Belligerent Romance : song. heart. bravery.

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“…the only answer is to recklessly discard more armor.”
― Eric Maisel

 

I re-post this every year.  An anniversary of sorts.  So, if you’ve been down this road, please bear with me.  If not, enjoy.

On this morning 8 years ago, I was awakened rudely by construction in the neighborhood. I fought it for a time, but eventually gave in and hastened my exercise gear on. I got myself outside for a good walking meditation, and couldn’t get Hans’ song out of my head.

Angela.

There are actually lots of songs with my name in the title. The music from the television show Taxi is actually called Angela’s Theme. There’s Helen Reddy’s Angie Baby. Of course, the Stones’ iconic Angie. The Bee Gees have a song. Even Motley Crue, stealing lines from Hendrix’s The Wind Cries Mary with their own “when the winds cry Angela” lyric.

It can be heady, this idea of your name inspiring song after song, but then again none of them were written for me. So, how heady can I really get?

Until Hans. I was to be giving him a kidney in just two more days. This anticipated event had dragged out for nine excruciating bureaucratic months. My best friend pointed out the symbolic time frame as indicative of a kind of birth. But now it was finally arriving, and both of us (Hans and I) were bouncing off the walls in our own way. Me, I’d been doing these walking meditations every day for a month solid in preparation. It was equal parts exercise (I really hoofed it) and opportunity to live with my own thoughts before my day officially began with and in the world; to level myself and clear out my brain for the big day. I chanted, I did mantras, I worked out problems, I talked myself down from ledges, I rationalized behavior, I asked for forgiveness, I defended myself in imaginary arguments, and I thanked the Forces That Be for everything.

But on the walk 8 years ago today, all that activity got shoved to the various corners and crannies of my obsessive brain to make room for memories of the night before, going to see Hans play his guitar in a coffee house, and open his set with Angela . . . written for me.

Interestingly enough, almost all of the romantic relationships I’ve ever had have been with musicians and composers, and yet none of them has ever written a song for me. It is either a great poetic juxtaposition, or a really unsettling indication of the impact I have on the people I’m involved with. Of course, I’m also a songwriter, and I’ve never written a song for any one of them either. So, okay, maybe all it indicates is that every one of us is jaded and crusty and we’ve lost all sense of romance and inspiration.

Picasso painted every woman he ever fell for. What has happened to that kind of belligerent romance? The terrible compulsion to celebrate another human being?

So, hearing this song, sung by teenager Hans and his girlfriend and the drummer in his band, was a moment that had left me speechless and tearful. A moment that had made me realize that inspiration and romance do still exist…. they’re just hiding among the young. And if we still want to be touched by it, then the young are who we need to surround ourselves with.

So there I was, walking my regular route in the neighborhood, and trying to chant my daily mantra, which usually began with “Love, reign over me…” (I have tended to find much more prayerful intention in rock songs than I’ve ever found from anything biblical.) “ . . . make me mindful . . . give me grace . . . deliver me from need . . . fill me with wonder . . . ” etc. Sometimes I chanted for winning the lottery, but I do get that that’s not really how it works, and so those requests always came with tongue firmly planted in cheek. But on that morning I didn’t care about money or enlightenment.

On that morning, I was intoxicated by having had a song written for me, for the first time in my life. I felt like Marie-Thérèse, or Anaïs Nin, or Beethoven’s “immortal beloved”; women who have been painted, written about, composed for, dedicated symphonies. I highly recommend it. Being someone’s muse. It’s a high like no other.

As I walked, I completely tuned out the music that was blasting through the iPod buds wedged in my ear. Explanation: It’s easier for me to do my mantras against music; it’s a deliberate sensory overload; somehow things just stick themselves deeper in the subconscious when they’re too overloaded to have surface impact. It didn’t matter that day anyway; I had abandoned my Pete Townsend-inspired mantra and my downloaded pop tunes, to be flooded with Hans’ song. Or rather, the idea of Hans’ song.

A complete stranger who was walking my way held her palm up, and shouted “high five” as we passed each other. I obliged. First time I’d ever been accosted in that way. And I thought of this woman’s completely loopy bravery. Just to infiltrate a perfect stranger’s sphere, for a split second, and engage. What if I had refused her? Treated her the way we treat the bag ladies who pass us by? I wouldn’t be brave enough to throw my loopiness out there in that way; too afraid of rejection, of having someone look at me like I was nuts. And then I thought of the oddly shaped angle that I was practically on the eve of having surgeons cut me open and pull a kidney out of my body, yet here I was assured that I would’ve been too afraid to be silly on the street with a passing stranger. Which one really takes more bravery?

It takes a special kind of bravery to write a song for somebody. It takes letting down one’s cool guard and daring to show a little vulnerability. Letting the world peek into your opened and exposed heart. And most especially, letting the person for whom the song is written peek into your heart, daring to let them know that you feel, and that they have impacted your life enough to inspire public song.

I once had a boyfriend, a brilliant composer, who, with me, was one day listening to a song written by a friend of ours with a woman’s name in the title. He said, “I don’t think I could write a song with some woman’s name in the title.” He said this with a kind of pride in the claim. I felt sad for him. And sad for myself, as well, because I think that claim was my truth too. We’re all just too cool. Vulnerability is not attractive.

Leonard Bernstein’s Maria, from “Westside Story”, a song of truly loopy and delirious love.

Tom Waits’ Martha, an invocation of sweet, melancholy reminiscence.

The Beatles’ Michelle.

Elton John’s Daniel.

Brian’s Song.

Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.

The list goes on, and on, and encouragingly on. Who knows which of these is based on an actual person, or is merely the playground of fiction? And who cares? Either one still requires a level of unadulterated celebration, and a willingness to abandon cool, which makes someone ultra-cool in my book.

Hans is brave. He is brave to be a musician, going out there in the world for the scrutiny of the jaded. He is brave to have withstood years of debilitating dialysis, countless surgeries, stem cell experiments, catheters and fistulas implanted beneath his skin, and finally a transplant. But perhaps the bravest act of all was his daring to expose his great heart in so many ways, only one tiny example of which was the writing of a song entitled Angela.

 

(Two days later, on July 22, 2008, I successfully donated my kidney to Hans San Juan, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in Los Angeles, and Hans has been healthy ever since.)

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is a published author, a recipient of the Heritage Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums as a singer/songwriter, and a yoga/mindfulness CD. Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on INSTAGRAM & YOUTUBE.

UNEXPECTED ANGELS : A Perspective On Forgiveness

forgiveness

Ahhhh, Facebook.   It’s an odd and fascinating communications platform, when you consider that the very best of it has sometimes generated important grassroots movements, and that the very worst of it, because of the safety of our own home sitting at a computer, and that we aren’t obligated to put a human face to a name and profile avatar, has bred some of the most loathsome social behavior I’ve ever witnessed.  For me personally, the gold in Facebook has been the numerous long-lost friendships that, without social media, may never have been possible. On the other end, of course, is the odd stranger that we wonder why we’re Facebook friends with in the first place, and the crazy rantings that have required the socially devastating “unfriend”ing.  But every once in a great while, believe it or not, an actual life lesson can be found on Facebook.  Something unexpected and valuable lurking amid the sea of cute cat videos and vomit-mouth etiquette.

Here was mine, from a few weeks ago.  A friend posted a most disturbing video of a woman encouraging her child to savagely beat on another child at a playground.  It was shattering to watch.  And of the myriad feelings I had regarding the witness, the primary one was that we lose jobs when we’re terrible at them, and parenthood should fall within those same parameters, and I just prayed Social Services got a hold of that woman.

