Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Practical Spirituality - An enhanced way of Living

The first two blog posts were both about Kenya and I guess I don’t really want my blog to be all political and so I decided to post this article which I had intended for a column in daily newspaper. It basically follows the principle of ‘Be the Change you wish to see’ (I just love that ol’ skinny guy).

Spirituality – a word that perhaps conjures up images of Monks, Mystics and an Ascetic way of Living. Almost all of us today have come across numerous aspects of the New Age movement including transformational workshops, Yoga, meditation, breathing techniques and visiting Ashrams to find that elusive inner peace and happiness.

Yes, wonderful for all those people who may have the time to devote to inner search and the meaning of life, you may say, but perhaps its not something you consider adding or adapting your current lifestyle to for many reasons – time, practicality or simply the current circumstances of your own life.

Well, this article demonstrates how you can perhaps transform a simple, mundane task that you perform on a regular basis, into a more meaningful and enhanced experience.

Whereas we may regard or expect spiritual experiences to be of the profound, near-ecstatic, potentially out-of-body kind, I suggest that ANY experience that brings an individual greater Joy, or an enhanced sense of well-being, or even a generally ‘feel good’ sensation could perhaps be regarded as a spiritual experience.

Consider this – any experience that makes you feel good in your body, that brings about a sense of heightened awareness, (as long it does not bring about any harm to the individual or to those around, and as long as it is done with integrity and with good intention) could be considered a spiritual experience.

After all, it is now often heard that we are perhaps Spiritual Beings having a Human Experience – a little too far out? Well, let me give you an example.

Take Driving, for instance. Those of us that do drive, are all aware of the general ‘un-state’ of the roads, and the traffic, and the inconsiderate drivers etc. Most of us brace ourselves for a traffic jam at some point in time during the day, and most of us even end up getting stuck in an inadvertent traffic jam at a most unexpected hour. So how could driving in this city, possibly be turned into a so called spiritual experience that brings about joy and all those other lovely emotions?

Well, here’s a scenario – you brace yourself for a two hour wait on Mombasa Road at about 5.00 pm. This is something you do everyday. Its something you wish you didn’t have to do, but short of leaving work at 3 o’clock, you pretty much know that this is what its going to be like for today. So you’re in the traffic, and there’s a car in front of you, and one behind you, and a ditch to your right, and well, another car to your left. So you’re stuck. It’s hot, the radio’s on the blink, and the traffic cop seems to be favouring all the other directional traffic lanes but yours.

You have two choices. You can work yourself up into a silent, seething rage, with shallow breathing and all or……take a deep breath. Just that - take a deep breath, then another one, and another. As you calm down, you realize that you sink back into your seat (this pretty much happens naturally). As you sink back into your seat, something amazing happens – you suddenly start to care a lot less about the traffic! A part of you resignedly accepts the situation as it is. So you sit back, and perhaps start tapping your fingers lightly on the steering wheel, and as you do so, you start looking around.

You notice the street vendors, the people on bicycles precariously trying to weave their way through traffic, and the numerous others trudging home on foot. Perhaps you now appreciate the fact that you have a car to drive home in. You also now suddenly start seeing the insanity of the other drivers who, just like you two minutes ago, are still trying to cram themselves in through the one foot gap between two cars! As the insanity becomes apparent, you immediately give way to someone in front of you.

Now, because of your new state of calmness, you realize that you’re here for the next 20 minutes or so at the least. So you do a really crazy weird thing. Forgetting about how unsafe it is to roll down your window because of crime etc, you actually allow yourself to do so for a breath of fresh (or fume filled) air. As you do so, one of the street vendors comes up to you, but now you’re feeling calm, and so you don’t regard him as a potential deviant. Instead you strike up a friendly conversation with him. Because you’re in good spirits, you manage to convince him that you don’t want to buy your tenth pack of peanuts for the day, and the most surprising thing happens - he smiles back at you – and tells you to have a great day! You say something similar to him and the traffic starts to move, and suddenly you’re moving forward, but now you’re feeling really great!

