Category Archives: Spirituality

Meditation is Hard

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Whenever I mention that I am working on a hip-hop meditation project someone inevitably says, “But Toni, it is not easy to meditate.” One of my songwriting students recently told me that meditation was too hard and a good friend told me she’s just not a be still kind of woman.

I woke around 6am today and did Day 1 of Oprah & Deepak’s 21 Day Meditation Experience. It was about 3/4 through that my monkey mind started to dance. I kept bringing myself back to the centering thought until I heard the bell. I heard my student’s voice and smiled. Part of me was thinking like him- meditation is hard.

The sun was just rising so I lit a white candle and incense while preparing my thyme tea. As the sound of Native American flutes played faintly in the background I cleared my chest then got back into my bed so I could focus on the flame. Candle gazing can be a useful meditation technique as it brings focus and energy to the third eye.

This morning’s meditation wasn’t auto-pilot for me. It required deliberate focus and intention but I am reminded of Dr. Deben, one of my spiritual teachers, who would say that mediation wouldn’t be such a big deal if we used the word practice whenever talking about it. It is a practice. Some days meditation is not easy but the more we practice a thing the better we become.

So. I recently slipped into one of my workaholic patterns. My life’s work is beyond exciting right now and my mind wanted to get its Usain on at every hour of the day. Eventually, I crashed and a series of health issues stopped me in my tracks. Meditation helped me make it through commitments  – performances, lectures, panels, teaching and a special event.  We may lose our footing but we can always return to center and our meditation practice will be available to us.

Here are a few ways I have been able to make meditating easier for myself:

  • Clearing my mind almost always begins with writing. I have to empty out the ever present list that is in the forefront of my mind so I pick up pen and paper and I jot it down. I bless the list with love and let it go for later. Sometimes I do this before I sit still to meditate but doing this right before bed also helps me sleep better.
  • Breathing can be a meditation within itself. Slowing down the breath relaxes the mind, calms the nervous system and shifts the focus from stressors to being present in the moment. There are many breathing techniques one can use. I inhale slowly through my nose as if air is entering my belly causing it to expand like a ballon. I exhale the air gently through my lips. Eyes can be open or closed.  It is a simple exercise that can have a profound impact on our emotional state.
  • Focusing on gratitude always rocks. One of the easiest ways to go into the zone is to say out loud – I am grateful for _______________. I say it over and over, filling in the blank until I have run out of things to say. There are some days where I go in so deep that I will find myself in tears of gratitude at the end of this meditation. On other days my heart just smiles.
  • Sometimes my meditation requires motion so I take a walk and listen to guided meditations from youtube or even my own. Hot yoga is another moving meditation that I have grown to appreciate. Meditation does not have to be about sitting still all of the time. It is about making time and space to reconnect and recenter.

We will release BELIEVE, the first installment of the Meditation Mixtape Series just in time for the new year. I want to share more stories from my meditation journey and keep it 100 about the difficulties and challenges. Meditation is not always easy  in the beginning but it doesn’t have to ever be hard. Learning breathing techniques and practicing meditation have changed my life. I’m excited to share what I am learning with you all.

Meditation is not just for relaxation; its primary purpose is to develop the capacity to respond skillfully and gracefully to life’s difficulties as well as its joys” -Shyalpa Tenzin

 

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Accountability is the Answer When Self-Care is Elusive: 5 Tips

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The term self-care is thrown around so much these days that it causes concern. It’s  as if it’s in danger of being put out to pasture in the land of cliches. It’s truly an over-used phrase because it’s talked about much more than it is practiced. It’s almost silly sometimes. We talk about sleeping more. We talk about meditating. We talk about making more time for loved ones. Then we continue to grind.

Grinding feels like the anti-thesis of self-care. I mean, say it out loud. Even the way the word feels in your mouth feels sort of grimy and abrasive. Yet, it resonates with entrepreneurs, artists and activists I know. One who “grinds” is gangsta with his/her commitment to winning at whatever he/she does.

