The book 'Paradise, A Heartbeat Away - a spiritual safari in Africa' is Constance Eykman's reflection on the multi-facetted experience we call 'life'.
A seemingly cacophonic mixture of elements like a difficult childhood and a strong faith; psychotherapy and years of a happy marriage; being uprooted from Europe to go and live in Africa, lose all that is trusted and familiar and discover the freedom this brought; move from country to country within this vast continent and find fascination everywhere; expansion in a mixture of different cultures and faiths, and the utter limitation of long periods of lying on a bed in pain; art, despair and spirituality, it all resulted in discovering the love that binds us with all that is. It guided her back to the wisdom of the heart.
"Paradise, A Heartbeat Away" is a collection of stories of Constance's colorful life in Africa, which - at times irrational - listening to the heart led to the unfolding of the creative power of love, always resulting in great healing for all involved. There is a story of the disastrous consequences of not listening, too...
The stories celebrate the inspiration of Africa's glorious nature. They describe people she lived with and the tribal customs of some of them. In essence, however, they revolve around the search for Spirit.
She hopes that her adventures may open a window for others through which to catch a glimpse of our true power, the all-encompassing love and compassion for self and for others. This power is both human and divine and it lies within the reach of all. It resides in our own heart.
Even a brief moment of recognition is a coming home to the 'peace that passeth all understanding' (Jesus), which forever decides the course life has to take: the path out of fear and pain and into love.
Our life lies in our own hands and it is as limitless as our heart.
Life and travel all over Africa
In 1971 Constance made her first trip to Africa. Via Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, East Africa, she traveled to Shinyanga, in North Western Tanzania, to join her husband Pieter who was doing ground water investigations in the region. In a hot, dry, dusty and isolated area of this large land, she had her first experience with the gentleness of the African being, an acceptance of life, which is difficult to imagine in the material world of 'the West'.
Pieter and Constance went to Kenya, for a holiday, rented a car, and made their first safari. The memories that still stand out are the size of the African elephant, so much larger than the Indian circus elephants she was familiar with; the abundance of green and flowers of the gardens of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi and, but most importantly, the warm smiles of the people!
Born in the Netherlands, the great turning point in Constance's life came in 1980 when Pieter got a assignment to lead a Dutch-Kenyan water assessment project in the Ministry of Water in Nairobi. With their three years old son Costyn, the family moved to Kenya, delighted to go back to these people who answer a smile with the warmth of their heart!
The intended three-year stay in Africa in the end extended to twenty-five years.
In those years, she visited Uganda, west of Kenya, a green lush country, which suffers so deeply of HIV/AIDS and the scourge of war in the far Northern region.
The family camped in game parks in Tanzania and visited Zanzibar, the beautiful island in the Indian Ocean, 25 miles off the Tanzanian coast. This entire island seems to be covered with fragrance of spices: clove, cinnamon, vanilla, and pepper but, to one who is sensitive, also with the suffering of the slaves who were traded from there.
They lived in stunningly beautiful Kenya for nearly twenty years. Many of their adventures with its open and friendly people and with those who gather there from all over the globe, are documented in "Paradise, A Heartbeat Away."
In 1996, Pieter and Constance were privileged to move to Botswana, a country in southern Africa, where unfortunately the amount of HIV infected people is among the highest in the world. It is also blessed, however, with a great inner strength, which seems to be expressed in the rugged resilience of its semi-desert vegetation.
Stories of the intense adventures in Botswana, stories of joy, disaster, faith, and love are related in "Paradise, A Heartbeat Away."
The country borders South Africa and this created the opportunity to also visit there a couple of times. 'Afrikaans', South Africa's main language toghether with English, has evolved from Dutch since 1600, when the first Dutch settled in the trade posts at Cape Town. Many towns, villages, rivers and brooks still have Dutch names, and Constance strongly felt the shared roots.
They traveled through Swaziland, a beautiful, mountainous country with an absolute monarchy, a starving population, and a 40% infection rate of HIV/AIDS.
After hardly two years, Pieter's contract ended, and they had leave Botswana. Constance had come to love this country deeply, and she has never stopped longing to return there, one day...
They returned to Kenya for a year and a half, to Nairobi and Kisumu [sample from the book], a town at the shore of magnificent Lake Victoria. There are two chapters with some moving experiences [sample from the book] of the Lake Victoria period.
Then, it was packing up and moving again, this time to Ghana in West Africa. It is very interesting to move to different parts of the continent, and experience the differences in the peoples.
The Ghanaians have never been colonialized in the same way South Africans and Kenyans. In its people, who have kept their self-respect intact, one encounters the traditional African courteousness, elsewhere only still to be found far from the big cities. As in Kenya, the love in their warm smile is easy to come out and laughter is always near at hand. Ghana may find its way into the next book.
Currently, Constance lives in The Netherlands, but also travels to India frequently for extended periods. Embedded in magnificent, traditional South India, India will be very present in: "Home, A Heartbeat Away".
Gateways To Another Reality
Miracles are normal
To leave behind all we experience as our support system in life, our 'nest', is utterly disconcerting. However, release makes room for new experiences and new attachments - and letting them go again when the time comes.
