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

Nugget #2

Uhuru sliceWe all have power we must not be tentative to use. We must not defer the responsibility for the power we possess. When we make an entrance into this world we break a silence and announce our arrival with our individual voice, here to stay. We tell the world that where there was space there is now energy. There is energy that I will be responsible for, and energy that will propel me from this child-state to great destinations. We are given names that point to that power; we are groomed to live up to that power; we are released to the world to invest in that power, sow it, reap it, and enjoy its fruits.

Power has not much to do with the ego. Where the ego strives to take over the pillar of power in your life, the true self diminishes. You are made of self (consciousness) and the true self (subconscious, metaphysical, transcendental, higher self); what can be understood as the physical body and the soul. The soul is energy that reverberates with our truth. It may reverberate through intuition, a power that nourishes our incompleteness; a power that charges our physical conscious thoughts and elevates them to a level of indisputable truth. Your truth, stemming from your authentic voice.

Therefore, the deferral of responsibility of our power, which may reverberate in various mediums atop intuition, is to defer the power of our true selves. It is the repudiation of our agency. This results in true death resonant in the following truth: everybody dies but not everybody lives. When you accept unaccountability for your own power you denounce the path of your life; you become a passive participant in your own life as opposed to a present divine force that has transcendental power to shape magic in your own life. If you have a name you have power; if you have a name you should have a voice, and consequently you should speak your truth and determine the cast that will mould your passions and dreams.

Century of the Self

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For anything of value to come out of our lives, for any fulfilling and deeply enriching experiences to ever manifest in our lives, we must disassemble, dismantle, and deplete the current ‘world’, to rebuild what makes sense to our hearts. A whole world has been constructed on brutality, difference, and skewed notions of truth; and it should be our personal projects to deconstruct and reconstruct a world of our making. This applies to all of us, as I had initially thought of it in the context of South Africa, but I now do realise that we are all tainted by the large sweeping brush of history.

My argument is that we are too preoccupied with difference—religious, racial, gender, sexuality—that we totally disregard the nitty-gritties of life as they present themselves before us. Because of brutal histories of slavery, holocaust, colonialism, apartheid, and world wars, amongst other atrocities, we have to firstly be suspicious of the very positions we hold on difference; we have to secondly be suspicious of the language we use to communicate our realities; and thirdly be weary of the dominant ideologies that create an illusion of unity between us.

Let me elaborate. In the West, in Elizabethan times in Europe, there was a consensus that there was a realm outside of human cognition where you would find truth if you worked hard enough, where you would find God, where you would find evil, and essentially human nature. Yes, that was the dominant ideology rooted in a deeply theocentric society: one absolute truth, one God, a devil, and an essentialism that pointed to the bond holding humanity together (rooted in questions of morality).

ImageAfter the enlightenment era, and more recently the deconstructionists, it became very clear through experience that most of the atrocities perpetrated on human beings were because of that notion of absolute truth, God, and human nature. I will give you examples. Slavery and colonialism were based on the premise that there is a higher race that God favours and another that is essentially inferior. I won’t go much into the history of that. Apartheid was modelled on both those brutally oppressive structures, on the same basis of a “highly favoured” race over another. That is why black people were called ‘kaffirs’—heathens.

The holocaust emerges out of the “death of God”, and science where—after the demise of a theocentric society, where God is essentially questioned and even obliterated—human takes control of his own life and, through science, remodels his own truth. Hitler was one such lad, who looked to the history of the Aryan race to find his own superiority over other societies/races, of course also driven by fascism. The “death of God”, as evolutionary as it was (given the atrocious nature of medieval societies), collapsed the conceptual framework that informed the notion of truth and human nature, leading to a deeply alienating individualistic approach to humanity.

That was Europe and the West. In Africa, religion, the notion of God, came to sub-Saharan Africa as a colonial tool of enlightenment—bringing light to a dark continent, and civilising ‘barbarians’—in a brutally violent manner, it has stripped us on our own notion of God, truth, and humanism. The history of African philosophy points to the metaphysical realm—ancestors on a transcendental realm, and connections with the solar system, the animals, and plants, to begin with—to an inherent human bond, as witnessed in concepts like Ubuntu; and from those connections that root one within historical trajectories, one could shape one’s own truth.

Fast forward to today, and I would argue that since we are all tainted by history, we need to be suspicious of just suckling on someone else’s notion of truth and God. We cannot be content with lack of brain activity around these issues. We must be involved in the project of dismantling and disassembling the answers that have been modelled for big questions on spirituality, morality, humanity, and metaphysicality; in order to shape a truth that makes sense to our hearts. We need to be suspicious of the very language afforded to us to shape that truth, and we need to, where necessary, even dismantle that language to make it carry our truth.

It is the century of self. Have no fear…

I have written here about African societies’ relationship with the animals, plants, moon, stars, sun, and other sentient:

https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/holy-cow/

And here I wrote about how we start to dismantle language:

https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/thrive/

The title of this post comes from enlightening series of documentaries with the same title. They have subtitles like ‘There is a policeman in our heads’ and ‘The engineering of consent’. Do check them out. Some are available on YouTube.

Personal Growth: Transitioning from 20s to 30s

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The biggest lesson that came out of my twenties is that there is no better time than in the 20s to make an effort towards living your true passion and realising your capabilities. The catch 22 about the 20s is that you have the ability, time, and agility to live out what you are and what you can be, but unfortunately not all 25 year olds know what their true calling is. And if they do, most don’t have the confidence, the wild conviction, or the vision to throw their lives on the line for the sake of personal growth through purposeful action.

