Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1983, Alice Walker is recognized as one of the major writers of our time. Her novels include The Third Life of Grange Copeland; Meridian; The Temple of My Familiar; and Possessing the Secret of Joy. The Color Purple spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list and was made into a film directed by Steven Spielberg. An essayist, poet, short story writer, and children's book author, Alice Walker has taught at Wellesley College, Brown, Sarah Lawrence College, and Harvard, and was an associate professor of English at Yale.
Alice Walker is a poet, essayist, and New York Times-bestselling author who has won both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. With Sounds True, Alice has released the audio program My Life As My Self, which vividly recounts her personal, professional, and spiritual journeys. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Alice and Tami Simon speak on what it means to step into the line of fire and receive criticism for what one believes. In this vein, Alice explains her role as an activist in locations such as Gaza and the Congo—and how standing up for one’s principles brings an ineffable lightness to the heart. Finally, Alice and Tami discuss stepping into the role of a societal elder and why it is imperative that we reconnect with the whole of the Earth. (55 minutes)
What happens when a beloved spiritual teacher and a brilliant author come together to talk about the most tender, compelling aspects of our human experience? The following exchange, excerpted from Pema Chödrön and Alice Walker in Conversation, offers some unexpected answers—and an introduction to the healing practice that has transformed both women’s hearts and lives.
Alice Walker: About four years ago I was having a very difficult time. I had lost someone I loved deeply and nothing seemed to help. Then a friend sent me a tape set by Pema Chödrön called Awakening Compassion. I stayed in the country and I listened to you, Pema ,every night for the next year. I studied lojong mind training, and I practicedtonglen. It was tonglen, the practice of taking in people’s pain and sending out whatever you have that is positive that helped me through this difficult passage.
I want to thank you so much and to ask you a question. In my experience suffering is perennial; there is always suffering. But does suffering really have a use? I used to think there was no use to it, but now I think that there is.
Pema Chödrön: Is there any use in suffering? I think the reason I am so taken by these teachings is that they are based on using suffering as good medicine. It’s as if there’s a moment of suffering that occurs over and over and over again in every human life. What usually happens in that moment is that it hardens us; it hardens the heart because we don’t want any more pain.
But the lojong teachings say we can take that very moment and flip it. The very thing that causes us to harden and our suffering to intensify can soften us and make us more decent and kinder people. That takes a lot of courage. This is a teaching for people who are willing to cultivate their courage.
What’s wonderful about it is that you have plenty of material to work with. If you’re waiting for only the high points to work with, you might give up, but there’s an endless succession of suffering.
Alice Walker: I was surprised how the heart literally responds to this practice. You can feel it responding physically. As you breathe in what is difficult to bear, there is initial resistance, which is the fear, the constriction. That’s the time when you really have to be brave. But if you keep going and doing the practice, the heart actually relaxes. That is quite amazing to feel.
Pema Chödrön: When we start out on a spiritual path, we often have ideals we think we’re supposed to live up to. We feel we’re supposed to be better than we are in some way. But with this practice you take yourself completely as you are. Then ironically, taking in pain—breathing it in for yourself and all others in the same boat as you are—heightens your awareness of exactly where you’re stuck. Instead of feeling you need some magic makeover so you can suddenly become some great person, there’s much more emotional honesty about where you’re stuck.
Alice Walker: I remember the day I really got it that we’re not connected as human beings because of our perfection, but because of our flaws. That was such a relief.
Pema Chödrön: Rumi wrote a poem called “Night Travelers.” It’s about how all the darkness of human beings is a shared thing from the beginning of time, and how understanding that opens up your heart and opens up your world. You begin to think bigger. Rather than depressing you, it makes you feel part of the whole.
Alice Walker: … Everybody is in that boat sooner or later, in one form or other. It’s good to feel that you’re not alone.
Pema Chödrön: I want to ask you about joy. It’s all very well to talk about breathing in the suffering and sending out relief and so forth, but did you find any joy coming out of this practice?
Alice Walker: Oh, yes! Even just not being so miserable. Part of the joyousness was knowing we have help. It was great to know that this wisdom is so old. That means people have had this pain for a long time; they’ve been dealing with it, and they had the foresight to leave these practices for us to use. I’m always supported by spirits and ancestors and people in my tribe, whomever they’ve been and however long ago they lived. So it was like having another tribe of people, of ancestors, come to the rescue with this wisdom that came through you and your way of teaching.
Pema Chödrön: I think the times are ripe for this kind of teaching.
Alice Walker: Oh, I think it’s just the right medicine for today. You know, the other really joyous thing is that I feel more open, I feel more openness toward people in my world. It’s what you have said about feeling more at home in your world. I think this is the result of going the distance in your own heart—really being disciplined about opening your heart as much as you can.