Oh self-care, self-care where art thou? With loads of articles, youtube videos and podcasts about self-care one would think that the self-care movement would have taken a greater foothold by now, but you know that old habits are hard to break. 42% of Americans didn’t take any vacation days in 2014. There are host of reasons as to why this occurs but Forbes magazine said that even Americans with paid vacations don’t take the time off. In 2014 only 25% of Americans used all their paid vacation days.

I have some really talented friends. They’re driven, determined and gifted producers, filmmakers, writers, dancers, singers, techies and creative professionals. My partner will close his eyes and be in la-la land minutes after sitting down. He “rests” his eyes in the most random of places and is clearly sleep deprived like many of my fam. I’ve also seen friends work themselves sick. Oh, and in my inner-circle not eating enough is much more common that over eating. Let’s not even talk about water consumption and hydrating foods.

Everybody knows we should be taking better care of ourselves especially in the current climate. If one has any ties to being actively engaged in the movement in even the smallest of ways, it’s important that people remain vigilant in the fight for peace of mind and optimal health.

If you’ve been trying to cleanse for the past year and haven’t done it make it to yoga class or the gym, and haven’t gone or if you want to drink more water or go to bed earlier at night,  consider enrolling a circle of people to support you as you transform your habits. Engage an accountability team that will help you stay on point. The first step is stop lying to yourself and thinking you can do it on your own. There’s a reason why community exist.

5 Tips to Creating Your Accountability Circle:

1-Be specific and tell people how to challenge you. Tell them what your goals are and where you tend to fall off track.

2-Remember that at the end of the day it’s still your responsibility. You have to show up with the mentality that you are doing to take better care of yourself.

3-Choose people who will tell you what you need to hear and not just what you want to hear. Avoid the loved ones who co-sign your crazy. Also, make sure they deliver in a style that speaks to your personality. Avoid those who cannot share without judging. You don’t need judgment, you need support.

4-Don’t try to do everything at once. Choose one or two self-care habits you want to build.  Work on that for a month. Write it down and post it in a few visible places. Put it in reminders on your phone and insert it into your calendar.

5-Find a self-care buddy. It’s sort of like a work-out partner. Identify someone who is working on the same thing and willing to stay in touch with you for a few weeks or a month while you both work on the goal. It may be a friend who wants to drink more water or someone who wants to increase their fruit and vegetable intake. Text each other, inbox inspiring messages or videos and exchange information. Team work makes the dream work so get yourself a buddy!

So stop chasing your self-care. Looking within, look at the mirror and resolve to love up on yourself properly. Establishing accountability can be intimidating but commit to making the changes and letting others know how they can support you. The discomfort will melt away. Self-care is the best care and self-care is self-love.

Love yourself.

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“Self-care is not about self-indulgence. It’s about self-preservation.” – Audre Lorde

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Apologize and Why It’s Important

ApologizingEarlier this year I sent an apology note to someone. He appreciated it but said that he didn’t understand since the hurt he caused had been so much worse. I explained to him that my apology wasn’t really about him. It was a part of my forgiveness process. I promised myself that I would step into 2016 lighter, with a lot less baggage and with a clear heart.

When I was much younger I would write what my big sister, Adrea, and I called cleansing letters. They were long, detailed and dramatic. Each letter, filled with prose and poetry, required time and energy that would’ve been better spent working on material for publication or for the screen. This morning I give thanks for grounding, healing, emotional and spiritual maturity. Don’t get me wrong, I am an entrepreneur so some of those letters still might make the cut for the HBO special in my head, but my priority now is my own well being and truth. I am powerful. I am not a victim. I no longer beg for others to see their wrong doings.

Being accountable for what transpires in our lives is also a critical part of understanding forgiveness and apologies. *Sometimes we play a role in the experiences we attract. Be clear about the other person’s actions but be honest with yourself about how you may have participated.

I’ve been gangsta’ about my inner-work, emotional and energetic healing. This is not by choice.  It is a necessity. Stress and anxiety manifest as immediate physical symptoms in my body. After years of naturopaths and doctors, healing diets, hypnotherapists, acupuncturists, bodywork specialists, herbalists, spiritual counselors, energy healers, traditional priests and priestess, I have the data. My research has proven this to be true time and time again so I started this emotional cleansing. Guess what? As a result, I am also experiencing less illness.

