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Developing Mental Clarity

This is me with some of my school-mates at Starehe Boys' Centre on a tour to the Nairobi National Museum. Although Starehe was indeed a school of opportunities and a centre of academic excellence in its heyday when I was there, the school awakened me to another vital factor in life other than the acquisition of knowledge; and that's mental clarity.


When my primary school headmaster handed me in late 2001 a result slip that indicated I had scored 421 marks in KCPE exams, I became electrified like an electron that had absorbed new energy. I dashed home to share the good news of my impressive KCPE score with my family, some of whom were as elated by the score as they were surprised by it given the mediocre marks I had scored in my Standard Eight continuous assessment tests.

But then, the $64,000 question that began to trouble us was: would I be admitted at Starehe Boys' Centre? I had failed to appear among the list of top 100 pupils in my province that had been published in local dailies a few days earlier after the results were released by the Minister of Education. We were worried about my chances of getting into Starehe because my family was undergoing hard financial times and my mother was particularly worried they would be unable to put me through in a decent high school if I failed to get into Starehe where I had applied for sponsorship.

Our fears were relieved when news got through to us a few days later that I had been admitted to Starehe. And to tell you the truth, that's the most miraculous event in my life so far. I had beaten odds of being labelled as dull and dumb to join the then Kenya's top-ranked high school - an encouragement to anyone going through hard times that things are never over till God's final calling to afterlife.

I reported at Starehe on an afternoon on Thursday 17th January 2002. And in my first months at the school, I felt proud to be part of the school whose unique uniform of red and blue was a national emblem of discipline and intelligence. Like when we broke for my first half-term holiday as a Starehian, I craved to be seen clad in that uniform of red and blue by everyone on my way home as well as in my home-town of Kiserian.

But as my months as a Starehian rolled on, I began to feel disturbed by the way some students were commenting on how confused I looked. Even Mrs. Margaret Shivembe, one of my Music teachers in the school, became concerned by my confusion and suggested during one lesson that it resulted from having too much information in my head.

All along, I have heard other people get described as confused but they don't ever seem to be as bothered about it as I was. Imagine I took that "confusion" label so seriously that I would at times scribble the word "confusion" on a piece of paper and look up for its meaning in the dictionary.

Looking back, I am thinking the confusion that people saw in me wasn't as serious as the way I reacted to it with gravity because some people still saw a lot of good in me. Like Miss Church, a talented willowy young lady from England who was volunteering as a Music teacher at Starehe, encouraged me while I was in Form 1 to accompany hymns on the piano during school assemblies. And one school-mate named Clement Lang'at (rest in peace) commented later on in this decade on a Facebook post of mine that I was his role-model during our days in the school. Clement Lang'at was killed last year in a road accident.

Anyway, all I can tell you now was the 'confusion" label bitterly bothered me to a level that bordered on disease. Sometimes when the word "confusion" was mentioned in class, I would suddenly think everybody in class was having me in mind.

The interesting side of the story was that I was neither conscious of the confusion people saw in me nor did I understand its root cause. That's why it persisted well into the university where a peace-loving first-year room-mate of mine named Mikhail Mbelase remarked to a friend that I was always mentally mixed up.

I recall vividly that afternoon after Mikhail Mbelase uttered that remark because of the way it revived my old fears and worries I had harboured at Starehe. Fears and worries that I never discussed with anyone. I just bottled them up in myself but fortunately, I never exploded into some sort of rebellion or imploded into depression.

Of course I must have been overly worried by the "confusion" label since everybody wants to be appreciated as Abraham Maslow pointed out in his widely-quoted hierarchy of needs. Think about it for a minute - would you wish to be known as confused? I am sure as death that you've always wished to be recognized as bright and brilliant, or some other virtuous trait that is of interest to you.

As for me, I have always desired to be known as bright and brilliant. And that's precisely why I became bitterly bothered by the "confusion" label.

Over the last ten years, I have put in a lot effort to overcome the negative programming that turned me into a confused teenager. I have tried all sorts of experiments in fits and starts to attain mental clarity - some of which appear to me now as weird.

Like some time in 2015, I moved my eyeballs sideways with my eyes wide open while staring at myself in the mirror, only to discover the eyeballs would appear stationery when I focused on my reflection on the mirror. That's a weird experiment of attaining mental clarity, isn't it?

