connective elements healing

honoring creativity - restoring balance - embracing wholeness

By observing nature, ancient traditions explained all of existence through five elements.  

Connective Elements Healing aims to restore you to your true nature through five healing offerings -

BodyTalk, Coaching, Meditation, Reiki and Yoga. 

Filtering by Tag: South Africa

Healing in South Africa

“Your Mom will come in with a necklace of chicken heads with the chickens’ blood dripping down her body.” “Don’t be scared, though you will be.” “People will drum and dance all night. You will not sleep.” This was the helpful advice intended to prepare me for what took place at my house last weekend.

In Spirit -  Limpopo Province, South Africa

In Spirit - Limpopo Province, South Africa

In South Africa, great homage is paid to one’s ancestors and one’s whole life may be spent trying to placate them. When bad things happen, including illness, South Africans commonly point to the upset of the ancestors as to the origin of the bad luck. Through dreams or the intercession of a sangoma, a traditional healer, the ancestors may ask for a ritual ceremony. People gather for a lengthy rite and animals are, indeed, sacrificed in an attempt to settle the spirits and invite healing. Such was the case at my house last week.

First Arrival  - Limpopo Province, South Africa

First Arrival - Limpopo Province, South Africa

The only regular traffic in my village consists of men driving donkey carts full of various hauls. One afternoon, I arrived home from work as a donkey cart full of wood was being unloaded in our side yard. Preparations for last Saturday’s ceremony had officially begun. The next day, two Gogos came to brew traditional beer. The following morning, my Host Mama smeared cow dung over all the concrete surfaces of our courtyard in preparation for the next day’s event. I had questions about every one of these actions and the only answer I received was, “this is our culture.” Left without answers and taking into account my sensitive and empathetic nature, I realized I had to ground myself. I consulted a trusted confidant in the States to ensure I was properly shielded from the influx of energies sure to ensue.

The day of the ritual was a semi-flurry of activity with plenty of last minute arrangements, as is characteristic of South Africa planning. Around 7pm, Gogos and village elders started to arrive. Thankfully, the tent had been erected, but the lighting of the tent had still not been sorted. As Gogos do, they sat on the ground instead of the provided chairs.

My Host Sister and I acted as hostesses, as our Host Mama had not yet returned from the neighboring village. My Host Sister, having never attended such a ceremony was as lost as I was. We prepared tea and served scones to the guests. At one point, I was asked to wait on the room of sangomas. As I entered the room, a rush of energy almost overtook me. It wasn’t a collective energy, but coming from an undetermined source. I took a deep breath, got scolded for improper greeting, set down the tea and scones and left the room. Finally, my teenage language tutor and her friend arrived and provided some guidance. They told us the ceremony was to start at 10pm. As more people gathered, they brought blankets with them and amazingly slept amongst the noise as all of us awaited the event’s start.

Dancing with the Grandmothers -  Limpopo Province, South Africa

Dancing with the Grandmothers - Limpopo Province, South Africa

Around 10pm, the drumming began and we gathered in the tent. For the next four hours, I witnessed, singing, drumming and dancing as the Gogos, most of whom I believe were sangomas, became possessed by their ancestors. The first, I thought, was having a seizure. Then I realized, similar to kriyas in the yogic tradition, convulsions ensued indicating the presence of the energy, in this case the ancestor within each respective woman. It was astounding to witness elderly women who were unsteady on their feet while walking transform into agile beings while dancing in their traditional outfits.  I have no idea what took place during these couple of hours, but it was captivating. Around 2am, I chose to retreat to my room after the eldest of the Gogos danced. In the sanctuary of my room, I burned sage, did some energy healing and slept for about 3 hours while the drumming, dancing, singing and the slaughtering of a goat continued on my doorstep. I awoke the next morning, performed my own morning rituals and readied for what became a whole day of interesting sights and sounds.

The God Within -  Limpopo Province, South Africa

The God Within - Limpopo Province, South Africa

On Sunday, the only male of the group performed throughout the day. At one point, a young boy with Downs Syndrome rose from the crowd and was dancing with the sangoma. Their interactions were mesmerizing. Later in the afternoon, the sangoma led my Host Mama back to the tent where she collapsed shortly thereafter. She writhed on the ground while being tended to by several sangomas. As I sat with the young children of my household, the trauma-informed professional inside me was screaming to protect them from their mother’s convulsions. As I don’t speak enough Sepedi to have devised any explanation, the best I could do was rub their backs and concentrate on their heart chakras. As they took my Host Mama out of the tent, the enormity of what they saw hit them. I couldn’t do a thing. My elder Host Sister later told them that our Mama was just playing with her friends, which seemed to calm them.

