“Never Knowing Where We Fly”

Birds flyingI just returned home from a four-day business trip. Due to the nature of my job, I often return from my trips late at night and find myself completely exhausted the next day. I didn’t get home from this particular trip until close to Midnight and so, today is one of those days. Except that I’m more mentally exhausted than anything. Through a conversation with a friend, and with myself, I came to the realization that I’d expended a lot of mental energy this week focusing on things I strongly desire to change, but that I really have no control over. I found that I did my fair share of fussing about being ready to move on from my job and wanting progress in certain relationships in my life. It was one of those moments that you don’t really see until you step outside of it. And it wasn’t until I was in the quiet of my own car driving back from the airport, and back in the quiet of my home, that I was able to see how truly busy my mind had been this week.

After allowing myself time to sleep in this morning, I immediately went to put on some of my quiet meditation music and picked up Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening,” a gem that found its way into my life last summer. It is a book of daily reflections that I try to read every morning before starting my day. I’d forgotten to bring it with me on my trip, so I went back and read all of the days I missed. Every passage, from March 19 until today, spoke to exactly where my mind was this week. In one of his reflections, Nepo offered a meditation that guided me to pulling out a picture of myself as a little girl. I really looked at the picture and began to feel a world of emotions. That little girl had so many wonders and dreams of the world. That little girl looks so happy in her eyes. That little girl was carefree. Then I looked at myself in the reflection of the blank computer screen and I asked myself where did that little girl go. I thought of all the life experiences I’ve had since that picture and I acknowledged how they have all shaped me, changed me and moved me away from who that little girl was. But I had an “aha” moment as well. I can return to the child-like me. The one who was fearless and wide-eyed and ready to try new things. We can’t always control what will or won’t be in our lives, but we can control not losing sight of who we are.

Nepo’s reflection from today, March 23, beautifully captures this understanding:

Never Knowing Where We Fly

“Birds learn how to fly, never knowing where flight will take them.”

“There is a deep and humbling lesson in the way of birds. Their wings grow and stretch and span patches of air. First tentatively and then with confidence, they lift, they pump, they glide, they land. It seems, for birds, it is the act of flying that is the goal. True, they migrate and seek out food, but when flying, there is the sense that being aloft is their true destination.

Unlike birds, we confuse our time on Earth, again and again, with obsessions of where we are going – often to the point that we frustrate and stall our human ability to fly. We frequently tame and hush our need to love, to learn, to know the truth of spirit, until we can be assured that our efforts will take us somewhere. All these conditions and hesitations and yes-buts and what ifs turn the human journey upside down, never letting the heart, wing that it is, truly unfold.

Yet, without consideration or reservation, it is simply the presence of light that stirs birds to sing and lift. They do not understand concepts such as holding back or truly investing if the return seems certain. In this, we are the only creatures that seek out guarantees, and in so doing, we snuff the spark that is discovery.

Just how often do we cripple ourselves by not letting love with all its risks teach us how to fly? How many times do our hearts stall because we won’t let the wingspan of our passion open us fully to our gifts? How frequently do we search for a song of guidance that can only come from inside us?

I know that over the years, through fear and expectation, my mind has gathered and hoarded places I needed to go, things I needed to have, selves I needed to be. But here I am, without most of them – the goals and wants all used up in learning how to love.

So, try as I do to imagine and construct where I am headed, try as I will to plan and know what this life of feeling means, it is the pulse of what I feel itself that lifts me into spirit. In truth, wings don’t grow any differently to fit south or east or west, and our lives, no matter how we train ourselves, are more fundamental than any direction of worldly ambition. We, like the birds, are meant to fly and sing – that’s all – and all our plans and schemes are twigs of nest that, once outgrown, we leave.”

Let us always remember the song within us. And never forget to fly.

Namaste.

 

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Ahimsa

Tree of Life Prayer BeadsWhen I first came to my Yoga mat, I came under the impression that Yoga was simply the physical movements that many of us are used to seeing. Enrolling in a Yoga teacher training program years after practicing with my first at-home DVD, I have quickly learned that the poses are just part of a larger path. There are actually 8 limbs of Yoga, of which asanas (the poses) are one.