Many people weighed in on this post, expressing their outrage, as well.  One man was so outraged that he used epithets that clearly betrayed his ignorance of his audience. The N-word was bandied about pretty freely.  Gee, can you guess what race the woman in the video was?  I can genuinely say that what the woman’s racial or social demographic was didn’t even enter my mind for it being so overfilled with the horror of her act (which, by the way, Put-Upon White Man, happens in every race).

Before even weighing in on the contents of the video itself, my response to the post, which included the original poster’s own words “This is so shocking!” was, “Well, it looks like there’s equally shocking right here on this thread.”

I had to wonder, too, what kind of friends my friend had that this kind of blatantly racist response was even possible, until I reminded myself that I have said yes to friend requests countless times of people I don’t personally know, because as a working artist I’m always trying to expand an audience base, and, to be frank, I have “virtually” met some pretty amazing people on Facebook over the years.   And so, the reality is that with such a practice also comes the risk of inviting the periodic troll to infiltrate.

Another friend, Melanie, weighed in immediately after me.  Someone I actually do know personally. Someone I regard as a pretty sage woman.  She’s also African-American, like me, and had clearly also seen Put-Upon White Man’s rant too, because her comment right after mine was, “I know, Angela, right???? Lord have mercy!”

A few others made similar comments.  What fascinates me still, even as I reflect on this thing that happened a few weeks ago, is that most of the comments were reactions to PUWM’s rant, not the video. His own ire at the video (we all shared that!), which just HAD to go to a very nasty place, had completely overshadowed the horror on the video.  Because this nastiness was right in our backyards.  Who is this friend of my friend, who would rather spit in my face than shake my hand? is the shuddering subtext. That two-degrees of separation is too damned close!

I kept tuning in to see how this thread would grow, because frankly I was waiting for my friend (the original poster of the post) to get on here and condemn this man.  She never did, nor ever weighed in again beyond the original posting of the video.  But I’m very glad that I did keep tuning in, because of what unfolded next.

First off, after a fashion I noticed that PUWM’s original rant had been deleted.  And then somewhere down the line of this thread, maybe 10 or 12 comments in, he weighed in a second time.  His comment this time was an apology.  And not one of those defensive apologies we’ve all had to roll our eyes at from time to time.  He owned his racial outburst, iterated that he’d been so blinded by his rage over this video, which had broken his heart, but copping to it being absolutely no excuse, and ended with “Please forgive me, ladies….” addressing the myriad women who had commented on his rant, and lastly, “Lord forgive me.” And before I could even react to it, directly afterwards was my friend Melanie’s response to that:  “Thank you, Mark.  That is appreciated.  We need to pray for that woman and her children.”

Okay, so at this point I’ll stop calling him PUWM.  He has a name.  It’s Mark.  And yes, even Mark deserves to be called out by his Christian name, and not Put-Upon White Man, which, admittedly, has been my way of showing him zero respect, because it’s become such a cliché, and I felt like reducing him to the cliché, because, guess what? . . . I’m goddamned mad too.

I have to admit, I was stunned by Melanie’s ready acceptance of Mark’s apology.  She and I share a very similar spiritual path of compassion & empathy, and consciousness-based cultivation, and we are both huge believers in forgiveness.  I just hadn’t determined whether I was ready yet.  But Melanie didn’t need to decide if she was ready.  Melanie leapt.  Melanie forgave.  Melanie chose the higher road, without question, without needing to be ready.

It really did take me a minute to adjust this thinking, to wonder how she could do this so effortlessly, to have to face that my ball of fury had just had a pin pricked into it, and was deflating rapidly into a flat, self-righteous platitude.  My own initial gut feeling was that Mark was only offering this apology because he got nailed on his abhorrent behavior, and that anyone who is capable of that language, and the intent and belief behind the language, will be absolutely capable of it again.  Just give him another circumstance, a fresh audience, and sumpn’ else for him to be raging about.  But did I know this for certain?  That his apology wasn’t genuine?  That he hadn’t really thought about his irresponsible and hurtful words?

What if Mark had had his heart truly opened by this exchange, had offered his amends, and then been shunned and dismissed?  What, then, would that say about the sacred principle of forgiveness? Something pretty shameful, I’d say.  Melanie wasn’t about to try and second-guess Mark’s intentions; her ONLY option was to put noble principle into healing practice.  If Mark’s apology really wasn’t the real thing, if there was just a whole lotta bullshit goin’ on, that’s for Mark’s soul to wrestle with.

And so, while that was murky at best for me to wade through, it was as clear as a fresh spring to Melanie, my beautiful guru-mama sister-friend.

I carefully decided to say something myself.  My instinctive thought was yeah, whatever, and not to respond at all.  But in the spirit of my dear compassionate friend Melanie, and my own spiritual practice of forgiveness, I also offered a “thank you” to Mark, followed by, “The video broke my heart too.”

In those simple words  –  Melanie’s: “We need to pray for that woman and her children,” and mine: “The video broke my heart too,”  –  we let Mark know that the feelings about this heinous video were shared by us all, Black and White, male and female, Democrat and Republican, Christian and Atheist.  Us, them.  Whatever and Whatever. That there is actually more that connects us than there is that separates us, if we’re willing to see it.  What an opportunity to offer healing, when my own instinct would’ve been to let the opportunity slip right through my fingers, and remain in the huff that someone else’s hate had engendered.  Mark walked away changed too; that was evident in his further comments.  He probably hadn’t ever thought, for a minute, that his apology would be welcomed and accepted.  And if it had just been me alone out there reacting to his rant, it wouldn’t’ve been.  So, thank you, Melanie, for reminding me.  Yep, folks, a true spiritual practice requires rigorous renewal every single day, and unexpected angels and bodhisattvas to show us how.

In illustrating how much more connected we are than separate, a wall was torn down.  It humanized everything. And that could ONLY have happened by a willingness for forgiveness.  Melanie had thrown down the healing gauntlet.  In a landscape of nothing but enraged hearts, how brave to be the one.

Forgiveness is a funny thing.  It shouldn’t be.  It should be startlingly clear.  When Dylann Roof committed one of the most heinous single crimes in our recent history, the people least likely to, the families of the shooting victims, forgave.  I personally was floored.  It restored my lately-waning faith in humanity.  But who on earth would ever think that instead of being absolutely lifted by this example, as I was, that there would be a backlash to it?   Of course, there’s always going to be a militant response to such compassionate practice, people who are natural warriors, who believe morally in an eye for an eye.  And I would even venture to say that most of us who aren’t militant would look at such compassion, and admire it even as we are admitting we’d never be able to do that.  But the overwhelming backlash seems to be coming from the mainstream community, and not just asserting that we can’t do it but that we shouldn’t.  The angle being that it finds these forgivers to be suckers, for lack of a kinder word.  The charge is weakness, gullibility, and allowance of further racist behavior.

One article I found interesting and quite intelligent, in spite of the fact that I disagree with its fundamental creed, is by Stacey Patton for the Washington Post.  The prevailing thought in this article is that Black America is the only culture expected to forgive its racist perpetrators.  No one expects forgiveness toward al-Qaeda or ISIS.  No one expects the Jews to forgive the Nazis.  But Black America is pressured to forgive when the conflict is race.  And when forgiveness is given, all Black America is doing is allowing more and more offenses to be made.

“Black people are not allowed to express unbridled grief or rage, even under the most horrific circumstances.”

