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Photograph by Kobus van der MerweSEARCHING FOR THE SPIRIT OF THE GREAT HEART
On 16 July 2019, the legendary Johnny Clegg crossed over to the spiritual world and left us bereft.
We draw comfort from the idea that he will remain with us forever and that we are connected to him and to each other, through the poetry of his lyrics, the truth of his message, and the rhythm of his music.
And perhaps, through his example we can learn what it is to be that human being, unfettered by race, class, debate, hate, difference, conflict and fear. We can strive to be warriors for the human spirit, just like he was.
Meg Wheatley calls herself a warrior for the human spirit and in her book, Who do we choose to be, she defines the warrior of the human spirit as “a decent human being who aspires to be of service in an indecent, inhumane time. Warriors remember what it means to behave decently, ethically. We remember the capacities that every human being possesses. We affirm and work with these forgotten qualities through our presence and our wise actions. And in all we do, we consciously try to refrain from adding to the confusion, aggression, and fear overwhelming most people”.
This is undoubtedly the spirit of Johnny Clegg and I’d really like to think that this is you and me?
I share a verse from his iconic song, Searching for the Spirit of the Great Heart. Pause and stay with these words a while….
The world is full of strange behaviour
Every man has to be his own saviour
I know I can make it on my own if I try
But I’m searching for a Great Heart to stand me by
Underneath the African sky
A Great Heart to stand me by
I’m searching for the spirit of the Great Heart
To hold and keep me by
I’m searching for the spirit of the Great Heart
Under African sky
Sometimes I feel that you really know me
Sometimes there’s so much you can show me
As we remember his life and his contribution to our humanity, we cannot forget that at great personal risk to himself, at a time when ordinary citizens were not allowed to even speak his name, or see an image of him, Johnny Clegg wrote Asimbonanga, as a tribute to Nelson Mandela.
A verse from Asimbonanga
Oh the sea is cold and the sky is grey
Look across the Island into the Bay
We are all islands till comes the day
We cross the burning water
Asimbonanga (we have never seen him)
Asimbonang’ u Mandela thina (we have not seen Mandela)
Laph’ekhona (In the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona (in the place where he is kept)
Asimbonang’ u Mandela thina
A seagull wings across the sea
Broken silence is what I dream
Who has the words to close the distance
Between you and me
Johnny Clegg’s universal message was to remember our humanity and our responsibility to each other as people; that your well-being is connected to my well-being.
Listen with me to this tribute : THE CROSSING – Friends of Johnny Clegg
He sent us these messages of hope despite, and during, times of deep personal cultural and professional persecution and alienation. His “crime” was his life’s choice to cross over a racial and cultural bridge and meet people where they were. He remained undeterred by the hate and persecution; he attuned to what was important to him. He chose connection.
He didn’t wait for it to be safe to show up as Johnny Clegg. He bravely showed up, faithful to, human decency, his beliefs, his sense of truth, and the stories that he was telling us through the rhythm of his music.
It feels synchronous to me, to pay tribute to Johnny Clegg, against the backdrop of the work that Imago Africa is busy with. Over the 5th May weekend about 20 of us attended the training run by Kobus van der Merwe and John Mortensohn. The topic was the Attuned Therapist and working with reactivity. I take the liberty of using the metaphor of music to share some themes and learning from the training. I have endeavoured to not be too abstract and more importantly I hope that I have done some justice to the extraordinary training. It remains synchronous, that Rhythm was a strong theme.
Rhythm, the sweet moment, connection
Life has it’s own effortless rhythm. In this rhythm of life, we are in a state of constant connection to all other living systems. Yet many of us are in a state of disassociation, a trance like state where we have lost access to the experience and rhythm of connection and belonging. We have become tone deaf.
During the training, I was reminded of Angeles Arrien, an anthropologist (as was Johnny Clegg). She is famed for her work with the First Nations People and for sharing their wisdom with the world. She shares that in traditional First Nation tribes, when the healers were called to help someone, who in our parlance, could be described as depressed, they would ask 4 questions:
When did you stop singing?