And I don't really know how I devised that attempt. Or maybe I must have known instinctively that the eyes are some sorts of windows to the mind in that what people see in the eyes are a revelation of what's happening in the mind. If your mind is confused, people see it in the eyes.

I am now a clear-thinker though I am not quite sure which of the fits and starts have solved the "confusion" enigma. Or maybe its largely due to the writing I have been doing persistently for the last couple of years because Stephen R. Covey highlighted in his internationally acclaimed best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that "writing is another powerful way to sharpen the mental saw; keeping a journal of our thoughts, experiences and learnings promotes mental clarity, exactness and context".

But I give all glory and honour to God because He is always seeming to fix everything in my life perfectly, sometimes in ways I didn't expect. And when I talk of God and of the "confusion" label that bitterly bothered me for years, I am reminded of the following lines in Forty Years On, one of the two school songs of Starehe Boys' Centre that I have found myself singing to myself again and again over the years:
...God gives us duty for us to discharge it,
Problems to face, struggle with and overcome,
Service to render and glory to covet...
Those lines have led me to believe that everyone receives his own share of problems to struggle with at one time or another in life. Like you might find for some of the kids born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths, their first hot-potato is handling setbacks; they can get overly depressed or mentally paralysed for months when they encounter their first setback like a rejection at Harvard or loss of a loved one.

My hot-potato was confusion for shizzle. That's why I have been feeling triumphant of late now that I am consciously a clear-thinker. All I can advise any youngster out there struggling with confusion is to first acknowledge it. (Cry if you must). Then to develop a conscious desire for clear-thinking while keeping in mind that all good things take time. And mental clarity is a good thing because as the great Roman historian named Sallust pointed out many many years ago, "the renown that riches and beauty confer is fleeting and frail; mental excellence [and clarity] is a splendid and a lasting possession". Adieu!

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Lessons From The Bible

This is me with my beloved Bible which contains some of those wonderful words of life that I will discuss in the story of mine below. And for some of my friends who had noted with a lot of concern on how plump I had become, can you now see I have regained my youthful swagger? But all glory is to God, the author and perfecter of my life.


Much has been said about the power of habit. Like there was Aristotle who said good habits formed at youth make all the difference. And then someone else phrased it better by saying "we first make our habits, then our habits make us".

So being the teachable young man that I am, I have started forming good habits like rising early, reading regularly, taking one-hour morning walks and stretching with rollers daily to firm up my abdominal muscles and to keep them in shape.

I have also gotten into the habit of praying, telling the truth and reading the Bible. Yes, even praying, telling the truth and meditating on God's Word are habit forming.

These days, I not only utter the Lord's Prayer after making my bed in the morning but also commune with God throughout the day to pray for whatever need that pops up in my mind. Like on several occasions in the past three months during my morning walks to Kiserian Town, I have stopped to ask God for financial breakthroughs in a few of the hobbies I am developing after observing how some people in Kiserian are struggling to make ends meet by hawking such mundane items as sandals around the town.

Last Sunday when I stopped to pray for something I have forgotten but which I am sure God remembers, my friend Karatu slowed down his car to find out what was amiss with me. He thought I was crying or something. But I sensed his worries were allayed when I greeted him jovially by his name after he called me out from his sedan.

But my subject today in this story of mine is not on praying but on the lessons I have learnt from my habit of meditating on the Bible. Okay, let me enumerate and expound on them for you, and in so doing, I hope to pass on to you some gems of wisdom which you are free to take or leave.

The first lesson I have gleaned from my Bible is not to fear any person. For those of us who had a suppressed childhood during which we were mocked, beaten, ridiculed and criticized, we know well how hard it has been to be acquire the virtue of courage in our adult life because old fears die hard. We have feared almost everything: ridicule, criticism, rejection ... you name it.

As for me, I have found encouragement from the Bible to be as brave as three lions strolling together. My friend Paul Bundi Karau, the top candidate in 2002 KCSE exams, says in one of his books that the Bible talks of courage 365 times. I am not sure about that but at least I know a couple of verses that exhort us to be men (and women) of good courage.

