Release Date

October 13th, 2021

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Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Zen priest and sensei, first met Redefined’s Zainab Salbi on a bus. The two women had a surprising and intense encounter while riding between Gaza and Egypt. In this moving conversation, they unpack what they saw and how they acted as part of a tender, revealing, and impactful dialogue about what it really means to live in truth.

“I’ve come to realize that my stance in truth is actually simultaneously a stance of challenging notions of belonging and where I belong, who I belong to—and deciding that I have to belong to myself first.”

INSPIRATION

TRANSCRIPT

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Redefined is hosted by me, Zainab Salbi, and brought to you by FindCenter, a search engine for your soul. Part library, part temple, FindCenter presents a world of wisdom, organized. Check it out today at www.findcenter.com. And please subscribe to Redefined for free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

What’s most important about life? What is the essence of life? Is it what we do? How much we earn? How many social media followers we have? Or is it do we live our lives in kindness to ourselves and to others? Do we live our lives in love to ourselves and to others? In nearly losing my life, I was confronted with these questions and it led me to the conversations that make up Redefined, about how we draw our inner maps and the pursuit of meaningful personal change.

My guest this time is a woman I met in a bus from Gaza to Cairo, Reverend angel Kyodo williams. Rev. angel is a Buddhist spiritual leader and a social visionary. She’s the author of Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace. And the coauthor of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation. Her new audio series is called Belonging: From Fear to Freedom on the Path to True Community. The story of our encounter is one of shadows and lines, self-reflection, and the cost of living in truth. We talk about that and about how to process and use our anger, how to distinguish between our rage and our wrath, and mostly, the difficult work of finding the path to belonging to ourselves and to our heart’s center. I am so excited to share our recent conversation with you, do join me.

So, first of all, can I call you angel or should I call you Rev. angel?

angel Kyodo williams:

Oh, you can call me angel.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Thank you. As I was reading and I had been following your teachings for a while now, I am reminded of the Indigenous wisdom that talks about how we are all mirrors of each other. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. I had a teacher, a Basque shaman teacher, Angeles Arrien, and she talked about how we are all mirrors of each other. There are those who are clear mirrors and those are gleamers, the people bring the best in you, that you see yourself in them, and you always get energetic when you see them. And there are people who are shady mirrors. And the shady mirrors are those who irritate you, irks you, or people who you are sexually attracted to, also they’re shady mirrors, right? And then there are those who are no mirrors. And then the no mirrors are people you pass by every day and you just not notice them. You just don’t remember who they are, you just don’t notice them.

And the point of her teachings about the mirrors is that it’s really all about . . . We need to do our own work, on ourselves, right? It’s like you can’t blame the person, you have to . . . What they’re triggering in you is your work and your journey. But I am starting with this because the more I hear you and read and listen to your voice, and your wisdom, I was like, “She’s a clear mirror.” That every time I truly hear, it’s like you bring the best out of me. And there are moments in which you say things that just tear me up. So thank you for being a clear mirror. Thank you.

We have several stories, several encounters with each other. And I will start with the encounter of the shadow, as odd as it may sound to start a conversation with shadow talk. And that was on the bus from Gaza to Cairo, in 2010. We were sitting next to each other as part of a team who are humanitarian and activists, trying to assess and understand the bombing of Gaza and the damage that was set onto civilian lives. And I don’t know if you remember that story, but we were sitting next to each other and you were in pain, and we were escorted by Egyptian police from the borders of Gaza, all the way to Cairo. And long drives and the bus did not have a toilet, and they did not allow us to use the rest stop. And here’s my story.

So I see my sister in pain next to me. And I remember, every time they changed province, a different security guard came in. And I remember the first time, and I went, and I said, “Can you please let me use the bathroom?” I sort of used it on myself. I was like, “Oh, I need to use the bathroom. Please let us use the bathroom.” And I was really nice. And they’re like, “Nope. The government ordered that we cannot let you use restrooms, or rest stops. You can not get off the bus.” And so I go back to the chair and I’m seeing my sister in pain in here, and the next stop comes and a new security groups come and take over from the last one. And I go on this time, I sort of do drama. I was like, “I really need to pee. I have to go to the bathroom. I have to pee. Please, please, please. I’m going to pee on myself.”

And they’re like, “Absolutely no. Presidential orders that we are not to let you, anybody in this bus, off the bus until you arrive Cairo.” Third stop, again, new security officers take over. And this time I remember my over-drama. I was like, “I’m going to strip naked right now and pee right now in front of you, in front of the whole bus. I’m doing that.” And I was the only Arabic speaker, I think, or one of the handful of Arabic speakers, so I use my leverage here, cultural leverage, being someone who from Iraq and native speaker of Arabic. And finally, and here’s the moment, the fourth one, I remember now. I get very emotional talking about it because, then I was upset because I use kindness, and then I use shame, and then I use drama, and nothing has worked.

