it. How then can we live our lives as though this were true?

I recognize how incredible my life will be if I learn to heed my calls. Not easy, not comfortable, not problem-free. No. But it will be Incredible. Joyful. Challenging. Gritty. Magical.

Being called and responding to the call are of course two different things.

If we never show up – our call will diminish, and eventually we won’t hear it anymore. I speak again from experience.

But if we begin to heed it, tentatively at first (you want me to leave my job?), increasingly more courageously, and then it becomes an intuitive muscle, that we hear much more clearly, and can begin to follow much more easily.

Perhaps I am no longer speaking entirely from experience, although I do have a sense that my listening, my intuitive sense of what I need, is growing stronger. It has not yet become easy to simply follow it. Old habits, and past lives get in the way. Time. Ideas about what I should be doing with my time, keep me from walking into the forest when I feel the need. I know deep down that good things would come from being out there more. From listening to what my deeper self knows to be good and true and nourishing – whatever that might be.

The more nourished, and clear and alive I am – the more I can offer my light and joy to others.

We wondered in our call yesterday, whether it is enough, at this time, to practice simply being more fully human? Whether it is enough, in the words of my friend, to bring to every encounter our full presence and balance? What if that alone were enough?

We recognized that one of the deeper shifts that has occurred between now and ten years ago is that we no longer believe that at an essential level we are going to change anything. It’s not like we are going to fundamentally change the world :). That doesn’t mean we don’t work for the kinds of changes we long for in our world.  We do, every day we do. But we don’t work fuelled by a need for outcomes. Suffering and challenge is a part of the human condition. We may solve one challenge and bring on another. Or we may not even solve one, and still bring on another. Of course the possibility exists, that we may rise to another level of consciousness and have a much different global order, in which much of what is today will no longer be acceptable, and yet even in that, we will have other challenges. So – it is not to say let us not strive for our dreams, especially those that come knocking through the window of our soul. By all means – But let us not become so caught by them that we kill ourselves in the process.

The world we are looking for, begins right here, with us. It is not a fixed destination that we are driving towards. In line with the work of Christopher Alexander, the quality of each step that we take today, will determine what actually unfolds. His work through the physical realm, has uncovered the basic building blocks of what he calls Wholeness, which holds a quality of aliveness inherent in it. Wholeness – and thus aliveness – must be present in each step of the design and process of forward movement, for it to be present in the final product (or building as is the work of Alexander). Wholeness cannot be in what we create, if it is not in the process of creation. Thus the future is not divorced from the present, the end cannot justify the means, if it is not carried out in the same spirit of that which we are seeking. As we dive whole-heartedly into our change initiatives, many of them are characterized by an absence of wholeness, an absence of balance, and an absence of sustainable vibrant aliveness. How then can we create that which we long for – if we are not learning to live it today?

Learning to live it today.

Fundamental building blocks – in my words now, not Alexander’s – are how we show up in our world, our presence; the quality of our engagement with others, and out of that the quality of what we can create with them.

In this I recognize that time in the forest, and in the garden, in making or enjoying music, or playing with my children, must be an integral part of the journey – for that is a part of the world I long for. One in which all of me can show up. I can no longer wait for the rest of my world or context to live and breathe this way. I can begin now in how I allow myself to  inhabit my world . And thankfully there is a part of me, a wild and wonderful part, that knows this intrinsically, and is beckoning, calling, drawing me into a richer world. A fuller world. A fuller me.

May you join me. May you join us.

Tending to Myself

Or:  Putting Relationships in their Rightful Place

This piece is inspired by a reading I did in 2011 with Angela Deutschmann,

and the journey that has followed since.

 

I just came back from a wonderful week in Europe, attending and co-facilitating the ALIA Europe Leadership Programme. If I am to be honest, as I was leaving Zimbabwe, it felt like a bit of a distraction to leave everything that was going on here, at home in Kufunda, but it turned out to be a week of deep connections, with others and myself. It was a sort of coming home away from home. Much of what I have been working on during the last weeks and months came into clearer perspective, being in a rich community of friends and fellow travelers on the journey of becoming more fully human, more fully me.

I returned home, after ALIA, to a house full of people, my family and friends who were visiting from South Africa with their kids. It was lovely to return home to a sense of community: Children running free and wild, dogs excited to see me, other kids visiting from the farm, and the trees, that are increasingly becoming a part of my felt sense of family and community, standing in their deep stillness as an anchor for me. They were calling me to come and greet them in the forest. It took a few days before I heeded the call, and yet it was only after this that I felt that I had truly returned home.