In your 20s you have a certain kind of freedom that cannot be exercised in any other decade of your life. You have the pejorative to be different, and even crazy—taking your art as far as begging for money at the intersection WILL be frowned upon after you turn 33—while society just looks the other way. In fact, the 20s are like a bus stop: a liminal place between teenagehood and full-blown adulthood. Yes, your parents might try to mediate your madness, but you can always pack your bags and say adios.

You don’t necessarily have a lover or children so your life is yours to make meaning out of. As a matter of fact, I would advise under 28s not to take themselves so serious as to shack up with a lover. Those were our mistakes to make. Do not hurry the process of growing up, believe me the time comes and it mangles you in its grip. So before then, travel without a solid plan, write poetry, read and immerse yourself in cultural activities, make change to someone’s life, find an outlet for the fire in your heart, and find love at least once.

ImageFor girl children there are a number of hurdles along the way—finding your sexual self may be a battle, a small trauma, a big trauma, a shameful discovery, an enjoyable journey, a loving experience; but it will be a process nonetheless, and you want to be vigilant about who you share your treasures with. At that bus stop of life, the 20s, there are many not ready to face their battle scars, so be weary of the energy vampires, the snake charmers, and the werewolves who are shapeshifting in and out of your life.

Most important out of these lessons is purposeful action. The 20s is your time, it’s your point in the journey of life where you should fill your basket with the tools you will need to face the many questions that will pose themselves to you: spiritual, emotional, psychological, religious, and metaphysical; matters of love, vocations, values, moralities, friendships, marriage, family, expanding families, and the overall campus of life. This campus will never point to True North, but you will spend the rest of your life striving and pursuing to tow your own line.

The 20s have simplicity about them that make life rich with possibilities: it is best to be impulsive and throw caution to the wind, but the complexity arises when you do that at an untimely moment. Mistakes are part of the 20s, the difference between a lesson and damnation is whether or not you forgive yourself. Learn to be kind to yourself and know that there is no manual for life; there are individuals all driven by the persistent yearning for happiness and freedom.

Here are some habits to exercise during the duration of the bus stop which will prepare you for life in adulthood:

  • 95% of the things you worry about never happen! It’s an unfounded statistic, but trust me, worrying deters you from the actual work at hand.
  • Be kind to yourself. This teaches others how to treat you.
  • Wake up early. Before you know it, your 20s are over and you still haven’t got around doing those little things than mean the world to you.
  • Exercise and drink lots of water. You might be able to do headstands and drink like a sailor, but at some stage two beers will give you a headache. Not even the next day.
  • There are some friends that should make the cut and others that you should let go. There’s work to be done, and no time for idling…
  • Family is everything. Nourish relationships and give your best to those who have helped shape the person you are today.
  • Ask for help. There’s a thin line between asking for too much, and reasonable requests. Be conscientious and you will soon know the difference.
  • Your ego will get in the way. Be humble and exercise a level of authority over your sense of indomitability.
  • Live in the service of others.
  • Keep a diary/journal/blog! You think your life is amazing now? Well the memories of it will slip in the crevices of thought… Record, record, record, and save.
  • Most of all: go for the longest walks, the longest kisses, the highest mountains, the best exhibitions, the heartiest laughter, the greenest parks, the most arduous yoga moves, the craziest sex positions (with that partner who makes you feel most alive), the best of friends, the intense star-gazing (the ones in the sky), the relevant novels, and the best love.
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And remember, we are one with the solar system (moon, stars, sun, skies, … ), the animals, plants, earth, wind, water, and fire: you are but a sand particle in the larger beach front of life. Everything is everything…

Strength, Courage and Wisdom

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The opposite of courage is not cowardice but is conformity. Courage is the ability to look, with an unbreakable resolve, on the other side of fear and project there an image of ourselves in our totality, listening to our own voice and honouring our own journey. We go through life hearing a lot of ‘no’s’: no, don’t play with that; no, don’t touch that fire; no, don’t look at it that way; no, no no! There’s a certain place of deprivation that manifests as a result of those ‘no’s’. That place nurtures fear, conformity and timidity.

Courage is the will to find a place of ‘yes’! Courage is the ability to honour, when all seems to be moving to currents of certain conformity, your own voice even when it promises no particular destination. It is from trust and faith in your own makings and designs that a strong voice emerges, not without purpose, but with a desire to be heard and credited—precisely not for the destination but for the journey itself—for the sake of human totality.

Totality—a harmonious balance between emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical, metaphysical—may only be achieved thorough purposeful resolve to spend some time looking inwardly and harnessing the treasures that constitute our unique selves. No person’s mine is like any other. The most intricate connection we share is that we all have treasures. Whether in Kazakhstan, North Korea, Iceland, or Togo; whether we are sheiks, Hindi, blacks, marabous, academics, or priests; our task is to assemble the tools that are necessary to mine our treasures, to give them value, and to share them with others.

Mining, valuing, and sharing require courage. The alchemy of moving from child to adult takes form from the root of courage. Courage and fear, inasmuch as they are antithesis of another, bear a strong link. Honouring you, believing in your cause, and choosing for non-conformity is a project that grapples with fear. However, courage is not the absence of fear, but courage is walking tall towards fear, and finding your inert will-power to triumph over it. Our goals and dreams are not big enough if they don’t scare us. In the end, the ones that triumphs are always the ones that go where the treasures of their hearts lead them, because the campus of their lives always advertently points true North: true self, true purpose, true journey, true joy.

Here’s to wishing you strength to stand up tall, courage to follow the current of your own makings, and wisdom to treat the voice of others with as much respect as you treat your own.
You’re only young once, but if you do it right, once is enough

You might also like a related post:

https://uhurumahlodi.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/be-your-own-personal-legend/

Liked India Arie’s beautiful anthem? Find the lyrics hereunder: