People think that the earth is not speaking, the soil is not speaking, the sky is not speaking. But there is a kind of spirituality when the sky is roaring with thunderstorms and rain is coming, and the clouds are rising. There is a spirit in it.” ~ Kapo Kansa Gamoan Elder
Daiton Swafi, on the surface, is an unlikely proponent of the sacred feminine and deep listening. A man with two wives, he defies the perceived stereotype that a polygamist exploits and abuses women, imposes solutions on his family, and reigns as patriarchal dictator. Swafi is a seeker and through the many tribulations that life has tossed him he has learned to embrace the nurturing spirit within himself, to nourish people, plants and ideas. At this juncture of his life he has answered a deep inner call to establish a Learning Village in Malawi, the land of his ancestors, which he had never visited until the end of last year.
“At this moment in time I am to go with the flow,” He says “I am learning not to push for things to happen – I am in a village, sometimes one has to follow the natural flow of activities to suit the social environment. “
In a small town in Zimbabwe, Mrs. Nyasha Pangwayi has founded what she calls a school for poor people. As the education system in Zimbabwe has foundered, in the normal course of events, poor families would prohibit certainly their girl children from attending school for lack of fees. At the Early Bird Academy they are ready to pay with their last drop of life blood. Maybe not this month, but they will pay. At this school, children help each other. Big brother carries little sister. Older children help the others with homework. The kids and parents are encouraged to feel the school belongs to them, to become stakeholders in their own lives and education. There is a sense of working together, a contrast to the authoritarian hierarchy that prevails in many educational institutions in Africa.
Maria Chiedza (Mary of the Light) is a small contemplative community of religious nuns living self sustainably, growing food for themselves and the surrounding inhabitants - mostly displaced farm workers who have lost their jobs and homes after farms were taken over. Fifteen years ago, Mother Lydia, the founder, felt that Zimbabwe was tumbling deeper into emotional turmoil, and needed a group of people to hold the country and her population in prayer and love. Without formal permission from the Archbishop, a small group of nuns built a monastery on land belonging to Mother Lydia’s father. They planted orchards and gardens, established a dairy and poultry project and immersed themselves in a prayer and meditative routine, while training young women in spiritual readings and practices. They follow a mostly vegetarian diet, conducive to meditation and prayer and have become an integral part of the surrounding community.
What do these people and places have in common? They represent a new story, new ways of thinking and listening, the reclaiming of feminine energy and restoration of balance and alignment between the masculine and the feminine.
The Earth has been trembling in the East, shaking humanity off her back at the Pacific Rim. Faultlines open in Christchurch, leaving a broken city of destroyed buildings and lost lives. Oceans explode across Japanese villages with a tsunami of enormous proportion. Nuclear power plants unleash poison into our ecosystem, the air, the water, the food - a poison that could stay with us for centuries.
In North Africa war rumbles. Muhanmar Gaddafi claims ownership of the Libyan people and the Libyan land, as does Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Any opposition is deemed to be a conspiracy, something imposed. These leaders no longer listen. Men who were heroes and liberators have become oppressors, petrified like rocks, brittle and unbending in the face of change.
Here in Zimbabwe, formal systems collapsed under the weight of political and economic chaos and by 2007 Zimbabwe had the unenviable record of being the fastest imploding economy ever outside of a war zone. Life expectancy fell drastically to an all time low of 36 for women and 34 for men. Child mortality increased. The formal health system ceased to function as nurses and doctors left the country in droves and hospitals had no money for medicines and equipment.
Perceived solutions often involve the same masculine energy and mindset that created them. Mary Alice Arthur, a facilitator, storyteller and narrative practitioner from New Zealand who works with individuals and organizations to find alignment, comments, “After the earthquake in Christchurch we rushed into masculine mode to fix things - having a very fun time, being in charge, saving people, solutioning things.” The response to Gaddafi’s crackdown, also masculine in approach, imposed a ‘no fly’ zone, which does involve flying, and bombing - more smoke and death. Mary Alice goes on to ask “Will we make time for the feminine in turn, which is the people coming together to grieve, to mourn and to inquire deeply into who we want to be together now, in the face of this. Will we make time for emergence?”
Zimbabwe’s extreme economic meltdown coupled with the absence of political will to fix things offered an opportunity for emergence. In this patriarchal society with an entrenched dictatorship, necessity has led to feminine energy and solutions emerging. In a modern day search for harmony, people have turned to enquiry, deep listening and dialogue, tapping into old wisdom, and respect for the land and the elders. All of this happens beneath the radar of developmental experts and politicians – in small towns, in villages, within families.
Mrs. Pangwayi started her school in the well-maintained agricultural showgrounds of what used to be a bustling farming town. The permanent stands, belonging to national companies and institutions, amid white pebbled yards and shady flamboyant trees presented a perfect solution for Pangwayi. She indentified a need and kept her mind open for what would be the outcome. She navigated her way through the formalities to take advantage of facilities already there to build her One Stop Education system. The school currently caters to pre-schoolers, primary and secondary school goers and she would like to add a tertiary institution. Her secret is listening – to the parents, to the kids, to the community, to allow what concerns are there to emerge naturally.
