Going Deep and Going Dark

If each day falls inside each night, there exists a well where clarity is imprisoned. We need to sit on the rim of the well of darkness and fish for fallen light with patience   ~ Pablo Neruda

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When I was a little girl, I was terrified of the dark. My mother would say, “Your imagination is running away with you, my girl.” It was true - the state of consciousness of a young child is one that consists of an inner landscape of archetypal, symbolic, imaginal, swirling energies - represented as monsters and ghosts, angels and fairy god mothers. In many ways her statement was helpful – it helped me know that what I was experiencing was in consciousness and not the physical world. It was hard as a child to sort out which realm and which reality was internal or external, literal or symbolic – especially when the internal, imagined representations of fear matched the external realities of my life quite closely!

My mother had little tolerance for the imagination – she lived in a tightly guarded external, practical, reality that guarded her from her inner darkness. My father encouraged the imaginative world and was happiest living in fantastical imagination and happy stories to guard against the dark inner forces of memory in his psyche.

My mother scoffed at anything imaginative and my father encouraged nothing but the imaginative. And neither of them would tolerate “cowardice.”

My father would make a huge game out of my sister and I having fear of the dark. He would get us wound up into a state of high terror and dare us to run down the dark hallway of our home to the end bedroom and stay there until we could see what was in the room. He paid us to do it! And shamed us if we didn’t!!

It was utterly terrifying, but we would rush down the hall, wait in the dark room until our eyes adjusted and the moonlight streamed through the windows illuminating the dark - revealing, not the unknown, but what was entirely known and familiar in the light of day. There was no “sitting on the edge of the rim of darkness fishing for fallen light,” – there was a headlong, exuberant, terrifying rushing into the dark and discovering the illuminating beauty of the moonlight in the dark.

This was a profound lesson for me. I understood the metaphor of it and so the inner dark of shame was curious to me – I didn’t know what it was called, but I would go into it and examine it and find words for it, even as a child. For me, I experienced it and called it the black lead in my chest and gut that made me feel dead. It was such an incredible joy to me as a young adult, when I discovered that this feeling is called shame and that everyone has this experience. I remember thinking, “Oh, so that’s all it is!” For years I thought I had a cancerous growth that felt like this black ball of lead and that I would die a young and tragic death. That is why as a therapist, I see it and name it with great excitement, thinking that everyone would be so happy to know what it is!

We have been talking a lot about dark energy, dark matter and black holes in our recent meetings. Roughly 68% of the universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest - everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter - adds up to less than 5% of the universe. Maybe it shouldn't be called "normal" matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the universe.

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What is striking to me is that what is called “dark or black,” is simply what is unknown. It is not evil, wrong, or bad – it is just unknown. If we can enter the dark knowing there is nothing that will “get us,” but only us “getting aware,” of what is already there, perhaps we would be more willing to, not just fish for fallen light, but jump right in, surrender and fall into the dark. Every time we do so with curiosity we will discover that actually, we can see in the dark, it is illuminated from the center of our very being. Our soul, symbolized by the moon, radiated and connected to the sun, is at the center of the darkness – and it is this light that is not escaping the darkness. We have to go into the darkness to discover it.  It is not the shame that is dark, it is the unawareness of it that is the darkness. Once it is seen, it is just that familiar old illusion of badness, that has no reality at all. It is in fact, just a memory – a ghost – an illusion. It has already happened and long time go, and been relegated to the darkness of unknowing.

I believe the universe is an actual outer symbolic representation of the inner reality of Consciousness itself. Creation is sacramental – the outer symbolic representation of an inner reality.

Just as being deeply observant of animals and plants has informed my entire life, so the observation of the workings of the universe reveals to us the deepest workings of consciousness within us. The cutting edge of our unknowing as humans, is the same in the outer world of science as in the inner realms of awareness in consciousness. Our work is to be space explorers – internal space explorers. Let us all rush headlong into the darkness and the unknown of our psyche’s and find the hidden light within. Then we will discover that the unknown, is actually very well known.  Let us all have the courage to face the dark tunnels of our fears and shame and reach the core of illumination and joy. It is only possible by going deep and going into the dark. In the beginning you might sit on the edge of the well of that which is unknown, disavowed  and avoided, but with practice, the fear of what is unknown goes and you see it as a grand inner adventure and sacred pilgrimage.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

Direct your eye right inward, and you’ll find

A thousand regions in your mind

Yet undiscovered.  Travel them and be

Expert in home-cosmography.                                                                              ~Thoreau, Walden


What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

            ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Beneath the coarse surface of material being

I managed to touch the eternal purple hue,

And I came to know the radiance of divinity.                                                                ~Solovyov

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A black hole is a region of space-time exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing—not even particles and electromagnetic radiation such as light—can escape from inside it. 

Dark energy is an unknown form of energy, which is hypothesized to permeate all of space, tending to accelerate the expansion of the universe.

Dark matter is a hypothetical form of matter that is thought to account for approximately 85% of the matter in the universe, and about a quarter of its total energy density. The majority of dark matter is thought to be non-baryonic in nature, possibly being composed of some as-yet undiscovered subatomic particles.                 

            

Practice: 

Consider your attitude to facing the unknown dark, shame within. How afraid are you of falling in and feeling it fully, knowing it is illusion – a bogey man – and having compassion for the confusion as a child of feeling this energy and, then assuming it meant something was intrinsically “wrong, evil and bad,” about you.  How have you entered the inner dark and attacked an illusionary bogey man. That is the same as attacking a robe hanging behind the bedroom door as if it were real. Learn to wait in the dark, till you can see clearly by the light of the soul.

Consider all the ways you have used to distract yourself from this horrible inner “bogey man,” thinking you were living an aware life, but really living a defensive and distracted life. You have kept shame in the unknown, dark recesses of your psyche, hidden from even yourself – how much have you been able to be present to, personally and also publically. This is a huge step in being free of the fear of the idea of your badness.

 

Meditate on the following quotes:

“The man who understands a symbol not only opens himself to the objective world, but at the same time succeeds in emerging, from his personal situation and reaching, a comprehension of the universal ...  Thanks to the symbol, the individual experience is “awoken” and transmuted into a spiritual act ...”                                                                                           ~Mircca Eliade

The function of symbolism is to go beyond the ‘limitation of the fragment’ and link the different ‘parts’  of the whole. We like Plato’s prisoners in the cave, can see merely the shadows of the images of the real objects, which themselves are only the manifestation of the Ideas and the Archetypes (or immutable Essences).  In other words, even the ‘originals,’ let alone the physical manifestations of nature, are but symbols of the metaphysical realities; and even these last, by virtue of their multiplicity, are but ‘parts’ of the One Essence.  In Japanese the word, ‘to understand,’ wakau, literally means ‘to be divided.’’ 

 

“I was a hidden treasure that desired to be found, so I created the world.”     ~J. Purce.

“Symbols are merely veils of light rendering visible the Divine Dark.”~Anne Kingsford

Self-Responsibility

“Do not give your attention to what others do or fail to do; give it to what you do or fail to do.” 

~Buddha

At the end of a recent flight on SAFAIR, from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth, the pilot announced over the loudspeaker, “If we have disappointed you in any way, please let us know, because we are the only ones who can do something about it.”

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His words stuck with me. Seldom do you hear this kind of invitation, or this kind of self-responsibility expressed so well. It was very disarming; giving me time to reflect on whether or not I did actually have a legitimate complaint – and 9 times out of 10, I do not. On this flight I did not. And when I do, I most often am projecting on to others or am feeling self-entitled. When I know that someone is willing to consider me and my needs, as was this pilot it is amazing how few issues actually arise.

The pilot’s words made me pause to wonder what it would be like if every night a family sat together and each person said, “If I have disappointed you in any way, please let me know, because I am the only one who can do something about it.”

What if your employer said this to you once a week?

What if you said this to your employer every week?

What if it was the general attitude of the government, corporations and organizations?

What if self-responsibility was a value by which the whole society lived?

