Heart Ripples

Interwoven

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 If I had a dollar for each moment of my life that I claimed finally to have it all figured out, I’d be a rich woman. However, all of my moments of enlightenment happened just before being humbled to my knees.

One thing I can say however is that each and every piece of the journey is connected to another piece. Each and every person who’s crossed my path is part of some interwoven magnum opus.

My life connects to yours, and yours to others, and others to strangers, and all of these people we do not know are the recipients and givers of the energy that we feel, use, and experience every day.

Beyond the experience of three dimensional perception and what your eyes can see, there’s a canvas being covered in shapes, colors, images, and feelings.

If you listen closely enough, you can hear the painters’ brush strokes. Sometimes they sound like music, sometimes like voices, and other times the brush screams and moans as oil and water, earth, wind, and fire spin into an orderly and chaotic toroidal field, manifesting as our everyday lives.

This living is nothing but art. The soul is the artist, and our energy is the paint.

A born idealist, I’ve struggled my entire life to mold myself into a perfect idea. Without end, I’ve toiled to shape the world around me to fit snugly into a pretty box, decorated with a neatly tied bow, so I can set it in the corner of my room and feel warm when I look at it.

If someone else were to make this observation about me, I’d contest and have all sorts of words to use to pontificate my freeness. That’s the thing about words. Sometimes we use them only to fit them into pretty boxes with neatly tied bows.

In this world of duality we’re inhabiting, we have all experienced the crumbling humility of defeat. Most of us have had one of those days when we felt like we gave or received more especially than ever before. We can all connect in the experience of seeking, desiring, longing, and reaching for some happier experience.

Some enlightened ones tell us that enlightenment is about simply being and being okay and happy with that. Sure, that’s one small perspective. The common misunderstanding is that enlightened being is devoid of raw feeling and intense emotion.

What about the soul who wants to push that paint brush boldly, madly, and blindly, just to feel what that’s like?

What about the artist who detests and rejects and simply cannot accept the world at large and needs to pour his guts and blood and juices onto the canvas in order to fully express himself?

Is it contemptible resourcefulness? …Using one’s own blood, sweat, and tears to convey a feeling?

Because often those feelings never make it to the canvas. Instead we stuff them into pretty boxes, with neatly tied bows, and hide them in our closets.

Once, I believed there was an ending – an ultimate. Anxious to prove ideals and pathways to enlightenment, I began each day expecting one final experience to serve as evidence of a completed journey.

What if there is nothing to prove?

What if ultimate happiness doesn’t exist because happiness by very nature is an increasing kind of thing, and we cannot fit Fibonacci into a pretty box with a neatly tied bow to observe from across the room?

One thing I can say…is that each and every piece of the journey is connected to another piece. Each and every person who’s crossed my path is part of some interwoven magnum opus.

My life connects to yours, and yours to others, and others to strangers, and all of these people we do not know are the recipients and givers of the energy that we feel, use, and experience every day.

I see your soul. I feel your energy. Keep painting.

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Freedom

Art by Tony Mazza. Purchase prints at www.etsy.com/shop/TonyMazzaART

Art by Tony Mazza. Purchase prints at http://www.etsy.com/shop/TonyMazzaART

I can feel you shifting, you’re fading away,

I see new life buzzing wildly in your open air,

Your resonance quietly hums through my bare feet,

You ease me in…to this single moment,

Freeing me from Then and Yet to Come,

Now, I stand with you in stillness…but-

I can feel your subtle movements,

Your wind kisses my skin,

Stirring together the sands of time, your soil from the tops of my toes, and dead skin cells that maybe  no one ever noticed…because I didn’t let them see.

I feel your seasons change within my veins,

Deeper yet, the blueprint for my life…

Is a mere sand mandala.

DNA blocks and unlocks,

Leaves of orange and yellow cover the ground,

In places where there were once no seasons at all.

10 Things it Took Me 30 Years to Learn

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  1. Society judges us because we judge us.

How often do we have thoughts about things we want to do, but are too afraid of what other people may think? I was faced with this dilemma a few years ago. I had built the facade of stability by working in Chicago’s business and health care sectors. I was making money to travel, to shop, to fine dine with friends, and to buy all sorts of items to fill my closet. The problem? I suffered from irritation – dreading the day’s activities before I even got out of bed in the morning. I suffered from boredom and covered up my lack of inspiration with weekend wining, dining, compulsive shopping, and many nights out on the town. I placed obligation on my significant other to make me happy, when the real cause of my unhappiness was that I’d buried my passions deep within me. I’d chosen to take the easy and reasonable road to a safe and stable adult life. My discontentment was boiling to the surface, and something had to give.

But what will they think…my employer, my friends, my family, and society…what will they think if I give it all up? This question wasn’t worth my time, and here’s why.

Once I gave credit to myself for being the only person on the planet who could truly create my happiness, it became very clear that what society thinks doesn’t matter. I had subscribed to society’s superficial equation for achievement and it only got me so far. I learned a lot from taking that road, and every step of the way prepared me for what was to come.

I’d become so in touch with what I didn’t want that what I did want became quite clear. I wanted to travel the world and do something of meaning, share my gifts and love with others who’d be happy to receive it, and live by the seat of my pants. The delusion of stability was no longer fooling me. I was now willing to take risks. I was only able to do that because I quit judging myself, and just chose to do the things that excited me – unapologetically and without reservation.

Yes, many people in my life thought I was crazy as I departed on a plane to volunteer in third world Africa, but what I learned later is that my bold move inspired people. Society quit judging me because I chose to drown out my own inner judgment and just allow happiness to guide me. I quit lending my energy to the judgment within me, and this silenced the judgment outside of me. This basic decision afforded me the freedom to live happily.

  1. There are people on this planet living in two separate worlds.

At any given moment, we either inhabit one of two worlds:

  1. Powerful, Passionate, Love
  2. Powerless, Obligatory, Fear

Take a look at your life situations, one by one, and ask yourself which world you are inhabiting in that moment. Take great freedom in knowing that you can choose to inhabit either world at any time. Read on to find out more.

  1. We can’t be ourselves until we love ourselves.

This sounds like a cliché, and I hope that it will become that because humanity will be well served if this truth is turned into widespread action. Here’s something you may not be aware of – if there’s something you don’t love about yourself, you are putting a lot of energy into suppressing or hiding that aspect of yourself. This means you’re not fully being yourself.

Believing in yourself is an act of self-love. Let me ask you, what courageous action can you take in your life without believing in yourself? How much of your ideal happiness can you pursue without self-belief? Self-love = self-belief = the courageous pursuit of happiness. If you’re spending time in unhappiness on a regular basis, it may be time to step back and ask yourself where you can love yourself a little more. But how does one love more?

Start by talking to your inner child. Think about the empowering words you would use to encourage a child to follow her dreams, and then tell that to your inner critic every time those thoughts of self-doubt arise. This simple task will powerfully redirect your attention and energy, and open you up to a whole new world of freedom and possibility.

  1. There is a very simple formula for creating what you want in life.

Contrary to popular belief this formula is not: education = career = money = happiness. If you’re still reading this article, you’ve probably already learned that this superficial equation for happiness does not always work. Why? Because this formula leaves out the basics: thought, word, deed.

A good exercise in creating what you want is to work backwards:

  • Imagine yourself already experiencing that which you desire.
  • Then, imagine the deeds that would be required to bring this to fruition.
  • Now, imagine the thoughts and words that would be required to induce this kind of action in your life.

You have now identified the thought which sponsors the experience you want to have.

Use the sponsoring thoughts and words which can create what you want! Choose to think and say them over and over again. When fear or doubt arises, catch yourself, and re-choose that sponsoring thought. Do this until your sponsoring thought becomes your mental habit. What you’re practicing here is what scientists refer to as neuroplasticity.  Keep up the good work, and just see what happens!

  1. The planet is so sick because individuals do not have inner peace. We are all connected in the experience of toska.

What is toska? It’s a Russian word referring to the experience of suppressed irritation, boredom, longing, loneliness, and sadness. Not one person reading this right now can deny having felt toska at some point in their lives. Sometimes we experience this for long periods on end, and sometimes in sporadic bursts. Toska is the product of not being at peace within ourselves – of wanting something to change outside of ourselves. It is a sick condition of forgetfulness. What are we forgetting? It’s simple: in order for things outside of us to shift, we must first bring light to the things within us that need shifting. When we fail to do this, our emotional unrest turns into cynical attitudes about life, people, and the world. By looking out there in the world all the time and being irritated and unhappy with it, we perpetuate illness of the planet.

Aren’t you sick and tired of it yet? The media is telling us the world is blowing up, and you tuck yourself and your children into bed at night believing the world is a dark and scary place. Turn on the lights! Turn on your inner light so you can see what you can transform within yourself to create more power and happiness in your life.

It’s a fact: the instant you make yourself a little happier is the instant the world becomes a little happier. Start small…go as big as you want!

  1. Practicing perception as a choice allows us to stay in a place of power and learn from any situation.

How does one practice perception as a choice? It’s easy.

  • Pick any situation in your life. Let’s start with something big – go ahead and think about that situation that is causing you the most irritation, grief, or anger. Close your eyes and play this situation out in your mind for a few minutes. Feel every emotion that comes to mind. Notice everything about the situation that bothers you.
  • Now, pretend this situation is a test that you are forced to take repeatedly until you pass it. In other words, you don’t get to quit having this unwanted experience until you pass the test. How do you pass the test? I’m glad you asked.
  • Read carefully. You pass the test by asking yourself what this situation is here to teach you? Life’s challenges are really teachers in ugly disguise.
  • Now, focus. You won’t pass the test by claiming to have learned things about other people, institutions, or the world. You only pass the test by learning something brand new about yourself. What is this situation revealing to you about you?

You ace the test by putting your newfound self-discovery into powerful action in your life. What can you do this week to apply what you’ve just learned? You, my friends, have just opened some exciting new doors for yourself!

