In this profound and sensitive work, African spiritual teacher Sobonfu Somé invites readers to discover in the setbacks they encounter in life a path to healing and rebirth. Her message is drawn from the ancient wisdom teachings of her village in Burkina Faso, and her experiences over more than a decade here in the West. Somé is a gifted storyteller and compassionate student of life who has contemplated deeply the nature of human triumph and defeat. The insights she offers, blending indigenous wisdom and hard experience in the contemporary West, are priceless. Without denying the suffering that accompanies loss and disappointment, she finds in these events the underlying spiritual dynamics that carry us to higher states of knowledge and fulfillment.
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Sobonfu Some was born in Dano, Burkina Faso, a traditional African village of the Dagara people. For more than a decade, Sobonfu has traveled throughout the US and Europe, offering seminars on African spirituality and its relevance to the West. She is the author The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient Teachings in the Ways of Relationships, and Welcoming Spirit Home: Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community. She lives in Sacramento, California.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
From the Preface
I have been pregnant with this book for a long time. The idea grew out of a discussion I had with a friend, now more than six years ago, as we explored different ways of dealing with personal crises. The deeper we got into our subject, the more clearly I saw how difficult it is to address our failings and find ways to restore ourselves without considering the larger community, our professional lives, our spirituality, and so forth.
After an evening of pondering these related ideas, bringing to bear many of my own experiences related to home, relationships, work, and what I saw as my role in the world, my friend concluded, "Sobonfu, it sounds like you have fallen out of grace."
I wondered, at first, what in the world she meant by "falling out of grace." I thought, "Oh, no. Here is one more English phrase I have to learn."
My friend explained her meaning, and for a short while thereafter I was intrigued. "Falling out of grace. What a fascinating idea." But as I sat with it, I became increasingly uneasy, to the point that, eventually, I became upset. "Why would she suggest such a thing? That isn’t me, is it? Could I have fallen out of grace, as she says, and not even be aware of it?"
In the days that followed, as I reflected on our conversation, it became evident to me that I had, indeed, fallen from grace. There was no doubt in my mind. I had done so in many dimensions of my world. The feeling of being out of grace was everywhere present in my life, and yet I had avoided finding words to describe it. Perhaps I believed, at some level, that as long as I did not put my situation into words, questions could remain, and I could look for answers to them later if they didn’t just go away on their own.
The first such questions were raised in 1991, when I left my village in Burkina Faso and came to the West. Already I was trailing a huge elephant called "Failure." The simple fact of leaving behind the security and support of the village can be understood as a fall from grace. Life away from my community for more than a decade has also been a great challenge, and I have experienced many crashes. The collapse of an intimate relationship, and the loss of a brother and beloved uncle have been, perhaps, the most significant of these. Even now, as I complete this book, I am aware of how far I have fallen from the grace of my cultural roots. For many generations the wisdom of my village was preserved by a strictly oral tradition, and from this an encroaching world has persuaded me to break away.
I tell you, it can be easy to take comfort in believing that one’s misfortunes are caused by others. I could blame the elders, sitting in the village thousands of miles away, who are unaware of, or do not understand my struggles in the West. But that would mean not healing, being a prisoner in my own trap, fearful of change. Instead I have taken refuge in the words of one of my wisest teachers: my grandmother. "Failure is the best thing that can happen to you," she once said.
I still remember when one of my brothers came back from school, upset and fearful because he had failed a grade. When the news got to Grandmother she said to him, "Is that what’s worrying you? Well, if they cook a sauce and you do not like it, then cook something to your own taste." If my brother did not like what was being taught, she proposed, then he should put it aside and turn his energy toward the things that interested him.
When my brother’s teachers heard this, they were offended, but for us children, it was not only funny (especially when said in Dagara), it was music to our ears. Grandmother’s advice has stayed with me ever since, and has given me strength to find in failure the paths to growth I would have otherwise overlooked.
I realized the minute I decided to write this book that it would never be complete. We are in a continuous process of rebuilding ourselves, in ways unique to every situation, and so long as we live we are destined to fall again. In addition, there are more ways in which one can fall out of grace — and come back to it — than could ever fit within a book. You will find thoughts and stories here that are incomplete or unresolved. They, too, hold lessons, and this was the only way to write truthfully.
Failure will always exist, and the book that matters is written individually every day of our lives. My wish is that you will write it for yourself in a way that brings healing, wisdom and peace.
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