Heart Ripples

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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).

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!

 

We Can Be Heroes

We Can Be Heroes

The youths agree, “a hero is someone who helps or saves others because he/she cares for people.”

When asked them to name one person who is a hero, the response was, “the hero is me!”

Thus began a session on developing plans to utilize each member’s unique skills and talents to contribute to a community need. Brilliant!

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