“You were put on this earth to achieve your greatest self, to live out your purpose, and to do it courageously.”
I remember a particularly sweltering day many years ago. Back then, I frequented Africa as a diamond dealer. My good friend, a village Chief, and I were speaking under a baobab tree; him seated on a three-legged stool, while I let the soft moss and earth be my chair and the crackling bark be my support. We were in his village having a private chat. As we were cracking jokes, a fairly petite and a slight of build woman passed nearby.
"She is very strong," he said watching her. She walked by in solemn silence, her gaze never leaving the ground. I had been in Africa long enough to know that he was not referring to physical strength; surely her willowy frame and boyish figure betrayed no physical strength. He was talking about her psychological strength. He was referring to the strength to survive shown by so many Africans who stood tall and proud, despite generations of war, colonization, and oppression. This kind of strength was more than just surviving.
When I spent a few brief moments with the women in the village, as they went about gathering wood, or down to the rivers to fetch water, I would hear them sing. These songs, I learned from the chief reminded them to keep true to self no matter what adversity they faced as individuals, a family and as a community. They had different ambitions than I had seen anywhere else in the world, not to advance in technology or power, but to preserve their ancient values and customs.
"How does one gain this wisdom?" I asked my friend as we shared an enviable view of his industrious village that was always full of laughter and happiness.
He was now smoking his afternoon pipe, brought to him along with some yams and soup. He looked at me, his face beaming much like Buddha's, with a deep joy and peace.
"First, my dear Olessia, remember to always look outside yourself. Put your daughter and your community first. Draw meaning in your life from something larger than yourself and your self-interests or pet projects. Second, avoid living the hectic lifestyle celebrated by the west. Find time every day for reflection and introspection. Keep your focus on your values."
"That's it?” I asked in shock, “No special mental exercises? No secret knowledge that your people gained and preserved for generations to come?" It sounded too simple to work.
The Bakongo Chief indulgently looked into my eyes with love. I felt like a child who had doubted my teacher’s credibility at the very begging of my journey as his student.
"Let us make a deal. Begin to do this every day until your next visit. In three weeks when we sit here again, tell me if you felt any difference. I believe you will admit that the most beautiful and important things in life are true and simple. All others are vanity."
Well, it has been almost 15 years of my living by those rules. I have to admit that for this life lesson, I'm forever grateful to my Bakongo friend.
Try to live by his advice for just 3 weeks! Do let me know if you sense a difference.