Maya Angelou’s Epiphany

Confiscated from:
Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight To Inspire, Encourage and Transform
By Elise Ballard

Maya Angelou during an interview with Elise Ballard:

The truth is everybody probably has 250 epiphanies. The way you’re changed at ten prepares you to be changed again at fifteen, but you couldn’t have been changed at fifteen had you not had that change at ten. You see what I mean? Epiphany builds upon epiphany.

When my son was born, I was seventeen. And I came home from the hospital and my mother put him in the bed with me. I was so afraid I’d roll over on this beautiful baby. But she said, “It’s all right. You’ll be all right.” I thought I might smother him or something. I was just scared.

Sometime in the middle of the night, my mother awakened me, and she said, “Don’t move. Just look.” And I had put my arm up and put my hand on the mattress, and put the blanket over my arm so that my baby was lying in a tent.

And my mom softly said to me, “See baby? When you mean right, you do right.”

A few years later, when I was maybe twenty-two or so, I was studying voice, and the voice teacher lived in my house and rented from me. He taught a number of accomplished actresses and singers, and they all studied in my house. So I knew them slightly. But they were all white, and they were accomplished, and many of them were forty years old and had been written about in the San Francisco newspaper, where I lived at the time.

Once a month, the voice teacher asked us to come together and read from a book called Lessons in Truth. We all would read a page, or a half a page, whatever he assigned. And at one point, I was reading and read the line, “God loves me.”

And he stopped me and said, “Read it again.”

So I read it again: “God loves me.”

He said, “Again.”

And suddenly I became embarrassed. I was young and black, and everybody else was white and accomplished. And I felt he was really embarrassing me. Putting me on the spot. So I read it with ferocity  forcefully: “GOD. LOVES. ME.”

And, at that moment, I knew it. I knew it!

I thought, “God? That which made bees and mountains and water? That? Loves me? Maya Angelou? Well then, there’s nothing I can’t do. I can do anything good.”

Even now, telling you this some fifty years later, it still brings goose bumps to me. I could weep with joy at the knowledge that I am loved by Love itself.


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Creation zones + 2 questions to get the most out of them

Today I found myself excited for the day to come — and specifically for the creation zones that became apparent to me within the day:

  • My time with my wonder wife
  • My time with my son and friends playing a little basketball
  • My time at the art gallery
  • My time with the book I’m writing (Bohemia in Suburbia)
  • My time with you on this blog and responding to your emails
  • My time in the hammock
  • My time in the pool
  • My time cleaning the house

When I think of each segment of time as a creation zone, all I need do for maximum fulfillment is ask myself, “What do I want most to create here  and for how long?”

What am I seeking to create in this segment of time — Relaxation? Rapport? Entertainment? Productivity? Understanding? Immersion? Silence?

Every segment of time in a day is a creation zone. If driving, then I’m wanting a safe, easy flow experience. If conversing, then I’m wanting a real connection.

The second question above is equally important — for how long? There’s absolutely nothing I wish to do indefinitely . . . everything has its natural limits, which are different for each of us. 

Understanding this going in helps me. I know when my energy and attention will begin to flag — and that it’s best to stop before that point. 

Otherwise my innate tendencies toward novelty kick in. Hey, there’s a black snake in the yard, wonder if I could pet it. . . . 

To get the most from each creation zone —  to live to my fullest — all I need to define for myself entering each creation zone is what I want most from that activity and what is the optimal amount of time to engage in it.

Defining these two parameters allows me to immerse myself fully — without feeling the tug of all the other things seeking to be created that day too. So time with son is time with him, not also time with you here on this blog . . . Time with you here isn’t muddied by attempting research on my book at the same time.

It simplifies everything. And everything important gets its moment.

It also creates a rhythm, like Tarzan swinging from vine to vine. You release the prior segment/vine to really get into the full swing of the next one.

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Are you too attached to your hardship?

When I find myself getting far too into the story of our collapse and recovery, I caution myself not to become too beholden to the idea. That was but a season.

We’re in a winning season now, and what came before it — yes, it was formative — but it’s not so significant that I must belabor the woes.

Belabor the woahs, I say to me self. Heh.

Woah, look at how well things are flowing.

Woah, sales keep increasing at juicy clips.

Woah, exceptional artists are seeking out our gallery for representation in ever increasing numbers.

Woah, more people seem to be contacting me out of the blue about a blog post that made their moment.

Woah, my relationships get richer and richer, so rich that if they were calories I’d have to back off.

Woah, woah and woe. See how that creeps back in there if you’re not being attentive?
This meme of becoming identified with the downside has cropped up in three conversations in the past two weeks — each time with a different individual.
In each conversation someone has voiced a concern that someone we mutually know has become glued to only one telling of their experience. And that version is the crappy, limited one.

