Honouring the Women Who Helped Me on my Quest

Written on: Saturday, 10 June 2006 | 4:27:46 PM

Like most people, I have had a lot of influence in my life from those around me, specific people will always remain in my mind for the great role they had in helping me see reality differently and shaping my character. I know somehow, these people were placed around me by providence to do this and so without them, the realisation might have come some other way but I thank God for them being there. Not all of those that have been great influences are admirable or good people (in my opinion); for example there are at least two people that I feel really sorry for (at another time, I would have despised them) – they influenced me by showing me what I don’t want to be. Others have been lighthouses and yardsticks, examples worth following in integrity, humility, joy, equananimity etc. Interestingly, practically all of the most memorable ones are women (- I sure do love women don’t I?) Yes especially these women, I can say above all things that they were my nurturers and each of them wrote their names on my heart to different extents. I know some of these names may fade out with time but if I can help it, it won’t happen, I want these names to remain engraved on my heart for eternity – because they are a sizeable part of my joy and peace, of my dreams and visions and they made life at one time or the other bearable, meaningful, exciting, joyful, educative, holy etc – in their presence, I have been alone without being lonely, spoken without uttering words, beheld without looking and in some moments, I have lived my dreams even if it were for 5 minutes!

Perpetua TAMON
The foundation for the person that I am is Perpetua TAMON, my mother. She is a strong woman that is the foundation for our entire family. I know that without her, our family’s economic and moral standing would be very low. I disliked my mum growing up as a child – because she didn’t spare the rod and was a tough disciplinarian. Amazingly as I became older, we became friends and shared so much love and joy that I now understand that she has/had always loved me … and always will. Without this woman, I would surely have started out as a lazy, disrespectful, and totally spoilt child. If God gave me the privilege of choosing my own mother, I can’t do better than Perpetua and I would choose her again and again! – Till that reality in which we don’t need mothers come. My perfect woman has her strength of character and purpose, her discipline and talented hands.

Susan Okpapi
‘Pretty geek’ that I met in university in Nigeria. For some reason that I still can’t fathom in its entirety till now, I liked her from the first day I set my eyes on her (sometimes, I think she looks a little like my mum). We became friends two years after we met and it was she that started me off the path of ME – me as the centre of the world. She taught me that it was selfish to keep to myself the way I did, that life could be more fun and easier if I wasn’t so aggressively introverted all the time (and also taught me the right way to place spaghetti in the water so it doesn’t bundle together when it cooks!). The amazing thing is she helped me change without ever saying ‘Tamon don’t do this, do this instead’ – she kept my huge ego (I remember actually having one then) intact and perhaps helped me peel off the first layers of that ego. She was the only classmate I had with whom I could talk – deeply, meaningfully about extracurricular things and life in general. I only have one regret – I wish, I had known her earlier and become her friend earlier – that is what I wish but maybe (as Susan would say), earlier wasn’t the time – maybe all the time we saw each other from afar was necessary for the quality of the friendship we later had. I agree with you on that Suzie, but I still wish I had known and become your friend earlier! My perfect woman has her spontaneity.

Helen Tanjong
Can you imagine falling in love with your own ‘lover’? Yes, that happened with Nelly – perhaps the most silent nurturer I ever had. How did she do it – teach me, nurture me I mean? – By loving me selflessly until something deeper than my ego saw it and responded with a kind of passion I never knew I had or was capable of. She modelled for me selflessness, care, trustworthiness and practically ‘spoilt’ me by it. My perfect woman has a heart like Helen’s.

Amina Ogrima
My conscience outside of me, the alter of the truth about myself – and yes, my shrink!! Amina is another geek (I won’t be surprised if she knows the circumference of earth at a latitude two thirds the way between the equator and the poles to 5 decimal places or for that matter the pH of river Nile on a Tuesday afternoon in summer!) I met her a little too late! (Suzie don’t kill me, maybe it wasn’t the time yet like you keep telling me) She continued the work started by Susan and till now, as my unofficial shrink, I can’t remember having so many deep and meaningful conversations with anyone – about anything! I think more than anyone else, she gave me ultra confidence in myself and on aggregate, has been my biggest fan and supporter in re-engineering myself. Apart from being my shrink when I need one, offering her laps for me to lay my head on when I feel low, she is also the editor for all pieces I write (my articles, some presentations and this blog). My perfect woman has a mind like Amina’s.

