by Billene Seyoum, Ethiopia 

It is an honor to stand here amongst a cohort of enthusiastic and determined agents of change, whose vision and commitment to seeking ways of making our world a better place is inspiring. At whatever level we have engaged with each other over the last month, I can honestly say that I have taken at least one thing from each one of you.

First and foremost I would like to begin by expressing gratitude for the IPSI team who have tirelessly committed themselves to putting this symposium together over the several months of preparations that go into organizing something like this. And even if each one of us has our personal impressions on what we enjoyed and did not enjoy, what worked and did not work, I believe it is important to acknowledge that seeking perfection is a self-defeating feat whereas the courage to move beyond the defenses we have each erected and then tap into the more subtle lessons in abundance, is a task that requires deeper introspection. Sometimes lessons learnt do not emerge right away, but in confrontation with the various experiences that are ahead of all of us. So thank you IPSI for the KSAs (knowledge, skills and attitudes) transferred and for those yet to emerge resulting from our encounters in Bologna.

I went back and forth on what I would like to share with you today and spent the last two days internally debating content, dissecting sentences, seeking inspiration in conversations and finally arriving to the conclusion that in many of my encounters here and elsewhere, we are all seeking to find our authentic purpose and place. And if we have already found it, we seek to solidify and continue creating, impacting through it.

Howard Thurnman, an influential American author, philosopher, educator and civil rights leader once shared “Don’t worry what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do that, because what the world needs
are people who have come alive.”

I remember the first time when I deeply engaged with the notion of clarifying my purpose in life. I remember it vividly because it was a vulnerable moment to be in because I had to strip myself naked of stories and excuses I was telling myself and really find that common denominator in all of my unfulfilling work and life experiences. And that common denominator was me. At that time, I had graduated from undergraduate studies and was employed in a job that did not inspire me. Each day the 9-5 circuit became longer and endless. The universe however, must have been conspiring in my favor because it provided me with the friendship of a woman who having travelled her own path of discovery had found purpose in enabling others to find theirs. We talked most days for extended periods on what it meant to live an authentic and purposeful life. What it meant to tap into the abundance of pure potential that was within all of us. And what it meant to operate each day from a place of alignment with our purpose so that we can make an impact.

And so through this reflective and introspective exercise, I came to the realization of three things:

1. that I was not having fun in what I was doing
2. that I felt stuck and my need for movement was not being fulfilled;
3. that my need to create was not being met

These discoveries of what I needed to feel motivated and engaged were highly important because in my ability to fulfill these personal needs was my purpose and contribution to society made clear to me. Answering the question “What is my purpose” was made easier to articulate when I had a better understanding of what made me feel alive. With articulation comes action.

And with action comes the notion of adequately utilizing our energy in a way that our personal power is not stripped. An anonymous quote I stumbled upon recently reads, “Exploring and learning to mange your energy is a way to move beyond concepts to the full realization of your personal power“.

I recently attended a workshop on “The Mysticism of Personal Power” where an audience member shared that personal power meant “to be with herself and being able to travel the path she chooses to travel”. This statement which strongly resonated with me made me question how many of us truly travel the path we choose and do that consistently. I equate traveling the path of our choice with challenging norms and societal pressures, assuming responsibility for our own experiences and claiming authenticity by operating in alignment with our core purpose and values rather than in seeking external validation.

How many times have we done something we did not want to do? Or held ourselves back from expressing our truth which lies simmering wildly within underneath a demeanor of fabricated self-content? How many times have we restrained ourselves wondering how our peers, family and “others” would perceive us? Or adopted ‘herd mentality’ so as to not stand out and be the black sheep?

For me these are all expressions of denying ourselves authenticity in our actions and interactions. They rob us of our personal power because falling in line with actions and interactions which we do not feel in alignment with, takes away some form of energy from us. And that which depletes and does not replenish our energy is that which tires us and curbs the enthusiasm we have for future action and engagement.

They say “something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world” – harnessing the butterfly effect, as peace nerds and change agents, let us continue asking ourselves if we have fully come alive and are consistently exercising our personal power so as to contribute and positively impact our immediate communities and beyond.

As we close this chapter of our lives and open the next with an imprint of what we have learned the past month, let’s challenge and keep reminding ourselves to,

…be the black sheep in the face of defending what we believe
…be vulnerable to see and be seen
…be eternal seekers and appreciators of multiple forms of intelligence
…be courageous when everyone says no; and
…to be phenomenally EXPLOSIVE leaders

In final closing, I would like to share with you one last poem I wrote in 2009 called “In Fields of Abundance”

Have I not refused to move forward
And held myself in the burning ache of fears
Have I not looked back and seen a reflection
Of a weakened me in a pool of salty tears

Have not the lessons then shed a beam
And made a vineyard of my qualms
Risen have I not from the mental ashes
To a harp have I not sung my personal psalms

Through many journeys has a friend turned into foe
And have I looked at me to see how this became so
When karma beckoned me to build bridges
Have I not in a cycle of samsara rid my heart of ridges

Have I not yet filtered impurities from my soul
And given prominence to the beauty of moments and memories
To weave into my tapestry of being
A continual pattern of inspiriting stories

Have I chosen yet to not be anymore
Of empty resolutions
Have I willed rather a life of no restrictions
But vowed instead to live it with the most sincerest of intentions

Continue to walk with purpose and impact you beautiful people. Thank you!