Allowed?  At least in this country, we all have the complete free will to choose how we feel, and how we will heal.  And the trap to fall in is to assume that because there is a choice made to forgive, that grief or rage are not present.  Even by framing the phrase “politics of forgiveness”  Ms. Patton politicizes a basic tenet of grace and love.  There is no politics to this.  You either practice it or you don’t.  It advances no agenda other than grace and love itself.

The most poignant thing Ms. Patton says is:

“. . . offering absolution to Roof is about relieving the burden of anger and pain of being victimized.  In this regard, forgiveness functions as a kind of protest, a refusal to be reduced to victims.  It sends the message to the killer that he may have hurt them, but they are the true victors because they have not been destroyed.”

This I passionately agree with.  But she then counters it with the pronouncement that there is a demand by White America for this forgiveness.  Demand?  You can bet that White America was as stunned as anyone when these families chose the higher ground.  Besides, how insulting to the intelligence of these compassionate soldiers Ms. Patton’s insinuation that White America is somehow their puppet-master, pulling strings.

I also challenge Ms. Patton’s claim that when Black America, especially of the Christian ilk, subscribes to the philosophy of forgiveness, it is being done out of some investment in the hereafter, a kind of E-ticket to Glory. Heaven or not, the only true salvation for this fractured present-day culture will be in cultivating that tenet for the life we are living right here, right now.

What seems not to be a part of the argument, at least in this article, is that to refuse to forgive is to keep oneself spiritually enslaved.

It’s important to know what forgiveness is.  It may be even more important to know what it isn’t.

Forgiveness isn’t permission.  Forgiveness isn’t forgetting.  Forgiveness isn’t remotely weak. Forgiveness IS rising above.  Refusing to fuel.  Bringing to the table a different kind of challenge.  And just possibly, changing that landscape.

There are many valid and insightful points that this article makes, and so I do urge you to read it.  But while we are cautioned by Ms. Patton not to give forgiveness quite so quickly, from my own micro-example of that very dynamic, I can personally attest that when my friend Melanie gave it quickly, the entire landscape shifted from people divided to people communicating passionately together about the original problem (that horrendous video of mother and child).  Healing was right in front of us.  A coming together and acknowledgement of what connects us more than what divides us that would NEVER have happened had rage been met with more rage, and heads banged.  Me, I was ready to put up some dukes and be a part of the fray.  But it wouldn’t have been the right choice.  And a golden opportunity would’ve been tragically missed.

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.  Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

MINDFUL EATING : Letting Go of a Bad Relationship To Forge a New Loving One

Mindfuleating2

 

“To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint,
all things are friendly and sacred,
all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

It has lately occurred to me that food, and one’s approach to food, even the enjoyment of it, would be greatly enhanced by looking at the whole affair from a sacred, spiritual standpoint.   It’s hardly a new idea.   Religions the world over have historically had rituals regarding the consumption of food.   From the Holy Communion of Catholicism to the Kosher Laws of Judaism to the spiritual fasting observed by many religions, food and the consumption of food have played a pivotal role in the development of the soul.

I have struggled with food my whole life.  I’ve either seriously dieted and lived in grumpy privation, or I’ve emotionally eaten and found myself in food stupors, blocking out some deep pain body, or I’ve thrown hands up, not cared, and gotten real depraved with it.   Actually “not cared” isn’t exactly accurate.  I’ve always cared, always been preoccupied, always been obsessed, always felt the pressure from society, boyfriends, even colleagues (because I happen to be in a business where what I look like matters greatly), to look a certain way and to maintain that, in no uncertain terms.  I was pretty successful at maintaining a look and a weight for most of my adult life, but not without the help of a lot of compulsive behaviors.  When menopause hit and I gained nearly 50 pounds, and then kept that on for the better part of the last ten years, making the new weight my body’s new set point, efforts to get back to where I’d mainly been my whole life were proving insurmountable, and really only succeeded in enhancing what was already a fairly dysfunctional relationship with food.  I’ve never starved myself, or binged/purged;  my issues surrounding food have been a lot subtler than that, making the whole panorama of eating and body dysmorphic issues much more complex and nuanced than popular media ever gives us to understand.

That’s my eating background, in a brief nutshell.  Nothing devastating, just the nuanced struggles of a middle-class American girl pressured by a quintessentially middle-class American pastime – dieting.   And so now to this recent dawning.  I’ve been on a spiritual road for some time now, some of it documented on this blog, some of it hinted at in the various memoir I’ve put out there, some of it, as well, remaining deeply private, and all in the service of bettering who I am, healing what has ailed me, and coming closer to the divine and to an internal peace in the realm of higher consciousness.  I made a recent decision to start approaching the ritual of eating from a sacred standpoint.  So now, what exactly does that mean?

To begin with, the world is filled with far too many people who are without food, who would give their right arm for a bowl of porridge, and would consider that bowl sacred, because it is so rare.  How can I possibly continue to live in this life where I have never once had to go without, and not value the privilege that I have been given?   And so, a new commitment is beginning for me.  It is my effort to heal what is sore between food and me.

I want to rise above my animal self, the hungers, the desires, that root chakra governance that is primal and is all about brute survival by any means, and instead appeal to that higher seventh chakra state of grace that is beyond the limited senses.  I wonder if that isn’t what’s behind the spiritual practice of fasting.  The idea of denying those base urges in us, in order to push through a veil to experience what’s on the other side.  When we’re stripped of our animal nature, what’s left?  What are we?  What are we capable of?  What are our limitations?  Our possibilities?  Fasting is not an easy thing to do, and this essay isn’t about that, but I think we can make that same journey by deeming the act of feeding ourselves a sacred one, like baptism or the Eucharist.  It’s a wacky thought perhaps; this largely social covenant (think of the countless meals portrayed on Sex and the City) reduced to a stodgy sacramental rite.  Yuck, you may be thinking.  “Taking the joy right out of eating, Angela . . . gee thanks!”   Well, maybe.  Bear with me for a minute.  Because for me, the way things have been for awhile now is that there are far more meals I consume than the number of them that I actually enjoy and have a wonderfully epicurean experience with. I am moved by this idea that the experience can be so much more, and consistently so, and at the same time achieve a transcendence in consciousness.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other.  And, for better or for worse, I am moved by it just as compellingly as it is also my belief that this will be incredibly difficult for me to adopt. But I’m giving it a go. Have already begun so, in fact.  And I’ll let you know how it works out.  Here’s the basic game plan.

