Love is the Purpose we are

LOUISA ZONDO

It is indeed an honour and a great privilege to stand in this place, some 38 years after I last set foot in this sanctuary. I am filled with emotion as I feel transported back to the period 1976 to 1980 when this was home.

When MaTate asked me to address this year’s At Home, it was not difficult for me to agree. She told me that the theme you had discerned to guide your journey this year is: “TAKE OWNERSHIP, BE RESPONSIBLE, BE ACCOUNTABLE” I also gleaned from her communication that MaTate holds the view that my whole life experience wound around the Kilimanjaro expedition that I participated in, in July this year, speaks to this theme. This is the reason she asked me to come and share some of that life experience with you.

While I am delighted that I got the invitation I must confess that I did wonder what, about my life experience had given MaTate the impression that the life I have led speaks to this year’s theme. I have not had the opportunity to study my records in the school archives, so I suddenly wondered whether those records reveal that at the age of 12 years, my Accountancy teacher had already dubbed me: “Aunty Lou”, prompted by my rather matronly ways even at that early age. This “Aunty Lou” name has stuck with me and to date, this is how peers and those older, refer to me.

It truly is emotional to look at Inanda from the perspective of an Old Inanda Girl and see how the experience of being in this school shaped some fundamental values in me. To see afresh the import of the pioneering spirit of Ma Lucy Lindley, Ma Mary Kelly Edwards, Ma Lavina Scott, our forebears - the women who came to Inanda and nurtured dreams of living their authentic lives in a patriarchal society whose operating system perpetuated the “erasure” of women – and the pioneering spirit of the many Inanda alumnae as they SHINE where they are.

I look back at my time at this school with fond memories. Dominated by memories of tumbling across the length of the central lawns in cartwheels, the nostalgia almost tricked me into surrendering to the urge to abandon all cares and start tumbling again. WOHE…GUGA MZIMBA, SALA NHLIZIYO! If only I could!

Membas, various methodologies of assessing stages in the development of organisational consciousness, will categorise your theme this year as Transformational. It falls in the level of consciousness characterised by Renewal and Learning and is in good company with other transformation values such as adaptability, teamwork, empowerment, goal orientation and personal growth. The amazing feature of operating from this level of consciousness is that there is no room for fear-based values.

Living “TAKING OWNERSHIP, BEING RESPONSIBLE AND BEING ACCOUNTABLE” as our core values, requires that we transcend and include everything. Taking ownership in part, is not taking ownership. With partial ownership, we continue to be positional as we try to be right. The converse approach is that of being open to accepting everything in the situation. This entails getting over our own fixations associated with the situation (transcending) and incorporating the views of others in my understanding of the circumstances (including). All of this must be rooted in openness to trust the outcome, whatever they might be. Such trust is possible is we are able to completely abandon judgment and labelling and see everything as just being what it is. “IT IS WHAT IT IS” and “I AM WHO I AM”.

I should at this point place a disclaimer as I speak to you about some aspect of life, as I have experienced it. I do not profess to bring a treasure trove from which you will be advised to extract wisdom. Instead I confess to continuously learning from young people and their ways. Young people see and live in a world that is remarkable different from the world that us old folk see, live in and - rather unwisely - seek to perpetuate. It is young people who seem to be more naturally attuned to the call for creative maladjustment which was sounded by Martin Luther King in 1967. Addressed the convention of the American Association of Psychologists that year, he uttered words which reverberate as truth in this day when he said: “You are saying that all must seek the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But on the other hand, I am sure that we will recognize that there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence....It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence, it is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”

I acknowledge and bow to young people, in South Africa and across the world, as they creatively take on struggles against violence, inequality and corruption and struggle for political rights and economic, social, cultural and environmental justice.

In the various facets of my life, I have been saved many many times from the anguish of grappling with challenges by taking the narrow road, and thus allowing myself to see afresh in a manner that enables me to embrace new possibilities. Judgment and the labelling of things always find a way of attaching themselves to issues and limiting the potential for creative and effective resolution and overcoming of suffering. One example from my early years is that when – at the age of 19 - I gave birth to my first son and got married, I still proceeded to complete my third year of the BProc degree. My mother had helped me to see that even though I was becoming a wife to somebody and starting a family at an extremely young age - much to the chagrin of many a relative and neighbour – it did not change who I AM. I was still wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God and it remained open for me to live out the dreams and purpose that were unfolding for me.