  1. Synchronicity is a tool that can be used to guide us in the path to greatest happiness.

You’ve heard of serendipity, and you’ve all experienced a really uncanny coincidence at some point in your lives. I invite you to jog your memory right now to recollect a profound coincidence you’ve experienced. Now, let’s talk about coincidence in a brand new way.

I describe synchronicity as a profound coincidence that you intentionally attract through the creation process of thought-word-deed. When you use the creation process with great intention and emotion, you’ll be surprised at what shows up in your life. I’ve spent three years writing a book which documents the unfolding of my lifelong dreams from one synchronicity to the next. In sharing one of my experiences here, I hope to inspire you to recall when synchronicity has occurred in your life, and to allow it to guide you to more great happiness.

By September 2013, I was working in South Africa as part of the United States Peace Corps program. Feeling lonely and thirsty for new mentors, I wrote my intentions to manifest new teachers who could deepen my understanding of how our thoughts attract things into our lives.

The next day, I went to a seminar. One of the facilitators, David Patient, began speaking. His first statement claimed that his greatest teacher was a disease he was diagnosed with 30 years prior. Hearing this bold statement of turning adversity into opportunity, I knew I had found my new mentor. I couldn’t wait to speak with David after training, and sparked up conversation with him and the co-facilitator, Neil Orr. I showed them a book I was reading, written by Louise Hay, whose work is dedicated to teaching people how to heal their bodies and their lives with their thoughts and other natural approaches. David and Neil were very familiar with Hay’s work, and before I knew it, they offered me a spot in their exclusive leadership program. The duo is still among my greatest mentors, and it’s safe to say that I would not be courageously living my life’s purpose today without this incredible synchronicity.

The secret to attracting synchronicity is to get clear about what you want, have faith that it can happen, expect it to manifest, and be open to coincidence. That stranger standing in line next to you could just be the miracle you’re looking for – it’s happened to me so many times that I’ll be writing books about it for a lifetime. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. The path to your greatest happiness unfolds before you…

  1. Personal evolution is the greatest feeling that no one can take from you.

You’ve heard it a million times before – “change is the only constant.” I tell you this is not always the case! There are some things on an inner-personal level that can remain unchanged over the course of a lifetime. Most prominently are the seemingly elusive thought, feeling, and belief patterns that we permeate all of our experiences. Science says that many of our behaviors in life are programmed in childhood. Without gaining awareness of these behaviors, and the deeply rooted beliefs from which they stem, we just continue to replay them throughout our lifetimes- whether they are for our highest good or not. In other words, a vast majority of the humans on the planet do not evolve beyond old beliefs and behaviors. This is often prohibitive to their greatest happiness.

Some people like to use statements like, “it runs in my family,” or “it’s just the way I am.” These statements leave zero room for change, and zero room for evolution. The one certainty these statements brings is familiar experiences being repeated over and over in our lives. Choosing to look at ourselves through new eyes may not always be a pain free and easy decision, but I promise you this: whatever you find through this introspective journey is power! You get to use it to change, improve, and evolve in any direction you choose.

There is no one and nothing that can take your new discovery away from you. As such, you’ve got the gift of personal evolution now and forever. You can evolve yourself into a bolder, happier, and freer version of you any time you choose!  All you have to do is look within.

  1. Our foundation of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs may not be serving our highest good.

Everything we are currently experiencing in our lives is built upon a foundation of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, or what I call the existential trilogy. The trilogy is the product of our past experiences. Thus, we create our current experiences primarily based on our past.

If you are experiencing things in your weekly life such as irritation, anger, sadness, or boredom, it may be beneficial for you to take a look at your foundation, and break down the contents of your trilogy. Are your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs serving your highest good? The answer to this is found in another question: are you totally happy with every aspect of your life? If the answer is no, then it’s time to build a new foundation.

How can you recreate a foundation that serves you? There are a number of ways, but the most simple way I’ve found is to imagine what your ideal happiness looks like, and then consider what thoughts, feelings, and beliefs would be required to create that happiness.  Now, take what you’ve just learned, and make up a brand new trilogy for yourself. In doing so, you’ll be planting new seeds in your garden of life. Be prepared for new fruit. Life’s a garden…dig it!

  1. A lot of the stimuli in the world is pure distraction.

This one is simple. How much time do you spend paying attention to the news? When is the last time you saw an entire nightly news special on all the good things happening in the world? Has it ever happened?

Here’s a news flash for you – there are good things happening in the world every single moment of the day. There are beautiful people gathered in the name of planetary progress, waiting for newcomers to grab their tools, choose a task, and join the A-team. The reason humans aren’t seeing it is because they’re too distracted watching the world blow up in fear-based newscasts, or reliving the personal drama created by living through old foundations that aren’t serving their highest good.

Dear humans, we’re better than that! Let’s focus on creating everything we want to experience rather than standing powerless in the messy stuff we wish would go away.

It took my entire lifetime to learn these 10 things, but now that I have, I beckon you to join me in this world I’m inhabiting… to be with me here – where’s it’s powerful, passionate, and full of love.

Twists and Turns Part 2: Rest in Peace

“Twisting, turning, diving down,

Falling slowly to the ground,

This is how I came to be,

In this place of misery,

Can you see me dying now?

Lying twitching on the ground,

This is what it was to me,

In this place of misery,

Can you save me from this death?

Can you save me from this mess?

Can you come and rescue me?

From this place of misery,

This is where I’m meant to be,

It’s just like a home to me,

Why can’t you just leave me be?

In this place of misery…”

Poem by Nathan Ryan

Dreams and Callings

His name translates from the indigenous African tribal language as “rest in peace.” He was a real boy. His perma smile and zest for new learning fooled me, or perhaps I just didn’t want to see the truth. The reality was he was sick. I was forced to admit it when the educators took some time to introduce me to “the ones who need help.”

The educators decided to introduce me to Rest In Peace after I requested permission to visit the home of a young girl who

The first time we saw Shonisana's teeth! Smiling just a few days after our Little Victory.

The first time we saw To Be Saved show her teeth. This is her first day back at school after her family welcomed me into their home to arrange health care and nourishment for the them.

had been missing from school for two days. The young girl’s name translates to English as To Be Saved. Against policy, I used funds from my small monthly subsistence to provide nutrient rich food and herbs for the girl and her family. I also coordinated home health education and care for them. When To Be Saved returned to school, the educators reported seeing her smile for the first time since they had met her. “We see her teeth now,” they said. “And she plays with the other children. It’s because she feels loved now.” The young girl had been abandoned by her mother and was living with an elderly relative who was too inflicted with illness to provide proper care for the many children living in her home.

There were many reasons for the children being left behind to care for themselves. Often, the parents were deceased because of AIDS. In other instances, the parents were teenagers who were collecting government grants to care for their children, but never assumed the responsibilities of parenthood. Some parents had taken jobs hours away in the cities, and returned to the village only sporadically throughout the year. In some of these cases, elders were available to care for the children. When elders were not available to care for children, the children learned how to care for themselves and their siblings. I saw this latter scenario often among children who had not yet passed seventh grade (Grade 7). In Rest in Peace’s situation, things were a bit different. Rest In Peace had a father at home, but no mother.

Earlier in the school year, I had requested to see Rest In Peace’s father. I was convinced that with my intermediate fluency with the tribal language and my loving nature that I could somehow guide the father to a treatment program for his son. My superiors cautioned me. While it seemed the entire community understood that the boy was suffering from AIDS, the illness which is often unspeakable by the very traditional African peoples, I was not immediately welcomed to discuss the matter with the boy’s father. It wasn’t until the educators saw To Be Saved smile for the first time that they entrusted me to have sensitive discussions with the families of my youth group.

For privacy purposes, I will refer to Rest in Peace’s father by the name of George. He wore a gentle and warming smile that was obviously the older reflection of his son. When we first met, he arrived promptly at our agreed upon time. I wasn’t expecting this. In my few months in South Africa, no meeting had ever begun less than thirty minutes late. When George approached me on the school yard that Saturday morning, beads of sweat were running down my sunburned face as the youth group and I sounded our mantra repeatedly, “Ndi vhu matshelo ha Afrika Tshi Phembe! (I am the future of South Africa).”

I could sense that my use of Tshivenda made George very happy. We made our way inside an empty classroom and sat across from each other at a student’s desk. We discussed his son’s recent absences from school. He told me the boy had allergies. I asked about the boy’s mother. George told me that she became ill with allergies and died five years ago. After battling the allergies for some time, the mother developed a tumor on her head. George’s family practices traditional medicine and they decided to remove the tumor in a home procedure. The mother died a few days later. She was age 27. It is important to note that many people with HIV develop tumors which are indicative of Kaposi Sarcoma, which is an AIDS related cancer. Five years after the death of his mother, Rest in Peace was experiencing the same symptoms as his mother-symptoms George referred to as “allergies.”

This is the school ground where I met Rest In Peace's father. The building is a Grade 2 classroom in rural Limpopo, South Africa.

This is the school ground where I met Rest In Peace’s father. The building is a Grade 2 classroom in rural Limpopo, South Africa.

I had to be gentle in my approach to suggesting a plan for the boy’s wellness. I explained to George that I worked in health care in the United States, and discussed the meaning of confidentiality. I explained to him that my good friend has researched health issues in South Africa for many years, and that he has been living a normal and healthy lifestyle despite being HIV positive for 30 years. George then told me that he would be willing to do anything that I may suggest to help his son, Rest In Peace. He never admitted that his son was HIV positive, but was very interested in learning more about my friend’s success in thriving despite the virus. We agreed to be in touch again in the very near future. However, the next several times I attempted to contact George, his phone was unable to receive calls.