Bukky Babalola
I can remember that on at least two occasions, my interactions with this nymph made me feel something like Moses must have felt when he saw the bush that was burning but wasn’t consumed by the flames. In my case, I have felt I am the bush and she the flame. I once worked in what Stephen Covey calls a low trust organisation, one with a predominantly negative environment and it was she that brightened my day and gave me a peek at what the quality called equananimity is. She fuelled my dreams and sometimes offered the proverbial breast for me to lay my head on when I needed to cry out the filth of corporate bureaucracy and the pettiness of megalomaniacs. She also made many a horrible lunch delicious by offering me something apart from the bad food to focus on. My perfect woman has a spirit like Bukky’s.

These people are the most memorable milestones on my young journey of self mastery. Since I met them, not many thoughts pass through my mind that don’t include them. And every time on my journey that I am going through a valley and the shadows are so thick that my heart becomes heavy, I have but to close my eyes, stay still and recall:

  • Perpetua at more than 40 years old running like a little girl to come and hug me.
  • The long walks under the beautiful trees of ABU Zaria with Susan’s hand in mine.
  • Nelly putting a cold compress to ease my migraine and practically begging me to eat.
  • Putting my head in Amina’s laps and in silence, excavating and facing my demons, refining my dream, vision and reality.
  • Sitting to lunch with Bukky and feeling the fire from her eyes as she tells me a million things without uttering a word, or her hug in which I can melt.
I think of these and am filled with so much gratitude that the sun rises in me, spreads its warmth through my heart and makes it resonate with the theirs, clears my mind so I can see my path more clearly, lighten my spirit so I can rise above my circumstances and so the darkness of the valley and its shadows cease to be, because the inner peace, joy and blessings from these beauties make my eyes glow – for I know then that though my path goes through the valley of the shadow of chaos, I may be alone but never lonely!

Self Mastery-What it Means to Me

In my personal mission statement, my first priority in life is self mastery which I briefly define as ‘an endless journey in completely refining my character‘. Almost everyone I come close to comes to know that I have a huge desire to achieve self mastery even more than the desire for professional mastery. Of recent, due to interactions with some people very close to my heart, it has become necessary to define expansively for myself what self mastery is. This necessity stems from the fact that these dear ones think it is selfish to desire and seek self mastery the way I do. It really hurt me to hear that but it could mean one of two things – they either don’t understand what self mastery is – from my perspective, which means that maybe I haven’t taken the time to communicate clearly to them (and perhaps to myself?) what it is and what it entails or it could be that from the way they see me living my life in pursuit of self mastery – the means are wrong so they question the end.
First, what is self mastery? Self mastery for me is the ability to live a full, wholesome life in every single moment. When my responses are spontaneous but not reckless, when I make the right decisions effortlessly, when I can love unconditionally and when my decisions are guided by a well developed and continuously developing conscience instead of my ego, I consider that ‘living in the moment’ or as is better rendered in French ‘la vie dans chaque soufle’ i.e. ‘life in every breath’. Self mastery means that I have learnt to be driven by my emotions under the guidance of my conscience and this happens transparently through my intellectual/rational mind.

Why self mastery?
Right now, I believe that my purpose in life is to live the full potential of all the unique characteristics that God gave me and in doing so, contribute to the realization of a world governed by virtue. I want to know the Truth and I want to know God because these two are one to me, I desire to be excellent in everything I choose to do and achieve such excellence naturally and effortlessly. The problem is this –

  1. What are those unique characteristics that God has given me?

  2. What are my talents? How many of them have I identified?

  3. What is the vision or visions that align with this purpose? What does wanting to live ‘the full potential of all unique characteristics given to me by God …’ translate to from day to day, from relationship to relationship, from home to work?

