Akilah's Column

Akilah's May Blog Part I | May 15, 2013

dark trail in the woods

For many years, I had an intense desire to lead a contemplative life. In the past three years, I have begun to enjoy the manifestation of that desire, but it is nothing like my original vision of it thirty six years ago. I cannot even say I had a definition of a contemplative life, only an intense desire to find home base. Now I can see clearly which experiences assisted me in finally arriving at the place that A Course in Miracles calls our eternal home.

First, I was introduced to yoga in undergraduate school. Having been born and raised in the Midwest in a working class, mostly Baptist-oriented, African American family, I previously knew nothing about yoga. I may have been introduced to India in high school geography classes, but I didn't know anything about yoga or yogis. The language was totally foreign to me. A classmate in a history class in college told me that she practiced yoga, and that it helped her to stay focused. I was in California and immediately went to

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Tower of Books and bought a book that I still have with me today: Integral Yoga Hatha, by Sri Swami Satchidinanda. If you have any experience with yoga, then you know the first thing that is required of the practice is focused breathing. Concentration is needed to maintain a pose for even a minute. The more I practiced, the more inwardly focused I became.

Second, during undergraduate school again, I became friends with a woman who told me that she chanted. "Chanting?" I asked her, "What's that all about?" "It's a Buddhist thing," she told me, "And what you have to do is say, nam myoho renge kyo." I wanted to know what would happen as a result of all this chanting. She said that whatever I chose to focus on during the chanting, any desire, would come to pass, that it was all about cause and effect. There were a lot of gaps, as far as I was concerned, in her explanation of the effects, but I started chanting a few nights each week. One night, after I had completed my one hundred or so nam myoho renge kyo's there was a knock on my door. It was my next-door neighbor who said that he had been hearing me chanting and wanted to know if I was a Buddhist. He was. His name was Johnny. From that night on, we had these dialogues about Buddhism. What came out of our conversations was the understanding that I am cause and effect. I create my life by what I focus on in my thoughts and desires. Aha! It was true. I was experiencing my desires, some pleasant, some not.

Then five years later, a husband and two more children later, "no longer chanting" later, "no longer practicing yoga" later, I am in Chicago, pregnant with my fourth child, getting the children in the car, and a woman walks up to me. She says, and I remember these words, "I have something that you may be interested in. It's at this address," which she wrote down for me, "and it starts about 8:00 tonight. You may want to go. There is a guy from Nigeria, and he has been here for only a few months. He's the teacher in the order." At this time, I lived on the south side of Chicago, and the address she gave me was only a two or three minute drive from my house. But if you are familiar with the south side of Chicago, you know that most people don't just go knocking on people's doors looking for a guy from Nigeria. But I did. That very night.

A woman dressed in all white greeted me and welcomed me. I walked into her living room and there were eight or nine people sitting on the floor, listening to this guy from Nigeria. Minutes later, they took out beads and began chanting. They started out slowly, and then the tempo increased. It sounded as if they were saying one word. Every couple of minutes, the chant would change, again starting off slowly, picking up pace, becoming very melodic. This was the dikr (pronounced th-ker) of the Sufi--the Tijani Sufi order of West Africa. There was something so magnetic in that room. I recalled thinking that I had heard this before, someplace, somewhere. I couldn't remember. So I went through the initiation process, became a Tijani, and received the dikr, the tools for awakening to the remembrance of God.

Those are my words for this month, and I will complete Part 2 of The Contemplative Life in the May edition. This month Katherine Golub is in the blogspot. She is sharing information about radical self-care. I would like to welcome Dorothea Hrossowyc who focuses on the connection between beliefs and body health. She will be periodically sharing information about her practice of the Rosen Method Bodywork.

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