Carolyn Burns reflects on the emergence of her Self and global consciousness through the twists and turns of life’s journey . . . a journey that led her back to her home country of South Africa
What’s it all about anyway?
Will anxiety, self-absorption and I ever amicably part company?
Isn’t that life’s goal–to attempt to return to the “pure” state of the innocent newborn?
To magically merge with one’s destiny and life’s purpose?
And then, how will I know when I’ve reached my destination?
All tough endeavors for a recovering perfectionist!
At some stage, I can’t quite recall, surrender was a prominent enough invitation—and sufficient quiet prevailed within me—for the ache of my soul and spirit to make contact with me. My desperate search for love and happiness had me marry fatefully and inappropriately and move to Canada from South Africa when I was 32 years, destined to be an “old maid” with obvious evidence that I was undesirable and a failure.
Living an unconscious life at that stage with an astonishing (as I reflect) commitment to my grueling personal process remains mesmerizing to me. Reflecting over 62 years of life experience offers evidence of a higher source: the divine, my personal angels and guides. (Given my dose of narcissism, they were, of course, specially assigned to me!)
Imagining that I was doomed for my error in judgment and choice and yet “knowing” that I wasn’t, the angels, with enough volume, showed me the escape route. They also demanded I remain in Canada for the time being and face life on my own and with myself. There is no need to explain the degree of my intrapersonal turmoil and terror; I employed the best defense mechanisms and am grateful to them all, since I would not have survived without them!
What to do?
Get to know yourself, like yourself (who knows, maybe love yourself), shift from unconsciousness. Maybe move towards authenticity and be more fully alive.
I have to say, since destiny invited me to Canada, she has always provided a door ajar: Over a couple of decades, an endless stream of pivotal people crossed my path–some lingering, many remaining–all pieces of the puzzle. Many twists and turns, cul-de-sacs, T-junctions and a couple of therapists later, the crossroads led me back to my home, South Africa. I heeded the call with dedication and curiosity, to say nothing of the endless desire for perfection! There was much preparation required for “the work,” the nature of which was elusive to me.
Two indelible life-defining experiences shaped the course of my unfolding life and provided the proverbial and inevitable “grist for the mill”: Accept the terrifying and exciting gift of an amazing, beautiful partner, the qualities of whom I imagined I didn’t deserve nor was entitled to. And attend the Leadership Institute of Seattle, engaging fully with courage, curiosity and the softest heart possible despite feeling daunted and terrified.
The familiar question arose again:
How to find self-approval, acceptance and love, and move toward self-actualization?
And the answers came.
For life and particularly both these indelible experiences: Enlist a skilled therapist and commit to dedicated team work. Stretch my growing edge towards interdependence.
For the rich organic compost of being in relationship: Show up for the most important invitation of my life; immerse myself in the experience with courage alongside fear, passion alongside misgivings, sheer excitement alongside mystery and amazement. I knew somatically that this invitation required every cell in my body to immerse itself in the experience; my life depended on it.
And for full emergence as an open-hearted citizen of a global community: Share “Ubuntu”– Zulu for feeling and accepting the full impact of sincere friendships.
Entering LIOS also called for full immersion. There are moments when I still wonder: Had I known then what I know now, that my hard-wiring would be rigorously challenged—that parts of myself lying dormant would be resurrected kicking and screaming—would my “old self” have responded yes to the invitation? LIOS launched me towards a future that would call on the best of me. At 47 years, life was emerging.
Now, with the warmth of the South African sun on my back once again, reflecting over the past 11 years is astounding. The pivotal people, the doors ajar, the rich environment: Like the flow of the river as it crashes over boulders and caresses pebbles, twists and turns and rushes down the straight, my soul, spirit and I have emerged into a more conscious life.
What is true for me today is my thirst to make a difference in my homeland, most particularly with the indigenous people. Born in the Apartheid era, I received untold privilege given the color of my skin; I grew up middle-class with two working parents. I enjoyed a safe, comfortable home, excellent public education, smooth entry to nursing college and outstanding career opportunities.
