The meditation for yesterday, the first day of Kwanzaa, was: Umoja (Unity): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
I tried to meditate on this theme yesterday after my family’s exchange of gifts as Lesley and I took a walk up a hill near our home in the low-lying hills above Santa Cruz. It was a drizzly, overcast morning.
Now, Lesley has a wider stride than I, and I found it a distracting challenge to keep up with her. She, on the other hand, looking for a cardiovascular workout, experienced some annoyance with my intention to follow the dictates of my own somewhat shorter stride. I recalled how we’ve experienced this problem in the past and thought, “If we are not even able to experience unity of being able to walk side by side, how can I expect that religions and the many other aspects that divide humankind from one another, be expected to achieve the noble realization of unity?”
In fact, it seemed that the day was engineered to test my definition and subjective experience of umoja/unity: Just before breakfast, I had a difference with my 25 year-old concert pianist son, Chetan, concerning the musical intention and significance of a single note varied in a repeated passage that he was practicing in Brahms’ Piano Trio in C Minor op 101. In the heat of trying to learn this particularly ecstatic musical phrase, Chetan decided that the difference of only a single note of the repetition was a mistake of the composer. I tried to convince him how much changing a single note in a passage, flatting the third of a major triad for instance, can change a passage from a brighter optimistic tone to that of mysterious brooding intimacy. This wasn’t a simple minor third change but an altered note that upon repetition still seemed to add to the expression of this remarkable work. We couldn’t find common ground on this issue. Disunity strikes again!
Even periodically repeating the phrase “all is one” in my meditation on unity, which moved me into a wonderful state of inner peace and calm, was promptly frayed by the events described above!
I’m sure any of you who have had the not untypical holiday family experience over the last few days have experienced similar chaos and disunity. If, as I did yesterday, you get worked up with the expectation to make unity happen between yourself and others whom you love and care about, you may find that when it doesn’t happen in even the most trivial situation, it can cause disgruntled feelings. It seems that each year as the holidays approach we seem to forget the previous years’ challenges and confrontations that arise around the broader issue of family unity. As we plan for the holidays, some of us vow to avoid the same pitfalls of the previous years… but inevitably “stuff happens” and a sour note is struck amidst the festive cheer.
I think I would have had better success if my meditation and discussion on unity was done as part of a ritual with others, which is what Kwanzaa provides. However, this only seems to beg the question of what value is it to spout noble ideas and thoughts as part of a ritual if we are unable to practically implement those as part of our daily life and interaction with others?
Having said this, I don’t think that all was for naught and that there is at least something to be said for performing an action with positive intention as opposed to the plethora of bleak news reports of serial killing, terrorism, genocide, financial greed, loss of life’s savings, joblessness, environmental endangerment, home foreclosures along with the violent forms of entertainment we turn to in order to distract and dull our awareness of these negative aspects which seem to permeate our daily lives.
Taken in light of the above, I would have to say that my personal attempt to practically find unity between myself, others and the world that I live is eminently a worthwhile endeavor.
Kwanzaa Day Two Theme: Self-Determination
Let’s turn to the theme of the second day’s Kwanzaa contemplation: Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) — To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
Here is some verse — a prayer, really — specially selected for “Self-Determination:”
Meditation (in Swahili)
K’a má fi kánjú j’aiyé.
K’a má fi wàrà-wàrà n’okùn orò.
Ohun à bâ if s’àgbà,
K’a má if se’binu.
Bi a bá de’bi t’o tútù,
K’a wò’wajú ojo lo titi;
K’a tun bò wá r’èhìn oràn wo;
Nitori àti sùn ara eni ni.
Let us not engage the world hurriedly.
Let us not grasp at the rope of wealth impatiently.
That which should be treated with mature judgment,
Let us not deal with in a state of anger.
When we arrive at a cool place,
Let us rest fully;
Let us give continuous attention to the future;
and let us give deep consideration to the consequences of things.
And this because of our (eventual) passing.
I was not able to find a worthwhile poem on ‘self-determination’ that I thought was good enough to serve as a basis for this second day’s theme. However after much thought and consideration I remembered the great essay, “Self-Reliance,” by the mid-19th century America transcendental philosopher, poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is a long essay that far exceeds the bounds of a blog but I can’t think of a more appropriate statement encompassing the essence behind the idea of self-determination than this brilliant, oft quoted essay by Emerson.
In working up to preparing this entry, I read this essay again and realized that the last time I read it I was in my early teens. It was a fascinating experience to re-read the essay almost 60 years later.
When I read such phrases as:
“Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist,”
“He walks abreast with his days and feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession’, for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances,”
or who hasn’t heard or repeated the proverb, “God helps those who help themselves,”
— I realize that the precepts and principles Emerson expounds upon in this essay have supported my own life journey and the measure of fulfillment and success I have been able to experience throughout.
I think Emerson would be in full agreement with my personal view that all of what we accomplish in the world is manifested and directed by the invisible inner reigns of the will.
Cyperus for Self-Determination
As an herbalist, I choose the herb cyperus to correspond with self-determination, because cyperus is used to regulate energy or qi. One must be able to control their qi in order to appropriately direct their will. It is a common weed, with species and subspecies growing throughout the world, considered a noxious weed by most Western gardeners. Little used by Western herbalists, it is widely used in as a medicinal herb China, India and in certain tribes in the Peruvian Amazon jungle where it is used to prevent conception. This is probably because of Oxytocin fungus that naturally occurs in the damp soil of that region of the world. In any case it should be strictly avoided if one wants to become pregnant or during pregnancy.
Cyperus rotundus is also known as xiang fuin Chinese herbal medicine and it is used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to regulate qi and relieve the tendency of stagnant liver qi, which according to TCM theory is the cause of a wide variety of common imbalances, ranging from digestive complaints, chest pains, painful and irregular menstruation to depression and moodiness. All of these are regarded as “irregular qi” for which cyperus along with a number of other herbs would be employed. Other than precautions against using it during pregnancy, it is a wonderful herb to relieve menstrual irregularity and attendant pains and is otherwise considered a perfectly safe and harmless. In fact, certain California American natives used the roots of this herb as a food.