As you move forward in traffic, the feeling carries forward with you. Now, all you have done is shifted your perspective on the situation. But you’re left with a net result of generally pleasant feel good sensations. You probably will end up getting home feeling better than you did then when you left work.

So, you have now felt, in order of appearance – calm, accepting, observing, grateful, considerate, free of fear, patient, smiled at a stranger, and optimistic. I don’t know about you, but I call that Spiritual.

Have a little patience today – and show a little consideration. It’ll go a long way.

Who will Save Kenya - Part 2

It’s been just over three weeks now, and we, as Kenyans have been through an extremely trying and turbulent period.

We have experienced, outrage, anger, indignation, sorrow, shock, numbness, disbelief, fear, and sometimes, just a certain quietness.

The trauma to our psyche is apparent everywhere. However, whilst acknowledging the anger that has been felt, and without invalidating the deep indignation towards the injustices that have been carried out, I would like to shift the focus to what I can only term as a certain kind of ‘Magic’ that has happened:

  • The outpouring of support from Kenyans TO Kenyans has been phenomenal. There are people who have gone out on a limb to share and give of their time and their resources, to help in any which way that they can.
  • Companies have actually gone out and paid for advertising that calls on Kenyans to Help save Kenya, and have donated large amounts of money and resources to help with the relief efforts.
  • There are brave individuals who have risked everything to shelter those that were fleeing from violence.
  • Media companies have collaborated with each other to propagate relief efforts and to call for peace. The messages that they have sent out are bold, honest and defiant towards any kind of divisive behaviour or attitudes.
  • The Institutions coordinating the relief effort are actually now trying to figure out the best way to get the aid to the people, and not primarily worrying about whether or not they have enough to go around. (I am not saying that they have more than enough, but am merely pointing out just how much has been donated to the Red Cross by Kenyans and her Friends).
  • I just saw a message from the Tourism Board in the newspapers today that was honest, direct, and laid the cards on the table in a forthright manner that one would never see ordinarily – it mentioned how the MP’s attended parliament, went about their business, came to their conclusions, and adjourned, thereby securing their salaries etc for another term. It then asked Kenyans whether they could expect the same for themselves. There are many more companies being similarly non-conventional, honest and direct in their approach.
  • Kenyans from all walks of life have called for and have rallied for Peace, both in word, and in action, barring the actions of a misled minority. And this perhaps has been the most consistent, prevalent and unifying aspect of the past few weeks. If Kenyans have spoken, then surely this has been our most significant and resounding statement.
  • With incredible resilience, courage and determination, and in the in the midst of uncertainty, insecurity, inconvenience and severe constraints, Kenyans have gone back to work, in order to try and restore, with whatever means they have available, some semblance of order to our everyday lives.
In the first week, it really did seem that we were on the verge of sinking into a situation that so many of our sister countries have found themselves in – one of civil war, ethnic divide and incredible chaos. It almost seemed, for a time, that the situation was spiraling out of control at an unstoppable pace.

We were so numbed by the sheer momentum of the turn of events, to the point that we were almost incapacitated into helplessness.

However, what has emerged is what I have pointed out above, and this is why I have called it nothing short of MAGIC. Despite the international media sensationally predicting genocide and ethnic divides, despite the doom and gloom painted by outside observers (not completely invalid but certainly in my opinion inflated), despite the immense amount of fear that we have experienced and despite the immense suffering that we have undergone in such a short time, we have yet again, SURVIVED..

FOR NOW.

And I’ll say it again – FOR NOW.

We have come this far and we have survived, but it would serve us well to remember, that the temporary comfort that we have fought to bring about in the past few weeks is still a very fragile and transient comfort. To illustrate the point that I am trying to make, I will use the analogy of a multiple injury accident.

At the time the accident happened, there was a colossal amount of pain, acute shock, and without being glib, lots of blood loss and acute suffering for the first few days. After a few weeks, (not withstanding the continual pockets of violence that we are still hearing about), the worst of the PAIN seems to have lessened. What we are now experiencing, is akin to post traumatic pain. The wounds are still sore, they may still bleed from time to time, and there are a lot of emotions related to the injury itself that have yet to be dealt with. In addition, we are still accident prone, with the risk of further injury a very real possibility.