My soul yearns to make amends.
International activism and the power of people in many parts of the world influenced politicians and governments to ultimately dismantle Apartheid. Today we have a young democracy that is adolescent male. The previously disadvantaged languish in appalling conditions without a smattering of dignity; the glow of hope that came with Mandela is extinguished. Despair shares itself in myriad ways; violence in many horrific forms flourishes in a lawless and corrupt country.
Somehow I’d overlooked the commitment I’d made in my plan of action requesting candidacy from LIOS: to return to South Africa and make a difference. Whenever Dan Leahy [LIOS faculty member] and I were in contact, he’d be surprised that I was still in Canada.
The seeds were being watered. A deep longing—and my partner’s gentle encouragement—provided the tending and nourishment needed to turn my emerging Self towards the light.
Hand in hand, my defense mechanisms and I ventured forth.
Having come back “home” with an intellectual idea—to establish an accredited college to train entry-level counselors to work in the community—and a desire to live in Cape Town, I went about making the appropriate contacts. Two years of hard work later, the angels twisted the plan to relocate in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, where the director of Lifeline and Rape Crisis suggested I join their team.
But my plan had been to live in Cape Town. It was clear then, and has remained so, that a force and energy beyond me prevails. The work clearly wanted to be in Pietermaritzburg. Faced with my selfish desires and the distinct request from my higher self, the direction at the crossroads was clear.
The doors of opportunity began to open. A friend in Victoria, Canada, suggested sponsoring a disadvantaged youngster’s college education in South Africa. Delighted, I mentioned this to another dear friend who was so moved she offered to sponsor food for a “Gogo” (grandmother).
The plight of the grannies in South Africa is massive. The nuclear family system was fractured by Apartheid when the men left home for the big city as migrant laborers in the mines. Loneliness and longing took solace in concurrent sexual partnerships. The stage was set as HIV and Aids joined the milieu; and eight years of government’s Aids “denialism” accounts for massive prevalence of HIV/Aidsand an astounding loss of life. Gogos bury their children and raise their grandchildren, and the heartbreaking tragedy is the prevalence of child-headed households: children raising each other.
Ukulapha (Zulu for healing) Community Outreach was born as initially six needy orphan-headed households were identified in Slangspruit Township. We began by providing food hampers with funds donated by friends—and friends of friends—in Canada. I imagined doing grassroots outreach while establishing the college. The college remains a dream as the community needs are endless and dire.
Ukulapha Outreach has a life of its own; divine intervention feeds and nourishes us every step of the way. We work in Slangspruit, the oldest township in Pietermaritzburg where many of the homes are original mud structures. Our focus on food hampers shifted to education, offering opportunities to youngsters and caregivers to attain post-high school education and realize a dream: having an improved chance at life. Currently, there are eight youngsters studying for diplomas at training colleges.
Ukulapha has repaired and rebuilt homes so that youngsters are warm, dry and safe. Vegetable gardens offer food security. To broaden our reach and include many more young lives, Ukulapha partners with Slangspruit Primary School where 850 children attend, at least half orphaned and many with HIV. We run psycho-educational workshops for their caregivers, enhance the government-sponsored lunch program, are creating a sustainable vegetable garden, and are building a library and improving learning and teaching conditions at the school. We are focusing fundraising efforts to construct a community center at the school as there is no meeting place in Slangspruit.
Here we intend to:
Host educational and fun meetings for the community. ..
Have a dedicated area in which to educate and teach ..skills to women while providing a place for them to work their trade.
Construct a kitchen and a multipurpose hall that ..Ukulapha and the school will share. Presently, gatherings are held under the trees.
The road seems clear for me, a sense that I have heeded the call and discovered the groove. My passion feels exquisite, and I experience “company” every step of the way: Ukulapha is co-created.
As I stroll down the dusty Slangspruit roads holding hands with the Zulu people and feeling their warmth as we work together igniting hope, I know the puzzle pieces of my life are falling into place.
And in the deepest part of my soul, I know that Ubuntu is alive and growing.