Monthly Archives: March 2017

Writing to Awaken

Last weekend, Grant Cooper and I participated in a workshop called Writing to Awaken at the Open Center in Manhattan.  It was facilitated by Mark Matousek, a writer who advocates for writing as a spiritual practice in order to find the (sometimes hidden) truths within ourselves.

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I really enjoyed the all day session though it was, in the end, a little tiring.  It takes work to delve into the shadow and see what gifts or wounds we hide from ourselves.  As Mark shares, by telling the truth we can change the story of our lives and be transformed in the process.

Even in just this one session, it was very clear that writing can have a transformative effect.  In the exercises we did and sharing of those, memories and insights percolated to the surface, and made me consider myself and my story as well as my place in the universe in new ways.  The story of self, Mark reminds us, is something that is always being created and recreated.  Self inquiry is a path to claiming all of our powers and can lead us to insights based on our experiences.

As conscious and spiritual beings, humans need story to understand who we are and to conceptualize where we are heading.  I really liked his idea that the ruptures of our lives, especially in early life, become “ground zero” for our spiritual striving.  Experiencing loss leads us to growth and uncovering the things inside of us that cannot be lost.  This is, in Mark’s words, “the doorway to self discovery.”  Our creativity, our sense of spirit, these are all wrapped up in the stories we tell about ourselves.

If fears represent opportunities, then writing about myself is a big opportunity for me!  It is exciting to consider where this avenue is going to lead.  Many thanks to Mark, who seemed to me to be patient, generous, and imbued with a grace that reflects wisdom gained in the world and comfort in his own skin.

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What I Learned from James Baldwin

Last week, Grant Cooper and I wrapped up a five-part reading and discussion series on the essays of African American writer James Baldwin at the Success Academy High School for the Liberal Arts in Manhattan.

At the final session, we asked the students, parents, and teachers present to take a moment and reflect upon what they would take away with them from the discussion series.  I was very moved by their thoughtful conclusions.

For example, one student wrote that “Language is the proof of power.”  She remembered back to the week when we discussed Baldwin’s powerful essay “If Black English Isn’t a Language Then What Is?”  We talked about the power of language and how language can be adapted by oppressed groups (like the Gullah people) and how sometimes the group in power tries to repress the language expression of a minority group (as in the censoring of rap groups like N.W.A. and the Geto Boys who spoke explicitly of racial oppression).   This student clearly understood Baldwin’s observation that “language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power.”

Another student reflected that “the harsh oppression of others can be overcome with knowledge.”  This is reminiscent of Baldwin’s “Letter to My Nephew” in which he observes that many people in white America are “in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.”  Knowledge of history is key, in Baldwin’s writing, to understanding and taking responsibility for the current realities of race in America.  Until a truthful examination of history becomes common knowledge, then progress will not be forthcoming.

Several attendees took away Baldwin’s message of love for humanity and, perhaps most importantly, the need for self love.  Even though Baldwin is often cited as an angry writer, his exasperation with American culture is founded on a profound love for his fellow man.  This is seen in many of his essays including “In Search of a Majority” where he notes that the common understanding of romantic love might be misplaced.  Rather than representing a clear and easy road forward, Baldwin writes, “Love is a battle, love is a war, love is a growing up.”

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These deeply felt conclusions by our discussion participants moved me to ponder what I had learned over the weeks of this discussion series.  I learned that the scholars at this high school are inquisitive and fun to engage with, and this is a testament to the fine teaching and dedicated staff of the high school.  I also learned that Baldwin’s work is an effective vehicle for grappling with the current political climate.  Perhaps it is because we started the series soon after the inauguration of the new president, but audiences of students, parents, teachers and administrators all seemed hungry to talk about the present situation.  Baldwin’s writing made that engagement meaningful and, as the principal pointed out after our second session, it was an “authentic” dialogue driven by the experiences of the older generation and the inquiries of the younger ones present.

Many heartfelt thanks to my co-facilitator Grant Cooper, to everyone at the high school, to Success Academies CEO Eva Moskowitz for making this series possible.  Thanks also to James Baldwin for continuing to inspire and help us understand the marvelous and deeply flawed country in which we live.  Working with these youthful scholars helps me to believe in positive change.  As Baldwin once wrote, “The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”

 

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Meditation on Saturday

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Join me at Zen Space Studio (450 7th Street in Hoboken, NJ) on Saturday 3/11 at 11:15 am.  I’ll be leading the morning meditation class.  The session is 45 minutes, and a fantastic way to start the weekend!  Sign up online or just drop in!


It does not matter if a cave has been in darkness for 10,000 years or half an hour, once you light a match it is illuminated.

Paramahansa Yogananda


 

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