Sunday, 16 October 2016

Existing for a greater purpose

In life, we have many problems. The world is filled with problems. Many people turn to God and pray that He will give them a positive outcome so that problems will end. God did not create these problems. Yet, people want Him to take responsibility to solve them.

Each one of us goes through life unable to come to terms with it. Life hits us with all kinds of experiences, good and bad, and we don’t know how to cope with any of them. Our decisions, our choices in life, determine our direction and problems in life. All our decisions impact our lives and we suffer. One decision leads to another and it is impossible for all the consequences to always be good. As imperfect people, we make mistakes. Even the people in our lives and our circumstances act as enablers or catalysts for our problems and we suffer.

Everyone has some specific burden to carry, whether it is cancer, a broken relationship, loss of a loved one or financial worries. That’s why we turn to God and pray so that He will help us. We ask Him to end our problems or strengthen us to cope with our problems. What we desire, we expect Him to fulfill. That’s Grace, right? Wrong! Grace doesn’t mean that we can talk to God and ask Him to solve problems He didn’t create.

Our lack of knowing how to control our lives, our emotions, and our circumstances is the reason why we suffer. We need to learn to be responsible. We need to learn to think for ourselves. No-one on earth can breathe, think or make responsible decisions for us. No-one on earth can make us feel fulfilled. We need to find inner peace and accept our imperfections as well as the imperfections of others. Only then will we grasp the concept that we can never fully understand life and eventually accept it for what it is.

Imperfection is the heaviest of all burdens we carry. Therefore, we all carry suffering within us. Knowing that we carry this suffering within us should motivate us to focus more attention on ourselves than on others. We need to make time for quietness with ourselves so that we can attempt to understand ourselves. We can only be complete and whole when we realize that if we want something, we alone need to work hard to achieve it and not rely on empty prayers of desire, imperfect people or worldly power and status to gain it. 

Nothing on earth will go the way we want it to go. Nothing on earth will bring us happiness. The laws of the universe are not governed by us. The sun doesn’t rise because we are alive. The ebb and flow of the tides are not set in motion because we exist. Instead of always expecting life to revolve around us and flow in the direction we desire, we need to pray for wisdom and courage to continue existing for a greater purpose: humanity!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Mind Storms

When I was a child, about eight years old, I used to have nightmares. I was in a maze of high hedges (all black and white – no colour), frantically looking for my mother. She would appear at the end of each passage calling my name: Karin, Karin, Karin! Loud at first and then softer and softer until I couldn’t hear her anymore. I would run and run and run, nauseated with a hypnotic spiral feeling in my mind. By the time I got to the end of the passage, she was gone. She would appear again at the end of the next passage.

When I was older, very much awake, I would have the same occurrence, the nauseated feeling, and the hypnotic spiral twisting in my mind. I know why I had those nightmares back then. My father had wanted to put my sister and me in a boarding school. I didn’t want to go and was scared of losing my mother. Even at an older age, whenever I felt that my mother and I would be separated, I would have the recurring feeling – wide awake, though. I never dreamed of a maze again, but I remain fascinated to this day with labyrinths. Guess who loves Alice in Wonderland and The Maze Runner?

Many years later, as an adult, I had different nightmares. Whenever my mind was troubled, I would dream of dark water masses. Again, I know why I dreamed of water. When I was 18, going on 19, I nearly drowned at Umdloti beach in KwaZulu-Natal. On the north side of Umdloti, there is a large natural rock formation that creates a tidal pool. It would seem the perfect swimming area, providing shelter from onshore currents. In effect, it’s a very dangerous place. My friend and I went for a swim one morning. We didn’t know about the rip current, which had no mercy for us and pulled us deeper into the sea. It was so strong! Within seconds, we were trapped in troughs behind walls of waves that kept breaking towards the beach. This experience not only initiated my fear for masses of water but also my fear of heights and claustrophobia. My friend, Charon, convinced me to try and swim against the tide. It was a useless enterprise.

Charon kept telling me to kick like crazy whilst swimming. I was so tired at one point that I stopped swimming. She came back for me and motivated me to carry on. We swam again for a while, but I was done! Charon then linked arms. She told me that we needed to swim through the wave. Instead of going up with the wave to the crest and being pushed back into a new trough when it plunged towards the beach, we would go half way up and then swim through it. She counted to three and we went through the wave. We tumbled out of the sea, head over heels, onto the beach. My wise friend, Charon, then decided that we needed therapy. I was reluctant, at first, but followed her on jelly legs to the pool and we stayed in the water until ‘we’ felt better. Her therapy apparently worked for her – I spoke to her more recently and she couldn’t remember the incident. As for me, I still fear water masses at night. I also dream of dark water when I have a troubled mind. This happens very seldom, but the fact that it does honestly tells me that the pool therapy didn’t work for me.

Dreams don’t occur much in my life, nightmares more seldom. Perhaps my brain is too tired to dream. Perhaps it’s too academically wired because I work all the time. I cannot imagine that this is good for me, but it’s what I do. I work, work, work. I suppose I'm too tired to dream about unprocessed information. Then again, what do I know? I’m not a neuroscientist.

More recently, I dreamed that I was on my way to … well, somewhere. As I came out of a double story apartment, one I cannot remember ever seeing in my life, I looked up and saw three tornadoes behind the mountain. I ran to my car thinking that I needed to find my children. As I ran around the building, I saw another three tornadoes on the other side of the building behind another mountain. Potgietersrus is settled between two mountain ranges. So, the mountains make sense. As I looked back in horror at the first three tornadoes and again at the three in front of me, the tornado in the middle lifted into the air and made three prong-like fingers (like a fork) before sinking down again behind the mountain. My greatest concern was for the safety of my children.