Human memory of pain in itself is short. And I don’t mean this in a bad way – perhaps we are programmed to forget the intensity of the pain to facilitate our moving on. The grief or sorrow that replaces the pain is perhaps a lesser burden to bear than the pain itself in that it is not as debilitating as pain. I say this because for now, it seems that with the lessening of the pain, some semblance of order has been restored. And perhaps I am afraid that the temporary relief that we are experiencing will lull us into a false sense of comfort about the risk of further injury being a possibility, and lead us to underestimating the fragility of our situation.

A political outcome at this stage is completely uncertain and unpredictable. In addition, there is a general consensus that the continued unrest is not even the result of genuine demonstrators protesting against the election results, but the opportunistic endeavours of a misled, dangerous and criminalistic minority determined to disrupt and destroy lives and livelihoods in a senseless manner.

It would seem, to the outside observer, that our future today largely depends on the actions and decisions of a handful of individuals who are holding the mere title of 'leadership'.

I see it very differently. We have, in my opinion, available at this moment a tremendous opportunity to harness the phenomenal amount of goodwill, courage, resilience and determination, and to USE this TO TAKE OURSELVES FORWARD INTO A FUTURE OF OUR OWN MAKING.

It has already been proven to us that those that we call leaders do not really listen to what those they are trying to lead are calling for. It is being continually proven to us that the institution that we call government never really has, and is certainly not at the moment doing its job of providing a safe and enabling environment for its citizens. In the midst of the greatest of hardship, and with very little resources, Kenyans have continued time after time to wake up every day and, with or without transport, with or without roads, with or without security, with or without services gone about in the best way that they know, to make a living. It is Kenyans who put food on the table for their families – Kenyans, in this time of crisis, who have come to the aid of fellow Kenyans, Kenyans who have come together to call for peace, and through conscious inaction and non-violence brought about that very fragile Peace.

We have come this far. With almost no means at our disposal, we have come this far. We have so much goodwill (in the form of positive intentions) and potential at this moment. Add the third magic ingredient of rightful action, and we can have forward movement.

The question now perhaps, is not so much as Who will save Kenya, but HOW will WE save KENYA?

This is the time for us to come together to decide on what our values are. This is the time for us to come together to decide as a Nation, what we truly stand for. This is the time for us to come together to decide what is genuinely important to Kenyans. This is the time to come together to REMEMBER BEFORE WE FORGET. This is the time for us to come together to acknowledge the value of Peace. This is the time for us to come together to make promises to ourselves that we will never break. This is the time for us to come together to make a commitment to our children and to our future generations that we will not fail them. This is the time for us to come together to decide how we want to be led.

This is the time to come together. Is there anyone out there listening?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Who will save Kenya?

Speaking to almost everyone that I have an opportunity to engage with in the past two weeks, this has been the common consensus:

* Kenyans stood in long lines for hours on December 27th 2007 to exercise their constitutional right, and voted.

* Everyone that I have spoken to, without exception, is shell-shocked – both by the senseless violence and the killings, which no Kenyan would ever had expected to happen in our country in this day and age.

* Everyone, without exception, wants Peace. And that’s Peace with a capital ‘P’.

* Almost all feel that both parties are to blame, and the general consensus is that the politicians are merely power hungry, and looking to serve their own interests – which primarily involve the Number One Seat and power.

* When asked if they would go out on the streets, all again, without exception said No, because, they asked, who would feed us the next day?

* On the question of tribalism, almost all that I have spoken to, simply cannot understand the intentions of the groups that have propagated the violence in the name of tribalism. How can we be tribal? One woman even went as far as to say that being a Kikuyu herself, she was primarily concerned with the welfare of her colleagues, who are from different tribes, and during the unrest, she kept calling and checking up on all of them to see if they were ok and if they needed anything. The thought that they were from different tribes did not even cross her mind.

