Emory Report
November 27, 2006
Volume 59, Number 12



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November 27 , 2006
Author Alice Walker reflects on global enlightenment and the power within

BY kim urquhart

A new book by Alice Walker is always a major literary and cultural event, said Professor Rudolph Byrd in welcoming the poet, essayist and novelist back to Emory and her native Georgia.

Indeed, the crowd gathered on Nov. 14 to hear Walker read from her latest book, “We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness,” spilled out of the Winship Ballroom and filled overflow rooms. Afterward, the line of admirers seeking Walker’s signature stretched out the door, and her books quickly sold out.

Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Color Purple,” is an important and prolific writer, “one of the few living writers who has a clear vision, grounded in enduring principles, expressed with great love, in an ever-expanding corpus that is part of the nation’s permanent body of literature,” Byrd said.

Walker’s latest book is a collection of essays reflecting wisdom, compassion and social activism. Several stem from live lectures, including “Orchids,” the selection she read at Emory.

“Orchids” is adapted from a talk she gave to the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers. Walker is herself a student of yoga, and believes in yoga and meditation “as tools to help us evolve and to help us stay strong.” The mental and physical must be kept in very good shape, she said, for the spiritual to thrive.

Just as yoga teaches the importance of being present, Walker asked her audience to be in the moment. “If we can be where we are, we can begin to ground the Earth itself,” she said, calling our perceived separation from the earth “our greatest illusion.”

This realization is part of the vision behind “We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For,” Walker explained. “It’s very simple,” she said. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for because there is nobody else” to lead the way out of cultural darkness — not our parents, our grandparents, or even the next generation.

“This is a time when consciousness really requires that we connect, that we don’t just say ‘oh, that’s them over there,’ because the other part of consciousness now is to understand there are no other people anywhere. They are all here on the planet, we are us, and that’s it.”

There is no such thing as a “foreign” country, she said. “You haven’t been there maybe, but it is just like this one.” When one country bombs another, she said, all of us are being bombed. “You may look up and say ‘well, I have all my limbs,’ but I must tell you that you do not have the limbs of your heart.”

Meditation was created to help us deal with suffering, she said. She spoke of injustices to women around the world, and said that educated, strong women are “what the universe has been waiting for to truly get to know itself and to evolve.”

Walker’s reading took the audience on a journey from her yoga mat as she explored what it means to black. Along the way, she wove tales about orchids and ancestors, hairdos and history. She also shed light on darker issues of pain and suffering around the world.

“Until sadists’ rule of the world ends, or at least until it is revealed, acknowledged and controlled within human beings, we will never know peace. That is why yoga and meditation are essential,” Walker said.

“We are living in the midst of a global enlightenment,” she said. For the first time in the history of the planet, we can connect to people and places that our ancestors couldn’t dream of.

“Knowing what happened to our ancestors’ lives is the only way we can begin deconstruction of the dysfunction in our own,” she said.

Walker concluded her reading where it began, with orchids. What does it mean to be black? “To be black means to care — about everything,” she said. “Our deep inevitable, irrevocable caring about people and the world is our most magnificent flower.”