It’s sort of beneath my dignity to have to say that I love and have loved quite a few white people, but let’s just put it out there:
Yes, some of my very best friends are white folks.
I’ve spent a great deal of time in predominately white suburbs of predominately white nations, predominately white schools and predominately white organic grocery stores.
By virtue of my minority status and choices, my life involves a lot of working, talking and loving across different types of racial lines. I’m a East-coast raised, Southern-born, multi-generational, multi-racial black woman of U.S. slave ancestry. Unsubstantiated, but persistent, rumor has it that there’s Irish on both sides of my family tree. My family (biological and chosen) includes a diverse array of beautiful people: loved ones from a variety of diasporas, a Haitian godmother, Jews whose families immigrated from Europe.
I have a lot to learn and much room for growth, but I live a relatively cosmopolitan life. I like the fact that my hapa girlfriend grew up between California and Tokyo, spent years in Africa and speaks French with a Senegalese accent. I’ve visited a dozen countries and spent a significant portion of my twenties living in Paris. In my personal life, I have made it my business to consciously learn and explore what interracial, anti-racist love looks like. My spirituality is deeply influenced by Eastern traditions and philosophies, including Buddhism and Hinduism (Advaita-Vedanta). As an anti-racist educator and a panentheisticnon-dualist, I know that who we are, on an existential level, has absolutely nothing to do with the social fiction of race.
And yet, I’m also intimately familiar with the social reality of our collective fictions. While I teach my students that our ideas about race are socially constructed, I also equip them to recognize and understand the very real consequences of past and present racism.
What I know for sure is that much of what people say about matters of race and love in public contributes to white supremacy.
If you follow this blog closely, you’ll know that I’ve been progressively letting go of my egoic attachment to hair. Earlier this year I did a big chop — with a pair of scissors, that resulted in 2/3 of my hair ending up on my bathroom floor.
Going short felt liberating. But something in me wanted to go all the way. It was not so much a question of if, as when. While visiting Thich Nhat Hanh’s Blue Cliff Monastery a few months ago, I spent some time with a few Buddhist nuns — women who deeply impressed me, not only with their wisdom and spiritual strength but also with their bald heads.
I’ve loved my shorter hair – so much so that I’ve documented the transformation with an endless stream of selfies that I periodically post on twitter. But all good things must come to an end.
As we’ve moved ever more deeply into the bowels of global warming the hottest summer ever, my fro, even in its diminished form, has just felt like too much to bear. It’s been really fucking hot on the East Coast this week. We’re talking day after day of 95+ with intense humidity. Even with just 1/3 of my hair on my head, my curly fro was a heat magnet. Yes, it was low maintenance — shower ‘n go — but I had to deal with all that heat stuck up in my head . . . and I’d wake up looking like Don King. Not that there’s anything wrong with Don King, but it really just wasn’t the “good morning” I was looking for.
Anywho, last night it occurred to me: If I’m tired of my hair, why am I still wearing it? What is keeping me from the big shave? In a flurry of excitement, I decided that I would go to the barber first thing in the morning. I almost attempted to shave it myself but, with five inches of hair on my head, and no barber skills whatsoever, reason won over enthusiasm.
It didn’t really feel like a decision so much as it felt like a calling. I was simply compelled to do it. If I have to come up with reasons, we could say it was personal, weather related and spiritual. For sure, it is a way of sacrificing a little more vanity (though I still have wellsprings where that came from) and practicing even more non-attachment to my pre-conceived notions of what beauty and femininity are all about. But really, there was no one reason. It just finally felt right.
So, here it is. My new look – and my first time being bald since I was a fetus. I was born with hair so this is literally the only time post-womb that I have moved about on Earth with an unencumbered scalp. It’s like meeting myself for the first time. I love it — and I love me, for having the courage to experience this freedom.
I am always reminded of this beautiful poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, when I am pained by injustice.
Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Had a chance to participate in a “Day of Mindfulness” at Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful Blue Cliff monastery during a trip to the Hudson valley this weekend. Reflections on the experience coming soon. In the meantime..
Out of the blue, I decided to check out Paris Jackson’s Twitter page. Okay, this really only occurred to me because her family’s been in the news about some disputes over money. I had read that Paris had reported her grandmother missing on her Twitter page. So, for the first and possibly only time in my life, I looked her up.
Having satisfied my curiosity, I was about to close the window until I saw — lo and behold – on the left side of the screen, ANOTHER BUDDHA.
This is so interesting in part because I’m more attracted to Advaita Vedanta (Hinduism), than to Buddhism, but Buddha keeps showing up. What does he want?
People in my life know that I make a big deal out of pleasant coincidences. I generally refer to these auspicious confluence of events as synchronicities.
