by Loraine Van Tuyl, PhD
Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it."
- Maya Angelou
One of the most famous and beautiful poems that beloved Maya Angelou left us was Phenomenal Woman, a parade of trademark secrets that gave us a glimpse into her head-scratching, eye-catching "inner mystery." She gave away that it was "the reach of my arms," "the span of my hips," "the curl of my lips," "the fire in my eyes", "the sun of my smile", "the joy in my feet," "the grace of my style", and many other Maya Angelou signature qualities that caused "fellows to stand or fall down on their knees."
Maya Angelou boldly bared her soul without a care in the world whether or not the "pretty women" or the fellows themselves who swarmed around her like a "hive of honey bees" understood the inner treasures that they were fortunate enough to get a taste of.
We, her fans, were just as powerfully drawn into her mysterious web, blind to whatever was unconventional and supposedly substandard about her beauty. We too fell down on our knees without ever needing to be in her powerful presence, because she truly and thoroughly loved every one of her unique attributes, a love that is sadly so rare and precious, it left us disoriented and spellbound.
She relished in being an original, and it was her profound self love that created a new standard of phenomenal beauty and worth that inspired so many diverse women and men in the US and around the world to appreciate their unique self.
She defiantly defined for herself and who ever else was ready to listen what it meant to be a phenomenal, beautiful, desirable, and inspiring woman and leader, who refused to be oppressed by celebrity prescribed physiques, "pretty" features, or whatever new fad or look was fetishized by society, the entertainment industry, or who ever else at any given time in history to determine a woman's worth.
She didn't wait around for privileged club members who were slavishly hooked on the ranking perks unfairly distributed along the lines of race, class, color, sex, appearance, body shape, and/or ability, to get with the program so that she could move on.
She was Maya Angelou and didn't need anyone's permission or support to liberate herself. Her inner fierceness evolved into a permanent buffer that bounced off all negativity, criticism, and scapegoating directed at her for messing with the status quo of the unaware and privileged, and for exposing the cracks and holes underneath their shallow structures.
It's clear through her poems and writing that she received more than her fair share of malicious attacks, as most great leaders do, yet we still so desperately want to believe that the Maya Angelou's in the world must have made it to the top because they ran into a smoothly paved road that led them there. We want to believe that they became successful, phenomenal, great, and confident because of their popularity, fame, and the love that was showered on them by others.
Why? So that we don't need to do the hard inner work of learning to deeply, truly, and thoroughly love ourselves first and foremost, exactly as we are, before there are any rewards in sight other than the deep satisfaction of finally arriving home with yourself. We have sadly been taught to be afraid of our own power, of practicing our full potential and autonomy, and boldly side-stepping all the games played in society that end up diminishing our worth. No matter how high we think we have made it on the totem pole due to our hard work or "fortunate" gene pool, any position on this totem pole is still an illusion that only disconnects us more from our true self.
Maya Angelou's life and love for herself are the true testament that reclaiming our individuality and power is possible and can change reality and society. Her love was so magnetic and palpable that we almost had no choice but to see her like she saw herself, and love her and perhaps ourselves just as much. Through example, she taught us that each one of us is a unique divine Being made in the resemblance of the Greatest Mystery of all, the Creator. This is what connects us to one another. At our core, we are brothers and sisters, no one more or less worthy than any one else.
Which is another one of her greatest secrets. Because her love was self-generating, Maya Angelou didn't feed of the admiration and love from others to sustain her, nor did she need to be continuously pivoted from left to right on a pedestal. Instead, she inspired others to love and expand themselves, and elevated them in the process.
Have you ever been asked or asked yourself what the secret to your inner mystery and your special touch is? Most of us, even when others want to know, don't seriously ask ourselves this question until Maya Angelou makes us wonder and ponder. Having children of our own or becoming actively involved with the next generation of apprentices, leaders, and stewards of our causes and of the planet, can also do it, as it did for me. Suddenly, my priorities shifted as I was no longer living just for myself, trying to make the best of today. I needed to figure out how to hone an ideal environment for the seeds I had sown and was cultivating, and see them through until they no longer needed me.