It’s slow suicide by overidentification with one side of life.

If this resonates with you — if you feel you’ve become stuck on one track like a downbound train — jump tracks! Jump tracks before you can’t even see the other track.

You know people who’ve become stuck in one story line. Don’t be that person.

(Unless it’s a story line worthy of a Disney ending.)

There are so many ways available to you to switch tracks. And almost all of them are free. Almost all of the ways involve throwing open your heart to those you encounter. Almost all of the ways involve deep appreciative awe for that which is good in your life.

In may take some practice to feel those good aspects. But it took you a fair amount of practice to consistently feel the negative, and hence feed that into your experience.

Change your practice.

Take a breath at every juncture you find yourself hurtling down the wrong track. Take three or ten breaths. You have the time. You really do.

You have the time to spiritualize your consciousness.

You have the time to bathe your mind. A cleansed mind brings about a vibrant life. It’s by degrees. But I promise you, it will show up in your experience.

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Sometimes your most inspired action is to stop

Many creatives arise early . . . 

. . . work till midday

. . . take time away for a meal or a walk or a nap or all of the above

. . . then work till evening

Sometimes your most inspired action is to stop.

For example, when Albert Einstein gave up. And in that release from the crushing struggle with his work everything congealed.

Or when the Coconut King paused, looked around at the ruins of a business venture, and something new rose from the ashes.

You know who else stopped? Hemingway — he would stop just short of exhausting an idea — so that he could pick up again the next day in the middle of inspiration — and ride down the track from there.

Sometimes your most inspired action is to stop.

(Unless of course you haven’t started. Then your most inspired action is to begin.)

Part of the What creators do series.

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My wife on foreplay


“Honestly, if you have a good marriage, foreplay is on a daily basis.”

When I reached for the notepad she shrieked, “Don’t make a blog post out of this!”

Then when I said I just might have to, I was laughing so hard, she went on. 

“What I mean is that foreplay isn’t just when you’re making love. If men only knew how turned on we get when you do the laundry and help with the dishes and help clean the house . . . ” 

At this point it dawned on my why I get so . . . lucky.

“And of course it’s the flirtation too, and the laughing and everything else . . . . it’s all those things you do day after day.”


My (unlikely) yoga buddy: Why you should put it out there, whatever it is you want

At the beginning of the year I put this out there:

I wanted a yoga buddy.

I’d been away from formal yoga practice a few short years. Wild happenings interrupted my regular class schedule. Some would call it the catastrophe of 2008. I would call it the adventure of a lifetime. 

(Remember: It’s not an adventure unless you can get hurt. We got hurt. But we also got healed!) 

How did I put it out there? 

I told people. I mentioned it to my wife. I talked up the idea among friends. I stated this desire at a vision meeting we do every six weeks with another couple. 

I wrote it down.

A slew of times.

(What is a slew of times? More than several, less than a multitude.)

Then I let it go.

Months go by — will it be the acupuncturist, I think; will it be this new acquaintance, or that one? — and the unlikeliest of yoga buddies surfaces. 

A father from my son’s playdate group since pre-school suggested we do a yoga class together. 

A smoker! Maybe an almost ex-smoker. Yet he was hellbent on getting back to yoga too. 

So here I am, engaged in regular yoga instruction again with the perfect partner for me. I love this guy’s enthusiasm, his fresh unfiltered New York-style take on the pains and gains of yoga, his insistence on making it routine.

(Though I shouldn’t be, once again I’m agog at how it all comes together if you put it out there.) 

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Why are so many creatives spiritually inclined?

In my travels dealing with artists and entrepreneurs I’m often struck by the mystical language employed by these creators to describe their processes.

Why do so many creatives exhibit a powerful reverence for this realm we inhabit?

I suspect it’s because of the things that flow when you engage your whole being creatively toward something of significance for you. 

You know what I’m talking about. 

The materials that appear as you need them. The unfolding resources. The people who seem to show up unexpectedly to point you in the right direction just as you’ve been mulling over an issue. The way something fortuitous appears on your screen at just the right moment to push you farther along a line of inquiry.

And if you follow these prompts, one things leads to another. 

Like me.

Raised working in a tire store, now in the art world, now speaking to you about creativity and spirituality and all things eerily wonderful that I trip over in my journey. It builds. It grows. 

You can’t help but ease into some kind of keen appreciation for the Great Mystery as you begin to notice how events and people align with your deepest desires once you begin pursuing them in earnest. 

Part of the What creators do series.

