"I see you in me and I see myself in you . . . Inside interbeing, we remove all kinds of discrimination, of suffering."
Thich Nhat Hanh
Vietnamese Zen teacher
Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term "interbeing" to describe how all things "inter-are"; that is, how each being is an integral part of every other being. On this Martin Luther King Day, I am reminded of how true this is in regard to myself and African-American culture.
I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia in a family that had a somewhat stiff, formal, almost "British" feel to it. However, when I went to school, I was especially appreciative of the personal traits I absorbed from my Black friends, who made up perhaps a quarter of the student body. This was also the case in the Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops I was a part of.
When I spent time with my African-American friends, I felt like there was an honesty about emotions, an attractive informality in human relations, a groundedness that I also wanted to embody in myself, especially as it contrasted with the atmosphere of my own family. I also loved how Black males often seemed more free to express affection toward one another, which was so different from the way it was at the time in typical White culture.
In music, I was very influenced by what is now called "The Philadelphia Sound," a combination of Black Soul, disco and jazz that eventually morphed into Smooth Jazz, which is still one of my favorite kinds of music. I also could not get ENOUGH of Stevie Wonder's bright, ebullient, optimistic sound. When my daughter asked me to pick a song for the Father-Daughter dance at her wedding several years ago, I chose "Isn't She Lovely?"
I guess what I'm saying is this: through my African-American friends, I got in touch with the Black part of my own soul, without which I would not truly be myself. Black culture, combined with the hippie movement that later would emphasize a similar kind of honesty and informality, together worked to make me the person I am today. Now - if only I had enough HAIR to regrow the "fro" I used to wear in those early days!
Photo: Light and dark patterns in the snow at sunset together make the landscape more beautiful; Vedauwoo Recreation Area, Medicine Bow National Forest, WY, January 13, 2016
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.