To truly live this invitation with everyone, means that you

  • have a willingness and capacity to hear the person with a complaint about you without reacting or being defensive

  • have the courage to potentially hear something about yourself that could evoke feelings of shame

  • have the capacity to feel shame with dignity and compassion for yourself, knowing the shame itself is a memory state haunting you

  • have the capacity to hear another’s disappointment in you, without seeing yourself as a disappointment: you don’t have to make it an identity issue of worthlessness

  • have the capacity to discern whether a legitimate need is not being met for the complainant, by yourself. If it is legitimate then you would see this as a wonderful opportunity for growth. If it is not a legitimate complaint, you would see this as a wonderful opportunity for practicing gracious limit setting.

Try it this week. When and where appropriate, ask the question, and pay close attention to the response of others, and yourself very closely.

© Lyndall Johnson, January 2019

Groundhog Day

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The past is made of memory, the future of imagination. Neither have any existence outside the thought that thinks them. ~Rupert Spira

Here, back in the wilds of Africa, I am struck by the immense sense of peace and wholeness that seems to permeate the very air. It is as if, in the midst of vibrant, fecund, ever changing, birth, living, and dying, that can be violent, sudden, and shocking, there exists only peace. The answer is, of course, because animals do not have sophisticated capacity for memory states like humans. When an animal is threatened, instinctual fear mobilizes them, but once the threat has passed and they have physiologically processed through the hormonal and chemical reactions and emotional fear, they return to their normal peaceful state. They do not rehearse the incident repeatedly for the rest of their lives in memory. They do not imagine the same thing happening in the future. They do not create a narrative about what it means about them. They return to the present moment. And the present moment is eternal.


The ability to re-member, means the capacity to re-activate the same emotional and physiological states experienced in the past, over and over again even though there is no current threat. Animals live in the present moment, which is eternity, and this is why I can feel the eternal in these rare and amazing places of wilderness. It is as if, away from the endless triggers of humans and modern stress, I myself am free to feel the joy, peace and love of paradise right now, even in the midst of natural life and death. I do not see any herds of impala suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, reliving close calls with death in compulsive and reactionary ways. I do not see predators like lions having sleepless nights about where the next meal will come from. I do not have to watch family members drink themselves into states of oblivion as they are haunted by Christmas’s past – or desperately attempting to re-create the Christmas they had when they still lived in a magical state of consciousness of four years of age.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he exhorted us to live like the lilies in the fields – which is all very good and well, and describes the end result of a very long process, but he didn’t exactly give the instruction manual for how to achieve this state of living in the present moment. And just telling oneself to do it is to attempt to undo a hundred thousand years of evolution, that has resulted in the capacity to remember and anticipate instead of living in the present moment like an animal. People can space out, dissociate and pretend in manifold ways that they are happily living in the present, which is a severe spiritual by-pass of the actual work needed to achieve this in lived experience.

Moving from a stage and state in which you are constantly worrying that a past experience might happen in the future – in other words living in a present state of continuous fear from the past and projecting it into the future, - to just being present to the current experience, takes a great deal of inner work, inner awareness and hard work. It is far easier to just secretly worry and agonize and defend against memory states. The defense might provide temporary relief, but the emotional memories will return with the slightest provocation.

For me, it has been important to actually understand memory. Alan Watts has been helpful and instructive. He says,

“But what about memories? Surely by remembering I can also know what is past? Very well, remember something. Remember the incident of seeing a friend walking down the street. What are you aware of? You are not actually watching the veritable event of your friend walking the street. You can’t go up and shake hands with him, or get an answer to a question you forgot to ask him at the past time you are remembering. In other words, you are not looking at the real past at all. You are looking at a present trace of the past … From memories you infer that there have been past events. But you are not aware of any past events. You know the past only in the present and as part of the present.”

In other words, you are never aware of the past at all – only dim images of the past and those images exist only as present experience. We build stories around the past experiences. Stories that mean something at every stage of development. If you have a painful experience at a young age, the story you create around the experience is that, “I am bad, it is my fault it happened, I should ….” The story turns into a defensive way of living - attempting to be good, careful, perfect so that the past does not repeat itself in the future. The more defense in the presence, the greater the impact the past is having on the present and future.

I have never seen an animal in the wild live a defensive lifestyle. I have never seen a zebra, hiding in a cave for the rest of its life, because it once nearly got caught by a lion. I do not see it getting depressed by the thought process that it is bad, to blame, and worthless because a lion once nearly caught it when it was just two years old. I do not see zebras creating stories, like, “we are such good victims and lions are such bad predators, “ around what happens in the bush. Animals just experiences, processes and move on.

Future imaginings are also only based on past experience, but can actually only be experienced in the present moment. If you can realize this in your awareness, then time becomes illusory – it does not exist, in that, all experience is only in the present moment. The past and the future can only ever be NOW. Time in this sense is an illusory construct and all experience exists in the present moment which is eternity – the whole of one’s experience is only in the present moment. Eternity IS timelessness and IS what you are experiencing every illusory moment. Eternity can be realized by recognizing that you are only ever living in the present moment, which is not possible as long as one is haunted by and trying to avoid the past, or grasping for a better experience in the future. If all your attention is rooted in and captured by the past and geared towards securing an illusory future, you are not living your life in the moment. So, as long as one is caught in linearity, time, past and future, you are not living the eternal present, but caught in a web of illusion that is understood to be reality. Once you realize and can witness yourself caught in past remembering and future anticipating, then you can start examining the fears and needs that are still stuck in your physiological and emotional body and that keep reasserting themselves and impinging in the present moment. The first step is the co-consciousness of a Self that is able to recognize what is memory and be present to past experience with compassion and wisdom instead of judgment and self-hatred.

The glory of memory is that this capacity has enabled the human species to be highly successful in terms of survival. All invention, science and discovery leading to modern life and development are rooted in the need to survive and the fear of not surviving. And at the same time, it also trapped humanity in a web of neurosis and defensiveness. We might live much longer than our predecessors, but the inner quality of our lives is one of suffering.

Now it is time to have both the benefits of being able to remember and anticipate that lead to development, and live free of memory states of fear and need, distorted beliefs and defense. IF you are not witnessing your condition and recognizing it as a present experience of something that once happened, and so see it as a memory, you are literally living a hell of unprocessed needs and feelings, trapped in the very cells of your physical body. Hell is the opposite of living in the eternal now.

Memory states are:

 The stories you have created about yourself based on past experience – the story line is always a variation on “good/bad” as in, “I was a bad child and had wonderful parents and a really good upbringing,” or “It was my fault that my parents abused me, because there is something inherently wrong with me.” And on and on and on….

 The feelings that keep resurfacing as a result of past experience, when activated in the present moment, are primarily the feelings of fear, shame and rage. Eg. you were terrified by Santa as a little child and now you feel anxious when you see red Santa hats being sold on a street corner by a vendor 40 years later and have no idea why you are suddenly feeling anxious.

 Needs related to fears and shame – eg. I grew up poor and felt terrible shame and inferiority asa result of the stories I and my culture told myself about what this meant about me. My need for security and value were not met and so my life is dedicated to making sure I have wealth, safety and value (defense), driven by my feelings of shame and fear.

 Body symptoms and reactions to past experiences of fear and shame and the long- term effects of having lived in unprocessed states of physiological arousal for most of your life. When an animal in the wild experiences terror, it immediately processes through the physiological arousal through quivering and shaking, sweating, stomping, frothing, fighting, until it returns to its normal peaceful state. Not so with humans. This process is immediately socialized (controlled and punished) – no stomping, yelling, crying, talking back, shaking, frothing allowed! You will be punished if you do not control the natural process – which means that the experience remains unprocessed and easily re-activated under the slightest provocation.

 Defenses are what most people are living to protect themselves from the unresolved memory states of childhood and the variety and sophistication of these defenses, are accepted as normal and seen as “personality.” Have you ever heard of personality being described as “whole, peaceful, loving, present, joyful?’ No – these people are generally thought of as “outside the norm.” Because this condition of living in a memory state is so pervasive and “normal,” the examples are legion – virtually everything that humans are currently living is the hell of living defensive lives rooted in memory states. Who do you know that sits quietly, doing nothing but enjoying the sensate pleasures of being alive without some compulsion to get up and “do something,” without any awareness that they are conditioned to living out perpetual memory states?

And the conundrum and paradox is, that until all past experience, that is experienced as current experience and, mistaken as current experience, is processed through to it’s final conclusion in understanding, that it is indeed a shadow image of past experience (memory) and is not actually in the present moment, you will find yourself unable to live in the present moment.

