Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ubuntu


Today I took part in a beautiful ceremony which had me on the brink of tears for an hour straight. I had the honor of meeting Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Mench├║, and walking with her as she explored, blessed, connected with, and kissed, the community farm and orchard at Kepner Middle School, in Southwest Denver.

Rigoberta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her awe-inspiring work on behalf of indigenous and oppressed peoples living in Guatemala and all over the world. She is of Mayan descent and grew up steeped in its culture, a sliver of which she, along with the two Mayan spiritual elders with her today, bestowed on myself and a hundred other people who had come to hear them speak. To say she is a spiritual person is far too shallow. To say she is an activist also does justice to only the smallest portion of her life and her soul. She has a presence I can not describe, nor do I want to. It seemed everything around her, from the squash and strawberry plants, to the cherry and apricot trees and the rocks in the ground were precious and must be contemplated, acknowledged, and thanked.

As she was led on a garden and orchard tour, she walked slowly, deliberately. Pausing to silently touch a plant, to hold a stone, or to bless a tree. When she and the elders opened their mouths to speak to us, they thanked us for the work we'd done, challenged us to continue, and most importantly, reminded us of the balance we're all seeking and without which, everything is meaningless.

They said we are comprised of three equal parts, the physical, the social, and the spiritual, and that all too often, we absolutely neglect the latter. Yet, as so many of us can attest from our love of being outdoors, we have a constant connection and reminder of the Divine all around us: nature. If we would but remember from where we came, and what sustains our bodies, then perhaps we would feel more alive and whole.

A common thread that wove through the words of the elders and Mench├║ was how we are all connected. How, the garden and orchard in the Westwood neighborhood and the difference it is making in the residents and community surrounding it betters all of us, everywhere. How, when we become balanced in our own lives, we can better serve the whole Earth and everyone in it. How, when we plant a tree here, it provides oxygen for the air all humanity and nature shares. What a beautiful tapestry that thread weaves.

This is the idea, the gyst, of ubuntu (no, not the operating system), this Bantu word which has transfixed me since I learned of its existence. So I'll close with a quote from Archbishop Desmund Tutu about ubuntu and its meaning. I am challenged every day by its depth and implications for my purpose and work in life, perhaps it will impact you too.
“Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human. When we want to give high praise to someone we say, "Yu, u nobuntu"; "Hey, so-and-so has ubuntu." Then you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say, "My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours." We belong in a bundle of life. We say, "A person is a person through other persons." It is not, "I think, therefore I am." It says rather: "I am human because I belong. I participate, I share." A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they are less than who they are.”