Tag Archives: Toni Blackman

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.

 

 

 

The Rain Will Fall Like Tears From The Sky…

 

Loss, even when expected, can be a mix of grief, mourning and fear of uncertainty. That not knowing what’s next thing. It’s such a big part of the human experience yet learning to manage our emotions and energy around it can make each loss feel brand new. It’s as if we’ve never been here before when in reality loss has knocked at the door many times before.

Some avoid the pain of loss by living a life of detachment.  They’re detached from dreams, hopes and love. They live from no instead of yes, from ‘maybe one day’ instead of ‘right now’ and with the past ever present as the gift of the present moment blends in with all that once was. It’s an unconscious resistance to ascension and expansion, an avoidance of pleasure and joy. It’s a version of playing small and living life at half-measure all in the name of avoiding pain.

Many of us say the right things, wear the right clothes, wear a face that projects something to the outside world that is in total contradiction to what is in our core. Living life authentically, loving fiercely and dreaming with my eyes wide open brings its share of growing pains, but I just couldn’t imagine stifling myself. I’ve been guilty of playing small and diminishing my own light. I’ve run from love and sabotaged opportunities. That’s why it feels so good to be liberated from those bad habits and be able to honestly say I have reprogrammed my mind and my spirit.

A number of people have told me they’re experiencing an intense transition this fall. This seems to be a common theme so I’m not surprised to find myself in the same space. Last week I had a series of conversations and events that in the past would’ve led me to hiding in my purple sheets, but this time I chose to stay connected to community, to reach out, to choose to focus on the good. I am doing things differently, breaking a few of my rules and finding ease because of it. Once a woman becomes of a certain age she has earned the right to define her own healing path.

My alarm is going off now. I’m sipping ginger root tea, breathing through a little discomfort in my body as the comfort food from the weekend reminds me of my commitment to detoxing today. Grief looks so different for me now. This Stevie-Sting performance made me cry. I haven’t cried in a few days. It was a good cry – like tears from a star as Stevie sings.

It reminds me of this guy friend from my long ago past. We sat there on a beach in Dakar at 4am after a night of freestyling, singing, dancing and beatboxing. A few other artists from the jam were with us. Orchestre Baobab was blaring from a boom box at the stand where we just bought poisson frit avec patates frites from a woman with the darkest skin, the whitest teeth and a smile I remember 15 years later. He says to me in thick French accent, “You know what I discover about you?” He paused for a moment sucking the fish from the bones then looked at me. “You are so strong, yet so fragile. Most would not know how fragile. Delicate may be a better word.”

He didn’t know that I didn’t know. He helped me to know myself better. I was discovering myself right along with him. After that trip I started owning my fragility, embracing those delicate parts of me without shame. I let go of the programming that told me I had to be strong all of the time. Today, I can stand in it without feeling weak or like a punk. There’s nothing left to defend anyway except maybe my dreams and my dignity. The rest? They can have it. I am giving myself permission to cry, to let the rain fall like tears from a star.

20 Years in the Game: Still Doin’ Cyphers

Fall Cypher Series 1

The launch of the Fall Cypher Series is Tuesday, September 8th at 6:30pm.  It’s at City Lore Art Gallery, 56 E. 1st St btwn 1st Ave and 2nd Ave and I’m feeling kind of nostalgic this morning. Please pardon me while I share a piece of my Cypher history.  {Ok, so here is where I want you to imagine Souls of Mischief 93 ‘Til Infinity beat dropping.}

(Click this if you need audio for your visualization) 

I started organizing and facilitating Cyphers in 1994.  Young, in love and idealistic not only about Hip Hop but the world. I had a vision for using freestyle Cyphers as a way to promote artist responsibility, preserve the oral tradition and bring crews together.

The event started at State of the Union, a bar on U St in Washington, DC.  It was called Talking Heads but I soon realized that the stress of two drink minimums was killing my vibe.  I also discovered that even the MC’s who drink don’t drink much while rhyming.  The artists were coming to the event to build skills.

Kenny Carroll and Brian Gilmore, both professional writers and poets, were DC natives who outside of their day jobs recited with a collective, hosted events and readings and didn’t mind spending hours waxing poetic on any and everything from the science of Parliament Funkadelic to the history of Mambo Sauce, local, national and global politics and there was no limit to their knowledge of poetry.  Their circle of writers could speak to Anne Sexton as well as they could Amiri Baraka or Lucille Clifton. They were like big brothers.  Not only did they teach me a lot but they also supported, encouraged and challenged me to do what I do.  That’s how I ended up at a place called 8-Rock on Martin Luther King Avenue and Good Hope Rd in Southeast Washington D.C. hosting Cyphers in the land of GoGo.

Initially I called the Cypher, Freestyle Fellowship because a good cypher always made me think of a spiritual experience.  My childhood reference for getting open started in St. Mark Baptist Church in my Bay Area hometown in California.  However, a week after the flyers were made, a fellow Hip Hop head handed me a Project Blowed Mixtape.  Freestyle Fellowship was on it. My mind was blown by what I was listening to and it was proof that when a concept is out in the universe there can be a number of people thinking and feeling the same exact thing on opposite sides of the country or planet. I was kinda’ amped and proud that the group Freestyle Fellowship was coming out of Cali too.

