January 25, 2017

‘I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death’. 

Robert Fulghum

In the past months, when I wake up in the mornings, there is this strong flow of hopeful, resilient connection to something deeper and wiser than me streaming through my body. I know I’m not alone in this, although individuals have different ways of expressing or perhaps of experiencing the same thing. When I ask others how they would express it, Shafeeka says ‘it feels like a big sunshine bursting out my belly saying “yay it’s a new day, it’s faith alive”. There is just endless, unlimited passion.’ Ruth says, ‘Yesterday I got great joy from planting a granadilla bush. In looking at my life, especially how difficult things have been lately, what has been a very growing experience, and a driving force, has been learning to tap into my voice, my essence and following that. And when I do that I’m happy and I see that it doesn’t matter what my circumstances are, because they don’t seem to matter as much. For me the big learning curve has been giving myself permission to listen to that inner voice, and to actually follow it. And it may not make sense to people, like living in a one bedroom house with four children doesn’t make sense to people, but its easy to clean, and means I’m able to spend more productive time with my children.’ Zephne knows when she gets ‘kiepvel’, or goosebumps, she needs to be very conscious of what is being said by whom, or the surroundings, ‘because it is not me, it is The Great Spirit.’

The hope that exists for all of us is tremendous – we have access to such power and potential now; power that feels more available to us than ever before. But to believe that we are hoping for an ideal, perfect life without challenges is erroneous. This hope springs from a deep well of sorrow at the awful mess we’ve created in our lives and on Earth. To use the title of Charles Eisenstein’s beautiful book[1], we hope for ‘The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible’.

It is the same kind of hope that inspired Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, to acts of deep compassion and caring whilst imprisoned in various concentration camps during World War II. He subsequently wrote the highly acclaimed Man’s Search For Meaning which was originally published under the title Nevertheless, Say “Yes” to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp. The book chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, which led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, and thus, a reason to continue living.

It is the hope that inspires octogenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians to go sky-diving, rollerblading and pole-dancing because, despite their crumbling bodies, the joy bubbles out of them so strongly they can’t repress it so as to become as sedate as their contemporaries.[2]

I am referring to the hope that inspires me when I meet Sister Abegail Ntleko, who is in her eighties and still has numerous adopted children, whose parents died of AIDS, living with her. I met about 12 of them, all delightfully well-spoken, but there are another 8 at least who are grown now, not to mention the other sixty or so who still live in the orphanage she used to take care of. She received the Dalai Lama’s ‘Unsung Heroes’ award for her life of extending her heart out to wherever it was needed, whether it was staying up for nights on end tending to sick patients as a nurse, or delivering babies on the kitchen floor of her two room shack whilst her orphans slept in the room next door. As she descried it, ‘First I raised my bed onto cinder blocks, so that some could sleep on top and some underneath. A second bed on the other side of the room was also raised and the space underneath it used for storage. Those who didn’t fit on the beds would sleep in the small space between the bedroom and the kitchen, or on the kitchen floor. At night, a child’s body covered practically every spot, so you didn’t know where to step.’ When I chat to her, Sister Abby is soft spoken, warm and as patient as the Drakensberg mountain planted solidly behind her. Not only does she find the time to laugh, she also described how in the Apartheid era she used to attend all the church services on Sundays in the very conservative community of Underberg, even though they catered for ‘whites only’. It was a friendly act of activism emerging from a deep belief in human dignity and rights and a powerful ability to stand in her truth.

The human spirit is indomitable. I frequently hear stories from people who value life events even when they are difficult. Linda is a friend of mine who works in the prisons with a group of maximum security inmates who were incarcerated for crimes ranging from armed robbery to rape or murder. She worked with sixteen men who formed an inspirational syndicate in the prison called The Group of Hope. Linda is their interface with the outside world, and she assists them to have a significant voice that is changing the face of rehabilitation in the prison system. The men themselves were responsible for the creation of the group and for the ideas directing it. They initially started with growing vegetables to feed other prisoners with AIDs. When they had too many vegetables they sold them to provide support for AIDs orphans living outside the prison. Then they set up a sewing workshop to make quilts to keep the orphans warm in winter. They made so many extra quilts that they sold many of them to provide the educational fees for the orphans. They eventually managed to ‘adopt’ many of these kids, and these days they make beautiful hand-rolled jewelry out of recycled paper which buy the kids birthday presents, school clothing and occasional parties. The Group of Hope also runs workshops for correctional services on AIDs awareness. But the most remarkable thing about them is their spirit. All of them live with roll calls, prison politics and prison protocols ruling their lives, yet they are amusing, warm hearted, down to earth men who support one another, and appreciate life as fully as they can within the limiting, tiny cell they are all sharing. Even outside the prison they are making a difference. Sihle Tshabalala, now on parole, an ex-armed robber, describes life outside. “People in the townships have lost their dignity,” he explains. “Ex-offenders know the struggles that take their dignity. So we can give it back. We can give hope.”

This hope isn’t ‘out there’. These people are not extraordinary as much as they are slightly ahead of their time. They are simply tapping into a wealth of strength and power that belongs to the collective and that resonates at a frequency of unconditional love. It cannot be used for personal gain because its energy is that of joy, peacefulness, serenity and compassion. This power is so close to us. It is one breath away, right here. As we spiral into circumstances that are incompatible with survival, so it moves us closer and closer into our hearts. This source of wellbeing and potential for real health is pressed up against our noses, strengthening our backbones, and burbling into every cell of our bodies in an irrepressible fountain of joy.

[1] Charles Eisenstein. The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible. North Atlantic Books 2013. Charles Eisenstein relates real life stories that show how small, individual acts of courage, kindness and self trust can change our culture’s guiding narrative of separation, which, he explains, has generated the present planetary crisis.

[2] Vladimir Yakovlev’s ‘Age of Happiness’ project features retirees who are young at heart, taking up new hobbies in their 70s, 80s and 90s. https://www.facebook.com/theageofhappiness

by Robyn

Robyn Sheldon