  1. Blessing each meal.  It’s such an old-fashioned notion.  My childhood always involved grace at the dinner table, usually done by my father, or my grandfather if the meal included extended family.  But once adulthood hit, I sort of never really thought about it again except for those occasions of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with the family, where it’s a ritual that’s still employed.  My brother Mike is usually the designated grace-giver, because he is the one person who never gave up the practice.  Privately from me was always a reaction of, “isn’t this charming?”  And yes, I admit, there has been a bit of condescension, as well as actually being charmed, in the thought.  But at a recent family gathering, I found myself reacting very differently for the first time to my brother’s bowed head and earnest mutterings.  The word charming never entered my head.  Powerful, meaningful . . . these were the words that hit me this time, and I couldn’t possibly tell you why, so out of the blue, but it actually re-purposed the experience of eating the meal that was in front of me.  Gratitude is the theme with this one.  Many in the world go without.  So, because I have never had to, the need to give thanks for the bountiful straw that I drew in this life suddenly became compelling.  I talked about this very briefly a couple of articles back.  I just need to be truly thankful every day, and putting that practice in a ritual form is the surest way to keep me always in grace (pun most definitely intended).   When every meal becomes meaningful and cherished, it makes just grabbing a handful because you’re passing by the bowl, or grazing mindlessly and finishing the whole bag out of boredom or restlessness, increasingly meaning-LESS, even, dare I say it, disrespectful in the face of those for whom a meal is a rare, momentous, and lifesaving gift.
  1. Preparing as many of my meals as possible with my own two hands.  There will be times when I go out with friends, and we commune over lunch or dinner.  That is a ritual to cherish, for certain.  There will be times when I’ve been invited to someone’s house for dinner.  There are certainly times every week when I’m on a job, and I need to eat.  But other than those examples, gone largely now is the choice to grab take-out when there’s only me, when the option to prepare my food at home instead exists.  I’ll almost always choose the cooking.  And I am choosing to cook and prepare my meals from a Zen perspective.  Meaning to notice and appreciate every move, every moment, every flick of the wrist in mixing ingredients, every whisk, every rinse, every dice, every spice.  Even the selection of ingredients, which means I am having to adopt a more mindful approach to grocery shopping.
  1. Shopping local and organic (or growing my own!).  I don’t presently have a living situation where I can grow my own, other than to try my damnedest to keep my apartment windowsill pots of mint and basil alive.  But if the means exists, I can’t think of a more perfect way to cultivate a sense of the sacred than nurturing one’s food from seed, bulb, or stalk, to fruition with one’s own hands?  I know more and more people who are growing or raising their own, and the practice has changed their lives.  For me, for now, the very least I can do is make the commitment to finding stores in my neighborhood that promote and support local farmers, so that what goes in my body is clean, and is no longer supporting the corporate machinery of factory food production, which is dubious at best.  I’ve been nutrition-conscious for many years, actually.  I’ve read every health guru from Andrew Weil to Gary Null, and have largely tried to live by whole food tenets (while, of course, veering recklessly enough whenever the emotional components to my eating would kick in).  But this experiment marks the first time I’ve actually sought to minimize my participation in Food Incorporated, and support local and organic.  This also means that if I have to go into a mainstream grocery market, I choose to shop on the end aisles where all the unprocessed, unrefined, LIVE foods reside.  Everything in the middle aisles is boxed, canned, packaged, processed, and prefabbed, usually with far more than just the food itself inside, making it a very iffy proposition from a health standpoint.  Our bodies deserve better.
  1. Listening to my body.  But also listening to my urges.  Urges and cravings exist to compensate for something that is missing.  It might be a nutritional lack.  More often than not, it’s an emotional one.  That’s the time to slow down, examine the urge, not judge it (also a challenge for me), and respond to it in a way that only supports the sacred nature of this experiment.  If the answer I get from my soul is that I need to be addressing something, or letting go of something, then I need to do my best to go about that task, instead of burying it with nullifying food. Because here’s the thing:  Food can be our greatest enemy OR our greatest ally; the trick is in determining exactly what our relationship with it is going to be.  Abusive or cherishing.
  1. Being done with “diets.”  And punishment. And needing to answer everyone else’s call about how I’m supposed to look, with none of those pressures any more obnoxious than my own impatient, unforgiving self-demands.  Instead, allow my eating in a mindful and sacred way to do the job of transforming my brain, my heart, and the rest of my body into a precious, godly vessel.
  1. Eating without distraction. And instead, putting my focus on the ritual itself.  Appreciating every bite, every swallow; once again, the Zen approach.  As opposed to stuffing my mouth mindlessly while watching a movie, or checking email, or grabbing food on the hurried go, and juggling a jaw full of food and a steering wheel at the same time, and not even paying attention to my eventual fullness, or to the taste experience. That one is hard for me. I have such a restless, antsy brain that JUST sitting and eating, and doing nothing else except enjoying the sensory experience of a delicious meal goes completely against my life’s experience. I’ve always eaten while multi-tasking, if I’m eating alone. Doing nothing except eating my meal is essentially a meditation. And while I’ve been an ardent meditator for many years, this idea is easily the most radical of them all for me. And therefore the one I am most determined to accomplish.

I am a firm believer in food as medicine. Food can change our brains and our health, because it contains information that talks to our genes.  It’s serious stuff.  So, why have I lived my entire life regarding it sloppily and cavalierly at best?  That’s the question I’m trying to answer even as I write this, and as I venture forward in this experiment with a new appreciation for every meal I’m blessed to partake in.

The first night that I tried shutting off the TV and the computer, and putting my phone away, and just cooking a meal . . . and then setting my table . . . and then putting on some music (actually the music was playing during the cooking . . . very peaceful evening this was), and then sitting down and eating my meal, it was a transplendent experience.  I was truly in the moment.  I blessed the food I was about to cook, and then I blessed it again as I sat down to eat.  I took my time. I didn’t go back for seconds, because I didn’t need to.  I’m accustomed to going back for seconds.  Usually because I’ve shoveled my food into the trough so fast, while watching some fast-paced movie or something equally agitating online, and so the rhythm of my external stimuli would be matched and mimicked by the fork-to-mouth action, and simply wouldn’t stop.  Plus I’m a musician for my living; having a 15-minute break on a gig that’s designated for the meal they offer you has borne some very gastrically-abusing habits among my musician cohorts.  I learned to be a fast eater, and then the habit stuck even beyond being on a gig.  This first night in this new experiment, I ate slowly.  I thoroughly enjoyed the taste sensations.  I relished in the art of food pairing.  And I let the world and the evening go by, as I luxuriated (yes, I can actually claim luxuriating) in the experience of my dinner.  I also realize that not nearly every night, nor every meal, will be that magical.  There will be the occasions when my mood is terse, perhaps my day has been a challenge, and I won’t feel like cooking, or I won’t feel like gracing, and all I’ll want to do is mainline the drug that food can be with the wrong infusion, into the gullet, and numb out.  But I figure, it’s a one-day-at-a-time kind of thing, like AA.  Like any program that attempts to repair something that is out of spiritual alignment.  It’s a mountain.  And I’ll need to be prepared to climb it daily.

During the formulating of this idea, and writing about it, I’ve had to ask myself (if my creed here is truly vigilant honesty, and that’s been my claim) if all of this isn’t just a new scheme, of the gaggle of them that I’ve tried, toward trying to lose weight.  And while I can’t say that isn’t a factor, the truth is I am looking for something deeper.  I’m in this whole thing for a spiritual revolution.  An uprising from my innards, pulling at every thread in my sight lines and my insight lines, that will help to weave me right into the tapestry of interconnected consciousness and the frequency of infinite realms and possibilities.  I know, I know, I’ve gone off the reservation a bit with the flower-child rhetoric.  But I assure you it isn’t without focus or substance.  And it’s already happening, this personal revolution, unfolding layer by layer by layer, a tiny bit each day.

I heard an anecdote recently about some Buddhist monks who, in an effort to protect their sacred Buddha monument from Burmese soldiers, covered their beloved statue in mud, knowing that the soldiers would find no material value in a statue made of clay, when what was hiding beneath its clay cloak was a monument made of gold.  And the story was told in the context of the very fitting metaphor for this idea that our true value can often be hidden beneath layers of mud, or, in our contemporary parlance, baggage.  And what that parable is meant to suggest is that the spiritual journey is really more about subtraction than addition.  We are already complete beneath our wounds and our fears, and through the process of shedding layer after layer to reveal our sovereign splendor, we become lighter and lighter, freer and freer.

This new eating thing?   It’s just a layer.

 

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine thy food.” – Hippocrates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

A Glimpse of Grace

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Last year at Thanksgiving I published an article about the song Amazing Grace, which seemed fitting for a holiday meant to honor gratitude.   This year, as we prepare our tables, I offer you a remembrance from one of my own Thanksgivings past.   A consummate illustration of grace.  And which, in whatever form, is always amazing.

