The benefits of meditation have become a huge topic lately, with proponents reporting astounding results and entire new movements which encourage people to sit in silence and try not to think!
Even as I describe that, it feels strange. “Sit in silence and try not to think.”
I recently went on a retreat where the greater part of the day, one spent in silence. The quiet time actually allowed me to reflect and I returned with a new surge of energy and drive.
Unfortunately, it seems many these days are doing too much of the “passing time” and too little in the way of silent communion with self and with God.
We live in an unforgivingly loud and distracting world, where we wake up to clock alarms and spend the rest of the day on someone else’s schedule.
We spend hours on cellphones, computers and tablets, dare I say, watching too much television without considering how much damage this “screen time” can cause, not just for us but for our children, who can suffer from sensory overload, lack of quality sleep and a nervous system which is overstimulated.
It is clear we are finding it harder and harder to find time for the quieter moments in life, being consumed by things that do not serve us. Forgetting to “be still and know that He is God”.
We are missing out because we tend to do too much and “be” too little. There is something unfortunate about the fact that those of us who are most productive are often unable to sit still. The one thing we can’t do, is to “just be”.
Franz Kafka says, “Remain silent at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to YOU to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
In my weekly column, among other topics, I aim to share what I have learned in the pursuit of wellness, raising my level of consciousness and awareness.
Meditation is one such discipline I practice. I challenge you to take 10 minutes of each day to sit with no external stimulation. Just be with yourself and listen to the sound of your heart as it beats.
Marvel at the miracle of this very beating, because it is part of the miracle of God’s design. Feel the tips of your fingers touch, close your eyes and reconnect with self.
The art of removing yourself from the external world is free, empowering and wonderful!
In July 2000, 10-year-old Nkosi Johnson gave a speech at the opening of the 13th International Aids Conference in Durban. He detailed his life, beginning with what it was like to live in a community which discriminated against people with HIV/Aids.
Nkosi, whose mother passed away in 1997, was adopted by Gail Johnson, and lived out his life raising awareness about the pandemic as confusion reigned. With the mixed messages we were receiving from the government and media of the time, one can see how difficult life must have been for people living with HIV/Aids.
Fast forward to 2016, and we still have the highest profile HIV epidemic in the world. According to UNAIDS (the UN Programme on HIV/Aids) an estimated 7 million people are infected, and many millions more are affected. The good news is that SA has the largest antiretroviral treatment programme in the world.
My friend Criselda Kananda-Dudumashe launched her memoir on Tuesday, You Are Never Alone, and as someone who has been living positively for almost 20 years, her story is a reminder that being diagnosed with HIV/Aids is not a death sentence, one can live a long and productive life!
In this Aids month let us all re-examine whatever prejudices we may be harbouring against our sisters and brothers living with the virus . Let us remember that we are indeed all the same; one humanity, with a heartbeat and a pulse.
The rain will come!
Recent events in the country have escalated to levels that can no longer be denied, and as we are bombarded with all manner of information, points of view and narratives, this might be as good a time for us to reflect as we come to the end of the year.
Needless to say, notwithstanding our own personal opinions, we have all been affected by the current political and socioeconomic events in South Africa.
We have experienced loss in the form of the deaths of many inspirational South Africans, we have seen the economy struggle to grow. We continue to experience the #FeesMustFall protests that also continue to rage on undeterred.
Young girls have had to rise up against discrimination aimed at them by the very school that should have been protecting them.
We are in the middle of one of the most severe droughts the country has ever seen.
It is easy to wallow in the doom and gloom at a time when it feels like that is all we have, but what about the good and the positive that surrounds us?
What about the sporting heroes who have brought glory to our country at the Rio Olympics and Paralympics, as well as the CAF Champions league? Do you remember the proud moment when Caster Semenya defied the odds and chose not to hear the naysayers?
The feeling we all had when she stood up on that podium with victory written all over her face?
What about the fact that we have the most progressive constitutions in the world? What about our hard- earned democracy that’s been lauded by the world?
What about everyday South Africans we encounter who have gone above and beyond to make this country what it is? The doctors and nurses who work endless shifts in crowded hospitals because they want to save lives? The police men and women who leave their families at home everyday to stand in the line of fire? The teachers who continue to give themselves to the children who will become the future leaders of our beautiful land?
As I reflect on 2016, I ponder on what we have been through as a people and as a nation. There is no doubt these are tumultuous times, but we must remember that we are only going through this moment, we will not be staying. We have to hold steadfast to the strength we have cultivated through the years as we overcame the challenges of the past.
It is time for us to direct our energies for the collective good. The rain will come, both literally and figuratively. It will energise the soil for new growth and endless possibilities. But until it does, bravery, courage and tenacity are what we need. Hope for a better tomorrow and not losing heart is what will sustain us, and a relentless pursuit of our dreams is what will move us forward.
Whatever the setbacks of the moment, whatever the difficulties we are facing, together we shall overcome. Call me an optimist, yes I am an eternal optimist!
Self-compassion is both a simple and profound concept.
It is one of those concepts many of us were not exposed to because of the nature of our communities. Growing up in large, close-knit families where one is not pre-occupied with the self, teaches us to give to others in the interest of the collective. Perhaps that same spirit of giving might be the reason many of us fail to realise when our bodies and minds are quite literally “running on empty”.
