The chasm of longing

My relentless, restless desire to immerse myself in African culture began during my short but memorable stint on the Africa Mercy Ship while in Port Noire, Republic of Congo. Something inside opened and a seemingly bottomless chasm of curiosity and intrigue lured me to the continent over and over.

Photo Credit: Michelle Murrey;

Recovering a child on Mercy Ship

In the last 3 years I have made the 8000+ mile journey 8 times! That is a staggering number of miles and hours spent in pursuit of a passion to experience the culture and traditions of people from which all earthly existence stems. An astonishing number of hours seated in immovable seats, crunched into submission, yearning for sleep and comfort on the 15+ hour transatlantic flight.

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Beauty from Mercy Ship

I am not sure what has propelled me into this whirlwind of desire and curiosity. Could it be my deepest connection to ancient roots? A desire to serve? Or worst, simply boredom and a need to “find myself”.   I am reminded, “Wherever I go, there I am.”

Until now, I could not explain it nor deny the pull, the intrigue, the curiosity. My assignment in Swaziland ended after 2 months, my choice. Working under a micromanager did not align with my style. My most recent assignment in Kenya I terminated due to family crises after 1 month. During my stay in rural Kenya, I noticed a change in my resolve, my curiosity, my passion for the work and the culture. Other issues and people were calling to me, my family, my partner, my passions for running, animals and relaxing in nature surfaced in a most compelling way.

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Fruits of the rainy season

Restless, irritable and discontent, I ended my assignment after 1 month, both embarrassing and disturbing. I don’t feel good about breaking agreements and bailing after such a short time. But I felt compelled to take care of myself and my family, choosing from a place of joy and vitality vs burden and responsibility. Having invested money, time and emotional energy in my journey to Kenya, it was both with sadness and relief that I let it go, driven by the desire to live a joyful life. I sought counsel and guidance from a new “bestie” in Kenya, Sister Jennifer, a lovely and soulful retired teacher and Sister of Mercy.

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Sister Jennifer

It was easy to chose as a result of her guidance: “God is life and all life is God. God is in everything and a reflection of all we are and do. Chose from what gives you life and vitality. When you waken in the morning, what gives you life?” I already knew what my choice needed to be in order to support my joy and vitality but I believe I needed permission or a nudge in that direction. She complied through her simple guidance and loving presence.

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girl fetching water

Rural Mutomo was a grim experience for me; 70 km from tarmac roads, stricken with severe poverty and a high burden of disease, often leading to orphaning entire families of children.  HIV, TB, diabetes, accidents, and drought left families without safety, security, and food. I was unprepared for the limited sources and variety of food for myself, though fruits and many vegetables were available. In order to procur even the most basic supplies, it was a 2+ hour ride on rutted and often impassible roads. The monotony of the food was challenging. Daily power outages were predictable. Heavy rains made the roads impassible many days.   The quiet and pastoral nature of the land and people were soothing and I enjoyed the cows, goats and chickens that roamed freely through the town’s streets and around my house.

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My friends and neighbors

My role as nurse educator in a newly established nursing school was easy to walk into, working with 2 established faculty members on site. Teaching to a group of 5 incoming students was not what I expected. The dynamics were challenging as I encouraged them to communicate with openness and honesty. Rural African people tend to be shy and culturally it is most appropriate for them to maintain a reserve that is often uncomfortable for me, the ebullient, curious, questioning one.

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Me and Joanna

Upon leaving I am struck dumb by the sudden disappearance of that open and seductive chasm of longing for Africa. I feel a sense of completion, at peace with my decision to return home. Though this sudden absence of longing is disturbing and a surprise,  it is a bit of relief as I am sure it is for my family. I have no idea what is next, both an exciting and daunting challenge.

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My signature meal of kitchari dal

I am ready to sit and eat a cheeseburger, fresh salad and perhaps a piece of carrot cake or gelato….. and stare into the eyes of my loved ones. I am humbled by my guilt, self absorption and focus on my own needs. I wanted to be stronger, to serve the disadvantaged, to explore. Turning 65 tomorrow, perhaps I am entering a new era of brand new exploration and discovery. I am ready to support and care for those I come home to, and await the unfolding of what is next….

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TAKING MY SEAT

 

A pivotal point in my recent life journey emerged when I began to actively practice yoga in 2011. Seeking a variation in my exercise and physical activity I entered a yoga studio in Southern Pines, NC where I was spending much of the winter with my horses, seeking refuge from the NE winter.

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MISTY:  HAPPY BABY POSE

Challenging, sweaty, painful, humiliating….my first few experiences in the studio. My inflexible limbs would not cooperate with the suggested poses. Gasping for air, I could not stay in step with gentle, slow breathing.  I lived for the end of the class, shavasana, or corpse pose, when you get to lie down, close your eyes, and drift off.

Two teachers became role models and inspiration for my practice, Sarah and Marcella. Quiet, strong, supple, they encouraged and helped me stay with it.  Most of all, I loved that they reminded me that it is Yoga practice, not Yoga perfect. I began to view yoga as a way of self-expression, living and practicing within my own limits. I released the need to compare myself to others in the room; to focus on my mat and do my best.  I learned I could take this concept off the mat, out of the studio, into the world.

