Tag Archives: Community

Discovering Your True Self

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We never really know who we are until we strip away everything we thought defined us.  All that comprises our daily life; our home, the food we eat, the people we greet, the clothes we wear, the trivial material objects of our unearned affection.  When you leave all this behind in pursuit of a foreign land, in quest of that noble unattainable quality that makes one ‘worldly’ – the word we’re taught from childhood to revere as a synonym for ‘wise’ – life dumps you on your ass to start from scratch.  It’s as if the teacher of life wiped clear the blackboard and handed you a fresh piece of chalk, challenging all you have ever learned.  You begin again, you are free to be yourself with no strings attached, your spirit renewed.  When you travel, it’s as if the world is letting you be as you are, accepting your quirks and graces with open arms, saying “I embrace you, because I understand that you are you, and the accumulation of that is what makes me such an awesomely profound place.”

And only in the absence of our possessions and familiar beings do we begin to unravel the hidden jewel of our soul that has been buried in the pages of a self-written play, the predictable plot we have contrived for ourselves, acting the role of a character we thought to be the perfect part.  I wonder how many people I pass on the street are where they want to be in life…. I wonder if they are living the life they always wanted; if they find happiness in the roles they have assumed in this world.  Isn’t the thrilling rush of travel the notion that tomorrow could bring anything? – that the shackles of routine are tossed aside for a brief window of time where the world is your oyster and fate your only comrade.  Where skipping down the street between your two long lost friends – ‘spontaneity’ and ‘youthfulness’ – is your staple joy to pass the time, all that you need aside from your daily meals to find fulfillment.  It is the freedom of daily choice, of open possibilities, of approaching the unexpected bumps in the road just to see where it may lead, that fuels my incessant hunger for travel.

Some people travel for the allure of escape, of ‘leaving all their baggage behind’.  The reality is that this is rarely achieved; those who are running away seek sanctuary from themselves, and they will never find it traveling – for this is the medium that best unveils the fading fresco of the true self.  Traveling is a self portrait.  It is a voyage of self discovery. The experiences you have along the way are individual brushstrokes that depict a portion of your being.  If you are fraudulent with your interactions, your painting reflects that – your brushstrokes will quiver, distorting into a crooked wretched portrayal of something you thought you wanted people to see.  A person must approach life with an authenticity, explore the world with no parameters of who they think they should or should not be, engage in community unaffected by what people do or do not say about them.  They must act as they were naturally born to act; and that is how the masterpiece will be achieved.  I hope someday in my ripe old age, if someone were to see my portrait, the fresco of my life, they could say – “that person looks like they have seen a lot of action.”  I hope that it would look like someone who could be large by acting small, who could say a lot with few words; who knew the forest and children’s laughter, who showed kindness to others with subtle quiet gestures… like someone who believed in treading lightly upon this earth to fully hear its heartbeat, rather than the stomping of one’s own feet.

Have you found your true self?  How would your fresco look?

Photo by unknown

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Filed under Culture, People, Self discovery, Society, The Deliberate Life, Travel

Humanity Defined: The meaning of Ubuntu

As humans, we too often forget that our actions have  a cause and an effect.  We forget that we are all connected to the consequences of one another; that what we do – our actions, our words, our feelings, eventually manifest themselves out into the world.  We do not realize that our efforts at achieving isolation and independence are in vain, for we cannot escape the decisions and revolutions that affect the world in which we live.  Our hands reach out unknowingly, and spread like breath, a soft vapor touching the peripherals of our fellow beings.  We forget that to be our best, we must look for the best in each other; that to live in peace, we must strive for harmony inwardly and outwardly.  We cannot ignore the lives of those around us.

We must greet one another with Ubuntu.

I remember the day I learned this word.  It was a revelation.  I was eating lunch across from Mark Mathabane, (maw-tah-bah-knee) held captive by an excruciatingly heartbreaking tale.  I could hardly swallow my food as I listened to a story of growing up in poverty, of unendurable suffering, of innocence robbed.  This tale was Mark’s childhood.   It was life as he knew it, through the eyes of a young boy confronting the hardships of apartheid in South Africa.  Confronting thoughts of suicide at the age of 10, facing a future that appeared so bleak and hopeless – digging in garbage heaps for food, never knowing where his next meal would come from.  But what he did know, was that despite the weary destitution, Ubuntu held his people together.  He guarded his family’s love like a fragile blossom, its tendrils gingerly holding the fragments of his life in order.

Mark Mathabane (formerly Johannes), native South African tennis athlete, scholar, author, and former White House Fellow.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains the South African philosophy of Ubuntu as “the essence of being human”,

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.  

Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

As Mark told the story of his coming of age, I gained a new appreciation for the meaning of the words family … friends … community; Ubuntu.  I could feel, through subtle cracks in the constant strength of his voice, the pain he endured – all the struggles he fought to be here, sitting right in front of me.  I realized right then and there, that nothing in my life was to be taken for granted.  I realized that everything I am, all that I have, all that I will be, I owe to my roots – my foundation – my family.  I saw,  in the dark pools of his eyes, that pain and suffering can be overpowered – that man can prevail in the face of oppression, that if he stands beside his fellow man instead of against him, they both are stronger.  That to embrace each other with Ubuntu, is the light in the shadow of darkness.

I later read Mark’s autobiography and best seller, Kaffir Boy, followed by his sister’s biography, Miriam’s Song.  Both are controversial stories, strong staples in literature curriculum, challenged by narrow-minded parents yearly.  Reading his books, particularly Kaffir Boy, deeply moved me.  But nothing has struck me with such profound effect as the expression on Mark’s face the day I learned Ubuntu.

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Filed under Community, Culture, Humanity Defined, People, Society, Tribal, Tribes