Published June 19th, 2015
For sometime now, I have stayed away from commenting publicly on specific current events, particularly in the United States of America. I realize though, that I am in a unique position as a trained sociologist from the States who lived for over a decade outside the country, in Africa. I have gained a perspective that probably is worth sharing. I was told as much by my brothers and sisters in Africa who told me exactly three years ago that it was time to go back to my homeland and do my part to help heal America.
I was nervous to leave Africa — at the time I was in South Africa — and return to the USA. I wasn't sure I had the energy and capacity to survive in a country so ruled by competition, violence, and the almighty Dollar. And, to tell you the truth, some days I have to take a break. A good friend posted on her Facebook this week "America is a sickness that may be beyond healing. It's so sad and depressing." Part of me has to agree. Another part of me knows that when individuals have a health crisis, it is at that moment when facing death that the opportunity to heal, or start to heal, comes into clear focus. I believe this phenomenon is true for societies too.
This week, nine Americans were murdered in a church in Charleston, South Carolina because they were black. Many people I know around the world have asked me how this can still happen in the USA in the year 2015. I tell them I am not surprised. Sad and angry, but not surprised.
Walking through Vine Pergola today, I again became aware of the pillars as strong, stable structures supporting the vines as they grow and transform. Akin to cultures. The values, rituals, and ceremonies of a culture provide the stability and structure for people to grow and transform around. The problem with America is that it lacks a clear and coherent culture. Its history is not known for compassion and cooperation. And, one of the main values Americans describe as central to their culture is 'freedom'. Well, folks, freedom to sail without an anchor, makes ships go missing out at sea, and young lost boys purchase guns and kill innocent people with what looks like no remorse.
In my book Time is Cows: Timeless Wisdom of the Maasai, I describe elements of an indigenous African culture that we can use in our modern lives to help heal ourselves, our families and our communities. Let me apply a bit of that thinking to what is happening in the States right now, at this time of a major societal health crisis...
In traditional healing, the first step is to tell the history of the illness. Truthfully, leaving out no events or people that contributed to the un-wellness, even tangentially. This can take awhile. This will be a huge project for America. To tell the whole, true story of how this country was settled by Europeans after killing off most of the indigenous people living in the Americas. And, how people were literally stolen from Africa, ripped apart from their culture, their land and families and brought to America. I can go on. Some of you know the really story. Everybody living in America today needs to know the true, whole story.
In traditional healing, the telling of the history of the illness is part of the healing process itself. In fact, it goes a really long way towards healing hearts, minds, and spirits. Think about it, when you yourself finally has admitted to yourself or your loved ones that you have told a lie or have been living a lie, how do you feel? After the fear has worn off, don't you feel better? More in the flow? Imagine if a whole society came clean.
The next step in traditional healing after telling the history of the illness is to follow the prescription by the healer, usually this involves bathing with and / or ingesting medicinal plants, singing, dancing, moving the body-mind in some way, all with the intention of continuing to cleanse the soul. This part of the process may end up bringing up other elements in the history that just got remembered, and need to be cleared too. And, a sacrifice has to be made. Traditionally, this is usually an animal, a cow, goat or chicken, something that is highly valuable to the un-well person or persons. Now, in the modern United States, what can we prescribe for this cleansing process? Usually, the proper prescription emerges during the telling of the history phase, so we may have to wait. And a meaningful sacrifice? I think the Pope said it best this week, calling for a drastic change in "lifestyle, production and consumption from unsustainable habits to more mindful means of caring for our common home."
Once somebody is healed from a particular illness, he or she moves on, deletes the files from the past and forges ahead with renewed compassion and love. This does not mean that he or she will never get sick again, although that might be the case, but rather, that that person is cured from the sickness that had the particular history that was just cleared. This is true evolution, transformation. It is like adding water to rice and cooking it on a flame. You can never go back to the same dry rice grains and water again.
Every time I travelled back and forth between Africa and America I would sense the fear factor ratchet up in the States. People are really afraid, of everything, of each other, maybe even of themselves. The powerful, light part of our souls that continues to be questioned by our society, our culture.
In traditional healing, a patient usually comes to visit a healer when too many bad, even strange things start happening to them and their community. When is enough enough America? How many more bad things have to happen for us to wake up and start the healing process?
Yes, because of my American freedom of choice, and privileged education, I made the decision to go live in Africa. I consider this a gift, and a responsibility. I experienced first-hand what it means to live in a culture of compassion, cooperation and driven by spiritual solutions to problems. You know what? It is very sweet. And, I believe American culture can evolve towards more of those values too. This doesn't mean abandoning our competitive spirit, it is not an either / or thing. But in order to move towards a new way of life, we cannot ignore the cries of pain. You know what happens if you put a bandaid on a large festering wound, or ignore unusual discharges or pains...things usually get worse.
Sending some love and strength to you all in America and around the world today. We need more than prayers right now. As the African proverb goes "Pray, but when you pray, move your feet."