Search Weekly Wisdom
Insights at the Edge
Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interviews with leading spiritual teachers and luminaries.
Listen in as they explore their latest challenges and breakthroughs—the leading edge of their work.
Led by Spirit
Alice Walker is a poet, essayist, and New York Times-bestselling author who has won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. With Sounds True, Alice has released the audio program My Life As My Self, which vividly recounts her personal, professional, and spiritual journeys. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Alice and Tami Simon speak on what it means to step into the line of fire and receive criticism for what one believes. In this vein, Alice explains her role as an activist in locations such as Gaza and the Congo—and how standing up for one’s principles brings an ineffable lightness to the heart. Finally, Alice and Tami discuss stepping into the role of a societal elder and why it is imperative that we reconnect with the whole of the Earth. (55 minutes)
Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Alice Walker, winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1983. Alice Walker is recognized as one of the major writers of our time. Her novels include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. The Color Purple spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list and was made into a film directed by Steven Spielberg. An essayist, poet, short story writer, and children’s book author, Alice Walker has taught at Wellesley, Brown, Sarah Lawrence, and Harvard, and was an associate professor of English at Yale.
With Sounds True, Alice Walker is the author of the audio program My Life As Myself—an intimate conversation that takes you into her private world and summons the powerful spirits and events that have shaped her life.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Alice and I spoke about her work as a writer-activist and how it has taken her to Gaza and the Congo—and how, in each situation, she felt a light heart in being right where she needed to be, even in the face of atrocities. We also talked about what it means to step into the line of fire, and at times receive criticism for doing so—and how Alice has been able to remain buoyant even in the face of such criticism. We talked about being an elder and the sacred function of elders in society. Finally, we talked about the power of praising the earth and returning to that connectedness with nature, [as well as] ways to do that. Here’s my conversation with Alice Walker:
To begin, Alice, I just want to thank you for making this time for Sounds True. Thank you so much.
Alice Walker: I have so much admiration for Sounds True. It’s a wonderful gift you’ve given us, and I’m so happy to be back with you again.
TS: To begin, Alice, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about spirituality and activism. In many conversations I have with people, it’s as if spirituality is on one channel and activism is this different channel—and then there are those rare beings who bring these two into some kind of integration.
What I was curious about was this idea of spirituality and activism being separate, and then integrated. Is that even a paradigm that is meaningful to you? Or how do you see it?
AW: I think I’m led by spirit. I think I’m led by a sense of what is right and what feels good to me—what I accept, what is joyful, what is positive. I see my mission, in a way, as carrying that forward—not so much by preaching, but by embodiment.
So, in that sense, it’s inseparable. They’re the same to me. I’m one in what I do and what I say and what I believe.
TS: Now, when you mention being led by spirit and then being led even by what’s joyful, one of the things that really struck me—and I’ve been spending some time with two collections of your writings in preparation for this conversation. One [is] The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way. Then a second collection of writings, called We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness. What struck me in reading so many of these essays and different talks you’ve given—where you’re talking about your experience going into really difficult and dark places; traveling to Gaza, Rwanda, different places—and yet, being led by what is joyful and having, if you will, a “light heart” in going into such really difficult places struck by tragedy.
So, I’d love to understand more about that—how you can have a light, joyful heart in the midst of writing and engaging with tragedy—deep tragedy.
AW: The light heart comes from actually being there! I think if I could not get myself off my cushion, off my couch, or away from whatever I’m eating—or drinking or partying or whatever—if I couldn’t get away from that, I would have a heavy heart.
But, I’m where I need to be, so my heart is light. Whatever happens, I know—I mean, I feel—that this is absolutely where I should be and I’ve lived up to my own expectations.
Honestly, that is the most important thing to me: Can I continue to live up to my own expectations of myself—and not fall back into slacking?
My big complaint with myself is that I get tired. But, I forgive myself because it’s human to get tired. But, I didn’t always feel like I could forgive myself. There’s a certain [drive], I think. But, now I feel like, “OK, you can be tired. People should let you be tired. Then you should go and take a nap, and you should sleep.” That’s about it.
But, otherwise, I feel like to be where you need to be—where you know you need to be—is such a high. What could be better?