Walking in the light, focusing on the light, practicing random acts of kindness, inhaling love, exhaling gratitude, dancing in forgiveness while honoring your boundaries will attract more goodness and abundance into your world than you can ever imagine. Choosing to love and be love is a daily choice. It is not easy some days especially for a drama addict in recovery but for me it means less pain in my body, fewer symptoms to worry about and good sleep.

When others feel your light it creates a safe space for apologies and authentic communication. (Note: this also creates space for love and gratitude to be shared with you as well!!) I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. I made a few notes from my experience with receiving apologies and wanted to share a few things with the world. Here goes:

  1. Make sure you’re ready to apologize. It’s not effective if you’re not able to fully own up.
  2. Focus on yourself and your stuff. Do not use your apology as a place to point out the other person’s wrong. Let them do that and be prepared for them not to own up to anything. Sometimes sorry is not enough and things will never be the same so focus on you.
  3. Be clear about what you are apologizing for.  You may need to rehearse it in your mind. I wanted to apologize for ___________, _______________ and ____________. I could have handled it differently. I was not being responsible and I did not honor you.
  4. Share what you have learned, new insights about yourself or life and the reasons why you will never do it again.

Being humble, vulnerable and transparent are important parts of the apology. Doing it without an expected outcome is also a healthy part of it because the apology loses its power when we have too many expectations attached to it. Remember it is not about shaming yourself but about empowering yourself through love and truth so you can lighten your load and hopefully contribute to the other person’s healing as well.

December is an auspicious time or at least that is how I have always viewed it. I do “spring cleaning”, set goals for the new year and give voice to my gratitude. My new year momentum starts in November and I ride a wave until it hits. The world may be in chaos and filled with all sorts of tragedy right now, but we control our inner-world and can choose to be filled with peace. Happy Healing Fam.

I thought about posting Ginuwine’s “I Apologize” but Abiah’s “Sorry” seems like a better fit. Check out this incredible musician and his latest release:

How to Write the Truth: I’m Still Learning

Toni_1 - Copy-tifThe little girl in me wanted to write. Sleep in my eyes, teeth unbrushed and pillow imprints still on my face, I wanted to write but I couldn’t bring myself to sit with the word. Sometimes your heart wants to tell stories that are not yet meant to be told. Sometimes your words want to scream and holler in a way that your voice just doesn’t seem to support in this moment. This path of vulnerability that I have chosen and committed to pushes me to the edge of dealing with my stuff on a constant bases. There is no comfort zone except for the reality of knowing some of this self expression will stay safely filed away on my hard drive until I am ready.

I mean, I wanted to dive deep into the waters of friendship and sisterhood. There is the friendship with the woman who scheduled get togethers with me 9 times and 7 of those times didn’t even bother canceling. I released the relationship. Somehow in her mind she is a victim of something but I cannot figure out what. I made a few attempts at the Landmark style completion conversation then surrendered when I realized she wasn’t here for it. Of course, I could’ve, should’ve spoken to it after the third time but was still in a space of providing more compassion for others than for I did for myself. My time is valuable too – – yada, yada, yada. Some call it sucka shit but we all go through things. There is the friend I miss but her envy scared the hell out of me and the friend who was so judgmental that it felt like a toxic boyfriend. So these experiences inspired one of my most frequent chants of the year. It’s the affirmation: I let it go, I let it all go. I take full accountability for all that has transpired and I let it go.

Part of me would also enjoy the release of being completely naked and transparent about love, love relationships and matters of the heart but then we have to deal with how that impacts others, projects, business and image. One of my friends constantly reminds me to be mindful of my brand and intention. As a poet first and as a poet whose first pieces at 8 years old were rooted in calls for justice, fairness and truth, this part of adulthood feels completely wack. Why can’t we all just have an authentic conversation and confront these issues that plague so many of our lives? Oh, if only it was as simple as a conversation.

