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The Ancient Yoruba Secret to Peace & Joy is simple: Accept Yourself Completely, Flaws and All.
This article explains how we can use the wisdom of the West African Yoruba to achieve inner peace in our personal lives.
Are you ready?
The ancient Yoruba of West Africa (present day Nigeria, Benin & Togo) do not believe in Good & Evil.
Only Light & Dark are real.
For the Yoruba, we become whole when we accept that both light and dark exists within us and in the world.
This lesson of self-compassion comes from the Yoruba story of Obatala, the kindhearted orisha (god) with the ability to create life.
This is Obatala’s legend:
Sent on a mission by the supreme deity Olorun to create life on Earth, Obatala fashioned a sacred gold chain to unite the spiritual world with the Earth.
Scratching sand across the Earth and stretching it in all directions, Obatala created dry land.
Planting a holy palm seed, Obatala birthed all plants in the world.
Seeking companions, Obatala molded beautifully Black, thick-lipped, and curly headed figures of men and women, shaped like himself. Humanity was born.
Obatala, proud of his work, sat back with palm wine and began to sip slowly…
But Obatala did not stop sippin’.
Obatala took his drank to the neck!
When he resumed creating humanity, his fingers were unsteady…
In his carelessness, Obatala created humans with deformities, monsters, and abnormal creatures.
“When the haze of the palm wine wore off, Obatala looked around and, seeing all the malformed beings, realized what misery his drunkenness had wrought. His heart was filled with compassion and remorse. ‘Never,’ he said to himself, ‘never again will I drink palm wine. And I shall always be the protector of those who have been created with imperfections’”.1
Catch the lesson:
For the Yoruba, Obatala’s monsters are reflections of our inner selves.2
In this short myth, we see Obatala come to grips with his monsters and imperfections.
He does not run from them.
Look at what happens in the end: Obatala vows to love his own imperfections and demons when he vows to protect all imperfect people.
He sees his own darkness (his drunkenness) and decides to love himself AND his mistakes!
This is the path to Peace.
Can you learn to love yourself, not just when you’re successful, when others are looking up to you, when life is going well, but also when no one is checking for you, when you mess up, when you directly cause suffering in someone else’s life, when you let people who depend on you down, or when others abandon you for something you did?
This is tough, I know.
But the ancient Yoruba knew that you can’t be your best self when you’re carrying baggage!
You can’t be your best self when you’re beating yourself up about not making more money.
You can’t be your best self when you’re beating yourself up about being alone.
You can’t be your best self when you’re beating yourself up about being overweight.
You can’t be your best self when you’re beating yourself up about spending too much time away from your kids.
You don’t need to beat yourself up. You just need to solve those issues.
So solve them.
Leave the self-sabotage behind.
This is Self-Compassion.
According to the Journal of Personality, Self-Compassion, or treating your mistakes with kindness, is necessary in order to have powerful psychological health.3
Further, showing yourself compassion has been found to reduce stress, anxiety, and fear.4
More importantly, people who are self-compassionate are significantly more likely to be happy and satisfied with their lives.5
The Yoruba tell us to view our mistakes and imperfections with kindness!
Notice how Obatala does not go back, wave a magic wand, and make everything perfect in the world.
He does not get rid of his imperfections.
The Yoruba would never include something like that in their myths.
Because NO PERSON OR SITUATION is ever going to be perfect. Why pretend?
There will always be more money to make, more goals to accomplish, more time to spend with the family, more friends to make, you could always be a little smarter, a little friendlier, a little stronger and a little more perfect.
That’s fine. You can pursue your goals AND love yourself at the same time.
You don’t need the baggage.
When we refuse to accept where and what we are right now, we make believe in the illusion of perfection.
We quietly believe we can go through life without having any problems or making mistakes.
We are basically saying: “If only I didn’t have these problems, I would be perfect.”
No you wouldn’t. Serious problems, mistakes and failures are a part of everyone’s life.
Don’t run from that dark truth.
The Ancient Yoruba knew: Imperfections are a part of human reality… Obatala made it that way.
The Yoruba must have been expert psychologists, too!
Research from Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman states that the human mind has a tendency to FOCUS ON THE WRONG THINGS & MAKE THE WRONG CHOICES as a result.
This mental trap is called a “Focusing Illusion”.6
For example, Kahneman and a team of researchers asked people: “Do you think a bigger salary will make you happier?”
Most people said “Yes”.
