Tag Archives: South Africa

The Power Of The Positive Flow

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

I stood outside in the yoga class and listened as a young woman told her friend, “well if it’s meant to be, it will be.” As I always do, the words from the Beatles above filled my head. “Let it be.” One of the lessons I have learned on the journey is that indeed, it is often to let things be.

But there is a second level of the process of more to it than being a passive observer of your life, and this is another very important lesson that I think gets lost in the desire to be in the flow, and to let things happen. I have learned this the hard way as well.

It’s almost a two-step process – especially for Westerners. We live in a society with technology at our fingertips. We’ve modified the organisms of the food chain. We feel that we are in total and complete control of our destiny and of the world around us. We’re not. We need to understand that as much as we think that we have controlled the world – the world still has mysteries and secrets that we will never understand.

Usually, this then translates, in yoga studio lobbies, to men and women talking about other men and women and debating the outcome of a relationship. It usually involves party A who has been trying too hard to force the relationship with party B whom they’ve either been dating, been wanting to date, been wanting to marry or procreate.

Faced with obstacles and frustration, they then declare that “if it’s meant to be, it will be.” It’s as if they have decided that it’s out of their hands and in the universe’s. This is, in my mind, a simple bastardization of the concept of flow and the role it plays in our lives.

To me, to be in the flow is first to listen. You have to understand what is happening around you, and most importantly, within you. You have to eliminate the chatter of the world and most importantly, the chatter within you. You might think that the reason you are nervous / scared / anxious about an issue or person is clear-cut and simple – it almost certainly isn’t and if you think you can see and understand what you are feeling and why without serious quiet and introspection, I’d be careful.

Let’s say you are deciding what you want to do for a new career. You need to think about it and ponder the pro’s and con’s in a logical way. How much money will you make? Where will you live? You will not become a yoga teacher by chance – it takes conscious action.

Once the input has been entered, then it’s time to sit down, meditate and think about it. How does it feel? What does it look like? What direction can you give yourself with the input entered?

If it feels right still, then here’s the important part – the power of positive flow.

I described it once to a friend in Burma last year like this.

Imagine you are standing on a river bank and the water is moving by you. You won’t get anywhere if you just stand on the river bank. The water is not going to come out and get you and pull you in.

You have to step into the water.

Then, you have two choices.

You can go against the current. And here I often think of my friends who are lawyers, and are miserable being lawyers (not all are, but a lot seem to be.) They turn into the stream and trudge hard against the current. They try to swim and fight upstream. They won’t succeed.

So you turn the other way, you are in the river and you let the river take you.

Here’s where positive flow comes in.

The river will take you but you will get there faster if you move with the river. If you have ever swum downstream in a river that’s moving fairly fast, you know that a leisurely swim moves you quickly – it’s almost as if you are flying down – that’s what you want to do.

If the man or woman you are interested in moves to another city, you can’t simply hope it will work out. It’s going to take real work and real effort. I have learned this recently with this wonderful woman in my life. It’s work to talk and communicate and share – more work than I have experienced before. It’s not just simply going to happen.

I also learned a lesson a few years ago. A woman I really enjoyed was flying to South Africa and the schedules got topsy turvy and I wasn’t going to be there for much time at all when she was going to be there. I debated changing my ticket home (I was on a business trip with a good friend.) My friend advised me not to. “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” And I left. The last email that the woman flying in sent was “Wait, we’re not even going to have dinner?”

I should have stayed.

So now, I feel that it’s a combination of swimming and floating. Of listening and acting. Of holding and letting go. The right place for me is a pulsing between the two. I listen now to myself and to the people important to me.

I always make sure that I am in the river. And I always make sure that if I am headed in a direction that feels right, I don’t mind floating and watching the world move by me.

But I also don’t mind putting my head in the water and slowly helping the river push me.

A Moment With Nelson Mandela, Rest in Peace

Screen shot 2013-12-06 at 8.04.33 AMIn 1999, I had the honor to meet Nelson Mandela.  He was attending a state banquet (in South Africa) and a friend scuttled me in for a quick meet and greet.  I was completely in awe, of course, and don’t think I said anything other than put my hands together in respect when we met.

When I heard the news of his passing yesterday, I relived that moment once again.  And while meeting someone as historical and mythical as he was is undoubtedly a moment in my life I will never forget, so was a poignant  visit to Robben Island, the remote prison that held Nelson Mandela for twenty-six years.