And so as I reflect on my last few days, I see that I have lived through – in a microcosm – the challenging balance that I am learning my way into in a bigger way. On paper it sounds simple and perhaps even quite easy. In reality I am finding it incredibly difficult.

It is this: To not forget myself in my relationships – to not devote more energy and attention to my relationships, than I devote to myself.

I realize I am writing in the negative. So let me turn it around. I am in a process of learning to honour my relationship with myself, and to nourish this. It includes my conversations with Life, my musings and ponderings, my connection with God, with the Trees, with the quiet voice inside me. It is tapping into and following my Joy, my Me.

I know that taking time to stay connected with myself makes me a much more interesting and wholesome person to hang out with, and yet – and yet when it comes down to it, I struggle to prioritise this most important relationship in my life – being a mother, a partner, a colleague, a friend seem to distract from my essential relationship with self. In the midst of the busyness of life it often feels a little selfish to attend to Marianne. And this was my experience this week of returning. Of wanting to go and spend a little time just with me, to touch in, to integrate – and yet initially not finding the clarity to simply claim it – even though I know that no-one would have resented it.

In a reading I did last year, this came up as a strong theme: Learning to put relationships in their rightful place. It appears that this is a area that girls more so than boys grow up struggling with. As we grow up we put on masks (all of us do) to fit more fully into the world. And many girls, it seems, pick a role that has at its essence (in its many different manifestations) to make relationships the point of life. We learn the art of pleasing, of making mom and dad happy, siblings, teachers. We learn to sense into what is wanted, needed, required of us, and we offer it happily, because it gives us a sense of belonging (and perhaps also to an extent because of a nurturing instinct). Most of us are very good at it, and yet, it is for many of us, or at least for me, also a defence mechanism. Instead of my true, full, wondrous (and sometimes wounded) self showing up – it is more often the self that has learnt the way of earning its worth and place in the world that is actively present. I show up geared towards making you happy. And that is not to say it is being manipulative. Until the reading I was not particularly conscious of this pattern of focusing on other, over myself.

However  the point of my life is not the quality of my relationships, at any point in time. Nor is it yours. This may seem somewhat startling, but let’s take it a little further. My message was simply this: If the quality of my relationships comes at a cost of my expressing my authentic self, then it is not worth it. My relationships cannot be more important than my joy, the longing of my heart, my freedom, my inner life and so on. If my relationships override these, they will come with a hint of resentment, of subtle strings attached (a need to be thanked and acknowledged for everything I am giving, because I give it instead of tending to myself).

And whilst this can be turned to seem profoundly selfish, the beautiful paradox that I know to be deeply true is that:

“When you put your relationships in their rightful place, they in fact get better. People can feel, even if they can’t articulate it, even if they can’t process it cognitively, even if it is subconscious, people can feel the weight of your expectations or hopes on what their relationship with you is meant to deliver.  It is a service to your loved ones to allow those relationships to be valuable, but not to dominate your life.  The quality of your relating with your loved ones will improve when they are not the most important part of existence to you.”

What a liberating invitation this is. And a little terrifying :). And how incredibly difficult to step into.

So here it is, I can choose to claim my full freedom, and in that be a richer member of my family and community. I have made this choice for myself, and in it I am learning each day just how difficult it is to let go of years of conditioning that have taught me that to be a ‘good girl’ I should put others first, even if I do so reluctantly and resentfully. I am learning the balance and the peace and the grace that comes from following my soul’s desire, even if I don’t do it all the time :). I am learning ever so slowly to cease to do from a place of should. To show up strong and clear and beautiful, because I am tending to myself. And sometimes I show up messy and confused (I am human after all), but at least with a sense of being in the right place for me – being on my journey, not yours.

It is like the oxygen masks on the plane – we must put them on ourselves first, and our children second. Not because we are selfish, but because we know that this is the way to care for others: To make sure we are okay first.

So this is the journey I am on. And I experienced this last week, having come home from a strong and important learning journey to Europe, to a house full of people, how hard it was for me to leave the wonderful madness of my family, and go out into the forest on my own. To listen to the needs of my soul. I figured it out eventually, but it took a good few days, of not really arriving because the choice for Me seemed like a radical one to make when I was surrounded by others.

