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

Awakenings

Personal development

Here’s why I think everybody who aspires to personal development should have a passion that drives them and provides them with a safe space to explore their higher being—what society has called a ‘hobby’. A passion, or hobby, is a good space to explore your strengths and exercise full control of your agency. It is an elementary and fundamental space that engenders knowledge of self, self-determination, and creativity. It is a space of your own making whose depth, layers, and textures you get to decide. It is a sacred space that promises a mining of personal treasures.

Here’s where we get it wrong: we try to control spaces that are not of our own making. We are propelled by a false sense of self-importance and worth that has us believing we know. This is the predisposition of humans living in the 21st century urban space—information overload and saturated sensuality has us thinking we are in control and that we are equipped with the tools to drive our own life-locomotives. The truth is ‘knowing’ is an illusion and is quite medieval. Once we surrender to the motion of life we are opening ourselves to be perpetually replenished by the rivers of eternal knowledge.

Once we give away our personal agency and power to create through our individual passions and hobbies, and falsely try to control an outward sphere, we will always fail. The world is not our space of control, our individual worlds are. Individually we inhibit worlds that are entirely of our construct and design. But we are quick to neglect our abilities and personal agencies to construct and configure those worlds to our individual needs; taking those intricate needs and imposing them on an outside world whose magnitude elude us.

We cannot control anything or anyone beside our own worlds and ourselves. This becomes evident when we experience grief—heartbreak, loss, trauma, etc—and we are so fixated with knowing, whilst grief demands that you surrender. When we surrender to grief—it is counterintuitive for animals to surrender, but the ego has no place in raw inundated primal feelings—we must always find refuge in a world we can exercise a certain control over: that’s where your passion/hobby comes in! It is at this time that the world of your own making nourishes you and waters your roots; strengthening you. That passion, during this time, is the difference between sanity and insanity, harmony and destruction.

What could your passion be? In my experience, my passion drives me, as opposed to me driving it. It is a world where my third eye, higher being, and full sensuality are in synergy with one another. It is a charged space of inspiration promising creation—something always gets created in my world of passions: cooking and writing. Passion is seated in the heart; it is submerged in my life force, in my arteries, and in my seat of love. It is a place of possibility, of joy, and of growth. It is a site of self-determination and personal development.

Been jamming to this track in gym today. Conceive, believe, and achieve…

Everybody Dies but Not Everybody Lives

God of small4

“The only dream worth having is to dream that you will live while you are alive, and die only when you are dead. To love, to be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of the life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

These profound words from critically acclaimed author of The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy, resonate with me at this particular time in my life. The dream is to live as close to the centre of who I am as possible, whilst fully acknowledging the many definitions of self, the evolution of my identity, and the humility to accept that inasmuch as I define myself in a particular way today, circumstance might force me to revisit those resolutions tomorrow. Therefore, the dream of living while I’m alive is characterised by motion, fluidity, and finding a sanctuary in not knowing. Hence the insignificance.

Not knowing, and insignificance, are not the opposites of ignorance, or worthy, respectively. No, acknowledging your insignificance is accepting that in the larger beach front of life, you are but a sand particle, and you are fine with it. Significance functions on the level of interiority. It is felt. It is not a commodity nor is it appraisal. It is not something anyone can take away from you by merely saying “you are insignificant”. It is a process, it is ritual, it is coming into being, and is part of moulding a self that is in rhythm with the motion of life. Insignificance should not hinder us from living, but should move us towards a meaningful life: significance is of our own making.

Standing tall

May we never get used to the unspeakable violence and the depreciating value of life around us? The world has found itself chronically individualistic in a short space of time, which breeds self-interest and greed to no ends. The world is ruled by fear, making it increasingly devoid of empathy and compassion. Human lives are lost for the sake of ‘safety’; whose safety? There’s famine in Somalia whilst others harbour millions in foreign bank accounts. A mouth that eats curses the one without food! Amassing wealth in the face of hunger is surely detrimental… We are too short-sighted to see that all of that is not freedom. This is the worst case of human bondage: the psychological type.