Autumn, 1978.  The Jonestown massacre had just splashed across the nation’s newspapers, and my mother protectively drew her family into her bosom in an almost hysterical way.  She was due to be the keynote speaker at a conference in Atlanta just a few days after the coming Thanksgiving.  She often traveled for business, leaving us to hold down the fort, but this time decided that the whole family would go with her, take off early, and make a little vacation out of it.  On Thanksgiving morning, we piled into a roomy, rented twenty-six-footer RV mobile home, and headed east on Interstate 10.  I had just gotten my driver’s license, and my stepfather promised that I could have a try behind the wheel of the behemoth, probably somewhere out in the desert, where there would be fewer other cars for me to endanger.

My mother and her best friend Dolores (whose kids were with their father for the holiday, so she was joining) had packed the RV with all that would be needed to prepare a turkey feast, and with Dad at the wheel the women immediately commenced to cooking in the small kitchenette of the RV.  The plan was that wherever we were by the time dinner was ready was where we’d stop and have our Thanksgiving dinner.  The two of them took up the whole middle section, which included the kitchenette on one side of the RV and a large table for eating on the other, against a huge picture window, and which immediately got covered with all the food preparation.  My sister Pam, brother Mike, and I were mainly relegated to the back, an area that was much like a large restaurant booth and table, around which we sat with our many board games, and stared out of the large back window onto the vista of road behind us.  Above us were pull-out bunks for sleeping.  Mike ran back and forth between the stern to riding shotgun with Dad.  The women kept begging him find a spot and sit still.  Yeah, good luck with that.

The whole way across California, and by the time we hit the Colorado River, Mike and I had just about exhausted the adults with our impressions of bits from our favorite TV shows and hit songs, and I even shared some of my teen-angst poetry with Dolores, who seemed genuinely interested in it, though I’m pretty sure none of it was very good.  She was just great that way.  Pam had her head buried in a book, a constant place for my bookworm sister.

My stepdad was a bit of a video recording fanatic, so from the moment he invested in his new camera our family wasn’t given much peace or privacy.  On this trip Mike was in charge of the camera whenever Dad was doing the driving.  And while Dolores would shy away any time Mike aimed the camera her way, my mother was in her Norma Desmond element, always ready for her close-up.  Pam and I hammed it up whenever Mike aimed the lens our way, and Dad couldn’t help micro-managing Mike’s shooting technique from the driver’s seat.

“You’re not doing it right. Here, let me show you.”

Mike ended up being responsible for lots of accidental vérité-like shots, but then, frankly, so did my stepfather, who often forgot that the camera was still on when he’d lay it on its side to go do something else.  The shot would be a thrilling twenty-minute study of an ant crawling across the sideways table.  Andy Warhol would’ve been proud.

And all the while, the women cooked.

Cooking was a calling for my mother.  If she was in the kitchen, we knew an old-fashioned jubilee was about to happen.  At home I had often watched her when she’d make her monkey bread.  And sometimes she’d even try to teach me a few things.  It would be an all-day affair.  Learning to scald milk, which is a delicate procedure that requires precise timing and a hands-on skill.  Feeling the yeast between my fingers and dipping it in the lukewarm water.  Adding just a pinch of sugar to the softened paste, then watching it dissolve.  Separating the egg whites from their yokes, and adding them to the yeast paste.  Watching the miraculous alchemy of flour and milk and yeast and eggs become dough, dusted then kneaded.  The sensual nature of my mother’s hands to the sticky white mixture, and the way she’d dip her fingers into the velvety flour in order to handle the doughy mound, was artful.  She never rushed it.

The soft mound was then left in a glass bowl to rise.  She would always declare the watched pot never boils edict to me whenever I wanted to stare at it while it rose, but all I wanted to do was stare at it while it rose.  And once it was ready to be brought back out to the wooden block, perhaps an hour later, she would knead it some more.  A rolling pin would lay it out large and flat, and the flick of her wrist was something to see.

Next would come that part of the ritual in which the whole family was encouraged to participate.  We’d each take a diamond-shaped cookie cutter, several of which she’d collected over the years, and carve out squares that we would then dip individually into a pot of melted butter, and place in a Bundt pan.

Layer upon layer of little buttered squares would fill up the pan, which would then be placed in the oven, until some forty-five minutes later the bubbling brown masterpiece, with the molten jigsaw puzzle resemblance, would be a most aromatic table centerpiece quickly devoured.

This age-old Southern-tradition side dish is called monkey bread because when it’s turned over and released from the Bundt pan onto a bread platter it merely needs to be pulled apart with one’s fingers, not cut with a knife, and that was an especially enticing notion for us kids.  My mother made a pretty spectacular monkey bread.

I loved watching her stand back and enjoy satisfying her family’s bellies, and I knew that this, for her, was a kind of sacred meditation.

So, though we were all having a ball driving through town after town, on this holiday mobile-home odyssey, singing songs, telling jokes, and either ducking or mugging for the video camera, my mother never lost her stride or focus in preparing our food.  Dolores was equal to the task with her revered soul-food pigs feet and hot-water cornbread, but it was my mother whom I’d watched and studied for more years than I’d ever put into homework, so her talent was palpable for me.

Before long, the RV cabin started to fill up with the aroma of turkey and oyster stuffing, and yams laden with marshmallows and brown sugar, and sweet potato pie, and collard greens and cabbage, and macaroni and cheese, and lima bean casserole, and the famous monkey bread (which was actually prepared at home, and brought with).  It was insane and inexplicable how Martha and Dolores had managed to accomplish all of this culinary breadth in the tiny kitchen of this moving tin-can.  And that fact was only a testament to their cooking prowess.

It was still daylight but inching toward dusk by the time dinner was called, and we were in the middle of the desert somewhere in Arizona.  I’d finally been given my turn to do the driving.  I hadn’t killed us, or anyone else, but I had made a few precarious lane changes that had my mother and Dolores yelling at me, for almost losing a bowl or a dish to the ground.

“Sorry!” I would yell, while secretly giggling and feeling my oats.

Dad filmed the whole thing, laughing at my cowgirl driving and Martha and Dolores trying to hold onto the pots and pans.

I continued to drive only until we spotted a rest stop with a cluster of picnic tables off the highway.  I parked.  We all stepped outside.  The air was cold and crisp.  Colder than we Angelenos were accustomed to.  We bundled up in our various parkas.   There was no one in sight.   Because who plans picnics at the threshold of winter?  In the middle of the desert?  On Thanksgiving?

We all unloaded the many suitcases that my mother had packed into the undercarriage of the RV, and dragged the heavy things out to one of the picnic tables.  While Mike and I immediately commenced to chasing jackrabbits, and while my stepfather found his challenge in keeping up with a camera perpetually glued to his eye, my mother, with Pam’s and Dolores’ assistance, began to unearth from the suitcases her prized Dutch linen table cloth, the eight matching napkins, her silk Damask table runner, crystal water goblets that had been carefully bubble-wrapped, silver place-settings and napkin rings, china, candles, and an ornate candelabrum.  I mean, this thing could rival anything that ever sat on Liberace’s grand piano.  It was like watching a magician pull the kitchen sink out of his top hat.  And she proceeded to transform the prickly, cactus-surrounded dust bowl of rough and tumble nature that we’d claimed as ours for the afternoon into a dining experience for kings.  And thought nothing of the peculiarity in the whole affair.

My stepfather managed to capture all of her nutty splendor on tape (though it is fairly heartbreaking that some nearly 40 years later that cherished video footage has been lost).