When did you stop dancing?
When did you stop being enchanted by story?
When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?
Aren’t these beautiful and powerful?
What caused you to lose your voice?
What caused you to lose connection with your body/to disassociate from yourself, to stop moving, exercising, dancing?
What caused you to be unmoved by your own story and that of others?
What caused you to lose connection with your soul and your spirit?
We were reminded to remain connected to another generative energy of surprise. The underlying assumption and message of being unsurprised, of cynicism and jadedness is “I expect nothing new from you”. If I expect nothing new from you in this relational space, even when you try, I will not hear your new sound, your new song, your new beat and that denies me the opportunity to fall into step with you. It becomes either a stale or a discordant rhythm and nobody cares about or knows the moves.
Energy in relationships has a natural ebb and flow. We feel it and see it all the time in all relational spaces. There are times when we need more closeness and times when we need more distance. Our need for closeness and distance do not always manifest harmoniously. In attuning to the pulse and heartbeat of a relationship, our role is to help people, differentiate their own beat, find their rhythm, and create a natural harmony.
Sometimes we lose rhythm: as fear, shame or anxiety whisper to us, we may step too early, too quickly, too hard, too loud, too soft or not at all, we may even forget our words. And often we try to pick up the same old familiar beat, the same song on repeat, until we stop listening or we stop dancing and we’re just standing there, or fighting there.
Our role as practitioners is to attune to the rhythm of the relationship, especially when it sounds like a cacophony; when it is a cacophony we recognize it as the sound of people trying really hard, of people who are feeling unheard and unsafe, and in order to guide them to the new song sheet, we need to listen with sharp ears, with a steady heart, with a solid, empathic presence for the sweet sound, the vulnerable note, the guiding beat that is always there.
If the cacophony means that we are unable to conduct the piece, then we have attuned to the disconnection. We have disconnected from the people before us and we are listening to the discord of our own broken song.
So, listening becomes an action. It is a life-giving action. It is an action that signals presence. It is an action that allows us to let go of an agenda and find each other. It is an action that allows us to hear the plaintive cry underneath the crescendo, to hear the gentle notes of courage, to sense the old pain behind the ominous notes, to listen for the song waiting to be sung, to experience the joy of harmony, to savour the stillness between beats, to feel the grounding of the baritone, to hear the fear in the high notes, to seek the safety of the middle tones and to find the acceptance and the renewal that emerges in the decrescendo.
As practitioners, our role is to be available, amidst the noise of disharmony and cacophony. That first session becomes the window of opportunity to find the sweet moment, the sweet sound, and the sweet memory of being connected. And through this, they are encouraged to find a new sound, feel a new rhythm, and step into aliveness.
We were taught the technique of expanded doubling where the therapist assumes the role of one of the partners in the dialogue to move the connection from reactivity to vulnerability. It requires deeply authentic attunement. We were encouraged, through this very particular intervention of attunement, to access our capacity to lead, to be available to the couple in a very direct way, to take our position as the conductor of the symphony, the praise-singer, the great heart, the warrior for the human spirit, whichever role would allow us to lead people into a place of creative, conscious, compassionate and courageous connection.
Being South African
In a previous newsletter, I mentioned that as a community, we hold a deep desire to sit with each other and talk about our history, our identity and our lived experiences of being South African. We held our first group dialogue process on 14th July, under the leadership of Mapule Ratshefola who heads the Imago Community Building portfolio. Suffice to say we heard each other and found each other in a new way. It was not a completely neat process, and that was especially enlivening because does that not mirror life? We did not leave feeling unruffled; we did leave knowing that we were doing courageous work, that there is so much still to be said and shared and that we were on a warrior’s journey.
In closing, let’s return to the man who inspired this newsletter. Let’s all take a leaf from the songbook of Johnny Clegg. I think he wanted to remind us, in writing these songs, in awakening our consciousness, by his living example, that in the search for the spirit of the great heart, we are looking for each other. We are looking for you and me.
Photograph by Kobus van der Merwe
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