The value of taking ownership, being responsible and being accountable, operated centrally in my life when the time came for me to roll in pain over my lovely son’s addiction to drugs and alcohol. My church minister helped me recalibrate how I saw and related to my son on the one hand and to the addiction, on the other hand. I learnt to keep the love in my eyes so that when my son looked into my eyes, he always found his mother’s love – COMPLETE, UNCONDITIONAL AND UNCHANGED. At the same time I learnt to take ownership of and be responsible and accountable for my own conduct which enabled the addiction. LOVE healed my son then and continues to heal him. Some of you will know him or of him. He lives out his life as an artist and has come to be known as Riky Rick.

In her seminal work, “A Return to Love”, Marianne Williamson shares her reflections on another treasure: “A Course in Miracles”, reminds us that “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

The message I wish to share therefore is that it is not only the life of perfection, no scandal and no vulnerability that is worthy and exemplary. Life becomes meaningful, worthy, exemplary and joyful when it teaches lessons. The deepest transformative lessons emerge from vulnerability failure and darkness. This is because in this place: this is where we learn forgiveness and experience the immensely healing power of forgiveness.

When I resolved to join the expedition that was to summit Mount Kilimanjaro on 18 July 2018 to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s 100th year, I knew that I was laying myself bear to many of my fears. I also knew that I was definitely not going back on that resolve.

Even as a valued of my house, Aggrey, the story I told myself was that I cannot run. I therefore only did the 100m raise and hardly ever trained for it. You see running burnt my chest and felt like it caused the blood vessels in my chest to burst open. I could power walk long distances but no running. Training for Kilimanjaro entailed the ability to run/jog for at least 6km without stopping. I learnt how to run because I learnt how to breathe properly while running. For the first time in my life, I could jog and started entering races.

In this slide show I share a few photos of the Kilimanjaro experience and then share its impact on me.

On Monday the 15th of October, Hope, a friend of mine who based in Zimbabwe sent me an email with the question ”When you climbed Kilimanjaro, what kept you going? Where did your resilience come from? What was feeding your soul?”

My response was
Dearest Hopie

The shortest answer would be that I was held up by "A CLOUD OF UNKNOWING". The rather long answer and explanation is:

The knowledge that I cannot do this by myself was for me extremely pulpable in every way and for a considerable period of time before the Kilimanjaro climb. Throughout the training which involved training in challenging trails - including various trails of the Drakensberg mountain, the calamity associated with climbing was always clearly visible to me. So, when I continued notwithstanding the fear of heights borne by the body I am in, it was because there was always a stirring in me that told me: "Of course you are not doing this alone! You are never alone."! Even when I found myself left way behind others and being the last one to crawl into the camp for the day, I never felt alone. In Kili, the sense of not being alone did not only come from always having the support of those amazing Tanzanian brothers who do their job with utmost love. It was a deep sense of being held by much much more than what I could physically perceive. I was held by spirits I had never interacted with, I was held by the air which suddenly had mystical connections with me and spoke to me. On summit night while walking up, rather impossibly steep, snow-filled inclines - spirit saved me. We had all been warned not to look up but to concentrate on taking those singularly slow steps. Unfortunately, I did eventually look up to see what lay ahead! I could have been stopped right there. The sight of long long stretches of people ahead of me and the evident challenge ahead of navigating the steep and dangerous looking incline was enough to convince any person in their right mind of the impossibility of reaching the top. The threat of a possible missed step resulting in a tumble off the trail to "where I do not know", filled the moment. BUT Suddenly, I was overcome by some NEW SEEING. It GAVE me "BALUSTRADES". They provided protection for further movement upwards AND so I continued with my shuffle. [I realised, of course, when we walked back down that there were no balustrades there. The life force that held me through the immobilising fear of going on after looking up and seeing that "impossibility' had also provided the protection of "BALUSTRADES" to ensure that I continued moving].

Then there was the bronchitis. I had walked with a nasty cough throughout the four days prior to our summit night. I did not know then that I had bronchitis. On day two, the doctor became concerned about my cough. I assured him that I had the cough before I left home and it was really not a concern. Still, he prescribed some antibiotics warning me that a cough could turn into bronchitis in the mountains. On summit night the terrain was heavily snowed up. My coughs became excruciatingly painful and sounded simply terrifying. At the same time, I wished deeply that the guides and doctor would not judge me unfit to continue and ask me to turn back. As I started to feel pain in the chest with each step I took, the prayer I sent out was that my lungs must not start getting immersed in fluid. I don't know when the focus on the pain in my chest moved aside and allowed room for focus on the shuffle up - but it did. This was not anything I did or could do! It felt like it was "a warm love" that did it for me. (PS: a day after landing in Joburg, I saw my doctor who immediately put me on medication for bronchitis and scheduled me for observation for chronic bronchitis. The body couldn't fully accept detachment from the mountains though and on the following day, I could not resist the call to walk up the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens trail. Bronchitis and all, I went alone on a trail I have never walked before. I got lost and ended up walking 6 hours. This was two days after returning from Kili. I was simply thankful. I took note of my folly,..but I was filled with thankfulness – Filled beyond containment)