And I go to the fourth security officer and I said, I looked at him in the eyes as he got on the bus, and I say, “I am writing your name because I know the president and the first lady,” which I was bullshitting. “And I will tell them what you have done to us. Not letting us get off the bus and your life will change from that moment.” And I was scary. And in that moment, one of the other passengers took a picture of him and the guy got scared. Twenty minutes later, the bus stops in a rest stop, everyone gets off the bus. All what I cared is you were okay, honestly. People were taking tea and all of that.

And here’s a thing, that security guard comes to me, scared. Oh, and he tells me, “Please don’t report me to the president. Please don’t tell . . . Are you okay? Are you happy? I did what you told me to. Please don’t report me to the president.” And I tear up. It’s been many years and I still tear up because I contributed to a humiliation of a man. Even though I was standing up for everyone in the bus. And even though I did the right thing for the . . . But the fact that this wrath is in me and I led to this guy being scared shitless, it’s a shadow part of me that I had to work a lot—many years—on. I mean, it’s eleven years later and I’m tearing up talking about it.

So my question, I guess, is . . . and I worked a lot on it . . . how do you reconcile the work on our social justice—social justice, generally—and the kindness that we need for ourselves and for our lives, personally. And then the wrath that sometimes, it comes out of us, come out of me. The anger, the rage. No, I’m not judgmental of these things except when I lead to someone else’s humiliation. It’s his humiliation that’s made me scared of myself. So my question, angel, to start with is how have you reconciled these things? I mean, how do you reconcile between that social change and between going about it in a particular way that does not bring the bad taste in your mouth, as it had in my mouth?

angel Kyodo williams:

I really feel that, and I remember very well. I felt that you taking it on . . . I mean, and you remained forever nearby me, even though we haven’t seen each other in so long, because that you said came down, I don’t know if you remember, but are you kidding? It’s literally something that lives with me, and I returned to often, that entire experience and journey, and at the core of that, what this sort of kinship and connection that was there. And that was part of it. It was rare for me, in my own life, to have the experience of someone doing that for me. And as someone that has also often done it for other people and stood for other people, it was both potent and I felt deeply grateful. But I was processing it, in live time. And the reconciliation for me has been, through time, through practice, and many times of having attested, and returning, of the recollection of the person’s humanity and distinguishing it from the behavior and the activity in time.

And so that is how I relate in general: is this partitioning of the person and being able to conduct myself in a way that addresses the behavior, the action, the thing that I’m charging against—and that I want to bring fierceness to it, I want to bring wrath to a time, so in order to move the needle, move the room, make the change happen, tip it—but I need to be able to live with myself, and I made that decision a really long time ago. When you said the taste in your mouth, it’s like, “Oh, I need to be able to live with myself, to be able to abide in myself. And that anything that I do has to be done in such a way that I can continue to abide within myself.”

And it came from some experience that I had long, long ago. Long story short is there was this business thing and we were going to buy the property of this guy and his business was failing. And my business partner who had the money—I didn’t have the money—the fellow offered a price and I said, “Oh, that’s a good price.” And she said, “Well, we can do lower.” And I said, “Yeah, but he’s . . . this stuff is worth way, much more.” And so when he said that number was the same number I have so I feel good about it, she said, “But this is business. And you have to do what you do for business.” And I said, “I have to do what allows me to live with myself.” And she left the business partnership and took the money with her. She threatened with it. And I was so crystal clear that all of the calamity that that brought in, challenge and whatever, that that was the right thing for me. And I’ve been living through it and with it, ever since.

And so it’s really active for me. And I think, as a result, [it] is active in how I speak about things, not from like, “Here’s my teaching and let me tell you this,” but this is . . . I want for all of us that want the world to be changed, to also be able to live with ourselves. And what will we have changed? How is it worth it? If we can’t live with ourselves in it, that if the external realities shift, but we are not right with ourselves, or not . . . I want to say right as if it’s fixed, that we are not being “in rightness,” as a process. That we are not in more rightness with ourselves. It doesn’t matter what we change externally, actually. We will have objectified change and excluded ourselves from it. And I deserve to be a part of that change too.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

That’s beautiful. I mean, you said so many things. First of all, I want to thank you for the biggest thing I’m taking from this, which is I have to live with that taste that it leaves in me, right?

angel Kyodo williams:

I also have for myself, to that point, distinguished the use of the words—it’s all made up in some way, but it’s useful—the distinguish between anger, wrath, and rage.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I agree with you. So please speak.

angel Kyodo williams:

So for me, wrath is that constructive use. Anger for me is like, it burns, including me. Wrath, I can wield, but I can also put it down. So if I’m not—

Zainab Salbi (Host):

And how about rage?

angel Kyodo williams:

And rage . . . I get this from Ruth, her last name’s not coming to me. It’s going to come to me. Healing Rage is the name of her book though. And that rage is from . . . it’s out of time. It doesn’t have anything to do with . . . it’s not to do with now, it’s out of time. So rage is like you brought that with you. That’s so not . . . It may have been triggered by the person in front of you, but it’s so not about this situation, this moment, this time. That it is from elsewhere, including from ancestors, it’s including from your lineage.