But when these researchers actually surveyed people with bigger salaries, they found people with higher salaries did not actually report more happiness in their day to day lives.
What a shock.
People who wished for more money were focused on the wrong thing.
These wishful people FOCUSED only on what they would buy with a bigger salary (travel, jewelry, season tickets, etc.).
As a result, they EXAGGERATED the importance of income on their daily happiness.7
These people did not think about what they would have to do to get the higher salary (Stay late, commute further, work on weekends, etc.).
They also forgot that high income folks still wait in traffic, still experience the joy of holding their children, still trip when they walked, still experience deaths in the family, still get caught in the rain, and still have emotional highs and lows…Just like folks with smaller salaries.
The point is: Humans over-exaggerate the importance of what we lack. We are prone to Focus on the Wrong Things… and miss out on Peace as a result.
Keep in mind, money is important.
But once you are financially secure, more money isn’t going to make you happier…
You know that.
*If you’re not yet Financially Secure, I created This Post for you. *
When we focus only on what isn’t perfect, our problems seem gigantic.
We suffer higher levels of stress and anxiety as a result. It gets harder to love ourselves.
We falsely believe that our lack of money, friendships, status, respect, education, love, or our mistakes and failures DETERMINE our destiny.8
This is the work of the Focusing Illusion.
Here is the trick to ending Focusing Illusions: Accept who you are and where you are right now, no matter how flawed.
Yup, the Yoruba were already hip to it…they knew Light & Dark, Peace & Suffering go together. They believed:
“…to embrace life, you must also embrace death; to welcome creation, you must also welcome destruction; to be united with your highest aims, you must also be united with your lowest needs.”9
Sounds dark… but let me give an example:
I know I’m insecure about failure.
If I set a new goal, it scares me to death thinking about if I will succeed or not.
But here’s the kicker…
In order to face my fear of failure, I have to be okay with the worst-possible-situation…with actually failing.
Only then can I Re-focus on actual solutions, think clearly and plan accordingly for my success.
Notice I’m not trying to REPLACE my fears with “positivity”.
I am not telling myself that “failure isn’t possible because I’ll learn something”…
That can be a good strategy, but here, it only stands in the way.
I must really mean it when I say: “I’m okay with failing at this”. I make no excuses, I accept the worst-possible-scenario and continue pursuing my goals anyway.
The Yoruba taught us that Darkness and Light will always remain, we must learn to accept both.
Why play favorites?
I become free when I become brave enough to accept that I can mess up, that the world can be unfair, that I can’t always be safe and that bad things can and will happen.10
I can use my energy to plan how to win instead of worrying about failure.
No fear, anxiety and unnecessary stress.
I become like a wise soldier entering the battlefield.
Prepared for anything.
This is the spirit exemplified by the Yoruba warrior-orisha (god), Shango. Shango is the personification of Determination. He is that energy source within us that keeps us moving toward our goals and overcoming our inner and outer obstacles. Before he became a god, he was a despotic ruler in the ancient kingdom of Oyo.
This is Shango’s legend:
Shango, perched on his throne, raised his Black fist to the sound of silence. The battle between Timi and Gbonka came to a bloody end. Once two friends and powerful warlords, Timi & Gbonka were punished by Shango for Shango was determined to display his supreme authority over his rivals. Shango required Timi & Gbonka duel to the death. After several hours, Gbonka removed the head of his friend, Timi and delivered it mockingly to Shango’s feet.
“You dare mock this Great King!
Guards! Construct the Great Pyre”.
Gbonka, still alive, was placed atop a wooden heap and with a mighty blast from his mouth, Shango set the heap on fire.
But Gbonka did not burn. He lived.
Astonished, Shango said: “What Gbonka can do, so can I. But I will do it as more than a king, I will become an orisha”.
Shortly after, Shango hanged himself on an Ayan tree and retired to the sky where he today deals out justice to any who displease him.11
Kind of a wild story…but catch the lesson:
Shango accepts himself. Good & Bad.
Shango does not lower his determination to surpass Gbonka, even after he sees that Gbonka can’t be killed. Shango wants to one-up Gbonka…so he becomes a god! Crazy.
Shango seems evil at first, forcing two friends to battle to the death.
But Shango does not apologize for the darkness within himself. In fact, Shango is actually rewarded with god-hood for accepting his own stubborn determination.
For you, “the point is to accept, rather than eliminate your vice, transforming it into your virtue”.12
When we accept who we are, imperfections and all, we stop running from our own darkness.
