The Elephant in the Room: What's Really Standing in the Way of Our Ability to Build Spiritual Community?
"Ẹyẹ kò lè fi apá kan fò." Birds can't fly with just one wing. It means that teamwork is essential to progress. Over the years, my career has been characterized by ongoing efforts to create partnerships, form coalitions and build bridges between different segments of our spiritual community. And while those efforts have always been fruitful, joyous, and educational, most of them have also been earned and sustained through a good amount of effort.
Especially in times of uncertainty, people are very reluctant trust one another. When trust is low, people refuse to take risks. And so, any efforts to build partnerships and expand our community tend to include a deep struggle from start to finish.
Once, I was on my way to a new city, where I had been invited to provide support for a client. I heard that there were a couple of Ifá priests in that town and so, I started to ask if people knew the individuals in question. By all accounts, these two guys were completely nuts. I was told, in no uncertain terms, to stay away from them at all costs. However, Ifá said otherwise. And so, when I got to the next town, I called both babalawo and invited them talk. The three of us had coffee, talked about the religion, and had a pretty good time. As fate would have it, however, one of the priests actually turned out to be considerably unstable. But the other, I am very happy to say, was not only a good man, but an exceptional priest and and even better friend. We remain close to this very date.
In another instance, I went about the business of building bridges between different lineages and traditions (i.e., Nigerian, African American, Latino). I started organizing small gatherings of priests from different branches of our family tree. Over a few years, we cooked together, we ate together, we sang together, we prayed together, we did ceremony together, and we learned to be priests together. So I was a bit surprised when I was advised by someone who had refused to participate not to associate with those people, on the grounds that Ifá did not want us to mix and mingle with people from different lineage and traditions. Had it not been for the fact that I had already spent over a year in fellowship with those good brothers from different branches of our tradition, I probably would have been very discouraged. Instead, the experience allowed me to see that what was being said clearly reflected a personal bias and had absolutely nothing to do with theology, spiritual development or community building.
The world is in a state of severe crisis. In terms of economic disaster, environmental peril, and social unrest, life as we know it it is in jeopardy. You cannot look in any direction and fail to see the looming danger that characterizes contemporary life on planet Earth. And our families, in our schools, and in our local economies, it is abundantly clear that everything is in the balance these days. But if it is true that if I will mend our broken world, I cannot think of a better time than the present for us to pull all of our resources our collective genius and our belief in the wisdom of our ancestors in order to bring about the good condition. In other words, this is not a time when the usual is suitable.
In the parable of the four blind men and the elephant, we find a very appropriate lesson all the dynamics of collective wisdom. As you may remember, the 4 blind men were accustomed to traveling on a certain road. However, on this particular day, they bumped into something that knocked each of them to the ground suddenly. When they stood up each of them was standing near a different part of the elephant. Based upon what he was able to feel and detect, the blind men thought they knew what it was that was blocking their way. The more they argued, the more entrenched each of them became in defense of their position. It wasn't until they realized that the object was actually an elephant that they could properly evaluate their individual experiences and put them into a greater context.
The elephant in the room is the fact that we face the most extreme problems of any time, and have the greatest amount of resources and influence of any time. All that remains is our willingness to be priests together and live the medicine that will heal each of our lives and heal the lives of the people we are destined to serve.
Live the Medicine
Obafemi Origunwa, MA
Thought leader, Ifa priest and author of four definitive books, Obafemi Origunwa inspires metamorphosis through living the medicine that will heal your life and heal the lives of the people you're destined to serve.