TS: But, what about the actual act of seeing firsthand—witnessing—such pain and tragedy, as in these different places in the world you’ve traveled to, and sort of being overwhelmed by that? And then writing about it—and still being able to do that with this joyful heart. I think that’s what really impressed me. So, I want to know more about how you do that.
AW: I just really love people a lot. I really love them.
I was saying this to someone recently, trying to explain how I loved my grandparents when I was a child. Honestly, I loved them so much that I often thought I would just burst. I thought I couldn’t contain it. I just loved them.
So, some of that has really just stayed with me—although I’m really very sedate. I’m really very mellow and not actively—I rarely jump up and down. But, in my heart I’m jumping up and down. I’m feeling such an amazing love that that is what does it.
You know, the hardest part is when you’re in danger yourself. You have to face what could happen and might be likely to happen to you. It’s not just that you’re there standing next to somebody that something bad is likely to happen to. That is a true moment of reckoning with who you really are. Are you really going to be standing there?
I think that that moment of commitment is both very light and very heavy. You can actually feel how bad it could be. But, at the same time, you’re there. That goes back to what I was saying earlier about the lightheartedness—because you got off your couch, you got off wherever you were comfortable, and you’ve made the journey. You’re there, where you really know you need to be.
TS: Can you give me an example of that, Alice? When you felt your life was endangered?
AW: Well, on the boat to Gaza—or trying to get to Gaza. The Israeli government was giving us a very hard time. They had started to sabotage the boats. They had tampered with the underpinnings of the boats. I forget what you call it.
And then we were met by these people with their guns to keep us from leaving Athens. We left, but we had to turn back.
Or, in the Congo: I remember very much riding—I don’t know if you know this, but the Congo is really beautiful. People correct me and say, “Oh, you mean the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Well, fine. But, the land there, the landscape is extraordinary. It’s big lakes and beautiful hills and trees.
But anyway, as you know, it’s being completely destroyed. So, when we were there, I was with a photographer who actually started trying to take photographs of these very mean, hungry-looking young soldiers lining the roads. [This] would have put us in quite a lot of danger if we hadn’t been able to kind of sit on her.
You know—real fear. Which brings me to this idea of fearlessness. People will say to you, “Oh, you are fearless.” That is so not true. We should stop saying that about people. It’s a slander, really.
I think what it does is it dehumanizes people and it makes them seem like they’re so different from you. People feel fear. So, we were afraid. I was afraid in the Congo, as on the boat to Gaza.
But, it’s what do you do then? What do you do when you’re afraid and you know you’re afraid? You can have no way of knowing how this will even impact your health later. This is another part that is often not talked about—how, months later, you’re still—I mean, I understand—what is it? Post—
TS: Post-traumatic stress? Yes.
AW: —syndrome. I understand it completely, because you’re there [and] you’re standing somewhere where many people have just been chopped to bits, like in Rwanda, for instance. This part of Congo is where a lot of the people from Rwanda fled—they fled across that border.
You’re trying to be there, be supportive, be present—all of it to show people that they’re not alone, they’re not forgotten, that somebody cares. Somebody loves them. Somebody sees that they are beautiful and great. It’s not their fault—whatever rotten thing is being done to them.
But, months later, you can still be having physical repercussions that you didn’t expect. You can have mental things happening that you didn’t expect because you have placed yourself where you “had to be.” But, it’s almost like nobody told your body. [Laughs.] Nobody told your body that, and the body is freaking out.
I remember coming back from the boat—I can’t say it was a failed attempt. We didn’t get to Gaza, but we left the shore. My feeling is that: leave the shore. You may not get anywhere, but leave the “expletive” shore. [Laughs.]
So, I got home, not thinking anything really had changed. I got into this little farm truck that I have to haul whatever—manure and firewood and whatever’s heavy. I’m used to driving this little thing. It’s not that big. But, I right away ran into a tree. I just ran into a tree. I was not there. I was not connected still to my body.
So, that was like the biggest thing. No—the other thing was [that] a dog that we have that I’ve been around for years—I just tripped over it and just fell hard. Damagingly hard. Again, the places that we can be taken to are so far from where we live day to day that the psyche—or whatever—has a hard time getting back.
