Liberation from Within

[…]“When you look at a human being to separate their mind/body/spirit… There’s no separation. Then we’re taught to separate the parts of our being and then move through the world in a sane way. Well, that’s insane….When I was in prison, especially in solitary confinement, I meditated every day. That was how I remained sane….The only way I could remain sane is to focus my attention on something beyond my physical circumstances that helped me to include my physical circumstances. It wasn’t like I wanted to escape from it. I could not. I was there. I was in solitary confinement…” ~ Ericka Huggins (

POWERFUL! Tavis Smiley and Cornel West interview Activist/Writer/Teacher Ericka Huggins’ about her radically compassionate Social Justice Work and Spiritual Practice. Please find the time to listen to this 24-minute radio interview —->

While I definitely will not be teaching vipassana meditation (you have to take a 10-day course to learn the technique), I’m looking forward to returning to Swarthmore College this afternoon to talk about my being a practitioner of vipassana for 10-years; and the impact it has had on me and hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world for centuries…


I’m elated to be the interview partner for this week’s Where Is Your Line “BaddAss Activist Friday Series.” In my very extensive interview I talk about Toni Cade Bambara, Vipassana Meditation, People of Color practicing the teachings of Buddha, Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth, Liberation from Within (the film); NO! The Rape Documentary, Rape, Incest, Consent, Celibacy, Palestine, Troy Anthony Davis, SlutWalk, and Wangari Maathai.

Following is an extended excerpt, and then you’ll have to go the Where Is Your Line? site to finish reading this deeply personal and very in-depth dialogue.

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire cultural change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

My interview partner this week is Aishah Shahidah Simmons, documentary filmmaker, writer, lecturer and activist. She’s the producer, writer and director of NO! The Rape Documentary, and she screens her work all around the world. You can follow her and her work at @AfroLez and @InnerLiberation.

Here’s what we talked about:

You’re a filmmaker, writer, lecturer and activist. That’s a lot of hats to wear. Why don’t you start by telling us what your day-to-day works looks like right now?

Yes, it is a lot of hats to wear, which is why I also use cultural worker. That term was taught to me in 1990 by Toni Cade Bambara, who was a Black feminist cultural worker extraordinaire, my teacher, and my Big Sista-friend. Every day is literally a new and different day. However, there are some things that rarely change. I’m a practitioner of vipassana meditation. Part of my practice is to meditatively sit twice a day, every day for an hour at each sitting. I used to be and, at times, I still am very resistant to sitting because I viewed it as a time obstacle to my doing my cultural work. Life experiences, however, consistently show me that sitting is a non-negotiable resource that enables me to do my cultural work. After sitting, I do some form of exercise (walking or swimming are my preferences) and then I’m usually able to begin the external work. I check my email, facebook, and twitter accounts. I also check various blogs and other sites. If I allow it, the aforementioned can very literally consume my entire day and night because it’s non-stop action on the cyber highway.

When I’m not on the road presenting and talking about the issues raised in my cultural work, I juggle between several projects every day: I’m working on an essay forQueering Sexual Violence, a forthcoming anthology edited by Jennifer Patterson. As non-heterosexual people, our sexuality is frequently problematized (oh, that’s why you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender?) both outside and inside of the mainstream anti-sexual violence movement. If we allow it, this type of homophobic, transphobic, and heterosexist thinking and commentary can put us on the defensive or even make us feel ashamed about our sexualities and/or gender identities. As I frequently say, if sexual violence made folks queer, most of the world would be queer. I believeQueering Sexual Violence will be a space where Queer activists/cultural workers/scholars will radically delve into anti-sexual violence prevention, organizing and recovery work without having to defend our right to be who we are. I’m grateful for Jennifer’s courage and vision.

I’m also working on the Foreword for Lisa Factora-Brochures’ forthcoming anthologyDear Sister: An Anthology of Letters and Essays for Survivors of Sexual Violence, Written by Other Survivors and Allies This sacred collection of letters and essays is a powerful offering of love and healing from survivors and allies. This anthology is intentionally meant for post-trauma. Lisa’s powerful vision is a love offering in the form of a healing road map of letters from survivors and allies who already took the journey. I’m really humbled to be a part of this “love-centered” healing anthology.