Looking back now, I recognize strong similarities with this story and an ordeal I was experiencing at the time. Shortly after I met George, I experienced a minor assault by a male stalker near my home in the village. I went to Peace Corps headquarters in Pretoria to report the incident and speak with a counselor. Peace Corps then arranged for me to move to a new home in my community. Upon settling into the new home, I noticed that my eyes began to itch constantly and my lids were swollen each morning I awoke. Although my home was in a region of the community which was situated farther from the taverns full of drunken men, I still had to travel up and down the mountain to the busy regions of the village when making my way to and from work. During those walks, sexual harassment was a daily guarantee.  My patience wore thinner by the day. I found it difficult to kindly decline all of the proposals and demands made by the men. I choked back a lot of unkind words and I rationalized the behavior. In this very traditional African culture, women are revered mostly as servants, and the men I passed everyday believed with all of their being that this was right. I didn’t regard these men as bad people, but every cell of my body tensed up as they approached me each day. My body began speaking what I chose not to say with words, and so the allergies intensified, my throat swelled, my chest hurt, and simply breathing became increasingly difficult by the day.

I remember trying to confide in an educator about the harassment. She was a woman in her 50s. She told me, “you just want to go home.” I was not happy with this response. I had foolishly expected more understanding and support from my colleagues. This was unrealistic. This woman was also grounded in traditional norms, and saw no problem with the behavior of men in the village; this was all she had ever known.

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Young women of the Venda tribe. Soon to assume their traditional gender roles as wife and mother of their households.

To positively interpret a negative experience is an actual process.

As one who regularly experiences the power of positive thinking, I understand that the quality of one’s attention is a major determinant in the quality of one’s experiences. Thus, I wanted to stay focused on positive interpretations of my environment. I guess I forgot a very important thing: there is a major difference between choosing a positive perception of experiences and suppressing emotional and psychological reactions to experiences. To positively interpret a negative experience is an actual process. It is a process which requires a great deal of honesty with one’s self. In that honesty, is also a requirement to allow whatever emotions one feels to be recognized and actually felt. In looking back, I realize that is one step of the process I found to be very difficult. In fact, when I realized I needed to identify my emotions, my growth seemed to stagnate.

I remember writing to my mentors explaining that I felt overwhelmed and blocked. I remember that it took a lot of guts for me to write to them admitting my vulnerability. Here I was in a role of a leader, assigned by the Universe to inspire and empower. Would I not be the teacher I had intended if I succumb to perceived weakness? I was being too hard on myself. This was nothing new. Being too hard on myself has been a pattern in my life since my formative years. The “striving for perfection” pattern is one I know all too well; it is also the pattern of rejecting who I am and what I’m doing in my life as just not quite good enough. I embrace and love that perpetually seeking and challenging aspect of myself, but I still wish to release its extreme and destructive nature.

When an attitude is evolutionary it allows for growth. My attitude of requiring self perfection at all times was destructive. What is perfection anyway? Without flaws and mistakes there is no learning.  Without pain, one can never really feel the depths of joy.  I’m just grateful that I can be vulnerable with you now in a way that allows me to finally transcend the darkness, grow, and continue the journey.

Determined to make my Peace Corps service a success in defiance of the obstacles, I never foresaw the impending twists and turns.

Determined to make my Peace Corps service a success in defiance of the obstacles, I never foresaw the impending twists and turns.

My mentor, David, responded to my email immediately. I don’t know how he manages to spread so much of himself in so many directions at once. He’s a master-a real role model. David’s suggestion was for me to peel the emotional onion, first by naming the emotions I felt. This is where my healing process became stagnant. It is very easy for me to make compassionate rationalizations for the injustices I see, but being able to name whether I was feeling sad, angry, fearful seemed impossible for me. I was so blocked from feeling undesirable emotions that I had convinced myself that I just didn’t feel anything. I battled with myself over this.

My interpretation of our human existence is far beyond the physical realm, and so full of love and belief in the infinite and eternal nature of spirit that it seemed silly to me to dwell on human emotion. Here’s a secret about me that you may not know: sometimes I forget I’m human. I am a spiritual being having a very human experience, but right now I’m human nonetheless. What sort of experience can one have if they deny the very nature of the experience? This is the equivalent of attending a musical performance, and then talking throughout the performance about how wonderful the musicians are, and leaving having never really heard the music. Upon this realization, my inner voice pleads, “please, powers that be, help me experience this human life in its fullness. Let me feel the ‘bad’ emotions too. Let me not dwell on these emotions, but prevent me from hiding from them.”

People ask how I maintained my ambition and focus in the face of adversity.  I could not have made such progress without a meditation practice.

People ask how I maintained my ambition and focus in the face of adversity. I could not have made such progress without a meditation practice.

I made my way to Pretoria to the Peace Corps medical office to meet with doctors and visit with a counselor.  I wanted to speak with the counselor more because I thought we were making progress. The Peace Corps Medical Director refused to allow me counseling beyond my third visit. I wasn’t sure why. I’d known other volunteers who made regular visits to the counselor since they arrived in South Africa 14 months prior. This was only the third time I’d spoken with a counselor in 14 months. After separating from family and friends, enduring sexual harassment on a daily basis, watching dead bodies being pulled from vehicles at a host family wedding, and having experienced one minor assault by an intoxicated stalker, I only saw the counselor three times. My projects were making rapid progress and I had recruited some brilliant young adult leaders for Takalani Empowerment Project. I was collaborating with journalists and researchers throughout the country, and partnering with development organizations to learn paths for progress beyond what I learned in Peace Corps training. South Africans and Americans were reading my blog and learning new things about one another’s culture. My blog was recognized by the US Peace Corps as an example for cultural understanding and exchange. I was told by superiors that I’d accomplished more in one year than many volunteers do in two or three years. I don’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to see the counselor for further sessions, but I accept it because it is that decision which led to the unforeseen twists and turns that make this story one of expansion instead of loss.

After consulting my superiors and mentors, it was decided that the most sustainable decision for my health and safety would be to return home and plan my next steps independent from the Peace Corps program. Peace Corps could offer me no safer living arrangements, nor allow me the time or cover the cost for alternative therapies which I felt could replace the futile pharmaceutical treatments they’d prescribed for the allergies and asthma. I was told that I qualified for a separation status which would not interfere with my ability to receive the education benefits for graduate school that Peace Corps volunteers earn. After I’d made my decision based on this information, I was told-days later, just before signing my paperwork to leave the program- that I would be forfeiting the education benefits. When I arrived back home in the US, Peace Corps sent me a bill for $200 stating that they’d somehow overpaid me. Oddly enough, now back home in the US, the allergies and asthmatic symptoms persisted. It was evident finally that it wasn’t the pollen in the air, but other psychological and emotional irritations which were causing my health to decline. I let it all build up. I ignored all of the undesirable emotions, let them accumulate, and they begin to express themselves physically. The emotions made my eyes and throat swell, and made it difficult for me to make it through the day without an inhaler.

Africa is the epitome of duality. The despair of working among poverty and disease was non- existent in the presence of Africa's wildlife.

Africa is the epitome of duality. The despair of working among poverty and disease was non- existent in the presence of Africa’s wildlife.

Heartbreak and Coincidence

I was torn about returning the US. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with family and old friends. By this time, it had been 14 months since I’d seen any of their faces, and I hadn’t spoken to many of them since my departure in 2013. I just knew I had a lot of unfinished business in South Africa. A great deal of progress had been made in those 14 months, and I was not willing to abandon those projects. However, if I continued working under my current physical, psychological, and emotional conditions I would become less effective and my health would dwindle.

I cannot recall the experience of any emotion on my last bus ride from Pretoria to the land of the Venda. I don’t remember if I was planning the words for the following day, when I would inform my youth group of my departure. I don’t recall if I was stressed about having to pack all of my items and leave the village within 24 hours. I do recall not wanting to leave. I played with the possibility of just staying in country and working independently, but new immigration laws required that I return to my country of origin to reapply for a visa since my current visa would expire along with my status as a Peace Corps volunteer. Even if kicking and screaming, I was headed home to the US. My bus pulled into Louis Trichardt, the town near my village in Limpopo, just south of the Zimbabwe border. I would need to take a taxi from Louis Trichardt to my village. I was hesitant.

Thatched hut

Some of the living conditions in my community in Limpopo. Many of the villagers live without access to running water. The lack of sanitation leads to widespread disease. Each week, without fail, my friends would bury someone close to them.

I didn’t want to face reality. I was already feeling guilty because during my time in Pretoria, I missed the memorial service for an educator who worked at my school. She was a sweet woman who wore the light of God in her smile. I decided instead of taking a taxi directly to my village that I would spend some time in Louis Trichardt. I stopped in to have lunch at restaurant.

The waitress escorted me to a table situated on the outdoor patio. I thanked her in Tshivenda, “ndo livhuwa.” A young black man, about my age, was seated at the table behind me. He commented about my use of an African language which is used only by the Venda tribe in a very small region of South Africa. He introduced himself as Markus (name has been changed to protect privacy) and we decided to share a table with one another. He told me his mother had just died a couple days prior. Mark and I bonded over our shared passion for creative expression and social responsibility. We discussed ways to combine efforts in the future to serve the community. My cell phone rang. I stepped away from the table to receive the call.

The principal of my school was on the other end of the phone. She informed me that the memorial service for the educator went well. She then told me, “Your child is no longer.”

She was talking about Rest In Peace. Immediately, I felt ashamed for my recent absence from the community. A voice inside my head told me that it was my fault he had passed, and that I had failed to do enough for the nine year old boy. I don’t remember my response over the phone, but I do remember not crying. I thought it was very odd that the news of losing this child who I spent every day with, and who was a very active participant in my empowerment workshops, did not evoke tears.

I made my way back to the table to sit with my new friend. When I mentioned the name of my school’s principal, my friend’s chin dropped. He handed me his phone and told me to watch the video he’d prepared for me. Then my chin dropped. In the video, I watched children from my youth group dance in remembrance of my new friend’s mother. The educator from my school who had passed away was his mother. We knew in that moment that forces from an unseen realm had united us. We felt that these visions we shared of collectively empowering the Venda community were supported by those who had recently left us. While it was heartbreaking to accept that after this profound meeting, I would have to depart for the US, I felt knowingness that the same forces which brought us together that day would unite us again in the future. Markus and I found solace in our coincidental meeting, but I buried my shame and guilt over Rest In Peace deep within me.