She then yelled for Mike and me to stop chasing rabbits unless we intended on capturing one to go with dinner, which had us screaming in mock horror, and she bade us help her unload the RV of the many hot platters and fragrant casserole dishes and steaming pots and containers, and we took them, in several trips, over to the finely dressed table.

And right there in the middle of endless Arizona horizon and desert stillness, save for the periodic lizard or tumbleweed that might scamper by, and as the sun began to set, leaving us with only a dusted dusk and my mother’s candlelight, we bundled up in our coats, we sat to a king’s spread, we bowed our heads, and we held hands as Martha prayed, “Thank you for blessing this food that we are about to receive, for the nourishment of our bodies, and for the love and communing of family.  Amen.”  We raised our glasses to toast the feast, dug in to ridiculously mouthwatering fare, and absolutely loved the crazy novelty of it all.

Grace was not a word often associated with my audacious mother.  But like catching a shooting star in one’s periphery, I would see, just here and there in my growing up, brilliant evidence of it.  Sometimes in only tiny, fleeting swatches.  At other times still, as with our never-to-be-forgotten wilderness Thanksgiving, it would scream out in bold strokes of wild color, like a magnificent comet.

 

 

From the upcoming “Fiercely Sweetly”
© 2014 angela carole brown

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, is a recipient of the Heritage/Soulword Magazine Award in poetry, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

My World Broken Open

Parched earth

 

All of last year, I made bold claims about 2014 being a paradigm-shifting year. I even went so far as to say that this gut feeling was not just personal but global.  I still make the claim, frankly; still feel it happening all around me.  But as for my own personal shift, thus far it has unfolded in ways I did not see coming, and have with equal measure both cursed and taken into my embrace like a greedy child.   And the year’s only halfway up.

First off, a confession.  A good part of my “predictions” about this shift were shaped by the practice we’ve all come to be familiar with in this trending age:  The Secret.  And I was doing as prescribed.  Manifesting.   Walking in the world as if.   For the record, a good part of the claim, as well, genuinely resided in my gut’s intuition.  But let’s focus on the other for a minute.

One thing that happened to me this year was a very large, very significant book prize that my novel was in the running for.  I didn’t tell a soul about it.  I knew that winning this could potentially change my life, especially in light of the fact that my book is published under my own established imprint, and not a traditional publishing house.  I spent weeks and months twisting myself into “manifesting” pretzels walking the walk, and praying every day for an outcome that would break open my little life.  I went so far as to say publicly that my life would change significantly in 2014.  I wouldn’t say why. I didn’t want to jinx it.  Plus, a little mystique is never a bad thing.  It would just happen, my life would change, and it would be so huge that no effort from me would even be needed to break the news to my world.  MY world would become THE world.  Well, break open it did, my little life.  But in ways that are only visible to me, that have nothing to do with material achievement, for sure not the book prize I had coveted, and certainly nothing to do with others’ perception of me, which has always been a significant engine for me.

(I wear the mask almost too well of marching to my own drummer and not caring how I come off to others, but I am secretly and remarkably fragile in that area.)

I did not receive that book prize I had worked hard for and claimed as mine with all of my manifesting might and rhetoric.  And it was a blow I did not recover from very easily.  I have (fast forward to right now) indeed recovered, but it was a mountain to climb.  A mountain that included several summits where the air was so thin my lungs felt crushed.  No, I can’t ever resist an obnoxious metaphor.  Hey, maybe there’s a clue why I didn’t win the book prize.

But yes, the mountain summit.   Lung-explosion.  Enlightenment.  All those things associated with the spiritual trek that is Everest most certainly happened to me in the days following the book prize letdown.

Did the author who took home the honor practice the principles of The Secret, I wondered in jealousy and bitterness?   And if so, was it because he or she had mastered a technique that I hadn’t?  I was downright irascible in wondering why not me, when I had manifested the Hell all outta my shit.  Almost busted a vessel in my neck with all my manifestin’ (can you envision the dance? . . . sorta Mick Jaggerish?).

Life is never that follow-these-simple-steps-and-the-world-is-yours  neat.  Never.

And so, I took the proverbial backpack that was ready for global domination off my back, didn’t sell my car, didn’t give up my apartment, didn’t say “so long, suckas!” and instead stepped back and reassessed everything.

I thought about how people pray, and how I prayed during all of this.  I not only prayed to win this book prize, I asked those I know who call themselves prayer warriors, and are genuine lights in this world, if they would put in a good word.  With whom?  is always an issue for me, as I do not subscribe to the literal anthropomorphization of God as some “he” who grants wishes.  Yet I requested prayer.

In fact, here’s me in a spiritual nutshell, which surely promises to disturb both the devout and the atheists in my life, so this one is especially hard for me, the people-pleaser, the one who’ll do anything not to rock the boat:

I am a person who is open, who is not so arrogant as to insist that something doesn’t exist just because it might be something I haven’t personally experienced.  I do believe there are numinous mysteries and truths beyond what we can see and feel and document in an empirical way.  After all, this world is but a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction, ad infinitum, of what is, and what we yet know.  I believe in interconnectedness and life force, yet how to name it, to intellectualize it, is useless folly, the most concerning of those follies for me being the literal definitions of God as a deity who wields miracles and punishments in equal measure, and has the human attributes of jealousy and vengeance.  I’ve always believed in prayer even when I wasn’t so sure about “Him.”  Because for me, higher power is indefinable.

I have great difficulty using the word God, because it’s such a polarizing, even incendiary, word.  Wars, folks; history is rife with examples of hypnotizing ideologies in the name of God.  And, as a result, my own mental association with the word brings with it an agitation I would rather not welcome into my spiritual space.  I DO often speak of our “god-realized selves” as being the very manifestation we should each be seeking in our spiritual work.  Yet to say “God” the way I’d call someone by their name feels unnatural.  I find myself using almost ANY word or phrase before using God.   The Divine.   Higher Power.   Source.   Sacred Spirit.   The Presence of Absolute Good.  It’s just semantics anyway.  The minute we label it, we’ve lost it.  Yet I understand the need to label, as language is what we have.  We simply cannot conceive of higher truth without assigning form.

But, yes, I do believe that we are more than our bodies, more than our biology.  And I think the early 20th-century French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin got it absolutely right.   We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.

To be honest, these are just today’s beliefs.   Tomorrow who knows?  And I’m good with that, because what I do know for sure is that I know nothing.  Our entire journey here is meant to be a constant and repeated awakening and unfolding.  If we were meant to know everything, to have the skinny on life and the meaning of life, we’d be done with our job here.  The design is right in front of us.  It’s perfect the way it is.

Anyway, I prayed.  And I asked others to pray.  There was a part of me that wholeheartedly subscribed to the idea that the universe conspires to do our bidding, and all we have to do is be willing to show up with conviction.   That’s the basic rhetoric of The Secret, isn’t it?   And which runs in complete contrast to my deepest belief that shit happens and some dreams don’t come true, and the real lesson is to learn to amass the masterful tools meant to help us respond to all of it – the fortunate and the unfortunate – with some amount of grace, humility, mindfulness, and vigilant compassion; instead of living in the cotton candy, law-of-attraction universe where we think we can get anything we want.   But I digress.

Gist of my prayer:   “Please let me win this book prize.  And I vow to be worthy of the gift.”

See how I even put the humble little spin on it?  That I wasn’t just asking for something, I was offering to give something in return.  Prayer as bargaining.  Somehow I seemed to miss the spiritual lesson of:  “Hey, be worthy anyway. Period. ”

And yes, all spiritual lessons begin with “Hey!”   At least, they should.