I’m a member of the Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth Indiegogo fundraising team. Produced and directed by Pratibha Parmar, the prolific and award-winning filmmaker.Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth will be a feature documentary film about the life and times of Alice Walker, a foremost American writer who made history as the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1983 for her ground breaking novel The Color Purple. Pratibha’s films, most especially A Place of Rage, documentary film on African-American women and the civil rights movement featuring Angela Davis and June Jordan have both influenced and inspired me as documentary filmmaker. And, I definitely see my cultural work, especially NO!, as a continuation of the work that Alice Walker and many other Black women cultural workers created in the 70s and 80s. Now, it’s all about the fundraising so that Beauty In Truth will see the light of day in 2012, the 30th anniversary of the release of The Color Purple.

After being on hiatus for over one year, I resumed post-production on Liberation from Within, my forthcoming documentary about the first 10-day vipassana meditation course, held in India, for people of African heritage worldwide. Liberation from Withinwill explore both how this 2500 year old universal, non-sectarian technique taught by Buddha is being used as a tool for social change; and why African descended people from Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Zambia, England, United States journeyed to India to learn and practice it together, with people from India, Mongolia, Russia, France, Argentina, and Singapore for 10-days. I’ve experienced vipassana meditation to be one (not the only) way to lead to my own personal liberationLiberation from Within, will highlight the wide range of ethnically and racially diverse voices who participated in this her/historic gathering. Usually, most especially in the West and if one is not Asian, practicing the teachings of Buddha is viewed as a White experience. Too often, unless rooted in Asian communities, many, definitely not all, of the Western sanghas are overwhelmingly White. Definitely over time and as a result of more and more people of Color are getting established in the practices of the teachings of Buddha, there has been a powerful shift in terms of the diversity within the sanghas, but for many people of Color, it’s still a struggle. Once funds are secured for the post production phase,Liberation from Within will document how vipassana meditation is both libratory and transformative for all people, without exception. I’m most interested in the healing and wellness of not only the community from which I come in this lifetime, but for all communities worldwide. It’s my plan to complete this project in 2012.

You wrote and directed the documentary NO! The Rape Documentary, which premiered in 2006. Can you tell us something about what prompted you to make this documentary?

Well, hindsight is always 20/20. When the idea for NO! was conceived in the very early 90s, it was in response to the egregious backlash against Desiree Washington, the young Black woman who accused Mike Tyson of raping her in 1991. I was so horrified by the vitriolic response to Ms. Washington’s charges by many Black men and women. There was this notion that she was a traitor to the Black race because she came forward and accused a high profile Black man of raping her. Prior to her charges, Tawana Brawley accused four White men of raping and sodomizing her; and she was viewed as a heroine by many Black men and women for coming forward. The contrast between the two is so very stark. Desiree Washington was castigated, maligned and thrown to the metaphorical wolves by the community from which she comes, while Tawana Brawley was championed and celebrated…


Liberation from Within - The Documentary Film (in post production) by Aishah Shahidah Simmons

For eight months in 2009, I was a member of a multi-racial and transnational organizing committee, from conception through completion, of the first 10-day vipassana meditation course, held in India, for people of African Heritage worldwide. People of African descent along with Asians, Arabs, and people of European descent from Ghana, Egypt, Zambia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, England, US, Brazil, France, India, Singapore, Mongolia, Russia, Argentina, Seychelles came together at Dhamma Pattana (Gorai, Mumbai, Maharastra) to either learn or go deeper with their practice of this ancient, non-sectarian, universal, self purification technique taught by Buddha over 2500 years ago. 

I, along with Kuntal Boglial, who’s a director and cinematographer, documented this powerful, her/historical, global gathering. Upon my return home to the US, in 2010, I began the post-production process. However, there was a serious need to put the project on hold. After being on hiatus for over one year, I’m now resuming post-production. 

For more information about my spiritual journey, which led me to vipassana meditation, please click here.

STAY TUNED…. for more info about the forthcoming documentary…

How much do Vipassana Meditation courses cost?

As always in this tradition of vipassana meditation, as taught by S. N. Goenka, during the courses, all meals and accommodation are provided for everyone without charge. All courses are run solely on donations given by students who’ve completed at least one 10-day course. No one, including the teachers and the workers, receives any form of financial payment for their service. 

