Debrief After A Literary Pilgrimage

How do I start a gratitude piece for all the bountiful harvest that I have partaken in? That is the question that has been pushing me closer and closer to debriefing from a truly magnificent and perfect-in-every-form-ten-week-whirlwind of an American rendezvous. Well, as the trip fully and without any compromise demonstrated to me, perhaps I should start by thanking myself for the sheer tenacity, determination, courage, faith, and pure passion that has driven me to be still and hear, and be fully awake to see the signs as they presented themselves to me; to have trusted my perception instead of doubt it; to have shunned any inkling of doubt or fear; and to have honoured my own voice that has consequentially led me to my own truth.

I feel validated in my beliefs, gratified by my journey, closer to my relentless vision, and inspired to be extraordinary. I have seen in clear daylight the intensity of my own power; the unparalleled spark of possibility lying, dormant, seeking engagement with those driven by pure intentions to be creators in their own worlds; the spontaneous combustion between possibility and determination, initiative and faith, knowledge of self and passion; and the sheer magic that can be woven and witnessed in one whose higher self is in direct alignment with self. I am now possessed by a thousand thundering voices that speak with me, and through me. Where I once had shoulders I now have wings…

I am now more certain that ever that we are one with all living entities; the earth and its magnificent solar systems (this is no joke; the full moons and mercury in retrograde had me in full grips, begging for ‘normality’), the animals, plants, and human beings all form a cosmic and holistic part of who we are. I only exist because of all those living things. And there is no living without the dead—the persistent balance and harmony of life—so I have tasted the sweetest connections of them all; being awake in more worlds than this physical one; hearing, seeing, and feeling the intensity of the moment; but most importantly, trusting the moment and taking notes that I consequently use as a blueprint of my vision and dreams. Let no one succeed in convincing you your physical body is all you are!

I have grown spiritually, emotionally, mentally, intellectually, and cosmically on the literary pilgrimage I took from Amsterdam to New York, to Washington DC, to Chicago, to San Francisco/Oakland/Berkeley, to Los Angeles; following and being followed by the footstep of a sage whose guiding hand, embrace, and mentorship—felt, heard and seen without his physicality—has led me to treasures of my own soul, of the larger cosmic world of our people, of the South African literary landscape, and of the broader black diaspora. The magnitude of the alchemy on this trip is to be fully experienced in the forthcoming months of writing this dissertation, this book, and producing this documentary. I have grown creatively too. I am decidedly embroiled in the cosmic world of the arts, where being a writer has so seamlessly and without any fear or favour led me to being a filmmaker: an art form that I have enormous respect for.

I trust myself more than ever. I am not the chosen one, but I chose myself to be the one for this task. Perhaps I should rephrase and say InI (I and eye—third eye perception and reception. I’ve explained this in detail here https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/ini-self-n-divine-self/ ) chose myself; perceived of self as capable, and received the ordained calling as my own. As the wisdom of the elders does state clearly, we exist in duality, like any product of nature and life—the yin and the yan, the body and the life force, the physical and the metaphysical—must be in unison. My life force and metaphysical self, the other ‘I’ in InI, are now lounging languidly with my physical self, at one, in perfect harmony, pregnant with larger-than-my-physical-body possibilities. My voice is stronger than ten weeks ago, and my resolve is only perfectly demonstrated by the image of being possessed by a thousand thundering voices. I move because I am moved…

What follows is a continuation of a photo essay that started here

https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/the-golden-years/

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I travelled to Washington DC to interview poet, legendary jazz critic and literary historian A.B. Spellman, who was warm and happy to walk down memory lane with me

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Karen Spellman was an active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which Keorapetse Kgositsile joined seamlessly when he arrived in the States

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I went to meet my mentor, Professor James Miller, at the George Washington University. He was the first person who ever introduced the term ‘Black Atlantic’ to me at Wits in my Honours year, and I have been dreaming about conducting research in this field since he ran a fascinating course mapping the similarities in black South African and black American cultures in the 20th century

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Fall/Autumn is pumpkin season and America has quite a family of them I tell you. All shapes, colours, textures, sizes, and flavours…

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…but what do you do with so much pumpkins? Well, they have all kinds of pumpkin yumminess like pumpkin chai tea/coffee, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin pie, pumpkin waffles, etc. Pumpkin chai tea with hot milk really moved me to tears

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Of course while I was in town I thought I’d pop in and have tea with my girl Mitchelle, but the security guards had something else on their minds. They’ve since been fired 🙂

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Maybe something major was happening at Mitchelle’s house! I mean snipers on top of her house?? Really??