Two of those limbs are the Yamas and Niyamas. “Yamas” are moral observances; our guiding principles for how we deal with others. “Niyamas” are our personal observances; the principles of how we deal with ourselves. There are 5 principles both for Yamas and Niyamas. For the purpose of this particular blog post, I am going to focus on one of the Yamas: Ahimsa. Ahimsa is Sanskrit for compassion – showing kindness and non-violence to all living things.

I am by no means a perfect person, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was already incorporating some of the Yamas and Niyamas in my life before I ever knew or even heard of them. Compassion has always been one of my guiding principles. And when my son was born almost 6 years ago, I knew without a doubt that of all the things I could teach him, what would be most important is showing him how to be kind to others.

When I was pregnant and found out I was having a boy, I admittedly cried for a day or so. I am the baby sister of 5 older brothers (between both of my parents’ first marriages) and I really, really, really wanted a girl so that I could complete the trifecta of my mother, me and my baby girl (yes, I actually did think this). Although my brothers had mostly girls between them and the family was actually lacking for boys, I wanted to add my girl to the bunch.

I always had to tag along for my one brother’s high school and college football games. Every Sunday, I had to sacrifice my cartoons or a show I was watching for whatever seasonal sporting event was on. While I had grown up surrounded by testosterone, I didn’t think I’d have a clue of how to raise a boy. Sure, my then-husband would help, but by time baby boy was born, I knew our marriage was on its last leg. I became a single mother before my son turned 2 years-old and as the primary parent, most of what he would learn would come from me. Like many parents of little boys, I want my son to be strong, confident and have some athletic prowess. I long ago accepted that I would not be able to teach him how to be a man, but I certainly could teach him how to be a kind and decent human being. And that has been my mission.

My message of compassion seems to be paying off. My son genuinely shows concern when someone is hurt or crying. When I have my own life moments that I am unable to hide from him, he always comes to me with his favorite toy or stuffed animal and tells me they can sleep with me in my bed so I’ll feel better. There is a little girl in his school who is visually impaired, and while it may take a little nudging from me, because he notices something “different” about her, he makes a point to speak to her and play with her when the other kids stay away. I see the kindness in him, as have friends of mine. While he is a little boy, I am always conscious of the fact that I am raising a man. One day, he will go into the world with the values I’ve instilled in him and learn how to balance that with the values he develops on his own.

Today I came across a Huffington Post article about the things every mother should do for their sons. The article was written in light of a sexual assault of a teenage girl that occurred in Steubenville, Ohio last August. The author suggests that we, as society and parents, help to create a culture of such violent acts, especially by pushing our boys to be “tough guys.” We praise athletes and athleticism, while encouraging our girls to be demure and supportive. It is the author’s belief that certain measures can be taken to avoid another Steubenville. The first of her suggestions is to teach our boys to be kind and to teach them this as early as possible. Being that kindness is something I’ve been working to instill in my son since birth, I wholeheartedly agree.

I continued to think about the article long after I read it. I thought about how some parents and people are of the belief that boys shouldn’t be showered with hugs and kisses because it will make them “soft,” while doing so for girls is acceptable. We tend to focus on the fact that our daughters need to see and receive love at a young age, so they will know what it should look and feel like when they begin to engage in relationships. And it’s not to say that we shouldn’t focus on this, but what about our boys? I don’t necessarily want my son to be a “mama’s boy,” but I have no shame in hugging him, kissing him and telling him I love him multiple times a day. I may make him wipe his tears right away when he falls, but I want him to be comfortable with love. I have had enough of my own relationships with emotionally limited men to know and believe that, for the most part, they did not receive enough affection while growing up. I can admit there was also likely something within me that attracted these types of men, but reading the Huffington Post article confirmed my personal conviction. We teach our daughters how to give love and be dutiful partners, while we teach our sons to be the protectors. I am not against this, but I think we should also teach our sons how to receive love. Sure, some of the discomfort with love may be a nature thing for boys and men, but I believe nurturing plays a big part as well. I say show them the beauty of love to the best of our abilities, so they will be better aware of treating love as a gift that should not be abused or taken for granted.