The belief is “…the teachings are invaluable.  How can one put a price tag on the teaching of the Ultimate Truth? If a price tag is attached to the teaching, then there is no purity…S.N. Goenka

What’s powerful about this for me is that no one can pay for themselves, which works on diminishing the ego and expectations of “I paid for this, so I should receive…” In essence, when a student who has completed at least one 10-day course and has the volition to give a donation, they give an amount that they are able to give for the benefit of others. All donations are paying forward and they only go towards the running of the courses, which does not include salaries for the Dhamma teachers or servers (workers). Everyone gives for the benefit of others, which is also for the benefit of themselves.

Got 10 days? Give Vipassana Meditation a try. This is a non-sectarian, universal, self-purification technique of pure mind and matter. It’s a scientific way of observing the interaction of mind and matter within oneself. 

One does not have to give up their faith or convert from one religion to another religion to take a 10-day course or practice.

Hundreds of thousands of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Jains, Monks, Priests, Nuns, Priestesses, Ministers, and Imams throughout the world have taken at least one 10-day course and so many have taken numerous courses while remaining in their faiths.

An Introduction to ‘Liberation from Within’ by Aishah Shahidah Simmons

Twitter: @InnerLiberation

I was raised a Sufi Muslim. My mother, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, is a founding member of the Shaikh Muhammad Raheem Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship. I grew up practicing Dhikr and performing salats. I fasted annually during the holy month of Ramadan. As a teenager, I participated in the building of the Mosque of Shaikh M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. My most recent ancestral maternal and paternal roots, however, are grounded in the Baptist and African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) Churches. Throughout my rearing, I’ve spent many a powerful Sunday in church with grandmothers, great aunts, and cousins. Additionally, I attended Quaker schools and camps during part of my formative years, and both of my divorced parents worked for the American Friends Service Committee throughout my entire life up until my early 30s. This meant I attended (silent) Meeting for Worship on a regular basis.

Throughout my journey called life, I have witnessed and experienced the universality of the Ultimate Truth. As a result, I embrace all spiritual and religious traditions that teach and practice the Ultimate Truth.

I’m a student of and practitioner of the teachings of Buddha through Vipassana Meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin. In December 2002, I took my first 10-day Vipassana Meditation course. It was a transformational experience. I experienced this universal, non-sectarian technique/practice to be one (not the only) way to lead to ones own personal liberation.

Since my first course, I’ve been sitting and serving courses; and establishing a practice of sitting everyday, twice a day, for an hour at each sitting. This was not, and at times, it is still not an easy feat for me at all. However through lived experiences over the 9-years since my first 10-day course, I’m learning that my daily practice of sitting must be non-negotiable. As one cleanses one body daily, I believe that one must work diligently and consistently to purify the mind. A daily 2-hour practice sometimes barely cleans the surface, let alone the depths.

The essence of the teachings of Buddha that each one of us is responsible for our own salvation and liberation, in this lifetime, resonates with me most deeply. Buddha focused on the here and now. In this very moment-to-moment to moment each one of us can experience true liberation from within. Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is a non-sectarian, universal technique of self-purification, which has been continuously taught in its pristine purity for over 2500 years.  Through this practice I am learning that with equanimity, I can objectively and consistently observe my thoughts, words, and actions as opposed to consistently reacting to my and others thoughts, words, and actions. This, to me, is true freedom. Regardless of what happens on the outside, I’m in control of what happens on the inside.  When I write, I’m in control of what happens on the inside, I mean I’m in (or, more appropriately I’m *very slowly* learning how to be in) control of my mind without reacting with craving or aversion. Mind matters most

For example, as a person who embodies multiple identities, (including, Black-Woman- Lesbian who is both an Incest Survivor and Rape Survivor) which are marginalized and oppressed in the US and globally, I am empowered knowing that, regardless of what’s going on, on the outside, living with true inner peace, is always possible. My understanding of the teachings of Buddha is that I cannot necessarily control or even end (in my lifetime) racism, sexism, homophobia/heterosexism, and/or gender-based violence (to name some of the global atrocities) however, every single moment (to moment to moment) I have an opportunity to not give my innate power away as a result of these vicious and atrocious forms of oppression. This should never ever be misunderstood or misconstrued as excusing or condoning oppression at all… Absolutely. Positively. Not. 

I will continue to dedicate my life towards ending all forms of oppression. However, each moment, I will strive to work with equanimity and mettā (infinite pure *non-attached* loving kindness and compassion) so that I don’t destroy myself in the process and become exactly what I’m working towards ending.