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

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

Take Off Your Mask

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The best thing about being in an adult, which can ironically be simultaneously the worst thing, depending on your general disposition, is that you get to decide everything about your life. When you are a child under your parents’ care, they are trusted aides that can secure you in the backseat, passively journeying onwards. But then you grow up, and everything about you and your path lies entirely in your hands. You become the sole proprietor of the spiritual, emotional, psychological, sexual, and physical businesses of your life.

Ultimately there can be no one who tells you to change your job based on your visceral sadness in your work environment; nobody can tell you to leave your emotionally abusive relationship(s); nobody can decide that since you have such deep yearnings to travel it’s time you cashed in your pensions and finally took that trip; and absolutely nobody can decide for you when it is the right time to have children, join the gym, get married, get divorced, seek counselling, or start eating healthy.

This is the best thing about being an adult if you are secure and confident in your every stride. It is empowering and promises perpetual validation when you are in sync with your needs and make conscious decisions to pursue change. All of the things we have to make decisions on are about one thing: change. Change can be scary, but resisting it can stunt your growth. So ultimately, decisions have to be made, change has to be embraced, and growth must be a natural state in our lives.

The great existentialists spoke about this anxiety born in adults who cannot possibly fathom that their destinies are in their hands. Most people indeed wish they could hand over their very agencies to live a life of their making. This would essentially mean you choose to renounce your very essence, your inherent resolve, sensibilities, and desire. It would mean you give up your life force and choose stagnancy and death of the true self. It would mean you choose to conform and hide from the winds of change instead of setting sail and being propelled by them.

We are humans, not animals. You are you, not the next person. So take off that mask! You are dynamically charged with the triumphant DNA of your ancestry, who have walked with the sheer resolve of living that is unparalleled. You are the sum total of that dynamism, resolve, and triumph. You are not here by mistake; you breathe the very fuel of life. Live your life. Don’t be afraid. Do not fear change; take risks, dabble in the gamble of personal success, look out for yourself, and always know that ‘normal’ is a concept created to make us second guess ourselves. Go out and conquer fear—wage a war with yourself, and your true self shall be revealed.

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In other news, I was put on these amazing guys called Koffie, Dutch, who are inspired by the music of Fela Kuti so immensely. I love their stuff, and have bought both their albums on iTunes… Do good!

Mantra for the Divine

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I am with those whose time has come. Those unafraid to traverse a journey of their making, guided by courage, faith, hope, and passion. Those who listen intently to the whispers of their soul. Those who create.

I am with those whose period has come, in spite of patriarchy, racism and classism. Those who dance on the cracks of difference and laugh in the face of diversity. Those who plaster dividing lines with pure intentions of wholeness.

I am with those whose time is now. Those who wrestle the arms of time. Those who find value in creativity and collaboration. Those whose heartstrings compose songs of peace that ripple their effects to war-torn spirits.

I am with those who say yes. Yes to self and no to responding to the insecurities of others. Yes to tenderness and affection, to propelling the mission of love and light forward, and to their inner divinity.

I am with those who embrace sex. Sex of gender and sex of intercourse. Those who do not seek power or disempower in pre-determined labels of homo/hetero/trans/inter/cross, but embrace strength born out of gentleness.

I am with those who shun institution, dogma, and indoctrination. Those who suspect doctrines and uphold the spirit of thought and debate. Those who recognise the need for revisiting history. Those aware of the dangers of a single story.

I am with those whose time has come. Whose energy is aligned to the redefinition of self, family, marriage, friendship, spirituality, education, leadership—those whose energies are invested in the perpetual pursuit of their truth.

I am with those not defined by age, era, or moments. Those who respond to their duality and transcend life and death. Those whose concept of life is not flesh nor breath. Those whose fabric of being is multi-dimensional and receptive.

I am with the troubled and the content. I am with those who wage war with self, and strive for peace in time of war. I am with the robustly passionate, who drive the fire of resolve in every action.

I am with those who deplete the ego. Those who surrender to the callings of their higher selves. Those who find life in depleted selves. Those who create life from nothing. Those who triumphantly emerge out of fire.

Mantra

For Thine is the Queendom…

Faith

You are an intricate being that is unique and diverse in your own special way. Spirit asks that you be gentle with yourself and accept the delicate nature of who you are. The spiralling energy is here to remind you that there is a great power and strength in your softness and it is here to assist you in healing on all levels. It is also here to remind you that you are a divine being of light who is deserving as any other human being on earth. Smile and recognise your own authenticity and beauty in all your glory.

When I prick my ear to listen closer to my spirit—through plunging in its depth via movement, wellness, meditation, and belly laughs—it reminds me always to be gentle with myself in the process of exploring the unique and diverse tapestries of who I am: a fulfilling journey even in its partial darkness. Through that darkness, my own delicacy ripples through my essence and reminds me of my vulnerability; it is only then that I’m confronted with weakness and find the courage and faith not to shy away from my pain, but to stand up to it.

Faith47Growing up through and under apartheid—a system that sought to clip our wings before we could take flight; a system whose mandate was to distance ourselves from who we are, and from our greatness—has constructed a fallacy that being hard equals being strong. We grew up finding no value in our softness and gentleness, and in fact concealing the soft and the gentle in us; putting a lid on it in fear of being vulnerable. The consequences of internalised violence and hatred under apartheid, on both public and personal levels, still lies concealed and plastered by the hardness in us. It is never too late to recuperate.

There is no value to be found in masquerading gross masculinities or aggressive femininities. There is an urgent call for gentleness all around. We only perpetuate the apartheid narrative when we continue in its legacy of alienating ourselves from who we are, when we live in and through violence, and normalise it; when we are not honourable to ourselves and neglect our responsibilities to our neighbours, parents, and children. We have not found the courage and the faith to open the hardness born of pain in order to come face to face with that which threatens our inert humanity.

There is great power and strength in our softness that can assist us to heal on many levels. We have often been exposed to situations that called for strength born out of hardness, but when we recognise ourselves as divine beings we repudiate aggression and hapharzadous emotions that only serve as energy vampires. We have the power to harness strength born out of our gentleness and softness; out of a place of resolution, beauty, light, and determination. We can only move towards our inner light if we are light (not heavy, and not dark) ourselves. And there lies our divinity and glory.

BIllie Holiday2

Today I thought I’d honour Faith 47, the artist who painted the opening image – she’s a gentle street artist whose work of activism bring beauty to the otherwise ugly scars on the face of Cape Town and South Africa.

Also dedicated to my sister Madikana who sent me the first paragraph of this blog yesterday morning; forwarding it from her spiritual teacher…

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