What is required is awareness, a witness who can say, “Oh this feeling, need, thought, defense is a MEMORY state. It is not actually happening in this present moment. The shadow of it is existing in this present moment , but it is not happening. There is maybe something similar happening, or maybe even the same thing is happening now, (eg. Santa had a red hat when I was four and the street vendor is selling red hats) but I see the part that is memory and so I am free to CHOOSE, a different response. I am free to recognize the feeling and unmet need, and respond without defense, because I am no longer a child. This has already happened and I have already survived.” Awareness brings the freedom of choice, instead of the groundhog day replay of the conditioned past. Memory exists as an imprint in the cells of the body, in the emotions, in image and in thought. Sometimes memory is fragmented. You remember cognitively, but not emotionally. Or you remember emotion and cannot connect it to cognition (eg. generalized anxiety and depression) Your body remembers, but the experience of physical fear and shame are divorced from the image and cognitive memory (as in seemingly random panic attacks, for instance). The work is to create bridges, interconnections, see the whole, reconnect the feelings, needs, thoughts and defenses and recognize them as memory states.

If you co-consciously knew all the experiences in your life span – or in time, as existing in the present moment, then you would be having an eternal knowing. Eternity does not mean time everlasting, it means all time is only occurring NOW. Time is subsumed under Eternity. Even when you experienced the past, it was in the NOW and even when the imagined future occurs, it will be in the NOW. Be present to the memories with complete love, acceptance and truth telling and you will be free to live a fulfilled life in the present. Gradually the processing of what should have happened naturally as a child will occur as you engage the process and with practice, no painful memories will be created, only current processing will be happening, not what is occurring in your life.

©  2018 Lyndall Johnson

Living the Christian Myth

The entire continuum of experience, from the agony to the ecstasy, is within you.The work is to not grab the ecstasy and try to own it, or repel the agony and try to reject it, but to be the ceaseless and untouched witness of the experience within yourself.

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Every time you try to grab or deny, you join/merge/identify with the constriction of the grabbing and the denying of the very experience you are having. 

Recognize that not only denial, but also pursuing, means you lose yourSelf in the experience. But if you remember to not constrict with experience (bliss or pain), then you remain in the flow of what is the wave of existence, the peaceful and uninterrupted flow of your being – you remain the heartbeat and the breath of the universe. 

So the practice is to notice the ways in which you interrupt the flow of experience with resistance or greed, with wanting and not wanting, with judgments either way. When you are no longer identified with the experience, you will know yourself as the eternal, the infinite, the witness, the Love and the Truth, instead of losing yourSelf in the fleeting, finite, temporal and ever changing experience of life in form.

Both sides are equally tempting in terms of constriction. We want to chase the joys and we want to run from the pains. Both are a constriction. But what if you remained the fully present witness with an uninterrupted breath and heartbeat? What do you think the experience of joy might be if you did not constrict in your grabbing. Would it not then be aligned with the very love and truth of your being? What do you think the experience of pain might be if you did not constrict in your rejection? Would your love and truth then not warmly dispel the suffering over time?

At this time of the year we talk about the Great Mother, as symbolized by Mary, birthing Christ consciousness. However, if you yourself do not become the living, incarnate symbol of the Great Mother, then of what good is the myth? We are challenged in this myth as in no other.

Can we all live in the eternal and ceaseless flow of the wave of existence and hold within the vastness of our own hearts and truth, the wounded, the broken, the pain, the suffering of ourselves, then humanity, and then the world. We cannot put the cart before the horse and live a life of integrity and growth. Your life will go nowhere if the cart is before the horse. 

The encyclicals from on high that talk of lofty ideals about doing good in the world, for others and nature, are of little consequence if they do not insist on the message being – you are nature, the world, and the suffering of all beings, and you must heal the splits and barriers, the resistances and greed within your own being. YOU are the Madonna and if you accept this immense challenge, then in this way you will give birth to Christ consciousness with yourselves – by being witness as the breath and as the heartbeat of the universe. You will conceive of and then tend the baby Christ that is you.

And so we start in the stable, in the dark, in the smelly, dirty places of our own suffering and our animal instinctual natures. We start here, practicing being the non anxious, all seeing, ever attentive, present and loving mother. We practice being a mature parent to our own wounds, our own fixations, addictions, and judgments. We do not punish and we do not reward. We attend, and set limits where necessary through teaching Truth. We are there for every need that has not been met, with Love. It is not loving to keep farming out our needs to other mothers – that is selfish and self entitled and a shirking of our God given responsibility.

We remember that this is a long and arduous commitment and we welcome it with all the love of a mother’s heart, who does not even know how it will all turn out in the end.

There are no guarantees, but we love, because that is what we are as the Great Mother. We tell truth and set limits with our wounded little selves, because that is what we are as the Great Mother…. And if we accept this mandate, and practice diligently, we will be bringing the light of the world and the salvation of the world into fullest fruition – and it IS ourselves.

Christ’s birth is happening every minute of the day on this planet – and yet the baby is denied, lost, forgotten, starved, neglected, hated, abused, rejected, shamed, spurned, used for labor, exploited, raped and tortured for the pleasures of demented adults, criticized, and judged. And this baby was and is you. Where are the mothers? If you have not learned to raise your own inner child in love and truth, then of what help can you be to the 7 billion souls on our suffering planet? Don’t you all know the irritation of listening to people give advice in child rearing, or any other activity, when they themselves have not done it and struggled with the complexities and difficulties of the task?

I hope the great myth of the Christmas season will speak to you, no matter the religious tradition, in which you were raised. The myths of all religions tell us great truths that we must hear and apply to our own inner lives. This is a myth about ultimate hope that has not been fulfilled by the world as yet. This is the great story of the light that can be found in the darkness of our lives, through the love and wisdom of the great Mother within each of us.

Nothing could have prepared your heart to open like this.

From beyond the skies and the stars
This echo arrived inside of you and started to pulse with life
Each beat a tiny act of growth,
Traversing all our ancient shapes,
On its way home to itself.

Once it began, you were no longer your own.
A new, more courageous you, offering itself
In a new way to a presence you can sense
But you have not seen or known.

It has made you feel alone
In a way you never knew before;
Everyone else sees only from the outside
What you feel and feed with every fiber of your being.

Never have you traveled farther inward
Where words and thoughts become half-­light
unable to reach the fund of brightness
Strengthening inside the night of your womb.

Like some primeval moon,
Your soul brightens
The tides of essense
That flow to your child.

You know your life has changed forever,
For in all the days and years to come,
Distance will never be able to cut you off
From the one you now carry
For nine months under your heart.

May you be blessed with quiet confidence
That destiny will guide you and mind you.

May the emerging spirit of your child
Imbibe encouragement and joy
From the continuous music of your heart,
So that it can grow with ease,
Respectant of wonder and welcome when its form is fully filled

And it makes it journey out
To see you and settle at last
Relieved and glad in your arms.

                                                                        ~John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

 

Contemplate the image above of the beautiful carving at the Metropolitan Museum of Art above of Madonna and Child and journal about your own relationship to the child in your belly. Have you brought this baby into your awareness, and brought it close to your heart and started the work of mothering the child to grow into the fullness of it’s life? Can you be the serene and loving embrace to all that the child experienced that has never been acknowledged and accepted?

Can you reconcile, connect and heal the splits within and bring peace, love and joy to the inner landscape of your life before you worry about the outer landscape of your environment?

Contemplate the poem above and consider the qualities of the Good Mother that are required in relationship to your own suffering and wounded child.

Active Meditation

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“Global harmony is only the reflection of humankind's internal harmony.” 

~Abhijit Naskar, Fabric of Humanity

 

St. John the Divine. New York City

There is no doubt, great merit is sitting quietly following all the instructions of posture and breath that are given in all the religious traditions. Doing a daily practice is important in teaching discipline, in an undisciplined world. Routine and rituals of discipline need to then be extended to the external world of action too. If you are able to sit for 10 minutes every morning, then perhaps you are able to also make your bed regularly, do your laundry, fold and pack it away regularly, and so on. If this is not occurring, then clearly your sitting practice is not resulting in any results. Why do I say that? Because if you are not living a disciplined life in action, then clearly you are not examining the fears, resistance, hurt, shame, pain and issues that are getting in the way of doing so.