I started noticing synchronicities a few years ago. For a while, I’d keep track of them in my journals. Then, there were so many that I simply could not keep track of them.
For a while, I tried to figure out why these cool and interesting things were happening. I noticed some patterns. My synchronicities:
– did not seem to concern terribly important things (i.e. life and death situations, huge decisions or existential issues)
– were generally pleasant and delightful
– made me happy
– seemed to happen in “batches”
Years ago, I gave up trying to figure out why they happen. I did read Carl Jung’s work on synchronicities with some interest, though I did not delve deeply into the psychoanalytic framework he uses. These days, I interpret cool coincidences as evidence that (1) I’m in the right place at the right time (2) the Universe/God/Angels/Beings of Light/Oprah were essentially reminding me that we live in a magical, matrix-like world (3) God loves me and has a sense of humor.
In any case, my recent trip to New England was full of cool synchronicities. The most noticeable coincidence was the plethora of Buddhas that seemed to follow my every step. When I arrived at my mom’s place in Portland, Maine, I noticed her collection of Buddha statues and took a few pictures. I had seen them before, but I felt some need to document them this time.
A few days later, I showed up at a friend’s place in Cambridge only to find a tiny Buddha statue on the bed in which I’d be sleeping. Again, I snapped a picture.
While walking in Harvard Square, I randomly bumped into a friend I hadn’t spoken with in years. That night, I swung by his apartment. At some point, I noticed a Buddha statue in one of the rooms. I was delighted, though not surprised, despite my friend being allergic to most things spiritual. He then proceeded to point out the half a dozen other Buddhas in his living room. An interesting conversation about the meaning of life, his interests in nature and my interests in Buddhism and especially Hinduism commenced.
Other coincidences during the trip (some less impressive than others):
(1) While driving through Cambridge, I felt compelled to stop by the Weeks Bridge, a beautiful pedestrian walkway that arches over the Charles River. The bridge overlooks my old place at Peabody Terrace, where I lived for 5 years as a graduate student at Harvard. I walked up the washed-out white steps of the bridge, beheld the water and entered into meditation while listening to the recording of my “Harvest Moon” cover (a song I’d become obsessed with). While on the bridge, I decided I wanted to grab a coffee. My heart led me to Petsi Pies, a cool cafe and bakery I used to frequent. At Petsi Pies, I ordered a mocha latte, still listening to my music. Then, I watched as they took down the morning menu and put up a chalk board for lunch. I blinked when I saw that the special of the day was the “Harvest Moon” sandwich. I’d never seen that there before, and they told me they didn’t have that special the previous day.
(2) Walking through the Cambridge Commons, a little park on Harvard’s campus, I noticed a couple walk past me. The woman was wearing a bright green summer dress with a striking gold necklace. Her hipster male friend had on a matching green t-shirt. About 55 minutes later, I walked back through the Commons to my car, and the same couple walked past me, in almost the exact same spot where we crossed paths an hour before.
(3) The Buddhas. The Buddhas!
(4) A lot of synchronicities seem to involve my bed. Staying in my friend Miriam’s home, I noticed that there was a TV box next to the bed where I would be sleeping. It said, in big letters: “BLACK CRYSTAL”. Okay, this one is a stretch, but it still made me smile.
(5) In my mother’s guestroom, I turned and saw a stack of books on the bedside table. One of the books said “Advaita” on its spine. I knew it was meant to be my book.
(6) At my friend’s Cambridge apartment, there was a Buddha on the bed in which I slept.
(7) Lying in bed at my friend’s place in Boston, I woke up to see a book on “Chi Running” on the floor nearby. The book explains a technique for running long distances without hurting one’s self — the subject of an extended conversation I had with someone about a week ago.
(8) Conversations with various people I did not know I would talk with revealed synchronistic interests, reflections and experiences that are too numerous to get into here . . .
This blog is a space for me to share realizations, questions and musings related to spirituality. It is inevitable not impossible that you may also stumble over posts about academia, France, thrifty fashion, cooking, champagne, cigars, social theory, activism, Mad Men and the existential angst of Blackness.
My spiritual practice draws upon two main principles at the core of a variety of Western and Eastern traditions:
(1) We are all interconnected
(2) What is real in existence is the conscious experience of the present moment
Improving group relations through harmonious cooperation, compassion, empathy and reconciliation depends upon our ability to recognize our fundamental ties to all other living beings. This is what Buddhist monk, poet and activist Thict Nhat Hanh refers to as “inter-being”.
My spiritual work lies at the intersection of nondual theology and philosophy within Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism. The common thread running throughout my academic, spiritual and social projects is an interest in promoting compassionate action and conscious awareness by bringing attention to the tools we can use to alleviate human suffering.