Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Maya Angelou: The Ancestor’s Voice Speaks: Free

As I was preparing to write on the Black Feminist Breathing Chorus Meditations #5 inspired by Harriet Tubman ("Harriet Tubman" read by Maya Angelou) and #6 inspired by Anna Julia Cooper, I got the word that Maya Angelou had died.

As an adolescent and teenager, Maya Angelou was one of the Black women writers who saved my life.

Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, and Sherley Anne Williams were some of the others.

Not being silenced and being free: that’s what Maya Angelou and her writing taught me. At a time when I was eating my voice every moment of every day to stay alive, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings made me pick up my pen and write about my life first in journals, then poems, later stories.

Almost four decades later, I still have those journals. Patricia Bell-Scott convinced me not to destroy them. Every now and then, I pull them out and choose a year to review and to be grateful for the life the words of these women made possible.

Maya Angelou made me unafraid to write and speak without euphemisms. For the rest of my life.

This led me to my life’s purpose of helping others to do the same.
The first time I saw Maya Angelou perform: Took me two hours to get to the venue. The auditorium was packed. When she came out on stage it was magical. Yes, phenomenal. The audience erupted in a standing ovation. 

She waited.

Felt like she looked at all of us and said, thank you, I’m glad you came tonight. Come join me on this journey of living fully, telling stories that tell your truth, our truths.

Grace. Love. Power.

Ancestor. Thank you. I know all too well where I might have ended up had you not broken the silence, had you chosen to forget, had you chosen to eat your voice.

I know that I am not the only one whose life was changed in the 1970s. Or yesterday. Or today.

How do I pay this gift forward?

What must I – we – continue to do to teach our young sisters, daughters, nieces, friends to develop words of fire propelled by love? And our brothers, sons, nephews?

What must we do to empower them to be free, able to live with the consequences of their choices?

What must we do to empower them to be courageous enough to live absolutely free?

Ancestors, send us the answers, please, from the Mothers who keep the Earth’s core turning. 

Let us be conscious enough to hear them when they speak. 

Let us be wise enough to follow the directions.

[I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings references Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar]

Monday, May 26, 2014

Looking in the Mirror, Deeply

Looking in the Mirror, Deeply

“I Looked and Looked to See What So Terrified You”
by Carrie Mae Weems

Interview with Carrie Mae Weems

 Day 4: Black Feminist Breathing Chorus Meditation

Two things came to mind this morning. The first was this fabulous work by Carrie Mae Weems that I saw when visiting the Nasher Museum at Duke University last month (Thank you Damien!). The second was a poem I wrote in 2003, “Lucy Speaks to Hegel”.

I loved these images the moment I saw them and wanted to be in them. So much so, I took a picture with me in the middle. The title, “I Looked and Looked to See What So Terrified You”: no matter how hard I look, I can’t find what terrifies you because all I see is this glorious African beauty of mine, that is me. Yet, I know that this is the very thing that has and will always frighten you. Because if you look in the mirror, you’ll see the other women behind me marveling at themselves as well.

Whoever “you” might be.

As a devotee of the orisa Osun, this work made me smile and be grateful for the beauty and power of Black women all over the world. I mean, look at that outfit, her hair, her stance.

It made me think of Maya Angelou’s words in an interview with Eleanor Holmes Norton, Essence, August 1998:

...But if you happen to have the blessing to have been born Black and the extra blessing to have been born a female and an American, then each filament of power you have, you have laid it and layered it carefully, not like someone from a family whose name makes people shiver in the marketplace--Rockefeller, DuPont, Kennedy.

So I would say the power I have first comes directly from being a descendant of people whose powerful history makes me humble. I would think, if I had been born anything other than Black and other than a Black American woman, that I had done something wrong in a former life and God was making me pay for it. ...

Every time I look at a copy of this work, I hear Osun laughing out of the walls, out of my skin, my spirit. She says, if you really want to see what I see in the mirror, look into the Earth’s core, what lies beneath the ocean, what rests quietly at the center of the tornado, what floats on the wind, the silence in a sigh. I dare you.