I was in South Africa with my classmates from Kellogg Business School – our intent was to learn more about the country, its people, traditions, and, of course, current and future business opportunities.  We were fortunate to be taken to Robben Island by Ahmed Kathrada, a freedom fighter who was sentenced for treason on the same day as President Mandela.  Mr. Kathrada, who at that time of our visit was a gentleman in his late seventies, was 36 years old when he went to prison, the youngest member convicted in the famous Rivonia trial, and the only person of South Asian descent from the group.

Our tour of the prison was somewhat surreal as Kathrada told us firsthand stories about almost three decades in prison, and the shaping of a revolution.  We had all read A Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s prison memoir, which to this day is one of the most powerful books I have ever read.  It was truly remarkable to stroll the grounds of the prison as Mr. Kathrada showed us how they would use scraps of rice paper to write notes for the book in tiny handwriting, and bury the paper in marked holes in rocks, before sneaking them out with release prisoners.  He showed us the cells they shared, and laughed at the habits each of them came to know of their fellow prisoners.

On that sunny day, it was difficult for me to feel the scope of the sacrifice these men made at Robben Island, until Mr. Kathrada talked emotionally about how they missed being around children while in prison.  Can you imagine a world without the cries or playful laughter of children?  He described the wonderful sensation of holding a child after 23 years of being deprived of seeing or hearing them.

The most dramatic moments in our time together came as Mr. Kathrada spoke with conviction and passion about the cause for which he had fought. I got chills down my spine as he talked about the camaraderie between strangers who had united for a cause for which they were willing to sacrifice their entire lives or even to die.  Mr. Kathrada described the evening when his guards announced that they had been released.

“They came and said, “We have received a fax that you are to be released tomorrow.”  Our first question was, “What is a fax? We had only seen a television for the first time in 1986.”

What followed their release was historic and bold and hard.  In one of the quotes being shared today, Mandela says:

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

Some of the most powerful words and scenes in the book, A Long Walk To Freedom, were the ones where Mandela talks about forgiveness.  The NY Times has a beautiful piece written by John Dramani Mahama, the President of Ghana, about how Mandela’s legacy of forgiveness shaped Africa.

As I read quotes and recaps of Nelson Mandela, I decided to see if Ahmed Kathrada had written something today and was moved to find his emotional words posted on  a South African portal.  Mr. Kathrada writes:

Your smile, which lingers still, was always from the heart, never forced, and the great joy you took in the world around you, especially in children, was unmistakeable…

I had the enviable privilege of being alive and walking the earth with you through the bad times and the good. It has been a long walk, with many challenges that at times seemed insurmountable. And yet we never faltered, and the strength of leaders like you and Walter always shone a light on the path and kept our destination and our people’s future in view.

I feel bereft and lonely. To whom do I turn for solace, comfort, and advice?

Farewell my elder brother, my mentor, my leader.

You can read the full text here.

Yesterday the world lost a hero and a true leader. While we mourn the loss of such a great man, we will strive to keep his memory and spirit alive in all the days to come. Thank you Nelson Mandela, may you rest in peace.

(Photos: NelsonMandela.org)

Thembi Ngubane’s Story: HIV and AIDS Acceptance

“Our parents struggled against apartheid, they wanted to be free. And it is the same with HIV/AIDS. This is the new struggle.” – Thembi Ngubane

Thembi Ngubane was a 19-year-old South African woman from Khayelitsha township, outside Cape Town. She never thought she would inspire people from around the world with her life’s story. Surely, she never thought she would continue to be an inspiration even after her death.

But when Thembi was given a tape recorder by NPR’s Radio Diaries, and asked to record the day to day experiences of her life as one of South Africa’s millions of HIV+ youth, everything changed. In light of the severe social stigma that remains around HIV and AIDS in Southern Africa, Thembi had until then been relatively silent about her condition. Even when Radio Diaries played segments of her story on National Public Radio in the U.S., she did not want her story broadcast in her home country.

Yet, in the personal to political tradition of so many social change movements in the U.S. – the 1970’s feminist movement, the civil rights movement, and now the body acceptance movements – Thembi took her personal story and connected it to a broader global movement around HIV and AIDS acceptance. She traveled to the U.S. and met with former President Bill Clinton and then-Senator Barak Obama. In March 2007, she spoke to the South African Parliament about the need to address AIDS-based discrimination in her country. Indeed, in the sheer act of telling her story, Thembi galvanized a movement around acceptance of HIV and AIDS both in South Africa and around the world.

