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

Belonging

Last semester in social psychology, I wrote my final paper on the topic of belonging. Today I needed to find a clip of a speaker whose speaking style I want to emulate (for my Art of Communication class). I knew Brené was my gal because I have always admired not just her content, but her speaking style as well. She is relaxed and engaging whether she’s having a one-on-one conversation, like in the video clip above, or on stage in front of a big audience. Her mannerisms–eye contact, thoughtful pauses, facial expressions–all work to convey that she is present, she is at ease, she is listening, and she is genuinely interested. Plus, she a good laugher. Brené is coming out with a new book and is clearly making the interview circuit of late, which is how I happened upon the piece above. The fact that she talks about belonging to ourselves first, and this is the very thing which I wrote my paper about, I was like, Whaaaat! Yes! Sure, it’s a bit of an ego boost, I won’t lie. But more importantly, it is a beautiful serendipity, a confirmation that what I am putting out in the world is being reflected, and not just in my reality, but into the world at large. These healing vibes are catching on. There is a wave of change that is happening. Yes I live in California, in the Bay Area, and there’s definitely some confirmation bias as a result. But a wave is a wave, and they have to start somewhere!

Brené speaks about belonging to ourselves first, video starts at 1:40.

This video clip is one of those uncanny coincidences, the kind of which give me hope for the future, even in spite of the despair and bullshit that we are seeing in the news. Maybe the astrologers are right after all, and we are moving out of the Piscean Age, which has been marked by deceit and darkness, greed and control. Maybe the Aquarian Age is finally working her magic slowly but surely, using the higher frequencies of love and kindness, equality and justice.

Earlier this year in the Spring, in my first semester at CIIS, I wrote my neurobiology final paper on the topic of ADD and Sound Healing, and used HeartMath Institute and their research on coherence as a resource. Then two months ago, Pam Gregory astrologer, whom I follow on YouTube, mentioned HeartMath in one of her videos. And now I’m hearing many others use this word, too. Coherence, vibration, frequency. What’s so cool about coherence is that the more we practice coherence with our own heart-mind, and others do the same, an exponential effect begins to happen, as we all begin to increase our resonant field and this in turn effects the Earth’s energy field, too, creating positive healing global coherence. When we are in coherence, our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is activated and we feel calm, focused, centered. It is the opposite feeling of being in fight-flight-freeze. I will post my neurobiology paper at some point. In the meantime, read about coherence and HeartMath here: https://www.heartmath.org/science/

“Light is the game changer, and love is the checkmate”.

Pam Gregory, astrologer

Essay: Belonging to Ourselves First

This is my final paper, submitted for Social Psychology, CIIS, Summer 2021.

Facing the Problem

            When something intended as metaphor is believed as literal, it is called ontological confusion, and we see examples of this when people take biblical stories at face value. Similarly, there are some who are convinced that our reality on planet Earth is a computer simulation. This kind of thinking is not as harmless as it may appear; it is a setup for disappointment and failure because even if it were a screen that could be cracked to reveal the ‘real world’, if there were a man behind the curtain, or what not, there is one problem that remains- us. We are still the same person inside the simulation or outside of it, inside the matrix, or not. It might also encourage a nihilistic mentality, as in we’re not really here, so let’s burn it all down. Yet we are here. Our brains, our neuroses, our problems, our monkey minds, jumping from one conclusion to the next. Wherever you go, there you are. Simulation or not, we remain. From an existential perspective, the solution is often contained inside the problem. The answer may not be outside of ourselves at all, but within us.

Last night I received two dreams about facing my shadow, and I believe they speak to this topic at hand. In the first dream it is nighttime, and I am holding a clear plastic bag in my left hand, the kind used for fruit or veggies at the market. The bag is not tied or knotted, just gathered tightly at the top. Inside is an extra-large, other-worldly spider. My grip lessens and the arachnid will soon be released, set free. I can only protect him for so long. His long, limber legs paw gently at the opening. The focus is on this spider—my spider—and he looks scary, but in truth he is a gentle being. It is my perception of my fear that I am most afraid of. I tell myself I have sequestered the spider to protect those around me. But I am the one who holds the bag. I want to embrace the younger me, the girl who holds him. There is nothing to fear, I want to say. My shadow is only scary when it is Othered.