Two days before I got on the plane to leave South Africa, I found myself in conversation with a man in Johannesburg. We shared our ethos in work and life, and when I informed him that I had plans to launch an online magazine, he told me that he had 17 years of experience in publishing, having worked for The Thinker, one of South Africa’s most renowned magazines. The man said he would be happy to support my project. This coincidence was a profound sign that despite the recent twists and turns, I was still on the right path to fulfill my life’s purpose.

A message from my youth group in Venda on my 30th birthday.

A message from my youth group in Venda on my 30th birthday.

With plans to travel abroad later this year to continue bringing light to the third world, my emphasis now is on personal healing and laying a proper foundation so my international humanitarianism will be a healthy and sustainable lifestyle for me. Yes, I intend to go back to South Africa. I intend to go out into the entire world. This time, I do it with the understanding that the pain of the world is a catalyst for light work.

I recently met with Jennifer, an oncology nurse who works at a children’s hospital. She shared with me that many of her co-workers question how there can be a God when innocent young children are suffering so severely. Jennifer reminds her co-workers of the great movements which are initiated in response to such loss. Adversity forces humanity to more creatively and more devotedly seek ways to evolve towards healthier, happier, and more harmonious. This is true regardless of one’s belief or disbelief in God.

Nothing can bring Rest in Peace, or Markus’s mother, or these children who’ve lost their battles with cancer back to us, but their deaths were not in vain. In their absence, we surrender to the reality that life can be painful and seem unfair. Embracing the duality of existence, and welcoming the twists and turns of life, we allow ourselves to feel even the unwanted emotions. Then we remind ourselves- for every darkness there is light.

For all who rest in peace, there are many to be saved.

“Lovers love death because it keeps them moving beyond limits.”

-Rumi 

If a human being dares to be MLK or Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa, or Malcom X…dares to be bigger than the condition to which he or she was born, it means so can you. And so you can try to stretch, stretch, stretch yourself.”

-Maya Angelou

Art by www.artbyjet.com. Jet is currently creating the logo for my upcoming magazine, Meraki Revolution.  Founder of the Jet Method of Exchange, he exchanges art services for good deeds.

Art by http://www.artbyjet.com. Jet is currently creating the logo for my upcoming magazine, Meraki Revolution.
Founder of the Jet Method of Exchange, he exchanges art services for good deeds.

 Disclaimer: The content on this site is mine personally and does not reflect the opinions or views of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Peace Corps. 

Creatures of Habit

Art by www.artbyjet.com.

Art by http://www.artbyjet.com, the talented artist who exchanges art for good deeds.

“Habit: a shackle for the free”

-Ambrose Bierce 

Habits can be our restlessness in work, love, and in life. Yes, we people can be habitually indifferent, habitually unsatisfied, and habitually bored.

Habits can be the music we listen to, or even the resentments we hold towards others. For some, the habit is drinking coffee. For others, it is an irritated response to traffic (road rage) each weekday. Others habitually derive information and news from the same source each day.

Healthy habits are also still habits- like taking the same route on the morning run each day. Unhealthy habits may include being overly self-critical, or drinking alcohol every weekend. Others have habitual eating patterns. Whatever it may be, we’ve all got a habit or two.

Most of us live habitually whether by conscious decision, or by deep and unvoiced feeling. The delusion is that these habits are needful, and that our routines are symbolic of stability. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. Just to be sure we’re not being slaves to our own minds- is it not worth taking a closer look at our own habits?

An old habit is probably just a veil to something really significant. Abstaining from the habit allows the veil to lift so we can see the really significant hidden stuff in our minds, and decide if we want to do something about it.

Before the habit becomes a physical action, there are numerous psychological and neurological activities taking place- lots of brain activity happening that you cannot see with your eyes. By removing the habit (even temporarily), one can see the formerly unseen.

For instance, one may ask himself, “why do I drink on the weekends?” By choosing not to do this for a couple of weekends, one may find that they’ve been choosing to drink on the weekends “to unwind and alleviate stress and tension.” However, when the weekend is over, and the habitual pattern has been acted out, the stress and tension still remain. Now, we’ve got a vicious cycle of stress and intoxication taking place. A closer look will reveal that the drinking does nothing to permanently alleviate or eliminate the stress, and has become a habitual routine, stagnating self growth and learning.

With the goal of being free from mental patterns, I decided to take a look at my own habits from a scientific perspective. Neuroscience tells us that we have the ability to create new patterns in the brain by simply thinking new thoughts or abstaining from old habits. Yes, it’s true. You can rewire your brain!

By abstaining from the habit, you create new neural pathways in the brain! This new brain activity could empower you to eliminate the cause of the habit! This evolution allows brand new life to be lived! It can even generate new courage to make some big decisions regarding your happiness.

Behind the habit – that’s where real growth and transformation are waiting for you.

If you are becoming aware of yourself as a creature of habit, I invite you to like The Amanda Awethu Project on Facebook, and stay tuned for the upcoming website launch.

In collaboration with neuroscience experts, academic authors on neuropsychology, and neuro-linguistic programming practitioners, we’ll interact with you on how to become free from habit and learn lots of new things about yourself.

We’ll also provide you simple information and easy-to-do exercises to help you rewire your brain for happiness! It’s all free!

We are currently shooting video footage for the website, and hope to have unlimited access available to you by early April. For now, please like our page, share with your friends, and stay tuned.

From The Amanda Awethu Project, with LOVE!

(Art by Jet at www.artbyjet.com. The talented artist who creates in exchange for good deeds. The Amanda Awethu Project will be filming an interview and so much more with Jet next week).

Twists and Turns: Update on South Africa

Twists and Turns Cover

 

“We plan and God laughs.”

One of my friends shared this quote with me recently. All I can say is, “how true.”

One indisputable existential truth is that life twists and turns.

I could say that I never saw it coming, but that would be a degradation of my soul’s intuition. Sentiments we would never consider speaking aloud always find ways to be expressed. The last thing our human selves want to allow is a disruption to our plans. It’s very difficult for many of us to accept. When was the last time this happened in your life? A relationship may have ended, your family became ill, your career path changed, vacation didn’t go as planned…

Sometimes achieving goals means twisting and turning in alignment with our instincts. Many times, the twists and turns are not preconceived with our conscious minds. Often, the twists and turns are greeted by confounded and disappointed travelers. Back in August, I was that traveler, torn and confused.

Some of my supporters are aware that transitions are underway with regards to my international humanitarian endeavors. Many of you are not aware. I chose to be quiet about the transition until I could sort out my feelings, become oriented with the changes, and make sense of it all. What I have learned during my past few months of silence is that we may be able to make sense of a lot of things, but we will never make sense of it all. That’s just the nature of human existence.

For me, that gray, uncertain, mysterious layer of infinite possibilities, which accompanies all of life’s situations, has strengthened an aspect of myself that once struggled for survival. Faith. Yes, my faith is being put to the test.

Twists and Turns Ending

Tough Ponderings atop the highest point of Port St. Johns, near the Amapondo Village of Eastern Cape, South Africa. I was elated to see the level of cooperation among all races and colors in the region- an abundance of exemplary social entrepreneurship projects.

 

I am in the midst of one of the most powerful learning experiences of my life. Foundations ripped up and torn away, I stand upon shaky ground as the Universe invites me to rely solely on faith, intention, and perception as choice in order to evolve. If I succeed in doing so, the rewards are countless. If I fail, then I don’t only fail myself. There are a lot of lives that are affected by my actions. The same is true for all of your actions, whether aware of it or not.

My soul knew something needed to change. My ego wouldn’t admit it. Yes, I have an ego. So do you. It’s just an aspect of humanness.

Everyone who followed my work in South Africa knows that much progress was made in rural Limpopo over the past year. I was busy. Busy may be understatement. I volunteered my time all day, endured the most extreme heat of my life while walking up mountains to my one room hut, hid behind the walls of my room to avoid the constant attention one receives as a strange foreigner, and locked myself inside doors by 5pm each evening to avoid danger. After locking myself in, I’d study, plan, and dream of all the work that needed done. I found solace in meditation and catharsis in writing, but my soul knew this wasn’t enough to sustain the mission.

I didn’t know until I moved there that I was living near a rape capital of the world. The written essays from the girls youth group said it all. They were living in constant fear, and so was I.

These are some of our writers for the school newspaper we started as part of a literacy and social awareness campaign. These young women wrote from experience, urging their peers to use good judgement to protect their rights and reach their potentials.

Meet our writers for the school newspaper. I started the paper as part of a literacy and social awareness campaign. These young women wrote from experience, urging their peers to use good judgement to protect their rights and reach their potentials.

 

Fear wasn’t going to get the best of me; I went out there to create light and miracles, and with so much rapid progress, how could I allow anything to interfere with such plans? However, allowing is sometimes the best thing we can do. I would learn this later.

My energy began to diminish with the onset of severe allergies. I have no medical history of allergies. Applying my knowledge of how physical dis-ease is often an expression of suppressed psychological and emotional conditions, I thought resolution for the issues could be found within myself. This happened eventually, but not without months of intensifying discomfort and several futile rounds of detested pharmaceutical treatment.

In July, I left the village in Limpopo to tour South Africa for a while, with the intention to return in August. On my way down the mountain to the village departure point, I experienced three separate sexual harassment situations-three incidents in one hour. When I returned to the village weeks later, I could barely breathe.

As I lie in bed at night, I began to acknowledge my fear. The wind ripped over the mountain tops, and I could hear doors banging and debris crash against my window. I braced myself to be silent enough to listen for any audible cues which could warn me of an intruder. I was utterly afraid. My throat felt as if it were closing, and my chest pained. I was afraid to fall asleep. This happened on many nights. There was never an intruder. But there was always fear.