And so that rage is, which is, I think the trickiest one because we can feel so overpowered by it and strong. And those are my words, and people should choose their own words. But I think having a distinction so that the relationship we have to anger is not this just blunt instrument of like anger is either bad or anger is good. Because there is a righteous wrath, there is a righteous wielding of one’s passion and fierceness. And if it’s burning you and everything in its path—

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Absolutely.

angel Kyodo williams:

. . . what’s going to be left for you to live in?

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I’m curious about how have you handled the process of dealing with your shadow? How did you incorporate it into your work, and your attitude about it?

angel Kyodo williams:

Yeah. I feel that I was gifted early with an experience in my life that made me contend with it, maybe earlier than a lot of people have had to. I was abused when I was a child by a woman that my father was dating, cohabitating, whatever you call it with. And fast forward, fifteen years later or no, twelve years later or so, she was kind of removed from my life. And fast forward, I ended up in the neighborhood that was her family’s neighborhood. And as I was traveling on the bus and train, I found myself just wracked in fear. And so I’m fifteen and I decided that I couldn’t abide by this. I couldn’t live like that, looking over my shoulder, thinking I saw this person.

So there’s all sorts of things about the story, but in this instance, I went to her house. And I didn’t see her the first time, but I saw her the second time. And I made it my business to . . . She wasn’t this whatever demon. And I could see the suffering on her reality, in her existence. That she, the family, the home that she had lived in was basically a hell house of abuse and so on. And I decided to forgive her. Not for her, but for me. I couldn’t live with the anger. I couldn’t live with . . . And I think it was just enough . . . It was complex enough that she was both . . . Oh my goodness, the great reveal on podcast.

So it turns out, fast forward many years later, which I’ve never been able to say in public until now, it turns out she was also the mother of my brother, which we didn’t know at the time, but I suspected it. And so it was now complex. She just wasn’t this other distant creature, she was close. She also kind of raised me for a time. I could see that raising of me in her children. And so it was mucky and I didn’t have a clear line of hate. And so I couldn’t live with the . . . I just decided, I was just like, “Okay, I don’t have a clear line,” so I couldn’t just write her off. And what I was going to be left with is not being able to just write her off, just living with this turmoil within me of going, “Ugh, but . . .” yeah. And I was just like, “Yeah, no. I’m not. No.”

So that was the cut. It was the cut. I just, I decided to just cut. To cut it and release myself from the . . . And it wasn’t all neat and pretty. That’s not what I mean. But I was liberated from the part that I could liberate myself from, which is to just be in all this turmoil about it. I was just like, “I’m not going to do that.” We’ll have to negotiate whatever else we’re going to negotiate together, and through the years. And we continued to, but I was not going to keep myself in that hell realm of whatever, just being twisted about it.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

That’s an unbelievable story. And because it’s so wise for a fifteen-year-old kid.

angel Kyodo williams:

Because that’s . . . Whatever you want to change in the world, the end of the day, the only real dominion that we have is the dominion over ourselves and how we live. And if I do all the things that I do and I change everything, and I can’t abide within myself, what does it matter? And on the other hand, if I go through everything and nothing seems to be extremely changed, I can’t put my finger on what I changed, but I can live with myself, in all the directions of my effort, the direction of my efforts, the direction of my failures, the direction of my learning, the direction of the hopes that I had that didn’t actually come to fruition.

But also, the direction that . . . but I chose to live in love. That is the greatest change we can make. I know that doesn’t stack up on statistics, but that is the greatest change we can make because we will have, I love to say, we will have disobeyed the instructions of the oppressive. And as long as we do that, even if we can’t see the things changing right in our space time, that is the greatest, most continuous change, the most sustainable change we can possibly—

Zainab Salbi (Host):

But it takes a lot of discipline, huh? It takes a lot of discipline to stay in that love because it’s an easy slip to go into the anger, into the rage. It’s just takes a lot of discipline to go about the change, but stay in the core of love. Have you ever slipped? And what do you do when you slip?

angel Kyodo williams:

Oh, well, I want to tell about my little shadow side too. So my shadow side, I remember, which you actually know. I remember I was in a relationship many years ago and by this time, I’ve had that whole experience. And by this time, I was attuning myself to the sense of being aware when I wasn’t honest with myself. And that call got that abiding with myself. And so if you have a practice, if you develop a practice of abiding with yourself, of returning to yourself as a kind of a seat of where you live, like the seat of where you live, like live here. I live here. I live out there, that all happens and I engage in the world, but I live here. I abide in myself. What happens is you also become very familiar with when you’re bullshitting yourself and maybe nobody else knows. And I have a lot of practice.

