Living Dialogues Podcast by Duncan Campbell (Episode 56): Sobonfu Some – Part 2: The Gifts of Intimacy, Relationship and Appreciation as Evolution’s Essence

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Duncan: I’m Duncan Campbell welcoming you once again you to “Living Dialogues” as we continue with my guest Sobonfu Some. Sobonfu its a real delight to have you back here on “Living Dialogues”.

Sobonfu: Thank you.

Duncan: In a prior dialogue we talked about your life and how you came here from the Digara tribe in West Africa, landing originally in the middle of winter in Detroit, Michigan and the ways in which in that particular initiation you discovered the absence of community when you had to make a life directly here in a strange country and one really quite far removed from the intimacy of the small village life rich in ritual and wisdom of the old ways that you had come from in Africa. And since arriving here many years ago in 1991 you have not only learned English but you’ve shared the wisdom and beauty of your own experience and initiation and all of its challenges and ups and downs of initiation in several books. One of them, “Welcoming Spirit Home” “Ancient African Teachings to Celebrate Children and Community”, and your first book entitled “The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient Teachings in the Ways of Relationships”, and your recent book “Falling out of Grace”. And if we look at the title of your first book “The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient Teachings in the Ways of Relationships” I was inspired by your focus on relationships. Because I think its a bridge to the deeper sense of community that you teach about and bring forth in your work. And this may sound like a wild stretch, but for those of us in the audience familiar with that old tune from the old tune in the 1930’s by Cole Porter called “I Get No Kick from Champagne” some in our audience may be familiar with the opening lines of that: “As I was walking feeling the old enui, when suddenly I turn and see your fabulous face I get no kick from Champagne. Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all. But I get a kick out of you”. And here was expressed in a very witty and hyper-modern way the modern dilemma. He starts out by talking about feeling the “enui” or the boredom of modern life. Then there is a turning and a seeing as in a vision, another, seeing another in a very special way. This “other” could be a lover; it seems to imply that in the song. It could be the divine. It could be in a sense discovering our own true face. And I think there are many ways to take that particular popular song of the 30’s and use it as an introduction to the very multi-faceted deep way that you have talked about relationship as being part of a core of the human experience and one that you have found as Alice Walker put it, somewhat “broken” here in the West when you arrived.

Sobonfu: Right. It was very shocking for me to actually realize that people feel intimacy before they even get into it. The frustration of how things were going, and I start to talk about how relationships happen in ….What an awkward idea. Why would I want to write something like that down. My book “The Spirit of Intimacy” was actually done in the oral tradition by a friend of mine who basically sat down and recorded the conversation about my tradition. But relationship really basically is something, its just like air that everybody needs. Its just something that we all crave whether we are out in the street or somewhere in our private office or even being in the monastery. We all long to be loved, to be seen, to be valued. Often people think it is that we need to be tolerated. But we only tolerate people because we don’t know what else to do with them. But acceptance is what we are looking for. When we are accepted we feel a part of something bigger. We feel doorways opening to us that we didn’t know existed before. So the road to intimacy in my tradition not only include people, the environment you are in, but also Sprit, the Divine. Because no true intimacy can be without the present sense and the blessing of the Divine. So as a result intimacy becomes like the foundation stone for each human being to step on, on which the relationship is going to be created. So for me, when I talk about intimacy, when I talk about my relationship, I am always look for what is the bigger purpose for me to encounter this person. What is spirit wanting me to do here and so forth. However as much as the human ego would like it to be about us, its not about us. Its about something higher. Its about trying to bring a gift out into the world. and that’s why we encounter new people. Even if its a brief moment or a long term relationship they all have their purpose. So for me, relationship, spirit, community all go hand in hand because you cannot uphold a relationship all by yourself. You need the support of community and you need the support of spirit and so forth.

Duncan: And one of the things I am think of as you are speaking Sobonfu is that in traditional societies all over the world from time in memorial there has been the recognition of the need for the human being to first leave the community in a kind of initiation of aloneness to see certain kinds of visions or images which reveal to the individual what their unique gift is in the world; their unique mission we might say. Before they then come back to be able to share that as a pat of the piece of the larger puzzle of the community. And we think in modern times of Black Elk in his vision quest and his wonderful saying when he came back from his own alone time separated from he community and had his great vision he came back and said “I understood more than I saw. And I saw more than I can say. And what I can say is that I saw the hoop of my people and the hoops of all peoples surrounding the sacred mountain And the sacred mount was Mt. Harney. And that happens to be the sacred mountain in his particular geographic location of South Dakota in the United States. . And then he said as Joseph Campbell put it “the all important addendum”, but the sacred mountain is everywhere. And in that statement we see that this journey that human beings have made from time in memorial from the collective embrace of the womb of the mother the womb of the family, the womb of the community out into a lonely journey of let us say adolescent initiation into the deeper mysteries of the world. And then the coming back into community into maturity and to be able to embody one could say the sacred marriage of the inner masculine and the inner feminine and then to make a living marriage and to create new life so that they community of beings can continue in the great drama, human and planetary evolution is something that has an inner structure that is similar everywhere in the world. And as each one of us tells his or her story about how they have gone through that great timeless initiation we add to each others storehouse of understanding and acceptance. And oddly enough it is often a gift of hearing someone else’s story that allows each of us to accept ourselves more deeply than we have before.