For example, if you resist making your bed every morning, turning the eye inward in meditative practice means asking the question “Why?”

 

The Past Memory of Experience

Do you have anger towards your mother for shaming you into tasks as a child? And so, are you triggered into shame as soon as you wake up? Are you currently avoiding the task to avoid the anger and shame you felt as a child?

 

Were you spoiled by your mother and never had to do anything and now have an attitude of self- entitlement? Does this extend to dependency issues in relationships? How did you feel deprived as a child of being able to feel a sense of confidence and self efficacy through encouragement to reach developmental milestones of doing things for yourself? What shame do you feel underneath this?

 

The Present Condition of Defense

What defenses are you using?

Do you just not notice the disarray of your life? You have settled for it, in a rut of denial and disinterest. Have you given up and tried to learn “to accept,” what feels uncomfortable? Are you telling yourself you are not uncomfortable with this situation?Are you constantly berating and shaming yourself and repeating your mother’s nagging?

Are you dismissing this example as ridiculous – that this is not an important issue of life?

Are you wanting to say, “What’s the big deal? There are just some things people don’t like to do.” Are you saying, “I have more important issues to deal with?”

Are you feeling shame reading this and making a commitment to doing this one task “right,” from now on? In other words, make yourself presentable and acceptable to the opinions of others.

Are you dismissing, arguing, rationalizing, justifying, denying, minimizing, staying on the surface, judging, criticizing? If you are, then just this discussion is arousing shame. It needs to be examined.

People will resist meditation if they enter into truly seeing themselves and their motives, and are unable to bring a deeply open, loving and understanding heart to the condition of shame and how it arose.

The future goal for which to strive

Notice the habitual and repetitive patterns of your life that do not point to an orderly and disciplined life that feels aesthetically pleasing, physically comfortable and inspiring of self integrity and inner confidence. Consider this example in the emotional realm – do you have a messy emotional life of judging, gossiping, shaming, criticizing, self-pity? Do you have a messy relational life – do you do for others, instead of yourself, are relationships difficult, distant or conflictual? Taking a simple example, like making your bed, and extending it to all realms is essential.

Examine deeply the underlying pattern and SEE where and how it originated. This is essential if your life purpose is to BECOME AWARE. Meditation is about becoming aware of what IS.  It is about knowing yourself fully – the good, the bad and the ugly. You cannot stably attain higher states of consciousness unless you have integrated everything through your loving witness presence to all experience of your life, within and without. Which bring us to the most important aspect of meditation.

Find the mature and loving presence to be able to tolerate the pain and defenses you have been using.

If all you can do is bring judgment and shame to yourself, then you are still not seeing clearly how this issue arose in the first place and the defenses have not cracked around the heart. It is still encased in defenses. Notice this too, without judging it.

Meditation is not about changing behavior or attaining higher states of consciousness. It IS about becoming aware, with humility, love, presence, acceptance and discipline, of every aspect of your inner world. When you do this, it might happen quite naturally that the outer behaviors start to match the inner state, and that the love you bring to the lowest and deepest most painful of your aspects, starts matching the Love that is the Universal State of Love.

There is no skipping stages, or states. Every single dark part of your life has to be brought to the loving presence of your own being. The Loving God within must embrace and accept every last, lost aspect of the wounded god within. Only then will you be in alignment with the Truth and Love of Consciousness itself.

Do not attempt to by-pass this work – if you do, whatever higher states you attain will be ephemeral, fleeting and useless to your life. Spiritual by-pass results in a split and broken human being – and it is prevalent and pervasive in society.

“Turn you eye inward, whether sitting in meditation or living your life, meditatively.” 

P.S.  In using the “making the bed,” example, the exact opposite may be true. You might rigidly and obsessively make your bed and tidy up with great anxiety and distress if it is does not get done. The other side of the duality of chaotic is rigidity and the same practice as above applies.

“Being free of duality results in FLOW”

The Rainbow Nation - A Land of Tears

I have just returned from the World Parliament of Religions. One of the sessions I attended was about a youth program in Cape Town, led by an energetic, confident young white woman of privilege whose father was an Anglican priest and a Colored woman Anglican priest from the Cape Flats – an area of relocation, destitution and deprivation. The Cape Flats are where Colored people were relocated and forcibly removed from what was deemed White areas, during the apartheid era. These two women have the vision, the commitment and the dedication to work towards reconciliation, unity and equality in their land through helping the youth have dialogue across racial, ethnic and religious barriers.

The young woman talked about being arrested and being in demonstrations in which the police threw tear gas as she has protested the ongoing racial disparity at the University of Cape Town. Forty years ago, my sister was one of those students being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon and hauled off to jail, for the very same reason. It left me wondering, has there actually been any progress, despite the very best efforts by people of vision, like these two women.

 

The ending of apartheid and the new era of democracy in 1994 was a time of hope, triumph and deep joy as South Africa came together as “The Rainbow Nation,” – one people united under the visionary leadership of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. There was toy-toying, (dancing), goodwill and rejoicing as white and black reached across the great racial and economic divides to heal their nation. The Truth and Reconciliation commission became a model for healing and forgiveness in a land torn apart by violence and oppression. Identified victims came forth and told their stories and perpetrators came forward to accept their responsibility for acts of oppression, violence and murder. Mothers of victims and perpetrators fell into one another’s arms. There was a fervor and zeal to reconcile differences, heal past rifts, break down walls and unite under a rainbow of hope.

 

In as far as it went the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a remarkable feat of encouraging people to take responsibility, not hold on to the shame of secrets and victimization, own their part in perpetration, and change.  And, indeed there are countless stories of true nobility of spirit and compassion. 

 

And it did not go far enough. 

 

The focus on the TRC was on relationships between people. It did not directly address the issue of relationships we all have with ourselves internally. It did not address the intra-dynamics of the war within our own psyches, the walls and rifts that divide us internally, the self-hatred, judgment and criticisms we all heap on our own heads. It did not address the splits created by denial, repression. It did not address the unmet needs of children that result in a substratum in unawareness of fear, shame and anger that motivates adult behavior. It did not address the issue of how within each and every one of us lives both the perpetrator and the victim and are actually both. It did not address how it is that this internal dynamic is projected out on to the world in external relationships, creating families, communities and countries that are torn apart by these projections of inner self-hatred and self-victimization.

 

Yes, the victim must be allowed to tell their story and be heard with compassion. Yes, the perpetrator must own up and accept responsibility. Yes, the shame and fears must be dealt with. Yes, the distorted beliefs of prejudice and hatred must be corrected. Yes, truth must be told. Yes, compassion, which is the willingness to “suffer with,” must be brought to the condition of both victim and perpetrator.  And my question is, “When will humanity accept the responsibility of turning their eyes inwards and seeing deeply how this victim and perpetrator situation is set up within our own souls?  Until this is seen, recognized, in full awareness with Truth and Love for ourselves, NOTHING will heal outside of ourselves. This inner condition of brokenness is indeed projected out into victimization and perpetration of others in communities all over the world, not just South African. 

 

It is easy to see outer solutions, but few look within and heal themselves. As the great leader, who started his campaign of passive resistance in South Africa, Gandhi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” And yet, as nice as this sounds, no one really wants to do it. 

 

·     Because it is easier to look outside and try to control others. 

·     Because there is a lack of awareness about what this means. 

·     Because, there is a desperate failure and dearth of spiritual leadership, because we are still caught in fundamental religious ideas of dependency on an external “God,” who will save us and we do not have to do the work. 

·     Because there is a corrosion of even the most basic morality.  

·     Because it takes vision and courage, and determination, devotion and dedication to the Inner path. 

·     Because it takes humility and backbone and grit. 

·     Because it means embracing living through old shames, hurts and past suffering. Because we do not know how and are not supported in this inner quest…. Because we do not yet know how to love and our hearts have not broken open for our own lost and sinful condition of inner separation, alienation and lostness. Because we are all too willing to follow the path of least resistance – the outer journey of external answers that makes us feel good and in control.

·     Because we mistake goodness to necessarily be loving.