The second thing that came to mind was Hegel’s words: “Africa has no historical part of the world; [it has no movement or development to exhibit…] (Africans) are capable of no progress or culture, [and as we see them at this day, such have they always been.”]

At the time I wrote the poem in response to this I was studying archaeology at a summer institute on Africa and we were on about the discovery of Lucy. Lucy, Australopithecus Afarensis, discovered in 1974, is the ape who stood up, and the benchmark by which all other hominid discoveries were made at that time.

I remember thinking then how all the world had been born from what we now know as Africa. And, I remember thinking how “Lucy” couldn’t speak for herself after so many centuries, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t be amused. What would Lucy say to Hegel?
Lucy Speaks to Hegelfor Northeastern Illinois University “Teaching About Africa”
copyright ©2003, M. Eliza Hamilton Abegunde
The day I walked, Africa birthed the beginning of the world.
All things are born from wombs of darkness so black
that only the goddess herself can shape them with her fifth eye.
I am no longer the oldest, but millions of homo sapiens later
I am still original.  If I had known that people would ask
where is the country of Africa, I would have learned
how to speak and write when I stood straight.
If I had known my kinsmen would descend into the Portuguese,
I might have remained on my hands a few centuries more.
You see only the difference in skin, but this is a science:
your blood makes you as African as djembe.
Had erectus not been restless to see unnamed lands,
there would be no Asia, no Europe, no “these” United States.
Had we not been curious to discover something outside ourselves,
you would have never been born.  

Yes, to know our inherent worth – separate from all things and other people – is to also know our place in history and the Universe. When you read textbooks, you understand how difficult knowing our inherent worth becomes: we are absent, invisible, silent, remade in someone else's image.

But, our mamas (and papas) didn't raise no fools!

We eventually learn and know that we don’t go to the texts to know this history. We don’t even go to the mirror because so often we see only what the mirror maker wants us to see.

We must go to each other. WE are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Indeed. Everything we need to know is written on and in us. We are as old as the oldest trees. Some of us are the trees, roots digging dip into the volcano that is this planet or out to the stars.

We have only to look at each other, with Love, to know fully the power we have to change the direction of the wind with our breath. And, if you are a mother or have ever witnessed a birth: you know the power to manifest life through breathing.

A few year’s ago, my Osun asked me to put up a full shrine and share it with a close group of sister-friends. She reminded me of who I was, who I was with these women, and they with me.

I AM OSUN’S daughter, full of the breath of life and energy of creation. All that I am is contained in the eye of the Universe, the unspoken names of Olodumare, the mud hands of the Earth Mothers, the silent movements of the Iyami Aje, the transformational power and love of the orisas, the wisdom of the Ancestors.

And, I am not alone. I know this because I see my Sister-friends every day.

Ase-O! My Sisters. Meet you on the Path of Life.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

“Drenched in Light”

The Fifth Dimension - Let the Sun Shine In


In my meditation and self Reiki this morning, so many beautiful things. The most beautiful of all: the Universe has infinite knowledge to share with us during this time.

Today, just for today, how will you open all of your Self to receiving this knowledge? How will you sit quietly and connect to the Universe, which is all the time trying to speak with you directly?

This morning, an amazing down pouring from dimensions yet unknown and imagined. What did I receive: STUFF. It’s the only way to describe all the items, sounds, words, images that flowed into me in a steady stream of laser light.

When I asked what is it all, the response was that I need not worry about that. All that I received: I have the power to interpret and use when needed. Spontaneous access and interpretation.

This reminded me of a meditation experience I had last year. I entered a space much like the one the Fifth Dimension is dancing in the video. Instead of the sun, there was a huge face, a woman’s face, like a big beautiful Buddha. Her face took up every inch of space and seemed to surround me.

When I approached closer, She opened Her eyes so quickly that it frightened me. Before I could say anything, however, She winked at me, smiled, then returned to “sleep”.

The Universe winked at me and smiled.

