Autum Retreat Reflections #1, an excerpt from That Which Awakens Me by Ananda Leeke. Copyright 2008 by Madelyn C. Leeke.
It's Saturday, September 13, nine days before the autumn equinox. My watch informs me that it is only 9:40 a.m. My ego shouts loudly in my head: Why the hell did you bring me here? I'd rather be sleeping. I explain to my ego that I am sitting in All Souls Unitarian Church preparing to experience the Autumn Soul-stice Retreat because I feel overwhelmed and am in need of a spiritually nurturing experience. My ego doesn't understand and questions me with an intensely loud round of why and how could you. I choose to remain still without resisting her ranting. She continues in grand style as I focus my energy and concentration on taking deeps breaths. She finally wears herself out. That's when I implement phase two of my new mental wellness strategy. I say a thanksgiving prayer to Creator and my angels, ancestors, spirit guides, and masters teachers: Thank you for transforming my ego's ranting and raving into love and light. Ase. Amen. A soft, serene smile appears on my face as I realize that my strategy works. Victory is sweet when I don't have to struggle.
Reverend Shana Lynngood walks to the front of the altar and welcomes everyone to the "Ingathering: Connecting with Our Spiritual Heart." Shana leads us through breathing exercises and a meditation that sparks an opening in my heart. Afterwards I journal about the experience. When my pen is done writing, I reread my words.
Breathe in. Breathe out. I listen to my spiritual heart. It speaks the word sukha, a Sanskrit word that means space. I breathe in and out as I repeat sukha. It becomes a mantra. The sound of its vibration floats in and out my consciousness. It returns and moves through my body. My neck and shoulders are liberated from tension. My ego is lured into taking a mid morning nap. My inner self begins to speak. She reminds me that I don't have to explain my need to have space for the next few months so that I can create and publish my poetic memoir. She urges me to take it, use it, and dwell in it for as long as I need. She also reminds me that space is self-care, self-love, and essentially necessary for my well-being and creativity. I bow my head to my heart and agree.
Autumn Retreat Reflections #2, an excerpt from That Which Awakens Me by Ananda Leeke. Copyright 2008 by Madelyn C. Leeke.
"Insights from our Childhood" was the first workshop session that I participated in at the Autumn Soul-stice retreat. It was led by a dynamic musician and All Souls Choir member Janiece Kent. The workshop session was based on the way author Randy Paush explored his life long learning by remembering childhood goals that supported his big dreams to live a fulfilling life in his book The Last Lecture. During Janiece's presentation I began thinking about an unexpected conversation that I had two weeks before. It started with a spontaneous meeting on the corner of 15th and U Street at the end of August. I was walking home from working as an artist-in-residence at Howard University Hospital. I passed a tall, handsome chocolate walnut man who greeted me with a compliment about my smile. I responded back with a generous thank you and continued walking. His compliment was so sincere that I turned back to look at him. He was still standing there. So I walked back to introduce myself. We began a fifteen minute discussion that revealed common threads: Howard University graduates and writers. With my urban debutante charm in place, I invited him to join me for a bite to eat at Love Cafe.
He accepted and the evening that I had planned to use for writing turned into a Saturday night adventure with smoked salmon salads and a three hour conversation that allowed me to swim through an ocean of topics. I found myself smiling inside and out because it was so refreshing to be in the company of such a warm, good-natured, witty, and downright intelligent brothalove. He asked me some poignant questions and made many insightful comments about my memoir writing that I am still marinating on. They helped me dig deeper into my childhood memories especially the ones that happened when I was seven years old. I was able to see how certain experiences shaped me into a daring, independent, womanist/feminist, and creative being. What a blessing!
This blessing is one of the reasons I decided to take the "Insights from Our Childhood Goals" workshop at the retreat. I thought it would help me flush out my seven year old childhood experiences. It did just that when Janiece led the group in a fun exercise that involved us listing our childhood influences, formative exposures, memories (details), recasting/revisiting dreams and wishes, and insights/observations. A rush of childhood experiences flooded my mind. I jotted down forty-three experiences in my journal. See below.
1) Traveling solo on TWA to Indianapolis to visit my Aunt Mat, grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousins when I was seven
2) Not being afraid to travel on the plane alone and really enjoying it
3) Taking family trips on planes to New Orleans, the Bahamas, and Puerto Rico
4) Riding in the family station wagon to visit family members in Wilmington, Delaware and Indianapolis, Indiana
5) Talking to my Aunt Paulyne every week on the phone about school and other things
6) Having my grandparents visit every week and hearing my grandfather call me glamour girl
7) Riding bikes, climbing trees, playing in the dirt with my three brothers, and creating a mud swimming pool
8) Building an igloo during the snowstorms in the front of my house with my brothers based on my eldest brother's design and instruction
9) Imitating the Jackson Five and Beach Boys with my brothers and using cardboard box instruments drawn and created by my eldest brother
10) Gardening and planting strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and collard greens in my backyard with my mother and brothers 11) Making my first holy communion when I was seven at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in 1972.
