Of Becoming (Entry #17)
“You are a crystal reflecting fire. In your own becoming there is light—enough to lead you home.”
(from the book entitled, Awakening Osiris)
The above quote was one of several epigrams for Journal 14. I was striving to rise above circumstance—not that my circumstances, in the worldly sense were all that bad, but I knew not what I could be, or what I wanted to be. In the first entry of Journal 14, I mention that I am reading Fitzgerald’s, This Side of Paradise, again. I had read it four consecutive summers after high school graduation. Granted, I didn’t find the sweetheart I sought (nor did I have novel published by the age of 23), but I had lived my Ivy League fantasy. This was a dream, or something even more ephemeral than a dream, when I first read TSOP. I couldn’t relate to the characters, or life on a college campus (much less an elite campus), or the literary allusions. I read knowing that I wanted something more than what Springfield had to offer. I knew I wanted to go some place where I could grow, someplace where I could be myself, someplace where I could re-invent myself. I had no idea about how this would happen. I just had hope.
The thanks and ultimate gratitude is due to God. Circumstances changed, my mind expanded, and I found myself having lived a life that had been a few years earlier inconceivable. As Reggie Jackson said at his Baseball Hall of Fame speech: “I’ve had a dream and I was able to live it and thank God it’s not done yet.” That pretty much sums up my Amherst experience. In many ways I didn’t exploit the time I had at The College. On the other hand, how could I have done so? I came in as a transfer student—i was a few years older than most of my classmates, and I was not from the upper five percentile of my high school graduating class. I had to struggle with the culture shock of the campus and of the classroom. I was not up to challenging myself academically the way, in retrospect, I wish I had done. But then, very early on at Amherst, I took up an interest in “separate realities” and psychonautic voyages. I was trying to transcend the hyper-intellectualism Amherst, while at the same being convinced there was a value in book learning and academia.
Furthermore, there was the deep disgust I had with the political realities of the world, and with my Political Science major. After taking course of Central American politics and becoming aware of the, what can’t be called other than diabolical military-industrial complex and multinational corporate dictated policies of the United States in the region, my stomach was turned. Did I really want to graduate and go work for “the System,” or work within “the System” to try to “change” it? No, I didn’t. I wanted to find an altogether alternative system, and if I couldn’t find such, then I would have to build it myself.
Because Amherst was heavily saturated with “Multiculturalism,” plenty of “identity politics” courses were offered. For that reason, and having my first encounter with intellectual black people, who were well-informed about their history and black social issues, I started to gain an interests in my own ethnic/racial place in the world. Personal experiences, classroom discussions, and my own reading material made me feel a growing sense of isolation from the larger (i.e., white) student body.
And then, and then… and then there was the reading of The Autobiography of Malcolm X right after completing my first year at Amherst. As some of my family folk would say: “And that’s all she wrote.” There was no selling out; there was no turning back. I started to devour anything and everything I could on Malcolm, black nationalism, and black radical groups. I wanted to learn more and more about the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and his organization. I wanted to learn about ancient black history and whatever else I thought would help empower “my people.”
In the course of this coming into racial consciousness, I also came to the realization that more important than knowing about history and previous racial achievement, was the knowing of what occurs to us after we expire… and the knowing of the One Who created all of “this.” I had to know the truth about God.
I had to contend with the aforementioned in addition to the typical growing pains of that stage of life, academic responsibilities, and a deep dissatisfaction with myself. It is no wonder that in 20/20 hindsight, I made some less than prudent decisions at that juncture in my life. I had no blueprint to work from and no network of support. But in spite of all that, things did work out… in their own kind of way, praise and thanks to Allah.
With that said, one of the (many) benefits of keeping journals is that it they mark those critical transitional points in life. My journals remind me about the immense transformative potential that exists when we embrace possibility and relinquish negativity and doubt. At present, as I struggle with the need to (in-shaa’ Allah) make some fundamental adjustments in my life, these Journals serve as a reminder that if want wish to grow, then I must have the courage to face uncertainty and change.
Journal 14 covers the middle part of the summer. I complete my research work on the WPA Slave Narratives and start working at the UMASS Upper Bound program. As I reflect upon this period, like at so many other points in my life, I see that I am spending a lot of time alone. I didn’t mind it, per se. I was the only self-identified Muslim in the program. There were certain behaviors and habits I was trying to pull myself away from, so I wasn’t into socializing too much with my peers. I had some serious questions in my head about God and the purpose of human existence that I could not shake, and petty conversations weren’t going to help me find the answers I was seeking.
One Sunday morning early during the program, I got up performed what I considered to be the Fajr prayer and went for a walk to watch the sunrise. The kids and the staff had all went home for the weekend; it was as if I had the entire UMASS campus to myself. I stood outside eagerly waiting the first glimpse of that yellow orb. The birdsong reached a crescendo as the sun rose over the trees, and I entered a state of subdued ecstasy. I am opening my heart to the unknown. I feel that I am becoming anew.
(An aerial view of the UMASS, Amherst campus)
Later that day, I go to my first (and only) so-called “Self Realization Fellowship” meeting. I had read Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yoganda and was intrigued by his experiences searching for a guru (a “guide” in Hindu philosophy). I also liked the idea of building a school in a rural area where the youth could receive an academic education, as well as, extensive spiritual training. I didn’t write much in my Journal about the experience other than my attendance, but I do remember there were about a half dozen older (that is, middle aged) white folks. I remembered that there was an image of “Krishna,” who is usually portrayed as almost blue-black in color, but he had been lightened up considerably by the Fellowship.
Aside from the discomfort I had even then with the thought of praying to or invoking images, I could not help but think about the colorism and caste system in Indian society. I was, after all, at that time hyper-sensitive to all matters racial. The colorism of Hinduism, the iconography and outright idolatry of Hinduism prevented me from entertaining the thought of ever going to another one of those meetings. This wasn’t the Truth. I would have to look elsewhere.
Like a lot of Americans out there searching, as I was at the time, and probably for those people in attendance, they are looking for something that they can deem “spiritual” and that their access to spirituality would have to go beyond dogma and ritual. They want to have direct access to “other-worldly” dimensions. Such people recognize that tranquility can’t be found through the possession of trinkets in the materialistic paradigm. Tranquility has to come from within, and with meditation, some people can find a certain degree of peace, but finding some state of stability behind the lids does not necessarily constitute guidance.
I would have to continue to search and try to put together bits and pieces of “truth” as I encountered them until I could find someone who could show me the Way to Straight Path.