This was no joke. Instead, She was telling me “I see you” and that She was acknowledging me.

This connection with Life and its Source was different than any I had ever made before and I am still integrating it into my life. The Universe may have taken me into Herself in a wink, but I can’t do the same with Her.

So, knowing what to do with that information is a constant opening and reopening, a constant remaking and recreating, of myself to Life.

Even more, it is a constant recommitment to dispel fear and to not live in fear. To be drenched in light, to allow that light to touch places we often keep hidden, is to announce to what tethers us to fear “I see you”.

What next you ask? Well, sometimes just acknowledging something releases its power on us. We don’t leave it space to haunt us at night or in every move we make.

Today, just for today, how will you let the “sun shine in"? What small space in your life do you want to bring out into the light so that the warmth of the sun can melt it away?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

“I have hopes for myself”: Becoming a Master Rat Head Eater

Day two of the Black Feminist Breathing Chorus inspires me to write again. I imagine that these meditations will inspire me – and you - in many ways over the next three weeks.

Even if not listened to consistently, the meditations will bring us profound change followed by transformation. Just think of how much we are changed by what we listen to (or not) every day. How powerful and revolutionary to listen to the voices of our Mother Creator Ancestors – their own – and through the voices of other generations.

I don’t know if I will write every day. As the MercuryRetrograde begins on June 7, I may become quieter, more introspective, and embodying what I am experiencing through the words.

This may lead to short silences, moments of nothingness, bliss, watching dragonflies.

But in the mean time, there is reality and the spirit of this morning’s meditation.

In the Yoruba Ifa tradition there is a saying: Bit by bit we eat the head of the rat. In case rat head eating is not your thing, I can only imagine your face at this moment.

While rat head eating is not something to which I aspire (don’t like fish heads either), this is one of my favorite guiding principles (coupled with “A dog has four legs but can only walk in one direction).

Today’s mediation reminds me to begin with the seed and not the forest, all the time knowing the forest will grow in its own time. First and foremost, however, the meditation dares me to name those desires and thoughts. To do so is to acknowledge that they exist and shape my life unconsciously.

Naming them forces me to stop hiding and pretending that “everything is alright” or that “it’s okay”.  It forces me to step out of the denial that things will get better in time. That someone will step up.

Daring to hope and name those hopes makes me admit that I want more: more sunshine, more peace, more love, more people fed, more people with their own gardens, more people with clean water, more children laughing, more children safe, more women safe, more men safe, more people free in their own minds, more people unafraid to live fully in love. More. More. What an endless list of desires.

To place them in the context of more in this manner encourages me to act from a place of abundance, a place of positive collaboration with the Creator, my ancestors, and the Universe to create more out of seeds that will one day grow to be forests.

To place my hopes on the table – the one I keep inside my heart or on my shrines – to do this is to take the first tiny step towards freedom of multiple levels. It means speaking the truth to myself.

Per the meditation’s example, that truth may not be that “I am invincible”. It may mean simply: “I am strong. Today.” Or, as a poet, sometimes it may be enough for me to say: “I will write two lines. Today.” The poem will make itself known. Eventually.

Today. It is what Hope asks us to consider. Only today. This moment. This time. Our breath. Breathing. Now.

As a Reiki Master, the hardest thing I must sometimes do is help my students embody – live fully - the Reiki principles that begin with Just for today. Even in healing, we all want results ASAP.

You should know that I dream of the beach often: sun, salt water, sleep, mangoes, hammocks, fried fish, and a caressing breeze carrying the scent of lime. When I think of retiring, “I have hopes for myself”: Brasil, the Caribbean (almost any island, including my home island, will do), dance, reggae, samba, calypso, the beach.

Perhaps it is because I imagine in the midst of urban life that the beach offers me more opportunities to “just-for-today” being and living.

The truth is, if I don’t start “just-for-todaying” now. I’ll only retire to show up at the beach full of grand ideas and unfinished business, both of which will prevent me from listening to the waves, choosing the fish I want fried, and enjoying both.