And so with a lot of practice and I’m kind of like . . . My temperament is one that appears stoic to people anyway and I can drop into that very quickly. Y’all, can’t see me on the podcast, but I’ve got the Jedi thing. It’s just immovable. And so I can roll with that. So I have to be the greatest arbiter of bullshit with myself. I’ve made that bullshitting myself intolerable though, by that returning to myself. And so I was in this relationship and the person I was dating at the time said something about, I don’t know, intimacy issues. I said, “I do not!” And I gave all of these very, very . . . I mean, they were just lovely arguments and flipped it back on her, all the things, it was so good. And in my body it was like, [vocalized malfunctioning machine noises], and I could just feel like, fuck! [exhale] “Why don’t you try a therapist.”

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Wow.

angel Kyodo williams:

Right.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Wow. Yeah.

angel Kyodo williams:

So we actually have to make it intolerable. That’s the practice. That we have been habituated to tolerate the enormous amounts of pain, enormous amounts of suffering communicated and imposed upon the world, on people, and peoples, in our name. And through a horrible genius, we have been acculturated to tolerate it. So we have to reverse it and make it intolerable. And that making it intolerable to ourselves will carry us through us, all of the winds and storms of the ways in which we will be pushed back against, when other people . . . We will go our own way because we’ll know our own way. But we can only do that if we’re comfortable being in ourselves.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Well, that entails . . . What you’re sharing is also entails being in truth, in truth to ourselves and in truth with others. And for decades, I worked on, I have mission statements from myself like mottos, of apparatus for myself and mine for the longest time—it still is—that I need to tell the truth, live the truth, be the truth, my truth. I’m curious about your own journey because you have gone through so many trials and tribulations, from—

angel Kyodo williams:

Oh, my goodness—

Zainab Salbi (Host):

. . . your childhood, from the abuse, from the sexual molestation, from moving from one neighborhood to the other, from social justice, from racial justice—all—gender justice, sexual justice, all of that. I’m curious about the moment that you decided to like, “I am going to speak the truth.” And especially, your first time articulating that, I think in public, I’m not sure, is in your first book, Being Black. And so I’m curious about that moment that made you decide that.

angel Kyodo williams:

That moment . . . All of those moments. They come from the story that I shared. In many ways, the release of, or sort of the way that I refuse to live in fear then meant that I had to navigate this unknown space and inside of that unknown space—because it would be easy to stay in a fear, easy to stay in the hate rage of the person, and all of these things—and then I was left with this unknown space of oh, and now if I have done this, I have to take responsibility for what that means, for having decided that I’m not going to just live in the fear. And the flip side of not living in fear is actually living in truth. And I think many people don’t realize that that’s really what it means. And that that is where the work begins, because you’re basically going to face death over and over again.

And that death, and what I mean death, is that you’re going to challenge your belonging to all sorts of spaces and places as a result of choosing to live in the truth. And so for me, that was the beginning of it. It was like, “This is it.” And then when I . . . I want to say the first action of truth that was on the other side of relinquishing the fear, was telling my mother that I forgave the person. Getting that . . . Not just keeping it to my . . . Because this had loomed over our lives as this whole story. It was a story of I didn’t grow up with my mother, so it was like this time my mother came and had my back, and saved me when my father couldn’t see what was happening. So my mother came and did something, but it was a part of our belonging to each other.

And so by telling my mother that I forgave her, I was challenging the belonging of my mother. And I think the truth is, and I know I’ve said this in places before, I didn’t have words for it then, but I’ve come to realize that my stance in truth is actually simultaneously a stance of challenging notions of belonging and where and who I belong to, and deciding that I have to belong to myself first. And so that in any given time and space, that what we’re doing when we tell the truth, it’s like you said like, “Oh, I’m the one that’s keeping it,” but why? What are you keeping yourself from? You’re keeping yourself in whatever it is you belong to: in a family, in a partnership with your lover, you’re keeping yourself in belonging.