There is the Book of Joshua which says, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."[1]

Then there is St. Paul who in one of his epistles in the Bible says, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but of power, of love and of self-discipline."[2]

For me, Prophet Isaiah phrases it best when he comforts us this way in Isaiah 51:12-13:
Who are you that you fear mortal men,
the sons of men, who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the Earth...?
[3]
Those three verses from the Bible have infused me with courage to be myself even if it means being eccentric. So let the howlers howl, let the scowlers scowl and let the growlers growl but I will keep acting in harmony with my authentic self for the rest of my time in this grand and magnificent planet. Different ... yes. Imperfect ... certainly. But nonetheless valuable.

The second lesson I have gained from the Bible is to value work. The Book of Sirach (an inspirational page-turner found only in the Catholic Bible) implores us not to hate hard work because work was assigned by God. Then the philosophical Book of Ecclesiastes beseeches us to work with all our might because in the grave where we are all headed, there "is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom".

But there is a catch here: the same Book of Ecclesiastes that counsels us to work with all our might also advises us find joy in the work - something Steve Jobs, a Buddhist who revolutionized the hi-tech industry by making personal computers possible, highlighted to Stanford graduates in his famous 2005 commencement speech at the university.

As for me, I am converting my hobbies in music and writing into work which, as I have pointed out when talking of how I pray even during my morning walks to my home-town, have requested God to be kind to me by making my hobbies successful not only in impacting the world but in making me self-reliant if you know what I mean. And, believe it or not, I am really working hard to be exceptional at those hobbies.

How about you? Tell me, what do you plan to do with that precious gift of life given to you by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

And the last lesson which I have picked up from my Bible that I will discuss today is on that hot-button topic that is considered a taboo in many families all across the world. But if the holy Bible itself devotes a whole chapter in the Book of Leviticus (Chapter 18) to instruct us on what we shouldn't do when going about it, why shy away from discussing it here? The hot-button topic is none other than sex.

Let's face it: sexual feelings are part of the package that come with the gift of life for humans. At times, those sexual feelings can become so strong that even prominent men put their reputation at risk to engage in sex.

While we all know sex produces a pleasant feeling, the wise among us admit it ought to be exercised with care. Why? Because no well-meaning parent would wish her daughter to get pregnant while still in high school, or her son to acquire HIV.

Me, I believe sex ought to be practised within the confines of marriage by a couple that not only understands birth-control but also ready to nurture children to responsible adults. If all people on Earth shared that belief, this planet would be blissful to live in because the criminals who create hell on Earth by robbing us are as a result of the hoi-polloi who bear kids they are unable to educate into law-abiding citizens.

That's why I have refrained from pre-marital sex till my current age of 30, a no-mean achievement. But I won't assume a holier-than-thou attitude because I have to confess of entertaining lustful thoughts in my mind every now and then for as long as I can remember. So, in a sense, I owe my virginity (if that noun applies to men) to God for having kept me from sexual snares in those moments of weakness when all sorts of raggle-taggle licentious thoughts force their way into my conscious thinking.

I've told you of how I recite the Lord's Prayer after making my bed in the morning, haven't I? Part of the reason I value that prayer is the way it calls on God to "lead us not into temptation [and] deliver us from evil" for His is the kingdom, the power and the glory, now and forever.

And so what have I learnt from the Bible on sex? That both men as well as women get sexually aroused. Like the Book of Proverbs cautions healthy handsome young men (like me) to be wary of "the wayward wife with her seductive words..." - something the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis makes clear. You see, after Joseph went to Egypt, he grew into a handsome and well-built gentleman which led his master's wife to take notice and lust after him. I won't tell you what happened next. Just find a Bible and read the rest of the story for yourself.

For those of us who grew up as timid boys, it comes as a surprise to us to learn that women get as much sexually aroused as men because the media outlets are always awash with news of men raping or sexually harassing women which creates the impression that only men get turned on.

Having overcome the timidity I acquired in childhood and learnt much about the world, I can now authoritatively inform all timid boys out there that women do indeed get sexually aroused, sometimes even more than men. It's just that if a man forces a woman to have sex with him, that's reported to authorities as rape and sexual assault. But if a woman forces a man to have sex with her, that's not considered a crime at all. That's the way it is folks!

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[1], [2] & [3] Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of International Bible Society. All rights reserved worldwide.

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