 

To think this is where the answer lies is nothing other than the magical thinking of small children.

 

It seems to me that everyone has ignored the one thing that both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu modeled and lived. They looked within. They found within themselves the victim and the perpetrator. They brought a condition of empathy and understanding to the reasons for their own inner and personal failures to live with equality and respect with others, and found it was a reflection of the inner split within themselves. 

 

Nelson Mandela spoke of this often, for those that ears to hear it. It talked about having been “an arrogant young man,” and that the suffering of jail taught him take stock of that and see in himself what he could see in his jailors.  Archbishop Tutu, when he spoke to the press after Winnie Mandela’s rather inadequate apology to the world at the TRC, said, “I would you remind you that the words, “I am sorry,” are the hardest words to say – I find it hard in the privacy of my own bedroom with my own wife.”

 

Yes, it takes a matures soul that is truly loving and filled with truth to be present to our inner shame and fear, inadequacies and failures.

 

It grieves me deeply to go back to my homeland and see that the hope of 1994 has burned into ashes of hopelessness, anger, frustration and resentment as not much has changed for those who are in the deepest need. The phoenix can only rise when each and every one does the deep inner work of seeing how they at once perpetrate against themselves and are victims of their own self-hatred.

 

It grieves me deeply to attend something like the “World Parliament of Religions,” and to never hear the one thing that can actually change humanity being said or modeled, “Turn your eye inward and heal yourself.”

 

Instead what I see is a plethora of programs to change everyone else, not from the heart but from the brokenness, need and unaware fears and shame of empty people trying to feel better about themselves.

 

When the victim/perpetrator condition is healed within, by one’s own love, then and only then will whatever you do in the world ripple out into sacred action that is filled with creativity and renewal, hope and vision. Only then will we work together in a way that actually makes a difference in the world. Only when goodness comes from a broken heart willing to practice compassion instead of control, will real change happen in the world.

 

I urge all religious leaders in the world, to STOP. Change yourself first. Dedicate your life to your own healing with your whole heart and mind and soul. We need spiritual leaders – we do not need dogma and religion any longer. We do not need morality and good programs, we need loving leaders that know the inner journey and live it. We need leaders who are filled with joy and hope, creativity, vision and bliss. We need leaders with humor and deep compassion with whom we can feel safe enough to go within.  We need leaders who will challenge us when we do not live Truth because we are lying to ourselves; who will challenge us when we are controlling and call it love; who challenge us when we engage in acts of inner terrorism and self-hatred and tell us to stop it.  We need leaders that we want to emulate, and let them show us the way to the Promised Land, that is only within.

 

My South African brothers and sisters. Go inside. Examine your hearts and your minds. Do your inner work. Live into your God-given destiny. Create inner rainbows of harmony and peace, self-love and dignity. You can make your land all that our great leaders spoke of, but it requires more of you than you even imagined. It means turning inwards and finding your way through the treacherous terrain of your own inner perpetration and victimization and healing the inner splits and dualities of your own soul. It means inner reconciliation, integration and peacemaking, within. It requires you to be the loving God to your own wounded soul. It requires you to become aware of what you are not yet aware so that your awareness can become aligned with the Truth and Love of all that is. When you are at one with the One, then there is nothing that cannot be overcome in our world.

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Self Forgiveness…

Self Forgiveness

 

"Self-forgiveness is a profound act of self-love and self-compassion that lightens our burden of guilt, calms our feelings of self-rejection, and ends our need for self-destructive behavior. It also frees our heart from self-inflicted pain and suffering."

                                              ~Marion Moss Hubbard, From The Heroic Path to Self-Forgiveness

 

Internal Steps to Take

 

·      Become aware of the “sin” or “crime” – which may or may not be in accordance with the morality of the culture. So how do we even know when we have sinned? Whenever we create separation and conflict within ourselves or between ourselves and others. This is a much broader definition than obeying the rules of society.

 

·      Own the behavior (confession) without denial, excuses, rationalizations, justifications or minimization. “Yes I did it.” This is the first courageous step in self-responsibility requiring the quality of humility. If we feel so much shame for what we did then it is hard to humble ourselves and own it. Shame leads to defensiveness and to find the humility to take full responsibility requires a mature soul that does not decompensate into self pity and shame.

 

·      Question yourself as to the feelings and needs underlying the “sin.” This is what motivated the reactivity in you and is what must be re-experienced, accepted and loved.

 

·      Ask yourself, “To what does this go back?” All feelings and needs that are still being acted on in an externalized way go back to childhood. They are in fact memory states.

 

·      When you can see the deep suffering underlying the actions examine what is awakened in you?  Judgment? Or the willingness to feel the pain of that suffering and love the one who is suffering? Judgment creates more separation, splitting, shame and hatred. In other words you are now perpetrating on the victim and compounding the original sin with more sin. You are at war within yourself having become both perpetrator and victim, by introjecting the original judges (authorities in your childhood)

 

·      Self forgiveness again requires a mature soul with a wide open heart of love willing to revisit the original fear, pain and shame that was created in the young child-soul part of yourself through judgment by others. When your arms reach out in embrace of that wounded younger part of your own soul, you are indeed the mother reconciling with the child instead of chastising the child. (Create an image of the Madonna and child that shows this relationship – or find one that is a constant reminder to you of the work required here.)

 

·      Once the feelings and needs are acknowledged, accepted and loved by you, the acting out behaviors will naturally stop. You do not have to castigate yourself for defending against the pain in whatever way you have been doing, and denying the suffering soul. (sin and separation). The defenses served a purpose of protection until you were mature enough to relate to yourself in a loving and accepting way.

 

·      When you reconnect, in love, with the suffering you experienced as a child and defended against until now in behaviors that are no longer needed, you have reconciled with yourself and there is nothing but insight, love, and so forgiveness. The pattern of unaware need and pain leading to behaviors that are destructive, is broken. Guilt and shame are replaced by acceptance and love and without guilt and shame there is not reason for the pattern of behavior to be repeated ever again. Change happens with the expansion in awareness.

 

·      With this kind of deep understanding of yourself you will easily see how your actions may have harmed and hurt another leading to compassion for them, apology and restitution.

 

"...if you feel that you have been "unjusted" and are looking for 'justice', you may be looking for the wrong thing. What would happen if you sought love instead? And what would happen if you gave love instead of seeking it? This might require a bit of forgiveness. Yet if you start with yourself, if you begin by forgiving yourself for all the things you may have done that were not okay with another, you will find it much easier to forgive another for what was done that is not okay with you."                                                                                                                                                             ~Neale Donald Walsch

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Exercise

 

Recently when I was at the ancient temple of Delphi, this little boy was chastised by his parents for being mean to his younger sister. He was filled with shame and guilt and started picking flowers to give to his sister as an act of contrition and apology. Then his father came over to him and I captured this tender moment. I do not understand Greek and do not know what he said, but his body language said a great deal. Create the imaginary dialogue of the forgiving father to his little boy – who is just a symbol of his own inner little boy. Use the steps above to create the dialogue.

 

“Take a walk through the garden of forgiveness and pick a flower of forgiveness for everything you have ever done. When you get to that time that is now, make a full and total forgiveness of your entire life and smile at the bouquet in your hands because it truly is beautiful.” 
                                                ~ Stephen RichardsForgiveness and Love Conquers All: Healing the Emotional Self

 

"Know all and you will pardon all."                                                                               ~Thomas a Kempis

Testimonials

During our work in Khayalethu, we often heard client's say that they felt relief following a session. They would say that they felt light inside....free. Lyndall and I watched each one open up to their deep suffering. Very often they had never spoken the words of the trauma in their lives. They had never been given the message that the abuse, rape, and neglect they had endured were not their fault, they did not deserve it, they were beautiful and loving souls...... beings of love. Each one talked about how they had lived in silence, suffering quietly and alone.

To be trusted to enter into the pain of another, to be part of another's healing.....to do this work is the honor of my lifetime. It is a connection that can never be erased. Each person I work with is forever a part of me. Following this connection we both continue to be lifted and supported in Love. It is a blessing I am thankful for everyday. 

It was enormously fun that a camera in hand made everyone's day. They loved to have their picture taken and hid their face in embarrassed excitement when we said we wanted to share their thoughts and ideas on Facebook or our website. Several, wanted to share what the experience was like for them and what impact the therapy made in their lives.  I feel such love for each one. I am so honored to introduce them all to you. 