  4. How can I be sure that I have chosen the right professional track to follow and I am not being driven within by greed or some version of the social mirror?
These issues essentially stand in my way to living the life I desire – the life of effortless perfection, of selfless service to other human beings, of loving unconditionally – one woman romantically or on an unromantic level, the people I come in contact with. I have come to accept that as long as I am driven by my ego, I will always be too selfish to give myself to anyone else – either in love or in service to humanity, I will never know Truth and God because my ego will keep me focused on ME – not even the divinity within me but on the pettiness, on satisfying the short term needs of my body, on my vanity etc. In a nutshell, to the extent that all my resources have been freed from under the grip of my ego and its petty wants and desires, to that extent can I give of myself to serve selflessly, to love unconditionally and to seek Truth. To that extent can I see myself not as THE centre of reality but as A centre or node in the mesh of reality, to that extent will I not fear uncertainty and to that extent will I really succeed as a being created in the image of God. I believe that the little of myself I can give now is that part that I have torn off from the grip of my ego. So self mastery is that journey – never a goal or objective that will liberate more and more of ME from the vicious grip of my ego and its petty needs so I can focus on listening to the voice of my conscience, of empathizing and listening to others within their own frame of reference, of seeing myself as a player on a team and in so doing be more accessible to SEEING reality [that part of truth that I can and have experienced or am experiencing] – that which is a fusion of my perspective and other people’s perspectives.

What does self mastery entail?
In practice it starts with continuously refining my vision and defining my reality – the disparity between these two offers creative tension which I must overcome in making the vision my reality and as I approach that vision, to refine and set another one according to the feedback that I get on my quest. First, I want to take full responsibility for my life, my actions, I want to choose and refine my own value system, one that I can live with but that as much as I can understand is aligned with right principles. This value system will be the framework by which I deal with the world and reality, in essence the code that can be said to some extent to dictate what I will do in every single circumstance. Self mastery entails unravelling layer upon layer of my ego and replacing those layers with my conscience. It entails learning to be humble, to respect other people and give them the right to be – to accept them as they are now in this moment. Self mastery also entails mastery of whatever it is I love to do in life – teaching executives in Kaduna Business School, developing new modules for executive education programmes, analysing and designing computer networks, cultivating a garden or even making love. I dream of making every act I do a creative one that gives me utmost satisfaction and in which I can lose myself.

To ensure that my quest for self mastery does not become some vain pursuit of a mere dream that is ultimately doomed because of its narrow perspective, I maintain self-awareness – being here in this moment at all times, I also proactively seek feedback by really listening to other people, to the circumstances around me and trying to put them in perspective with what I already know. Humility guarantees that when I come across Truth, I will bow to it and abandon all the values I used to have a strong conviction of.

Now the big question:

What will I sacrifice on this quest for self mastery?
well at a personal level, I have and continue to sacrifice my ego and right now, I have no regrets about my quest. I will sacrifice everything and everyone in this quest because it is the only thing I know now that I must do. I won’t be so arrogant as to say this quest, this journey is THE right quest/journey – I can’t say that because of how little I can know or understand but I can say here and now with total confidence that given what I do know and understand, it is what I must do. Even if it is wrong, I believe that it is a lesson I am meant to learn and learn it I will. Perhaps those dear ones, those values that I will sacrifice along the way – the pain that will result when I do may well bring a new perspective of life that will make me change the journey but until then – I am happy to make this journey. I must make this journey because I and the journey, like the dream or goal are one. To dream is an expression of my divinity – it means I can create in my mind the world I want – without the dream, there’s no journey from my reality towards it. I chose my journey after a deep reflection and I keep refining it every moment I get new understanding – my journey reflects my values, my principles and in essence my journey is more an authentic representation of me than what I do which is a snapshot in time and space. I and my journey are one and so without a dream, without a journey leading to that dream, there’s no functional me. Right here, right now, I believe this with all my heart, mind, body and spirit – that is why I am willing to sacrifice everything for it. May God’s grace be upon me.