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The area between Capitol Hill and Lincoln Memorial gave way to an area of feeling deep in my heart. I was filled with all kinds of conflicting emotions from disgust to triumph

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I really really love how artists engage with the city, especially at the Washington Square in New York. It is a beautiful square with all kinds of artists, and they are well-respected if the tipping is anything to go by

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The student becomes the teacher. The interviewee becomes the interviewer

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On my last night in NYC I managed to score tickets to a Talib Kweli performance. What an amazing experience to hear him, feel him, and be entertained by him in his native New York…

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Kweli is a lyricist extraordinaire, and I was pleased that the sound at the legendary Blue Notes did justice to his flow

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I have been to quite a lot of jazz performances and festivals, but never have I seen a trumpeter display such barbaric devotion to his instrument – breaking all the rules

Common Sense Concert

I arrived in Chicago on the 20th September, and the next day I prepped to dance away at this dream line up. The special guest was Kanye West, and I have to admit that I absolutely enjoyed his performance despite my better judgement of the man

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In Chicago I managed to link up with my brother Ignatius from Polokwane. It was great to speak Sepedi in Chicago and crack ourselves over the mundane and magical

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Sterling Plumpp – the man who made almost everything worthwhile. He led me in the right direction and guided me gently into the very dense jungle that is the political and cultural life of Keorapetse Kgositsile. I am forever indebted to him

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During this interview with Keorapetse Kgositsile’s daughter, Ipeleng Aneb Kgositsile, we were visited by fireflies, hummingbirds, and butterflies. It was beyond magical. In that hot Oakland weather I was suffering (with pleasure) from chills

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The way I loved the bay area – San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley – was truly special. It will forever remain my dream destination and crush address

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Don’t even ask! Okay, I’ll tell you. I went into a shop, looked around, and next thing I know there was an impromptu photoshoot and wine #hides

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The beauty of the bay area. It reminded me of Cape Town with all its beautiful hills and mountains, winelands, botanical gardens, and laid back culture

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I missed this documentary to celebrate 20 years of Illmatic the album, and as I was minding my own business buying books I came across this poster and immediately heeded the calling

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Ipeleng Aneb Kgositsile

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We caught Fourplay at the legendary Yoshi’s Jazz Bar in Oakland; one of the most reputable jazz bars in the world. The owner, Yoshi, is a Japanese beauty of soul and spirit whom I’ve been fortunate enough to spend an intense afternoon with.

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The saxophonist and trombonist are from Oakland School of Arts, a public school where I have had the pleasure of teaching a literature lesson on Kgositsile. 51 Oakland, an NGO ran by Jason Hoffman and Yoshi, helps with putting arts and music back in public schools. These are the results of their work. These public school learners are playing with a legendary Latino band

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I felt the power of this NGO’s work. This youngster from a public school displayed so much skill on the trombone, and all the applause certainly gave him positive self esteem and motivation

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My lens caught this wonderful child

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Universe please conspire!! I need to live here, even if it is for a two year fellowship, or even better, getting a post at the Berkeley campus of the University of California…

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This is the NGO in discussion, 51 Oakland, and one of the co-founders Jason Hoffman. I met Jason through Ipeleng, and he was jsut so generous and kind enough to host me at his house during my stay in the bay area. There was something magical in our interaction, which has led me to my own treasures

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I helped out at the event where the students were playing; selling T-shirts and garnering support for the organisation. This has moved me to decidedly be more involved in the caring for others and making a difference in the less fortunate’s lives. A challenge I take on keenly

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The Pillars That Rise

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A friend is in despair and has identified the problems in her life to be rooted in one thing and one thing only: that she hasn’t been able to define to herself who she is and her personal philosophies and beliefs in this life. She is desperate to find out how she can find herself and how she can be filled with visceral knowledge of self that can inform her opinions which will in turn help her take firm positions on various topics. In short, she would like to find out how she can attain a deep understanding of herself in relation to herself—a deep connection between her physical body and all compositions of who she is.