In a town where politics and violence have polarized the community, The Early Bird Centre is now starting a programme with the local prison to help recently released prisoners pursue education or start small businesses. This quiet recovery and understated integration of community and caring speaks volumes about finding solutions through listening, respect and teamwork.
After losing a younger brother to AIDS, Daiton Swafi gave up formal employment and started to use and improve his herbal knowledge to help other sufferers. He wanted to find his own piece of land to start a herbal garden and build a home. The scramble for land in Zimbabwe was dangerously competitive and politicized and Daiton’s mother strongly advised him not to compete for land. He felt he failed her by being unable to take her back to her homeland of Malawi to be buried near her own mother.
One stormy afternoon Daiton heard the Earth speaking. He heard the voice of the future calling him during a special gathering. A group of enquirers, of listeners, had come together from almost all the continents to be in a powerful, sacred place – Kufunda Village – to explore more deeply the connections among people and place. The dare, a roomy and gracious thatched meeting space, with walls open to the forest and sky sheltered this group and as the day darkened, they huddled closely together to hear each other over the cracks of lightning. Gradually they subsided into silence to listen to the force of the elements – wind, water and fire – and to meditate alone with wild nature.
During his meditation on that stormy afternoon, Daiton felt an uncontrollable urge to stand up, and as he articulates it, put his stake in the ground. He declared his calling to go to Malawi and establish a Learning Village there, a place where people could learn about herbs and medicine and grow nutritional food for their families.
Once he had stood and spoken he felt a huge release. He had stepped into the other world… this other world that he didn’t know. He felt the spiritual connections, the spiritual power and the spirit of his mother who always wanted to go home.
Without income, means of business, nor material resources, Daiton had no idea how this would happen. He trusted his instincts and inner voice and once he looked at things from this new angle, the support he needed began to come. Daiton and the others are finding the balance and alignment between feminine intuition, connection and nurturing and masculine action and care.
Maria Bakari, a psychologist from the Greek island of Rhodes, points out
that the masculine energy is what draws boundaries, safety boundaries, lines, even circles and spheres. So in order to be able to live we need the masculine. Our earth is crying for alignment and balance. The feminine needs to rise again as the holder, the host.
And right now we are in a transition where the two powers are somehow battling. We need emergence – humanity and compassion, a spirit of healing, re-membering, re-orienting rather than fixing judging.
The feminine as holder and host is very visible in the the Monastery Church at Maria Chiedza. This small church is set up like a woman’s traditional kitchen hut. Round and thatched, one wall is full of shelves moulded from the earth itself and polished with graphite to shine like metal. The sacred objects used in the church ritual of the mass are displayed on these shelves, as the plates and bowls would be displayed in a rural kitchen. They are ordinary food receptacles – baskets, clay pots, plastic dishes and jugs - nothing that would be out of place in an ordinary home.
The mundane is the sacred. At the beginning of the church service these implements are bundled up in African cloths and nuns carry them to the altar on their backs, like babies. They are unfolded onto the altar and used in the church rituals. There is a deep integration between the catholic religion and local tradition and custom and a deep instinctive balance between feminine listening and nurturing and masculine action and providing.
Villagers from the neighbouring community feel held and supported by the religious community. They come to work in the fields in return for food. Those who are too young or too old, too sick or too frail to work are gifted with food.
Some of these communities are starting to know each other. Kufunda Village is one connecting force. Another is the Tree of Life, a community based approach to healing and empowerment created by Zimbabweans to help people living with trauma. Using the tree as a metaphor for life, workshops combine storytelling with healing of the motions and the spirit. Groups sit in circles, patiently listening and talking through a process of reclaiming and reconnection: the goal is to reclaim personal power and sense of body, reconnect with nature, self, family and community.
The circle is the shape of the future (and the ancient past) – a seamless shape from which all can listen. It is the shape of the Dare, the shape of the church at Maria Chiedza, the shape and spirit of conversations that matter. Daiton’s web of support spreads in circles across the continent and across oceans. The circle allows us to speak to each other as equals on the same platform.
Daiton was troubled that he couldn’t take his mother home, but now that he has travelled to Malawi and been welcomed home he feels she journeys with him. ““The spirit of her is with me in Malawi. I can feel it.” He has embraced the divine feminine in himself , Juergen Grosee – Puppendahl from Germany is one person who witnessed Daito that afternoon and who offered moral and material support to Daiton on his journey.
“Whole (divine) masculinity needs the integrated whole (divine) feminine in balanced men." he says
This web of connection is still tender and small but growing. People and communities are finding each other and their synergies. At that gathering last year Daiton Swafi stood up. So did other Africans – from Kenya, from Zimbabwe, from South Africa. There is a readiness to acknowledge our inherent strength and creativity and to build on that, to do what has to be done with or without the blessing of governments and in spite of violence and oppression.
As we enter this second decade of the twenty first century, battered by daily violent outbursts in man and nature, the earth calls for balance and alignment, for unfolding hearts and minds, and for new ways of thinking. We look to our mothers, to the feminine within and to the divine masculine to remember how to be human.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard from corners of the world.