And so once we have a belonging to ourselves, I call it our own belonging, then this whole “telling the truth” thing becomes something that is . . . I feel like we’re returned to our innate capacity to live into ourselves. I love that you said “live in truth.” Live into ourselves and live into the truth, rather than it being this thing that we’re always in tension with. And so, yeah, that’s . . . I’ve got to—a little bit—yeah. It’s a little funny because I don’t really abide by not truth well anymore.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Me neither. I can’t. And it’s interesting you mentioned your mother because that’s the closest person, is one thing that you, someone else that’s maybe a friend or a colleague or whatever, but your mother is just the closest person and that for you to deal with her emotions, how did you do that?

angel Kyodo williams:

And the betrayal. It was fraught with betrayal.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Betrayal, I know! How did you deal with that?

angel Kyodo williams:

Maybe this is the worst thing, you have to know that you are going to lose things. I mean, the nature of truth is that . . . We are the nature of conflict. We conflict. That’s what human beings—we try to . . . two things, any time two things try to inhabit the same space at the same time, that’s conflict. Conflict is not inherently bad. It just is. And so when two truths—it’s not a capital-T truth; my truth, your truth—when they try to inhabit the same space at the same time, there is a conflict. And I’m always aware that I’m subject to loss. And if you want to hold onto things and not lose, you cannot tell the truth.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

It’s so true. There was a moment in my life, not so long ago, actually, where my father called me and he says, “You either continue to speak and you will lose my love completely, or you stay silent and I will be your father forever.” And the speaking was, it was speaking about my truth, our truth, actually, in public. And so he did not want to deal with the world talking about it. And the equation I had to go to with myself, I was like, “Okay, if I get silent and keep my father’s love, then I betray myself.” And I saw my betrayal of myself as directly connected to betraying God. I mean, I love God and God for me is everything. And God doesn’t have a form for me. It’s everything. It’s you are, it’s the air, it’s the flowers, everything. Everything. And so it’s like the Divine, let’s say. And I was like, “So either I lose love or I betray myself and I betray the Divine,” because that’s truth for me.

And I called my father, I emailed him. And I was like, “I can’t do that, what you’re asking me. I’m going to choose to stay true to myself.” And he was mad at me and did not speak with me for two, three months. And then two, three months, we saw each other and he was cold. And low and behold, few days later, it was okay. And we’re normal now; how did it go with you? So this loss, I agree with the loss. And it takes a lot of courage to say, “Okay, I’m going to lose.” I mean, the journey towards one’s own freedom in self is not necessarily always without loss. How did you deal with that? How did it come to a resolution with your mom?

angel Kyodo williams:

Well, I would just say that the journey, loss is guaranteed. And if you don’t prepare yourself and reconcile with that is what is true, that it is guaranteed. That the journey to living in your truth is you are guaranteed to have loss. When you were speaking, I was thinking for myself about this situation. And my mother was . . . she felt really betrayed, and I felt this kind of clarity that not only was it true . . . I mean, I couldn’t go back and undo the forgiveness, but I also had to be . . . I had to own the forgiveness . . . I had to own the truth of it, too. It wasn’t just that I had forgiven, it was then . . . I could have just kept it quiet, but that would not have been true.

And so telling her was in some ways jeopardizing the relationship, but it was an act of being true to own the decision that I had made for myself. And so that was being in my truth. And the way that I navigated that was she’s going to be really upset, and I don’t think she would have been as forthright and said that like your father did. I was like, I felt that. I felt the heat of that. But it would have been intimated, because I think that’s what we do. We threaten people with belonging. It’s the shape of dominant culture is to threaten people with belonging. So it was there, it was intimated. And I decided that I couldn’t be worthy of whatever love it is that I would have if I wasn’t in my truth.

So whoever I would be, whoever I would become in order to abide by some temporal idea of love or whatever, I wouldn’t be worthy of that love anymore if I . . . who would that be? I would no longer be me anyway. And so whoever it is that you were taking that love from, would no longer exist, the moment that I gave myself up, my truth up, in order to accommodate your desire, your interest. And so I just think we just get to be ourselves, or we don’t. We get to be ourselves or we don’t. And then we have to bear the responsibility. And I don’t say that, for those of you who can’t see me, I’m Black, I’m queer, I have a mixed heritage background, so I get it from all sides and lots of times—I have all the things. And so I don’t come from wealth. I’ve had to scrape. I got all the things.

So I don’t say it lightly at all. I don’t say it naively about . . . that means really different things and tremendous impact for different people. But at the end of our lives, I don’t think we’re going to look back and say like, “Oh, did I please all these people?” Could I be right with myself? And that’s what I’m going live and die with, is myself. That’s not a selfishness. It’s a being in truth with myself. It’s not against anyone. It’s totally for myself. And that’s the only person that I can be present for anyone else with.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I mean, it seems for me, that I hear you, it’s like we often, all of us, get the choices of freedom versus security. Now, obviously, it’s ideal if the security and the freedom come together, but often that proposition is you want security and you betray yourself, or you want freedom and you’re true to yourself. And it seems that you have, at an early age, chose your freedom. At an early age, chose the freedom to be in your truth. And it’s not the first time you do it. I mean, maybe it’s the first time you do, but I remember one of the things that I’m really dying to ask you this question is when you later on studied Buddhism and in your second book, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation, you talk about your teacher, your teacher in Buddhism.

