I spent a good part of my childhood in Africa: Zambia, Tanzania but especially Nigeria, the country with the highest number of different ethnic groups, where conflicts between the various tribes were quite frequent. All of us, in those years, were often witnesses of struggles, guerrillas and bloody riots.
If I see my story again, as well as that of many people, I have the distinct feeling that every part of our life, from childhood, exists to prepare us for the part of the journey we will travel later.
I cannot say that I have consciously chosen the experience of Africa, but I can certainly see how much of it, including the not easy moments of my existence, was a perfect training for what would happen later.
But while it was happening, I was not aware of it. Only now can I clearly see how those turbulent years were the best training for me to then proceed through the turmoil of human nature.
What if this world crisis we are experiencing is a portal to a new world? What if it was a collective spiritual initiation?
In tribal societies, teenagers are taught by their elders. This knowledge is about the ability to overcome challenges, develop talents, harden the will and shape their new personality as adults.
Once they have completed this phase, they are ready for a real initiation, a series of trials, often very difficult and physically painful, which in some tribes in Africa culminate in scarring, cuts that remain visible on the skin in the form of large scars for the rest of their lives.
They are a symbol of acquired skills and strength. Whenever a member of the tribe or the initiate himself sees these signs, he will remember his ability to overcome difficulties.
There is no initiation rite in our society. We spend years accumulating knowledge of all possible subjects without learning about ourselves.
As Patrice Malidome Saumé, a great African writer, claims, at a certain point it is life itself that provides us with initiatory challenges without any kind of preparation, and most of the time without even having the support of a tribe around us. If we do not listen to the signs of change, it is life itself that calls us to do so, often taking away some of our security and suddenly pushing us out of our comfort zone.
Usually these initiation trials happen at an individual level. The COVID is a collective one, almost as if the whole of humanity needs to wake up and take a step forward in awareness.
As a teenager the initiation rituals of the different African tribes seemed to me to be barbaric and bloody customs, but now, after several years and experiences, it comes naturally to me to compare their scarring with the scars that the inevitable pains of existence leave in our hearts.
An illness, the loss of a loved one, the end of a marriage or friendship, a strong disappointment, a failure (or in the case of COVID, the insecurity of our work, of our financial stability, of our very way of life): these are all trials that leave as many scars, but inner ones.
Since these initiations arrive without warning or preparation, we often know no other strategy for not feeling the pain than to deny it, we try not to think about it and anesthetize ourselves by all possible means. And so we lose the gift of this challenge.
Just as it takes fire to forge metal, it is often only after we have passed through the fire of suffering and perceived it in its entirety that we are ready for a transformation.
In coaching we often say that in every crisis there is an opportunity. The time has come to test this assumption. This is the crisis. This is an opportunity. The opportunity to stop letting ourselves be distracted by a thousand commitments and use this time to bring attention within us, to review our priorities.
The opportunity to rethink the impact we have on the environment, to review how we eat (or perhaps it would be more correct to say who we eat), and do our part so that the human species stops behaving like a virus that destroys the Earth.
The opportunity to think about the impact we have on others, to review how we behave with people, and maybe make this social distancing that we talk about so much, become only a physical distance but a social proximity.
The opportunity to rethink the impact we have on ourselves, to review what thoughts we let into our consciousness raising them to the level of beliefs and letting them guide our emotions and our lives.
And maybe let this crisis make us better human beings. This is the crisis, and this is the opportunity for a whole new life.
How do we decide to live it?