As I prepare to lead the second Mercury Retrograde for 2014 with the Arroyo Healing Community during the season of full bloom, during what is the simultaneous birth and death of one of my life cycles, I welcome today’s meditation as the voice of reason and equilibrium: begin with the smallest grain of sand – today - to create the beach I want. Today.

Just for today, however, the Reiki rules I live by are the hopes I have this moment in time.

I begin with an addition of my own: Just for today, I will honor my ancestors.
  • Just for today, I will not be angry.
  • Just for today, I will not worry.
  • Just for today, I will be grateful.
  • Just for today,  I will devote myself to my work.
  • Just for today, I will be kind to others.

 Today. Keeping it real here leads to all sorts of places we could only hope for once.

Friday, May 23, 2014

"We are the ones we've been waiting for"

It’s been one of those mornings: I’ve got more to say than I’ve had to say in months as if I’ve encountered other human beings for the first time and can speak.

I spent the night dreaming of making meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I cook this meal perhaps once every year. And, I had a dream of waking from a dream and spitting up phlegm after refusing to accept what someone had said. Unrelated to my meatloaf and mashed potatoes, of course.

For me, the first speaks of nurturing myself with the unexpected, the solid good things that fill us. This is a meal that takes time and good ingredients: prepare myself with the finest no matter how simple the results. The second speaks of waking up and getting rid of the things that no longer serve me, and doing so immediately.

They seem to be in contention. Red meat, potatoes, butter, cream: sinus problems and extra fat. Having to clear my sinuses and body of such build up: I’ve over done it.

Where these dreams meet in one night: balance, equilibrium. Only I know when I have tipped the scales. Only I know what to do to return.

And so it was these two things with which I awoke to find Alexis Gumbs first Black Feminist meditation in my box. I met Alexis in person (after months of emails) a few weeks ago when we read together at Duke University’s Manic Caravan poetry reading series.

Without discussion, we had both arrived to honor the ancestors with our voices, poems, and very beings. We spoke briefly about this meditation and the other wonderful things she had planned for the summer. I left reconfirming that it was needed in the world. This moment. This time. In all the spaces we inhabit. In Love.

The 21-day meditation series falls over the June-July 2014 Mercury Retrograde. This is my treat to myself as Ariran Abegunde Arroyo Black Woman egungun priestess devotee to the orisas Osun and Oya.

I invite you to consider giving yourself a treat whether or not you are joining us for the June Mercury Retrograde, whatever your identity. There is much to learn from Black women across the planet, especially now.

Today’s meditation: “We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for” from June Jordan’s  “Poem for South African Women”.

We are indeed. The meditation this morning was a great way for me to breathe in the Truth of what I am, what We are.  As I transition into a new life after graduation I have been thinking of this. I cannot return to what I was before. That woman no longer exists. The woman who does exist is bigger, badder, more beautiful. She is older, more ancient. She knows a lot more about so much. She knows a lot less about everything. And, she has even more community than before to do the work she was born to do. In Love.

June Jordan’s poem in its fullness is as relevant and necessary today as ever. Recently, my sister asked me if I would be doing a meditation with the Arroyo community for the young girls who had been stolen in Nigeria. I told her I was thinking about it and would do something.

Secretly, I’ve been hoping and praying that the girls will be released before I have to engage with this aspect of spiritual work. I knew this to be the case when someone I didn’t know wrote me to remind me how this tragedy has opened up wounds about Black women being stolen that are so old we must go all the way back to slave ships.

And to Black women and girls being beaten and raped every place in the world. And women and girls – all women and girls – who are in danger every moment of their lives.

And… you fill in the thing that frightens you most about being a woman or girl, or someone who loves a woman or girl.

I need mediation to prepare for this particular meditation.

This morning, before I opened Alexis’ email, I was contemplating what and how to respond to Nigeria. Then I opened  DailyGood to “What to Remember When Waking”. David Whyte, a favorite poet of mine, is quoted: “There is a small opening into the new day which closes the moment you begin your plans. What you can plan is too small for you to live.”

