how to draw light into your life. #MeditationThoughtMondays

???????????????????????????????

Author’s Note: this article was written while  Lisa was working in Zambia with Health-Ed Connect, a community-based organization committed to empowering women and children through Health, education, and advocacy.

Her house was surprisingly large for the neighborhood.  It featured a fenced-in patch of lush grass, something very uncommon for the neighborhood in Kasompe, Zambia.  The cement walls were painted a once-lively yellow, now faded and peeling with weather and wear. The front door was open; the white lace curtain was pulled back in invitation.  And the area was teeming: enough children to fill a soccer team played on the dirt path just outside the gate, a momma and baby girl sat on the front stoop snapping okra.  It was clear that life was difficult for these women; but in spite of this– the home glowed with happiness, lightness. 

New 028

It was a Friday afternoon and I was visiting this particular home with my friends the Kafwa, a group of women trained by HealthEd Connect with home health care and first aid practices on the outskirts of Chingola, Zambia.  The Kafwa women are truly the hands of God.  They volunteer faithfully– two days a week– seeking out the elderly, the sick, the hurting in their community and spend time in the homes of these people, bringing healing in the any possible way.  We were at this particular home to see Amiyah.

Amiyah, I was told, was born in 1912.  Which meant, at the time of my visit, her one hundred years of age had thwarted the average expected life span in Zambia by more than six decades.  On the way into the home, we were met with a warm welcome from Priscilla, Amiyah’s widowed daughter-in-law.  Priscilla, who runs the household, apologized profusely for not having time to sweep the stone floors of her sitting room for a second time that day, explaining that her morning was instead spent walking to the clinic for her ARV (anti- HIV) medication.  You see, even Priscilla was sick.

???????????????????????????????

We took seats on the small couch, careful not to disturb the hand-crocheted doilies covering the cushions, and waited.  Occasionally, a child would filter in to the room to be introduced as a great- grandchild of Amiyah.  Several women, dressed in T-shirts and the traditional ishtenge skirt also snuck in a greeting:  gingerly extending their hands to me, bowing with hushed respect.  These were not fellow “visitors”; in fact, all fourteen people lived in this humble home.  From behind a Power Rangers bed sheet hung as a door, Priscilla and her niece carried Amiyah out into the sitting room, gently settling her frail body on a sofa across from me.  This had been rehearsed many times: Amiyah had lost the ability to walk.  Amiyah came to be a patient of the Kafwa seven months prior, just after she took a fall in the marketplace, breaking her hip.  Because of her extraordinarily old age and the condition of her bones the doctors at the clinic were unable to help her: she was sent home to “recover” on her own—without treatment.  Amiyah is invalid, in pain, and mostly blind.

Despite this, her faith is strong.  She enjoys the regular visits from the Kafwa women and is humbled to receive guests in her home.  “Amiyah,” I said, “You have a lovely home and a beautiful family.  You must be very proud to have your great- grandchildren playing happily in the same home.”  She beamed with pride, her cataract eyes tracking the face of the Kafwa interpreter searchingly.  Amiyah replied, “Oh yes, I am so very proud to be alive.  I am proud of my family.”

???????????????????????????????

Often, the Kafwa women are able to bring a small gift to the family on their home visits.  These small gifts in the form of charcoal, cooking oil, or corn meal are purchased from a small emergency fund budget and are the physical effects of healing ministry. They are the necessities for life.  Today, we had nothing to give Amiyah or her large family.  As the head of the household, taking care of a 100 year old mother-in-law and seven grandchildren, Priscilla was obviously disappointed that our hands were empty.

Amiyah was the official patient of the Kafwa­­– her name was the one entered diligently in to their record keeping book; but Priscilla was just as much a patient.  The ministry of presence extended to the entire family struggling to survive and keep hope alive in the midst of strenuous circumstances.  As our visit drew to a close, gratitude was passed around in both English and in iciBemba.  I wondered what we could give to Amiyah, what we could give to Priscilla, what we could give to the rest of the family–the moms and the children?  I looked down at my lap, embarrassed and humbled.  The beautiful words from the mystic poet Rabia came to mind:

 “Our hands imbibe like roots,

So I place them on what is beautiful in this world.