 

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Thoughts from France

Thoughts from France

Good Morning Friends! Lyndall and I are on our way home from South Africa. We had an unbelievable experience. We completed 54 hours of direct therapy in three different locations, 10 hours of group therapy, many hours of community building, and beautiful hours of skill building and giving much needed love to the children. Lyndall and I are exhausted but our hearts are full. We are sitting in the airport in France and are already busy planning our next step. We know that to continue our work, we need continual help from all who are interested in supporting our project. The bottom line is that we need to raise funds. 

We brought back "Love Gifts" from a South African artist. We are planning a wine event in which those items will be available. They are beautiful, whimsical, and quirky. The artist is a delightful woman who truly makes every piece with incredible love. You will see what I mean when you see the pieces. I love each piece. 

We are also auctioning off a variety of South African wines. Many of you have asked how you can help. Here are a few things that would help....
1) donation of South African wines for the auction.
2) if anyone knows of a venue that can be donated for our auction and information night, we would love to have you contact us.
3) donation of cheeses, crackers, and grapes
4) stay tuned for our information night and wine event...and plan to attend!! 

This is a beautiful project. There were many challenges, but so many more successes. I wish everyone of you could have experienced the past six weeks with us. We see how beneficial this therapy is and have identified ways to improve it. We are anxious to move forward. Thank you all for the many comments of support. We could feel the love, and believe me that it was crucial. 

Our continued and heartfelt thanks for all of your support.

Do you know how to be happy?

This week a client asked me, “Do you know how to be happy?” The question took me by surprise. It took me a moment to respond, “Yes, I am always happy.” But it has given me pause to consider a deeper question, “Why am I always happy even when I am suffering and feeling the horror and sadness of another’s life, or even my own?” 

Every day Charisse and I experience nothing but tragedy - rape, violence, poverty, loss, sorrow and death - and yet we are happy, fulfilled and spendlarge portions of our days sobbing with people, but also laughing - non stop. 

Our true nature is one of joy. Joy is the state of consciousness beneath our defenses and pain. The capacity to know our joy is the ability to know our sorrow and pain.The more you sink deeply into your pain and accept it, the more you are aware of you true nature of infinite joy beneath the hurts of life. And then joy and sorrow co-exist in consciousness. Life becomes rich, intense, full - embracing the both/and of it all. Pain loses it’s sting with acceptance and in the warm embrace of your own love, humor - and joy. 

Happiness certainly does not have to do with what we have or achieve.The two young men, Masi and Athi, who teach karate in the township, own nothing.They live in a wooden shack behind someone’s else’s house without sanitation or running water. They know abandonment, poverty, deprivation and pain, and yet they are happy - they accept their feelings, know when they feel hopeless and despair and still exude purpose, meaning, energy and yes, happiness -and they bring it to everyone who has the good fortune to attend their exercise and karate classes.

May we all discover how to be happy.

“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”
~Jonathan Safran Foer

See deeply, there is beauty and holiness

See deeply, there is beauty and holiness

The first drama of the fires has calmed down and now there is just the long term devastating effects to the environment and people’s lives. The wildlife is very hungry as vast tracts of land for foraging is gone. Yesterday as I opened the back door to get the groceries in, a big male baboon and a female with a baby rushed into the villa. He grabbed a packet of rusks, eating them as he ran out. After stealing some food, the mama was too scared to come out from behind the bed and curtains, and we had to have the baboon man come and get her out. He was so gentle and respectful of her that it brought tears to my eyes. We laughed so hard at their antics, but it is really sad - they are starving. People are finding dead baboons that have starved to death because of the fires. So I am glad they got some food. I am putting bird food out too. The department of natural resources is asking everyone to feed the insect eating birds, in particular the fork tailed drongas, because they are swarming bee hives that did not burn up for food and endangering the bee population. We feed them tiny pieces of chopped up cheese or hard boiled egg. The inter-being of all life has never been more apparent and immediate, and the beginnings of what is to come with global warming is sobering. We are deeply aware of the sacredness of all life - the trees, the birds, animals, insects, reptiles and people, and the deep truths of life, that beneath the surface of banality and destruction is constant grace, regeneration, new life and hope. The new green grass sprouting out of the blackened hills has never been more beautiful. Beneath the surface of our own mundane lives, no matter the suffering, if we see deeply, is only beauty and holiness.

Let the pebbles do the work

Today we worked all day at a medical clinic in Rheenendal - an outlying small town with a large informal settlement and a very small clinic to service the area. We were asked to come by a nurse who works there, Connie. I have never seen such cheerful, high energy enthusiasm for a job as her! Today she saw 105 patients in an 8 hour shift. She deals with chronic disease in the township - Aids, Tuberculosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, epilepsy and asthma being extremely common. I never saw her do anything but run all day long and being pulled in different directions all the time. Her energy never flagged and she berated us all the way home for taking a lunch break with the highest good humor. We laughed for 40 minutes the whole distance back into town. How does someone do this!?

We worked in a freezing cold little examination room - theTB room, and hour after hour we heard stories of lives devastated by poverty, lack of opportunity of every kind, violence,rape and childhood traumas and abuse. 

We have been noticing on this trip all the “temptations,” with which we are faced. One is the temptation to go to despair and hopelessness in the face of this endless tide of human suffering and misery. This particular temptation leads to burn out, exhaustion and fatigue and I have noticed that it is because I am looking to see a difference externally. I have to remember, over and over again, that my job is only to sow seeds of love and compassion, never to reap the harvest or even question what the outcome might be. 

My work is to stay internally focused on being open, receptive, fully present and as loving as possible. Then I do not despair, or get overwhelmed at the enormity of the problem. If I lose my internal focus and become externally focused, I want to go to problem solving, planning, controlling, starting programs, and changing the system, instead of loving the people and helping them be present to themselves with compassion. It is all that is required. 

Charisse calls it dropping pebbles - we have to drop pebbles and not even notice if there are ripples - or how far they spread. We don’t have time for this. We just have to keep dropping pebbles, sowing seeds and doing our own inner work. We hear over and over again that these stories have NEVER been spoken about before and we experience the peoples’ relief at just being heard. We know and have faith, that if something shifts internally through expressing old pain and being heard, respected and loved, all people have the power to change their own lives, reach out to help one another and create their own systems for change and growth.

Basic needs must be met!

We just discovered that to get a filling in South Africa costs approximately $30.00; getting your teeth cleaned is about $20.00 and that the country is fast becoming a preferred destination for dental tourism. We immediately booked two appointments! 

At the same time we were just overwhelmed by the fact that most of the people we have encountered have never had any dental care because it is way beyond their means. As teeth rot they are extracted. Even young people have few teeth left and the older people we encounter do not have any. The implications for this in terms of nutrition, health and longevity are wide ranging and detrimental. 

While our focus is on internal spiritual and emotional needs it is impossible to ignore the very basic needs of people. It is clear to us that our work is most effective where there are projects that are attending to the basic needs of people at the same time. We are also so very aware of the immense privilege of the first world that can put their emotional and spiritual work into their budget without fear of whether the money for food will last the month till the next meager pay check - one that certainly does not include the possibility of visiting a dentist. We are also aware that many people live with tooth ache and chronic pain until they cannot bear it any longer and have some one pull the tooth out. These are the daily struggles that are not immediately apparent from those looking from the outside in.

A very big thank you to my dentist - Dr. Nancy Holm, for her generous donation of toothbrushes and toothpaste. How wonderful if we could just book appointments for everyone we have worked with to get the necessary dental work done that they need as well. 

The deeper in we go and the more we see the greater the heartache. Please feel free to continue donating to our GoFundMe account. Every $35.00 will provide a filling and we will make sure that we get the person to their appointments.

Recognize the Real Need

A beautiful writing from Lyndall following one of our most trying and profound days working in Khayalethu....

Daily we are experiencing levels of need and deprivation that leave us reeling. The woman dying of Aids who works three shifts and has no time to get to the clinic during the day for retro-viral drugs. I want to say to her, “Yes, but…..” as I see options and solutions. The more I listen the more I realize her entire life has been to just make it through the next day - food on the table for today, avoiding rape, just today, not being beaten up - just today.