Or even (alternate prayer technique):  “I claim this book prize as mine.  My time.  My shot.  I’ve invested a lifetime at the task of fine-tuning my voice as a writer, and it’s my turn.”

The truth is, it’s everybody’s turn.  Anyone who’s ever devoted their time and energy to something creative, productive, elevated and elevating.  But we can’t all be named Miss America.

And so here’s what I find most perverse about that kind of praying.  Asking for that gift, knowing that there were thousands (I don’t actually know a number) out there all praying, hoping, crossing fingers, sticking pins in voodoo dolls, dancing naked under full moons, rubbing genie bottles, whatever, for THEIR lives to be changed too, meant that I was not only asking to have my prayer answered, I was asking for everyone else’s to NOT be.

Think about that one for a minute.

I was asking for others’ devastation.  Granted, devastation is a great bit of hyperbole, but it definitely was how I felt, in actually believing that I had a shot, that  walking in the world as if  was my bitch, that I had mastered her, and that she was about to pay up.

And then she didn’t.

Yes, devastated.  Because I had decided that my life wasn’t good enough as it was.   And I was ready for the Great Escape.  And I was way too eager to believe in ANY used car premise that was promising to aid me in that.

I had actually long ago stopped believing in that kind of prayer.  But this was a clear case of desperation so deep-seated that I pulled out every gesture, every chant, every angle, every good deed, every loophole, every prayer approach that I had long ago lost faith in, to make this happen for me.  Actually, losing faith is not accurate.  It’s not exactly that I stopped believing it worked.  I had come to the realization that I no longer believed in its intrinsic selfishness.   “Dear God, gimme…”

Had I won that book prize, I would’ve gone down in my own history believing till my death that it was because “God is good!”   I’d’ve conveniently ignored that such a premise would also mean that God wasn’t quite so good to all the other writers vying for the same prize.   And how does one work that into the deeply held narrative that God works for us all?  I see that as a fundamental problem with conventional belief, especially so because I can see how easy it is to get whipped into that euphoria when things are going smoothly.

Here’s how I actually do believe in prayer.  And if the sore disappointments that occurred in the earlier part of this year weren’t enough to jolt me right back to what I know, slap my face, and tell me to “snap out of it!” then nothing was bound to.   Prayer is not about change out there.   Never has been.  It’s about change within.  Not about asking for, from some exterior source, but about getting aligned with one’s own sapient marrow.  Appealing to that deeper, higher resonance, frequency, and vibration (actually, that’s probably the closest definition of God than anything else I can perceive) to help us AWAKEN.   A cup that’s too full can’t receive any new information or lessons.   We need to empty ourselves daily.   That’s the purpose of prayer and meditation.  So that we can get a handle on how to skillfully receive whatever life has decided to deal us, with amazing grace.   Truly, it is the difference between acceptance and resistance.  Between desperate attachment and effortless release.  Between willingness and willfulness.

I am a writer.  I will always write.  Regardless of its impact and acceptance.  Regardless of awards.   I release everything else.

Now, all of that said, and for the record, I am genuinely indebted to, and lifted up by, those prayer warriors’ efforts and the love that was behind it.  Praying on behalf of someone else is truly an act of benevolence, and that will never be forgotten in this house.

I’ve been reading Alan Watts this year, who has blown my mind in ways that . . . Well.  Damn.  Just damn.  He talks about the wisdom of insecurity (the name of one of his books, in fact), of knowing that struggles and stumbles happen, and being braced for it.  Not only braced for it, but breathing it in, working with it, dancing with it, doing our part for balance and recognizing each stone as a lesson, a great epochal story, not allowing ourselves to be sucked in by delusion and resistance and by desperately cocooning ourselves in material comforts, and convenient denial, and the desire for permanence, versus the fact of flux.

I know that the desperation to escape my life, and the genuine belief that a book prize, a credit on a resume, a label, was going to give me a sense of security, was all about needing to do everything in my power to distance myself from flux.

Well, we’d all better start embracing flux, because, baby, that’s what we’ve been given to work with.  But that’s not bad news AT ALL.   There is beauty in flux.

“The poets are often at their best when speaking of the transitoriness of human life . . . that images, though beautiful in themselves, come to life in the act of vanishing.   The poet takes away their static solidity, and turns a beauty which would otherwise be only statuesque and architectural into music, which, no sooner than it is sounded, dies away.” – A.W.

The great mis-belief that we can attain a certain thing, and that that thing, once possessed, will remain static and unchanging forever, so as to never let us down, and that this is what our life’s work is supposed to be towards, is a pretty great lie we’ve been sold.  And believe me, I was one of the first in line to buy.

I was meant to read Mr. Watts, and others like him who have blown my world wide open, in this year 2014, this year that I claimed to be a paradigm shifter.  Be mindful what you wish for!   Because, these sages have shifted my shit all out of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t be more frightened, and more alive.

2014 has virtually overtaken me with mystics, philosophers, artists, innovators, original thinkers, pushers of envelopes, those unconcerned with zeitgeist, creators of their own movement, a little off, a tad quirky, willing for and honored by their own inner fool, nobody’s darling as the poet Alice Walker says, and therefore the world’s hope, the hope of the future, the hope of the very magnificent RIGHT NOW, the hope of sustainable energy, the hope of eternal beauty, the dark and the light, the smudgy, the clean.  These have been the manner of righteous godlings that have upturned my soul, and have, especially in this year, broken my world wide open.

I observed Lent this year for the first time in my 50-something years on this earth.   Not even Catholic.   Just felt compelled.  I did prayer and fasting for 10 days straight (40 was too ambitious, yet I did want to raise the stakes by doing a full-on juice fast, instead of just giving up one thing).  I even documented it right here on this blog.   I let quiet and introspection and privation take over my life for those 10 days.  I was in the very thick of it when the big book prize disappointment happened, when I lost people (plural!) too young to be dying, when health issues even snagged my pace and slowed me down a bit.   None of this was happening before I started.  And I began to wonder, what the hell door did I just open!  It was a roller-coaster experience, and I wanted to break windows on many of those days.   I didn’t.   Instead I braved through, faithed through, did a lot of facing, and came up for air forever changed.

I’m not even sure I can quantify for you how.  But I have, ever since then, been in the midst of a tremendous transformation, and am frankly looking to be even more transparent and disclosing, more accepting of every facet of who I am, including the parts of me that are deeply flawed, more willing to offer compassion to those flaws than to try and shake them off with denial, because they make me uniquely me, more willing to say them out loud to others, which actually lessens their hold, instead of living behind a shroud of shame, or worse, behind a shroud of pretense and spin, which I’m surrounded by far too much, living in L.A.   I am using my writing these days, especially this blog, to explore my own spiritual growth through rigorous honesty.  I am incredibly proud to have cultivated the courage to look inward, and to lay every flaw AND virtue, equally, on the table for examination.  I feel for the ones who are so fragile or in denial that they can never allow themselves to face their beautiful imperfections.   Without that tool, and that desire, to do so, how do we ever blossom, grow, evolve, heal, break through?  Breakthroughs generally tend to be accompanied by some pain, but always result in true liberation.   I have decided that I am in this . . . all of it . . . every bit of my spiritual practices, my blog-writing being, surprisingly, one of those . . . for the hard lessons and the powerful transformations.