Sobonfu: Right. Absolutely. I think those are the stories that are important because the circle is not always there for people to share their story. So in meeting somebody new and in them sharing their story; in us sharing our story we have already created a bridge that is safe for each on of us to walk on. And also for us to be able to open and to share what is that gift is that we are bringing. That is what is so beautiful in this time when its possible for people to basically be able to travel everywhere. To meet new people and to share their story. And every single time that they have shared with somebody and they have also listened and received this story of the other person something new is born out of them. A new level of their gift begins to shine again. And that is that beauty that we are all searching for in sharing our own story.

Duncan: And in fact as you say those words I am called to share an appreciation from Brook Medicine Eagle, a common friend of ours and one I’m sure known to a number of people in our audience when she wrote an appreciation of your book “Welcoming Spirit Home”. Brooke said as follows, and I quote, “This book of Sobonfu Some will help you make choices that will help move you more closely to creating a sprit. Even today, even in our modern world. Sobonfu’s exuberate nature; her childlike clarity and innocent perception; her willingness to speak her truth without judgement as well as the depth of her knowing introduce us to her Digara way of working with the ancestors. I personally experienced a deep sense of the power of primary ways which we in this world have largely lost” And I thought Brook said that very well that there is in a sense when someone comes from like yourself form another culture and is able to find her way as you have in the initiation and literally the coldness of your 1st experience as you described landing in the Detroit airport in the middle of Winter dressed only in sandals and light clothing appropriate to 85 degree F. temperatures. You have found in it your center, have found your ability to learn English and to make friends all over the country and to become a teacher who travels widely all over the country you bring thereby a kind of exuberance, a kind of innocent perception. One that is innocent of the accretions of a kind of slightly despairing cynicism that has come to characterize part of Western thought in industrial countries. Its something that Cole Porter in his very elegant way, the composer that I mentioned at the top of this program, was talking about when he talked about no longer being satisfied with he legal drugs of choice like champagne and alcohol and feeling, wondering about the old enui sort of elegant french word meaning boredom that he had exhausted his emotional resources and then suddenly he turns and he sees “your fabulous face” and that is subject to many interpretations. It could be a lover that sees you with such a light that your heart is spontaneously opened. Or it could be the face of the Divine in itself in the world or it could be a community seeing you and appreciating you. And it is that the innocent perception that sees us without judgement that was the other great comment I so much appreciated that Brooke made about your teachings. One of the other person’s who is our mutual friend that appreciates you greatly is Angeles Arian [sp]. And I remember Angie in her book on the 4 ways of indigenous knowing talked about the distilled lessons of traditional cultures everywhere could in one sense be put into four principles. And the 1st was show up; be present. Don’t hide out in your old village or comfort zone. Just show up and present to wherever you are. The 2nd one was tune in to what has a heart and a meaning for you. In other words, find your own way in this new situation of the present, which is forever new and is beyond the conventional and comfortable ways of knowing. And then #3 was to speak your truth without blame or judgement. And so you enter this universal space where there is no sense that what I know or how I perceive things is the right way and the way some other people might do it is the wrong way. But you just speak, as Brooke said, with this innocence and this truth without judgement. And finally, as Angie puts it, the 4th principle is not being attached to outcome. So that you are truly free you have expressed your being ness and those than can hear, hear. And those that cant; those that might make a judgement, make a judgement. But you don’t allow yourself to be defeated by that. You keep your hearts exuberance.

Sobonfu: Right. Those are wise words spoken by Angeles Arian. And yet so difficult for people because even though people practice non-attachment they are still so attached to everything. [laughs].

Duncan: It is very difficult. I find when going through those four principles there is kind of a progression. They get harder and harder in a way as you go forward in the 4. As you try to apply them sometimes things happen to you in life that seem to be not for your benefit or to have really dashed a certain hope or expectation. But in the long run you begin to see sometimes afterwards that was actually all for your benefit. That you were walking the path of your own choosing that was actually not beneficial for you. And then to be knocked down circumstance and have to recoup and perhaps go in another direction you are grateful

Sobonfu: Right. And learn to surrender.