Psychological emancipation is purposeful action. It cannot be pre-packaged for your individual needs. You need to find joy in the saddest places, as Roy surmises, and pursue beauty to its lair. For anything of value to emerge, you have to destroy. Be fearless, courageous, hopeful, and propelled by faith. The dominant ideology is constructed by absolute power. This world has created parameters for where we can go, and where it is perceived dangerous or unworthy of our time. Transcend those parameters and be an agent of change. Be of service to others and sow joy in the saddest places.

I deliberately skipped ‘to love, to be loved’ because I wish to combine it with ‘to never simplify what is complicated, and never complicate what is simple’. Love is felt. That is the beginning and end of it. Offer love in its most unadulterated form in the face of significance. Significance is also felt. When all you can do is listen, listen with love. When you are moved to react to situations, ask yourself, is it coming from a place of love? When your positioning in any complicated or simple situations is rooted in a place of love, you will act and react in a manner that is empathetic.

To respect strength, never power, is to embrace human resolve to live, without hierarchy or oppression. All suppressive regimes, from patriarchy to racism, are built on the tenets of power. Power is socially constructed; strength is sowed by human capacity and investment in the firmament of existence: the will to live. Our world today is plagued by the love for power. Power is content with individual growth, but communal strength has, and can enrich our lives. Most of all, power can be usurped, but strength is a combatant spirit that cannot be protested nor arrested.

If your centre is sacred and you’re one with your intuition and life force, you will always watch, never look away, and always try to understand. That comes with being fully involved with the strength of your being, and respecting those of your fellow earth mates. Those range from the solar system—moon, stars, sun—to the animals, plants and elements. When you are constantly looking, hearing, feeling, and smelling, you awaken your sixth sense: sense, sensibility, and sensuality; all compounded as one. This way you will never forget.

God of small2

The difference between significance and insignificance is you: Everybody dies but not everybody lives

Body is a Life Force

Spiritual flow

Yoga has revealed to me a wealth of core knowledge about my spirit, my body and my mental strengths/weaknesses. I now know that sickness is a manifestation of deep-seated anxieties and imbalances, which in turn reveal themselves as symptoms of flu, headaches, bladder infection, and so forth. That is, you are not weak because you have the flu; you have the flu because you are weak.

The central exercise to yoga is breathing, the energy and life force. We breathe as a manner of allowing rivers of life to rejuvenate our cells and sustain life. Breath is to life what spirit is to body; therefore, inasmuch as we breathe “involuntarily”, we need to start exercising a certain measure of conscious breathing in our lives, which allows for a keener and deeper connection between mind, body, soul, and chi (a circulating life force in our bodies, and by extension, out of our bodies).

When you don’t breathe consciously and ‘properly’, which most of us don’t from years of fixed postures and positionalities—the way we sit at our desks, our sleeping positions, and our ‘unconscioius’ standing postures—there are areas of our bodies that don’t get rejuvenated by the river that is our breaths. There are places/muscles in our bodies that are stagnant because of a lack of circulation and movement, and threaten to become flaccid dead weight that we’d have to carry around.

ChiMost of us have sore points in our bodies. This is precisely because the blood circulations in our bodies do not flow sufficiently and efficiently to those parts. Ideally, as our blood and chi dictate, our breaths should be able to link the calf muscles to the core of our abdominal muscles, and so forth. This does not happen when you type on your desk, or sleep at night. This should be a consciously assisted physical movement. Our abdominal area is where the chakra seat for our solar plexus (the chakra seat for life force just under our abdomen; see image) lies, and we need to prioritise sufficient blood flow and connection to it.

Honour yourself by eating the right kinds of foods (cayenne pepper is for me the best food for blood circulation), by breathing consciously (breathing facilitates the right amounts of oxyhaemoglobin to the rest of your body), and by getting into positions that will help with circulating the oxygen and the blood to all the right places in your beautiful temple. There is no such thing as involuntary breathing; we have to awaken ourselves to the very source and nourishment of our lives; to the fuel of our existence; and to the energy of the life force: conscious breathing, conscious eating, and conscious movement.

This is my favourite yoga home-workout. I highly recommend that if you’ve never done yoga before, you start at a class with an instructor, as you may injure some intricate muscles and joints by getting into positions in an inopportune manner.