12) Requesting to be trained as an altar girl and being told that the Catholic Church did not allow girls to become servers like my two brothers
13) Reading my mother's copies of Essence magazine and being amazed by all of the beautiful images of Black women, fashion trends, political issues, and careers
14) Watching my mother support Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm's presidential campaign
15) Flipping through copies of my mother's copies of MS. magazine and learning about feminism
16) Learning about and purchasing my own copy of Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Only Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Enuf' and Maya Angelou's poetry
17) Hearing my mother tell my brothers and I to use our imagination to create art and fun moments
18) Eating green, yellow, red, blue, strawberry, and chocolate Cream of Wheat created by mother in her Crayola creative kitchen
19) Drawing pictures with crayons and magic markers, and making collages with magazine clippings in the 1970s
20) Making homemade cards and including my original poetry with poster board, white paper, and construction paper; and signing my company name as P.L. Corp. on the cards
21) Playing soccer, kickball, and football in my backyard with my brothers and their friends
22) Checking out my dad's copies of Black Enterprise magazine and learning about Black entrepreneurs and people in the business world
23) Going to get my hair done every two weeks at Mrs. Poinsette's beauty shop and listening to her share her mother wit and wisdom
24) Spending time with my grandparents and learning about family history through old photos and their stories, vintage clothing/jewelry, and the music of Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, and the Mills Brothers
25) Traveling with my mother to Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. events and conferences, and staying in hotels and ordering room service
26) My dad insisting that my brothers and I take Spanish in junior high
27) My dad giving me a big thick Spanish dictionary
28) Typing my poetry on my parent's old typewriter in the basement
29) My mom teaching my brothers and I how to use public transportation - the subway and bus system; and feeling free and independent to go where I wanted
30) Earning my own income as a newspaper delivery person with two paper routes and spending my money on things I wanted (books, records, clothing, jewelry, shoes, lipstick, movies, and lunch at Farrell's Ice Cream in Landover Mall)
31) Being in Mr. Neelon's sixth grade math class and standing at the chalk board for a long time as I tried to figure out algebra problems
32) Going to CCD classes on Saturdays at St. Joseph's Catholic Church and decorating the church with classmates in Mr. Candlelaria's class one Christmas with paper bags filled with sand and white candles
33) Choosing to go to an all-girls Catholic school, having my parents support my choice, and taking introductory classes in art and practical law
34) Participating in Junior Achievement during my senior year in high school and receiving public speaking training through Toastmasters which helped me win a regional contest that allowed me to travel to the National Junior Achievement Conference held at Indiana University
35) Becoming a debutante for Phi Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
36) Getting to know Cheryl Poinsette, the daughter of Mrs. Poinsette, my beautician, and spending time talking to her when she was a Howard undergraduate student and Harvard Law student
37) Going to choir rehearsal with my mother, the choir director at St. Joseph's church, and singing the hymns and gospel songs
38) Attending my father's organizational development and diversity workshops
39) Deciding to be a vegetarian one summer
40) Getting excited each month when Essence, Black Enterprise, Glamour, and Mademoiselle magazines were published and reading them from cover to cover
41) Going to my first Indian restaurant with Cheryl Poinsette
42) Spending time with my neighbor and friend Brenda Coleman, and learning how to dress, wear lipstick, fix my hair, study, dance, and interact with boys in junior high and high school
43) Working as an accounting clerk for Touche Ross accounting firm in downtown DC
After that portion of the exercise I had a few minutes to explore the impact of one experience. I selected my flying solo on TWA at seven years old. I noted that the experience was thrilling for me. I felt so free and independent. I also felt like I was doing something amazing and new. I discovered that these feelings still follow me in my adulthood whenever I travel. My love of travel and adventure as an adult is rooted in my seven year old girl self who got on the TWA flight without any worries. It laid the foundation for some of my most memorable travel adventures to Canada, Chicago, Cuba, China, England, Egypt, France, Ghana, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, Senegal, and Turkey. It also gave me the courage to go anywhere in the world. I also discovered that my travel adventures support my independence.
My independence has been a precious gem that I have valued all of my life. Sometimes I guard it so closely and hold it so tightly that I overprotect myself and miss connections and experiences that could bless my life and offer growth, joy, and happiness. I realized that I need to bring more balance into my independence so that I become more open, vulnerable, and receptive to interacting with others and creating a space for interdependence in all aspects of my life. What a discovery!
I left the workshop feeling like I had made some headway in understanding myself better. I also thought about the journal entries that I made and how I could incorporate them into my memoir writing. That made me smile from cheek to cheek and close my eyes to say a silent prayer of thanksgiving.
About Ananda Kiamsha Madelyn
Causes Ananda Kiamsha Madelyn Leeke Supports
-Senator Barack Obama's Presidential Campaign
-People living with cancer who are served by Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts and Howard...