While holding a mirror to our own organizational accountability, Sounds True unequivocally stands in solidarity with the Black community, the family of George Floyd, and the many others who have been victims of police brutality and ongoing racial injustice.
We stand with and for our Black employees, our Black authors and colleagues, our Black customers, and all of the protestors and social change activists—past, present, and future— who are working to put an end to racism in every corner of our society.
And we are committed to not just stand in solidarity but to step up.
Since George Floyd’s murder, we have been having many in-depth discussions among the 125-person staff at Sounds True about the most meaningful actions we can take as a transformational learning company to help educate ourselves and our community and contribute to the dismantling of racism.
We have been asking ourselves questions such as:
How can we best use our platform to better amplify the voices of wisdom teachers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)?
What’s in our Shadow, as individuals and as an organization? What unconscious areas must now be brought into awareness?
And how do we actively address these areas so that we can evolve as an organization and be a force of genuine service in the world?
The answers to these questions are not simple, quick, or easy. It has taken me a while to write this email to you, our beloved customers and Sounds True community, because we have felt as a team the need to listen carefully and look deeply within in order to lay out an action plan moving forward that will contribute to meaningful and substantive change.
Anything less falls short of what I believe this moment is asking of us.
We also want to learn and evolve in partnership with you. We are learning and growing together as a community, and it has been important for us to create a moving-forward action plan that invites engagement from our entire audience.
With arms wide open, I invite you to witness, support, and step up with us in the following ways:
Over the next two years, Sounds True will be undergoing an in-depth Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training in the workplace. This training initiative has been in development for over a year, and will be provided by TMI Consulting, led by Dr. Tiffany Jana. Dr. Jana is coauthor of the books Overcoming Bias, Erasing Institutional Bias, and Subtle Acts of Exclusion. As part of the training, we will be uncovering how unconscious bias, microaggressions, and micro-acts of exclusion show up in the workplace, in our personal lives, and even in our products. The training also includes a thorough audit of Sounds True’s hiring practices, HR policies, marketing materials, and more.
Sounds True also wants to include our customers, authors, and partner businesses in the introductory phase of this training process that we will be embarking upon. With that in mind, we are hosting a three-part webinar series on “Healing Racism” with Dr. Jana, beginning on Wednesday, June 24, at 8:00 pm ET | 5:00 pm PT. The series is free, and we are inviting our customers, authors, and business associates to join the Sounds True staff for this online training and to walk this part of our journey together. As someone on our email list, you will be receiving all of the details in future emails.
It is clear to us at Sounds True that we need to publish and otherwise amplify the voices of more authors and presenters who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. If you have ideas about new BIPOC authors you would like to see published at Sounds True or included in our summits and online offerings, please write to us at email@example.com.
The Sounds True Foundation, formed in 2018, is increasing its efforts to raise scholarship funds for BIPOC students to attend our Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program and become trained as mindfulness teachers who will bring this practice to diverse communities all over the world. We will be hosting a virtual fundraiser on June 30 for this initiative and will be emailing you with more details.
As I mentioned, working to dismantle and heal racism—in ourselves, in our organization, and in our world—is not a flash-in-the-pan effort at Sounds True. This is a long-haul commitment to the creation of a different world that is just, kind, and equitable. And we have a heckuva road to travel with you to get there.
And we are committed. We don’t want to simply talk about spiritual awakening. We want to embody it … as individuals, as a company, and as a force in the world. Humbly and boldly, we are going to give everything we have and invite you to do the same. This is the time for us to step up, together.
Dr. James Hollis is a Jungian analyst, a former executive director of the Jung Society of Washington, DC, and a professor of Jungian studies for Saybrook University of San Francisco/Houston. He is the author of 16 books including Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, Living an Examined Life, and, most recently, Living Between Worlds. In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Dr. Hollis about his latest work and the increasing sense of importance for many people around living more meaningful lives. They also discuss how to find resilience during difficult times, how our souls let us know when we’re not on the right path, the difference between “meaning” and “purpose,” and more.
Steve Macadam was, for 12 years, the President and CEO of EnPro, a $1.4 billion publicly traded company. He received a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Kentucky, an MS in finance from Boston College, and an MBA from Harvard University, where he was a Baker Scholar. He currently serves as an independent director on the boards of Louisiana-Pacific Corporation and Valvoline Inc. In this week’s podcast, Tami and Steve discuss what it means for a company to have “dual bottom lines,” and the aspiration to create a business with the formal purpose of enabling the full release of human possibility. (1 hour, 13 minutes)
Sounds True is a multimedia publishing company founded in 1985 by Tami Simon, with the mission of disseminating spiritual wisdom. The company is based in Louisville, Colorado, near Boulder, Colorado.