Being that the Yoga teacher training is a huge aspect of my life right now and being that I am a single mother, my son pretty much doesn’t have a choice but to take this journey with me. He doesn’t attend classes with me, but he is impacted by the time I invest in the training program. It can be hard at times, because my particular program is a weekend-based one. I work a full-time job during the week and then for 2 full weekends out of a month, for the next 6 months, I am in training. Add on to that a job that requires travel and our time together can really be limited. But I know I must see this through and I try to include him by doing Yoga with him at home and teaching him a few asanas he can do on his own. In the end though, I know the most important thing is to continue teaching him about Ahimsa. He is already practicing this Yama in his life. And just like his mother, he doesn’t even know it. Yet.

Namaste.


Terrifying, Strange and Beautiful. (A Live Unchained Event)

Live Unchained

Live Unchained

Most recently, I was asked to use this blog as a platform to hold an interview with Live Unchained, a DC metro area-based arts organization, about their work and their campaign to host London-based poet Warsan Shire at their first awards ceremony next year. I was excited for two reasons. First, it was an honor and an opportunity to be asked to use the blog as an information exchange resource. It’s also a challenge I appreciate undertaking as a developing writer. Second, I have most recently come to know Warsan Shire’s work and find myself in awe of it. In fact, in my blog “35,” I included her poem, “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love.” The poem was beautifully done as a video…one that I must have watched more than 20 times. On top of it already being a great opportunity to interview someone, I would be able to talk about an artist who I am fast becoming a fan of.

I sat down with Kathryn Buford, Co-Founder of Live Unchained. We discussed some of the great work Live Unchained has done, what they are doing going forward and their campaign to raise money for the “Terrifying, Strange and Beautiful” awards ceremony.

CC: Kathryn, it’s great to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to speak with The Certified Chronicles. Tell us a little about yourself and Live Unchained.

KB: It’s great meeting you as well! Thank you for allowing me to share what Live Unchained is and what we are doing. In addition to being Co-Founder of Live Unchained, I am an artist, journalist and Ph.D. student in Sociology at the University of Maryland.

As an artist, I creatively express myself through writing, journalism and the work I do as a social entrepreneur. Live Unchained is an international arts, media and events organization that connects Black women artists from different countries across the African Diaspora. Their artistic disciplines vary in everything from painting to photography, music, film and more. We have featured over 100 women artists on our growing online magazine, www.LiveUnchained.com. We recently joined MTV, Caribseek News, +DESIGN and many other brands as a media sponsor for the International Reggae Poster Contest and previously hosted the sold-out film screening of “Middle of Nowhere,” the groundbreaking film by the first African-American woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival. Live Unchained events include art exhibits, festivals, film screenings, concerts and now, with the help of creative communities everywhere, an awards ceremony called “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful.” Through our work at Live Unchained, we want to connect creative communities everywhere we can.

CC: Can you tell us about some of the artists you’ve worked with and events you’ve held?

KB:  Yes.  Live Unchained has been fortunate to feature some really great artists who give us their time voluntarily. We’ve interviewed Jechumba, founder of African Digital Art, who curates www.africandigitalart.com, a great creative resource for culture lovers across the diaspora.

We’ve also interviewed Rachel Gichinga, who used art to mobilize Kenyan youth to vote in the 2010 constitutional referendum, to adopt a proposed new constitution. The result was a victory for the “Yes” campaign, which Kuweni Serious had worked really hard to achieve. Additionally, we met with Ava DuVernay, the first African-American woman to win at the Sundance Film Festival for “Middle of Nowhere,” which she wrote and directed. To support the film, Live Unchained held a screening of it in the Washington, DC area. Not only did our screening sell out, but based on per screen attendance, Ava DuVernay’s film also outsold “Argo” as the highest grossing film during an opening weekend.

One of our most popular interviews was with Peju Alatise, a Nigerian mixed media artist. We also spoke with Noah Sow, who is an Afro-Punk musician. Her music style has branched off into different directions since then, but we interviewed her to discuss Punk as a culture and way of life.