The ceremony concluded as all South African gatherings do, with the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. This is consistently my cue to exit. I withdrew to my room, burned some sage, turned on my Himalayan salt lamp and did some energetic clearing. Interestingly, my Host Mother lost her voice for the rest of that day. My host Sister lost hers the next day. I spent most of this week the sickest I’ve been in a long time, was unable to sleep nightly and lost my voice midweek. I’ve done daily clearing and kept up with my own practices. I took this weekend as an intentional unplug and recharge, clearing my schedule and resting to hopefully return to a more balanced state.

I’m incredibly grateful to have witnessed such a rich, cultural experience in such an intimate setting. No one has really been able to explain much of last weekend’s happenings. However, the energy spoke for itself and perhaps it doesn’t require further explanation. I don’t know if the healing ceremony was successful in quieting my Host Mother’s ancestors and providing her with healing. I felt compelled to write about it and share these insights as a part of my own healing and clearing process. ♥

 

I bow in gratitude to you for joining me during this chapter of service. I hope to shed some light on the emotional and spiritual journey of a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in rural South Africa. ♥

 

Should you wish to learn more about traditional healing, I recently read Susan Schuster Campbell’s Called to Heal: Traditional Healing meets Modern Medicine in Southern Africa Today and found it a fascinating read.

 

 

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.

 

Holding Patterns

I awoke this morning not in the best of moods. The weight of the last several weeks here in Pretoria has been enormous. I’ve been riding a roller coaster of emotions about things that I’m not quite ready to openly write about, but soon will. My morning practices wouldn’t budge the heaviness and a hearty breakfast failed to provide grounding. I took a walk to clear my head. With each step down the tree-lined streets of my guesthouse’s Pretoria neighborhood, I unraveled more and more.

My earlier morning rituals of meditation and Morning Pages revealed discomfort in the current limbo state I’m in and the holding pattern in which I find myself. I externalized the feeling and holding pattern, relating it to past situations – home environments that felt toxic, workplaces that failed to contribute to my ability to thrive and relationships that sapped my energy. From my writing, I thought, perhaps, that my current state of exhaustion could be blamed on the last few weeks in which I unexpectedly found myself in Pretoria. The time quickly lapsing, pushing me further and further behind in the programs and projects I tried so diligently to develop in my village. Not being able to communicate openly about what is currently happening in my life combined with physical and emotional fatigue has left me completely depleted.

In my Morning Pages, I brainstormed about activities in the States that typically fill me up, such as kirtan and ecstatic dance, and identified friends whose juiciness inspires. I deduced that my current lack of access to these resources had contributed to my current state. As my morning unfolded, I yearned to unthread the story of this troublesome state of being.

Verdant -  Pretoria, South Africa

Verdant - Pretoria, South Africa

The brisk fall air here in Pretoria today feels unsettling to my vata. Perhaps my ungroundedness dropped my guard enough to listen closely enough to what was revealed during my walk. I thought about expectations of myself and my Peace Corps service and my current emotional state. I realized that the reasons for my disappointment lie in the fact that I expected these last 16 months to have gone differently. As I walked with that idea, I recognized that the heart of the disappointment is not due to external events, though it felt like many were tragic, but that the true source of my disappointment was that I’d bet on myself to handle things differently.

Years ago, I burnt out of the helping profession. I burnt out from life after infidelity broke my engagement and I sought refuge in a yoga ashram in Colorado. In the nine years since, I’ve developed self care tools, studied healing modalities and adopted new ways of living that I expected would buffer myself from trauma, bolster my abilities and lend to my thriving as a successful Peace Corps Volunteer here in South Africa. Instead, I find myself in a familiar state of depletion, exhaustion and burn out with 10 months left of service. As I walked this morning, I dismantled the notion that it is the external holding pattern of Pretoria or Peace Corps or difficult people sapping my energy.

The sun peeked through the foliage and warmed my face as the thought burst forth that my former relationships, living environments and workplaces did not construct the complex burnout of my past. I understood that these external forces were not and are not the holding patterns in which I find myself.

Rather, I am the one holding the patterns of my current state.

I am the one, due to the lay of my neural pathways, previous experiences and history, from my shadow and my trauma, creating the fog in which I currently exist.

I could easily wallow in the shame of this revelation. I could blame myself for the current state of things. I could chastise my weak will. I could blame myself for the time wasted and the choices I’ve made.

But here, on the fifth anniversary of my mom’s passing, I choose differently. I choose to acknowledge that I’m doing the best I can with what I have. I choose to give myself grace. I choose to voice that it takes courage to reflect and recognize our patterns. I choose to have the patience to sit with the patterns until they themselves dissolve. I choose to accept that I’m the one holding the pattern and that each moment is a choice.

There may be some moments that I may not be my best. I may not be the perfect Peace Corps Volunteer or yogini or authentic spiritual being. There may be times when I want to eat a bag of Simba, sleep too much, binge on mindless tv or trashy romance, ignore my mounting WhatsApp messages and to do lists and not leave the comfortable cocoon of my room and that’s okay.