In an openness, which allows experiences to flow in and out, our heart invites our mind to join in the cosmic dance and the rhythm of its harmonic laws: the breath of all that is, that was, and that will be.
If we change our minds to look for them, we recognize these laws everywhere. They move people, animals, nature, earth, and the sky above. They are the life of the invisible presences all around us, which we can learn to 'see' with the inner eye of love.
All invite us to dance to a vaster reality of joyful excitement and of love, where miracles are normal and, heartbeat-by heartbeat and step-by-step, paradise is re-created.
Guides and Helpers Along The Way
Carried by her childhood faith - Protestant Christian, in Africa Constance encountered a blessed spontaneity, warmth, and earthiness; patience in all there is to bear; laughter, and caring for each other. Above all she was touched by the living faith she encountered - a faith, experienced as a daily opportunity for transformation. This soon made her say:
"In Africa one can talk about God to anyone. In Holland, if I try without being sure the other person is a believer, people look at me as if I should be in a zoo!"
In the multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious, fascinating melting pot which is the society of Nairobi, all great religions of the world live peacefully together.
Here she was privileged to live and learn with Christians of all denominations, with Jews, Hindus, Moslems, Baha'i, Sikhs, and 'unbelievers'.
Here her Christian faith expanded into a spirituality, which leaves room for the devotional practice and experience of those who adhere to other religions, and she was guided into the recognition of the original Divine Essence in every human being, whether Christian in expression or not.
When she came to Nairobi in 1980, to a life without much outer distractions, Constance began to study the spiritual science of Rudolph Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. All through her life, there had been a deep connection with Jesus, but in Steiner's lectures on the gospels she encountered a cosmic Christ of a grandeur she had never known. She recognized 'Him' as a doorway to further inner growth.
Her love for God, personified in her beloved Jesus, then brought her to Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the great spiritual leader of mankind who lives in South India. As he represents the one undivided God, Sai Baba stimulates all to be strong in the faith they were born in. He says, "Be a good Christian, Moslem, or Hindu, (for instance) as this is path. I will help you."
Divinity in human form, he mirrors back to us what all founders of religions are asking: 'be like us, and discover your divine essence and that of others in a life of loving service to mankind and to God.' Her frequent visits to India - where she also has close friends - and her continuous innner contact with Sai Baba have been, and still are, a source of strength, faith, and love.
An important formative influence was "A Course in Miracles", the sacred text and lessons of which she discovered in 1987.
The Course teaches that a divine essence lies hidden within each one of us, beyond all mental, emotional, and social confusion. The curriculum is about releasing a perception of life that makes us unhappy, and replacing it by a vision of the sacred in all who are and in all that is.
She learned, lived, and shared the Course's teachings with groups, among them teenagers and, as she integrated them, they deepened her insights in Jesus' teachings in the Bible, and re-shaped her outlook on life. This finds its expression in the way the stories of "Paradise, A Heartbeat Away" were lived, and have now been written down.
Those years were shared with a group of friends who, in a quest for inner peace, quite naturally were drawn towards each other. They prayed and meditated together, laughed and cried, and practiced with and on each other any acquired techniques for healing.
They exchanged the books that trickled in, and, once in a while, gathered around people from abroad who came to give workshops.
Homes, gardens, household, guests and animals
And last, but not least, she was blessed to live in places where Pieter and she could create beautiful homes - even transforming a dilapidated hovel [sample from the book] into the idyllic place that is central to several stories in the book. In the ideal climate of Nairobi, gardens were easy to grow and there was always an abundance of green and colors, completed by the sounds and colors of the birds.
Dear - and not always so dear - African helpers, [sample from the book] formed her extended family. With their hearts so easily available, they were great teachers of the heart.
Lots of animals brought innocence and unconditional love into her daily life. Guests and visitors from all over the world drifted in and out.
And all left something of themselves behind, to be cherished forever.
In the emotional and practical demanding social life in a third world country - caring for street children, aids babies, slum dwellers and the poor on her own compound, over the years, Constance developed a deep desire to help the suffering.
This, and the need to get healed from an incapacitating back problem and the painful psychological conditionings of her childhood past, gradually created a connection with deeper layers of our shared humanity.
Over a period of ten years, her physical problem often virtually immobilized her, and in pain and isolation the only way left to go was within. She gradually discovered that the path to healing was the path towards inner peace. It led her to the realization of the healing power of love - and her gift of facilitating healing in others as well.
In inner and outer silence, forms and shapes and colors began to manifest themselves before her inner eye. They showed a loving, glowing world deep within our own. They revealed our innermost source is as near to us as our heart.
It is the source of all love and the wisdom of creation. In an individualized concept, we call this source God, Universe, Allah, Brahma, and Vishnu, or by any other Name it is dear to us.
It is the source of the book "Paradise, A Heartbeat Away - a spiritual safari in Africa".