One of the most challenging issues is the one of a cousin who is bi-sexual and in a same-sex marriage. Some of the responses of family, God fearing, God loving, practicing Christian family members, constantly disappoints me. My heart has been broken more times than I can count. I sit quietly. I pray on it. I try not to lament on the absence of my grandma and grandpa from this earthly plane. I know how different our lives would be if they were still here. Then I remind myself and little Toni that there is no time machine and my dreaming will not bring them back to the physical. So I speak to them while on my knees and while in the shower as the water hides my tears I chant again: I let it go, I let it all go.

In my dreams, I am confident enough to tackle the most personal and painful of experiences with creativity, spiritual maturity and transparency but I’m not where I want to be just yet. This is still just an activity in my mind. Years ago I remember sitting in the African American Resource Center with E. Ethelbert Miller.  He was at his desk handing me a stack of poems marked up with red pen. There were 30 pages of text and at least 25 pieces, but he gave me five that he considered to be good poems. I suddenly realized I was far from the book I planned on publishing that semester. He watched both my ego and heart deflate right before his eyes as I sunk into the old wooden chair. Poet Carolyn M Rodgers Name

He began talking about a list of writers I should read as he set up a seat for me at a table with a stack of books with everything from Carolyn Rogers and early Don L. Lee to Alice Walker’s prose and Larry Neal’s critiques. There were journals from the Black Arts Movement and the Harlem Renaissance. As I stood up I could hear the big clock outside and see students scurrying across the yard below.  I remember many things Ethelbert taught me over the years but that afternoon he talked about the need for courage.  It takes courage to expose oneself.  Exposing your joy and your pain, your most sentimental feelings, your family stories – both the good and the bad, the struggles of life, the weaknesses and the strengths are all a part of the nakedness of being a writer. You may find a formula to become a popular writer but great writers are willing and able to write themselves naked and fully exposed on the page.

I can still inhale and smell the scent of old paper and books in the stacks of Founders library at Howard University. I also clearly remember how heavy my spirt was during those years. Ethelbert was a guardian angel to many of us. I am much lighter now and authentically happy, but I am still struggling to be a great writer. I am still learning how to write the truth, my truth. The blog format is like a gym to work out and build my muscles. Every once in a while I get on the scale to see where I’m at and today is one of those days. Three bomb ass writing prompts came to mind and I punked out on each one. I’m here laughing at myself as a way to not slip into the Virgodom of self-critique and thoughts of I-am-not-good-enough. Pressing publish on this post will serve as this morning’s creative accomplishment and thumbs up to an exercise completed. May your day be equally as blessed.

 

 

 

Waking with the Sun

IMG_3213Last night before going to bed I googled to see what time the sun was going to rise. I was contemplating an early morning beach meditation but remembered I had a list of things to do to prep for my cleanse. Of course, the seed for sunrise waking had been planted in my subconscious so something nudged me at 4:54am even though I resisted the tap on my soul’s shoulder.

I fell asleep with the fan pointing directly at me and that usually leads to me rolling over feeling dehydrated at some point during the night. Finding my water bottle meant opening my eyes and stretching my arm to reach for it. Not quite ready to rise, I repositioned myself for more sleep. My mind, however, had already begun etching a poem in the sky.   Two things were clear: 1) my mind wanted to write and 2) my heart wanted to watch the sun come up.

Sleepy, I reminded myself that it’s Sunday and I can nap without guilt. I also remembered that the market opens at 7am so it’s possible to finish all of my errands by 10am. I like the sound of that. Anyway, in the Ayurvedic tradition they say we should wake before the sun rise so we can synchronize with the rhythm of the sun and that it leads to better physical and cognitive function.

As an on again, off again lover of both the late night and the early morning, getting my inner 3 year old to go to bed by 10pm is like trying to get an actual 3 year old to go the heck to sleep. On some days I am so happy and creatively inspired that my energy bubbles like water in a teapot on the verge of boiling. Then there are days where there is so much to do, plan and prep for that stopping the work flow requires a set of rituals. My wake up time always seems to be in flux. Sleeping in is often necessary for me to be able to have a productive day, but today is not one of those days so we shall carry on.

