Essay: Illuminating Spirit

My final paper for the class, Cross-Cultural and Multi-Cultural Psychologies, Summer 2021, CIIS, BS Psy program.

Illuminating Spirit: Sakhu Djaer as Coherence

As around the sun the earth knows she’s revolving
And the rosebuds know to bloom in early May
Just as hate knows love’s the cure
You can rest your mind assured
That I’ll be loving you always

—Stevie Wonder (1976, para. 1).

Spirit is Essential     

These are the opening lyrics to the song “As”, by Stevie Wonder, on the album, Songs in the Key of Life (1976). It is one of my favorite tracks of all time. The lyrics are deeply reflective with an upbeat energy, and a steady, mounting tempo that never fails to shift me into a joyful place or take me even higher when I’m already feeling good. It is also not a short song, clocking in at seven minutes and eight seconds long. This length, I discovered, is the sweet spot for music accompaniment when jumping on my mini trampoline, which I have been doing a few times a week. (Five minutes is never quite enough; longer than eight and I get bored.) There is something uniquely powerful about “As”, that even as I write this, I can feel the frisson along my arms and neck. A musical composition of this caliber does not come along every day. There is a whole-beingness contained in this song; it is a quality I intrinsically sensed and gravitated to, but until recently, I had no concise explanation for.

While Spirit has always been an essential part of my life, before this 2021 summer semester, the breadth of my language had felt limited. Words like awesome, divine, energy, frequency—they are useful, sure, but they have also become buzz words in many respects. It is not easy to describe the invisible world; in truth, the language of Spirit has always been mysterious.

The wisdom my father would share with me in his after-dinner speeches always came in hushed tones. His wine glass in hand, and belly full, he would espouse the new insights he’d gleaned that week through his mystery schools and alchemical texts, sharing epiphanies bridged by parables, told in metaphor and myth; connecting ancient dots to present time. This was certainly wisdom far beyond my teenage years, yet I was captivated. Hours would pass with my father perched across the tiny living room, on his Koa wood bed, and I, posted up on a bar stool leaning against the kitchen counter. Sometimes I asked questions, but mostly I just listened. Something in me knew that even if I did not understand everything, what was important would get absorbed.  

Now that I have completed the Cross-Cultural class taught by Dr. Adeeba Deterville at CIIS, the awareness I’ve gained to African ways of being and knowing has opened me up, and with this, a new understanding of Spirit; and of why I find the song “As” so powerful. The answer is contained in the concept of Sakhu Djaer.

Sakhu Djaer is defined by Nobles (2015) as essentially the “illumination of the Spirit” (p. 37).  He emphasizes, “…Skh Djr requires one to think deeply about African meanings and understandings about being human” (p. 38).  

In “As”, the journey of the lyrics start with Nature and end with Nature. The sun knows when to revolve, the flowers know when to bloom, kindness and love reign, and as Wonder repeats throughout the song, “…I’ll be loving you always”. This is ultimately a love song. To a partner, children, family; it also speaks to his love of all Creation. But there is a secondary meaning that is implied, which is that perhaps it is Spirit who is singing to us, that the love is flowing from the Universe to all living beings. With this layer of meaning, a sacred circle of continuity arises. There is no beginning, no end, and “I’ll be loving you always” speaks to the eternal in us and the eternal that created us.

Originist at Heart

Through the coursework I came to identify with an “Originist” positionality (Hine, 1992), as it aligns with archeological and anthropological findings that cite the Fertile Crescent as one of the cradles of civilization. There were likely several cradles, although none of them were in Europe. Greek civilization came much later than Egypt/ Mesopotamia, and the Roman civilization was later still. While there were obvious enlightened thinkers that came from Greek and Roman times, why are they the only ones we have been taught? Sumerians have some of the oldest written texts, but I never learned about them in school. The knowledge I have gained through this course has illuminated the many holes and lies of omission that our Euro-centric education system lauds. It is time for this to change.

While my Originist positionality has been borne from a scientific and logical understanding, and then confirmed through this coursework, this quote from Hine sparked my thinking about how much deeper the Originist positionality truly goes:

“The late Nathan Huggins observed that, Tradition is a legitimizing phenomenon. All peoples and all nations want to tie themselves to an ancient past (ideally, preliterate and mythic)” (p. 17).

A desire for belonging is a basic social psychological need. We all want to belong, and we all deserve to have a tradition that we feel in our bones is ours, not simply because we were told it is. The quote above suggests that every tradition and culture want the oldest, most ancient past, the path that ties us to the truth, the Myths and Gods of origin. I can feel how I too, want the original Gods and Goddesses, the Old Gods, not the New. This kind of thinking however, has a competitive nature, a me-them positionality. If I am to be true to the Originist epistemology, then anything that takes me away from my heart, takes me away from Spirit, and therefore must be reevaluated.

