Let me share parts of my upbringing with you, so you can understand me some. This is a bit of a story, so please hang in there…
I grew up in a family that was hugely influential in setting up my spiritual development. When I was young, I used to play a lot by myself, often with ants pretending like I was their god or sun. I could be found crouched for hours following their movements, talking to them as god, or rising and setting on them as the sun. I have no idea what thoughts went through me at the time, or even what meaning I had of what god is, but this was one of my favourite things to do.
When I was about 6 or seven, I used to walk with my 2 sisters, about 30 or 40 minutes to attend my first communion classes at the St Raphael Catholic Church in Mamelodi. I hated the classes, since whilst other children my age were out playing after school, we had to attend twice weekly classes.
In any case, the classes and the confessional space introduced me to the power of forgiveness through confession. Regrettably, the classes also emphasised guilt over forgiveness, although I do remember feeling relieved at being able to confess things that had weighed heavily on my heart, and to feel the unconditional acceptance. Confession also made me realise that I could potentially set myself free simply by unloading onto a neutral witness, in a space that was set up precisely for my relief. I don’t think I necessarily appreciated that space during that time, although now I recognise the sacredness of the confessional space.
Later on in my life when I was eight or ten, I was about to be immersed in a lifestyle that was to have the biggest influence in my life- my mother underwent training as a traditional healer after suffering from a long illness that refused to respond to western medicine. When my mother came home after a lengthy stay (apprenticeship) with her Mmakgolo tutor, my life would never be the same again.
When my mother came back, we had to make space for a different form of spirituality to our regular Catholicism, and embrace an African spirituality, where we placed our ancestors side-by-side to Jesus Christ, Mother Mary and the Holy Spirit as our connection to God. We performed our Catholic rituals in church as part of a congregation, and those that honoured our traditional African spirituality at home as a family. The differences were many and too numerous to mention here, but the main that stands out is that I could be an active participant in the African spirituality, while in Catholicism, I needed the priest to mediate on my behalf between me and God.
But there were similarities as well, the most basic being the emphasis placed on the idea of cleansing, of the performance of rituals, the burning of incense and use of holy water, the numerous icons, the symbolism of the holy sacrament and the ritual offerings in African spirituality and so forth. I suppose in some ways both spiritualities seemed to offer participants an opportunity to heal, and this spoke to me.
My family and I straddled these two seemingly exclusive spiritualities comfortably, with our home being a perfect holding space for these two worlds. For me, however, I let go of the Catholicism along the way, since a part of me deeply struggled with the idea of a compulsory male mediator as a priest, and also of needing to hold guilt as a motivator for my life. But I hung on, albeit in a limited manner, to my African spirituality, if not as an active participant, but certainly as a student.
As I went through university to study psychology and drama, I recognised that I needed to explore what other forms of spirituality were about, and was fortunate that I could give myself this permission to explore. Not everyone feels free enough to open doors to other forms.
And so it was that my conscious spiritual journey started. This was about my own need to know God through a direct experience, rather than through the teachings of others. At Rhodes I limited my search pretty much to Christianity, but found no satisfaction there.
When I got a Fulbright scholarship to read for a Masters degree in dance-movement therapy, two big things happened for me- one, the healer in me grew, and secondly, I was exposed to a variety of spiritualities that were not Christian-based, and that could be integrated into my healing process. In some ways this was a continuation of my childhood experiences of the power of the arts in healing, as in the dances and drumming of the traditional African spirituality.
What became clear to me was that spirituality went beyond the prescriptive ness of religion, and in this way, had potential to be personal and individual, and healing. Buddhism and Hinduism taught me that what was important was not Only about the attendance of church and repetition of incantations, but rather the application of the teachings in my life to end my own suffering. In this way, my home could be sacred. The sacred could be secular and healing, as the African spirituality had tried to teach me all along.
At the end of my Masters degree studies I returned home to South Africa and, whilst lecturing Psychology at Rand Afrikaans University- RAU, (mostly in the expressive arts therapies and Psychology in Africa courses), I decided to undertake a doctoral research project on the topic “Integrating psychology and spirituality through the feminine principle”. This topic was a deep expression of me, and of my quest to explore and deepen my spirituality; to further understand how women are able to create space for participating in religion that clearly excludes us from any real roles within the church; to grasp the meaning of gender and how it addresses issues of masculinity but particularly of the feminine principle; and of the potential of the expressive arts therapies to relate to and hold all of these.
Since leaving RAU after 7 years of teaching there, more than 14 years ago, I have been working as a facilitator of healing, of personal leadership and transformation, of group processes, for executives, youths, women, etc, using the expressive arts therapies, and integrating spirituality into whatever work I do. In all of this, I have been aware of the little information I have on African spiritualities, and also that African spiritualities are not used to the extent that the world benefits from other spiritualities. I am intrigued by that. I have always been interested in different religions and spiritualities, and of the space of women in them. For the most part, many spiritualities have their teachings written down to guide followers, but this is missing with regards to African spiritualities. Even more absent, is the role that women play in these spaces, and the role of the Goddess, or a strong presence of the feminine in African spirituality. If this information is not readily available, what does it mean for women who are interested in exploring or following an African spirituality? Where do we find their inspiration from?
I am continually exploring this, and would like to share my learning in my blog, about African Goddesses.
in fact, I’m also doing extensive research on African Godesses, and am in the process of developing a divination deck of cards on a number of African Goddesses. Keep your eyes peeled.
My spiritual journey continues, with me integrating meditation and prayer in most of my awake moments.
Last year I put myself on a year long sabbatical, which I refer to as my Pilgrimage Year, in pursuit of my Self. This saw me climbing Mt Meru in Tanzania, and participating in a 200 hour internationally certified yoga teacher training programme in Rishikesh, India. I am writing a book chronicling this, and you can read a snippet of the book here…
There are gems along the way, certainly and I continue to be a Pilgrim.