To read the rest of this blog, please go to Adios, Barbie!


A Connection to Africa

As a South African living in America I was very aware of the political, economic and humanitarian issues that faced my homeland. None of these problems has a quick fix solution. They are not problems that can be fixed by writing a big check, nor by commenting on what we feel should be happening. They can only be solved by getting involved and pledging time, knowledge and of course a hands on approach in order to give back to the country in which I was born and shaped who I am today.

I had been searching for a while for a charitable project that I would like to become involved with but something that had a connection to South Africa. I had been approached on many occasions to support charities which I was happy to do but really wanted to find something that I could connect to and something I really felt was perfect to get behind.

Well I did and now it finds me on a plane from New York to Johannesburg. A few months earlier I had met with Russell Simmons, the founder of Diamond Empowerment Fund. I couldn’t believe I had found an organization that fit what I was looking for so perfectly. Living in New York I had the opportunity to help an organization with an extremely deserving beneficiary in Johannesburg.

The Community and Individual Development Association (CIDA City Campus) in Johannesburg, South Africa is a beacon of hope in South Africa!  CIDA is South Africa’s first free university for students who can’t afford the exorbitant fees of regular university.

I was joined in Johannesburg by my father Richard who accompanied me on my first visit to CIDA and the new building, The Maharishi Institute. To be very honest we had no idea what to expect.

The day following my arrival in Johannesburg we set out to visit The Maharishi Institute followed by CIDA City Campus. I think the first thing that struck me was how proud and dedicated the students were. They were proud of where they had come from and proud of where they were. They were so dedicated and I soon learnt what they all hoped to become, doctors, lawyers, accounts and veterinarians etc. Aspirations which are very within their grasps thanks to the DEF.

My father went off and spoke to the guys while I met with the girls. They were amazing! So bright and confident, I had a great time with them. They are so interested in the world and all the opportunities that now are available to them. After I spoke with the girls the boys joined us and we had a session of Q&A and as much as they wanted to know from me I wanted to know so much more from them. Many of their stories brought tears to my eyes!

I learned that very often improvements and maintenance of the property and buildings is actually undertaken by the students themselves. It’s their way of giving back and having pride in the institution that is affording them the opportunity to attain their goals.

We were totally blown away! I can’t put into words just how passionate I am about these kids. I wish we could replicate CIDA a hundred times over. It’s a visionary concept that gives much needed funding to an institution which is helping those who want to help themselves but just do not have the financial resources to make their dreams a reality.

I can’t wait to go back and visit them all and see how they progress.

Given enough funding though I know we can build more schools and open a world to thousands of deserving students who have the potential to soar regardless of the economic background from which they come.

I left with a feeling of great gratitude that I was able to visit CIDA, the students inspired me to do whatever I could to benefit CIDA and the DEF. It’s a remarkable institution and something worthy of your support.

Mallika Chopra: Dalai Lama Banned from Attending South Africa Peace Conference

According to news reports that came in last week, the Dalai Lama was denied a visa from the South Africa government to attend a peace conference in Johannesburg that would have been attended by five other Nobel Peace prize winners.

Officials believed that banning the Dalai Lama would keep the focus of the conference on the upcoming 2010 World Cup Soccer Tournament and away from messy politics. They probably did not anticipate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president F. W. de Klerk dropping out of the conference in protest of the Dalai Lama’s dismissal.

Even members of the South African government, such as Health Minister Barbara Hogan, is angered by the decision and believes the South African government owes an apology to all its citizens.

Why would a country that freed itself from an apartheid government deny entry to a spiritual leader who speaks on behalf of  5.4 million Tibetans being oppressed by the Chinese government?

Herein lies the double standard of foreign policy. Though South Africa may have a history of championing human rights and democracy, this nation also depends heavily on Chinese markets for buying its rich natural resources.

Perhaps no person can sum it up better than Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who himself has been jailed and had his passport revoked from his own government for his opposition to apartheid in the 1980’s.  He called the government’s decision “disgraceful” for “shamelessly succumbing to Chinese pressure.”

The peace conference has been completely cancelled by the resulting outcry.

In a graceful response that underscores his peaceful nature, the Dalai Lama responded that he does not want to “cause any embarrassment or inconvenience,” and that ironically, the visa refusal has helped further publicize the Tibetan cause.

