Having taken several delegations to China, I had become familiar with Chinese philosophy, especially the exceptional wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, written by Lao Tze in about 500BCE. One day I was emptying a cupboard in my house and a rolled poster fell out. It was a picture of the goddess Kwan Yin. To this day I have no idea where it came from.
Kwan Yin is the Divine Feminine aspect within Buddhism, equivalent to Mother Mary, Isis and Shakti in other world belief systems. Her full name means “She who listens to the cries of the World” and she has vowed to remain in the earthly realms until all other living souls have completed their own enlightenment.
If we look carefully at the image of Kwan Yin we see that she is perfectly balanced, in her bare feet, riding on the spiny back of a huge dragon thrashing through a stormy sea. This is an archetypal balance – a balance that is essential to our work – between the calm, centred, grace-filled power of the Yin, with the energy, majesty and courage of the Yang.
The day before the launch of The Elders in 2007, I was asked to give a briefing on Burma. Around the table sat former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former US President Jimmy Carter, human rights supremo Mary Robinson, Graca Machel wife of Nelson Mandela, the Chinese foreign minister, Mr Li, and two Nobel Peace Laureates – Professor Muhammad Yunus and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. My briefing suggested that China or India could play a role in enabling Aung San Suu Kyi to be released from house arrest and take her place as an Elder. This upset Mr Li, who raised his voice in protest.
I went to bed paralysed with anxiety that the phone lines between Johannesburg and Beijing would be burning, that Mr Li might refuse to be present at the launch the following day, and that it would all be my fault. In desperation I called for help to Kwan Yin. She communicated that I should be calm and go to sleep, and take my small image of her with me to the launch next day.
I still remember my vast sigh of relief, when I arrived at the launch and saw that the empty chair arranged for Aung San Suu Kyi was still in place. But I held my breath until I saw foreign minister Li walk onstage with the other Elders, and duly play his part in the ceremony.
After the ceremony I was walking up a flight of steps as Mr Li was coming down. He frowned at the sight of this troublesome woman. I walked up to him with the picture of Kwan Yin in my hand and asked him: “Do you know this lady?” He stepped back and cried out in excitement “It’s KWAN YIN!! She is so dear to us in China….” He then ordered an aide to take from his bag a volume of poetry that he, Mr Li, had written and dedicated the book to me on the spot.
This experience gave me the final nudge to trust that there is a far greater intelligence than ours at work in the world, and that if we can simply get quiet enough to listen to it, things fall into place in ways we could never have dreamed.