So, it can take—it depends on who you are, but in my case, six months or a year—to reclaim myself, reintegrate myself, and really feel whole. So, I have to factor that in as a cost.
You have to say, “Well then, is it worth it?” Well, yes, it is worth it. Unfortunately, you can always see that life is so much more challenging for the people you are there to witness.
So, yes. I think the lightheartedness—who knows what goddesses send this beam of lightheartedness, but thank goodness. Otherwise, it’ll be too depressing because you know that anything that forces you to act at the possible harm of your own existence is going to exact a cost. You have to then think about, “Can I pay this? What will this mean to me—to my relationships, to my family, to everybody? What is this going to take? How much of me is this going to take?”
I think this is the place that people fear—and rightly so. It’s not small.
But, the consequence of not doing that could be worse, I think. I was reading somewhere where, in this country, a third of the people—this may be an exaggeration, but a large number. I think it was a third of the people who can afford the stuff—they are on tranquilizers of one sort or another.
I would say to just throw the tranquilizers away and go and do something that you think you can’t do. Then suffer whatever that is for however long it takes, and then see who you are. I think that your health and everything else will be improved.
TS: Now, some people don’t have a clear calling to go to some part of the world and make a contribution anywhere near the way that you have. They’re not writers. “I don’t really know. That doesn’t feel right to me. I’m not called to that.” And I realize you’re not advocating in any way that people do a specific event—just that they become empowered in some way.
But, I still want to address that person who feels this overwhelming sense of despair and has no clarity about how to respond. They feel helpless.
AW: Well, where I live in Mexico—I live in a tiny village called La Manzanilla. It was hit by the worst hurricane ever to hit the world that we know of, [Hurricane] Patricia. People lost pretty much everything all up and down between Puerto Vallarta and Manzanilla. They were hit just terrifically hard—don’t have roofs, some have no walls either. But, just devastation.
What I’ve seen from keeping in touch as well as I can is that what I find so typical in Mexican culture is the helpfulness of the people to each other. I think, at this point, that is the highest good and the highest we can hope for—which is to be of help and use to each other wherever we are.
We are in for disasters without end. So, I think the light of our presence, basically—and of our willingness to take up the broom and the dustpan, and try to drag the limbs out of the street and try to raise money to put on a roof, and try to make sure people have water right where you are. I think that that is what is probably the most important thing.
TS: Now, I want to talk a little bit more about each one of us coming into our voice in some way—and if you think that even is a calling for people. I’m going to read something to you that is from one of your essays. Here’s what you write: “I’ve spent a lifetime finding and using my voice, so easily silenced as a young person by the overwhelm of grief. Looking back, I see that claiming my voice—asserting it in writing—became a practice that in many ways saved me. [It] saved me from despair, hopelessness, from total and complete withdrawal emotionally from other human beings.”
I wanted to talk about that because I can imagine a lot of people, in the light of current events, are touching into the fact that they don’t feel free in their own voice. Their own voice feels somehow reserved or trembling. What [might you] say to people who are experiencing that?
AW: Well, I loved meditation. I love it because that’s where you find what your voice is. You cannot really find it easily in this culture. This culture is the noisiest culture ever, ever. I think the damage that it has done to people is in that realm of silencing them. They are overwhelmed by gadgets. They don’t know what to think because they’re so heavily programmed about what it is that they should want and should think.
So, in a sense, you have to steal back yourself. You have to steal back your own mind. Meditation helps in that area. Meditation is like the cloak of the good thief. You find a corner or somewhere where you can actually entertain your own self and your own soul, and understand what your work [is] here. You’re not here just to be a clone. You’re not here to be a copy. We have enough of those. You don’t have to apply. You don’t even have to go there to be absolutely yourself—real, here, now, on this planet.
There’s nothing like it. You can only stand so much ecstasy.
I can never get over the mystery of this wonder that we’ve bumbled into. I mean, I can’t think anybody was planning it, exactly. Who knows? I don’t know. I just know that somehow we got here.