It is early Sunday evening as I complete this. I am feeling gratitude for this journey that I am on; that many of us are on. I am beginning to have more and more lived experiences of the wisdom of tending to me.

It is when there is a fundamental imbalance between my soul’s priorities and my intellects’ (my shoulds for example) that I feel the stretch and tension. And it is when I am not tending to myself that I lose touch with the voice of my soul. “You will not really feel any difference between self, work, marriage, children when you are in deep connection with your Divine voice.” It feels a little like a new relationship, with an incredibly interesting, wise, witty person who I had no idea existed inside me. What an honour it is to be getting to know myself – My divine voice even :). We each have one.

How much time do we spend getting to know it? And to follow its wisdom for our life? Dare I follow my wisdom for my life? The release is in beginning to recognize that if I listen I can find my way.

 

The Women are Gathering

I have recently found myself in several gatherings of women. It has felt like a coming home to a larger family that I have been absent from for too long. As I look back over the course simply of a week, I am left with the sense that we, the women, are coming back together. As Arundhati Roy so eloquently said, ‘another world is not only possible, she is on her way, and on a quiet day if you really listen, you can hear her coming.’ Perhaps we are coming together to listen her forth.

Most recently I went to join an old friend who had invited a group of us to her place to re-engage with a practice called the four-fold way, and to be in an inquiry of ourselves inspired by the practice. It works with the four energies and archetypes of the directions – the Warrior, Visionary, Healer, and the Teacher. We went through different movements to connect us to earth, sky, fire and water. After our session we had a circle sharing why we had accepted the invitation to this group, which would be meeting weekly. I surprised myself by finding myself moved to tears as I listened to each woman, and finally spoke myself.

I am one of those people – and I know there are many of you out there – who in my work in particular, has allowed myself to become the strong one, the one that keeps going (even when she is exhausted), the one that others can rely on and come to. Sitting in the circle I realized how lonely that is, and how hard it is to keep going, trying to make my little piece of the earth a better place, in many ways on my own. I need a community of peers. Trying to be strong for others all the time is a very tiring place to be.

Sitting with those women I viscerally felt that we can find strength in community.

I realized just how I had missed such a circle of women and the experience of community that they bring. We can be, for each other, a waterhole, and a place to come to for nourishment and sustenance. In community, we the weavers of many webs, reminded each other that we can come together and strengthen our capacity for the work we are each doing in a myriad of ways.

No offence to the wonderful men in our lives, but it felt soooo good to be in a group of women holding a sense of reverence for the sacred and for each other. What becomes possible as women learn to support each other in slowing down, and reconnecting with our inner quiet, truth and our wisdom? My sense is that as we take time out, together, from the madness, we can create moments of alternative possibility. Small but critical openings.

Creating Openings

This leads me to my other recent gathering of women. I think it can best be summarized as a ceremony hosted by another friend last week on February 2. As she described it in her invite:

February two is one of the great cross-quarter days that make up the wheel of the year. In the north Feb 2 is Candlemas (halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox). Being in the south it is called Lammas – the time for the first harvest. It is a time to traditionally give thanks for the abundance we have in our lives. By celebrating Lammas, we honor our ancestors, acknowledge and give thanks for what we have inherited, where we come from, and where we are today.

We gathered as women to give thanks. We each brought a harvest (from our gardens, or a bread baked in our homes). Again I found myself in a place honouring the sacred cycle of life. So simple and yet so gratifying – to connect ourselves to the web of life and to each other. We went one step further and learnt a simple but potent practice of giving blessing – not just as an appreciation of our bounty, but to bless all – the good and the bad. And so we learnt to bless those who have caused harm in different ways to this beautiful country, to hold them in love and to bless them fully. In that we also blessed those who have suffered most, and those of us whose only role may have been to bear witness.

It was incredibly powerful. In that moment of offering blessing to those who have caused harm to others, we create a ‘clean’ moment. We access a ‘space of emptiness’, where  reality can unfold differently and from which everything is possible.  In blessing them we also release ourselves from their hold over us, which in a large part comes from our clinigng to them with anger, blame and judgement. In that moment, and only then a different future becomes possible because we have ended the blame game, that keeps us in the role of victim, a victim which does not – cannot – take responsibility for herself.

I could viscerally feel the freedom that came from opening my heart to them and sending love, in that brief but potent moment.

As our host reminded us, blessings are not an act of doing, it is about staying: Staying open-heartedly with what is… connecting to our feelings as opposed to running away from them, like we all generally do.