I have been twisted, yanked, torn, and shaken by spiritual epiphany this year.  It has been illuminating, if not always pleasant, and it has, yes, done what I said 2014 was going to do.  It doesn’t even remotely resemble what I had in mind.   Funny how that works.  And releasing my attachment to THAT outcome has been an arduous process, but release it I have, and I am breathing deeper and more fully because of it.  Oxygen, heavenly oxygen!  It may not look like anything to anyone observing my life.   But it’s happening.  It’s happening so big and bold that I’m a bit nauseated trying to keep my insides still.  The Earth of Me has opened up and rumbled.  And, as I have to keep reminding myself, the year’s only a little more than half up.

I said this in an earlier article, and I feel compelled to say it again here.  The world IS insecure.  It is unsure, unpredictable, it will always, and till the end of time, give us joy beyond measure, AND loss, heartbreak, and disappointment beyond measure.  And all the praying to the manifesting, law-of-attraction gods will not make us magically immune to pain and disappointment.  To spin our wheels trying desperately to never be touched by pain or struggle – or flux – is futile and foolish.  Yes, we can intersect.  And we should.  Yes, we can make change.  And we should.  Yes, we should try and rise to our highest potential wherever we can.  But there is no magic pill.  Don’t be disappointed.   That, either, isn’t bad news.  It’s the best, actually.  It means that every effort holds just that much more meaning.

I have the unshakable feeling that our world is presently experiencing both a great enlightenment and a mad fall simultaneously, and the wonder of which force will ultimately tip the scales, and the knowing that we must all stay engaged, stay conscious, continue to evolve, and opt for amassing a healthy arsenal of sapience and sentience.  I’m not a political or sociological analyst, and my writings will never be a partisan rant.   I am only an authority on my own psychological and spiritual growth, and on how I choose to show up in the world and contribute, and on my efforts, always, to try and up that ante daily, in order to be my own greatest, god-realized self.

As the earthquakes become more and more prevalent around the world, so does the quaking of all our ideologies.   What’s in store for us?   And are we ready?

 

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.

 

 

AMAZING GRACE : Have We PC’d the Marrow Right Out of It?

amazing-grace

As we prepare our tables for Thanksgiving and our hearts to be in a space and place of gratitude, a song that always rings in my head is Amazing Grace.  I’ve never known a song to express such humility of spirit, and perhaps the association in my brain is because humility is the first step toward gratitude. Gratitude is about accepting one’s present, as opposed to resenting one’s past or coveting a certain future. It is about humbling oneself to being moved by the great fortune of being alive and being loved. I believe that gratitude cannot and does not exist when one’s legs and knees are stiffened in a kind of pride and entitlement. It takes humility first to experience an attitude of gratitude.

So, in preparing my own symbolic table this year, I decided to read up on my favorite hymn.  Amazing Grace has often been associated with the American South, and I, for one, did think its origins were from the tradition of the Negro Spiritual.  It was, in fact, written by an Englishman.

But here’s where my own mental association wasn’t completely off-base.  John Newton was an English slave trader, trafficking thousands of men, women, and children from Africa to the auction blocks. In 1748 a violent storm threatened to sink his ship. Frightened for his life, he made a promise to God that if he survived he would change his ways. And sure enough around the age of 45, he had a crisis of conscience and became a minister and a composer of hymns. Yet it would be years later before he would give up his involvement in the slave trade, and a total of thirty-three years from the time of his “spiritual conversion” before he would break his long silence, a watershed moment in his life, and publish his brutal book on the subject, which included an apology for “a confession, which comes too late.  It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders. He promptly became a prominent supporter of the abolition of slavery in England. As more years passed, Newton drew deeper and deeper inward to his monastic life, as he found himself haunted by what he constantly called his twenty-thousand ghosts. He bemoaned having been a part of the dehumanizing of these Africans who’d had beautiful names but were only ever referred to with grunts. He would say that while these captured were treated as beasts, it was the slave traders, him above them all, who had been the beasts.

It was fifteen years BEFORE his public confession, in the year 1772, that he had composed a hymn called Faith’s Review and Expectation.  It became one of the most recognizable songs in the history of the world, and the most recorded, a song now known as Amazing Grace.  And to have now learned of Newton’s spiritual journey and redemption, it is so clear to me that this hymn is his confession.

The song’s history has a wild and glorious path, as it has become associated with having the power to give hope where there has seemed none, and expresses a God of absolute mercy and forgiveness. Just a few points on the map of its presence in the hearts and minds of the global collective:

  • It was used as a requiem by Native Americans on their Trail of Tears (the ethnic cleansing and forced relocation of Native Americans from the southeast parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830).
  • It was sung by Civil Rights protesters during the freedom marches and rides.
  • It held a prominent place in the proceedings when Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream on the steps of the Washington Monument.
  • It was played the world over when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison.
  • It was sung when the Berlin wall came down.
  • On 911, it rang out to comfort a world in mourning.

It is a song of such startling humility that I find myself privately conflicted whenever I’m obliged to sing it for jobs, as I recently did for one of the churches at which I periodically sing, and am requested to do the PC thing of changing the word wretch to soul . . . or something else, anything else! other than this awful word that only degrades us. That’s the subtext anyway. The reason I’m conflicted is because I maintain that wretch is absolutely appropriate, as it calls on, and calls out, the basest of our human instincts, to stand and be accountable, to bend our knees prostrate and humbly offer that we’ve been to Hell and back, or have given Hell to others (haven’t we all dealt, or been dealt, a little Hell at some point in our lives?), that we are human and therefore with flaw, and that ONLY in the owning of that truth are we able to rise, to heal, to transform and transcend.  By the instinct to couch and cushion our delicate sensibilities in more conciliatory words like soul, we are basically saying that we don’t have the ability or the humility to own up.

We are presently in an era where, in an effort to be removed from the dogma of more traditional practices (an instinct I’m inclined to embrace), our modern spiritual movements seem largely to have, as their agenda, a reliance on salves and unguents for fragile souls, but without the crucial first steps in any authentic spiritual work of courting the caves for exploration and excavation. I believe this is as important a part of a heart-centered practice as a room buzzing with namastes.  Yet as I make my way around the New Thought circuit (a movement I do regard fondly) as a vocalist, I find this particular feel-good bent more and more prevalent. The practice becomes precious rather than revolutionary.

And so, because I often find myself caught between self-governance and employment, both of which are important to me, I do sing soul instead of wretch when I am paid to sing the song, because it is the job required of me, but never when singing it for my own reward. I believe that John Newton understood the state of grace only because of how far down he had once sunk, and how much of a wretch he had been. He could not possibly have authored a more perfect set of words from any other internal place than his own lowest spiritual ebb.  Why do we SO fear the personal investigation of such states?  Isn’t that a fairly important step in the journey towards connecting to our greater god-realized selves? Joseph Campbell understood that when he said: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”  So, too, John Newton, when he composed an efficient set of stanzas as powerful, timeless, and iconic as:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

Humility, grace, gratitude . . . these are all states of the heart and mind that we reflect on during this season. Frankly, it’s my favorite time of year, because I do tend to have a reflective sort of nature, and this song expresses the absolute largeness of that concept. And now I even know a little bit about its author, after all these years of singing it and loving it, which only makes me feel even more interconnected with this globe of beautiful, imperfect, sentient beings.

In any case, that’s my light bulb.  Here’s wishing for us all a few breathtaking insights, perhaps a stunning illumination or two, and some amazing grace.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

Angela Carole Brown is the author of three published books, The Assassination of Gabriel Champion, The Kidney Journals: Memoirs of a Desperate Lifesaver, and Trading Fours, and has produced several albums of music and a yoga/mindfulness CD.   Bindi Girl Chronicles is her writing blog.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & YouTube.