Her focus is only on short term survival - there is no possibility of planning for a future. She cannot imagine a different future - she has no vision for one. Her soul is weary. She just wants to be at peace with herself and to die. She is 47 and she does not have much time left. Her need was to be at peace with her soul - not to be alive in this wretched life any longer than she has to. She is not interested in the retro-viral drugs. She doesn’t know how they work, if they work, if she cares if they do. She has never been to a dentist and has no teeth left. As they rotted due to poor nutrition and no possibility of dental services, they were pulled out. Not one basic need has been met since she was born - there was no adequate nutritious food - just enough to stay alive. There was no safety - she has just barely survived rapes and beatings many times. no-one has ever cared for her or valued her - and so life has taught her that her life is of no value to anyone, nor does anyone care. All around her people are themselves scrambling to exist. Instinctually she battles on to live, but hopes to die. This is not an unusual story - it is every day, one person after the next.

I consider my privilege - white, education, food, safety, nurture, value, love, intelligence. I don’t really think about it - it seems normal. Just as she doesn’t really think about her life - it seems normal. It would be easy to talk past one another - speak two different languages completely. It took a while, but finally we found her soul’s need - peace in death. It is what we offered her. 

Our hearts break daily….

It's NOT All About You....

We are learning so much every day. We are trying to read the cues in a completely different culture, with different languages, stages of development, social problems, and all the nuances of communication that are just a little different. 

I have noticed in myself the tendency, when I do not know how to read someone’s silence, or frowning, or distance, to assume that I did something, or said something inappropriate and worry about what it might be. I am sure you can all relate to this very human tendency.

Over and over again, I have had to remind myself that there are differences, but that we are essentially all the same. When I remember that, and go back to the principles by which I live my life, then, instead of the knee jerk instinctual reactions of either withdrawing or getting irritable, I pay attention to myself. What is being triggered? Why? To what does this go back? What might be going on with the other person that I do not know about? Why not ask and show an interest in them and find out by communicating! Radical idea!! The process is so simple and so hard to remember when we are emotionally hi-jacked!

Yesterday morning, I had noticed a young woman barely greeting me, absorbed in her cell phone. This was not the normal smiling welcome that we had received over the last week. Panic! “Did I say something to offend her?” “Did I do something inadvertently?” “Have they decided the work we are doing is worthless for some reason?” And so the worry started building….

Once I could get over myself by doing my inner work, I approached her and asked her how she was feeling because I could see she looked “tired.” This is a safe feeling word here. Instantly she started opening up about what had happened for her over the weekend. The tears flowed, the story rushed out resulting in an hour of processing her pain and struggle.

On the other side of the coin, I have had the experience here in Knysna of being with people who I would have expected to show an interest, not show the slightest interest in who I am or why I am here, or what I am doing. Again, I want to take this personally, until I remember that I myself nearly missed the opportunity to show interest in someone else's life because of my inner assumptions that there might be something wrong with me. I can be gracious about other people’s self absorption - they are surely as caught up in their own self doubt, inner pain and insecurities as I was the other morning until I remembered to do my practice. 

Grace happens with self awareness, through introspection and bringing compassion to our own fears. Only then can we extend ourselves to others. If we do not know what is going on, we can ask, instead of assuming through the distorted lens of our own past.

Change from the inside out

So often the stories of the women in Khayalethu have been completely unheard. We have been told over and over in our sessions, that not one word has ever been spoken of the trauma they have suffered. They have held the secrets within themselves for their entire life, suffering completely alone with the truth of what they have experienced. The freedom and relief they are experiencing in being able to tell the story embraced in love has been transformative. Sometimes a woman will look years younger just through the process of one session. Lyndall and I have seen nothing like it. Below is a dramatic example of this. 

The first is a picture of Ouma (grandma in Afrikaans) prior to our first session. The second picture is from the following day when she came to attend one of our groups. Ouma speaks very little English. Lyndall had not spoken Afrikaans fluently in over 30 years. She had to quickly dust off her rusty memory of the language and translate my words to Ouma, Ouma’s words to me, AND be the therapist.....she was amazing. During that session, Ouma told her story of suffering that she had held inside of her for over 50 years. She had never once spoken those words. 

The next day, Ouma arrived for a group chat. She told about her night. She had awoken with tears of joy streaming down her face and was telling herself that God had sent two women from very far away to heal the the pain of the women here. She then said that a childhood hymn that she had not thought about in many years came to her lips and she started singing. She sang it for our group. I keep saying this......but I felt I had never been so touched as she sang this beautiful Afrikaans hymn in her sweet, very shy voice that was demanding to be heard ......I did not understand one word of the hymn she was singing, but understood the its beautiful meaning entirely.

Not one thing is easy!!

Some of the challenges we are facing are the anticipated ones like the difficulty with language. I am struggling to do therapy and translate English to Afrikaans and then Afrikaans to English, especially when the Afrikaans is spoken rapidly through tears, sniffing and blowing noses. I have not spoken Afrikaans for 30 years and the Cape dialect and colloquialisms is also harder for my ears to hear. However, it is coming back quickly and more fluently after a week. Most of the women we are seeing are Cape Coloreds who speak Afrikaans. One older woman had no English at all.

The second thing that is difficult for us is “Africa time,” which is very fluid and flexible
depending on what crisis or demand is arriving in the complex, chaotic lives of trying to survive at levels of which we westerners know nothing. We are finding ourselves being an informal taxi service up and down the hill. People have no transport, unreliable old cell phones, no internet – communication is informal through word of mouth.They have little information or education about things we take for granted, for instance they do not know to identify the trauma of their lives as abuse. They call it having “a good, strict Christian upbringing," so that they learned to “fear the Lord” and live “good” lives. Then they go on to describe beatings, rape, violence,punishment of being locked up, slapped until they lost their hearing and it goes on and on. They are proud that they have learned to be “strong and good and serve the Lord,” as a result. There is no recognition that they have learned to be obedient to abusive authority and that this has nothing to do with “The Lord.” They have learned to serve the “Lord of Hatred.” I've never stuck up for God so much in my life!

Speaking into the religious stage of development of elevating the victim status and minimizing the perpetration, is surprisingly easy. It is not that different to what I experience in Minnesota all the time in a more nuanced and sophisticated way. We talk a lot about it not being God who has brought suffering and this terrible life to them, only people. One woman told us she has not had a happy day since the day she was born. I actually believed her fully after her first session.

Suspicion – people do not know what “therapy” is and although they are curious, they are
inviting their friends to try it rather than themselves. The tear stained faces of their friends that are brave enough to do this, is enough to make them sure they do not want to do this, no matter how their friends tell them they feel “much better.” They tell us they want to forget about the past and be happy, that it is better not to remember because there is nothing you can do about what has happened. Luckily, those that have done therapy are explaining to the others why it helps and how it helps. We have our first group at noontoday and clearly a lot of psycho-education is required to supplement what we are doing in terms of therapy.

Fear is pervasive and invasive and blankets their lives. They are terrified of anyone knowing they have “problems,” terrified people will speak about their problems to others, shame them, shun them, talk about them, break confidences, gossip. Not different again to Minnesota, but deeper and stronger. We are going to be doing group every day next week at noon, so that people can come and get to know us without having to speak, but just get information and food.

They are used to getting handouts of “stuff,” that makes their lives easier, fosters dependency and dis-empowers them. The missionaries arriving with “aid,”at the moment are at the same time secretly disrespected and also on the outside gratefully used for what they give. They get obsequiues compliance, but they do not help empower the people at all. The idea of self- empowerment is tantalizing, but so much harder for them because it requires a shift to self responsibility from dependency. We have to resist the temptation to “provide,” stuff as an incentive to “do therapy,” This creates a co-dependency that does not help them understand the focus and locus of attention needs to be internal, not external. At the same time there is such genuine need and we are so grateful that when we leave we can give each person that has attended therapy a really nice graduation gift from what so many of you gave.
 

We are in the backroom of a foster care home and we have 14 little orphans running around outside all day long. They are adorable - Charisse will send pictures of them. It breaks your heart to see the lack of any kind of stimulation in terms of crayons, paper, or any kind of toy. We watched some little boys hammer sticks into the ground with rocks to make a goal post and then take turns hitting a plastic ball with old bits of plank as bats.  
 

