Nostalgia, Earth and Belonging


“Our job is not to comprehend or control everything, but to learn which story we are in and which of the many things calling out in the world is calling to us. Our job is to be fully alive in the life we have, to pick up the invisible thread of our own story and follow where it leads. Our job is to find the thread of our own dream and live it all the way to the end.”
Michael Meade, “Why the World Doesn’t End”
Two hours without electricity recently, made me ponder on how in the “old days’ of candlelight, one must have taken to more reading, listening or playing music, painting, sewing, knitting or playing, …..or simply reflected more. I wanted to eat things that required electricity until it occurred to me I had fruit or bread or an avocado.

It happened whilst there was still some daylight so I tracked the light as it quietly left us and the sun set as it did everynight except today I watched the sun dissappear, and remembered how I missed sunsets in the bush, no- how I miss sunsets.

And it got me thinking as to why these days I long for those sort of nights where silence puts you into a deep slumber and the stars remind you of when you fell from the sky.

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These days nostalgia feels like an archeological dig and I wonder where it went -that soul’s longing, maybe I am either whole or I have completely dimmed it and layered it with what a teacher of mine called “fluff” . Maybe I am simply home at last and there is no magic ecstatic moment anymore, no more seeking or longing or nostalgia no more looking for the next high. (Consistent with its Greek word roots meaning “homecoming” and “pain,” nostalgia was for centuries considered a potentially debilitating and sometimes fatal medical condition expressing extreme homesickness. … Such benefits may lead to a chronic disposition or personality trait of “nostalgia proneness.” Wikipedia
I dont miss the homelessness, I miss the ache, the grateful pain, as in the seeking is the call to the adventure the incomplete journey to the center the homeward bound exhiliration.

In later years it transmuted from a wistful yearning for the past to a more longing for a distant place from which I felt separated, and in returning home after 56 years to the place of my birth it transmuted again from yearning to the longing to know not just my past but my history, my people, food, my ancestors, my land, my traditions and culture, music inner and outer wildness and the deep red earth  from which I had been separated and disconnected.

The homelessness and homesickness was indeed a sickness, a malady, which resulted in a massive soul loss, drowning of the spirit in alcohol, it was also a seeking for something that I knew I had been separated from.


In 2012 when I returned to live in South Africa my first job was to track my father’s ancestors. A journey that took me on a series of journeys into the Eastern Cape, the rolling hills of Xhosa landscape and brightly colored rondaavals, beautifully placed in one of the poorest yet richest agricultural land in the country. I swam in oceans my father loved and traversed and immersed in the land, seeing me in everyone I met. Nothing made sense I felt at home and yet I was a complete alien to this strange land.

In tracking my ancestors and traversing the land, my place of birth, my father’s and grandfather’s place of birth and wandering amongst our very own little graveyard with our names disintegrating on headstones crumbling into the earth, I healed my homelessness, mostly my broken heart. I came closer in some way to my father than I had ever been when he was alive. In some traditions the male lineage are responsible for bringing us home. They are brought home when we are, and I if I am earth and all that it encompasses, then in the healing of the land, I too am healed.

So home is far bigger than a piece of land although thats big enough, my homelessness brought all my losses to the surface and I realised with some shame that the biggest loss was not my mother or father but my homeland, and more than that my bones remembered my earth story, and called me back to South Africa from where I had lived apart for so many years, to pick up the thread of my story and follow it and live in my life- fully.
South Africa carries a deep wound -it is separateness- so apartheid is still alive and well and until we heal the land, the people remain separated in the country of their birth. Being forcibly removed from one’s land has created a chasm so vast that it has impacted an unworthyness so deep rooted, that identity, and belonging, is a dis -ease, a malaise of a large part of the country. It is more prevalent here in Cape Town where I work with some of the youth from the townships than with the rural people who live in dire poverty but on their own land holding on to their customs culture and traditions.
It still manifests in gangs , violence, drugs and at times a lethargy so strong it immobolizes the most resilient will. I feel it too here more than I did anywhere else I have lived and I realise its in my bones. And yet if we carry that legacy in our bones so do we also carry the legacy of wisdom, strength and resilience from our ancestors who went through so much for us to be here and when I honor them in that way I am again renewed and rehabilitated.

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The thing is the land doesn’t say you do not belong, never has, that mother that great mother. At times we have forgotten that and we have not reminded our young people that, and now though they are rising up, knowing that their old old ones, lived on the land in harmony with all that is and they are demanding their rightful protection, for themselves and the earth.

The way I have witnessed young people respond here to rituals in nature continues to show me over and over that the loss of Initiation ritual into their education and care for the earth has severly disrupted their “place” in the greater way of things.


Young people who no longer initiate, intiate themsleves seek a gang, an addiction, a hunt, a threshold, and now I see that in the absence of the knowledge of ancestors, their history their culture, elders, in men a father, in women the mother, grandmother that it has literally swept the ground from under their feet leaving them searching for flashlights in the dark. In gangs, their peers become the elders, fathers that they want to look up to. In war some are the men gone mad, out of control. There is a deep need in young people for ritual. Fostering self worth, self esteem is critical for young people at risk, in order to empower them and render them significant, the need for identity, belonging if not found in their social structure or community may be sought and acted out in the gang behaviour.

When my beautiful 10 year old child that I am privileged to be a guardian of, starts to sing in Xhosa on a daily basis I know he is missing home, is re connecting with his home in rural Eastern Cape, it brings him closer to the land his mother, his grandmother.

Several rituals here in South Africa in certain cultures and to my knowledge other Africas for youth and others include a return to the earth in a variety of ways. It’s wisdom is such that any re establishing of self worth and thus a strengthening of self esteem should invlove time in the wild, a return to the earth and a welcoming back by the community. This sense of belonging in traditional societies extend to animals the plants and the environment. It is no wonder that the young people are screaming and shouting and standing up for the protection of the earth, they carry the dis-ease of a nostalgia, a deep wisdom knowing that how the earth is being treated is not right, they too are longing for home. It must be excruciating for them to see what is happening and feel powerless again, and they know that it is their given legacy and the legacy of their ancestors, to take care of the earth as they once did, not destroy it .


So if rites of passage includes birth, bonding with the mother then a separation from the mother, then re birth it makes sense that a return to the earth in a significant ritual will assist in the importance of belonging, identity, and a foundation for the re entry into society and community.
Rilke says this, If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.”

May all worlds bless and protect you


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