By Brittany McCarrick Clark (’15)
It was during my unofficial “South African Lingo-for-Fitting-In” orientation where I first heard the word “now” times two and attached to a repetitive adverb. Our American director, Mama H, rolled her Afrikaans r’s as she explained to us the very important difference between the nows, switching her voice to an even higher pitch when she ended her sentences. The trick with the nows, she told us, was that “now-now” and “just-now” never mean right now, only now means right now. In this dizzying moment of clarity, I was blindly introduced to what would become my four month journey of self-discovery through the power of now.
By the end of my first month living in South Africa it seemed as if the whole of South Africa had taken me by the hand and told me that happiness will happen by living in the now. These conversations surrounding happiness’s correlation to now-ness would happen in the classroom, on sandy beaches and mountains, at rugby games and wine tastings. This is how the whole of South Africa became my Mr. Miyagi, from the movie “The Karate Kid.” He said cryptic things like, “On your walk home try to be mindful by listening to the trees, feeling their shade from the heat and say ‘thank you.’ ”
I tried to understand how to be somewhere now, but I couldn’t find an overwhelming sense of joy and positivity. All I could find was frustration – and that, in itself, allowed me to accept the tree challenge.
So I walked down the red cobblestone roads and soon realized that Stellenbosch sounded a lot like Jurassic Park with its aggressive cricket orchestras and cackling storks. I enjoyed my tree walk but still had the feeling that I was missing something. It was not until my third week before departure that I was able to have my Julie Pierce monastery lesson from “The Next Karate Kid” where everything finally came together.
It happened to me on day four of seven in the middle of the Karoo Desert where I stood smelly, greasy-haired, dusty and alone. On the outskirts of camp, I stood in the quiet as the yellows, oranges and reds crept up over the morning’s crisp air. I felt the sun rays greet my toes as it gradually pushed its way across the desert and for a moment it settled on the metal heart of the “San Clan Man,” a large art installation of a man’s face and torso with arms stretched out. His heart was reflecting the beauty of what he saw and appreciated of the morning sun – and it was in this moment that I realized that the power ofnow is this. It is the ability to mindfully look around and see beauty in the simplest forms, take it in and transform it into a type of positivity that radiates happiness into other people’s lives.
By becoming mindful of the things that make you even the slightest happy, you are training yourself to constantly be aware of your happiness and positivity. Standing in the middle of the Karoo Desert, staring into the heart of the San Clan Man, I suddenly had an overwhelming feeling that my chest was too small for my heart because I realized that right then – right now – I was completely happy.