It brought me back to a conversation I had with a sister-friend about healers understanding that changing the world takes more than sitting around sending out energy. It means “praying with your feet”, hands, mouths, money. To take up spiritual action against social injustice is profound, disturbing, revolutionary, transformative. It is a commitment to use that energy to upturn mountains, to unwind the tornado until it is a gentle breeze.

It means dreaming about making meatloaf and mashed potatoes with kobe beef,  homegrown potatoes, rosemary, thyme, and hand-churned butter when your refrigerator and bank account are empty and you don’t have a garden.

Some of us understand that the dream is the beginning of a powerful manifestation IF we don’t plan.

Another sister-friend often says to me: the ancestors and universe have better taste for my life than I do.

All of these conversations brought me back to the Bloomington, IN BringBackOurGirls event. I was asked to do the opening and closing prayer. But, when it was time to close, I couldn’t “pray”. I felt the need to call upon  Ella Baker.  “We who believe in freedom cannot rest!”

Yes. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

This morning’s meditation for me was not only about Truth and acknowledging personal power and Love. In the context of June Jordan’s poem, it was also about knowing how to use that power; how to join up forces for freedom and liberation with other women and spiritual beings fighting for these things. They are more than just ideas and notions.

I was moved to write this morning because June Jordan is not just any ancestor. I never met her. However, when she was dying, her friends in the poetry community reached out to many of us to send her words of encouragement. I answered that call. She was a Caribbean American woman like me. She died after illness, like my mother. As a young woman, her words fed me – to quote one of my students – when I didn’t know I was hungry.

So, to begin this meditation with June Jordan has brought me to contemplate on my rights, human rights. It has led me from meatloaf to slavery, Nigeria, and the work I must do – we must do – in the world for freedom. Every day. Every moment. This moment in time. Out of Love. For Love.

Balance. How do I balance the desire and need to mediate, pray, call on the ancestors and Spirit with the desire and need to take to the streets screaming and keening about Nigeria and all the wounds it opens up?

… We who believe in freedom…

…How can we rest?

May making meatloaf and mashed potatoes enter all our dreams until we learn how to make peace and love by tending to the details of what is really important to live fully, to nurture love and demand and live freedom and liberty as a community. For all.

Get Up! Stand Up!

Poem for South African Women  (excerpt)
June Jordan

And who will join this standing up
and the ones who stood without sweet company
will sing and sing
back into the mountains and
if necessary
even under the sea

we are the ones we have been waiting for

Sunday, March 2, 2014

March is National Women's History Month. However, since January 1, I have felt that I need to contemplate, really meditate on, the lives of women I know, especially my mother.

Perhaps it is because this year I reached the age my mother was when she died. Perhaps it is the final acceptance that I am the biological end of my family line.

Or that I feel the orisa Yemanja close to me. Except for my annual participation in a Yemanja festival, I've not really experienced Yemanja the way I have the egun or Osun, for example. Yemanja, Mother of Fishes, the Mother.

I am reminded that in a time of dire need that the Virgin Mary herself visited me every morning, her blue and white robes flowing down to her feet. Her stern but soft presence reassuring me that I would be okay, that I would live through what I felt at the moment would kill me.

I would pray every morning, promising to follow the Path. Nothing specific. Just the Path: Love, Truth, Authenticity, Honesty, Integrity. I would remain open to the voice of the Creator, honor my ancestors, flow with the orisas. I would not walk away from the destiny I had chosen.

The Virgin answered my prayers by her presence every morning as I knelt at a make-shift shrine. She protected me. I have kept my promise. Over twenty years later, I find myself at the feet of the Virgin, Yemanja, again. Sometimes, I yearn for my grandmother's rosary, the noon-time novenas at the sound of the church bell. Even as a child, I sat with her when it began and we prayed the mysteries together, our voices harmonious as we said The Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary.

Perhaps this is the year to meditate on women, and women who watch over me because no matter how old I get, there will be times in my life when memories of my mother want their own space. There are years when I push them aside, but not this year.