There are many ways the body shows us it has reached the end of its tether and cannot go any further: aches and pains, recurring infections, the feeling that no matter how much sleep you get, you are still tired. One can then go to the doctor for a prescription and possibly a few days off for recuperation, but what happens when the non-physical parts cry out for attention?
What I know as truth is that the heart and the soul need to be taken care of and protected from harm. We do in fact have a responsibility to be actively good to ourselves – to practise positive internal dialogue, to cultivate habits that build the physical, mental and spiritual being.
In my case, the act of switching off my phone and spending time with my children un-distracted, cooking meals for my family, finding new books to read and share, going out to socialise with my friends, are all the things I do in aid of my heart and sanity. I also find great joy in acts of service. So I do things for others that please my soul.
You too, dear reader, have a responsibility to be good to yourself. As you go about your business giving to others and working hard at your career, nurturing your family, recognise the need to provide for yourself as well.
You cannot proceed through life empty. So refill yourself daily with the things you love to do. You are no good to anyone anyway if you are running on empty.
It could be as simple as walking barefoot in the garden after work, or physical contact with your significant other. Perhaps you love to watch movies, but haven’t had time to go to the cinema. It’s time to book that ticket and go, laugh as if you are the only one there and eat loads of popcorn.
Give yourself permission to find joy, so that you, too, can have a gleam in your eye, and a spring in your step. Cut yourself some slack!
The Four Agreements, a book by Miguel Ruiz was first brought to my attention when I was granted the huge opportunity to interview Oprah Winfrey in 2002.
In the interview, which became more of a masterclass on her life, we covered topics far and wide.
We unpacked the life philosophies of people like Dr Martin Luther King Junior, whose writings had set the tone for Winfrey’s incredible life, and then she spoke about the profound impact the book had made on her.
You don’t walk away from such a powerful conversation without the motivation to seek more for yourself. So I got my hands on the book.
I cannot begin to describe how these unassumingly simple “guides to personal freedom” touched me, how they still ring true for me in my daily interactions. Let me share these learnings with you.
Rule 1: Be impeccable with your word
In an age where we are compulsively interacting with other people in one way or the other, it is imperative that we become good at listening to our inner voice, the most honest and authentic part of ourselves which always rings true. By doing so, and in realising the power of our utterances we can show others that we can be trusted.
When you are honest in your interactions, you don’t have to keep a record in your mind of what you said, to whom and when. You liberate yourself from exposing your energy to negativity.
Rule 2: Don’t take anything personally
The book says the things people do and say to you are almost always informed by the way they are feeling, and by their own experiences. It hardly ever has to do with you. Your reaction to it then makes it about you.
Imagine if every tinge of guilt, or confusion, or contempt you have ever felt at the painful things people say should illicit an unnecessary response, giving it undue power. If you were able to keep this principle in mind, you could quite literally stay rational and calm, even when things done by others are unfair or unwarranted.
Rule 3: Don’t make assumptions
I learned this lesson when, as a young Miss SA, I heard the unassailable Doreen Morris say these very words to Paul, the driver who often would get me to events late, assuming this or that. The thing about an assumption, is that it disempowers everyone involved, by not allowing them to confirm their position.
Rule 4: Always do your best
This is my personal favourite: if you have done your best, that is good enough. We are only human, prone to imperfection by nature. Your best is the standard you should use to determine your performance. Nothing more and nothing less. Your best is circumstantial, and is therefore set to change. It is therefore important to never force ourselves to operate on levels beyond the circumstances, what’s important is to keep giving your best.
Active citizens can, and do make change!
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” so said Margaret Mead.
This quote captured me this week as I considered the topic of my weekly piece. As I witnessed student protests raging on all over the country, gaining momentum and becoming more intense, I found myself distressed, to say the least.
Wall-to-wall media coverage of this issue has fuelled some very polarised views regarding whether what the young people are doing is constructive or destructive.
Many bemoan them for destroying the same property they will actually need to study when the dust settles, while others point out that what they are fighting for is in fact not economically viable.
Others still, stand with them in solidarity, because they believe they are fighting for a just cause, not only for themselves but future generations as well.
I dare say they are fighting for their parents as well, who are struggling to pay for a potentially life-altering education.
I am concerned about the student protests because I am passionate about youth development, education and the future of our country. I actually believe that if they are not given the tools they require to better themselves, we will never be able to reverse the trajectory of our past and open a new chapter.
Then my thoughts wandered to the issue of active citizenship, as it relates to the rest of us, the parents, uncles and aunts of these young people who look on and comment from the sidelines. The same people who may have been involved in the 1976 uprising when they were younger.
What are you doing to add your voice to the narrative of South Africa?
Picture a situation where we were all involved, actively making change through dialogue. Imagine if we had structures in place where youth issues where not just discussed, but advocated and acted upon before they turned into a painful, violent show of desperation.
Active citizenship has a key role to play in allowing each of us to find real solutions rather than indulging in scapegoating, discrimination and mere commentary.
It is the only way we can really have a finger on the pulse and find constructive solutions.
What is taking place today is no different to what happened in 1976 when I was two years old. I may not necessarily have understood what was happening at the time, but that changed the course of our history. Today, our youth are still fighting for education, for free education !
This column is dedicated to the youth of our country, who have chosen active citizenship.
Whether this was executed in the correct manner is for us all to decide for ourselves, but maybe instead of talking about it, we should act on it.
Be active citizens!!!