We face it. We cut out the fear, stress and anxiety associated with Focusing on our flaws and failures.
Self-compassion is how we learn to let go of what’s-wrong and end our Focusing Illusions.
Self-love is a true gift we can give ourselves.
The following exercise is founded off the Yoruba’s insight:
This exercise is about self-compassion: accepting who you are and where you are in life, no matter how imperfect.
This exercise stops insecurity from controlling you. You control you.
Whenever you feel anxious, stressed or afraid, be brave enough to complete this exercise…
Exercise: Saying “Yes” to Life & Self.
- Find a chair. Sit.
- Close your eyes.
- Take one full deep breathe. Hold. Exhale for 2-3 seconds slowly.
- What seems imperfect in your life? Maybe you secretly wish you had more respect from white folks, more money, maybe you’re worried about your kids or how to pay the bills this month. Maybe you wish you were making more of an impact, or that you made fewer mistakes. Whatever it is, see it in your Mind. It’s okay if it’s something small: “I wish I didn’t say those words to so-and-so.”
- Hold this image in your mind.
- Now, imagine the very worst thing that could happen. What will happen if you keep making mistakes, if they cut the lights off or if you never find love?
- Hold the image in your mind.
- Now, ask yourself: “If my life depended on it, could I live with these imperfections forever?”
- Answer This Out-Loud: “ Yes, I see that my life is beautiful. I have no complaints whatsoever!”
- Notice how your emotions change? Notice how saying “Yes” does not hurt you or cost you anything. Notice how imperfections and problems never really have power over your peace. Notice how good it feels to know your imperfections cannot stop you from living in this moment.
- To Finish: Take one final Deep Breath. Exhale. Open your eyes.
*Don’t worry if you cannot answer “yes” right now. You can always return to this exercise later.*
When you say “yes”, you are refusing to let what’s-wrong control you. You are accepting who and what you are right now. This is Self-Compassion.
Accepting who you are and where you are, you gain the ability to change what you want to change.
You are no longer trapped by illusions.
With this exercise, you come to grips with the fact that, in life, bad things happen…
But you find peace within your challenges. You find Light within the Dark.
Imperfections become natural parts of the universe.
Even if we’re not perfect, we exist perfectly right now.
When we don’t run from darkness, but face it, head up…
stress, anxiety and fear drift from the mind like dying rose petals.
This is the Yoruba gift of Peace.
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Hi, I’m Shawn, a Health researcher and writer deeply dedicated to the personal enhancement of Black Bodies, Black Minds, and Black Bank Accounts. I’m also the Founder of Black Health HQ. I created Black Health HQ to be a research driven platform for the development of Black physical, mental and financial health. Black Health HQ works toward the extreme well-being of Black people, offering free content along with services and products to assist you on your journey to maximum Black Living. Together, I believe we can build a vibrant and thriving Black community by strengthening what is most precious: our health and wealth.
- Clyde W. Ford.The Hero with an African Face: Mythic Wisdom of Traditional Africa. New York: Bantam, 1999: 151
- Wole Soyinka.Myth, literature and the African world. Cambridge University Press, 1990.).
- Kristin D.Neff and Roos Vonk. “Self‐compassion versus global self‐esteem: Two different ways of relating to oneself.”Journal of personality 77, no. 1 (2009): 23-50
- Kristin D. Neff, Kristin L. Kirkpatrick, and Stephanie S. Rude. “Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning.”Journal of research in personality 41, no. 1 (2007): 139-154.
- Kristin D. Neff, Stephanie S. Rude, and Kristin L. Kirkpatrick. “An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits.”Journal of Research in Personality 41, no. 4 (2007): 908-916.
- Daniel Kahneman.Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.
- Daniel Kahneman, Alan B. Krueger, David Schkade,)
- Daniel Kahneman.Thinking, fast and slow. 2011.
- Ford, Clyde W.The Hero with an African Face: Mythic Wisdom of Traditional Africa. New York: Bantam, 1999: 166
- Kristin D. Neff and Roos Vonk. “Self‐compassion versus global self‐esteem: Two different ways of relating to oneself.”Journal of personality 77, no. 1 (2009): 23-50.
- Clyde W. Ford.The Hero with an African Face: Mythic Wisdom of Traditional Africa. New York: Bantam, 1999.
- Clyde W. Ford.The Hero with an African Face: Mythic Wisdom of Traditional Africa. New York: Bantam, 1999: 163