Back From My 40th Origin Trip: A Reminder That I Am Alive

I just returned from leading a group of 15 local high school students to visit cocoa farmers in a remote Tanzanian village on Lake Nyasa in the shadow of the Livingston Mountains. Since 2010 this journey has been part of our Chocolate University program inspiring local students that business can be a force for good in the world. More importantly we give students an opportunity to receive radical hospitality.

On days when I am open and aware I know what it feels like when time stops and I am locked in the present moment. At this point I’ve experienced it enough times to know generally when it’s coming, a kind of warning that I am about to be reminded that I am alive. Usually it’s when I am not expecting it. As strange as it might sound I do not think we choose these moments, they choose us. I’d like to focus on just one from last week.

Nearly every time I’ve traveled to this spot in East Africa I have been a special guest at a graduation ceremony for Empowered Girls and now Enlightened Boys. Last week was no exception. Clocking in at 3 to 4 hours these ceremonies tend to be long by American standards. For some of these young women and men this might be one of the the most memorable days of their lives. It’s a big deal. Side note: we fund and staff Empowered Girls in the region. It was founded and continues to be managed globally by angel on earth Kellen Msseemmaa. We founded, fund and staff Enlightened Boys. Both programs teach self esteem, life skills, sex education and non-violence empowering and enlightening these young Tanzanians for a hopeful future.

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Last Sunday afternoon we walked up the foothills about a mile from the village center to the secondary school to attend the graduation ceremony. Nearly 500 students welcomed us with song as our group of American students arrived. We sat at the head tables, adorned with white tablecloths, as the guests of honor. It was hot with zero breeze. There was a meticulously placed bottle of Fanta, Coca-Cola, and water on the table in front of each of us. Lawren spoke on behalf of our group encouraging the young graduates and thanking them for their hard work and dedication. The village students worked hard for weeks in advance of our visit preparing skits and songs to mark the honor of this celebration.

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A group of about 30 young women from Matema Secondary moved to the front of this open air oversized classroom to sing a tribal welcome song in their native Nyakyusa dialect. It was a hauntingly beautiful call and response. I had literally no idea what they were saying but I did not need to know. That’s when it happened. Rapture. Time stopped. I did not need to speak Nyakyusa to know that God was speaking. Overwhelmed. What did He say? I have no idea. He was not speaking “to” me. I was an observer, a listener. I videoed part of the song and have played it at least 100 times since that day. Listening to the song over and over brings me right back to that place. I cannot even talk about it without becoming emotional. For a few days I struggled with why? I’ve been to many graduation ceremonies where songs and skits were performed. Why this celebration? Why this song? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I am aware of my limitations as a writer. Words are not available to me to describe what happened. In fact, my words are unimportant and I take comfort in that.

 

I quote Joseph Campbell in my book and he’s an expert on this topic so I’ll bring him into this conversation. He recounted to Bill Moyers in the now famous PBS interview series:

“My friend Heinrich Zimmer of years ago used to say, ‘The best things can’t be told,’ because they transcend thought. ‘The second best are misunderstood,’ because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can’t be thought about, and one gets stuck in the thoughts. ‘The third best are what we talk about.”

Here I am “talking about” this present moment of transcendence that probably only lasted a matter of seconds in reality. You see where my feeble attempt ranks in the order of understanding according to Campbell and I agree. Transcendent experiences remind us of our our true selves, who we are, that we are alive. The practice is not about finding the next transcendent experience. That would be tempting but unsustainable. Instead, it’s about pulling the thread of that experience forward into the stitches of our daily lives. My question now revolves around ways I can integrate that moment into my day.

I can look to Christ’s mother as the role model of integration. After the shepherds came to see her baby in the manger proclaiming the angel’s message “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” That’s enough for me. I treasure that moment of song and will ponder it in my heart for many days to come.

Digging Deeper: Reverse scale makes moments like this possible. I have a sense of what the practice of reverse scale feels like. It’s a practice we can use to discover and stay tethered to our true selves in life and business. For me it means that I led this trip with the students when I could have delegated it to someone else. Not scale but reverse scale which can also be called human scale. Read more about priming the pump of reverse scale in your life in Chapter 5 of my book.