The place is surrounded by garbage and filth, cow pies, stench of rotting old cow heads, etc. but today, one of our clients told us she can understand now that the outside is because of the inside - because she felt like she had "unpacked her suitcase," she felt so much lighter that she cleaned her house and did not yell at her son and had a wonderful trip to town with him to buy new school clothes without feeling worried and angry about spending money.  Another man told us, he is sleeping for the first time in years. They are very vocal about the changes they are experiencing - so every single thing is worth it.  We are feeling so full and so honored, grateful and awe struck, every night when we wearily take ourselves home to our luxury town house! 

 

How are your donations being used?

How are your donations being used?

We are so immensely grateful to you for your support and belief in our work and service. You have contributed in so many ways, financially, with supplies and with your prayers and faith in the work we are doing.

It became abundantly clear today how much basic need there is. 150 homes in the township burnt to the ground and 89 resorts and homes in the rest of Knysna were completely destroyed. While there was a lot of damage to the homes of wealthy white people, 40% had no home owners insurance and so many are left essentially bankrupt. While resorts are being rebuilt, the jobs they provided have been lost to the black people and so many are left completely destitute with nothing on whichto fall back. The interconnectedness and interdependence of the community has never been more apparent. The man who opens our gate at Pezula got no municipal help because only his roof, doors and windows were blown away by the fire winds. This meant the pigs got into his home and destroyed everything foraging for any food they could find. Payday is still a week away for him and so my sister went and bought him food today. There are a hundred stories like this and we have heard them all day long. People providing hay for the bushbuck, water for wild animals, fruit for the birds. The charred black remains of trees have been spiked with oranges for the birds. Burnt tortoises and reptiles, deer with burnt hoofsand small mammals are filling the rescue centers for animals. Even the baboons have been given some grace with their incessant theft and breaking into homes!  8 people died, two of them firemen.

The immediate outpouring of help during a disaster is a beautiful thing - it is as if, for a moment communal suffering awakens the heart. The usual defenses fall away and suddenly there is a rush of charity and good-will, a shared suffering to which everyone can immediately relate and respond. Differences and hostilities melt away. It gives us a brief glimpse into what a loving, interconnected community could be like. However, it is always very short-lived and in just a few weeks this will be forgotten as people get on with their lives. Their hearts will close over again, the old defenses will reassert themselves and Knysna will be back to business as usual, absorbed in self interest.

This is why the work of breaking down defenses, healing old traumas, and reconnecting people to their souls and their hearts is so essential - so that we can live in harmony and love, with nothing but a willingness to give and serve, and that this be a permanent state, not just a brief opening to the light.

Your investment is in the long term vision of this possibility. There is no immediate visible, and tangible result, no expressions of gratitude for being encouraged to enter into the hidden hell of your life and do the hard inner work. It is truly an act of faith on your part, to trust that the work we will be doing will result in deep inner change that will lead to communities where there is open-hearted giving, listening and presence, not just short term emergency charity.

This all reminds me of an old parable I once heard about a vision of hell in which people were sitting at round tables. In the middle of the table was a large pot of delicious stew. Each person had a long spoon to reach the pot, but the spoon was so long that they could not fill it and get it back to their mouths - so they were doomed, with the tantalizing aroma of food, to be eternally hungry.

Heaven surprisingly enough showed exactly the same scene - the same tables, the same stew, the same spoons, but here everyone was laughing and joyous. What do you suppose the difference was between heaven and hell?

Thank you all for your ongoing generosity and open-hearted giving and for wanting to contribute to creating heaven on earth, by changing lives from the inside out. To be able to offer this work for free to those with nothing, is truly a blessing of sustenance and nurture, growth and freedom - in their lives and in their community.

What you do for the least, you do for me….

 

Always Look Deeper

The requirement is to always look deeper.

I want you to know that I can feel the support of all of you back home. It means more than you can ever know. I wish there was some way to really tell you what this experience is like. I wish there was some way that I could convey in words the complexity of this place. But I know it is impossible to do it well.

Everywhere you look in Khayalethu the signs of poverty overwhelm. The poverty is like nothing you will ever see in America. We have poverty, but we do not have poverty like this. The shacks.....”called informal structures”, are made from anything they can find.....wood, plywood, tar paper, corrugated metal. There are some government built homes. To get one of these is like hitting the lottery. They are wood homes with a few windows. They are not much bigger than our average bedroom. Maybe 10x15. This is their castle. And it is rare. Every street is littered with mounds of garbage. Used dirty diapers, garbage bags ripped open by the starving dogs, discarded food containers, household items that are no longer usable.....it is endless. There is no infrastructure here. What does an entire community do with garbage when there is no plan for what to do with the garbage? It is so tempting to look away. Isn’t it always so tempting to look away? But that is not the requirement....the requirement is to look deeper.

So I looked deeper, and saw the people. The streets are filled with people. Every face I looked at appeared to be embedded with sorrow. There is a wisdom and a knowing, and a heaviness that can only come from deep, deep suffering and in Khayalethu it is everywhere. The children are running and smiling, being playful. But behind this normalcy it is impossible not to notice the sorrow. The weight of this life is apparent in every single person. It seems to fill the air.

As we watched the activity on the streets. Lyndall pointed out two women sitting in lawn chairs......surrounded by dreary buildings and garbage, they were sitting outside enjoying the beautiful day. Lyndall and I commented on the colorful, vibrant umbrellas shading them from the sun. The splash of color seemed to signal the need to look even deeper....past the suffering, past the embedded sorrow....to the splash of hope. The faces are complex......every face here has embedded in it the imprint of sorrow. For me it is the eyes. The eyes tell the story. But there is also a resilience and a strength. And also a splash of hope.

This was our first day of work in Khayalethu. Lyndall and I were quiet, reserved before going to the township. That is unusual for us. Our conversation is often serious, but always littered with humor, and often filled with laughter that draws attention. But not today. We were quiet, contemplative....as if we were preparing. Not nervous, but filled with the gravity, the deep responsibility of what we were faced with.

We had two women scheduled to see us today. Our first two sessions. We were unsure of how to present our work....how to explain what we do in a way that was meaningful and filled with the deep faith that is the very essence of their survival.

The first woman....arrived dressed as Lyndall said.....as if she was about to have “tea with the queen”. Her hair was perfectly set, she wore all red.....a red jacket, red skirt and matching red shoes. I was deeply, deeply touched by her regal walk as she came to greet us. She hugged both of us and told us that she was open......she wanted a deeper connection, to God, to herself. Our experience will be a part of me for the rest of my life.

The second woman.....only found out about our work on this day. When we offered her the work, she looked a little shocked, and very hesitant. Two hours later, she knocked on our door, entered, and said.....”I would like to be your next one”. She sat and shared her story with such openness. Her sorrow and heaviness seemed to fill every cell of her body as she talked. As she cried.

Working with both of these women I felt such a deep sense of responsibility and honor. Both women opened themselves to sharing the sorrow they have experienced. We experienced the sorrow together. Lyndall and I explained that we knew they had suffered entirely alone their whole life but that today we were going to experience it together. All of us....Lyndall, myself, and and each of them......we were going to experience it together. It was the first time they were able to tell their story, the true story, unencumbered by the defenses they have built around it for survival. They opened themselves to it with such grace. With such love.

At one point during the second session, I looked at my hand. This beautiful woman was holding my hand so tightly, as she cried, as we all cried. As we all experienced her unbearable suffering, together, it felt more bearable. It made sense to her. She was able to identify the shame she had carried her whole life since the age of eight. For the first time, she was able to see that this shame did not belong to her. It belonged to her perpetrator. I was struck by the contrast of my white skin with her very dark skin, and how she was holding my white hand to her face. and I was aware that in this complete connection we knew each other. I was aware of how often we see the contrast of our skin and see only difference. How we define ourselves and our differences on the very surface of our being. But in this experience, I looked at our hands filled with connection and love. I could hear the sobs from Lyndall and I knew that together we had all looked deeper. We had all followed the requirement to look deeper. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

THE REQUIREMENT IS TO ALWAYS LOOK DEEPER.