This I realize may sound like a cop-out to the activist soul, but as we keep reacting, working to right wrongs and injustices, I am beginning to realize that we are in fact contributing to creating more of the same.

If we can release ourselves entirely from ‘reaction’ and act from a place of genuine blessing of what is, that is a clean pure place that allows for something entirely new to emerge. And this is not why we do it. We do it simply because it is the right thing to do, and it connects us with the full cycle that we are a part of. We had women there from Europe, a German and a Russian German woman in particular who spoke of the scars of their wars, scars that have not been released, in part because we cannot bless the perpetrator, and so the victim and perpetrator remain bound up with each other, prisoners of the part. This is true for Zimbabwe as well, and so this felt like a sacred gathering of women learning a new language to begin to release some of the pain and suffering that is in our lineages and in our country.

The women are gathering.

Another friend of mine is engaging me in conversation to begin a circle of young Zimbabwean women, many of whom have returned home from years abroad, eager to be here, but returning to a land which the time away has meant that we return to, in part, as strangers. The circle will be one of exploring questions of identity. What does it mean to be Zimbabwean today, and what is my role here as someone who has returned with a different perspective?

I guess there could be men in all of these circles, and yet the women are naturally gathering. We spoke of who might the men be, were we to invite them to the group on identity, but then realized that it would be forced – the women were literally popping up on our radar, whereas the men remained invisible. And I believe that the fact that we are all women will bring different answers and insights, than if we had been a mixed group. Insights that are needed at this time. I believe that we will find courage to listen to the little dissonant voice (dissonant to the broader society), and to give her more space to grow and to inform how we show up in our world, and how we therefore affect our world.

The women are gathering. Perhaps we will be a part of a great turning in this beautiful country. In fact I know we will – and men it is up to you to step up and join us, for now we begin the journey.

A vision of living wholeness

When I was younger I had a strong vision of a world in which we are all different but equal. In which the vibrancy, spirit and deep wisdom of the South could live alongside, informing and grounding the intellectual and action oriented leadership from the North. I dreamed in particular of helping people re-connect with the gifts of Africa; of shifting from viewing her as our destitute mother, to a full and expansive place to which we all have a deep original connection.

Out of this was born my work with Kufunda.

It is not that I have lost my dream. I am simply finding that, I need to go a little further inward as I reflect on the vision that guides my life today.

I have been on a journey during the past four years that took me increasingly away from my centre. I became a mother; I started a company with friends. All things that were deeply fulfilling, and yet in it I became too busy to truly listen to my Self.  And so recently, I decided to take a year to slow down and listen to my heart.

As I am slowly coming home to myself, I am experiencing the intelligence, creativity and flow available to us as we operate from a place of wholeness. I am developing a vision of an integrated life in which my life is no longer compartmentalized, into different segments of work, family, pleasure, service, spirituality. My emerging vision is one of learning to live my wholeness: to live from my loves, to self-express (also the sorrow and the rage), to enjoy my body, and to connect with the land and my community. It means to live as an integrated human being– not a human being trying to earn her place on the planet. From this place I will necessarily bring forth in tune with Life. From this place I am learning that we have what we need.

And so my vision emerges of a world in which we each shift to this way of showing up, authentic and whole. My vision is more of how we are with ourselves and each other, than the specifics of what we create. I trust that which becomes possible as we learn to co-create out of those fine whispers of each of our hearts and souls. The earth speaks to my sister, an impulse for community change to my brother. We honour the wisdom and the impulse that we each bring, African, European, Asian, Indigenous. And we find the beginnings of what will take us out of our current mess. We learn to walk, one step at a time – always simply in search of the ‘next minimal elegant step.’

It is often as we become mothers and providers that we let go of our ideals; that we compromise. Today, I am learning that the greatest gift I can offer my family is to follow the longing of my heart, my body, my soul. This is where the wisdom resides that will take us into a more life-affirming reality.

I believe that we are on a journey into a different possibility, and each of us daring to show up, engaging the full (and sometimes terrifying) richness of who we are, is  a critical part of birthing the new. And so as I find my clarity, and courage, I revel in the opportunity to share that with others, finding the parallels and the lessons that can be an inspiration way beyond my life and context. And in that journey also finding those who can inspire me.

It is indeed time for us to transform our worlds – as we transform and listen more deeply to our Selves.