The expectations I had of myself to do things differently this time around have been fulfilled. There have been so many times I’ve done things differently. I’ve set difficult boundaries. I’ve had challenging conversations. I’ve advocated. I’ve challenged. I’ve walked away. I’ve fought. I’ve made the tough call. I’ve backed down.

I set out on this tour of Peace Corps service to fulfill a long-held dream. I desired to give back. I hoped that this experience in South Africa would promote my ability to stand confidently on my own two feet in this world. In the midst of the experience, I feel like I’m changing. Some days I question if the change is for my betterment or if I’m devolving. I question whether I’m making a difference. Today’s realization that I hold the patterns, rather than external forces being the holding patterns is a priceless gain worth the weight of the journey thus far. ♥

 

Thank you for joining my as I wander and wade my way through Peace Corps service here in South Africa. I vulnerably process my emotional and spiritual learnings in hopes of feeling through, giving back and letting go. I bow in gratitude to you for joining me.

 

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.

Feeling through the (Festive) Holiday Season

Lately, I’ve felt ungrounded, purposeless, and, at times, angry. I’ve felt beside myself with frustration, questioning my reasons for being here. I’ve spun out so easily. I’ve felt lost.

I’ve felt this way for months. Just as I was finally getting used to my former site and community, the wind was knocked out of me and I had to move. Facing a holding period of 5 weeks in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, felt like a relief in some ways. Feeling the strongest I’d felt since arriving in South Africa 10 months ago due to Pretoria’s hot showers, flushing toilets, the company of fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, smoothies, hot yoga classes and physical therapy offering me daily massages bolstered me physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Then, I crashed.

All the grief of leaving the place I embraced as home came rushing over me like a tidal wave. It was compounded by the whirlwind transition to a place so different than my home of the last 6 months. I felt resistance to a new site, a new community, a new family. I felt trepidation about establishing a new home. As timelines entered the picture, I realized the holidays were quickly approaching. Spending my first holiday season alone in a decade furthered the swell. I panicked, yet I had no clue what really lied below the surface.

Today, it emerged.

One of the most painful memories of my childhood occurred during the holiday season, or festive season, as its known here in South Africa. As a single parent, my mom deemed my private, Catholic school education to be worthy of great sacrifice. I was on financial assistance and felt the struggle my mom incurred to meet the remainder of my tuition each month. Education in suburban Washington, DC-area private schools means being surrounded by some of the wealthiest kids in the country.

"Shielded" - KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa

"Shielded" - KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa

One year during my adolescence, my mom faced a particularly dark period of her bipolar disorder. She holed up in her room nearly my entire holiday break. I felt so incredibly alone, so isolated, so incredibly scared.

After braving my “vacation,” I endured friends describing the gifts they received and the love from family and friends that they’d spent recent weeks surrounded by. I can’t remember how I responded to their accounts, but this morning, I came face to face with how I felt.

For months, fellow Peace Corps Volunteers have been discussing holiday plans detailing upcoming visits from friends and family or planned returns to the US to spend time with loved ones. I named my feelings upon hearing the first itinerary and scrambled to make plans, which have changed and changed and changed again.

These last couple weeks, amidst attempts to acclimate to a new site, a new community, a new host family and a new home, which have been fraught with difficulty, I have been trying to formulate holiday plans. I’ve experienced flights selling out as they are in my cart, accommodations booking and other logistics seemingly shifting abruptly. This morning, I felt at my absolute breaking point as my New Years plans dissolved. After a rush of emotions and a friend lovingly holding space for me, the truth was revealed.

I have been scrambling to keep loneliness at bay.

I have been pushing, pulling and dragging myself (and, unfortunately, others) through this emotional roller coaster of the impending holiday season.

I sit with the questions, what does it mean to spend New Years alone? What would it mean if I spent the holidays alone?

Tears streaming down my face, I sit with the hurt of that dark season of my youth in which I was so frighteningly alone. I sit with the notion that my family composition has always been different, yet feels so raw right now. I sit with the likely reality that no one will visit me here in South Africa. I sit with the fact that I miss my old host family and my former community.

I sit with the truth that my expectations continue to be dismissed, as the reality of this commitment differs so radically from its reality.

I sit with the discomfort of loneliness. I sit with grief.

I sit with all this and recognize it’s temporary. I sit with all this and recognize it’s all necessary.

I sit with the energy and weight of the holiday season because, for many of us, it is intertwined with extremes of grief, joy, obligation, loneliness, overstimulation, contentment, pain, anticipation, gratitude, expectation, disappointment and confusion.

I choose to sit with it all, filling myself so full I feel I could burst.

And, then, I exhale.

I let it all go.

"Horizon" - KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa

"Horizon" - KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa

In this writing and reflection, my host nieces have knocked on my door twice to relay messages from my host Gogo. Each time, I was drawn back to the present, my Word of the Year for 2017. I’m reminded that there is hope here. There is possibility here. There is a desire for connection here.

