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Did you know that my mom is a therapist? She is! And at it’s very best psychology is the science of learning how to love ourselves and each other better and better and better. (And like most fields…at its worst it is basically the opposite of that.) I have grown up hearing my mom use a scientific term called “operational practice” which, as I see it, means things that you actually do on a regular basis. As a black feminist love evangelist I see these operational practices as rituals, those things we do on a daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal basis that shape our days.
In other words, my mother is a ritualistic person. Every day she reads The Daily Word. She usually has an inspirational quote-a-day calendar on her dresser. She believes in breakfast in the literal and literary sense. Just like eating first thing gives your body and brain something to work with as you face the day, reading something inspirational offers an inquiry and a clarity that can transform our everyday experiences into opportunities for insight and inspiration.
For this reason, and several others Yolo Akili’s new book of affirmations, Dear Universe passes the mama test. I can count on my hands the books that I have read and then immediately gotten for my mother. Only one of Toni Morrison’s books passed the test (A Mercy), my favorite Dionne Brand novel made it (At the Full and Change of the Moon) and all of Asha Bandele’s prose has made it so far (The Prisoner’s Wife, Daughter, Something Like Beautiful). But Dear Universe has a special place on that list now because it is the only book on the list that is neither by a black woman writer nor about black mother/daughter relationships. I intend to send my mother a copy of Dear Universe as an offering towards her daily practice of reading affirmations. And I suggest that you not only let Dear Universe collaborate with you in the possibility of knowing something today that you might not notice any other day, but also let this small blue book collaborate in your most meaningful relationships as well, and this is why.
Unlike much of the inspirational and motivational literature out there, Dear Universe is not limited to a particular religious belief and even more importantly (from my black feminist point of view) it does not fall into the trap of apolitical individualism that much of the motivational writing I have read reproduces. This is not a book that will try to convince you that if you just take enough deep breaths and think positive thoughts poverty will disappear like an imaginary video game cloud. As womanist scholar Layli Maparyan notes in the preface, Yolo’s work “expands the world of inspirational and self-help writings” with a “finely tuned social justice orientation that incorporates and puts a new twist on the insights we often associate with critical theory and liberation movements.” (v)
It is not a coincidence that this book was written by a queer black male feminist anti-violence trainer, people’s astrologer, generation y yoga instructor from the US south. And it is not a coincidence that we are who we are either. Dear Universe candidly and clearly reminds us that our relationship with the universe is an opportunity for justice and that our connection to life itself is crucial as we seek to dismantle and transform the systems that impact our collective existence. For example, one passage of the book reads
Today I ask that you help me to remember: Scarcity is not the natural state of the universe.
There is enough food. The problem is we live in a system that does not support everyone being fed…
Universe, today I ask that you help me recognize how I contribute to a culture of scarcity in my life and in the world. (12)
This book empowers us not by seeking to remove us from the problems that we face in this universe, but by allowing us to see the distance (which is sometimes lightyears) between what we have resigned ourselves to and what reality offers. This book does not separate us from the major issues and problems of our society. It implicates us by reminding us how powerful we are in a time when our species could get into alignment with the universe or expire. I find these affirmations to be reminders that help me to tune into my connection to everyone and everything especially at times where I feel exactly as disconnected and alienated as capitalism would want me to feel.
In fact, the universe did a funny thing when Yolo was sending me a review copy of this book. The universe used the postal service to somehow withhold the book, sending it on an unknown journey so long that Yolo finally considered the copy lost and sent another copy in the mail. And guess what happened? Two differently mailed, differently packaged copies of Dear Universe arrived on my porch on exactly the same day. The message is clear. We should all get more than one copy of Dear Universe so we can share it with the people in our lives!!!
Dear Universe is a valuable tool to use to invite other people in your life to join in a practice of transformation without judging them. This book gives us and the people we love the opportunity to question ourselves deeply and to grow while remembering that as, June Jordan’s “Poem About My Rights” teaches, wrong is not our name!
When the subtitle of Dear Universe claims to be affirmations “for all of us,” it doesn’t only mean those of us who are not southern yoga teaching, astrologizing, gendered violence dismantling queer black feminist men, it also means it is for every part of us…not just the hopey, changey parts, but also the tired parts, the judging everyone around us parts, the not loving ourselves like we used to parts, the still spouting the same platitudes about oppression at every meeting parts, the can’t figure out a way to be honest with a friend parts, the learning the same lesson again and again parts, the way too cute parts…all of us! And the expansive definition of the universe that Yolo offers (which includes among other components “Cousin Pookie and Aunt Minnie”) opens us up to multiple intersecting forms of love. (vi)
The universe is loving us with the blessings of the people and passionate experiences in our lives and the universe is loving us by offering us the most frustrating and potentially revelation filled moments of our days. The universe loves us with every breath. And right now the universe is loving us really hard through Yolo Akili. Get the book. Get a few so the universe can love everyone you touch through YOU!