I called Peace Corps headquarters and asked to see a doctor and a counselor. I thought voicing some of these feelings could create the space for me to breathe, become healthy, and cope with my surroundings. I was looking for a way to move forward. I never anticipated the impending twists and turns.

 A doctor informed me that my physical symptoms were asthmatic, which can be stress induced. I spoke with Peace Corps’ medical team,  the safety and security director, and my supervisor. I was told it was time to get healthy and safe, and that I had more than fulfilled the goals as outlined by the Peace Corps mission. The guidance and support of everyone around me said, “go home for a while, and continue your mission in a capacity which is conducive to your personal wellness.” The Peace Corps staff was well aware that I had begun an independent empowerment project, studied in a separate leadership program led by award winning development pioneers, and had been making post-Peace Corps plans with scientists, entrepreneurs, community leaders, media, and other professionals throughout South Africa and abroad. I was told that no matter what, I would land on my feet and achieve what I had set out to do. Remaining in the Peace Corps program would restrict me to the living conditions which were becoming harmful to my health, and this was absolutely not recommended.

How could I just move on? I volunteered at a school of over 500 children, and was engaged in projects with over 100 of them. We had such big plans for the next year. Some of them are orphans, and most of them are in vulnerable situations. If I leave, then would I not fail them? Would they feel abandoned yet again? My only plan for the next year of my life was to be in rural Limpopo with these beloved youths. What now? Then, it all came to me.

 

kr

This is one group of youths who regularly participate in Takalani Empowerment Project, my independent project launched in rural Limpopo. The project is due to launch soon in the United States.

In my reflection of some of our most memorable youth workshops, I recalled the mantras we used in the Takalani Empowerment Project:

“I choose life.”

“I have a choice.”

“I have value.”

“I make the world better.”

These mantras were handed to me during a leadership training with David Patient and Neil Orr. After David and Neil shared the mantras with the group, I discussed the meaning of them with fellow leaders. In memory, I recall feeling very confident about my grasp on the implications of the mantras. In retrospect, however, I realize that for many months I hadn’t applied all of these powerful affirmations to my own living.

I want to scrutinize my behavior with regard to each of these mantras so that my audience and I can continue to evolve together. As I reveal my self assessment, I am certain that many of my readers will gain some insight into their own lives. Thank you for being on the journey with me.

“I choose life.”

I choose life. This means I make healthy decisions; I protect my safety and security, and my basic needs for space and spiritual nourishment.

After one minor assault and multiple harassment episodes, how could I honestly say, “I choose life,” if I perpetuated the risk of harm?

“I have a choice.”

I have a choice. This means that I assume power and freedom in my life. There is more than one way of achieving any goal, and by tapping the source of creativity, new choices become available.

By subscribing to the belief that I needed to be restricted by the policies of Peace Corps in order to fulfill my mission of impacting my community, I relinquished the belief that “I have a choice.”

“I have value.”

I have value. This means that I entrust myself to meet my capacity for impact in the world.

If I am not healthy and safe, I cannot realize my value. I cannot be impactful if I am not healthy and safe…and alive. To make choices which could hinder the realization of my potential, I could not honestly affirm, “I have value.”

“I make the world better.”

I make the world better. This can happen in many ways, by allowing divine intelligence to flow through me and allow the twists and turns along my path, as the Universe deems change needful.

By resisting the twists and turns, instead of allowing them to shape me, I stagnate my evolutionary process. If I am not evolving, I cannot inspire those around me to evolve.

The world can’t become better if it doesn’t evolve.

I cannot make the world better if I don’t evolve.

So there it was. The answers were clear. Now, with all of this clarity, why was I still anxious about moving on?

In my next article, I will share the ego-based fears that made my decision much more difficult than it had to be. I will share how I responded to those fears, and how implementing positive thinking techniques created miraculous results…overnight! I will also share with you how this journey perpetuates as a daily test of faith for which I am incredibly grateful.

If practicing patience and faith when our plans go awry, we can find circumstances eventually change for the better. In light of the mind-blowing coincidences that manifested days after I made my tough decision, I cannot help but smile when I hear the expression:

“We plan and God laughs.”

Indeed, every traveler in life’s journey encounters twists and turns and pushes and pulls. Often, we resist in defiance of change. Adversely, I’ve learned that allowing can be our salvation.

Thank you again for being part of the journey. More coming soon!

The youths depicted here are practicing the power of visualization and manifesting dreams in one of our Takalani Empowerment Workshops. They incredibly engaged in these powerful teachings!

The youths depicted here are practicing the power of visualization and manifesting dreams in one of our Takalani Empowerment Workshops. They are incredibly engaged in these powerful teachings!

Disclaimer: This blog is mine personally and does not reflect the opinions or views of the United States Peace Corps or United States Government.

Creators of History: South Africa Year 1

creators 3

 “This eruption undoes stagnation”

Björk

I remember stirring from my slumber on the 15 hour flight. Dawn was just about to break, and I was grateful to have the window seat. The sky lit up with all the colors of the spectrum as the sun rose, somewhere over the Rainbow Nation. An hour later, at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, I would be introduced to the Peace Corps South Africa Country Director, and then our group of 34 volunteers would pack our lives onto a bus to travel to our next resting place.

The bus ride was a silent four hour journey. Most of us were busy dreaming of all the familiar faces we had left behind. None of us knew quite what to expect once we arrived at our destination. We would later learn that not knowing what to expect would become our expectation for the next two years; resilience and flexibility- the two qualities Peace Corps advocates as most needful for making it through service.

The disappointment was palpable when we pulled onto a compound protected by razor wire, and what appeared to be an abandoned building. But expectations aside, it was time to set foot on Africa’s soil for the first time in my life.

One foot, now the other foot. I was home. Then, came the voices. Harmonic soul penetrated my ear drums and suddenly I forgot that I was far from the familiar. A group of nearly 20 African women and men, dressed in tribal patterns, bright blues, oranges, greens, yellows, and reds, wearing embroidered hats, handmade traditional skirts and dresses, and adorned in beads, erupted into song. We couldn’t understand the words, but we all remember how the spirit they evoked pierced our hearts, and placed Africa inside of us, forever.

We spent one week in confinement, unable to venture to even a nearby store without security and supervision. Then, we travelled to a rural area in Limpopo to be introduced to our host families. We had no idea what to expect. We were told we would stay with the families for 8 weeks during our pre-service training. We would eat our meals with our hosts, some of us would bathe in buckets, others would learn how to kill chickens, and how to eat porridge with our hands. I would be lying to say I didn’t have some fears and anxieties, but love was burning at my core. It was love that brought me to South Africa, love that would carry me through, and love that would flourish as I came to terms with the strange and uncomfortable dynamics of my new life.

There is no amount of preparation that can prepare a woman from the United States for the gender inequity of rural South Africa. While in the village, it is a violation of Peace Corps safety policy to be away from home past sundown. This is a needful policy as a friendly decline to marriage proposals is often interpreted by the village men as a cute game of “hard-to-get.” I am grateful for my host family for keeping  me in a state of grace, love, and support as I surrendered my freedom as an independent female. Once again, if it weren’t for my heart leading the journey, I wouldn’t have made it through year one.

In my adventures, I have always found ways to cope with the inequities. I know by this point in my life, arguing values and norms is a waste of time. The only way to get others to consider new thinking is to first develop an understanding of why they are so adamant about their current thinking-be it cultural practices, beliefs, or cynicism. You can’t understand what someone believes and why without asking questions, nor without exuding a genuine appreciation for their free offering of ideas (whether you agree with those ideas or not). It’s about building trust and rapport with others.

When people feel appreciated, their guard subsides, stripping away the need for defensiveness, and opening the door for an exchange of ideas. If I scurried about pontificating to the men of traditional communities about women’s lib in America, then I would only be sending an unspoken message to my host community about my assumed superiority over their way of life. That’s not what I came here to do; I came here to open minds while opening my own mind, and to have a symbiotic relationship with my host community. I can’t do that by drawing a box around myself to magnify the distinctions between us. No, mutual growth can only be had by seeing through the lenses of unity, and through eyes of love-unconditional love. I’ve had to get creative in my engagements, and it has been a most enlightening challenge.

Last week, I stopped at a fruit stand to support the woman running her own little operation. We chatted for a bit about her work and her children when a man approached the stand. The woman excitedly told this tall middle-aged Venda man that I, the mukuwa, can speak Tshivenda. This led to an explanation of my presence in the community. The man was puzzled at my response when he asked how I am managing life in the village.

“It’s difficult…it’s very difficult for a white woman.” I hesitate for a moment wondering if I should be completely candid. My instincts led me to my next statement. “It’s difficult for any woman.”

The man took a small step back and looked at me squarely. In Venda culture, eye contact is not the norm, as it is believed to demonstrate a lack of respect. “Why is that?!” he replies indignantly.

I respond to his eye contact by projecting a loving and firm gaze to him, and then explain. “Many of the men do not talk to women nicely. When we say to leave us alone, they continue to disturb us. They can’t let us be free.” I tailor my communication to fit my audience, using the lingual style of the community (I am mildly conversational in Tshivenda by now, but communicating complex ideas in this tribal language is not yet my strong suit).

“But, it’s our culture,” he urges.

This is the comment I was warned about since arriving here. This is the one comment that seems to be paired with any and all resistance to change. I’ve heard many an acquaintance, friend, and counterpart express distaste for this comment, as they explain it’s use as an illogical excuse for stagnation. I choose not to become irritated by this comment. This man is sharing his beliefs with me, and it is my social responsibility to appreciate his candor, and to dig deeper for understanding. This isn’t about having a clash of cultures at a village fruit stand, it’s about opening minds. So, let’s stay on task.

“The woman can’t be equal-it’s our culture,” he continues.