In the second dream, I am in a house. Someone has left me there. Many people coming and going, strangers, chaos. Why is my house not my own? I’ve misplaced my medications, my things are not where they should be. There is discord and disharmony, and I am so tired. Finally, I stand at the mirror, ready to be myself. I remove the false fronts from my teeth, the veneers. They are plates, front-facing coverings, adhered with glue or something to just the fronts of my real teeth. They come off easily. I stack these cover plates on the counter, running my tongue against my original teeth which have been covered up too long. There is nothing wrong with my teeth. It feels good to shed the layers, such relief to be my real self.

This semester in our Social Psychology class at CIIS, we confronted the many ways that humans engage in social behavior, and the resulting dynamics that occur from being the social animals that we are. Conformity, dissonance, relational aggression, propaganda. The research brought to bear in The Social Animal (Aronson & Aronson, 2018) was at times confounding and, in all honesty, depressing. More than a few times, I found myself wondering, are we truly this predictable, this limited…this hopeless? When I examined my own life, I found evidence of these unconscious mechanisms at work in my life, which is exactly what made it so humbling to face. Yet, just as in my dream, to accept my shadow spider, i.e. my dark, disowned parts, I would have to face myself in the mirror, without the veneers, without the false face and just be real.

When we abdicate responsibility, we also abdicate a solution…of course we must accept that there is a problem first. And this brings us to said problem: humans at large, avoid self-inquiry because it is too shocking, too painful, too vulnerable. Looking at ourselves truthfully is not glamorous; without filter, without makeup, without our social masks to hide the many flaws we have deemed unacceptable. This honest self-examination might be one of the most difficult, painful, bottom-of-the-barrel tasks we are ever called to do…which is exactly why we must do it.

Belonging

According to Aronson & Aronson (2018), the need for belonging is the strongest of the five central social motives of human social behavior humans (the others are understanding and prediction; control; a need to matter; and trust).

What does it mean to belong? The desire to belong drives so much of our behavior that we rarely think about it. Yet, marketers, propaganda, and mass media most definitely do think about it. If fact, they use this central social motive to sell us their wares, get us to see issues a certain way, use their apps and products, and influence us in myriad ways. Most people are unaware of how often we are played on a daily basis, just like puppets in a play. The average person has never thought about how we are being manipulated, how everything that is competing for their attention—billboards, apps, pop up ads, targeted facebook ads, mailing lists, politicians, movies, tv shows—they are all selling something. And they are using our need to belong against us.

Yet, what about belonging to ourselves? What about facing ourselves in the mirror and being honest about our own humanness. Whatever is hurting and eating at us inside, does it not also deserve love and kindness? What are the thoughts going through our head when we engage in our destructive behaviors, our repetitive thoughts that keep us stuck. What are we thinking about when we are binge eating, or drinking ourselves to sleep, or pushing away anyone who tries to loves us, or sabotaging new opportunities, or having a hard time speaking honestly to our partner, or getting defensive every time our partner gets that tone in their voice, or cutting ourselves to feel better, or ignoring sensations of pain, or never allowing ourselves to cry? We are not weak because we engage in these things, although they do harm us. We are made weak only by never examining the backstory of why.

Belonging to ourselves is not something that is taught, nor are we given examples of what this looks like. Our capacity to be our own protector, our own best friend, it is a superpower we give away when we give into thoughts, emotions, behaviors that have never been examined. We may be told that in order to love another, we must first love ourselves. But how many of us berate ourselves cruelly when we make a mistake, or forget a date, disappoint another, or do something we swore we wouldn’t do again?