I’ve been swept away by emotion these last few months, rudderless and homeless, living out of bags for the last 10 weeks. I was, indeed, at my breaking point this morning. I asked aloud, to myself, to the Universe, to God, “why can’t anything go right?”

Now, in this moment, here in the present, I realize that it’s all right. It is all right in this moment. It will be all right in the future.

As so much of my life right now is up in the air with the newness of site, community, family, home and to be confirmed holiday and vacation plans, I am reminded of the advice of my teacher in our last session before I came to South Africa. She invited me to refer to my inner map.

I realize that since my move, I haven’t been taking good care of myself. The chickens and roosters at my new home wake me throughout the night. My routines of nourishment and exercise are awry. I’m pushing and pulling for integration during a season notorious for inactivity here in South Africa.

Our inner maps yield the tools learned through our struggles with light and dark. We hold the wisdom within. It is our choice to speed through the holiday season in overdrive or pause and sink into the present, taking inventory of what is here.

There may be residue of the past gripping us tightly.

There may be expectations of the future clinging, too.

By anchoring in, slowing down, taking breath and taking pause, we may usher in all that is and live awake and aware here and now.

I invite you to take that moment of pause right now.

Carve out at least two minutes of quiet time. Sit tall and feel the stability of the ground beneath you. Close your eyes, if you are comfortable doing so.

Take three deep breaths in through your nose, filling your diaphragm, and release the breath through pursed lips. Notice the rise and fall of your belly. Place your hands on your heart and ask yourself these three questions, giving yourself permission to sit with what is:

  • What is present, right now, in this moment?

  • What is present for me in this holiday season?

  • What might I need to release from the past, present or future holiday seasons to make room for the fulfillment of my highest purpose?

As you are ready, take three cleansing breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth slowly.

Open your eyes and reacclimate yourself to this time and space.

You may choose to sit further with these questions or journal about them.

 

May you be at peace ♥

 

My deepest gratitude for joining me as I process the emotional and spiritual 27-month journey of Peace Corps Service here in South Africa.

 

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.

To Ufafa, With Love

You welcomed me, tentatively, into your sweet embrace.

Hesitatingly, you let me in.

 

Your beauty captured me at first sight.

And you invited me to behold the beauty within.

I saw you for what you are.

I saw beneath the surface and felt your pain

and you invited me to release

pain

trauma

expectations

heartache

heartbreak.

 

You challenged me to stand my ground

to hold firm to my own Truth.

 

As you revealed more of yourself to me, 

the inevitable colonial powers that be

increasingly asserted their claim.

 

Our light was too bright

for their darkness

held too firmly.

I felt the end was nearing

and I dug my heels in.

One last grip.

I wasn't ready to let go.

 

Tightly.

So tightly

held.

 

In some ways, it felt like we embraced each other.

One final time.

Before we both had to release.

 

To let go.

To exhale.

 

And then I was ready to walk away.

 

Just like that.

 

It was time.

 

It was magic.

It was fate.

It was karma.

 

That brought us together. 

That tore us apart.

That allows us both to walk away.

 

More whole.

More healed. 

More fierce.

Stronger because our paths crossed.

 

I can't explain our connection

but I know it was meant to be.

I am better for it.

I have to believe you are, too.

 

As I walk away, know that

I will carry a piece of you

with me, always.

 

I believe in your promise.

I recognize your pain.

I see you.

And I love you, 

even as it's time to walk away.

 

As I reflect on the emotional and spiritual journey of my Peace Corps service here in South Africa, I am grateful and honored you’ve chosen to join me. ♥

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.

Sawubona - I see you

There is no replacement for experience. She is a teacher like no other. We can learn something, read about something, know something all we want but until we experience something, we can never really fully realize it.

It took me a while to acclimate to properly greeting in Zulu. When I first got comfortable with my “sawubona,” hello in Zulu, I excitedly used it as I did my hellos in the US. As someone approached and was close enough to hear my voice, I would offer my “sawubona”. I quickly learned I was actually being rude in Zulu culture and people thought I was stating my greeting in jest.

Here in KwaZulu Natal Province, one waits until you are essentially in someone’s personal space to greet another person. If you are from the West and are reading this, picture yourself in this situation. You’ve made eye contact with someone, are approaching them and you cannot utter a thing until you are in each other’s close proximity. How would you feel? For me, this felt awkward. Despite learning early on in my Zulu language lessons that “sawubona” translates to “I see you,” I didn’t fully understand its meaning until I experienced it this week.

Unfiltered -  Taken in Eastern Cape, South Africa

Unfiltered - Taken in Eastern Cape, South Africa

Years ago, I fell in love with photography. I love the concept of capturing a moment in time from one’s unadulterated, inarguable perspective. I prefer not to edit or use filters on my own work, as I relish the purity of a moment as I saw it. I love the notion of not altering an image so that it speaks to the moment as it was. I appreciate other’s photography as an insight into their view of the world, the ideal way to walk in another’s shoes. As a visual learner, I think and learn best through imagery. Photography is a powerful medium of expression and the quintessential time capsule. This past week, it was an incredible tool for my own self-reflection.