And that she came from a very particular, White middle-class perspective in her attitude or in her teachings, let’s say. I’m curious about . . . because it’s the same thing, it’s about telling the truth. Here you are studying Buddhism. And you’re saying, “Uh-uh. There’s another truth here. There’s another truth here.” Again, this is like sort of the same encounter with mother. I don’t mean to compare the teacher with the mother, but I hear that—

angel Kyodo williams:

Oh, no. It’s there.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

But I mean, it’s again, then you go about and say, “I’m going to tell my truth and it’s different. It’s different than what you’re teaching me.” I am curious about that process, angel. How did you come about it? How did you find that voice in you?

angel Kyodo williams:

In some ways, that was almost more painful than my own mother. And that’s because the things like your teachers or your . . . you chose them. You didn’t choose your parents. And so we have this bond that comes from the parents and you have the bond, but you kind of got them. It was chosen for you. Then you think, “Oh, look, I’m this adult.” And you think now, that the decision’s up to me. You kind of want the decisions that you make to be the right decisions and then it all works out according to your plans. And then it turns out that humans are still humans and they do what they do. And so that was even more painful for me, partially because of my age. By this time, I was maybe twenty-eight or so. And so I thought I knew something, which is worse, when you think you know something. So I thought I knew something. And she was White, so I really made this kind of conscientious decision of what it meant to have a White teacher, all of my politicization, so on and so forth.

And so getting to that moment in where it was like, “Oh, this familiar control thing.” I felt some of a sense of betrayal of myself in it, in the choice, in having made that choice and thinking I could do that and somehow I was going to come out unscathed. When it came to a time, in this story is basically that I broke with my teacher, not in some like, “Oh, I’m really going to break.” It was really, she broke with me, and I just was refusing to go along. And because I needed to be in truth with myself. It was tremendously painful. And I was lucky enough to have had the experiences that I had earlier so that I could feel that edge that you were talking about, standing at the edge of truth and you just don’t know if you’re going to die.

And to have the practice of just being really still and taking the step into my truth. I get really still. And I’m like, “Yeah, this is fraught with all the things.” Everything is going crazy, words . . . and I just get really still and really quiet. And just step right forward into like, “This is my truth. This is what I need to say to you.” And that’s it. And then you deal with what comes. It’s not possible to do anything else anymore. And I think this is the best thing that we can do for ourselves, is that we can develop a practice where being in our truth is the only thing that’s actually tolerable. And we will fall off, by the way. So I’ve said being in our truth . . . returning to our truth, because we will fall off all the time. That’s the nature of being a human. But returning to it is the only thing that’s tolerable.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

You talked a lot about your journey that got you into spirituality. You talk about moving from science, into seeing a book about Zen Buddhism, and you were attracted to that. But what was the moment, I’m curious about the moment, where it says, “This is a path I’m going to take seriously and this is my path.”

angel Kyodo williams:

Oh, yeah.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

That even, what led you to the teacher you’re talking about.

angel Kyodo williams:

Yeah. I’ve told this story. I was in San Francisco. So the person I was dating at the time, their mama lived in San Francisco. And so we went across country and I had never been to the Bay Area. We went across country and I hadn’t even . . . There was a temple, San Francisco Zen Center, and I’d found out about Buddhism and saw this book, and I was like, “Okay.” And it was sort of like hovering in my space. And I had developed my own little closet meditation practice, literally, I was sitting in the closet with a little meditation practice. But I had this opportunity to go to the mothership, if you will, of where the book came from, from Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. So San Francisco Zen Center was there. I was like . . .

And here’s the moment. I hadn’t even gotten to the temple. I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, on the other side of the country, and didn’t know really where I was going, and was going to muddle my way to get to this temple. And my partner, I looked over my shoulder and she was lying there, sleeping. It was still kind of like bluish, hazy, early morning. She was barely more than a silhouette. And that moment, I knew. I was like, “Whatever this is, whatever this is, that is brought me to this moment, right now, that I’m doing this, that I’m taking this for me, for my background, for whatever it is, complete leap. This is a thing.” And I knew it. I knew it right there.

And I remember the feeling of being like, “Oh, this is a thing.” And that was it. And then I went and I got my cushion . . . And I barely remember the whole thing. I came back with a cushion and everything, and I barely remember being there. I remember that moment that you’re asking about because I was leaving. It was a kind of home leaving. They talk about being as priest as home leaving, or being a monk, or a monastic as home leaving. I was the home leaving. I had left my home, New York. I was on the other side of the country. And then I was leaving my lover, which was . . . It was like home leaving the home, home. I had left home.

