Archive for December, 2011

Finding Home

December 13, 2011

December 2011

Dear Friends,

In Mhlangeni farmers are weeding their maize fields. Summer has brought good rains, and sprouts are growing into strong stalks. Me, I’m enjoying the community projects, the people, and the gift of time and space for the inner work these past two years have given me.

Peace Corps welcomes engaged volunteers to apply for a third year extension. It was only well into the second year that I was feeling at home in the community and in my work. The familiar faces and the slow rhythm of rural life were taking hold. As importantly, I was seeing the not-so-pleasant parts of myself and sensing opportunity for further growth. How could I leave?

It’s interesting, the conditioned negativities and judgments that come up in the mind. On a superficial level I wanted to believe that Swaziland and what I viewed as Swazis being out of step with modernity were the source of my irritation and criticism. Weren’t my judgments justified? The problem was my opinions vacillated. One week I thought Swaziland was the greatest place to be, the next week, the worse. Then I began to see my own defenses, like negativity and guardedness, and a general irritation with life. I saw that I’d been in a low-grade argument with life for so long I could hardly hear the bickering anymore. I wanted this, I didn’t want that, why were people this way, why couldn’t things be different? This rub with life.

Swaziland has been perfect for me. It gives me the absence of culture that once reinforced my anxieties. Here the old rules are out of synch with the new place. No one in Mhlangeni plays my game. So I’ve had to shift my gaze inward for answers.

Peace Corps staff said yes to my extension. My close of service date moved from August 2011 to September 2012. I’m in the same community, same house, in the same and new work. But this year without John. Being without him is a push toward growth in itself. On my own again . . . until September.

Yet I’ve never been alone. Other forces come together for support. Books by Carl Jung and social worker Douglas Davies, meditation retreats, whales at Hermanus, quiet nights and the pull of a bright moon, a disciplined and focused mind. The meditation teacher last month who said just the thing that helped me go deeper and then gave the prick that brought up despair, that old demon that before I could hardly bear. This time I could bear it. I met the protector herself, the creator of my defenses. I felt the hurt self trying so hard to do the right thing and to be so good. All of it exposed. Surprising, how it all came together. And so an awakening to sources of negativity and defense, so that at even at age 51 I get the chance to shed old habits and become a mature adult.

I can’t help but think we are pulled toward healing and wholeness despite our best efforts to deny the best parts of ourselves. The extraneous noise can be so loud we can hardly hear the persistent inner voice. And yet an invitation to awaken . . . .

I want to write about culture and its power, because stepping outside of America offered such freedom. The feeling of spaciousness. Never had I observed the force and constraint of culture so powerfully, itself also impersonal. Swazi and American. Being in both worlds, an American in Swaziland, and yet contained in neither.

What do I mean by culture? I mean in America the pressure of time (time as something precious and coveted and spent like money), the quickness of things, the prodigious intellect, the efficiency, the devaluing of things old, even people. The fostering of imagination and creativity. For Swazis, the pride in custom and tradition (and erring in defining these alone as culture), the over-valuing of old that blocks honest progress, the conditioned dependence on aid, the system of extended family and place and roots weaved into a web of support absent and wanting in the nuclear family.

In common, the arbitrary and maybe necessary nature of it all, the maintenance of status quo, the relentless pressure of conformity, the shaping of an individual and continuation of societies.

What freedom I’ve had in Swaziland! Yet, I’m glad to be an American and honored to be a US Peace Corps volunteer. I love my country but the thought of returning to it, in less than a year . . . . I’m afraid of loosing my connection to the inner life and the peace and stillness I’ve tasted. How can I hold on to the best in myself and return to America an American?

So this is my edge. Where is my home?

Please keep me in your prayers, as I pray for you.

With love,

Jordan

 

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