Authenticity

We inevitably create versions of ourselves in order to function in society, which so often requires a soul sacrifice. The phrase ‘soul-sucking’ comes to mind, be it a job, relationship, behavior, etc. Instead, Piper-Mandy & Rowe (2010) offer the seven moments on the Path of the Human Spirit, which are refreshing and hopeful. They are: Before, Beginning, Belonging, Being, Becoming, Beholding, and Beyond. This African-centered way of being feels like spirals of intertwined experience, as we travel each moment of the path, it is all connected to the larger whole, never separate. The focus is in the human body experience, as well as in the unseen worlds; the before and the beyond are welcome additions to acknowledging the Greater Is-ness. It is a little sad that mainstream general psychology has historically been disconnected from anything remotely spiritual, as it has sought to recognize only that which can be quantified and measured. While there have been many achievements, at this point in our history, I believe a heart-centered paradigm is required.

Being authentic describes a way of being that is original and truthful to your personhood. Authenticity has become a somewhat overused term, but maybe that is because while ubiquitous in theory, it is so rarely actualized. If we were all more authentic, exclaiming things like just be your authentic self would have no meaning, in fact it would be bizarre. In the current state of things, being real is still somewhat of a novelty. Conformity is a powerful social mechanism and humans can become inauthentic very quickly if it means fitting in. And yet, as Piper-Mandy & Rowe (2010) state, “We cannot simply lift African rituals and rites from ancient record and weave them as whole cloth into the fabric of contemporary diasporan African life” (p. 9). This quote holds up a mirror, asking us to examine something before we weave it into our story, personally or collectively. Does it resonate, do we know what its deeper purpose is, the significance? Did our ancestors practice this, and if so, does it serve us now and why? 

The Bridge of Sakhu Djaer

Spirit is ether, our ancestors, guardians, sacred animals; Spirit is also nature, the earth, the soil. Spirit is in everything. No amount of human companionship can fill a void when the soul is empty. If I am not first right in my heart, I will not be right in any endeavor. When my motives and intentions are kind and true, I feel in alignment. My breathing is deep, not shallow. My parasympathetic nervous system is calm and focused. I am tuned in and activated in a higher mind sensation. This is what coherence feels like (McCraty, 2016). To connect in harmony with ourselves and community, our motives must be heart-centered, which is also where our truth and vulnerability reside.

The bridge of Sakhu Djaer speaks to the soul of me, like the language of my dreams. The process of enlightenment is one of walking backwards towards Spirit. We are already illuminated, but we must shed the layers that have covered us—the baggage, societal demands, trauma, shame, guilt, oppression. With each layer, our true divine connectedness is revealed a little more and little more. We are spirits having a human experience, moving out of dissonance towards coherence, towards the embodiment of Sakhu Djaer. The final section of lyrics I wish to highlight is the bridge, below. It comes in at minute 3:49, when the momentum is moving stronger and higher into a frenzied energy, and Stevie is belting it out with throaty reverberation. There is so much connection offered in this song, but especially in this bridge; it is primal, much like the bridge of Sakhu Djaer.

Beingness operates outside of chronological time; our future is now, our past is never gone, and how we act and how we live our lives matters not just for us but for future generations, for ancestors, for timelines we haven’t seen and memories we have yet to remember. We are divine creators, and the Divine is creating through us.

We all know sometimes life’s hates and troubles

Can make you wish you were born in another time and space

But you can bet your life times that and twice its double

That God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed

So make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it

You’re not helping to make this earth a place sometimes called Hell

Change your words into truths and then change that truth into love

And maybe our children’s grandchildren

And their great-great-grandchildren will tell

I’ll be loving you

Stevie Wonder (1976, para. 8-9)

References

Hine, D. C. (1992). The black studies movement: Afrocentric-traditionalist-feminist paradigms for the next stage. Black Scholar, 22(3), pp. 11-18

McCraty, R. (2016). Science of the heart, volume 2, Exploring the role of the heart in human performance: An overview of research conducted by the HeartMath Institute. HeartMath Institute. https://doi.org/10.13140/rg.2.1.3873.5128

Nobles, W. W. (2015). From black psychology to Sakhu Djaer: Implications for the further development of a pan African black psychology. Journal of Black Psychology, 41(5), 399–414. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095798415598038 

Piper-Mandy, E., & Rowe, T. D. (2010). Educating African-Centered Psychologists: Towards a Comprehensive Paradigm. The Journal of Pan African Studies, 3(8), 5–23.  

Wonder, S. (1976). As [Song]. On Songs in the Key of Life. Tamla Records; Motown. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/steviewonder/as.html

Author: libra kaplan

Artist, dreamer, graduate student, & aspiring psychologist

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