So, there is reason for an ecstatic existence—and also that ecstasy is not sustainable forever. On some level, maybe it is. But, I’m just saying that if you can connect with that—even if it’s just a moment of ecstatic wonder that you exist at all in this huge, magnificent, sprawling wonder—you’re fortified. It’s like—oh, I don’t know—minerals for the spirit, where you get fortified and you got out and you want to protect, save, keep, honor, join—whatever makes more health for this.
[Laughs.] It’s really mind-blowing. So, if you can get over being in despair and stop thinking about the soldiers who are shooting out the eyes of children deliberately—and setting people afire in their beds, and bombing hospitals, and chopping people’s limbs off, and chasing people out of their homes, and not wanting to shelter refugees—all the things. If you can just for a moment step back from that and say, “OK. I am here, so I must have done something right to get here. I’m here. I’m really loving this. I thank you so much. However this happened, I just adore you and thank you.”
Out of that feeling, then, you turn to whatever needs doing. It could be next door. It could be in your house.
I don’t require myself or anyone to go beyond what they feel they can do. I just do suggest—for their own eventual happiness—that they go as far as they can. They can usually go much further than they think.
Then you come up against—it seems to me—one’s fear of dying. That is very real. So, you have to constantly—on your little mental wheel back there somewhere—think about, “This could cost me my life. What does that mean?” You eventually get to this place where you realize that you’re dying anyway. You’re constantly on your way somewhere else anyway, and that dying—to this reality—obviously, like everything else here, releases you into a whole other cycle of being something else. And I think that’s pretty amazing. To not fear it is a good thing. I mean, you might fear how it happens. But, as far as we know, everybody dies.
Sometimes, I think people like Martin and Malcolm and people who are assassinated—the Kennedys—there’s a way of looking at it that I’m sure most people have looked at it this way. So, if you visit someone who’s dying painfully of cancer—which we are doing right now with a friend—he wants to die so badly. He’s in hospice. Every day he pleads that he wants to die. The pain is so horrible and the medicine doesn’t always take care of it. And I think, “Well, you know, the ones who left in a blaze of whatever probably saved themselves from this kind of end here—where you’re dying of some disease that’s making you wish you were dead.”
So, it takes time to sort out these issues with yourself and to live in a certain state of readiness. You just learn to live there. People—whether they know it or not—they’re in the state, but they’re also not aware that they need to be in the state and be ready to be there.
Years ago, when they had the threat of nuclear war—we have it today, we still have the threat—people were taught to duck under their little desks. It’s absurd. You can’t really save yourself by ducking under a wooden desk.
The same is true now. You cannot really expect to save yourself. And anyway, what would it mean to save yourself and not everybody?
So, it’s just living with that reality—that we don’t decide the time. We don’t have the control. Someone has the control, but we don’t. I mean, generally speaking. Humans—whatever billions we are—we don’t have the control. We are considered expendable, basically.
So, you live in a state of—if not preparedness—just readiness. It may happen this way, it may happen that way. But, this is where I want to be. This is where I want to be. I want to be with these people. I know who they are. I see them. They’re wonderful. It makes them happy that I am here. It eases their burden a little bit that I’m here. And if I have to go down somewhere, I’d just as soon go down with these people.
I think that that’s what love is. I really think that that has to be what love is.
TS: So, Alice, you talked about facing one’s own fear of death. Earlier, you talked about sometimes getting more tired than you used to get. I know that—as we’re having this conversation—you’ve passed the mark into your eighth decade of life. You’ve lived more than 70 years. I’m curious to know how the aging process is going for you and what kinds of insights you’re having, as you age, about the aging process.
AW: I feel very young.
TS: Uh huh! You sound young.
AW: I feel young because—I’m sure we talked about this years ago, but I have this ancestor called my Four-Greats Grandmother. She lived to be 125. So, I’m about halfway. [Laughs.] Well, maybe two-thirds of the way.
But, I feel very thankful, really, to have gotten this old. I’ll be 72 in February. I seem to myself to have lived every moment that I wasn’t too tired to live, with all its ups and downs—and there have been some terrific downs.