“You are still a Venda man even if you respect the woman. The woman is a giver of life. You can’t be here without her. And she is the giver of all things-do you eat meals without a woman preparing them for you?” I ask.

“No, I can’t.” he agrees.

“To say a woman is not equal is like saying they are not human. But God made them human. How do we treat animals here in the village? We make them do work, and if they do not, we beat them” (I tactically use the term “we” in this conversation to convey a sense of unity; this conversation could take a turn for the worst if I am preaching about how “you people” treat animals. I’ve had many similar conversations here about the love and importance of animals, but that is not this particular conversation, so in the interest of efficacy, I stay honed in on my purpose in this moment). “Is that also how women are treated here?” I ask.

“Yes. But if we let the women be free, then they will no longer respect the man,” he explains his reasoning.

“It does not work like that. Right now, the woman is treated like an animal. If she is treated like a person, if she is allowed to feel like a human…If she is able to receive love and respect, then she can respect a man- even more. Let me ask you something. Do you have daughters?”

“Yes.” he replies.

“Do you want your daughter to feel like an animal, or like a strong woman?” I ask.

“Like a strong woman,” he states. “But it’s our culture.”

“Just because you do something differently, you are still a Venda. You will always be a Venda-that cannot change. Treating the people from your own culture with more love can make your Venda people even stronger. It is okay for some things to change, if we see it is better. You drive cars and use cell phones now because you see it is good.”

The man agrees, but I can tell I’ve just sent his world into whirlwind. Beliefs and traditions he has abided by for his entire life are now beginning to uproot, and he doesn’t know how to process it all at once. Then, remembering that most of this culture has also evolved beyond ancient spiritual beliefs, and now embraces Christianity as the authority on life, I decide to inspire him to consult his guiding forces.

“Just think about why God made her a woman and not an animal. Talk to God, and you will have your answer. And no matter what, you are always a Venda. It’s your blood.”

“I will talk to God,” the man walks away.

This was such an eye opening experience for me. I realized something during that conversation which I intend to keep in mind as I labor out here. These once oppressed cultures possess a very real fear of changing the one thing that they have managed to preserve throughout their history of wars, disease, and injustices. Their concept of culture is, in many cases, their only source of identity- it is the one thing that they have always had that even the turmoil of life could never take from them. This illuminates the most needful lesson of all as I embark on inspiring progress during my second year among the Venda people.

At the core of all that I do, shall be the lesson that just as life moves forward, we as individuals are destined to move forward. If we aren’t willing to adapt or to progress, then we aren’t participating in life at all- we are simply written history in an old and forgotten worn out book. Simply put, to survive, culture must also move along with life. I am grateful for the many opportunities I have to demonstrate this truth among my host community.

In January, I launched Takalani Empowerment Project. Takalani is one of my nicknames in South Africa, and it is a Tshivenda term meaning, “be happy.” The Takalani approach is to stimulate evolution through a process which allows the participants to identify their own needs and aspirations, to voice their perceived limitations to overcoming those challenges, and to unveil new beliefs in their own potential to transcend limitation. In other words, all of the participants are actively engaged in their development process as individuals. That process is then translated to community projects which put this newfound confidence into action. There are no hand-outs, and no promises of someone coming to solve their problems for them. The participants understand, as they affirm in our workshops, “if we don’t do good things for our communities, then no one will. We are our own heroes.”

self reliance

After three months of workshops, I was blown away at how eager the participants were to create progress on their own. So, after months of Takalani Empowerment consisting only of myself and 50 youth, I affirmed that the right leaders and counterparts would enter my life. Six months after the launch of Takalani Empowerment, we have six new adult facilitators and six subprograms, which include boys and girls youth empowerment, food security, literacy, water and sanitation, vulnerable persons empowerment, and community resource development.As we continue to expand, a common question I am asked is how I can manage to do so much?

It’s simple. I believe in people. I believe the one thing people want and need the most is to feel inspired. And inspiration, folks, is the catalyst of creation, and the stimulus for growth and reckoning. I have witnessed the transmutation of apathy into passion, of defeat into courage, and of entropy into poeisis.  When I have so many first hand experiences to justify my faith in this environment, how can there be any room for doubt?

I have been led to leaders from within the Venda community who have been demonstrating social responsibility and a passion for community building long before my presence here. These leaders are now role models for the community- exemplifying a new identity as evolutionaries of culture. As they stand before our group of participants, these leaders are a mirror to them. These revolutionary thinkers lead by reflecting to their people, and to me, the possibility, achievement, and progress which is contained in the cells of our bodies and the fibers of our being, just waiting to be tapped.

We, together, are living, breathing proof of the alchemy of potential.

Together, we have become aware of our truest identity; we are the livers of life and the creators of history.

Now, I saddle up and let go the reigns, embracing the impending unexpected, as the Universe and I write the book of South Africa Year 2.

Thank you for being here with me.

planting seeds

Disclaimer: The content on this webpage is mine personally and does not reflect the views or opinions of the United States Peace Corps, nor the United States Government.

The Alchemy of Potential: Month 12 Peace Corps Update

Wow! Just six months ago, Takalani Empowerment was made up of only the founder (Peace Corps Volunteer, Amanda Blain) and 50 youths. Now, we have grown to include 5 subprograms, and added 6 official adult facilitators from the Venda tribe.

Some of these facilitators will undergo Takalani Empowerment Project’s interview and training process to prepare them for sustainability leadership as we establish community based organizations throughout the region. The goal is to have fully functioning organizations to continue the Takipow mission beyond Amanda’s Peace Corps assignment.

In 2015, Amanda will depart South Africa temporarily. During that time she will continue her education in international affairs in New York City, while routinely visiting South Africa to support the organizations as they grow from infancy to operating independently.

This Saturday, the project is celebrating its rapid growth at a Takalani Empowerment Youth Celebration. Stay tuned for pictures and videos!

We have already initiated a food security and literacy project, which we intend to develop into community based organizations.

To learn about the project, and follow the journey, visit like our page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/takalaniempowerment?fref=photo

For information, questions, or to advise on resources, or to interview for a facilitator or leadership position, you may email Takalani Empowerment Project at takipow@gmail.com.

Please share this status, especially if you are in South Africa; help us grow!

Peace, Love, Growth, and Abundance!

 

Bittersweet Symphonies among Boundless Seas: South Africa Month 12

Autopoeisis    

Greek “auto” (meaning self)

and “poeisis” (meaning creation, production)

 refers to system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself

-First Used to Define Self Maintaining Chemistry of Living Cells

poeisis

 “When we act in a novel way, we are creating new connections in our brains that support that particular new behavior. We are developing new pathways in the brain, new habits of mind, which in turn correspond to new ways of thinking and living.”

-Carter Phipps

inspire

    High on a mountaintop, I stood alone. I gazed out to the painting which looked back at me. Its blues breathed along with my breath. Its emeralds danced with every shift and movement of my green eyes. The glow of the sun crept from behind the peaks in the distance as if perfectly timed with the smile that crept into the corners of my mouth. The first buzz of an early riser bee ignited the beating of my heart, and then the birds began. First one, then all the birds of the world sang on the very hillside on which I stood. With their symphony, the blood in my veins began to flow, and I became alive as the world awakened.

Suddenly, a man appeared to my right, and another to my left. No words were exchanged. We stood together, alive with the world.

Without saying a word, my mentor spoke, “Go ahead. Paint it as you will.”

Then came the silent words from the mentor on my left, “You are your own orchestra.”

The men vanished and I realized it hadn’t been my mentors, David and Neil, but rather wisdom from within me that had spoken. And so now was the moment of truth:

Was the world really a reflection of me?

Could the power of intent really make manifest anything which is dreamed?

Is what you see what you get?

And in this moment of truth, I stepped to the edge, and decided to play with life. painting   I lifted my left hand, then my right hand, and motioned the orchestra to commence. Suddenly the blue of the sky became flooded with buildings. The mountaintops became people. The sun became an energy of creation, changing the painting with each moment. Anything that fell within my imaginative reach became part of this art looking back at me; this living, breathing world-and it was real. When I awoke, I took my first waking breaths of the morning, and in my first steps after that moment of truth at the edge of the world, I found Truth.

Freedom

***

 “One day you will realize you are just wasting your time.”

45 year old English woman, lifelong South African resident

“When you leave, it will all fall apart, just like the efforts of all the others before you.”

40 year old Afrikaner man, South African native and lifelong South African resident

“It’s in their DNA, they aren’t programmed for insight.”

60 year old Kenyan native, woman, South African resident

“Now you see why we have something against them.”

23 year old Afrikaner man, born and raised in South Africa

  These are actual quotes from real conversations I’ve had since arriving in South Africa last July. As an American born post-Civil Rights Act, and decades after my home nation’s cultural-political evolution beyond racial segregation, I am not so accustomed to an environment in which separatist mentality is mainstream. To the surprise of many of my American friends, these attitudes are so ubiquitous in South Africa, that people with which I’ve closely bonded have expressed such sentiments.

Some of these quotes are from people who have come to the rural parts with genuine optimism, compassion, and well planned development aspirations. A couple of years into their work, their sparks burn out and they seem only to have energy remaining to caution the currently ambitious from fighting a battle in which they are “destined to fail.” Even those of strong religious backgrounds, such as the strict Christian Afrikaners, openly admit to having relinquished faith in the progress of South Africa towards a more sustainable, productive, and harmonious nation.

In a recent conversation, a 50 year old Afrikaner woman told me that I am not going to change anything while I am here. I responded, “Beyond big ideas of changing the world, I just came out here to open some minds. And so far, it’s working.” She then confessed that she runs a development organization which pays salaries to nearly 100 rural black South Africans near my work site. After listening to her describe her work, I informed her that despite the frustrations she voiced, she is not fooling me one bit.

“But you still do it,” I said, “You have more faith than you’re willing to admit.”

