Maya Angelou writes a letter to her daughter: advice for us all

Maya Angelou gave birth to one son, but this book is her letter to her daughters of the world. In it she speaks to women who are "Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish-speaking, Native American and Aleut... (who) are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered..."

It is a book that reads much like a series of blog posts in a way. Each chapter being but a couple of pages, sometimes less. Quality, not quantity.

Angelou advice touches, inspires and fills you with the passion to live your best life, to try: "to be a rainbow in someone else's cloud... (to) not complain... (to) make every effort to change things you do not like...(or) if you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking...(and so may) find a new solution."

Angelou writes in a wonderfully unstated way. Describing often horrific events, such as when her boyfriend abducted, beat and starved her in such such simple undramatised language that it is a lesson in itself in a way. To have experienced horror is one thing, to then share it with others so that they may draw some wisdom or insight from it: such as the power of faith or the resilience of a mother determined to find her daughter is something else. Angelou never asks for the readers pity, she asks instead for us to rise up, keep living, "tell the truth," stand up for yourself where necessary, see every stranger as a friend, be humble and have faith.



dancing in the dharma: The Life and Teachings of Ruth Denison {by Laura Fraser}

Despite the fact that U Ba Khin had personally taught her, many wouldn't recognise Ruth as a legitamate teacher of the Vipassana method because she was seen to be too eccentric. So that whereas S.N Goenka, the official head of the Vipassana empire advocated complete stillness of the body during retreats, along with the extraction of all outer distractions in order to cultivate focus of the mind. Ruth encouraged movement and dance in her retreats and also her canine friend who would sit beside her as she talked.

Dancing in dharma ("dharma" means the teaching of Buddha) chronicles an extraordinary life. Born in Germany, Ruth was 17 when the Nazis invaded Germany, as a result she experienced much suffering and violence first hand - being raped by Russian soldiers during the war - and yet she didn't sink, she survived. Because of this Denison's story is one where instead of kowtowing to the trauma she experienced she instead embraced her "big power for living" and lived. A living that took her in 1956 to LA where she first worked as a cleaner for a drunk and a "contradictory fellow." But because of her resourcefulness kept on surviving. In 1959 she met Henry Denison and it was to be this man who became her husband and who introduced her to Buddhism - and to U Ba Khin. An aspect of Ruth's life that some can relate to perhaps; our relationships being the catalyst for introducing us to many new things in life, meditation and dharma being but two examples.

The book provides inspiration and insight to anyone with a practice, or to those wondering: what's in it for me? In many way's she championed mindfulness and acceptance as paths to alleviate suffering but also in order to "renew our consciousness" and experience greater joy in life.

"You cannot capture me," she tells Sandy Boucher her biographer, "...even in a retreat...everything has greater depth for me now. It puts me more in wonderment. I see, number one, that everything that we call problem or dissatisfaction, it is having only one cause, and that is the absence of mindfulness, of attention. I don't see anymore bad people or great people, or (ask) how could they do this? It's just the unawareness actualising itself. There's always the absence of your higher faculty which is to be the ultimate authority, the only effective authority, when that comes through."

Denison passed away on the 26th February of this year and will be remembered in many ways as a free spirit who cared deeply about others and also dharma. 

Below is an excerpt from the book where Ruth talks how her practice helped her. Maybe it can serve as inspiration for the rest of us:

"...the mind, it has something to do with absorption, where the mind holds itself in the concentration, you don't concentrate anymore, and there is this knowing faculty coming in, so the mind knows itself where it is concentrated, where it is focused, and even that loses itself, it is more a spaciousness where you know you are the conduit for it, and you stay in that..."

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