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A soft thought voice said something to me once that set a new course for my life

This is what the soft thought voice in meditation said:

“All you have to do is control your time.”

This inner message was about writing every day at home — I’d just come off the road after a year and a half of a grueling schedule. I’d been able to make the writing happen every day, even though I was on the road for 12 or more hours a day, relentlessly. 

The voice knew the diversions of home, a lovely wife, a joy boy, an encompassing business, wonder friends, stuff stuff stuff! The voice knew exactly what I needed to do, set up the commitment as I entered into this new mode of living.

Perhaps this message means something to you too. 

Is there something that is significant to you that you’re not yet fitting into your life?

Really, all you have to do is control your time.

It’s not as hard as you think. Start with 15 minutes. Or 30, or 60. Whatever you can commit to. 

Or five minutes. It’s amazing what can be started if you give it five minutes. 

I imagine Rome started this way. Casually, five minutes, someone stopping, looking around. Rome may not have been built in a day, but it almost certainly began with someone laying down their burdens for five minutes and exploring the possibilities there.

I say start with what seems absurdly small as a commitment. Because then you’ll do it. Expansion is easy once your underway. 

Listening to the soft voice I started my with my five-minute rule. How crazily simple is that. Now I consistently log writing time every day — for both this blog and a book — that would have been too painful to have even contemplated back then.

You commit to something, 5 minutes or 15. Then you grow it.

Part of the What creators do series.

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Flawed beauty

In Living Wabi Sabi, by Taro Gold, a 14-year-old American boy visits his Japanese grandmother — Obaa-san — for a summer after his father dies:

The Chinese characters used to write ‘Wabi Sabi’ originated more than three thousand years ago. 

The character for Wabi represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of our lives. Its original meaning indicated an ’empty,’ ‘lonely,’ or ‘basic’ state. 

The character for Sabi represents the outer, or material, aspects of life. Originally, it meant ‘worn,’ ‘weathered,’ or ‘decayed.’

. . . .

Over time, the meanings of both words (Wabi and Sabi) shifted to become more lighthearted and hopeful. Around seven hundred years ago, the humble Wabi Sabi images of ’emptiness’ and ‘imperfection’ began to take on a distinctly more enlightened tone.

. . . .

In today’s Japan, the meaning of Wabi Sabi is often condensed to ‘widom in natural simplicity.’ In art books, it is typically defined as ‘flawed beauty.’

. . . . 

[Obaa-san speaking of Wabi Sabi] brought to mind a friend, Samantha. Sam once broke her leg in a bizarre accident involving a cardboard box and a French poodle. (I never understood the details.) Sam ended up in the hospital overnight, lamenting her woes. The worst part was that she had been training for months to run a marathon the following week. 

“All that effort wasted,” she cried.

Sam made a choice. “I could have just climbed under a rock, drowning in self-pity 
 and, believe me, that was very appealing,” she later told me. “Or I could look for the rainbow in the rainstorm.” And that’s what she did. When the marathon was under way, Sam was standing on the sidelines cheering on her fellow runners.

Since she was in such outstanding emotional and physical condition, Sam’s recovery was remarkable. One doctor was more than impressed: He fell in love and later became her husband. 

“Breaking my leg was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Sam said. “I met my partner, plus I realized how much I enjoy running and helping other athletes perform better.” Today, Sam is a successful track coach with a special appreciation for the twists and turns of life.

. . . . .

“The ancient Wabi Sabi masters understood this well,” Obaa-san said. “They knew that happiness does not mean ‘absence of problems.’ There has never been, nor will there ever be, a life free from problems. Since there is no such thing as a perfect life, Wabi Sabi teaches us a way of looking at life that accepts imperfections, makes peace with the difficulties and mishaps, and strives to use them for our ultimate enrichment.”


That arrogance you think you perceive may simply be someone in creation mode

Another consequence of limited attention is that creative individuals are often considered odd  or even arrogant, selfish, and ruthless.

It is important to keep in mind that these are not traits of creative people, but traits that the rest of us attribute to them on the basis of our perceptions. When we meet a person who focuses all of his attention on physics or music and ignores us and forgets our names, we call that person “arrogant” even though he may be extremely humble and friendly if he could only spare attention from his pursuit.

If that person is so taken with his domain that he fails to take our wishes into account we call him “insensitive” or “selfish” even though such attitudes are far from his mind.

Similarly, if he pursues his work regardless of other people’s plans, we call him “ruthless.” Yet it is practically impossible to learn a domain deeply enough to make a change in it without dedicating all of one’s attention to it and thereby appearing to be arrogant, selfish, and ruthless to those who believe they have a right to the creative person’s attention.

From Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Part of the What creators do series.

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