If we are to become aware of these social motives that are unconsciously driving us, especially our need to belong, we must learn to love ourselves fiercely, more than we ever have before. This is not selfish; it is the most compassionate, kind thing we can do. As Ghandi said, and I paraphrase, to see a change in the world, we must be that change we wish to see. To love ourselves is a daily experience of opening up to acceptance and then letting go of control. It is about learning what feels right and what does not, what we are okay with and where the line must be drawn, creating boundaries and then being vulnerable, sensitive, honest, and present within that.

While therapy can be incredibly valuable, many people may be skeptical. Or they may feel self-conscious about how they would be perceived if a family member found out; many see therapy as a demeaning, that they are not enough. However, every human on this planet feels some measure of pain if for no other reason than that we are all connected. It is not shameful to ask for help, but it is a tragedy to carry a burden as a point of pride, or a medal of honor. It is no secret that the Earth is in pain and we humans along with her; we are all experiencing some level of dis-ease. We may be struggling right in this moment.

Ho’oponopono

One way to address this problem of self-avoidance is through practicing forgiveness and self-love. Ho’oponopono is a Hawaiian healing prayer which offers a unique opportunity for addressing the pain we carry. The word Ho’oponopono roughly translated means, to put things right, to move back to balance. It is a tool for connecting to self-love, belonging, and forgiveness. Meant to be said in repetition, like a mantra, it can be said to yourself, or direct it outwards to someone whom you seek forgiveness from. The prayer goes like this:

I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you, I love you.”

I’m sorry serves to recognize there was a wrong done (by you, or to you). We can only change that which we acknowledge. Please forgive me is the sincere contrition. Thank you serves as appreciation for the recognition and the apology. I love you completes the circle, offering wholeness and closure.

Ho’oponopono is a balancing practice to facilitate mental and emotional release and connect you to your heart center. Recite the prayer in your head, or speak it aloud, at any time of the day. To do this exercise in front of a mirror is especially healing; this is because a mirror does not lie. For instance, if we say this prayer in our head, but at the same time we are thinking of other things, then the energy of the words are blocked because we are distracted. Yet, in front of a mirror we must gaze into our own eyes and there is nowhere to hide. We might say I’m sorry and wince, or I forgive you and begin crying. This tells us there was something there inside of us that needed recognition, which was tender and hurting.

Love fosters belonging, which in turn allows for understanding and trust. When we trust ourselves we are better equipped to look honestly at the disowned parts of ourself and decide if we want to integrate them or discard them when they no longer fit. It is only when we keep them “safely” contained in a bag, unacknowledged and unexamined, that they do us harm.

Pledging allegiance to ourselves in earnest is not something that has been modeled in our society. We have been a culture that looks outward, avoiding our insides at all costs. We have only recently seen evidence of people on the world stage, like Simone Biles, being courageous enough to honor their inner knowing, trusting their heart and their boundaries.

We do not need to try and change our driving social motives extrinsically; for in truth, there is nothing wrong with these motives in and of themselves. In fact, they often serve good purpose in the social nature of groups and community. What is wrong, however, is to continue to move blindly along in life, remaining in pain, remaining asleep, when we have the tools available to wake up.

References

Kriss, S. (2016, October 13). Tech billionaires want to destroy the universe. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/10/silicon-valley-is-obsessed-with-a-false-notion-of-reality/503963/

Annie Lowrey. (2020, Sep 15,). The bunker magnates hate to say they told you so. The Atlantic https://global.factiva.com/en/du/article.asp

Aronson, E., & Aronson, J. (2018) The social animal (12th ed.). Worth Publishers. http://public.eblib.com/choice/PublicFullRecord.aspx?p=6418106

Wisdom Weavers of the World. (2019, January 30). What Does Ho’oponopono, the Hawai’ian Phrase, Mean? [Video] Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3eBAD8KgaM&t=1s