Sitting Together in the Darkness

BayoFrom Bayo Akomolafe of The Emergence Network:

This time, which some call the Anthropocene, disturbs the idea that we can summarily understand everything that is going on, or that such a venture is even desirable. We can study patterns and notice dynamics, but we can also exercise care and be humble about the reach of language and rhetoric – knowing that (as the Yoruba say) “wisdom is like a baobab tree; one cannot fully embrace it.”

My father would have put that point across quite differently. When he drank his preferred small bottle of Guinness Extra Stout, he would often pour some on the ground – mimicking a libation. I would ask why he had done that and he would say, “we have to leave some for the gods.” He was a Christian, and probably didn’t think too much of gods and libations, but the intelligence of leaving out a piece to bless the one that is consumed always appealed to me going forward.

I found another way to express that idea as Professor Jonathan Miller-Lane drove me into Middlebury College yesterday (Ej and I are being invited as Professors of Practice beginning Fall 2021. I am now here to do some teaching and meet with students. I write you from a desk in the eternal winter of this quaint little Vermontian town and beautiful college, which will soon be our home). He had been listening to another podcast interview that featured fellow Nigerian/Yoruba author Teju Cole. Teju began to speak by using an Inuit word: qarrtsiluni. It means “sitting together in the darkness, waiting for something to happen – to break or burst forth.” It comes from Iñupiaq traditions of honoring a whale with a new song. The men retreat to a special house, in darkness and in stillness. They sit there in qarrtsiluni and speak of beautiful things until a new song bubbles to the surface.

That idea of waiting for something to happen is so offensive to our modern tastes for immediacy and fruitful action. One doesn’t wait if you have to see something happen. One moves. But this idea of urgency often reproduces the same troubles we want to get away from. Moreover the ontology of the realized, resolved, coherent, and watertight individual who acts upon the external world in a bid to save it is a troubled portrait of agency, given our emerging entanglements with the world around us.

This is why I think that “leaving room for the gods”, waiting together for something to happen, and nurturing the kinds of honorific silences that discipline our attempts to model the world within the confines of our eloquence, are often very potent forms of action.

This year, I am pleased to be part of two online courses. “Vulture: Courting the Other/wise in a Time of Breakdown” and “Making Sanctuary”. With the latter, we are exploring what sanctuary means. We are already underway in that process. There is still time, however, to join “Vulture”, which is offered by the organization I co-founded and am privileged to lead as Chief Curator: The Emergence Network. “Vulture” is that beautiful, darkly lit, simmering space of qarrtsiluni where hopelessness, despair, longing, dying, yearning, tears, dis-ease, cynicism, worry and all the inhospitable features of our shared experiences are seen as sacred ground, not enemies.

I hope you’ll join us.

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