I’ve hidden behind the lens for years, as I’m not the biggest fan of having my picture taken. Only recently have I succumbed to selfies and they usually feel more awkward that awaiting a greeting. A friend captured a couple photos of me on a travel adventure last week and I was awed in seeing myself in a different way. In looking at the pictures, I’m elated to say that I saw my own joy and light looking back at me. I saw myself happy.

8 Months In -  Taken in Eastern Cape, South Africa

8 Months In - Taken in Eastern Cape, South Africa

I celebrated 8 months in country this week and I’m proud of the woman I see in those pictures. I’m proud of her for laboring through all the unexpected emotional and spiritual work of these last 8 months. Before coming to South Africa, I questioned my ability to endure the anticipated physical hardships of Peace Corps service. I was unsure that my being in my late 30s would allow me to get used to bucket bathing, pit latrines and living without running water. I feared that I’d never sleep during my service, as villages have a reputation for being loud and I have a reputation for being the world’s lightest sleeper. I’ve pushed through antagonism from sources that should be allies. I’ve dealt with discomfort and not knowing what is happening during nearly 95% of my day. I’ve worked through water and food scarcity, household repairs and cultural misunderstandings with a mindset of self advocacy, preservation and perspective. I’ve practiced radical self care, stretched myself far beyond my comfort zone and intentionally stepped outside myself and a fixed mindset on numerous occasions. I’ve felt deep compassion, empathy and despair, a loneliness I’d never anticipated and growth in ways I didn’t recognize I needed. I’ve witnessed a deep-set resilience among the people of South Africa. Grit conjured through history, the Apartheid and the HIV and poverty epidemics having imparted wounds that perhaps time, love, acknowledgement, forgiveness and empowerment may heal.

I set out 8 months ago for service. I set out to help, to give of myself and my light. I set out to volunteer. I never realized how much personal development was involved in Peace Corps service. It’s as if I signed up for altruism and instead received a perpetual period of introspection. I describe this Peace Corps experience as a roller coaster. The ups and downs are intense, drastic and frequent. However, I’m finally starting to feel as if I’m buckled in, secure and *gulp* ready for the ride. I’ve extended my support system and regularly identify and implement the tools I need to sustain myself. I’m proud of the woman who’s light I identify in the recent pictures. She recognizes that her liberation is bound to the work she came here to do.

Through experience, I now fully understand the reasoning and meaning behind “sawubona” and waiting to greet until I’m in one’s personal space. Being close and truly seeing is the only way we can witness another being. Forgoing the distance from me to you, I can see you.

It’s as if I’ve awaited this moment for years. Looking at those pictures were akin to that awkward approach, eye contact and all, patiently awaiting myself to enter my own personal space, until I could recognize my own company, my own reflection, my own humanity. Forgoing the distance between me to me, I can truly see myself.

It’s as if I’m finally seeing myself in this moment for the very first time. One of my intentions of my service is to stand with confidence on my own two feet in this great big world of ours. Though I recognize I have a lot more work to do until I can affirm the fulfillment of that intention, I’m proud to say that I’m on my way.

I invite you to explore similar self-inquiry. Though there are many ways to do this, here are two avenues in which to begin:

Gather several pictures of yourself. They may be recent photos or those from various chapters of your life. Feel free to either sit with your favorite journal or in meditative inquiry taking some quiet time to look at yourself in the pictures.

Then, ask yourself what is reflected back to you. What you see? What emotions are present? What energy or messages do you hold about yourself?

Mirror work is another option. Stand in front of a mirror and look into your own eyes. This may be extremely uncomfortable at first, but this is some of the most profound work any of us can do. Ask yourself the same questions above. As you gaze into your eyes, what is reflected back to you? What you see? What emotions are present, what energy or messages do you hold about yourself?

At the end of your mirror work, you may practice one of my favorite affirmations from Louise Hay as you continue looking at yourself in your reflection and say: “I love you and I’m beginning to make positive changes in my life right now. Day by day, I will improve the quality of my life. It is safe for me to be happy and fulfilled.” You may notice emotions arising as you engage in mirror work. It may take several attempts before you adjust to mirror work. It’s all perfect and it’s all okay.

Finally, I’ve been sitting with the words of Aboriginal activist Lily Walker. May they likewise inspire you, “if you come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you come here because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us begin.”

I aspire to relay the emotional and spiritual journey of my Peace Corps service here in South Africa. I am grateful and honored you’ve chosen to join me. ♥

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.

    

 

The Possibility in the Present

When I chose present as my Word of the Year for 2017, I envisioned living the word through mindfulness, through the cultivation of awareness of the present, through joy and being open and simply aware of what is here, right now. This morning, through my regular meditation and Morning Pages sessions, I recognized that present means much more than that.