A Life Of Art
Creativity as art has always been the undercurrent in Constance's life. She was blessed with a singing mother and a father who was a poet, author, and teacher, and so music and literature were always at hand. Playing the piano was part of education and she loved it. After persevering for ten years, she loved to express the temperament - close to her own - of Schubert's Impromptus, and the Beethoven and Mozart sonatas, Brahms, Debussy, Erik Satie.
When she was fifteen years old, she woke up one morning and thought: 'When I am sixteen, I will write poetry.' And that, with the beginning of writing short stories, was the beginning of her literary creative expression.
As a University student in French and philosophy, she decided to stop smoking and use the money for singing lessons instead. Singing was a hobby until after graduation, when she began to train as a classical singer. She specialized in French and Spanish songs and early medieval music. She performed, and she enjoyed teaching.
In Nairobi she was given the opportunity to teach at the East African Conservatoire of Music. She gave lunchtime recitals and even performed in a few operas!
When all of this came to a sudden halt because of a back operation that went wrong, she took up painting - which could be done sitting down.
Her 'art academy' was a commission for 85 watercolor paintings for the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi, which was renovating its guestrooms. Inspired and supported by the vibrancy of the gardens in Nairobi, the often crystal clear blue sky, and the intense equatorial light, this was the beginning of her long and joyous passion for colors.
She developed her art into what she calls 'spiritualized nature.' It is always nature, never exactly, but also always more. The technique she specialized in can be seen in these paintings, made during the creation of several commissioned paintings. Her paintings found their way to Europe, the U.S., India and various African countries.
Then came writing to share Africa, a song in her heart, a dance in her soul, a love that withstood all the tests it had to go through, over time. Paradise, a Heartbeat Away - a spiritual safari in Africa is the sum total of a life that was - up till now.
"A magnificent story into the depths of our soul"
John Harricharan, Award winning Author of "When you can walk on water, take the boat"
In "Paradise, A Heartbeat Away", Constance Eykman has created a refreshing, inspiring perspective of life in her beloved Africa. Blessed with an artist's eye, a gypsy spirit and a gift for perceiving the spiritual aspect of any situation, she shares the wisdom gleaned from decades spent in many African countries. Her adventures are filled with the panoramic beauty, the dangers, the frustrations and the spiritual discoveries that are all part of the mysterious tapestry that is Africa. Her journey is our journey. She has taken the complex and made it simple. You'll find "Paradise, A Heartbeat Away" totally inspiring and hard toput down.
Anita Bergen, author "Life and Other Options" and "Pause and Reflect"
From Foreword of "Paradise, A Heartbeat Away":
Any place can yield wonders when we - prayerfully, reverently and respectfully - stay open for the mystery, the spiritual power that is the carrier and substance of all we are interwoven with in our lives. All of us can sharpen our lives by living in the awareness of this certainty, awakening from the illusion of our apparent unrelatedness.
Every part of reality will tell its story to those who are curious enough to listen and to see from moment to moment.
Constance Eykman's book "Paradise, a Heartbeat Away" is like a deep, fresh breath of air, or even better of spirit.
Joseph. G. Donders, Professor Emeritus
Washington DC, Nairobi University, Kenya. Author of: "Jesus the Stranger", amongst others.
"Constance Eykman's fascinating book reads as if one is observing an intense and vibrating painting. She composed her experiences and words in such a way, that the reader is transported directly to both the location as well as the heart of the story. You feel as if you are there with her, looking at this miraculous life, as it is with all its wonders and worries. While living in Africa for a long time,this amazing continent and its generous people offered her the warm human spirit she needed to be able to understand herself. It feels as if she truly found the perfect balance in her search for self-knowledge, love and inner peace, expressing her experiences as if on a painter's canvas."
Alexandra Gaba-van Dongen, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Author, art historian, and curator at Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
"I have started reading your book. Wah! every page, nay, every word carries literary weight requiring repeated attention. The book is full of love towards not only human beings but also animals, creatures and the plants alike. It looks the whole world has become your kith and kin. You see the Creator in every one and everywhere. You have a kind word or two for even the worst criminals. You are not only an excellent writer but also a genuine spiritualist. You breathe love!
I would like to spend all my time for reading such a poetic touching and thought-provoking literary piece.
"At first one would think that Constance Eykman's book - "Paradise, A Heartbeat Away" is about two metals in search of an amalgam. This is not the case. It clashes and flashes and produces a spark of new light - an insight, which enriches every one.paintings
Hein Kasteleijn, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Theatre producer and documentary writer.
"Constance, in her book "Paradise, A Heartbeat Away!", provides thought-provoking reflections on the cultural mirrors one is exposed to when living in a different country. Through descriptive travels in Kenya and Botswana, interspersed with personal recollections on her life, the reader is subtly led to a place where the question of one's purpose here on earth must be considered. And here she has provided a firm "support for others on the path into the light and love of God".
My favorite sentence, however, is "This so-called 'underdeveloped' continent has a living faith and a heart".
Indeed, the biblical truth of Africa is that the first shall be last and if there was ever a time for Africa to teach the world the message of heart -- of love -- it is now. And, as stated in the finale, this will require a definite courage from the world to achieve our collective path to peace.
Michael W. Kibinge, Nairobi, Kenya.