I grabbed my liter bottle from the kitchen, made my cayenne/lemon daily detox drink, lit a white candle, burned one of the good incense sticks and opened both curtains wide. I started writing. It was still dark outside but the sky gradually became lighter and brighter.

The trauma that recent current events have caused is real. Sandra Bland was laid to rest yesterday but she is alive in my heart and mind. Feeling frustrated, hurt and angry about her arrest and death, I caught myself before I slipped into a low-funk. I made an energy shift, which elevated my emotional response. I keep remembering this line from a Lauryn Hill song – I was hopeless now I’m on Hope Road. Embracing my personal power and that of my various communities has been spiritually empowering.

Watching this morning’s sunrise functioned as a prayer. It is a prayer of rebirth. Today is yet another new beginning. There are a number of ways rising early can impact work life and your habits but I’m really focused on the spiritual benefits which include the following:

  • The quiet, noiseless early morning means the mind is free. There is more room for clutter free thought. Our mind can access solutions to problems with greater ease and ponder decisions without distractions.
  • It gives us an opportunity to practice what coach Cheryl Richardson called the art of extreme self care. It can actually be viewed as a gift to self. You can create a ritual whether it’s lighting a candle, aromatherapy and/or making a special tea.
  • Some of our best ideas hit us in that space where we are awake but not fully alert so the creativity can really flow.
  • It increases your peace of mind because you have more mental organization around your priorities, self-care and responsibilities.
  • Meditating before the noise begins while all is still quiet is extremely powerful.

Yes, I know that we have to go to bed earlier if we are going to wake with the sun. Yours truly will have to practice bed time to get to that point, but for now I am giving myself permission to enjoy the early morning and to take in the sunrise every chance a get.

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I Feel Good #TheLoveSeries #ValentinesDay2015

Mama 1942ish   My Grandma Bessie could cook her little hind parts off. She cooked at the hospital, at the church and for every family event and holiday.  There was so much love in my grandparents home and the kitchen became a symbol of it.  It makes sense that my spirit responds to food as love.  I attribute my highly developed  taste buds to all of that Louisiana goodness that I grew up eating.  Part of me hates that I can taste and identify every seasoning, know when there’s too much baking soda and I can tell just how much mustard was added.  I’m finally accepting it.  It is what it is.

I came out of the womb with a slow digestive system and with allergies and sensitivities.  Then I grew up in the era of fast food and junk food innovations, new preservative discoveries and ate it all alongside soul food from the deepest parts of Louisiana.  Since I was raised in California’s Bay Area I also grew up eating soul food from Mexico, China, Italy and the Philippines. International before I went international, my palette is almost always doing the most.  Now, my body is in recovery. It demands healing foods and when I slip, it talks back to me.  Shoot, sometimes it shouts! The shout manifests itself as pain and inflammation, mucus and coughing, skin eruptions and tummy discomfort.

It has taken a few decades but I finally figured out what I need to eat and drink to feel good. Well, I was told years ago, but wavered back and forth until the pain has now become too great to bear.  I would do what I needed to do for six months and then go back to the old way of living and eating.  With friends and family serving as my co-signers, I would throw caution to the wind and eat whatever I wanted to eat.  The phrase,  you can eat anything in moderation, is one of the biggest bullshit myths if there ever was one on earth.  For some of us there is no thing called moderation.  One bite is a slippery slope toward downhill hell.  We would never tell a coke head to have one line of coke, would we?

heart-arrow-2As we enter this week of love, I’m exploring what love means to me.  Love feels good.  I want to feel good. I choose to feel good. In the past food has represented love and I’m now at a point where I want to shift that perception.  I want my entire life to be a symbol of love – my life’s work, my relationships with others and myself.  If I want my personal relationship to be special then I have to treat myself accordingly so I am mirroring how I want to be treated.  It begins with me and with my self-care.

And I’m done with the conversations that loved ones want to have about it being in my head. Believe me, I love to eat but I am choosing life.  I love breathing, so I am on this path. I give thanks for those who support me and I am opening the door for those who would like to join me.  Change can be hard.  Community makes it easier and provides the support that we need to make those important changes.  I am shifting to a new definition of love. Now, let me go make my morning smoothie.