Blooming -  Taken September 2017 in KZN Province, South Africa

Blooming - Taken September 2017 in KZN Province, South Africa

In asking myself the question, “can I make space for possibility”? I triggered several epiphanies. I must allow myself to let go of the past to make space for the gifts of the present. I must stop clinging to the stories, to past achievements, hurts, relationships, traumas and histories to truly empty my cup and make room for the present. I must allow the feelings and emotions from the past to dissipate in order to be present for what’s here, in the present.

I asked myself if I’ve told enough of my story to feel as if I’m free of my past. Though I recognize there is rigidity even there, there doesn’t need to be a fixed stop point with regard to my own healing, my own process. Perhaps I am done telling the stories of my past, clinging to the stories of my past. Perhaps I’m not. And it’s all perfect. And it’s all okay. 

I recognized this morning that present is likewise about letting go of the future. I have been conditioned to plan for the future, to know what’s next. As a Social Worker and a Coach, my career has rested on plan-making. My own safety often relied on the generation of solid plans. However, arming myself with the best-laid plans for the future, I realized this morning, robs me of the possibility that exists in the present and perhaps in the future, as well.

It is so much more than mindfulness. It’s so much more than awareness of the present. It is about the ability to be, to truly be in the moment – to truly be present - to surrender to what is without expectation, without stories, without clinging to the past, without obsessively planning for the future. There is ease here, in its purest form.

All these concepts are talked about so commonly in the self help, spiritual, coaching, personal development and helping communities, but until you experience them in real-time, in your own life, you and I fall short of experience and forfeit the present.

Once we empty ourselves of the clinging, of the constant energy of doing, of the gripping, the striving, the proving, we can truly rest, I can truly rest, and be open to the present.

Herein lies the gift, the very rich opportunity for possibility and ease and freedom and breath and space.

Illumination  - A gifted candle during a power outage from my Host Mama, KZN, South Africa

Illumination - A gifted candle during a power outage from my Host Mama, KZN, South Africa

May you be present.

May you open to possibility.

May you witness the peace that surrounds you.

May you let go.

 

May I be present.

May I open to possibility.

May I witness the peace that surrounds me.

May I let go.

 

Gratitude for joining me as I process the emotional and spiritual 27-month journey of Peace Corps Service in South Africa. ♥

 

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.

 

Africa Soft

My weekends are no longer my own. It took a lot for this American woman to finally relinquish her autonomy. In fact, it took nearly seven months of fighting in country, but today, the light bulb finally illuminated.

I set out with the best of intentions each weekend to live similarly as I did in the US. Weekends in America have always been characterized by sleeping in, vegging out, tackling chores, recuperating from the previous week and preparing for the week ahead. Much room is made for “me time”. Not so here in South Africa.

Peace Corps Volunteers often explain that the first three months of Peace Corps Life, Pre-Service Training (PST), are intended to make volunteers “Africa tough” and prepare one for their subsequent two years of service. PST resulted in my tangible disdain for the phrase Africa tough. My tipping point occurred on a seven-hour van ride traversing some of this country’s most scenic terrain. The smile on my face spoke of my contentment. A fellow volunteer close to the end of his two years of service, noticed my expression and asked why I was smiling. In explaining the source of my elation, he said, “don’t worry, you’re sure to lose that happiness in the next two years”. Speechless at the time, his words have echoed in my heart and mind many times since he uttered them 5 months ago.

Gearing Down -  KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

Gearing Down - KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

I can choose to harden to my life’s experiences, whether here in South Africa or elsewhere. I can choose to meet the jaded and be, likewise jaded, or I can choose differently.

Years ago in my former life as a Social Worker, colleagues would often remark on how I responded in crisis. When people react and increasingly gear up emotionally, I tend to gear down. My upbringing, temperament and spirit naturally choose ease. In some instances in my life, that has indeed escalated situations with some people, but I maintain my integrity and my composure. When the out of control are given time and space, they usually calm.

Sure, I can choose to become Africa tough. I can choose to be incensed at the pandemics of poverty, HIV, ignorance and trauma. I can allow them to permeate my spirit, settle in, fester and harden me. I can choose to internalize the events taking place in the States both personally and politically. I can react with anger, spite, jealousy and hatred. I can meet that fear right where it exists. I choose.

I choose to meet that fear with love - it’s the most revolutionary thing I can do. Today, I choose love. Today, I choose to consciously soften.

A dear friend reminded me this week of the importance of softening - the importance of softening to the people in my life who hurt me willingly and those who hurt me unknowingly. It took me a long time to become the vulnerable creature I am today. I’d proudly say she’s anything but Africa tough. I relish the sensitive, vulnerable, empathetic and open woman I’ve worked diligently to become.

