The Joy Revolution

Yesterday, thousands upon thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets to express their desire for Mugabe to step down. Invited by the war veterans to show support for the defence forces and their actions, this was not a typical invitation, and for many Zimbabweans, these are not our typical allies. Which is perhaps part of what makes it so exquisitely beautiful. We gathered, black, white, mixed race, indian, young, old, rich and poor, street kids, students, activists, war veterans, women, men, civil rights workers and military. 

It was to ask Mugabe to resign after 37 years in power, and yet it was so very much more than that.

What was most remarkable was the absence of hatred and anger. The overwhelming feeling on the streets was joy. My being fills with tears as I touch back into it. I don’t know that I have ever experienced such a collective well-spring of joy. Joy and love and unity that transcended decades of fear, division and hatred.IMG_0384

We were dancing in the streets. We were connected. It was not so much a connection against Mugabe, as it was a connection for our country, for our freedom. It was a day of spontaneous meetings in exuberance. I would catch someone’s eyes, and we would smile, sometimes laugh, and then clasp hands, or high five. Over and over again, these moments of meeting in joy and celebration and coming together. This joy transmuting decades of fear and grief. How extraordinary that such darkness could result in such an outpouring of light and delight ;-). 

We tasted something yesterday that is now a part of our story. Something released. Something shifted. Whatever comes next, there has been a fundamental shift in the field in which we live and breathe.

And it was made possible by the military, They held space for Zimbabweans to step out after fear – and a sense of futility – had held so many of us back for so long. The outpouring of gratitude for the military was extraordinary. Whatever lies in their past, yesterday they had an experience of the gratitude and love that can flow when they hold space for the free expression of their people. Whatever happens next this will have given an experience of what it feels like to be loved, which will hopefully mean something when this moment of opening begins to close down, as it undoubtedly will.

Because life is a process of breathing, expanding and contracting. We are in an expansion. Contraction will at some point follow. As we move on from this day, I hope we go with questions of how we can work with what yesterday made possible: How can we nourish the social field that we are a part of, to support the fertility of this moment? How might we continue to connect across our diversity? 

Yesterday we joined in the march and celebrations with our children. To me this is testament to the deep faith Paul, my husband, and I both have in the fabric of this country. There was a deeper knowing that we would be safe. Yes a little jitter and wondering whether we were insane, but at a more fundamental level a knowing that this impulse is one of peace, not of violence. Service stations and shops were open to sell water, drinks and snacks to people joining the march, rather than shutting down in fear of looting. Women came carrying their babies on their backs. No violence erupted. The only property destroyed were the street signs for Robert Mugabe Road, and some posters with his face on it. It makes me proud of what is moving here. It makes me believe we can find a way. Our ability yesterday to reach out and clasp the hand of the military yesterday (by their tanks!) makes me believe that we have learnt something so vital that we must remember whatever happens.

I met and engaged with more Zimbabweans yesterday than I possibly ever have. I went home enriched with faces and souls. Beautiful old women who beamed like solar constellations; young men drunk with exuberance; the old man who walked behind us, seeing our children and repeating several times ‘they are safe here. Your children are safe here.” And I know he meant in this march, but I also felt him say in this place and country. The old white man with the enormous Boerbull dog who was so proud to be from Zimbabwe. So proud to be here now. The war veteran who was walking with his son, and who wanted a picture of our children together: “our future.” The street kid who looked like his heart was alight. The soldier who in response to my thanking him said “It is done now, it is over.” And my sense was he was speaking of the past that has been holding us back.

We returned home, and while we were uploading our photos we found that our children and their friends were spontaneously erecting a flagpole to hoist the Zimbabwe flag, which we bought in town today. And this morning when we were outside sitting beneath it, my daughter quietly said, “I love the Zimbabwean flag.”

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I love Zimbabwe.

And her people.

And what these days is teaching me about the love and joy that lie deep in our collective. 

I will end with the words of a friend, Amanda:

“Yesterday, after decades of living with fear, oppression and division, Zimbabweans, in one day, countered all that with love, freedom and unity. True UNITY – not a veneer of politically correct, well marketed, lets make it look good for the cameras crap but a deep sense of real oneness. We purged all that heavy negativity that we’ve been carrying around for far too long and replaced it with liberating, laughing, smiling Joy.

The most important thing for me yesterday wasn’t about getting rid of an old man or flipping the middle finger to SADC or showing support to the people that led us onto the streets. It was about each and everyone of us remembering that we really, fucking truly are all ONE. What an empowering realisation that is. Whatever tomorrow holds we will face it together and we will triumph because what happened yesterday has made us strong again.”                       

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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.