In terms of events, Live Unchained, along with the University of Maryland’s Nyumburu Center and Institute for Policy Studies, hosted a film screening of Mya Baker’s “Silence in Search of Black Female Sexuality in America.” After the screening, we held a discussion about the film. Some really great questions were asked relating to what is viewed as appropriate sexuality and whether Black women have to live up to European standards of sexuality. I was really impressed with the dialogue.

We’ve also held an online creative collaborative event, a “digital potluck poem.”  I posted a blog where I started a poem with one line. Different lines were added to the poem by people who responded to the blog post. We received over 150 replies, including contributions from Farai Chideya and Pete Chatmon. The final piece was a poem collectively written about freedom and we had poet Tiffany Okafor read the full poem out loud.

More recently, we held Live Unchained’s anniversary celebration this past February. It was a cool event with various visual arts, music and food.  Live Unchained has been growing for 4 years now and the celebration allowed us to launch the crowd-funding campaign for our “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” awards ceremony (www.indiegogo.com/liveunchained).

(Laughs) I feel like I’ve rambled on with all of that! But really, Live Unchained has had the opportunity to work with so many great people and it’s exciting to be able to talk about it all.

CC:  What led to the idea of having the “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” awards ceremony?

KB:  We’ve wanted to honor the women we’ve featured on the Live Unchained site for a while now. They are usually very busy people and they graciously give their time by holding interviews with us voluntarily. The awards ceremony is our way of saying, “We appreciate you.”

When I first saw the video of the Warsan Shire poem, “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love,” I was really moved. And the line where she says, “you are terrifying and strange and beautiful” just stood out to me. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I shared the video with like every woman I know!

CC: (Laughs) I did the same thing when I first saw the video! I felt like it was the answer to so many questions.

KB: Exactly! I really embraced the terrifying, strange and beautiful line because I feel like it reflects all of the women we feature on the Live Unchained site. There are so many layers and complexity to who we are as women of African descent. We tend to be put into boxes that we don’t fit in. Live Unchained artists defy expectations and limitations. The “Terrifying, Strange & Beautiful” awards ceremony gives us a chance to show that you don’t have to compromise yourself to be accepted by someone else. Allow yourself to be terrifying, strange and beautiful.

CC: I love that. “Allow yourself to be terrifying, strange and beautiful.” What a great concept.

So I know Live Unchained is preparing to host the phenomenal Warsan Shire at the awards ceremony. Why Warsan? What about her work is significant? What is it that you want to highlight through Live Unchained?

KB: Well, in addition to bringing Warsan here to perform at the awards ceremony, she will also take part in a series of Live Unchained events leading up to it. She will host a workshop on healing through narrative and participate on a panel about cultural activism.

We chose Warsan because she is just so in line with the Live Unchained brand, in terms of honoring women of African descent. Her heritage means a lot to her, as does her femininity and womanhood. She is so incredibly talented. As a growing online magazine, Live Unchained features artists who take time to develop their craft. We respect her as an artist who is committed to her art. We also respect that her values of sisterhood, Africana pride, creativity and freedom are aligned with Live Unchained’s values; and with all that in mind, we thought she would be a great fit.

CC: Will there be other honorees at the awards ceremony? If so, will there be categories for the awards?

KB: The overall purpose of the ceremony is to honor all of the women who have contributed to Live Unchained, but we will have some specific categories to highlight women individually. The Sunrise Award will go to a female musician who is working hard to build her craft. She has never been any one’s opening act; like Damian Marley says, she is “the sunrise.” The Visual Genius Award will be presented to a woman who makes visual art that is smart and powerful. We will give a Sankofa Award to a woman who honors our African heritage and combines the past, present and future in her work. (As a side note, the Live Unchained logo is based on the Adinkra symbol for Sankofa. One of the English translations of Sankofa is “Go back and retrieve it.”) We’ll also be giving a LOL award to a comedienne; a woman who expresses art through humor.

We’ll also invite supporters to help construct two other awards categories. They’ll be able to do this online. More details will come closer to the event in fall 2014.