I woke up and remembered the dream quite vividly.

Not long thereafter, I dreamed of three tornadoes again. This time, I was at school on the sports field. I saw the three tornadoes in the exact position as the previous nightmare, behind the mountain. I started running towards the school. I ran towards a huge tree, like a strong Oak tree. As I passed it, I saw another three tornadoes behind another mountain. It was exactly the same as my first dream. The only difference was that in my first dream there was no wind. The sun was shining and the sky was clear. In my second dream, I was running against a strong wind towards my car. The sky was filled with sinister looking clouds. While I was running, my son came running from out of nowhere and we ran together. I shouted above the sound of the wind that we needed to find my daughter.

When I woke up, I remembered the dream vividly. I remembered the first dream, too. I even compared the dreams. 

A few nights later, I had another dream about a tornado. It was night time and there were people outside in the garden, socializing. I walked out of my house and saw a huge purple and pink hourglass spinning in the air. It wasn’t big. It hovered above the trees, slowly spinning in the air. My mother came outside, was horrified when she saw it and said it was a tornado. She ran inside the house and I was left standing, confused, on the patio. It didn’t look like a tornado at all and the people, somewhere in the dark garden, didn’t seem to be aware of it. They were talking and laughing as if nothing was wrong.

At the end of August, a few days after my first nightmare, Bennette Riekert died in a road accident. The truck he was travelling in had veered off the road and rolled. When I heard about his death, I remembered the tornadoes in my dream. I couldn’t stop thinking about the tornadoes, which obviously led to the second nightmare of tornadoes. A month after Bennette’s death, Louis Ruytenberg died in a road accident. His vehicle rolled just outside of town and he was thrown from the vehicle. Again, when I heard about the accident, I thought about the tornadoes.

Both Bennette and Louis attended the school where I teach. They were in my English classes from 2012 to 2015. They were in the same class as my son and sat alphabetically from 2013 onwards: Riekert, Ruytenberg and Steyn. I feel compelled to say that I don’t believe in analyzing dreams, accidents happen, but this was a strange experience. I dreamed of the tornadoes long before each accident occurred. 

Now, all I can do is think about the tornadoes. All three dreams are very lucid in my mind and for the next few weeks, or months, until I’ve ‘reprogrammed’ my brain, this will be my small obsession!

I wrote a poem about my sea experience back in 1984 (my way of working through the trauma, I guess):

where were the sharks

let us swim she said
and i was keen
as the waves
danced
on the beach
and                                                                
we raced each other
through the water
both laughing
at
the sunny
day                             
and stopped from tiredness
and turned to see
our bright towels
on
the sandy                             
beach                                                            
where we had left them
i was shocked to
see them gone
and
i scanned the
beach                                                
till I found them far              
from where we had             
begun to                               
swim                                      
in dancing                            
waves                                                
high on the crest we                       
bobbed up and down         
treading dark                        
and                                        
thick water
salt concentration                           
treading dark dark               
and thick thick                     
salt                                         
water in                                 
awe                                                    
for we were warned of
the warm currents
the same day
we
swam from the
shore                                     
we were caught in a
trough with the walls
of the red
sea
on either
side                                                                
looming like a force
of doom and then
she said to
me
just kick like
mad                                                               
and i did as we
swam along the
trough against
a
mightier
force                                                  
much greater than my
will and tired
jelly legs
so
i stopped and
thought                                 
it useless to try
and swim against
the strength of
the
sea current
then                                       
she came back and said
hold on to my
ankles and
kick
the best you
can                                        
and i did but with
no strength left to
carry on
and
she knew me
well                                                    
enough to know that
she was fighting
more than just
a
sea current
so                                           
she linked our arms and
smiled at me and                 
suddenly                  
gave                          
me courage                          
not                                                                 
to just give in but
to give it one            
more chance and    
i
waited for                              
her                             
to tell me how to                  
tread the dark and               
thick thick salt                      
hell    
in which we                         
were                                                              
she waited for the
wave to build and
take us to
the
crest again
but                                                     
intervened with the
force saying that
we swim through
it
through the red
sea                                         
wall towards the beach
two arms linked tight
side by side
and
started to
count                                                             
three two one i heard
and went head first
through the wall
ripped
from her by
a                                             
powerful force while
tumbling tumbling
head over heels
and
heels over head
to                                                                    
be spat out on the
sea sand sea strand
spat out like
the
man jona
through                                                         
the enormous mouth of
the sea to lie
there alive
on
the sandy
beach                                                            
two friends side by side
no strength had i
but up she
got
and took me
to                                                                    
a swimming pool with
water feather
light and said
let
us swim a
while                                                             
it is therapy
and it would take
away the       
fear                
for the sea                            
and                                                    
the deep dark salty
death-spent minutes
we both had             
just
been to been           
through                                             
i listened to her                    
wisdom and thought                      
about the                  
day     
and wondered                                 
where                                                            
my wisdom was as 
i was stunned to
silence all
the
time she was
there                                                              
saving my life and
hers but my life
came first and
i
never thought
of                                                                    
showing gratitude
as i was stunned
to silence all
that
night and for
the                                                                 
rest of my life and
now as twenty
five years have
passed
i still dream
of                                
treading the dark and                     
thick salt water
and wake and
wonder
where were the
sharks                                   
where were the sharks