Softening to the Experience -  KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

Softening to the Experience - KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

I sat with all of this this morning and decided that I wish to open and soften to this entire experience of service and the changes taking place, both internally and externally in my life. I finally relinquish control.

So, this morning, when I’d planned to spend the day catching up on my to-do list and my Host Mama told me we were going to a traditional ceremony in 45 minutes and to wear a skirt, I obliged by speed-bathing, donning my new Zulu beads and the requested skirt and proudly stepping forth as Africa soft. 

I invite you to grab your favorite journal and a pen, carve out some me time if you can and reflect on these prompts:

  • In what areas of your life are you feeling hardened? How might you be meeting fear with more fear? Anger with more anger?

  • In what areas of your life might you soften?

  • What are the conscious ways you are willing to soften?

  • Who might be willing to support your softening? Might you enlist them in helping you choose to gear down, rather than amp up?

  • What is one way that you’ll choose to consciously soften today?

This is a collection of writings that chronicles my Peace Corps service. I aspire to relay my emotional and spiritual 27-month journey here in South Africa. I am grateful you’ve chosen to join me. ♥

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.

Month Two: The Choice

Your darkness

Nearly shattered my long-held dream.

I nearly allowed your darkness

To shatter my long-held dream.

 

The sound of your darkness

Drowns out the preacher’s voice blaring from the radio each Sunday morning.

The darkness so claustrophobic

I could barely breathe most days.

 

For weeks, I starved physically,

Today I starve emotionally and spiritually.

The eggshells upon which I walk cut through my very soul.

 

The barrage of your attacks is incessant.

I feel myself drowning, fading, my spirit waning,

As an entity meant to keep me safe has fallen short in countless ways.

Looking for someone to rescue me to no avail.

 

Countless ways of not being heard, not given voice, being dismissed, belittled.

All my power relinquished.

All control relinquished.

I feel like nothing.

I feel so small, so betrayed, so heartbroken.

 

What happens to the dream deferred,

That when leapt for,

Doesn’t fit the ideal?

 

Tears shed.

So many tears shed.

I almost walked away.

I almost said goodbye.

To the red earth.

To the smiing children.

To the opportunity of what’s to come.

I get to walk away from your darkness.

 

I choose.

 

I choose to leave your darkness here.

I vow not to take it on.

I vow not to take it into my body.

I vow to leave the anger, disappointment, despair, heartbreak in these lines –

Right here.

The darkness goes no further.

It compromised my learning, my energy, my mood.

Was I my best self most days?

Not really.

For that, I forgive myself.

 

I did the best I could with what I had.

What I have now is a new chapter,

A threshold to step through.

 

I choose to step through.

I choose to save myself.

As I walk through the threshold, I will never

Look

Back.

Farewell.

 

May you fare well.

I. Choose. My. Light.

I choose to step through.

I release you.

May you, too, find your light.

With hope for the next chapter, I choose to step through.

Day's End - Mpumalanga Province, South Africa

 

The “darkness” referred to above speaks to the shadow of Self that exists within us all. Through conscious choice, we may cultivate our inner light. Through conscious action, we may sit with our shadow and understand her better.

 

This work is part of a collection of writings that chronicles my Peace Corps service. Trauma and race have greatly impacted South Africa. Much has been written and processed around both. I may look explore these topics and their intersection with healing in the coming months. I aspire to relay my emotional and spiritual 27-month journey of service in the Peace Corps in South Africa. I am grateful you’ve chosen to join me. ♥

 

 

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.

Early Reflections

March 12, 2017

I made a conscious choice to walk away from everything I’ve known. I made a conscious choice to make a contribution of service to a country in which I’d never set foot. Here I am, nearly two months later with the opportunity to reflect, an opportunity to look back, as I hear the sounds of village life drawing me into the present moment. I hear the neighbor’s children giggling. I hear the cows mooing. I hear the soft breeze rustling through the trees. I hear the sound of my tin roof crackling under the blazing South African sun. I see my just hand-washed laundry blowing in the wind. I gaze over the fields of my village, the hills in the distance, the nearly cloudless sky. It seems so peaceful. From the outside, the view is one of pleasure.

Sets - Mpumalanga Province, South Africa

However, over the last two months, I’ve surfed what seem like relentless and endless waves. Waves of emotion, new experiences, relationships, learnings, mistakes, heartbreaks, angst, despair, grief, excitement, fear, excitement, fear. It is difficult to sum up this experience of walking away from all that is known to venture into the depths of all that is unknown. It’s amazing how much life can change in such a short period of time. As I take a deep breath, fill my lungs with this South African air, I feel the concrete under my seat, I orient back to the scenery and I exhale for I know this reflection is necessary to process all that has occurred over these last seven weeks and six days.

Walking away from a beloved and from the West Coast was heartwrenching. TSA didn’t understand my process and put me through theirs. My bags were wiped down for bombs while I tried to catch my breath amongst the fat tears rolling down my cheeks. I spent 9 days on the East Coast with so many other of my beloveds. My soul sisters, my blood relatives, my adoptive family and teachers. I said goodbye to them all as I Marched on Washington, as I dined and shared tears, as we recollected our collective history, I readied for this new chapter.