Bad Publicity?

That notorious Broadway producer, David Merrick, was famous for many of his pithy sayings—a sort of Broadway Yogi Berra. My favorite is, “Darling, there’s no such thing as bad publicity except no publicity.” It may surprise you, but it was actually an interchange between the government of South Africa and the Dalai Lama that made me think of the long-dead David Merrick.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I follow the daily news headlines on my iGoogle page. This morning, a headline from the venerable New York Times caught my eye.
South Africa Bars Dalai Lama From a Peace Conference
What?! Barring the Dalai Lama from a peace conference is like barring Bambi from the forest! Impossible! Better, quoting Wally Shawn, inconceivable! Mais non, it was right there in the All-the-News-that’s-Fit-to-Print New York Times.
“JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has barred the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, from attending a peace conference here this week that was supposed to promote the 2010 World Cup and the potential of sport to unite people across races and nations.”
I am dubious about sport uniting people across races and nations, but I do know that barring the Dalai Lama from anywhere is bad public relations. He is the face of the exiled Tibetan people. He has stood for fifty years for peaceful reconciliation between China and the people of Tibet.
“This year also marks the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule that led to the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile in India. China has accused him of pursuing independence for Tibet, while he maintains that he is seeking only autonomy, not separation.”
Three South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Bishop Desmond Tutu, F. W. de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela descried the choice of their own government.
The Times went on: “If South Africa’s intention in barring the Dalai Lama was to keep the attention of the world focused on the World Cup instead of Tibet, it certainly seemed to backfire.”
Enter the illustrious David Merrick.
Well, of course it backfired on those doing the rejecting. It had to. The equation is simple. Take a worldwide symbol for the cause of peaceful reconciliation in the world and tell the whole world you’re not willing to play. The Dalai Lama has been willing to play with China from the beginning. He has counseled patience, and calm negotiation since Tibet invaded China fifty years ago. There’s no such thing as bad publicity except no publicity.
The Times: “Kjetil Siem, chief executive officer of the Premier Soccer League in South Africa, which organized the peace conference, seemed taken aback on Monday by the storm of protest that had engulfed the conference. It was supposed to be a celebration of South Africa as the rainbow nation of all races united by soccer.
“Asked what he thought of the government’s decision, he said, ‘I don’t feel I’m entitled to say anything about it.’ Asked if he worried that the uproar would damage the World Cup and South Africa’s image, he replied: ‘Another dangerous question to answer. I need to be careful. There’s a lot of water going into the ocean before this is over.’”
The Dalai Lama is a wise man. His silence is electric in this situation because the actions of China in Tibet speak for themselves. Let’s bless South Africa in its fear of China’s power, bless the Dalai Lama for enduring yet one more outrage, and thank God for the publicity it’s engendering for the plight of Tibet.

Mallika Chopra: Ahmed Kathrada – A Hero of Peace

In June 1964, Ahmed Kathrada, along with Nelson Mandela, was sentenced
to life in prison during the famed Rivonia Trial for sabotage against
the South African government. He was the only Indian among the famed
Rivonia 7 convicted. Kathrada is a major figure in the history and
shaping of the new South Africa. On Wednesday night, I had the honor
and privilage of co-hosting a reception to launch Ahmed Kathrada’s new
book, Memoirs.

It was the second time I met Mr. Kathrada, a living hero who to me
represents truth, justice, forgiveness and the hope that peace and
reconciliation is a possibility.

My first encounter with him was during a visit to South Africa
several years ago when Mr. Kathrada was gracious enough to host several
of my classmates from Business School and me to Robben Island. This
event is one of the most memorable ones in my life. “Kathy”, as he is
referred to, took us through the prison, telling us about his daily
life with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and the many other heros of
the anti-apartheid movement. It was a rivoting day to hear about the
torture, the political planning, the games, the thrills, the fight for
basic rights, and the deaths that they faced over two decades in
prison. He told us about going over twenty years and not seeing
children or hearing their laughter.

And most remarkable to me was his sentiment of forgiveness. He writes in Memoirs:

While we will not forget the brutalities of apartheid, we will
not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering.
We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces
of evil; a triumph of the wisdom and largeness of spiritu against small
minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human
frailty and weakness; a triumph of the new South Africa over the old.

Nelson Mandela has written about Kathrada saying:


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