It has come to this: I need something to read that makes me feel better. The world outside is becoming unrecognizable, like a dark fantasy/alternate reality creeping in and spilling over into the real world. I’m falling out of love with book series, my normal comfort books just aren’t comforting. I need something more, and I found Iyanla Vanzant.
She’s been around forever, and I really mean that literally. Iyanla Vanzant the woman, teacher, healer, spiritual counselor and self-described Cultural Custodian writes from a place of deep love for humankind. She’s on a mission to bring everyone up to their highest heights, to dispense with fear and stress and be at peace with yourself, and, it follows, with the world. Her books and teachings draw from old, classic, ancient teachings and words. She’s using all sorts of knowledge collected before our time to understand how other people and cultures get through challenging times. She’s using what they’ve learned to inform herself, and us. So to me, in a sense she’s been around forever. And she is what I need right now.
I’m a really stubborn reader. I don’t like to read things because I should, or because everyone else is. I like self help books, but the ones I choose are generally very specific: how to be a better or more prolific writer; how to get my home life in order; how to get in shape.
My wife has been nudging Iyanla Vanzant (look, her name is like a reverse Oprah – I just can’t even consider writing or saying it unless it’s as one whole) books in my direction for a while now. Maybe it’s a subliminal experience just from reading the titles as I passed by my bookshelves, but One Day My Soul Just Opened Up and I was ready to try Acts of Faith.
It was February 4th, and I know this because the book, Daily Meditations for People of Color, is 365 pages of meditations, one for each day of the year. Each page has a food-for-thought quote – from the Bible, the Koran, Yoruba proverbs, from writers, thinkers philosophers, spiritual and political leaders, folklore and spirituals – the Iyanla Vanzant breakdown and understanding of the quote, and an action item you can take with you into your day.
The very first meditation spoke to me: it’s about choosing your own adventure. Not allowing yourself to be limited. Being the person you need to be in the world. That would have been enough, but the way this, my first day on the journey, is structured is what really sucked me in. It starts with a quote from The Book of Coming Forth by Day, which a little research informed me is what I know as The Book of the Dead, a collection of ancient Egyptian papyrus scrolls placed with the dead to help guide them through the afterlife and into the next. The breakdown of the text reinforces that success – however you define it – begins from within, which I found myself smirking at, thinking that’s just a bit corny for me.
Then I read the wrap up: “I Am the beginning and my end.” The phrase struck me, and stayed in my head all day, recalling the end of one of my favorite poems ever, John Donne’s A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. I LOVE THAT POEM. And here it is, calling to me from a self help book via an ancient Egyptian quote, bringing me back to my own love-of-English-lit beginnings.
So I sat down to write.
Books are my church. I read to learn, to grow, to expand my knowledge and refresh my faith. I read to remember that the world and people in it are good. I read to give myself the strength to continue to fight for what I believe is right. To fight to be who I am. Iyanla Vanzant has been preaching for a long time, and her words are finally helping heal me.