I still am just as astonished as I was—I think—as a child. When I was a child, I spent a lot of time alone because my mother had to work. You know, the whole story. But, I would be left alone and I would be walking around with this stick in my hand. I still kind of walk around with a stick in my hand. But, I would drag it along the fence where we had cows and pigs and everything, making a kind of strange music with this stick.
I just felt so at peace with being—the rightness of my life, even though we were so poor in the terminology of the world. But, we didn’t listen to them. We never thought of ourselves as poor. It was hard to think of yourself as poor if you noticed sunsets, for instance—or if you watched a storm coming. Sometimes the clouds would look exactly like waves. That was just so extraordinary. Then you would have this huge thunderstorm. If you could stay outside—if they didn’t grab you and try to make you stay dry—then you could just be really, completely wet from the rain.
Things like that, I think. Not to mention lightning, which is dangerous, but my God is it beautiful. What is happening? We used to think—my parents told us that the roll of the thunder was the gods—well, the one God they had, but I multiplied that—dragging the furniture across the sky. I like to think of them doing that—just rearranging the furniture—maybe because that’s something I like to do. I like to rearrange furniture.
TS: So, you feel young. And yet, I would say [that] in our culture, you now are in the chair of an elder. You are now an elder for people. People look up to you in that way. And I wonder if you have a sense of what the sacred function of an elder might be.
AW: I am an elder, and I am delighted to be an elder. I would like to exhibit [and] explore it more—what an elder could mean in this time. But, I’d like to show that elders are good for us—that they can be good for us.
So, we have elders who [are] misguided and wallowing around in troughs of money with the wrong sort. [Laughs.] They’re not really good elders for the youth to emulate. The youth rightly don’t like them.
But, in all ancient traditions—and I’m thinking now of African traditions and Native American traditions and European indigenous traditions—all of the old, ancient goddess traditions—the people who lived millennia [ago] and probably still do some of this—there is that sense that when people become elders—when they’re older; they can be old without being an elder, really. They [can] just be old and not very useful.
But, the duty is to exhibit some commitment to the youth—some commitment to their growth, their understanding of reality, their ability to choose a life that is not just making a living. So, I always have felt that elders are really important. I think it’s because, in my little Southern black culture, elders really were respected. Everybody listened to them. They may not have agreed—that’s a whole different story—but they would totally listen and consider what the elder had to say.
Then that’s what elders could do. They could just be that person who let people do that.
TS: Now, in your work being led by spirit, somehow spirit has led you to put yourself out there in the world in really strong ways through your writing. I mean, I think about it as you putting yourself in the line of fire again and again and again. You’ve also received a lot of criticism in your life. One of the things I’m curious [about] is how you’ve been able to not be dragged down by that criticism.
Still, Alice, what has impressed me so much digging into your writings was this overall sense of buoyancy that I felt. I was like, “Wow! Here she’s received so much criticism for this, that, and the other thing, and she’s buoyant.” How are you doing it?
AW: Well, where can I go? So, I’m taken out. There was some journalist who was (I think) threatening to murder me. Somebody else said that my books would now become landfill. They would do this and they would do that.
So, OK. So, maybe they would do all those things. But, where can I go except to my ancestors? There’s nowhere else to go. I like them.
So, that is a fear that doesn’t exist in me. You can’t send me anywhere that I wouldn’t be happy to go. You’d be surprised as to how that lightens the heart.
TS: OK. Tell me what you mean more—that you could go to your ancestors. Tell me what you mean by that.
AW: Well, if I’m killed—if I’m removed—there is nowhere else for me to go but to my ancestors. You know, there’s a—I think it’s the Crow people, who wrote—or said, and it was written down, to the invaders [and] settlers in this country. They said that—to a certain depth—if you dig in the ground here (meaning America), that is all our people. They’ve been buried here for so long that that is all the dirt—everything you would get for several yards down, that would be Crow people. After that, you would come to what you would consider dirt.
So, I feel that not just physically—I feel that’s true physically. My ancestors make up the skin of the world. That’s who that is. That’s what that is. That’s us.
But, also spiritually—I feel that the ancestors are that covering that will cover me. I feel like I can only be enveloped in them spiritually and physically.