What is emerging, is that over time, our interactions with one another have ‘humanised’ us – we have come to regard each other as a colleague, an employer, a neighbour, a friend, or just someone whose services we may use from time to time.

And that, in my opinion, is not from the evolution of democracy, resulting in a government that looks after and feeds it people, but from a People or population that has evolved by embracing the diversity presented by a multitude of races, cultures and tribes. This diversity has included the acceptance, adoption and propensity for a multitude of lifestyles and interests, as well as resulting in the evolution of a culture unique to the People of this country.

Kenyans are bound by their loyalty to their Nation. We are primarily a friendly People, blessed with a sense of humour and an intelligence that allows even a less economically fortunate individual to appreciate the nuances of politics or the idiosyncracies of human nature.

Which is why we have all been so taken aback by the turn of events in the last few weeks. Kenyans are not fools. Being an eternally optimistic People, we are always seeking change – change which hopefully brings about forward movement, be it economically, personally, politically, or even culturally. And it is with this optimism that Kenyans turned out in huge numbers to vote. We are not a foolish people. If we were perhaps na├»ve enough to believe that our future could be governed by one man, I would like to say it is because of our innate optimism. Realistically, not many truly believed that there would be a huge leap forward, but for us, even a little change would be good.

It is with this optimism and determination that we defeated an entrenched autocratic system and bought in ‘Mabadiliko’(Change) in 2002. It is with the same resilience that we defeated a Government Referendum, put forward by a government that thought it could fool the people into voting for a flawed constitution.

In both instances, it was not the politicians that brought in change – IT WAS THE PEOPLE. Of course, we must give due credit to those that spoke out and allowed us to come together with one voice. And perhaps we can be forgiven to think that the person who speaks out the loudest should naturally be the one to lead us. But I honestly do not think that it will ever be about one person leading us. How could that be?

For a society that thrives IN Pluralism, with so much of a mix of different interests and cultures and lifestyles, how could just one human being be responsible for overseeing, managing, and nurturing all the millions of differences?

And this is why I put forward the opinion, that for Africa, and I’ll be specific to Africa for the present time, with its history of traditional tribal culture, colonialism and diversity, COALITION can be the only way forward.

Having spoken to many people over the last week and a half or so, many say that if asked to vote again, they would not do so! Who would we vote for, they ask. And why should we vote if this is what the ultimate result would be.

And so, in the final analysis, all political parties are to blame, and all have proven in some way or another, that their personal ambitions supercede the desires and welfare of the people they wish to lead. Sacrifice a few now, and all will reap the rewards later.

And in doing so, they have proven, that they do not truly understand the Pulse of this Nation. That they do not understand the extent to which Kenyans have evolved not just as citizens, but as a branch of humanity itself.

I said before the election, that I was making a CONSCIOUS choice not to vote. Not because I wasn’t bothered, or that what would it matter if I did anyway. But I said that if there was a box on the ballot which said ‘none of the above’. Then that is where I would place my ‘tick’. When asked why, I simply said that I was not willing to give my vote to another human being who I simply did not have any faith in. After all, if things did go wrong, I would only have myself to blame, because with my vote, I endorsed that individual and gave him the power to lead in me in manner as he saw fit.

When asked who I would vote for, I said that I would vote for that person, who would have the economic acumen and experience of one of the candidates, the passion of the other candidate, and the diplomacy of the third. Impossible? I don’t think so – after all, isn’t that what defines a Coalition?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hello!!

Having just set up this Blog, I don't really want to launch into long explanations of who I am, or what I do. This is a medium through which I will choose to express my opinions and ideas on various issues, and you are welcome to share in them, engage in discussion about them, discard them or simply read and move on.

Either way, I am sure that those that know me will breathe a sigh of relief now that I have found an alternative medium to express myself, and I look forward to using it to share my thoughts, opinions and ideas with all of you - Old and New Friends.

So.....WELCOME.....to my 2 Sense!!! :)