Do you remember ever going bowling as a little kid? Well, I don’t know about you, but anytime my family took me, I would get a special lane all to myself. And this lane was magical. There was no way for me to lose in this lane. Why? I had the bumpers! I had those guard rails that lined the gutters and protected my ball from ever going down the wrong path. Needless to say, I LOVED bowling.
I have always thrived with bumpers set strictly in place – certain rules and standards that I lived by in order to guard and protect myself from danger. Now, these guidelines worked well for me in my home environment, but I quickly learned that they did more harm than good in Africa.
For instance, prior to my 2011 trip, I had gone completely vegetarian. I hadn’t touched meat since 2008 purely for the purpose of protecting my health (a.k.a – a guard rail). On one of my first days in Kenya, as I was returning from my morning meditation walk in The Bush, I noticed a group of people crouched around something just off the road. My mentor – who would later become like a father figure to me – standing amongst them. When he noticed me, he waved me over with a gigantic grin on his face. Cautiously, I approached the crowd, which had parted for me to get a better view of what was sitting in the center of their gathering. There, lying helpless, was this dik dik (antelope type thing). Apparently, it had gotten stuck in the fence surrounding the base and had broken its legs. The animal was going to die of starvation, so the workers decided it would be best to kill it and cook its meat as a special welcome dinner for us newcomers.
That night, as we all gathered around the great hall tables, I had special insight into what was in our meal, and my stomach was in knots. However, as I stood in line to have my bowl filled with meat stew, I saw the beaming pride on our hosts’ faces as they announced to each person what they had cooked up. Instantly, I knew that I had to let my bumpers down or risk offending my new friends. So I filled my bowl to the top, took a seat, and dove in without a second of hesitation! That’s when Kenya first felt like home to me. Sitting around a dinner table with good food and in good company was an exact snapshot of my childhood, and if I had chosen to close myself off and forgo dinner, I would have missed that very special moment.
Sometimes, guard rails can hinder us from the most amazing experiences. Yes, it is a comfort to know that with our defense systems in place, we minimize the risk of pain and heartache, but we also prevent ourselves from experiencing a new kind of joy – the one that comes with getting that strike on our own. I know that for me, I had to let my rails down time and time again throughout my stay in Kenya, and in every situation, I was just as nervous as the last. But each time, I was rewarded with new friends, new memories, and a new-found confidence that has made me a more well-rounded person overall.
So, today, my reminder from Kenya is to put my guard rails down again, and aim for those life points on my own. Even if I fail a hundred times, all I have to do is to reset my pins and try again, each time perfecting my technique. And one day, I’ll get that strike, and it will be the most amazing experience because I did it all without my bumpers.
Exciting stuff is ahead! I can just feel it.