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Our Greatest Job: Finding Purpose
You can't reject yourself and hope to find God. True spirituality begins by first embracing yourself.
My friend Vanessa messaged me on Facebook recently. "How does one discover their purpose?" she asked. "Does your spirit guide or teacher tell you? I ask because I wonder when I'll ever know mine. I want to choose to do something in my life that makes me feel happy and fulfilled. But I also want it to be aligned with my life's purpose," she said.
I hear this question often. The search for purpose is universal and is one of the core themes of my film, Across the King's River. For many, the quest for meaning is elusive because the struggle to survive is so time-consuming and draining, it often leaves little time for addressing the needs of our soul and our longing to live a purposeful life.
Given the daunting challenges in the world and in our personal lives, many dismiss the quest for purpose as irrelevant or self-indulgent. I strongly disagree — our purpose, no matter how humble, has a role to play in the healing of the earth. Surely, the great civil rights leaders and artists of our times were connected and committed to their purpose and were able to draw from a seemingly endless reservoir of courage and inspiration when others would have simply given up.
In my mid-twenties, I was blessed with the opportunity to interview the acclaimed activist writer Audre Lorde, shortly after the publication of her book, A Burst of Light. Audre was living on St. Croix at the time and even though she was dying from cancer, she was still committed to her purpose. "I write because I have difficult truths to tell," she said. "I train myself for triumph by knowing it is mine, no matter what. I visualize daily winning the battles going on inside my body, and this is an important part of fighting for my life. I'm going to write until it comes out of my ears, my eyes, my nose holes — everywhere. Until it's every breath I breathe," she said in A Burst of Light.
During her career, Audre Lorde endured death threats, wiretaps on her phone, and was passed over for numerous university teaching jobs because of her activism. Luckily, most of us won't face death threats as we attempt to live our purpose, but we must be prepared to make tough choices.
Living on purpose does not necessarily mean we will be compensated financially. A friend lost her job recently and wants to use this opportunity to launch her own business as a healer. However, she's struggling and is depressed because she's not making much money and feels like a failure. I told her she is exactly where she needs to be at this stage of her journey as an entrepreneur and that blessings can come in other ways.
In the book, Called to Heal: African Shamanic Healers, the late Zulu healer, P.H Mntshali offers sage advice about following purpose: "We all know when we are not following our calling. We are unhappy. We are restless. We do not like the people we work with. We do not like our work. We must move on. This work, these people. It is not their fault. We are in the wrong place. It's so important to take responsibility for our own healing."
As for financial security? Mntshali says, "It all depends on how you obey your orders. If you obey exactly as the ancestors direct, your practice, your life will not fail. The ancestors will provide. At first you may worry. How will you pay your bills? The children's school fees? Then you become so caught up in your calling, your true work, your love for it grows. Soon you are only serving and not worrying so much about the bills. When you need it most, money or goods arrive. Your calling is God's work. God does not call us then leave us to drown in hardship."
So far, what Mntshali says feels true on my own journey. My trials have equipped me with the confidence to speak about purpose with authenticity. One can't teach what one does not know.
Here are some tips I often share with clients who are seeking insight into their purpose.
1). The clues are all around us, put them together. Ask yourself the following questions. What are your hobbies? What causes are you drawn to? If money were not a factor what would you spend most of your time doing? What did you aspire to be as a child growing up? What problems are you good at solving? What kind of help do others come to you for? What kind of books do you like to read? Who do you admire? What would you like to change about the world? When do you feel most fulfilled?
2). What kind of jobs have you done in the past? Is there a connection between past jobs and what you're doing for a living now? If so, what is the connection? Don't assume there's no connection. Thirty years ago I worked as a journalist. My skills as a writer helps me to fulfill my current path as a healer by enabling me to reach large audiences through inspirational stories.
3). Ask the experts — your ancestors. Simply ask your ancestors to use you as a vessel, so you can be of service to others. Then, follow the inspiration that comes to you each day. If you do this consistently, I believe you'll always be in alignment with your purpose even if it changes from time to time.
4). It's possible to have more than one purpose. I believe our purpose can change from time to time based on the needs of the universe. While an African shaman told me I am a healer, my journey has also led me to become a filmmaker and a businessman. Had I only embraced my path as a healer, I would have missed out on other passions that are meaningful to me. Do not passively accept what someone says your purpose is. Allow your heart to help make those decisions.
5). Adapt to Life's Detours: Though I have clarity about my purpose, my wife and I face obstacles like everyone else. Our current hardships are mostly financial. The bank threatened to foreclose on our home when we fell behind on our mortgage, but we were able to get our loan modified. The IRS and the State Tax Board have been hounding us and garnishing our checks for years. These challenges taught me to shape shift and to become more financially literate. Now I am learning to get our money to work smarter for us by setting up a trust. Thankfully, things are improving and I have peace of mind.
