I had never been to Africa before. Italy, where I live, is only a few hundred kilometers away, but I never crossed the waters. Until now, when I was following the call of the Integral Community and my passion to learn and understand life better.
I flew to the far end of Africa. Arrived in Johannesburg, I couldn’t find the shuttle service I had booked. What to do in such an unknown country? Whom could I trust? I am used to not be blinded and credulous by my 30+ years in Italy, and what I found at the Joburg airport didn’t look much different from Rome, except that people there seemed less stressed, more alive and friendly. So I found someone to take me to the far away hotel and trusted that I would arrive there, which I did.
Far outside the city, fenced twice and with guards at every gate, the car brought me to a beautiful place where monkeys run around, even giraffes, exotic birds and oversized lizards, green meadows with lakes and waterfalls, beautifully kept, but somehow asleep. They could not find my booking and for a short moment I thought I was in the wrong place (panic?- not really). A name I knew showed up in the list of bookings, so it must be right and I got a bed for that night. The official beginning of the Integral African Tour was scheduled for the following day and until then all uncertainties were cleared out and I enjoyed the place and the beautiful nature.
I had come from Italy during the last days of May where spring had had a hard time to take hold. Why did I believe that it would be warmer in South Africa? Maybe because we Europeans connect “south” and “warm” automatically. It was not warm at all, in the shade and in the hotel rooms, and my freezing mode continued except the few hours during the day when the sun burnt the northern skin without pity while in the shade the next layer of clothing was due. Yeah, it was their sunny winter and that was also the reason why the hotel area was almost deserted and the swimming pool not at all inviting.
This was the first hint for me to check my automatic assumptions and realize that what we take for granted, might need some more consideration within a different context. The entire two weeks of my stay were a crescendo-experience of learning how limited my (our?) ideas are of life, of the world, of everything: For example my being struck by the fact that, down there, the sunrise is in the west and sunset in the east. Really? Strange! It took me some time to realise that down there the sun is in the north. In our mindset the sun is in the south, always, a never doubted constant. Bang! A severe hit for our habitual beliefs and “biases”.
Don’t wear jewelry or expensive watches! Keep your camera and cell phone in your front pocket! Keep a tight hold of your stuff! – These were the instructions before going downtown Johannesburg. Sounds pretty dangerous! Probably the same instructions are true for any city in the world, at least for certain areas of the cities, and in Joburg happens the center to be such a place. It is a strange mixture between third world colorfulness and huge modern buildings, an attempt by the government to regain a “normal” atmosphere in the city which, once upon a time must have been beautiful and safe…
We Europeans (and Americans for that matter) complain about refugees and migrants. We have no idea how much more of that is present in countries which are far poorer than we are. Or maybe we don’t want to see it in our self-centered blindness? South Africa is full of immigrants and refugees who try very hard to survive. And a means for survival is stealing to get some food into your stomach – or would you decide to starve instead, if you were in that situation?
It is a little bit like the “American dream”. People arrive as refugees or come into the country with the hope – or illusion – that they would find their luck there, their “real life”, which they couldn’t find in their home countries. It doesn’t seem to work any more in America as it did decades ago, Fortified borders make sure that few people have the chance to try it out nowadays. No walls in South Africa. People are streaming in from the surrounding countries. South Africa had been very well off, the gold and diamond mines offered work to people and wealth, too, at least to those who were leading and organising all that. Too bad that, in the 40ies, apartheit poisoned the coexistence of people of different races and skin colors. This inevitably caused a deep separation into groups which had little or no awareness of the respective other and the master-servant dynamics got ingrained into people’s consciousness. No wonder that it led to upheaval and severe problems which are still ongoing with no certainty if a solution can be found at all.
South Africa is not as well off as it used to be, the infrastructure is deteriorating. In some areas of Johannesburg, or further in the countryside, I was reminded of eastern European countries before the breakdown of communism: neglect of existing goods, missing maintenance, missing skills to handle the problems or just unwillingness to play the game “functional society” and preferring the “filling my own pockets” trajectory. We call that corruption, even theft. As we know from Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory: People with a certain mindset don’t see their game as something “wrong”, it had been played before, the most natural thing for them, nothing strange or wrong with it. It is hard to understand for us who believe to have a sense for justice and fairness and a heart for the dispossessed and cheated.
There are some beautiful residential areas in Johannesburg where you can go only by passing a checkpoint. Lovely big houses and gardens, paradisical, – if there was not the huge wall around each of them and 6-fold electric fencing on top. I am wondering how it feels to live in your own jail, when you have to close yourself inside a fortification to make sure that no one can steal your possessions from you. It must be somehow like entering into the wilderness where we humans have to close ourselves in our cars or fences, where the relationship animals – humans is upside down, where the humans are in the Zoo, the animals watching us.
This is another reminder to drop our arrogance about believing to be able to dominate either animals, nature or other humans. The throwback comes, sooner or later. In the era of climate change we, finally, should understand that we are overestimating our capacities and, by doing so, we are blending out all rational foresight of the consequences of our doing. It is magical thinking to believe that we get away with our careless hybris!
Back to South Africa and the reminder that our “western” countries are incommensurate in believing that they are the norm for everything. Walking through the streets you better miss the beauty of what you could perceive around you! You better keep your eyes in front of your feet! From one moment to the other you could break your legs! Unexpected holes in the sidewalk or streetside, due to neglected construction sites, broken pavement or stolen pieces, the iron lids which should cover the underground infrastructure. When we think to have a “right” in our countries to be warned of holes in the road, we are far from reality – and presumptuous. And when falling over a sidewalk edge because it was not evidenced yellow-black, in the “West” we get upset and sue the “responsible” for having caused us harm. No one to sue in South Africa and you better pay attention! It would be a good lesson for all the self righteous people in our countries to witness reality in other places – and to show a little more gratitude for what they get in their own countries instead of wanting always MORE!
Btw: I fell twice on the pavement in these 2 weeks. Two years of Aikido about two decades ago seem still to be in my body memory and so I didn’t really hurt myself, thank God!
For me the recipe to be open to reality worked well. During the Integral African Conference I finally understood that the West, Europe and America, are still dominating the rest of the world in a profound way. It is not any more about colonialism, religious missionaries and not even so much about exploiting the material goods or the human labour of other countries – although this is a truly important topic. The real issue lies much deeper than that: We Europeans have exported our ways of thinking, our philosophies, our theories, our value systems, our approach to our planet, our economic thinking and systems.
The worst thing is: we are totally unconscious of our belief that we have the only truth, that our way of thinking and doing is the only valuable way, even the only possible way of living on this planet. And the even worse thing is that the rest of the world buys into our ideas and ways of being and tries to “grow” as we are modeling for them. So they neglect and lose their own unique way of approaching life, they give up their own fundamental axioms and beliefs. Not good!
This sort of colonisation is far more detrimental than anything before. The world is becoming a narrow one-way road and the richness of existence is willingly impoverished. The massive extinction of species is a symbol for this development. At the end of this fatal road are we: self extinction by ignorance and arrogance. Inexcusable!
In the video interview which Ryan Nakade did with me, I share many moments of my experience, while in this blogpost I am writing about the conclusions which I have reached so far. If you feel uncomfortable with them – and you probably will because I am questioning our “normality”, our own hidden axioms about existence – don’t worry! On the video I am less rigorous and share more the wonder and magic of the experience. Enjoy! And if you are familiar with constellations: Towards the end of the video I share my experience in the role of the “Have-Nots”. This really shook me to the bones! The felt experience of being at the bottom of society, of dying because of lacking everything: I was astonished, shocked, moved, incredulous and grateful to now understand how people feel in that situation!