Freestyle Union Cipher was born.  In the 90s Cypher was spelled with an “i” but the “y” spelling has become more popular over time so I thought I would evolve with the times. I added workshop to the end of the name after the Cypher started to grow.  It was becoming bigger and all kinds of personalities were showing up.  I interned for a year with a media training firm in DC and received Train-the-Trainer training. One of the key insights I gained from the training was how important it was to focus on activities and creating an environment for participants to get from point A to point B in a set amount of time. I added “workshop” and called it Freestyle Union Cipher Workshop to keep the hard heads out.  There was no budget so we didn’t have security.  My theory was that the only people coming to a workshop were people who wanted to work, develop and build. It worked. 300 Cyphers and never had one fight.  There were a few emotional outbursts by MCs who got frustrated with themselves or the process but that’s about it. Freestyle Union shot in front of Kaffa House

When I first moved to NYC I reconnected with a number of people who I met working in the arts with Kim Chan, who was then a DC based arts professional, over the years. At one point I thought I wanted to become a professional arts presenter but after co-producing a Hip Hop Festival with the Smithsonian and Washington Performing Arts Society I realized I’m way too much of an artist to focus on developing that skill set. Professional arts presenters like Laura Greer, Maureen Knighton, Baraka Sele and Micki Sheppard showed me incredible amounts of love.  Linda Walton, Bob Holman, Lois Griffith and Miguel Algarin also embraced me as a poet, MC and arts organizer.  I met Steve Zeitland, co-founder of City Lore Foundation, through Bob and he became one of my arts mentors and I am excited to be working with him again.

Well, this piece is a little longer than I wanted it to be so I’ll tell you the rest later. Maybe when I see you at the Cypher.  Spectators welcome.  Just be mindful of your energy.  Everyone’s energy matters in the Cypher. It’s all ages, all skill levels and for all those who believe excellence and commitment to the craft matters. Cypher Deets

Please Note:  My book, Wisdom of the Cypher, will be released this fall.

The Cypher: We Can Use Hip Hop to Prevent Violence

As I read this morning’s headlines I am neither shocked nor disgusted. I am sad, I am hurt but I am not surprised. Between the newscasters who said that rap songs caused slavery, Don Lemon defending the mom of one of the racist fraternity chanters in Oklahoma and the people recording a brutal beating of a teenage girl instead of intervening, I feel like we are living in a Boondocks episode. Someone put me in touch with Dave Chappelle because this stuff needs proper analysis and it’s so raw we need to laugh while we break it down. We need  to laugh to keep from crying.

Dave Chapelle

Over the past two years I’ve been diligently working to get my affairs in order and organize the vision for my life’s work. It has not been easy. After 20 years of facilitating cyphers and cypher workshops I started doing cypher trainings on how to lead nuanced cyphers that create space for transformation. In the wake of the political uprisings this work is too often seen as “soft” and not “real” activism, but I stayed committed to it because it is my ministry, the cypher is my purpose.

The cypher is a circle of sharing. In my new book, Wisdom of the Cypher, I define cypher as representing 360 degrees. It is completion of thought, the continuum, the giving and exchanging of energy, information and ideas. Whenever you see a gathering of artists in a circle or semi-circle formation, whether they are rapping, dancing, telling stories or sharing the spoken word, you are witnessing a cypher.

I proposed a focus on the cypher in two of my residencies this year but it gets inserted into larger programs because administrators and decision makers don’t get that the cypher is its own program. The cypher as I present it deserves its own platform because both youth and adults need a safe space to express themselves from their core.

My cyphers are disguised as freestyle rap, improvisational poetry and impromptu speaking workshops but are really spaces for people to release stress, confront fear and self-doubt, improve critical thinking skills, build vocabulary and confidence, heighten access to creativity and learn to think on their feet. The cypher helps us to build community while providing leaderships development and transformation.

Unable to secure the proper funding, I currently host cyphers out of my home or the home of my partner. We know that the cypher is a sacred space. We know that the best intervention is prevention. We know that as much as we complain about technology, emotional detachment and the lack of human interaction people have nowadays, that we are still human and deep down we long for moments of connection. The cypher reminds us of this need.

Akua Soadwa, founder of the Sista2Sista Summit, reached out to me this morning. Her online comments about the teenage girls fighting and what we need to do to help our youth inspired my commentary. She said that young people are dealing with spiritual warfare and that hurt youth without the right resources and support become angry, uncontrollable youth. Violence happens when people are not able to say what they want to say so they act out physically.

Prevention is some of the best intervention.

Prevention is some of the best intervention.

Of course, I am waiting for one of the newscasters to blame the melee at McDonald’s on a rap song. I’m sure that will happen at some point today, but these are the folks that know very little about Hip Hop music and culture. Part of me gets it. Hip Hop still has a stigma and when educated people formulate opinions about it based solely on mainstream media then ignorance will pervade, but I know the richness, the beauty and the spiritual consciousness that Hip Hop provides millions of people around the world. I also know how many lives it has changed and saved. This is why I am promoting the cypher, a concept my work borrows from Hip Hop culture, but is universal and relates to the human experience.

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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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