Going out into this unknown, the unknown of San Francisco, but in the unknown. At the wee hours of the morning, which at my age, at that time, I didn’t do that. So it was just fraught with all of this—something is happening here and whatever this is, I think what the words mean was like, “Oh, this is serious.” That’s what it was. It was like falling in love. And you know at that moment, oh, this is not a fling, this is serious. And I had that moment right there.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Wow.

angel Kyodo williams:

It was so clear to me.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I wonder, again, I go back to my teacher, Angeles Arrien, who said . . . She said, “Everything about life moves in the path, in the rhythm of slow to medium, except humans. We move so fast.” And in the early dawn hours, life is quiet. And it seems that you heard life’s calling in that early dawn. There’s a Rumi poem that—“don’t go back to sleep.”

angel Kyodo williams:

Oh, yes.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I can’t remember, but it’s just talking about that dawn moment. “Do not go back to sleep.”

angel Kyodo williams:

Yeah.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

And you stayed and you stayed awake, and blessed are those who know their calling, I think. Blessed are those who know their calling. And oftentimes, sometimes I feel like if we only slow our minds—

angel Kyodo williams:

Yes.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

. . . that we will know our calling, actually, that we can all access that moment, if we only slow down and allow the slowness in that time to come.

angel Kyodo williams:

That is exactly true. May I say something? So my favorite line in the call to prayer is for the dawn call to prayer is “don’t go back to sleep.”

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Don’t go back to sleep.

angel Kyodo williams:

Don’t go back to sleep.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Yeah.

angel Kyodo williams:

And it is my favorite line. And it’s only done in the dawn. And it’s only done in that slow time, but—

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Yeah.

angel Kyodo williams:

. . . don’t go back to sleep. I love that.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Tell me about a turning moment in your life. A turning point in your life that led you to your own belonging, as you said, to your own arrival, or to your own understanding about what is most important about life?

angel Kyodo williams:

I have a auto-immune illness and a few years ago, some years ago, I don’t remember now, how long ago . . . 2012, sometime in 2012, it started to flare. I was really very, very, very, very, very ill. And I wouldn’t say that I was near death. I would say that I was near . . . I was in a state of contending with all of the sort of robust vitality that I associated with myself and really banked on, was fallen away. I could barely walk out to the door. I got help moving up and down the stairs. And I was lying in bed and the basic idea was don’t do anything. Take a lot of drugs and don’t do anything. Don’t move, don’t harm yourself. Don’t do anything. If you bump yourself, if you . . . whatever. Everything, between the disease itself and the drugs I was taking, anything and everything could hurt. Everything. Everything could hurt me.

And it took me a very long time to get out of bed in the morning. And this had been now going on for weeks. And so it would take a really long time. And I would have to massage each joint just to move myself out of a state of pain that had accumulated from inflammation overnight. And so I just would take like an hour or more to get out of bed. And we had regular—I lived in community at the time—we had regular yoga practice. And so everybody was sort of . . . there’s kind of like a death shadow and energy in the space as a result of this. I’m the leader of the community and I’m in this sort of declining state, and no one would know what to do. And I was lying there and I was like, “Oh.” I was like, “Oh.” Waking up is like the hardest thing. It’s like, God, I got to deal with life again. And I was going to have to do this thing.

And as I was lying there, I was like, “Oh.” This may not be like “oh, this is going to pass,” it was just at that stage—this is going to pass—this might be it. This might be . . . it’s not about getting better. This might be the state, that I may be this person going forward and maybe even declined from here, that at that moment, it fell away that what I was trying to do was get better and kind of waiting to get better. And I dropped into, “This is it.” And so I run my little joints and I took my ass downstairs, scary as it was, this incredibly steep set of steps. And I went and I got on my goddamn yoga mat. And that was it. I took my life—my life was not in some other time/state/era way of being. My life was in that very moment. And it was the only life I could live. And that was it.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

What I love about that story, it was not only you are in the presence of the moment, but actually it’s also “this is life.”

angel Kyodo williams:

This is it.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Life has painful moments and beautiful moments. And this is life, it’s uncomfortable at times, and it’s utterly joyful at times. And you just took it on completely in that moment. That’s beautiful.

angel Kyodo williams:

The waiting for it to be different was more suffering. It was like I was waiting for it to be different. And that sort of like holding life in this state of suspended animation, hoping that it would be something. And I wasn’t actively hoping. I had enough practice. It wasn’t like I was pining for this other thing, but I was waking up with this sense of like, “Okay and then I have to do this to get better.” And I was like, “No. This is the life. This is it. I have to live with this body, this experience. And if I fall down the steps on the way down, there it is, but I’m going to live. I’m going to live.” And I think that that’s . . . If we can live in this moment, rather than the moment that is to come or the moment that has been, that if we can recognize that that really truly is the only moment that we have.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I have last quick question. Rapid questions.