That’s just the thing; in such a racially attuned environment as small town South Africa, it is simply against the grain to believe new outcomes can be achieved by working among ancient and indigenous cultures. This attitude is also prevalent in the cities. However, when I am traveling through cities, I have more options as to who to share my time with, and so my low tolerance for pessimism is easily catered by moving along to someone more open, more apt to work with me on a project, and seeing from much broader angles.

In a recent revelation of mine, I realized conversations like the ones I’ve shared in these quotes are just as vital to my success, and the success of my host community, as are the more optimistic conversations I have. The discouraging words inspire me to dig deeper; they leave a residual whisper within my soul, “instill faith where there is none.”

neoliberalism

There is no shortage of horror stories, corrupted projects, and foreign aid funding failures to discourage grassroots humanitarians like myself. In fact, research indicates that the majority of underdeveloped countries receiving foreign aid consistently show declines in growth. This cannot be ignored, especially when the sentiments of the inhabitants of these countries mirror the statistics. While I am an advocate of attuning your attention to the positive, I am also a realist. A little bit of knowledge about failures saves me from expending energy on repeat futile strategies. So, I’ve read the books, yet remain undeterred.

As a confidant to the discouraged and pessimistic, I often see a reflection of myself in them. I’ve only been here for eleven months, but I’ve already had countless days of frustration. My previous articles have expressed some of those hardships: How to break through apathy and make people care? How to get people to be on time? How to find to the right counterparts who gain a sense of satisfaction by teaching rather than receiving? How to dream big in an environment that seems to embrace a defeatist mentality? Maybe that is one difference in my approach. I don’t lie alone at night allowing these challenges to weigh me down. I ask these questions, consult my inner wisdom, and trust with unbending faith that the answers will come. Without fail, they always do.

For a couple of years now, I have played with life. I have subscribed to the idea that what you see is what you get, and that what you see is a choice. In a recent visit with my mentors, who have 20 years of development experience in Africa, I was given further justification for my optimism-for my belief that South Africa is a boundless sea of potential. One of my mentors, David Patient, stated, “South Africa is a 20 year old country. How does a 20 year old act?” That was the ultimate boost of faith. With the right amount of positivity, patience, and belief, any 20 year old is bound to learn a few things, mature, and take steps towards a desirable future. It is just part of process called Evolution.

“Yes, but Amanda, in our culture, if you give recognition to someone, the others can’t be happy for them. It’s not right, but how can we change it?”

Ages 11-45, girls, boys, men, and women from the Venda tribe, Ready to Evolve

“You get what you create. Your thoughts- your energy- attracts and creates everyone and everything around you…If you can’t rely only on yourself, then you’ll never truly live.”

-affluent 35 year old man, Zulu tribe, Evolved

Everything in life is moving; it is an inescapable force, observable in nature, biology, technology, politics, and culture.  The move to empowerment mentality and the potential resulting benefits such as health and economic growth is written on the wall. I can see beyond the chaos, there is an undeniable forward motion of life.

“Someone asked me recently, ‘what is your purpose in life; what is the one thing you can wake up and do everyday without thinking about the money?’ I couldn’t answer it. But I want to find it.”

-affluent 26 year old man, Venda tribe, Ready to Evolve

We, as organisms, are made up of billions of microscopic cells which interact with one another, while acting as individual cells, and carry out their own self-maintaining activities. We are living personifications of boundless potentials-just by our very breathing. At the scientific fundamental base of our existence is proof that by nature, we are cooperating, we are self-sustaining, and we are moving.

Isn’t it far more natural to be safe, comfortable, and happy than any of the opposite? Then, I can only conclude that in cases of chaos, poverty, and demoralization, something is interfering with nature. My job then is to open minds in ways that become aware of our natural potential as intelligent organisms, so we can together tap that potential more frequently-more faithfully-and flow upward, faster. Simply, my solution is to remove that interference, but I can’t do it alone. I can only shed light for others; they have to walk into it themselves.

There is one element which must be used if ever to shed any light for others. Absent this element, and you fail- other forces come in, pulling at your ego, your purse strings, your pride. No, you can only inspire and empower with one weapon in your hand. Love. Without love, you aren’t real, not to yourself, and certainly not to the ancient tribe who has been oppressed by people of your color, and whose own cultural advancements have been measured in war (that latter detail can be applied to pretty much every human inhabitant of planet Earth, so let this also be a mirror to yourself).

I remember my first bouts of anxiety prior to coming to South Africa. My insecure ego, attached to a former identity and the comfort of familiar faces and places, became a bit sad. I knew once I left Chicago, and once I leaped into my life’s true calling, I would never be the same. It was as if I could feel the pains of my skin shedding away as I evolved into a truer self. At the time my placement in Peace Corps was announced, I had been working with an English South African at my job in the US for about a year. He could empathize with my reservations. He wrote me the following:

“It is very hard to leave everything you know behind and start a new chapter of your life. Most Americans would never even consider doing it!!! Your horizons and world views are about to expand and you are going to become a better person for it. In addition to that, you will make a difference to someone else’s life and meet some really interesting people along the way. You have to look at it this way: You are about to become a citizen of the world. You will also realise that people are the same where ever you go. Most people are generally good and we all want the same things in life.

You are not leaving the US, you are going home. You will set foot on the continent on which humanity evolved. You will walk on the same land that one of your direct ancestors walked on 200 000 years ago. Every part of your body evolved for the environment that you are going to be living in. I have asked many people from the US and Europe who staid in Africa permanently why they chose to stay? They all told me that as soon as they set foot in Africa, they had this primal feeling that they belonged there and somehow that they had finally come home. Maybe it is a distant primal ancestral memory, but I feel it too.

Near Pretoria where you will be staying is something called the cradle of mankind. It is a series of caves in which the first homonid bones were discovered by Raymond Dart in the first half of last century. It is a world heritage sight and to this day, new hominid fossils are being discovered there. It is humbling to see the remains and feel the presence of our ancestors that roamed the African plains all those millions of years ago.”

-Craig Hollins 

Dream

“Once in a while you can get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right” -Grateful Dead; a band whose name represents the leader’s need to shed his ego to fully Love the world. I saw this writing on a bathroom wall just months before my departure.

So what is my approach to help others leap into the forward moving stream of life’s richness? I can’t deny the stagnation and disorder in my current environment- widespread disease, unemployment, heinous crimes, lack of water and food…the list goes on. In a recent journal entry, I wrote the following:

“I have long been a believer in, ‘we are evolution become conscious of itself.’ This is the belief that is at the core of my relentless optimism about the possibilities for cultural progress and upliftment of societies which have seemed to remain dormant-or further-decayed in a world which is ever changing.

These societies have been sleeping, but they are not dead. They have simply lacked the appropriate catalyst for awakening. Many social factors are responsible for such sleepiness, and change is only going to be possible with a delicate balance of insight and acknowledgement of those factors, paired with a culturally sensitive transfer of knowledge as to our inherent nature as organisms of evolution.

Evolution imparts a wisdom about the fact that we, now, are moving, and that if we remove interference, we will just flow with that movement. We can be free from the belief of limitation and the enslavement of identity, and participate more actively, more happily, as members of our current world.

Within many societies, I observe that something has interfered with visibility into this dimension of  our existence. But, once we begin knocking at the door, questioning the possibility that we can move forward, that we are wired for growth, that we are capable, the door will open. With proper encouragement-or rather, the proper questions- curiosity will be seeded. Curious minds tend to move.

Now, how to incite folks to knock? I am already discovering ways and encountering others from within the culture who have stirred from the sleep of stagnation. These individuals are the key.

As a leader, it is my responsibility to keep myself continually knocking-continually evolving. And then by my very being, I will inspire those around me to do the same. The world truly is a reflection…”

I am not only concerned with the rural South African populations with which I work. No, for me it has become needful to restore a little faith in the hearts of people like those who tell me I’m wasting my time. Disheartened. It is an unnatural state. It is a state of limitation, and my goodness, folks, we are not limited. How can I demonstrate this truth?

I empathize and relate to the stories of frustration; I allow my demoralized friends to look in the mirror, and see me looking back at them. A bright eyed woman with hope who’s hit some of the same walls they’ve encountered. As they look into the mirror and peer back at me, I move. I beckon them to come along, to play with life, to play with intent. I invite them to see what they really want to see, to abandon the bitter and create the sweet.

Acornhoek Leadership Forum. This is the second group of leaders who are evolving the communities within one of the most dangerous and impoverished regions of South Africa. I am happy to be part of the crew. The white men in the back are Neil Orr and David Patient of Empowerment Concepts, our mentors.

Acornhoek Leadership Forum. This is the second group of leaders who are evolving the communities within one of the most dangerous and impoverished regions of South Africa. I am happy to be part of the crew. The white men in the back are Neil Orr and David Patient of Empowerment Concepts, our mentors. One of last year’s members launched a project which transferred skills to secure food and income generation to most families in his village.

First things first: tear down the walls of limitation. What is limitation anyway? A fictitious belief, and nothing more. What are beliefs? In my observations, I have found many beliefs to be stubborn ideas grounded in the past. And by the past, I do mean anything that has occurred before right Now. What good does that do us? If we ground ourselves in the past, then where is the creativity in that? Let us know that creativity comes from an infinite source, and so as long as such a tool as creativity exists, there must be infinite possibilities for creation. How then, could anyone intelligently argue that defeat is definitive?

As intelligent lifeforms, we are wired with the ability to create anew, again and again, throughout our lives. The only interference with that creativity is the belief in limitation. That is the one and only factor which has stagnated the evolution of my host community, and which has disheartened so much of the human population, in South Africa and abroad (I write more about this concept in my book).

My passion is my work, and my work is my art. I eat, sleep, and breathe ideas for humanity. Some of my most recent and most brilliant ideas have come to me in dreams. People close to me out here are often bewildered by how this happens. I am too, but I flow with it, stating, “that’s the power of Intent, want it, trust it, and it will be.”