Malidoma Somé, the great African shaman and author of the book Of Water and the Spirit, was kidnapped by Jesuit priests as a child and was taken away from his culture and people for many years. He had to go through this experience in order to fulfill his purpose. When I think of my own struggles, I often reflect on Malidoma's journey. The quest for purpose is not a vacation, Malidoma says, we must be prepared for adversity along the way.
6). Your family members can lead you closer to your purpose. Shortly after I met Stephanie Hamilton, the woman who was to become my wife, she told me I had a rich inner life and a unique way of expressing myself. Before long, she helped me launch my career as a writer. I might not have considered it otherwise. My eldest son led me to my path as a healer. Pay attention to what the people in your life are inspiring you to do and pay attention to issues they are struggling with. Their challenges might be connected in some way to your purpose.
7). Envision the person or people you feel called to serve. What is their story? What keeps them up at night worrying? What are their deepest fears? How can you help? What will happen to them if you don't do what you are inspired to do? What will become of you if you keep allowing your own fears to get in the way? What steps are you taking on a daily basis to sharpen your skills? What legacy would you like to leave for others?
8). Get a Spiritual Reading: Faizah "Trini" Perry, a priest of Ogun in Houston, Texas discovered her purpose the same way I did — through Ifa divination. Prior to finding and fulfilling her purpose, she had all the outward trappings of success, but was still unhappy. "I had the education. I had the good job. I had the house. I had the nice children. I had the nice husband. I felt like I was going through the motions."
The spiritual reading she received "was the key to unlocking my purpose," says Faizah. She was told her destiny was to become an initiated priest of Ogun and to help others grow spiritually. Her specialty is nurturing and grooming young women in her spiritual tradition.
9). Listen Deeply: My friend Maria is one of my biggest inspirations of what it means to follow one's purpose. She recently turned down an opportunity for a role in a film being produced by Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions. Maria is a healer and wellness coach by profession. Her role in the film would have required her to play a healer.
But after listening to her spirit guides in meditation, Maria realized the role was not a good fit for her. Although it was tough to say no to an offer that most people would have accepted without hesitation, Maria listened to an inner voice and did just that. As a teacher of spirituality, she couldn't tell her students to follow their intuition if she was unwilling to follow hers, she explained. "I can't not listen," she said. "I've always been guided and I fully trust. I will listen as long as the message is clear. I made a vow to the universe that I will do everything in my power to help enlighten people's lives through spirituality," says Maria.CHAPTER 2
You Can't Ignore Your Calling
The harvest will come. If you plant consistently. If you nurture your dreams. If you think long-term. If you let Spirit in. If you are not afraid to fail. If you listen to the right voices. If you do not give up.
The journey of one thousand miles begins in a Yoruba kitchen cooking fish stew and pounded yams. At least that's how my spiritual journey began — eating fluffy, white yams dipped in a rich stew flavored with habanero peppers, onions, and tomatoes — while listening to my friend, Ade, talk about his culture and life back home in Nigeria.
Ade is my Yoruba language instructor. We met through a mutual friend more than fifteen years ago in Oakland. Shortly after, he started giving me private Yoruba lessons in his small apartment near Lake Merritt. I looked forward to meeting him each week and often arrived hungry and exhausted after a long day of work.
Watching Ade stirring yams with a wooden spoon was always comforting; it brought back memories of watching my Dad, James Alexander Weeks, in the kitchen, gently sifting cornmeal and stirring it into a boiling pot of water to make fungi, a dish that's often served with fish in the Virgin Islands and other Caribbean islands.
Like Ade, Dad used a wooden spoon and would shape the fungi into balls when it was ready to be served. I didn't realize Dad's cooking technique originated in Africa, but observing Ade in the kitchen made me realize that it did.
On St. Croix, we usually ate late in the afternoon, before the last rays of sunlight vanished. Dinner was often served with avocado or plantains and Mom's exquisitely fried fish served with our traditional sauce of onions, tomatoes, and a dash of vinegar drenched in habanero peppers.
My mom, Eglantine Weeks, had a simple philosophy about cooking. "Food should always be waiting for you," she said. "You should never have to wait for food." Mom's philosophy made perfect sense to me. She was often in deep thought when she was at the stove.
Even cleaning fish seemed to be therapeutic for Mom. As we sat outside in the shade of a grape tree, scaling fish, she would tell me about her childhood growing up in the Virgin Islands. "We didn't have radio or TV," she said, "but we always had each other. Those were the good old days."
Mom was my first teacher of spirituality; she loved nurturing others, especially children, and she taught me that cooking can be a practice in mindfulness. I often sat at the kitchen table with Mom, helping her remove pigeon peas from their pods to make seasoned rice. On Saturdays, after sunrise, she often took me to the fish market to buy blue runners.
Blue runner is a popular fish in Crucian cuisine. We have colorful names for fish on St. Croix and we have magnificent nicknames for people too. I asked my uncle, Gerry Doward, for a list of all the fish he knows and he sent the following text: old wife, doctor fish, yellow tail, gar, john pow, silver, sago blue fish, cabler, grunt, jacks, butter fish, jew fish, deep water goat fish, and, of course, blue runner, which is usually blue, but sometimes red.