angel Kyodo williams:

Yeah.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

And this is more to share with everyone about things you do to keep you going. So, for example, do you have any favorite song that you always go to for a moment of power or a moment of joy, or even sorrow. What’s your favorite song?

angel Kyodo williams:

I do, it’s so good. So there’s a song by a Christian group, a Christian rock group—for KING & COUNTRY—and they have a song called “Joy.” And I play that song and I jump around, usually not fully clothed, in front of my fifteen-year-old African gray parrot, almost every day.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

A prayer, a poem, a piece of art that lifts your spirit.

angel Kyodo williams:

Oh, my goodness. There’s a woman named Miani Carnevale, who does this amazing work. She’s in upstate New York. She’s not far from Omega. That’s where I—Omega Institute—that was where I found her. I purchased a beautiful piece of art. And it was like one of those things where you spend more than you understand what it is to spend. And I learned about the value of gifting yourself with what moves you from her art, because I missed the first piece that I fell in love with. And I committed in that moment to never do it again and it changed my life. And so I have this ongoing practice of gifting myself things that I love. So that piece of art, stunning.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

It’s beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. How about movies that you go for either, for a good cry or renew your spirit or . . . the movie.

angel Kyodo williams:

The movie.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

We all have that movie that we go over and over.

angel Kyodo williams:

Oh, my goodness. We were just having this conversation about the Titanic. And so I think it’s been sitting in my head, as the thing and the scene of the . . . Because I used to play violin where the band is playing as the ship is going down. And so that is very present. I bet if you asked me in another moment, it wouldn’t be the thing, but it is sitting here present right now.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I hear you. Yeah. Yup. Absolutely.

angel Kyodo williams:

And it’s because they just lived in the moment. It was like, period.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

That’s true.

angel Kyodo williams:

We’re going down and what we’re going to do, we’re going to go down playing.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Beautiful. Mentors or teachers who have inspired you.

angel Kyodo williams:

Oh, my goodness. Yeah. Alice Walker.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I love Alice. We actually never talked about that—

angel Kyodo williams:

I know.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

. . . but we have Alice as a friend.

angel Kyodo williams:

Yeah.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

As a dear friend. Yes. Yes.

angel Kyodo williams:

It almost feels trite to say, but it is for sure. Alice has really been a mentor, a teacher. Robert Gass has been a beautiful mentor, he’s a wonderful . . . Gloria Steinem. I learned so much from Gloria and I had a time in my life where we were in space a lot together. And so these are not . . . When I say these, for those of you that don’t know, these are close relationships. And so I know some of the folks are iconic and I have the gift of spending some times in my life with them, and so that has been really precious. I super love Resmaa Menakem who wrote My Grandmother’s Hands. We don’t get to spend a lot of time. He’s like brother from another mother, like all day, I feel that about him. He’s truly like my brother from another mother. So I love him. I love him from further than I want to be from him.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

And last but not least a book, your favorite book that you go to often.

angel Kyodo williams:

Oh, my goodness. I go to the Tao Te Ching, oddly enough. Yeah. The Tao Te Ching is sort of like—and the I Ching, both—they’re sort of like divination. I treat them like divination. I just open them and I sit with them, with the short phrases. And also what is called—in Buddhism, it’s sort of like a kind of Buddhist thing like that—it’s the mind training slogans. I love them because they’re these pith things that I can . . . It came from whenever they came from long ago. And I can drop in and say like, “What does that mean now?” I think they’re kind of like my version of a Bible.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Beautiful. angel, I’m so grateful for you. This has been most profound conversation that will stay with me for a very, very long time, if not part of who I become in the future. Thank you.

angel Kyodo williams:

Thank you for this. This has been truly a gift for me.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

That was Reverend angel Kyodo williams. To learn more about her new audio series, please visit go.revan.gl/belonging-offer. For transcripts and other resources from this episode, please go to www.findcenter.com/redefined. You can follow FindCenter on Instagram @find_center. You can follow me @zainabsalbi and you can email me questions about this podcast and your own transformative moments at redefined@findcenter.com. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll be back next week for another conversation about life’s turning points and lessons learned. My guest will be the woman, the former presidential candidate, and author Marianne Williamson. Redefined is produced by me, Zainab Salbi, along with Rob Corso, Casey Kahn, and Howie Kahn at FreeTime Media. Our music is by John Palmer. Special thanks to Nikki Ford, Neal Goldman, Jenn Tardif, Elijah Townsend, Amanda Graber, Caroline Pincus, and Sherra Johnston.