When I get an idea, I state my intent aloud to make it manifest. I don’t get bothered with the uncertainties and unlikeliness of these manifestations. Aren’t the horror stories and the foreign funding disasters stories from the past anyway? I live Now. So, I affirm, “the right people and resources will be revealed to me in right time.” That is it. Then, my energy is freed to work on what opportunities are available right now. I keep my vision in my mind, my faith in tact, and continue about my business. Then, as if by miracle, the people and resources always come, usually in the form of coincidence.

Critics often indulge in challenging me, “but just because that coincidence occurred, doesn’t mean it was meant to be!” Maybe they’re right. I am not pontificating destiny and pre-determined outcomes. What I am striving to do is raise your awareness about the power of intent in dictating the direction and quality of your attention.

If I don’t journey into my days with the belief that what I need and desire will manifest, then how equipped will I be to recognize opportunities when they arise? I speculate that most everyone in life experiences coincidence; they are presented with openings for the evolution of dreams into reality, of needs into gratification, but because they lack the faith of intention, their senses aren’t astute to these synchronous occurrences-these little miracles, if you will.

“You accept the love you think you deserve.”

-Stephen Chbosky

Our youngest member of Takalani Empowerment Project Boys Youth is using the power of visualization to manifest his desires in our

Our youngest member of my project, Takalani Empowerment/Boys Youth is using the power of visualization to manifest his desires in our “I have a dream” workshop.

Takalani Empowerment Project's first All Boys Youth Workshop. We are playing with the power of dreaming. In this picture, our youngest participant is sharing all the details of his happy dreams and and life visions with God. In modern day, the majority of the Venda tribe identifies as Christian.  One key in creating stimuli for positive advancement within ancient and indigenous cultures is to use strategies which coincide with deeply rooted cultural values. With a flexible perspective and a considerate approach, we can manifest cultural evolution together; preserving richness of heritage while adapting for sustainability and growth in a changing world.

Takalani Empowerment Project’s first All Boys Youth Workshop. We are playing with the power of dreaming. In this picture, our youngest participant is sharing all the details of his happy dreams and life visions with God. In modern day, the majority of the Venda tribe identifies as Christian.
One key in creating stimuli for positive advancement within ancient and indigenous cultures is to use strategies which coincide with deeply rooted cultural values. With a flexible perspective and a considerate approach, we can manifest cultural evolution together; preserving richness of heritage while adapting for sustainability and growth in a changing world.

The day before I met David Patient and Neil Orr of Empowerment Concepts, my mentors, I stated my intent. I had been in South Africa for a couple of months, and was craving new teachers who, like me, understand the boundlessness of human potential, and the power of intent. I wanted someone on my plane of thinking, but with more experience, to further empower me in my work. I was feeling alone, coasting through ups and downs and stories of past failures. I wrote in my journal:

“May the right teachers enter my life now. May I meet people that can encourage me on my own evolutionary path and empower me to bring the truth of human potential home for the people I serve. It is my intent to be open and receptive to when these people enter my life. And so it is. I am grateful.”

The next day, at a Peace Corps conference, I met David and Neil. I showed them the book I was reading at the time, and it turns out Neil knows the individual who first brought the author of the book to South Africa. During their session, they shared stories of how they worked within the cultural norms of various tribes and groups throughout Africa, opening minds to the reality of their potential, and inspiring the evolution of entire cultures toward healthy and sustainable living. In fact, they won a National Geographic award for their success among the Masai tribe of Kenya. Months later, I would find myself in a year long leadership program, with David and Neil as my mentors. The power of intent!

A few weeks ago, I read about a very successful women’s study conducted in Limpopo province. I was inspired to use similar processes for the women of the Venda tribe in my region of Limpopo. However, in my online research, I could not find contacts for the leaders involved in the study. I wasn’t discouraged. I just believed that I would be led to the people who ran the program, and that I would be ready to act when this synchronicity occurred. Days later, I found myself in contact with a director at United Nations and was immediately put in contact with the program manager of the women’s study. The power of Intent!

Womens club

This week, members of my Takalani Empowerment Project are focusing on securing food for their villages. If our people are no longer hungry, then their capacity for evolution and expansion is opened up- new potentials emerge and higher life aspirations become feasible.

During a leadership workshop a few weeks ago, I prompted the youth groups to complete this sentence: “When I am a leader, I will do these three things…” Many of our members said they would ensure hungry people have food. I asked them just how they were going to do that. Some of them proposed giving food to the community. Because our purpose is not only to talk about building our community, but to actually do it, I challenged the learners, “how can we give what we don’t have?” I then shared the story, “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” The members’ eyes lit up when they realized that by teaching, they could change someone’s life forever! Their purpose became clear, as they stated their intent, “I will teach others how to help themselves.”

Takalani Empowerment Exam Time. Looks like this young shining light gets the point!

Takalani Empowerment Exam Time. Looks like this young shining light gets the point!

We then developed a plan to facilitate training on permaculture (a gardening technique which emphasizes companion planting and requires minimal resources, sustainable even in areas of water scarcity). The skills will be transferred to the youth, and the youth will transfer the skills to their parents and neighbors from within their villages. The most basic benefit of this project is food security. Other benefits include household cost reduction and income generation. I’ve recruited a member of the school governing board to lead our first workshop. He and I both have training in the permaculture technique. Over the next few months, we will be developing project leaders from within the youth groups and among the community.

Day 1 of our food security project. Participants were strategically paired based on English fluency, to improve overall fluency of the group. We also paired the youth in teams, with people with which they do not usually interact. They will not only learn how to care for the environment, how to grow food, and how to transfer their new skills, but they will learn the valuable and often painful lessons of leadership and teamwork. The achievements of the teams will be celebrated at Takalani Empowerment Project’s youth festival later this year!

Day 1 of our food security project. Participants were strategically paired based on English fluency, to improve overall fluency of the group. We also paired the youth in teams, with people with which they do not usually interact. They will not only learn how to care for the environment, how to grow food, and how to transfer their new skills, but they will learn the valuable and often painful lessons of leadership and teamwork. The achievements of the teams will be celebrated at Takalani Empowerment Project’s youth festival later this year!

Day 1 of our food security project. This is a member of the local school’s governing board. He has been trained in the sustainable gardening technique known as “permaculture.” He is proving to be the perfect counterpart and community leader as he intends to lead workshops for parents and members of the community in an effort to secure food for every home!

Day 1 of our food security project. This is a member of the local school’s governing board. He has been trained in the sustainable gardening technique known as “permaculture.” He is proving to be the perfect counterpart and community leader as he intends to lead workshops for parents and members of the community in an effort to secure food for every home!

Congruent with my intent to introduce a catalyst for sustainable change, my projects are under way, carried forward by enthusiasm from former defeatists. These defeatists now understand that life moves, and they’ve made the choice to move with it. Now that this contagion of truth has touched my host community, we’re conspiring ways to make it viral, to expand it throughout South Africa.

I decided months ago that I want to organize an arts and culture festival to showcase the community projects of my target group. My idea is to build confidence within surrounding villages in their ability to build and advance their communities-on their own. The festival will celebrate the achievements of my community as they practice the power of intent. With a proper celebration for the entire Venda region to see, I envision goal attainment.

I can see everyone gathered. The women are in their Venda striped tribal skirts, the men in their shined shoes. We dance and celebrate tradition together, venerating the ancient customs of the tribe. And then we stop. Everything goes quiet, and I approach the microphone. One by one, I introduce the members of Takalani Empowerment, and in their native tongue, they show their tribal counterparts just how much they’ve done for their communities. The crowd goes wild, we dance some more, and by the end of the night, 50 new people approach me asking to be shown how they can help themselves.

miracle

However, I have never organized a tribal festival. I was aware that I needed to meet someone, from within the culture, who could guide me. Not to worry. Weeks later, I attended a writer’s festival in Durban. Before leaving, I affirmed, “I know I am going to be pleasantly surprised by some coincidental meet who can assist with the festival. Thank you for this!”

Two days into my Durban trip, I stopped at a reggae club for fun. I met a man whose grandmother lives in my neighboring village in Venda- 10 hours from Durban. The man is from the Venda tribe, and has already organized an arts and culture festival in my region. He was so moved by the work I am doing there, that he decided to collaborate with me on the project! What were the odds of meeting someone from my region of Venda, with the exact qualifications I was seeking, while vacationing in the world tourist location that is Durban? The power of Intent!

Girls adorned in traditional Venda garb, ready to play the drums and perform dance at the region's Arts and Culture Day.

Girls from the Venda tribe, ready to play the drums and perform traditional dance at the region’s Arts and Culture Day.

I have more plans out here, and about 100 stories of coincidence matching my intentions, but in the interest of keeping this post to a favorable length, and not revealing all the excitement at once, I will reserve those for the book and for future articles. I will say this though, what you see is what you get. It’s not about me though-this sort of magic has now been passed onto my host community who is now seeing what they want, and believing their dreams will be met.

It’s not always rainbows, but without limiting beliefs, we have unlocked an inner wisdom. Together, we play with life, and tap that infinite source of creativity.We have found truth; we know that we are evolving, upward.

We are the endurers and creators of bittersweet symphonies among boundless seas.

faith wheels

“Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune. But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born, And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life, And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret. …Work is love made visible.”

-Khalil Gibran

Disclaimer: The content on this webpage is mine personally and does not reflect the opinions or positions of the US Peace Corps or US Government.

The Bohemian and the Bees

Bohemian

 

The bohemian and the Bees,
She flows with the ebbs and ebbs with the flows,
But she knows where she’s been as she knows where she goes,
Idle they’re not,
For there’s no idle stop,
For bees and the crop,
In an inborn secret of life onto life,
Unbeknownst to the bees,
As the bohemian frees,
And purpose meets art,
Earth, nectar, pollen, and crop,
Aren’t we so grand? We’re all at the top,
Blind as the bees to our purposeful degrees,
Marveling the mastery of oblivious duty,
The bohemian sparks, “What sparks there may be?!”
…If we could see from without as we descry the bees…

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