Anniversaries and dates of significance are not lost on me. I reported to Philadelphia for Peace Corps orientation on my former partner of nearly 10 year’s birthday. I daydreamed of our home near the ocean that I’d absolutely fallen in love with and recounted the years of memories. Daily in Philadelphia, I could feel anxieties reeling their ugly heads. I tried to put my best foot forward as I waded through the seas of my emotions and those of my 33 fellow cohort members. We broke ice and bread together. We geared up for the journey. Bonding with some on the airport floor, I felt a wellspring of emotion that an early morning meditation and Morning Pages session gave voice to. Being scheduled to fly to South Africa on what would have been my mom’s 67th birthday was also pressing on my heart and mind.

Making the long flight and then being introduced to 20+ new faces of Peace Corps Staff upon arrival was overwhelming to say the least. Battling fatigue and jetlag, little issues spiraled and the South African ground beneath my feet seemed to virtually disappear. After a myriad of speeches about how these 33 people would become my new family, the scramble to build relationships began. In the last several weeks, some of these relationships have flourished, others have already fizzled out.

Transitioning to a homestay in a semi-rural village, I feel as if I’m replaying my karma by living with a single woman with one daughter who lives in a different part of the country. The overlay of my upbringing is imprinted deeply upon this experience. I’m sorting it out, giving it breath and resisting the storytelling.

In these few weeks in South Africa, I can already feel this country working me. With the country’s trauma lying close to the surface, it reminds me of the soul work and reflections on Cambodia. I’ve awakened and exercised some of my gifts already. I’ve shared meditation, yoga, Reiki and other self care with my new cohort family. I’ve honored my daily meditation and Morning Pages practice. I’ve found a place here, though not yet a home. I’ve used my crystals, Angel cards, and built altars from stones and gifted origami on the days we’ve covered tough topics in the classroom. I’ve shed many tears and had many revelatory conversations.

I’ve become frighteningly comfortable at peeing in a bucket, pooping in a hole and bucket-bathing in a plastic basin. I regularly exterminate the termites in my bedroom and ignore their neighboring spiders of all shapes and sizes. I’ve slaughtered a poor snake, splattering its blood all over my bedroom floor before it was burned and stoned to double-death in the backyard by my host Mama. I’ve been hungry to the point of pain more often than I’ve been satiated. I’ve been fed by those who were strangers only six weeks ago. I’ve found solace amongst my family who were strangers six weeks ago.

 I’ve witnessed gorgeous sunrises, cathartic sunsets and soul-shaking lightning storms. I’ve acquired a new name (Mapule, which translates to “rain” in Setswana, the local language. Rain is seen as a great blessing here.) which every being under 10 years old loves to holler as I meander down the dirt paths of my village. Their smiles and open hearts remind me to return to that inner girl I somehow forget about so many years ago. She begs to tell her story and re-embody herself once again.

IMG_0326.JPG

I’ve rekindled my inner fire in more ways that one, channeling my creativity into developing activities on HIV for young people, mentoring and building relationships with a few local girls and fulfilling a long-held dream of joining the Peace Corps.

Tomorrow, I travel to the site and organization that I’ll serve for the next two years. Adjacent to a renowned Buddhist Retreat Center, I’m trying to enter the experience with an empty cup, ready to learn and grow, letting go of expectations and fear. As I breathe in this new adventure, I consistently remind myself of the importance of the present moment - THIS moment. I constantly remind myself that I am living in Africa. I repeatedly remind myself that I am acting upon a dream that is now my reality.

Through the hardships, I remind myself to return to my body. Through the emotion, I remind myself to breathe and then breathe again and then to, again, breathe.

Time flies when you are disembodied. It flies when you are outside of your precious heart. Through breath, I invite myself to return to this precious heart, this precious body, this precious moment – for it is all we have.

 

How might you remind yourself of this precious moment?

 

Try this simple meditation.

Close your eyes. Feel the ground beneath you.

Take a deep breath through your nose. Fill your lungs completely.

 

Pause.

 

Exhale through pursed lips, as if slowly blowing out a candle. Deeply inhale, again through the nostrils, filling the lungs and your diaphragm completely.

 

Pause.

 

Feel the ground beneath you. Exhale through pursed lips. Take one last deep inhale, filling the lungs.

 

Pause.

 

Exhale through pursed lips. Say to yourself, “THIS moment”.

 

When you are ready, slowly open your eyes.

 

Use this meditation to invite yourself back into your body, back into your breath and back into the present moment. 

 

This is the first in a collection of writings that chronicles my Peace Corps service. I aspire to relay my emotional and spiritual 27-month journey to South Africa. I am grateful you’ve chosen to join me. ♥

The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.