CC: It sounds like it’s going to be a great event. Do you already have supporters on board? How can the general public get involved?

KB: We are fortunate to already have some great supporters on board. Our Events and Media sponsors include: Paintings by J’Nell Jordan, Sonic Diaspora, Everybody is a Journalist, Create.Ture Fashion Studio by Michelle Robinson, Everlasting Life Café, Howard Film Culture, I AM WE Howard University Dance Troupe, Bon Bon Vie and Sondai Expressions.

You can learn more about the campaign and make an online donation through our indiegogo page: www.indiegogo/liveunchained.

We’re providing rewards for various contributions. They include beautifully designed art postcards,  “Terrifying, Strange and Beautiful” tee shirts and more.

There will also be volunteer opportunities available as we get closer to the event.

CC:  And how can folks get in touch with you to learn more about the campaign and about Live Unchained in general?

KB: You can reach Live Unchained through a variety of social media outlets. First, our website is: www.LiveUnchained.com.  We’re on Twitter: @liveunchained and on Facebook at: facebook.com/iliveunchained. We also have some videos at www.youtube.com/liveunchained.

You can also find us on Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest. I can be reached directly at: Kathryn@liveunchained.com.

CC: This has all been such great information. Any final thoughts you want to share?

KB: I just want to say that no contribution is too small. We greatly appreciate everyone supporting our campaign, from monetary donations to encouraging words. We don’t take anything for granted.

CC: Kathryn, it’s been great speaking with you. I’m excited to see all of the great work Live Unchained is going to continue to do. I’m also looking forward to the awards ceremony!

KB: It’s been great speaking with you as well. Thank you again for the opportunity!

Contact Information

Follow the author of “The Certified Chronicles” on Twitter: @biracialmama

www.LiveUnchained.com

@liveunchained

facebook.com/iliveunchained

pinterest.com/liveunchained

Instagram, Tumblr

“For Women Who Are Difficult To Love:”  vimeo.com/38766162


Magenta Moments

I am at an interesting place on my life’s journey. I know that I am on a path towards what I call my “free” and I’ve been feeling more enlightened than ever before. But admittedly, there are days when I feel like I am stuck in a rut. Where movement and growth seems to have plateaued. I call these times my magenta moments.  A term that I learned from one of my most favorite shows, “The Golden Girls.” There was an episode where Blanche said she was feeling a way. And it wasn’t green with envy, red with anger or blue with sadness, so she called it magenta. That always stuck with me and seems to be the perfect word and color to describe those moments where you’re not sure of what to do or where to turn.  This can be ever-so frustrating, and I try hard to shift my thoughts, repeat positive affirmations and engage with other like-minded people who are looking for more and better, so I don’t remain in that rut. As I am growing in Yoga, both in practicing and teaching, I know these are the moments when I need to hit the mat more than anything. For breathing, reflection, movement and turning within. And when I am unable to practice Yoga, there is music. My favorite artist singing a favorite song that seems to speak to exactly where I am in life at the moment.

Jill Scott is one of my most favorite magenta moments singers. With this rut I’ve been feeling lately, I’ve found myself often singing her song, “Hear My Call.” There is something so pure and honest about the rawness of her words. As I was driving into work this morning, I decided to share the lyrics and video. The one line that resonates with me the most simply asks: “Where is the turn…so I can get back to the old me?” Although I feel I am in a rut, I am determined to keep moving forward until I find my turn.

Thank you for letting me share my journey with you. Namaste.

“Hear My Call”

Here I am again asking questions,

Waiting to be moved.

I am so unsure of my perception,

What I thought I knew, I don’t seem to.

Where is the turn so I can get back to what I believe in?

Back to the old me and

God, please hear my call. I am afraid for me.

Love has burned me raw, I need your healing.

I am such a fool.

How did I get here?

Played by all the rules

Then they changed.

I am but a child to your vision,

Standing in the cold and the rain.

Lost here in the dark, I can’t see

My foot to take a step, what is happening?

Oh, this hurts  so bad. I can hardly breathe.

I  just want to leave so

God, please hear my call. I am afraid for me.

Love has burned me raw, I need your healing.

Please.