Instead, I've dug out old photos, scanned them, looked at them. The one below is one of my favorites.

Always, I miss the smell and sound of the ocean.

Mommy and Me at Bathway Beach, Grenada, West Indies

Once, a photographer looked closely at this photo and remarked that a finger print was evident. He was certain it was not on the paper or the negative. He was at a loss for how or why the print was there.

I don't remember this day any longer. However, it is obvious that my mother is trying to introduce me to the ocean and I am slowly trusting her and the waves. I learned early in life that you can't trust everyone when you are in water. You can't trust the water to be anything other than what she is: flowing, making a way over, under, through anything and everything in her path.

Yet, looking at this photo I get the sense that I did not feel in danger and that neither my mother nor the water meant me harm. I would not know until later in my life that I as a young girl I had been living in the presence of Yemanja. The blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea covered me at least once a week in their warmth in my family's weekly journey to the beach to "bathe". Again, only later would I know that the foam and waves were a healing, a protection, I would need many years later.

The photograph. I decided the moment the photographer shared with me his confusion that there could only be one answer. God had put Her finger on and in our lives. No other explanation was necessary. There could be no other explanation.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Bela Terra: Gifts from the Earth

zucchini and other delicious things from our garden

A while ago, I asked the question: what is the link between the ancestors and the earth?

There is the obvious: most of us bury our dead in the earth. Even in coffins, their essence can leak out into the earth. In fact, the history of death, burials, cemeteries around the world is a lesson in the creation of sanitation laws, health guidelines, and corporate development for the living and the dead.

Recently I heard something very interesting: so many unfulfilled dreams are in cemeteries, buried with the dead. So, there is also the not so obvious: the energy that emanates from the ancestors - their dreams, desires, and wants, unfulfilled or satisfied - is the energy we walk on and in every day. It comes up through our feet, which represent our paths in life. We are, therefore, never separate from our dead or they from us.

If you have ever visited Arlington Cemetery, you know what I am talking about. One must walk over the dead to get to the dead. It is humbling, frightening, overwhelming, sacred, and profane all at the same time. When I have visited there, I want to run so as not to linger so long in one place. Yet, I want to walk slowly to not disturb, to honor, to read the headstones. I want to listen to what is being whispered through the dirt and grass, the trees.

Brings a different understanding of why it behooves us to care for our living elderly, care for the ancestors, and care for the dead and their spaces. Gives a different understanding to why we must live fully and not die after a half-lived or un-lived life, and why we must not leave our dead behind. This last is another discussion that would bring us to the current violences all over the world.

I think of these things often, and especially during the spring and summer. During the first season we plant. The second season we reap. And, our reaping from our personal home garden has been glorious this year so far: collard greens, kale, chard, lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, onions, garlic. Corn and cucumbers to arrive soon.

And the yellow zucchini. It was the yellow zucchini that made me write this post. A few days ago, we removed the first and only one so far from its vine. One day we steamed half, a few days later, we roasted the other half along with some chicken wings. (Sorry: Only after we had eaten did I think I should have taken a picture).

All I can tell you is that when I bit into a chunk, down to the skin, my first thought was that I was so grateful for the man whose gift of honoring the ancestors through the land had produced this singular and beautiful feast. I thanked the ancestors. And, then I wondered at its sweetness, so unexpected. It was startlingly vibrant just like its flower. Until last year, I had never seen a zucchini flower, did not know it had one on a vine. But, the flower in half or full bloom is so worth observing.

What ancestral energy is flowing through the land where we are? The history here makes me shudder when I think about it. Yet, the ability to connect to that energy, shift its vibrational force, and harvest abundance and gratitude instead of scarcity and fear each time is a gift that cannot be seen outside the cycle of life that includes the ancestors.

There is so much more to think about as the summer continues. What will I discover with each new collard leaf, or rosemary stem? What will I discover with each yellow tomato or the cucumbers? I am waiting for the cucumbers. Two are hanging, almost ready to be welcomed to the table.