You know that you've entered this phase when you become interested in bottling your secret formulas and carving out your best self and gifts, along with any hard lessons learned, so that your kids, students, clients, and supervisees don't need to reinvent the wheel. You begin to collect tools for your secret tool box and sacred ingredients that make up your legacy, and if you are Maya Angelou, snazzy lines for your phenomenal poem.
My private practice came into being in between the births of my two kids, which caused my personal and professional lives and toolkits to shape and inform one another around the same time. Because of my deep multicultural training, ancestry, and sensitivity, it was important to me that whatever I offered others, my kids, clients, and who ever else interested, was free of assimilation or cloning pressure. Their individuality and uniqueness was important to me and I wanted to make sure that they had the space they needed to hatch and shine.
But how could I chisel off all the parts that were "extraneous me" and offer them just the bare bones, the skeletal structure of my sacred secret? How could I carve out a special gift that was personal, concrete, and tangible and at the same time self-propelling, universal, and timeless with plenty of room to grow?
It was a tall order. I thought that passing along my strong sense of cultural identity would do it, but even ethnic heritage, language, community, special recipes, traditions and rituals that seemed most anchoring started to feel too confining and more about me than my children. While they are exposed to a good percentage of the rich cultural and spiritual diversity that is part of their ancestry, which offers them a great foundation to start with, I saw that they needed to discover and accumulate their own tribes, experiences, and interests to build upon. I was at risk of boxing them in if I didn't dig deeper and get to the common denominator of my teachings that could support their shifting forms.
I decided to create a gift that wasn't limited by our cultural, ethnic, and spiritual heritages, yet preserved their shared essence and inherent wisdom. I have now created a meditation that attempts to capture this embodied feeling of unconditional love, self-acceptance, worth, and empowerment that I hope to pass along to my children and who ever else in my life, in solidarity with another one of Maya Angelou's wise sayings - "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
For more than a decade, I have listened to many of the meditations that are offered online and at various retreats. I have also done countless variations of these meditations with clients and in space clearings using instruments and sound healing. I've tested over the years what works and what doesn't. I discovered that certain meditations left me more ungrounded and imbalanced than centered because of heavy usage of high and synthesized ethereal tones, and greater activation of some parts of the body in comparison to others (i.e. upper chakras compared to the lower ones). Sometimes, my inner sense of light and darkness, above and below felt more split, disconnected, and disembodied than integrated and present after these meditations, which gave me the impetus to create my own.
My end-result secret formula is a very versatile, compact, yet powerful 5 minute sound-guided meditation that not only accesses the depth of divine love and inner mystery that often lies dormant and untapped within many people. I have incorporated the sounds of my drum, rainstick, rattle, harpsicle, and chimes in harmony with an original poem of my own to activate the lower as well as higher chakras of the body to evenly awaken, integrate, and anchor unrealized potential within the body's energetic structure. This highly increases the meditation's lasting effects and effectiveness in dealing with day-to-day challenges and in pursuing one's higher purpose.
In the end, I realized that the greatest gift that I'm able to offer others is also the greatest gift that I give myself - my ability to recreate a structure and experience of unconditional love within the body by recognizing what is essentially human and sacred at my deepest core and what connects me in a most fulfilling manner to other humans regardless of their external packaging. While I do attend to my own external packaging and ego-mind as part of my whole self, I find it much more fulfilling to explore the deep mysteries of my energetic and divine body, and the amazing healing power that it offers myself and the phenomenal rainbow spectrum of clients of very diverse shapes, sizes, orientations, and backgrounds who I serve.
I relish in watching this healing power revert even the most mysterious of illnesses (often psychosomatic) and offer brilliant guidance to these emerging leaders in health, business, the arts, education, and social reform. I shine when they discover that they embody the sun, the moon, and the stars, and can claim center stage, no matter how marginalized they may have felt and "technically" are in society. I light up when they light up this sun in others, instead of needing to be orbited by a following. I love it when they realize that they do not need to wait for anyone's permission to stand up, rise, and shine.
I hope that my meditation gifts and each successive tune-up will do the same for you - shed old and limiting layers that you no longer need, allow you to become clearer, healthier, and more vibrant each and every day, and unveil your magnificent self and unique sacred secret that enhances your well-being and brightens the world-at-large.