Firstly I just wish to state this from the onset: one’s personal journey is personal and can only be guided by personal chi (a chi for me is a higher self and life force that is unique to every being; coded in your personal DNA); therefore what works for me will not necessarily work for you. However there are basic principles that guide the flow of our collective recovery of self, on an individual level. There are particular foods that nourish our endurance on the journey to attain a core and unchallenged knowledge of self. These foods must be cooked to be enjoyed on our personal plates/palates before we can share them with conviction as our personal appetites. They should and must always be shared with encouragement for their receiver to tailor them in ways that suit their personal appetites.

The following are foods that have been prepared and cooked according to my personal chi appetite. They are the guiding nourishing forces that feed the person I am, and I am happy to dine with you at the table of growth. I look to the East for vocabularies on the journeys of self. The Tao philosophy is the absolute principle underlying the universe, combining within itself the principles of yin and yang and signifying the way, or code of behaviour, that is in harmony with the natural order. That is how I wish to conduct my life; in harmony with the natural order. I wish to attune my third eye to everyday events, so I may not only see, but practice vision. I wish to be in harmony with the trees, animals, moon, stars, and all living organisms. I wish to feel, before I think.

Tao teaches about the Twelve Jewels, which are the teachings I uphold the most, and seek in every breath I take. The jewels are as follow: knowledge, wisdom, understanding, freedom, justice, equality, food, clothing, shelter, love, peace, and happiness. These foods that feed my personal chi nourish every decision I make and every word I articulate. They are the light that shine my path and weave magic in my life. They are all pillars of my castle, and house my precious soul. Each jewel has deep underlying meanings, and the path to knowledge of self requires that you meditate—think deeply and intensely—on every jewel. In the larger castle of your life they all bolster each other up, and break down like a chain reaction.

wangeshiThe following is from Tao philosophy. First a wo/man gets Knowledge, which is knowledge of self. S/he gets Wisdom, which is the reflection of that Knowledge. Then s/he gets Understanding, which is the power to act on Wisdom. With Understanding s/he sees that s/he has Freedom—that s/he has freed her/his dome from ignorance—which means s/he has free will. Freedom happens to be my name, the wholly signifier of who I am. But Freedom operates under a law: the law of Justice, which states that there will be a reward or penalty for your actions. Therefore you must deal with Equality because all wo/men are created equal.

Once you have attained these six pillars that house your divine soul, you’re able to strive for Food, Clothing, and Shelter, which all have physical and metaphysical properties. On a physical or conscious level, food is nourishment, shelter is home, and clothing is protection. However, on a metaphysical level food is from the tree of life—food for your mind in the form of wisdom, history, sciences, and botany. Mental clothing is how you carry yourself. Most people comment on the way I walk proudly with conviction. If you have clothed yourself in righteousness you may walk with lions. Mental shelter is protection from evil atmosphere. Choose very carefully how you share yourself with others. Once you have erected these nine pillars of your castle, you are able to find peace, love, and happiness.

These are the twelve pillars to my castle. How did I receive knowledge, the first pillar that leads to all nourishment? Through applying critical reading of the world, of my history, of my personal positioning to it. I freed myself from ignorance, because ignorance is the termite that gnaws at the fibre of who you can be. Knowledge has prised my eyes open to my divinity, to the god in me, my higher self, the light and the dark, the personal mission to seek and embrace the light; it has propelled me to cloak my voice in that light, to use that voice to speak my truth, to embrace others’ truths, to honour the divine in me, to honour the divine in others. To wisdom. To understanding. To personal wealth.

A house without books is like a tree without roots, a body without a soul, a mind without thoughts, eyes without vision, and feeling without heart. I continue to nourish my knowledge by eating from the tree of life, which feeds my enduring hunger to know, to understand, to be wise. I read, I write, I think, I share, I read again, and I seek to learn me, learn the world, learn the plants, the stars, the moon, the wo/man, and the life. That is how I call to self the cloak of righteousness. So to you, and you, my interlocutor and roomie in this world, I say to you, if we all nourish ourselves with these jewels of our soul we shall be redeemed from our personal and collective crises.

Opening and central images are paintings by talented artist Wangechi Mutu.

Knowlege