So, whatever transition I make in whatever time I make it, I’m going home. You know that expression? You know: “You’re going home,” or, “You’re crossing over.” I understand it completely. You’re just going back to—well, I don’t know if it’s back to. But, you’re going there. Wherever that is has a future—which is an extraordinary thought.
You die—and this is why manmade religions don’t work for so many of us. The notion that you’re dead and that’s the end, and they even try to contain you in coffins. They make them out of steel and stuff.
But really, your journey—for all you know—is just beginning. For all I know, what you see now is just a tiny little seed. [Laughs.] So, I may blossom into an entire—I don’t know—something in the sky. Who knows where we’re going?
So, that actually helps. It helps to have this kind of connection to the natural world, which is endless. As far as we know, you can just keep going and going and going, and you never get to the end of it because there is no end. The ending is a beginning. If you feel like that, then you accept that wherever you have to stop on this journey, you continue in some other form somewhere else.
TS: Now, Alice, that makes sense in terms of the fear of being killed. But, when it comes to public criticism and dialogue about somebody’s work, often it doesn’t result in their death. It just results in people saying a bunch of mean things on the Internet.
So, part of my question is how you dealt with that and how you stay buoyant in the face of that kind of public criticism.
AW: You know what hurts the most? What hurts the most is being misunderstood. They tell me that’s an Aquarian trait—that that’s the thing we don’t like.
I think that’s true. I feel like people who have been so hostile to me and so mean—maybe they deliberately misunderstand what I’m offering. I see it all as an offering. I’m offering it. You don’t have to take it. I’m not trying to sell it to you. In fact, I now write directly on my blog because you don’t have to buy it. You can just log in.
But, criticism’s painful. I’ve been under the bed. I’ve been just as low as—you know how Virginia Woolf used to go crazy every time she published a book because of the critics? Well, there’s some of that in me and, I think, most people. I mean, not to her extent—but you realize that hardly anyone is going to understand it and those that do will probably understand it incorrectly, really, compared to what you’re trying to do.
But, what can I say? It’s just the recoverability of life in the face of the magnificence of where you are. Next to this olive tree in my yard, my worst critic is hapless. Critics just don’t—I mean, they count because they can really affect your livelihood—and that has happened—but they don’t really affect the fact that we live in this paradise and what the meaning of that [is]. And what luck to have this! Are we really going to just let it die out from under us?
It’s almost unbelievable where we are as a planet because people have been so afraid of rocking the boat, of putting forth what they really believe, and standing with people who need to be stood with.
TS: What are the biggest ways you feel you you’ve been misunderstood? Which ways really affected you?
AW: Well, I honestly think that—well, let me put it this way: it was a shock to realize that people would actually have a problem with my trying to bring some light to the practice of female genital mutilation.
Now, there is a place that you would think is so obvious. I mean, would you yourself hold down a little baby girl and proceed to cut away all of her genitals? It should be a no-brainer—just an anathema. People should look at you—and some of them did—and say, “Well, that’s just not possible.” Well, it is possible. It’s happening right this minute.
There is a certain weariness. That’s where you get tired. I wrote this novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, made a film about the practice—first went all over places where FGM is practiced [and] made a film—lugged the film around Africa, wherever we could find a projector, and [then] London, New York, San Francisco. Everywhere we went—[filmmaker] Pratibha Parmar and I—and still, after ten years, to have people say things like, “Oh, this is the colonial gaze. She’s just trying to get back in the limelight.” Really. As you can tell, I am still on some level speechless.
This kind of attitude—some part of me will never understand it. I just don’t because—suppose I’m all these awful things—every awful thing you can think of—and I’m doing this for whatever. But, what is that against the actual practice of this atrocity on millions of children and women, to this moment? I mean, what am I to that? Nothing. Really.
The idea of writing about and making a film about it and talking about is to bring the awareness to the people—all of them on the planet. Not just Africa, not just Asia or wherever—London; wherever these things happen. It’s to help us stop this because it’s harming us as a planet. That’s why that book is written the way it is written—so that you can see that these atrocities that people do to each other don’t stay in the tribe that they practiced in—whatever the tribe is, whether it’s the gay tribe or whatever. Things don’t stay put. They travel. That is why people need to pay attention by what has done to harm other people—because if you’re a person, eventually it’s going to fly right back in some form at you.