During the Killimanjaro trek - spontaneously, I would become aware of waves/senses through and around my freezing body. I would "know" that the experience was Love. On occasion, I would look into the peculiar expressions on the faces of other climbers and I would "know" that no words are capable of conveying the intensity that all of us had become. So Hopie, other climbers fed my soul. It was nothing they did or said. I think, it was more that we were all participating in a flow/ a river of love.

I also saw light around some people. After the climb, I had the fortune of asking someone what she was going through at the point when I saw light from her. She was very emotional as she told me that at that particular moment, she had just presented her children who are highly talented human being, making great progress in life and yet seriously challenged by mental illness!!! She told me that, after presenting them she had felt comforted, assured and amazingly relieved of burden. We both knew there and then that this was the light I had seen from her! At the time when I saw her light - she was walking down from the Uhuru Peak and I was still shuffling up. I was about an hour away from Uhuru. So, the light carried me!

To start with, I was rather "ashamed" to tell others that none of the tangible, noble, "making a difference" motivations held me up through the climb. Not even my amazing grandchildren, not the girl child for whose well-being our initiative aimed to raise funds, not the challenges of our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world. It was none of that!

I was sustained by simple awareness of the sparks that are in and around me. Sparks that are ready to be ignited.

These included:
(a) Awareness of the power of love, connectedness and peace to turn every impossible challenge around, rendering it non-existent;
(b) The acknowledgement of spirit in and around me. Spirit was able to swiftly construct balustrades for me when I needed them to securely walk up those treacherous snowy inclines and precipices;
(c) The appreciation of beauty in everything. In the five-day climb and day and a half of descending, I became acutely aware of the immense beauty of everything. I became a part of the beauty, I became a part of everything, really. This carried me through tough moments. When I woke up to concerned comments from all around me that my face was swollen, I saw beauty in it, swelling notwithstanding. I embraced and touched it gently and lovingly. I think the swelling felt so welcomed that it really had no need to stand out. In no time, it was gone;
(d) Being spurred on by light. Being in the mountain allowed me the chance to see light from people and tangibly brought me to the realisation that - we actually are the light of the world. Each one of us is part of what constitutes “light” and therefore we all have full capacity to do the work of light. So, through us, tragedy and devastation can turn into light...
(e) In the most amazing ways, Kilimanjaro gave me the most clear experience of how I am "that I am". A clear sense of this came with the realisation that this "I am" is actually everything – NOTHING EXCLUDED. Nothing excluded - not the painful, not the ugly, not the beautiful, not the good, not the joyful, not the peaceful, not the self-interested greed and corruption; not the murderous misogyny, not the abuse and rape, not the theft, not the squandering of talents, nor the looting of resources and waste of taxpayer's money; not the judgmental bigotry; not the ecological and environmental devastation; ABSOLUTELY NOTHING is excluded. So if "I am" includes everything, and I am always healed by LOVE, then all these can also be healed. KILIMANJARO reignited in me the resolve to become maladjusted to hopelessness and despair!

In conclusion, Hopie, Today, I continue to grapple with how I keep shuffling towards healing the potentially limiting parts of I AM, as they confront me in various contexts.

Sorry about the long-windedness. Lots of love, Louisa

As I was writing that message to Hope, I realised how the Kilimanjaro climb had essentially served me as a lesson in LOVE. I succumbed to the compulsion to share the message today because – again - borrowing from Marrianne Williamson’s words: “Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.”

So in order to live life meaningfully, we must keep extending love to others. Being “WOKE” must mean we keep ourselves aware of how we enable love to flow through and through and through. In this way, we learn to forgive and through forgiveness, we heal. We heal ourselves, we heal our world.

Go out into the world with the courage to see it in its fullness. Grow in consciousness and show up as unitive and loving life-force. Do not fear to live out your own legacy. Take the time to be still and come to know WHO YOU TRULY ARE. Your dreams and your yearning will serve as a good guide on that journey.

Your generation already serves humanity well by refusing to be held back by everything that could go wrong. Go ahead and make LOVE a CENTERING value enabling you to keep giving your very best at all times. Colossians 3:23: “23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,”.

SHINE WHERE YOU ARE

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