Ron Karenga at Kwanzaa celebration

The meditation for today, the fifth day of Kwanzaa, is Nia — Purpose: To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

America is a great country because we are all here! Aren’t you great? Aren’t I? We’re all great. Can you rise above your layered guilt and low self-esteem to say, “I’m great – and you’re great too”?

What makes us feel the most pride? We can feel pride for all kinds of things about ourselves but too often it’s directed to those things that our actions and decisions have the least to do with — our race, the place where we are born, the country we live in, and so forth. This is natural, but for me, my actions, work and accomplishments are the greatest source of my pride. I don’t think I’m better than anyone; I’m just talking about that moment after you’ve completed a worthwhile task when you can stand back for a few seconds and say, “Wow! That turned out pretty darn good!”

I can’t imagine anything worse than awakening in the morning with nothing to look forward to and nothing to do. Thankfully, this hardly ever happens. If that were part of my daily reality, I think it might be time to die and make room for someone else who might be able to find something useful to do with their lives. Yet I’m afraid that too many people who have allowed their dreams and hopes to be beaten down since childhood awaken each day like that.

Anything we do must be done with the spirit that it is something we all can share some satisfaction and benefit from, or it’s just another exercise in loneliness – and that’s not much fun. Ideally, one’s source of income should be a job or career that one can feel some personal pride and fulfillment in doing. Those who are self employed usually have little problem finding this perspective, but one may also be fortunate enough to have an employer who allows one the dignity to experience his or her personal accomplishment and satisfaction to the full and share in the profits.

One thing we need to remember is to always leave room for those who need to look deeper or higher for a purpose. These are the visionaries. They are the artists, poets, painters, musicians and scientists who of necessity must be given the resources to indulge themselves in the search of rarer accomplishments; accomplishments that require time and whose purpose many of us may not immediately see or understand.

This was one of the shortcomings of my life at the Black Bear Commune. Practical needs involving daily survival, involving kitchen duty, clean up, child care, pulling weeds, milking goats, chopping wood, etc., were so immediate in terms of our needs that those of us who at times went off to paint a painting, write a poem, compose music, or even study plants and herbs were seen as shirking their responsibility and duty to the commune. Those of us who had the calling and inspiration for these kinds of activities just had to take that time but it would have been better if everyone respected and appreciated the value in terms of our greater life together.

One day, the beatnik poet, Diane Di Prima, a friend of Elsa Marley (herself an extraordinary artist and poet), came down the road to live at Black Bear Commune. She decided make her home in the loft of the barn. In it she put up beautiful clothes and tapestries and exhibited the art treasures that she had acquired, welcoming us all to come up and appreciate them and the space she created any time. Below, a spirit of resentment was stirring concerning the contrast of someone “owning” (I prefer to regard it as “caring for”) objects that possibly had considerable monetary value while everyone at the ranch was always scrambling to see how to get enough money for building supplies, tools, or the next run for food staples. I really appreciated and was proud of the space that Diane had created and enjoyed hanging out in the wonderfully warm, exotic space she had created in our barn loft, above the cow and goat herd. It didn’t take more than two weeks for the negative rumbling of resentment to reach virtually threatening proportions. One morning around 4:30 a.m., I saw Diane hurrying up the road with all of her books, art, sculpture, tapestries and so forth, to skedaddle out of the ranch before others took it upon themselves to rip her off. I think it was a sad day for Black Bear.

For me, the moral of the story was that apart from all our practical needs, purpose must leave room for deliberate, focused purposelessness to impart that added special meaning that I think reflects our higher purpose.

Despite my suggestion that Kwanzaa might be a universal celebration, it is impossible to ignore the fact that its founder Maulana Ron Karenga intended it as a special celebration for the African Americans. Kwanzaa was founded by Karenga in 1966 in Long Beach, CA, a year after the infamous Watts riots.

Only 43 years later, we have just elected Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States. Obama never said or implied, “I’m black and therefore it’s time that I get elected president”; nor did the Democratic Party he represented say or imply, “Let’s give a black man a leg up and a lift to the presidency of this historically racist country.” We the people saw him as the best candidate for the job and he was elected based on his talent, charisma, skill and ability to communicate to the needs and concerns of the broader base of the American people.

I know it may not be entirely true yet, but I’d like to think that the pervasive worldwide acceptance and high regard for jazz and rhythm and blues; numerous black athletes such as Jackie Robinson, Jerry Rice, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, just to name a few; and the incredibly wealthy humanitarian, Oprah Winfrey, shows that we Americans have finally arrived at the place where race indeed represents nothing more than the color of one’s skin or other superficial characteristics.

So there’s a question here: Are we as a nation ready to move ourselves even measurably away from considerations of race?

Are we coming to the “America” Langston Hughes describes in the following poem?


Purpose: Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

Let America Be America Again

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,

Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!

Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.

Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas

In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed

And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–

The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,

Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,

We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,

The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!


Herb for Purpose: Atractylodes Alba

Purpose is not simply something that we find, but a quality that we have — the power to actively impart meaning to any endeavor of our life. Somebody, sometime, somewhere had to see and impart logic and purpose to just about any and everything we can imagine. This is a divine quality.

This implies that it is our prerogative and choice to impart and see purpose to anything we may do. We can help each other in that and I suppose that is where the collective or community support aspect is valuable, but ultimately it is up to the individual to awaken to it in his or her own life. Some of us are given or find great, creative work to do, those fortunate people may find it easier to see immediate and long term purpose and reward to their work. Others may find it difficult to see the greater purpose in a monotonous occupation.

However, it is possible to lose one’s sense of purpose regardless what the task may be. People who commit suicide may be considered to have lost a sense or purpose for living. For the despairing teenager losing his or her first love, shamed before their peers, failing in school — when one gets to the place where suicide appears as an option, sense of meaning and purpose is either absent or at critical low point.

The point is, purpose is a choice. Consider those who live in the most oppressive and abject circumstances, subjected to tyranny and oppression. Anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela served 27 years in one of the worst prisons in South Africa only to emerge as South Africa’s first democratically elected president, and went on to lead his nation through a period of reconciliation. One can cite countless other examples, but suffice it to say that such individuals obviously possess a strong sense of meaning and purpose that allow them to persevere.

Purpose is a divine attribute that we bring to our work. We can help each other achieve this by serving as an inspiration for those with whom we are in close association.

Atractylodes alba is a Chinese herb that is used as a Qi tonic with the specific attribute of firing up digestion, helping the body to sort through and find appropriate purpose for the many and various nutrients in food. Herbalists believe that good digestion is the foundation to health. Without it our body suffers gradual and progressive malnutrition which leads to a plethora of acute and chronic diseases.

Atractylodes is seldom taken by itself but can be combined with other qi tonic herbs such as ginseng and astragalus described for the fourth day of Kwanzaa’s theme, “cooperative economics,” to amplify their effects by further enhancing digestion and assimilation. In the same way one can easily imagine how adding a sense of meaning and purpose to any of our solitary or collective endeavors enhances their value.

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