And I fold them in prayer, and they draw from the heavens

Light.”

A prayer for hope, for healing, for strength, and for thanksgiving: that is what we had to give.  I held the hand of Priscilla, my Kafwa friend Doris held the hand of Amiyah, and together we “drew from the heavens light.”

As I prayed for healing to light the life of this family, I knew that full recovery of Amiyah’s mobility was not realistic, but I also knew that this was not what mattered most.  What mattered was that we were growing the roots of hope deeper into the soil of this home.  We were drawing light into our hearts, and together offering thanks for that light which sustains life, even in the midst of loss.

???????????????????????????????

From the heavens, draw light today.

-lisa

gratitude

2013-09-23 19.55.57-7

photo cred: SFA

redefining gratitude

Two years ago, I took the most life-changing yoga class ever designed.  It was taught by a teacher I had never met before or even heard about.   She hadn’t produced any practice DVDs, her studio didn’t boast spa-quality facilities, and her class pricing package was ridiculously cheap: all her lessons were free.

I took only one, hour-long class with May, and in that time, she taught me everything about adoration of life and refining gratitude.

Our class took place outside, on a rainy day in a small village in the Copperbelt Region of Zambia. The dappled African sun kissed our damp faces as we sat together in May’s yard, sharing the small stone ledge of the home’s foundation for a bench. As we shared together, a chicken wandered out of the back door, stopping to peck near my feet before continuing on to the maize growing in the garden a few yards away. Class was also punctuated by a sweater-and-nappie-clad toddler who snuck in to extend formal greetings with a tentative handshake and smile. May shares a home with her two sons, three daughters, and one grandchild. Her husband had passed away several years prior and she was on her own to look after her children. Under the dripping branches of the tree that sheltered her tin-roofed home, May’s began her class by sharing her story.
Three years prior, May was so destitute that she did not leave her home for days at a time. Her body was so weak and her spirit so ravished that all she could do was lie on the dirt floor of her home, praying her children would not starve. May had just been diagnosed HIV+. She felt as if nothing she did would bring meaning back into her body or her life. Then, a nurse in her community came to her home for a visit. This visit changed May’s life.  The home health nurse, known in the community as a Kafwa, encouraged May to seek treatment. The Kafwa nurse came back the next day. And the next. And the next. She assured May that her life was not over—assured her that healing was possible.

This persistent caring proved to May that her life was worth living, and May’s adoration of life began to develop again.  With treatment and encouragement, May began a slow recovery, and her children were able to go back to school. One of her boys began attending high school, something May was very proud of. She continued staying healthy, began learning new skills in order to bring income to her home, and visited the treatment clinic as scheduled.

 As she told her story, joyful animation crept into May’s once exhausted voice. The class ended with a prayer, a chant, a celebration of gratitude for love, for healing, and for life.

Leaving May’s home, I slipped and slid through rain-washed roads that demanded concentrated finesse to navigate. I pictured her walking these roads, weak with illness, to the local clinic to seek medical attention. I was in awe of her dedication to her yoga. May’s disciplined practice was to stand up, show up, and move. From this practice, May re-discovered the joy in simply being alive, simply being able to breathe, simply being able to move. And now, her gift was to teach others the joy to be found in living with gratitude for every single moment. May’s class taught me the most profound lesson of the human experience without doing a single asana.

She taught me that to practice with presence is to be

grateful you can practice at all.

Now, every class I teach, I end with the profound suggestion to engage in gratitude.

I truly believe that the deepest lesson that physical asana practice teaches

is to be grateful for our bodies and what they can do, be grateful for our chance for life, and be grateful for the many things in our lives that bring us joy.

Come practice with me and extend deep gratitude for every moment in life.  It is, in fact, the only reasonable response to being alive.

-lisa