That’s why the Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have them do unto you—is just absolutely right on.
TS: What I notice in this conversation, Alice, is this thread of praise of our life—praise of the Earth, praise of being here—that there is some love that you’re able to communicate that feels like a touchstone that in one way or another has been running through our whole conversation.
What I’m wondering is: when you don’t feel that, how do you return to it? Or how does it return?
AW: Good question. When I don’t feel that, I feel bereft. I feel I am a child that’s lost its mother. I feel like a calf whose mother has gone off to slaughter. It’s very hard, and I pray for a return of connectedness because it’s such a blessed state. I’m really aware of that. I’m really aware that it’s rare, and I’m aware that it matters to me that I feel loved by the universe—and I do.
But, sometimes I lose it and I feel like, “Where is Mama Universe? Where is the light?” I throw myself into cleaning out closets and gardening and trying to do trivial, mundane things. Sometimes not so mundane or trivial—like visit people. I do things that I can do without the light. I can bring my body there and I can scrub your floor or massage your feet or whatever.
But, I am aware that I’m just a half. So, what helps is—this again—meditation. [That’s] very helpful. Stretching [and] yoga [are] very helpful. All of these things—they really do help. Good food and a lot of sleep. And reading—reading good books. Sometimes movies—although a lot of the movies are difficult.
But, yes. That’s what I do. I recognize it. It’s like, “Oh! I’ve lost the light.” I can’t make it come back. I’ve used it up. Usually that’s what’s happened. You use up your light.
You just have to hope that it will come back. I think what brings it back is the steadiness of your own love. You continue to be loving. You continue to look at everything and admire it. I really think admiration for nature can save us. I mean true admiration, to the point of not letting it be harmed.
TS: In reading many of your essays, one of the things that I found that thrilled me to no end was that you mentioned several Sounds True audio programs in different essays—different programs, whether it was Pema Chödrön or Jack Kornfield or even a program called Shamanic Navigation by John Perkins—
AW: Oh, yes!
TS: —that Sounds True has published. It was obvious to me that audio—not just Sounds True programs, but audio books and audio listening—is something that is of value to you. I was curious to hear more about that.
AW: Well, I have vision problems. So, I can’t really read as much as I used to. So, on that level, audio is perfect for me. Plus, I love hearing a good tale or whatever.
I so value Sounds True because I feel like the pre-selection is excellent. You don’t have to wade through a whole lot of junk to find the jewels. But, there are a lot of jewels and they are often quite different.
So, that’s how that is. And the other thing is that you can do what you’re doing while you’re listening to something. That’s also how I study my Spanish. I’ve lived now part-time in Mexico for over 20 years. My Spanish is still pretty bad. I’ve gone to school, I’ve taken lessons, I have teachers, dah dah dah. But, actually, having the audio in my pocket while I’m doing something else and just kind of listening as I’m working is probably the best way for me to learn.
TS: Well, Alice, I’m wondering if—to finish our conversation—if you would be willing to either read or recite for us a poem that something in our conversation might have sparked for you.
AW: All right. Well, I opened this book—Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful—to “We Alone.” I think this speaks to the question of what people can do if they don’t want to be out there in the rough and tumble—because as I see it, our problem mostly in our abuse of each other and the planet is greed. Just the rampant, incredible greed that people have partly because they’re empty and they can’t get enough because they’re—you know, it’s that Buddhist thing about the hungry ghost with the little mouth and the big belly.
This is called “We Alone:”
We alone can devalue gold
by not caring
if it falls or rises
in the marketplace.
Wherever there is gold
there is a chain, you know,
and if your chain
so much the worse
and sea-shaped stones
are all as rare.
This could be our revolution:
to love what is plentiful
as much as
TS: Alice, thank you so much! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and be a guest.
AW: Oh, it was so wonderful. Thank you for calling.
TS: Wonderful. I’ve been speaking with Alice Walker. She’s the author of more than 30 books. With Sounds True, [she] has created the classic audio program My Life As My Self.
SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.