Connecting with nature

The last few weeks have been tough for me. A combination of being ill, a pressured phase of the semester and some other personal things have meant I have been living outside of my happy equilibrium zone. Karoo NPBut this weekend I went camping with a good friend in the Karoo National Park. It is one of the most striking national parks I have ever been to. The scenery is simply beautiful and inviting. They have far more game than one might expect.

Simply being there, soaking in the quiet was revitalising. The joy of seeing the big ears of female kudu; the striking colours of the gemsbok; the beauty of the red hartebees; and the unexpected pleasure of the stripy-ness of the Cape Mountain Zebra (rather than the relatively dull Burchell’s variety) just hit a cord deep within.

We saw a pair of Black Eagles soaring one day, and had the pleasure of spotting their nest where they were resting in the early morning sun the next. Bulbuls, robins, chats and weavers caught my attention. Their incessant chatter gave my early morning cup of coffee a rhythmic theme.

There is something about being in the bush that just makes me feel better. I can feel my spirit taking a deep breath and relaxing.

I am deeply grateful for the capacity to be able to take such breaks. And I sincerely hope I will do so more. Being close to nature just revives me in a way that nothing else does.

Celebrating some extraordinary women

I want to write today of some of the women that I am privileged to connect with…

I want to celebrate a simple supper with a dear friend who is twenty years my senior. The beauty of real connection, and my own sense of gratitude for being seen by her. She was the woman who helped me to teach myself how to actually feel and name my emotions.

I want to celebrate the connection with childhood acquaintance who has unexpectedly become something of a spiritual pen pal (although email buddy is perhaps more accurate!). The relationship is just a few months old, but already it has brought such healing to me.

I want to celebrate the tremendous gift of my spiritual director whom I first really connected with almost exactly six years ago. Her gentle holding of me has helped shape the person I am becoming – there are no words to describe my sense of gratitude

I am acutely aware this week of the value of real connection. And I am profoundly grateful for the presence of each of these women in my life at the moment.

Who are the people in your life for whom you are particularly grateful at this time?

 

Scapegoating and xenophobia

Yesterday a friend asked me what I thought about the xenophobia which has been so prevalent in South African news this week. She asked me because I am foreign.

It is a hard question to answer. The stratification of South African society is perhaps most visible in this particular problem. No one is telling me to go home. I don’t feel unwelcome. This is a problem of the poor areas for the most part. Why?

There have been various commentaries this week which boil down to jealousy of the success of some foreigners when the locals are struggling. As someone pointed out, if it is this, then why just foreigners? Why are businesses of successful South Africans not targeted?

I find Girard’s scapegoat mechanism quite helpful here. When things are going wrong in a group, the group will try to solve the problem by finding a scapegoat. The scapegoat has got to be identifiable as ‘other’. So the socioeconomic troubles are blamed on the foreigners. The result – if we kill the foreigner our problems will go away.

It isn’t rational, but it is a powerful dynamic. Add to this the fact that an oppressed group are more likely to attack an even more marginalised group than to stand up to power and we have the perfect storm.

This is why I am not suffering at all from xenophobia – the people that I work with understand that I am not the problem. The people I associate with have the agency to stand up to power.

So the poor foreigners get beated, killed and chased away. The government stands idly by wringing its hands but failing to intervene, because if the people begin to realise that maybe the foreigners are not the real problem, the next focus is likely to be the powers that be.

As a white Zimbabwean – I will say that finding a scapegoat can be tremendously useful for those in power.

 

Living in the real world

I could have equally entitled this piece – the illusion of perfection.

I found myself rereading a bit of Caroline Myss’s book – The Anatomy of the Spirit about a week ago. For those who don’t know the book, it is Myss’s attempt to describe her understanding of the energetic connections in the body with emotional, spiritual and physical elements. She connects different areas in the body with different religious systems most notably (and possibly least tenuously) the seven chakras.

The bit I read was fairly on the nose for some of the physical complaints I have had over the past couple of years. But as I engaged with the book again I realised that on my first reading I had thought that one would gently move through ‘healing’ the different chakras from 1 through 7 and finally wake up in a world where one was healed, whole and spiritually enlightened.

Alas – a decade on from that first reading – I am not convinced at all that that is true. Rather that the world continues to present challenges. And the ways in which we will be affected are likely to align to particular personal weaknesses. In part this is emotionally defined and the physical manifestation is likely to be connected with the emotional response. But I am not sure that we will ever get to a space when we are clear of that.

Life will always throw challenges at us. Perhaps we can get to a place of greater equanimity, so we are less likely to be ambushed. But I just don’t think we will ever fully get to wholeness this side of the grave.

Reconciliation

I spent the Easter weekend visiting three of the major battle grounds in KwaZulu Natal. Blood River where the Boers triumphed over the Zulu; Isandlwana where the Zulu triumphed over the British and Rorke’s Drift where the British fought off the Zulu.

Hearing the stories told from different angles has made me acutely aware of the complexity of the history of South Africa. The ways in which each people remember these days is so different. And in each case the victors claim that the victory was evidence of the God’s favouring of their endeavour (or the ancestors support).

Each history is deeply scored on the memory of those whose ancestors lost blood on those battle grounds. The ‘truth’ lies somewhere in between it all. But the question remains – how do we make a single nation out of these (and a good few more) peoples?

It seems to me that the telling of these stories is an important part of the identity of each group. We need to allow for the retelling of the stories as they are. We need to honour the significance of these stories to each people. We also need to hear the stories of those who lost those battles. And then we need to find a way to celebrate together. We need to find a common goal.

This project of reconciliation is no different from two hurt people trying to overcome difference. It is just at a slightly more complex level. The story of the hurt that we tell is real for each person. The extent of the hurt of the victim is usually greater than the intent of perpetrator. But frequently the victim needs to tell their story as they perceived it, and to have the story heard.

Forgiveness begins with an acceptance that the story of the perpetrator and the story of the victim are necessarily different. And reconciliation is only possible once the grace of forgiveness has taken hold. It isn’t simple.

There are two distinct challenges of our time. Firstly, to find ways in which anger can be expressed without resorting to violence and destruction. Secondly, to learn to listen to the story of another’s pain without defensiveness.

At homeness

Sunset at Rorke's Drift

Sunset at Rorke’s Drift

I grew up in Zimbabwe. I now live about 2000 km further South and slightly West of that. It doesn’t seem like a terribly big distance. But in that 2000 km is a world of difference. I don’t mean in a political sense, but rather in a physical sense.

I grew up in the tropics with summer rainfall, cold winter’s nights, but sunny and bright winter’s days. The difference in the midday high between summer and winter was probably only 10 degrees. Where I live now, is temperate, with wet winters and hot dry summers.

There is something about the physical environment where you grew up which somehow seeps into your bones. Why is it, that on visiting a place still far from my birthplace, but close enough for the sunset to have the sharp edge of the tropical dusk my whole nervous system settles. It is as if my body breathes a sigh of relief.

How is it that this place that I have never visited before feels more like home than the city in which I have dwelt for 13 years – a third of my entire life?

Many of the peoples of Southern Africa have a strong attachment to the place of their birth. There is an understanding that you should be buried with your ancestors in the place of your birth. I don’t know about the significance of that. But I am not surprised at all that a strong mythology has grown up to describe and to explain the physical response to being back where you belong.

If I can feel this sense of at homeness based on the quality of light at sunset, how much more so if I had walked these hills as a child?