This reflection on the inner journey of the change agent was contributed by our Program Associate, Geraldine Hepp.
There is something about the “personal development market” that has a tendency to overwhelm me. There are so many gurus, great TED talks, different roads and lines of thought, books, and seminars. A wild explosion of insights other people have had, who are now trying to enlighten and empower us. Some are purely personal – inner growth or spiritual enlightenment. Others are coded in economic lingua, promising to make you more effective, more productive, more powerful, a better leader, a better creative.
I started out thinking about existential questions when I was 13 years old. I read Martin Buber’s existential philosophy (2 pages in 2 hours) and I loved cheesy memes on postcards about life. My friend and I even made a little book out of those sayings, feeling strangely moved and agitated, in touch with life’s essence, in touch with our higher purpose. When I was 14 my Dad said “I have raised you the best I could with respect to religion and spirituality. Now it is up to you to find your own way.” And oh boy, on my way have I been! Maybe it’s no surprise that I am now part of a team that is developing a curriculum for changemakers that also addresses the inner journey which someone who choses to change the world must go through.
I am glad there is a market out there for that. Universities fail to address the question of WHO we are (“student”) and who we can become (“degree” – “employable”), and most importantly-HOW. Maybe, if you were lucky, there were some great extracurricular activities that helped you with that. Or optional courses on how to present yourself better or time management or progressive relaxation methods. But there is no space for these kind of questions within the traditional curriculum. However, the confusion the market creates – where to start, what to pick, who to listen to, and where to fit into my busy daily life these important teachings – has time and again left me frustrated and at times very cynical (ranging from “forget about this esoteric hippie stuff!” to “they are commodifying human resources for the sake of higher performing companies”). I understand that if I only listened to what some of these people say, I probably would have more time – but life keeps rolling on, you understand.
This April the Amani Institute is offering a course that will add to the market for the Self. It may seem a bit ironic but I am excited that this is becoming a solid part of our program. But the most important teaching of all, the compass to guide you through any offer for self-development is this: there is NO WAY around DOING it. Nothing is of value if you don’t practice it. We are prone to expecting quick returns – hoping to forego the effort and time that sustainable results demand. It may very well be that you will experience leaps of “growth” or “development” if you do do the practice. Banking on that, however, is already missing the point: it is the process that is relevant. Growth implies movement. There is no static balance – balancing itself is movement. The journey is the practice. Failure is part of it. There are a lot of great teachings, methods, and tools out there. Like food at a beautiful market, you have to pick it, pay for it, cook it and digest it. Yes, you can have someone cook a great meal for you. That’s what we are doing. But YOU have to eat it. There is no other way: you gotta do the work. There is a profound difference in doing and seeing or being aware. The knowing that emerges from having repeatedly done something is inherently different from the knowing that came before. Welcome to our kitchen.
If you are based in Nairobi, please check out our Certificate Course: The Inner Journey of the Changemaker, on April 19-21.