November 12th marks exactly one year that I have been living here in Tanzania! Positively wild eh? I really can’t believe that this anniversary has come already, but at the same time, so much has gone behind me in this year, that it also feels a bit like “it’s only been a year??” 🙂
I have been blessed beyond what I could ever have expected, I have also been challenged beyond what I thought I could manage. It has been tough, and it has been rewarding, and it has been full of beauty and joy and growth. I guess that’s a pretty good description of life anywhere… full of beauty, joy, heartache and growth.
I have been challenged to learn a few things this year… quite a few. Some of them have been easy lessons, things that just take practice to get the hang of…. for example, yesterday, I pasteurized milk for the first time! So fun…!
I’ve learned to make bread, to prepare a garden for planting, to manage simple conversations and greetings in Swahili. I’ve learned how to deal with ants, geckos, and beetles… IN my house. I’ve learned to not judge a shopfront by it’s cover… I’ve found good movies, household appliances, and furniture in the most unlikely places. These lessons have been easy, just taking a little bit of practice.
The harder lessons have been about trust, compassion, connection and faith… and these ones I am not done with yet. I have been learning them for years, and will continue to do so for a long time I’m sure. What I have been learning most about all of them though is that just like the easy lessons, they come with practice. That I have to do something in order to learn something. I have always had this idea that things like trust, compassion, connection and faith were feelings, that if the circumstances were right and if I were just a better, more kind-hearted person, I would feel them and in feeling them I would have them, as characteristics or parts of myself. ie: I would be compassionate, trusting, etc. But as with many lessons I learn, the first step for me is often to realise I’m wrong. I don’t think it’s true that I trust someone just because they are deemed to be trustworthy, I trust them by trusting them. It’s that simple, and it’s that difficult 🙂
I think the penny has finally dropped for me, and I have realised that the things I have spent so much of my life looking for, and trying to find, are right in front of me, but require some cultivation. They take work is the bottom line. Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it’s scary. Most of the time, I feel very vulnerable and exposed. But in pushing through that fear and vulnerability, I have found in small pockets what I have wanted. I have found the incredible peace of trusting someone, letting them see those dark places within me and believing that they will be kind. I have felt such gut-wrenching compassion for people and for myself that it has pushed me to be kinder, gentler and more generous.
Even faith has been a practice, to trust that there is a higher power beyond me and the people I share this place with. To believe that that higher power is good, full of compassion and love for me. To trust that s/he has my best interests at heart and wants to support me. And then to practice letting go of things that I have tried for a long time to figure out, to put things in the hands of God and say “you take this one, I can’t do it”. Sometimes with a bit of a raised fist “You think you can do better, go ahead and try” (words of the irreverent and wonderful Anne Lamott). But letting go, having faith that there is something, and that that something is doing his/her damnedest to make this world a better place, to help me find my way through the mess I’ve made and to find my way into pockets of peace, connection, and meaning. It’s about hope… gritty, fist in the air hope that says, “there’s no way this is it”. A determination that comes from the practice of believing in promises that have been given through prophets, through the beauty of the world around me, through people I love and cherish. In the face of everything, I will hold on and believe that something beautiful is already here, if I will just look in the right places and that something even better is still to come.
Don’t get me wrong though, this work is not always drudgery and struggle. There is so much joy wrapped up in all the learning. For all the little steps, the accomplishments, there is celebration. When I feel the peace of letting go into trust, when I share food I have prepared from scratch, when I see little sprigs of green coming through the ground, when I experience connection with another human being and we realise that we are in it together, it’s worth every difficult moment of pushing through.
My all-time favourite author is Anne Lamott, and she says this in her book Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers…
“Love falls to earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun rises”
And so, I mark one year, with gratitude, a touch of awe, and a few new tools in my belt for what lies ahead.
How do you push through? What practices do you undertake to find your way into what you want to know?