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JACKSON:  MOUNTAIN POSE

Marcella suggested that I consider a yoga teacher training in order to deepen my practice and learn more about the history and aspects of yoga that transcend the physical poses. Though I did not have the desire to necessarily teach or make a living at it, I was intrigued and curious. After exploring a few options, I chose to embark on perhaps the most expensive basic 200 hour training ever!  I enrolled in Rolf Gate’s course in Orlando FL, requiring monthly weekend travel to Orlando for 15 months!

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DRAGONFLY AT PEACE

My choice of teacher was simple and straightforward; I had seen the fruits of Rolf’s trainings mirrored in Marcella’s teaching, and I was drawn to the style and softness of the practice. When I heard of his personal transformation as a result of yoga, I had to see for myself what this deeper training was all about. The program was fascinating, freeing, rigorous. Our group became fast friends and shared many laughs and still stay in touch.

Since completion in 2012, I have taught only a handful of courses. The value and principles remain imbedded in my spirit. Over the years, I have abandoned my yoga out of laziness, distraction or simple lack of interest.

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ROLF AND I AT GRADUATION

Isolated in Kenya, unable to run freely as yet, homesick and longing for family, familiar foods and experiences, I turn to yoga. I take my seat on the mat and breathe. Rejuvenating my practice has given me focus, peace, serenity, balance, and the challenge of loosening my increasingly taut body! As the blood and breath reach into cells and muscles ignored for months/years, I feel stimulated yet relaxed. My cells are invigorated and my body tingles with the familiar awakening of this movement of energy within.

I am grateful and appreciate this renewal. It helps me get through days when I feel lost and isolated. My muscles and ligaments respond with strengthening and increasing flexibility. When beginning yoga I did not expect to learn anything other than physical poses, physical flexibility.

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DONOVAN:  REVOLVED TRIANGLE POSE

The insights received from both formal training and regular practice comfort and ground me, affecting both my physical and emotional experience:

  • Surrender my expectations for perfection
  • Open my heart
  • Balance effort with ease
  • Abide calmly in the moment
  • Do my best, without straining or struggle
  • I can take my seat anytime, in order to change my attitude or experience
  • Letting go of struggle yields peace and comfort
  • Being present in the moment attunes me with my feelings and emotional state
  • Release from my mind made prison, being present
  • Suffering is optional

There are so many others….try it on for size!

I thank all of those teachers who have inspired, guided, enlightened, and led me to the beautiful, grounding and heart opening practice of yoga.

Holy Encounter

 

A light mist fell as I wound my way through a suburban neighborhood in Nairobi for the first time. Only the occasional chatter of birds disturbed the silence as I marveled at the quiet outside such a bustling city.

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Serene and misty walk

Dropped at my guesthouse at 9:30 last night (3/16) I did not know how I would feel about the surroundings in which I would awaken. The guesthouse, simple, comfortable, and quiet afforded me much needed rest and regrouping after a long transatlantic flight to Zurich and on to Nairobi.

After a simple breakfast of eggs and veggies, I found that the restaurant I was to meet 2 other cmmb volunteers was only 2 km away. It always presents a choice of safety versus the delight and anticipation of exploring new surroundings in a profoundly different culture but after discussing the options with the guesthouse staff, I eagerly yet gingerly walked into the neighborhood in search of Cheka, the Japanese restaurant.

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Me and Joanna, my site mate

What a pleasant surprise, a suburban road, quiet, lushly green and laden with flowering shrubs and trees. I passed only 3 people the entire 2 km, enjoying the quiet and taking my first daylight hours in Kenya.

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OOOOHH gelato!

After lunch and a visit to the grocery store, which offered gelato, spices of every kind, and beautiful and varied produce, I headed back home in the soft rain, inquiring every few moments, am I really here? What a gift…

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Fresh bread in the market

As I rounded the corner to home, I spotted a middle aged Kenyan woman walking in a few yards in front of me, carrying a large bundle on her head, clothed in traditional garb; head scarf, long colorful print skirt, assorted layered tops. As I caught up to her, we greeted each other, smiling. She spoke to me in Swahili and I attempted to explain I had 1 day under my belt and no Swahili yet. We both burst out laughing as she stroked my hair along the back of my head, and I clutched her hand in an act of friendship and greeting.

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Heavy cargo

We continued to each speak in our native tongue, holding hands as we walked. She pointed to my head, and her bundle, and I wondered if she wanted me to try it out.   I offered but she did not understand, or want me to. She again stroked my hair. I did not recoil or stop her. I was touched by her gesture, her eagerness to make connection. Our communication was about friendship, an exploration of our openness and courage to touch, reach out and connect in a world where we are so often afraid. Afraid of germs, touching strangers, unsure what to say or do.

This was the most natural exchange and so spontaneous. It felt good and gentle and innocent. As Karen Casey writes in 52 Ways to Live the Course in Miracles                   “No experience is lacking in purpose.   Every encounter is holy.” 

It is in this connection, a spontaneous moment, these holy encounters, that I am moved by spirit, a higher power to continue my travels to far off places; to explore myself, my barriers, my walls and my willingness to restore my own relationship with humanity.

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From Mother Theresa

One day, my first day, so touched my heart and my experience. I understand that I can also do this in my own country, that I don’t have to travel 10,000 miles to have these experiences. But I love the adventure and cultural exchange, and showing others that as Americans we can still love and connect with other faiths, colors, creeds despite our political leadership.

Stay tuned! Much more to come…