I don't know how the fish feel about the names we've given them. My guess is they probably adore them since they return to our shores day after day, week after week, year after year. And I don't know if other cultures love nicknames the way we Crucians do, but in Yoruba culture, names are a big deal. Names are given after careful consideration and sometimes Ifa priests are consulted. That's what the traditional esentaye or naming ceremony is all about — it's usually done for infants. Ese is the Yoruba word for feet, so an esentaye means the first treading of the feet on earth. Ade proudly tells me his name means crown in Yoruba — as in a king's crown. It's a name that is usually given to someone from a royal lineage.
It is not that some people have a calling and others don't. Some choose to listen, others don't. Decide from this day forward you will listen intently for what you've been sent here to do.
I started studying Yoruba with Ade because I felt drawn to Ifa, but my love for languages began long before I met him — it started in my early twenties as I started exploring more of my Caribbean heritage. I had been reading books on Pan-Africanism and felt I should make an effort to communicate with my brothers and sisters from non-English speaking islands.
Gradually, with daily study, I learned Spanish and a bit of the French patois that's spoken in St. Lucia and other Caribbean islands. Then, in my late thirties, I went back to school for my bachelor's in French at California State University, East Bay. Along the way, I became passionate about anthropology and linguistics too.
Tamarind Years, my popular website on Virgin Islands culture, was born from this love; I created it while taking a course called Anthropology on the Internet. Our assignment was to write a web essay on a culture of our choice; I chose to focus on my culture and weaved together photographs, audio interviews and personal anecdotes. As I worked on that project, I felt the presence of my ancestors very strongly. It was hard to focus on anything else. Each day, they flooded me with memories, images, and feelings that became the heart and soul of Tamarind Years.
I heard voices too — like the unmistakable, booming voice of the late, great, Cariso singer Leona Watson who taught me fragments of African-inspired melodies and songs that I had never heard before. Cariso, also known as quelbe, is an indigenous Virgin Islands music tradition, which I added a webpage about — and included recordings of — on the Tamarind Years website. One of my favorites tells of a slave uprising at a river called Gamble Bay. Watson explained the river was called Gamble Bay because life under our Danish colonial oppressors was brutal. Every day was a gamble for life — any second could be your last.
The distinctive, baritone voice of Wyn Charles, a Sango drummer from Trinidad also found a home on Tamarind Years. Wyn was a huge, jovial, man with thick fingers who loved women, drums, and rum — perhaps a bit too much. He could be a bit crass and rarely kept his mouth shut, which, was a good thing because the man had such a beautiful voice. He taught old calypso tunes and ancient Yoruba chants he learned growing up in Trinidad — hymns to the orisas Osun, Oya, Osain, and Esu. Wyn was a cultural institution — an ambassador from the spirit world who came to visit earth for a short time.
I had great fun writing the "Unlocking the Power of Nicknames" page on the Tamarind Years website. I remember calling my Uncle Gerry and telling him that our opportunity to be remembered in history had arrived, if only he'd provide me with his memories of Crucian nicknames as soon as possible. The next day, Uncle sent via email an impressive list of nicknames for some of the more distinctive men and women he has been blessed to know in this lifetime: Sauce Me Down, Full Grown Rat, Percy Pig Tail, Kung Fu, Joe Geese, Willy White Cow, Tight Shoes, Dynamite Dan, Bone Head, Red Head, Bite Head, Tono Casher, Beep Beep, Pasture Bull, Parson Dark Night, Mampie Torres, Shoe Leather, Crown Prince, Big Foot Daniel, Peep Sight, Father Found Out, Bull Bitch, Something Drop, Bopps Skiddie, Dagan Wolf, Boots and Shoes, Contractor Lanter, Gubble Lip, and Kink Barnes.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Meditations Across the King's River"
Copyright © 2019 James Weeks.
Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Welcome, Awo L'ola!, xiii,
Chapter 1 Our Greatest Job: Finding Purpose, 1,
Chapter 2 You Can't Ignore Your Calling, 8,
Chapter 3 Three Ancestors by the Tide, 21,
Chapter 4 Calling Me by My Name, 28,
Chapter 5 Nigeria: Escape and Immersion, 33,
Chapter 6 Nourishing The Body, 45,
Chapter 7 Nourishing the Soul, 50,
Chapter 8 Return of the Matriarch, 59,
Chapter 9 Basking In Maroon Country, 67,
Chapter 10 Close Encounters with Dr. Epega's Wisdom, 74,
Chapter 11 African Roots of Technology, 80,
Chapter 12 Daughter of Yemoja, 87,
Chapter 13 Balancing Spiritual and Financial Growth, 93,
Chapter 14 Storms of Transformation, 104,
Chapter 15 Committed To a Dream, 111,
Chapter 16 Crossing the River, 117,
Chapter 17 The Vision Is Ready When You Are, 125,