I have frequently struggled with how best to describe my work in spirituality and wellness. While I call myself a Yoga teacher and I have Western training and certificates in Yoga, I am not strictly a Yoga teacher. This is because my spiritual understanding is grounded in the sacred indigenous spiritual traditions of Africa and the Black Diaspora. And, since one’s personal spiritual connection is manifested through their thoughts and actions, my work in spirituality and wellness has become a fusion of both Black and Indian spiritual traditions.
My purpose here is not to make any claim to or rename any aspect of Yoga. I am aware of and refuse to participate in the Western world’s distortion, appropriation, and commodification of spiritual traditions. I take a strong stance on this because Black spiritual traditions have endured the same fate — to the point that they are almost unrecognizable today. Those of us who work to preserve these spiritual traditions are aware of how the Western world has demonized Black spirituality. Yet, we are equally aware of the spiritual wisdom our traditions have to offer to the world.
For this reason, I take this opportunity to publicly uplift African and Black Diasporic spiritual traditions. In doing so, I honor the existence, sacrality, and importance of Black spirituality for our collective morality, healing, liberation, and unity. The broad philosophy and practices of Black spirituality I introduce here are available for all to learn to achieve spiritual connection and growth.
However, it is necessary to note, Black spiritual traditions are not up for critique, dissection, or debate. There is a long history of Europeans who “studied” Black spiritual traditions in this way for the purpose of dehumanizing and projecting their spiritual deficiencies onto Black people to justify the enslavement, rape, oppression, and murder of our people. For those who question the wisdom of Black spiritual traditions, I encourage them to consider whether that inquiry stems from a need to acknowledge and heal from white supremacist and anti-Black conditioning. Spiritual wisdom simply exists, and each culture offers an understanding of the Divine Spirit that is important to share with the world.
Despite the history of violence and oppression of Black people’s spiritual and physical freedoms, we have remained privately and deeply connected to our spiritual traditions. But given history, we retain a healthy dose of suspicion and practice discernment in matters of religion and spirituality. For this reason, I offer an overly simplified distinction between religion and spirituality. Religion is an institution that uses spiritual teachings to direct and guide human behavior to advance a social or political goal. In contrast, spirituality is the personal relationship to and interactions with the Divine Spirit. This discussion of Black spiritual traditions emphasizes the latter.
Honoring Black Spiritual Traditions
It is a beautiful testament to the spiritual reverence, strength, and resilience of Black people that our spiritual traditions have transcended violence, time, and location. While Black people have diverse cultures and practice many religions, we have remained united through an unspoken spiritual understanding of each other and all life. This spirituality unifies the Black Diaspora — a topic much too complex for this article. Recognizing this limitation, I present a very broad overview of my own Black American spiritual tradition to exemplify the importance of the Black tradition to the spiritual path.
The Black American spiritual tradition recognizes that a Divine and loving entity (whether defined as the universe, nature, monotheistic, polytheistic, etc.) exists and provides balance to life. This Divine Spirit is omniscient, omnipotent, and worthy of reverence. We acknowledge the mystical power of Spirit, peacefully accept it, and make no attempt to deny, challenge, or control spiritual matters. We also understand ourselves to be a personal embodiment of Spirit with direct access to spiritual wisdom.
Our spiritual tradition has no hierarchy or rigidity in the transfer of its teachings. There are no bloodlines, trainings, or assessments required for one to possess or share spiritual wisdom with their family and community. Rather, it is understood that everyone is spiritual, everyone has spiritual experiences and gifts (whether recognized or not), and everyone can offer spiritual wisdom and guidance — particularly when they are attuned to the Divine Spirit.
With respect to spiritual occurrences, we perceive no fixed boundaries between the spiritual, dream, natural, and material worlds, and the presence of each is important to acknowledge. We understand the Divine Spirit and other spirits can reach us in any of these realms to offer important lessons for the individual, family, and community. We also value the spiritual guidance other people share when it is offered from a place of authenticity, humility, and truth gained through personal experience. For this reason, we try to recognize and understand daily spiritual occurrences for the guidance they provide to us.
More importantly, we understand we have our own spiritual paths and must rely on our spiritual discernment to recognize, relate to, and stay connected with the Divine Spirit. So, there is no need for over reliance on the spirituality of others. We embrace our spiritual nature and trust in our personal relationship with Spirit to navigate our paths.
Historically, our spirituality was viewed as the most essential and centering aspect of Black American daily life, and many of us still adhere to this in some way each day. Because of this, we have a profoundly holistic spiritual tradition — our philosophy and practices are intertwined with, and inseparable from, our day-to-day activities. We don’t typically regard them as formal practices because it feels so natural to practice them as the need arises throughout the day. Of course, many of our spiritual practices (prayer, meditation, etc.) overlap with worldwide traditions, but our practice requires no formality.
Spiritual practices of importance include: authentic and truthful communication with ourselves and others for spiritual growth; humor and laughter for uplifting the spirit; engagement with the universe and nature for spiritual connection and study; communication with the deceased for spiritual guidance; dance for energetic and physical benefits; dream interpretation for guidance and warnings; intuition development for sensing intentions and knowledge; music and poetry for spiritual devotion and inspiration; proverbs and storytelling for spiritual education and warnings; and spiritual activism for liberation and balance.
Through these practices, we recognize and celebrate our innate spiritual gifts for the connection, health, inspiration, and assistance they offer us. Despite our spiritual gifts, we understand all people are fallible. We understand the spiritual consequences that come from spiritually deficient thoughts and actions; and we educate and warn our community about these consequences.
We know there will be both peaceful and challenging times, and we face both with the understanding that they call on us to gain a deeper spiritual understanding of what actions are necessary for spiritual balance. Through both peace and challenge, we find ways to cherish the moment, laugh, and find a sense of calm in knowing our connection with the Divine Spirit guides us through all.
As with any spiritual tradition, there is no way to fully illustrate the beauty and depths of the Black American spiritual tradition through words. It can only be experienced.
For truth seekers from all cultures and of any race, our spiritual understanding and growth is compromised when we choose denial and ignorance instead of the wholeness of spiritual wisdom that Spirit bestows through all cultures. I offer this writing to address the widespread denial and ignorance of Black spiritual traditions for those on the spiritual path. As part of this, I encourage the Black Diaspora to embrace the beauty and truth of our spiritual traditions. Also, I encourage those outside of the Black Diaspora to respect our traditions and learn from our spiritual wisdom.
Overall, Black spiritual traditions have much to teach the world about spiritual inclusiveness, equality, expression, liberation, and unity.
Dea Lott, J.D., RYT-200, has been studying spirituality through the Black spiritual tradition and Yoga for almost 20 years and she has more than 452 hours of teacher training focused on Raja Yoga. She is the owner of Spiritual Living by Che, a natural living boutique and Yoga studio combining spiritual wisdom from the Black Diaspora and Yoga. Dea created Spiritual Living by Che with an understanding that the cultural and social changes our world society needs most must come from within each of us — not from institutions or systems — and hopes to serve as a guidepost to others along their spiritual journeys toward liberation. www.cheyoga.org | @che_yoga_ | www.cheyoga.org
© 2022 Dea Lott. All Rights Reserved.
First published in Pathways Magazine, Spring 2022 Issue