My thought for the day – #IFeelGood #IChooseToFeelGood

Be Thankful: Birthday Eve Reflections

Sleeping with the fan on blast two nights in a row has left me feeling a little sniffly.  I thought not using AC would prevent this feeling but alas here I am drinking extra lemon water to warm my throat.  William Vaughn’s “Be Thankful For What You Got”  is blasting through my blue-tooth speaker as summer reminds us she is still here. I’ve meditated on gratitude since I rolled over at 6am.  It was two hours before my alarm but I felt so good I couldn’t wait to greet the day.

gratitude-changes-everythingNo flutes, native American drums or Kora music this morning, my meditation soundtrack was pure soul music from my childhood.  I’ve listened to the original version by William Vaughn, the version by Curtis Mayfield, the one with Omar and the version Omar does with Erykah Badu.  I am what they call a “repeater”.  I can loop the same song and listen to it for an hour before tiring of it.  The line “you may not have a car at all, but remember brothers and sisters you can still stand tall”  — makes me think of the images from Ferguson which brought me both tears and inspiration. Gratitude was the rope I used to hang on during the past month.  I tied a knot at the end of the rope and decided I was not going to get lost in the emotional abyss and I was not going to check out either.  I am choosing to be fully present regardless of the chaos of this world.

Muhammad AliIt’s September 3rd, my Birthday Eve, and I’m feeling some kind of way about life. Honestly, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I stopped being surprised that I was still alive. For the first 30 years of my life I had to channel Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali in my fight against the fear of death.  Behind my smile was this recurring and haunting thought.  Our minds can be powerful tools for elevation or for destruction.  I recently lost three folks I knew in one week, two women and one man, each of them in my age group. A friend who I share the spiritual path with suggests I not use the word “lost” but reference it in a more powerful, uplifting way.  I’m working on it and still seeking the word(s).

Coincidentally as I am sitting here writing about death, Dr. Sari, a Brooklyn-based holistic chiropractor and healer, sent me a video text focused on life.  She is sharing her Day 2 intentions for her 30 day juice cleanse. I have an accountability partner for exercise, movement and my emotions/energy.  Dr. Sari is now my accountability partner for what I put inside my mouth. They say when the student is ready the teachers will appear.  images-2

I told Jomo, the acupuncturist at Third Root Community Healing Center, that I am finally ready to heal.  I was not ready before now.  The resources that I am coming across are amazing and not as coincidental as one might think.  Doing healing research on Saturday led me to discover a Womb Workshop on Sunday.  It was free and led by Sankofa Ra, a doula, healer and womb wellness consultant.  I ended up booking a healing session with her on Labor Day right after my chiropractor appointment.  It’s symbolic to do this work at the beginning of September, at the end of summer and the week of my birthday.

I am grateful to now be free of bitterness and to be one who can trust her own heart, to be an artist who has honored the core of her true purpose, to be a woman of integrity, to know how to be happy for others,  to have traveled to Europe, Asia and South America, to have lived the dream of nurturing a relationship with Africa, to be a Howard University Alum, to live in Brooklyn, NYC, to not have any toxic friendships, to be in love with myself, to have a healthy relationship and to be on this spiritual path, healing and walking towards wholeness.  It was through a few recent conversations with friends who questioned my alone time that I realized how much I now like me, how much more patient I am with life and its process, how much more clear and intentional I am with both my thoughts and actions. The quiet time of the past two weeks won’t last forever so I am cherishing it.  If it were raining I would go outside and dance in it as an affirmation to the universe:  I am here and fully present.

Be thankful for what you got so says the song and that is exactly what I am going to do.  I am dreaming and envisioning the life I want without attachment to the outcome. I am also grateful for who I am becoming. This evolution has involved sacrifice, surrender, sweat and tears. Every tear shed has been worth it. The blessings are too many to name but trust – I earned this smile on my face. Now, let me go juice some ginger root to help with this sleeping-under-the fan congestion. Be blessed. Be thankful.

 

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