Duncan: Yes. Exactly. And you learn to surrender because you sense that, Lao Su had a wonderful way of saying that. He said that when we remember that we all come from the same source we feel peaceful. But when we don’t realize that source and don’t remember it we stumble in confusion and sorrow. And then he says, very potently, when you realize where you come from, you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kindhearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. Immersed in the wonder of the Dow, you can deal with whatever life brings you. And when death comes you are ready.

Sobonfu: Yah, what beautiful words.

Duncan: And so similar to the teachings that you bring from the elders in the Digara village in West Africa there is a common deep perennial wisdom that when we hear it spoken from whatever source it goes directly into our heart and we say automatically: yes that’s right. I affirm that.

Sobonfu: Right. It’s something definitely that you need other people to be able to acknowledge it because in my culture [xx] Its more about learning to be humble in what it is that you are bringing. So yes, thank you for acknowledging that.

Duncan: Well Sobonfu it has been such a delight to have known you for the time that I have. And to appreciate this exuberance, this ability to shine the light of innocent perception, of fresh perception. Also at the same time paradoxically such a deep ancestral vision. Perhaps you could talk about your own cultural way of understanding age. I thought that was quite interesting and intriguing. In one of our conversations I asked you how old you were when a certain event happened. For instance when you came to the United States. You said I cant remember exactly because in our tradition you are as old as you feel you are at that time. You associated a certain age with how you felt when you came to America. But that notion that you could at one point you could feel like you were 2 years old or another time you could feel 150 years old. Talk a little bit about that because I think it really opens up a kind of perspective that many of us are not familiar with in our own upbringing.

Sobonfu: Well in the culture I come from as far as what I feel and that people feel is also the fact that where you are at does not have anything to do with the linear age that corresponds to the year you were born, and hence the situations that present themselves call forward different ages in you. So if it is an emergency of course you are not going to asked to bring the teenage attitude of chaos of course to make matters more difficult, but the wiser adult that is going to be able to deal with the situation. So everyday when you wake up you are supposed to feel where you are at. How old do you feel you are today? Growing up with some of my grandmothers I used to think it was a joke that one of them would say ” I am one year old.” We used to laugh and say “you are one year old?”. And she would say, “yes, I am one year old. And she can behave like a one year old and it perfectly fine with everybody. And with years I have found that to be actually more true to how I feel on a day to day basis versus to feel a particular fixed year. And sometimes I feel 100, sometimes I feel older, sometimes I feel younger. But I definitely feel much younger when I am with children. I am in comfort with my own child. I can get down, I can play, and I can do all kind of things. And it is just fine. Age is something that you are supposed to feel. How you are that day. In fact one of my friends who is a psychologist went to Burkina Fasu and was studying with a woman. And I said you have to be careful with age because people will not tell you how old they are really in terms of linear time, but in terms of how they feel that day. So after her study she asked this woman: “So how old are you?”. And the woman said fifteen. And she was looking at that woman who has three children and is saying she is 15 and she said: “You are fifteen?!?”. And the woman said, “what you doubting me?”


Duncan: “You don’t think that is how I feel?”

Sobonfu: That’s right!


Duncan: Oh great!

Sobonfu: So age is something that people do not feel attached to in terms of linear time.

Duncan: Well that is so playful. I just love it. I used to think really fondly, and still do, of Henry Miller’s great comment in his book; a short essay he wrote on turning 80. That was the title of it. He said “I was an adolescent until my late 40’s. And as a result I always kept this certain shwadavevra and this certain appreciation of life and how it unfolds.” And at that particular time he was living in Pacific Palisades just a few years before he died in his mid 80’s. And I always thought that was a wonderful statement.

Sobonfu: Absolutely. Because people get so attached to the linear age and they get bogged down by “Oh My god I am getting old”, and they miss out on all the fun and what life is all about really.

Duncan: Well that’s true. And what I love about your situation is that it goes completely non-linear. Even as Henry Miller was describing his own experience of himself there was still a kind of residual linearity to say that “I was an adolescent until my late 40’s”. And then the implication is that for the next three decades that he had left that behind. But here, what I hear that is so wonderful in what you are saying is a kind of community perception that allows a grandmother who could be 80 years old to wake up and say “Today I feel like 1 years old” and then behaving that way. And people understanding it and not thinking that she has gone crazy and somehow indulged herself in some way.

Sobonfu: Right.