People who make imagination real.
Try the unrelenting work of one American lady.
Through the ages, in every corner of the world, people have paused to put tools aside, stand with others, celebrate the cycles of the earth and skies, contend with the mystery, and humbly honor the Creator with elegantly structured expressions of what we could not otherwise ever hope to express.
Then, not long ago, we moved by the billions, from ancient rhythms in farming, survival, and awareness, to modern life, where so many of these sacred rites have faded into faint distorted memories of elders’ memories, and out of the weave of everyday life.
But here among us in this tool-busy world is someone who did not forget.
For over 30 years, Amshatar Ololodi Monroe has been bringing people of highly diverse cultures very much together—in retreats, conferences, rituals, seminars, ceremony, workshops, coachings, great conversation, and other events—and empowering them to excavate, understand, restore, preserve, participate in, and celebrate universal traditions of our elders and ancestors.
Her work is about the earth-based spirituality found in indigenous cultures. It reveals, among many other things, that the ancient ways still run deeply through all modern spiritual paths, and that universal points of connection include (to name a few) invocation, prayer, song, honoring of elders, drumming and rhythmic sound, music, circle-gathering, and recognition of One God in a myriad of forms. And it speaks to the awakened and awakening among us, stewards of our blessed planet, from prominent leaders and wealthy business owners to quiet laborers and silenced prisoners, as we hammer out the patterns of human life in every possible way.
Amshatar (pronounced “am-sha-TAIR”) brings to our communities not just immense knowledge, a lifetime of motivating experience, and a sort of grandmotherly love, affection, and understanding, but also a lightness of spirit that is so comforting, participants say they find themselves able to imagine living possibilities with fresh insights and to dialogue with other people from new perspectives. Beginnings are often created that can be profoundly life-altering.
It was, in fact, during a ceremony based on ancient African tradition that Amshatar herself experienced one of her own first awakenings. Afterward, conscious of it for the first time, she accepted the spiritual charge that’s been given to her—of bringing together diverse people, on diverse paths, to embrace, in ancient traditional ways, our seeming differences and honor, connect, and celebrate “the One-ness of Common-Unity.”
Among other love-leading deeds, Amshatar embraces every path to and sincere interpretation of what might be called divine essence or “the Word.” She has practiced the spiritual practices of the modern and pre-European Americas, Africa, Europe, and the Middle-East; discipled under such Sanskrit-sourced disciplines as transcendental meditation, yoga, and breath mastery; cultivated and inspired traditional African and Native American spiritual culture and spirituality; and internalized the soul-full teachings of both traditional and non-denominational Christian ministries—starting with the sounds, wisdom, and spirit of the Baptist church she and her brothers grew up in in Washington, D.C.
Her musician parents grew up in that church too, became deacons of its music program, and filled the loving, worshipful Monroe home with an endless stream of musical guests. And that’s when the daughter of this large loving family started “wondering what I could actually do so the Circle might be Unbroken.” Tapping her foot, clapping her hands, and singing along in her Sunday dresses, this little girl was already consciously thinking about how to build bridges across canyons that sometimes appear to divide people. Classmates remember her as “the ‘mender’” who would bring everyone together on one “team”—at the rec center or playground, in clubs and cliques in high school, and especially with the kids who might have been least likely to get along.
Which was a perfect foundation for later earning a B.A. in Business Management and an M.A. in Arts Management from The American University, training and experience she applied for years as a cultural and events specialist in Washington, D.C. and Georgia. For over 20 years after that, she was producer/manager of arts and special events, and providing professional services in non-profit and academic executive management positions.
The mid 1990’s is when the scope of her work expanded. She started researching the primary and indigenous origins of humanity’s spiritual history. That led, inevitably perhaps, to a deep relationship with the eight-thousand-year-old, now-international Yoruba religion. In West Africa, the United States, and elsewhere, Amshatar learned much about the origin and substance of the many variations of Yoruba around the world, became one of its 100-million members, and was initiated as a Yoruba priest. She says, “I’m deeply grateful for these shoulders I’m so blessed to stand on.”
In 1997, Amshatar founded a company called SACRED SPACE: Where Indigenous Paths Meet, to educate and bring people together at the four cardinal times of the year—the solstices and equinoxes—and at other cyclical points. The events and activities of SACRED SPACE were the primary result of her efforts at that time to fulfill her spiritual charge.
“I remember my mother often saying: ‘Small minds talk about people. Mediocre minds talk about things. Great minds talk about ideas.’
I would add: Enlightened minds envision, strategize, and co-create evolutionary shifts in consciousness!”
In 1998, she was awarded a fellowship from the Fetzer Institute, a research organization in Michigan that “advances love and forgiveness as powerful forces that can transform the human condition.” This opportunity (she has called it “an unquestionable gift from God”) allowed her to further her inner work of spirit and her outer work of service, and required that she undertake what sages of all times know is the most challenging human undertaking of all: authentic introspection. With an open and humble heart, she stepped into this very demanding inquiry. The unexpected magic she encountered and the greater expansion of her already masterfully diverse lessons and teachers became a pivotal point in her growth and development. It transformed her view of the magnitude, significance, and interrelatedness of the work she is called to do—for others, and for the endless journey of self-inquiry and understanding that true leaders never stop pursuing.
In the 1970s, she founded a community-based non-profit organization in Atlanta, Georgia, called L.O.V.E., Inc. (Light, Oneness, Vitality, and Energy) through which she led a number of retreats and community gatherings that fostered health, healing, and spiritual cultivation. One of the members of her Board of Directors, Rev. Randolph Wilkinson (now an honored ancestor), told her, “Someday, this work you’re doing will especially be for women!”
No one knew at that technologically-dawning time how that might come to be, but in 2008, she launched Women of Spirit Online. This refreshingly unique “online sanctuary” is a foundation by which its founder extends and will be further extending her vision of Common-Unity by means of sound healing, video, inspirational products, a forum, educational articles, a network for youth, and sacred invocation. It includes exceptionally beautiful original music and downloadable audio recordings that are superb.
And she is blessed to have created a bridge to the future as a proud woman, mother, and grandmother of a beautiful daughter and “four precious angel-baby girls.” This bridge just might be the one that gives her the most pride and gratitude of all.
Today, Amshatar is teacher, speaker, scholar, author, panel-member, priest, producer, and humble off-stage community leader. But what happens at the personally-designed events she’s been known to call “gatherings” can’t always be delivered in the form of lesson, lecture, book, presentation, sermon, performance, or speech. They have to be experienced, just as they’ve been experienced by indigenous communities all over the world for thousands of years. Miraculously, and in-person.
As was, perhaps, the way you came upon this invitation to step into the now steadily growing Circle.
From someone who did not forget.
by Rudyard Kipling 1865–1936
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and all that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son! [have a lot of fun!]
Rudyard Kipling was born on December 30, 1865, to British parents in Mumbai, India, and spent the first six years of his life there. In 1871, he was taken with his three-year-old sister to live as a boarder in a foster home in England. His parents then returned to India. Rudyard was moved to a boarding school when he was about 13. Biographies say he was severely near-sighted, sickly, and frail; bullied and abused in both places; and that he longed to return to India, which he did when he started making a living as a journalist at age 17. He wrote prolifically for almost the rest of his life, and died in 1936. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Do you think he would ever have written “If,” “Captain’s Courageous,” “The Just-So Stories,” “The Jungle Book,” and so many of his other great works if his childhood had not been so hard?
You step into another world at Small Wonders, the amazing educational toy store on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Rolling Hills, California. The place is a work of art that’s a world of toys, as unique and spirit-lifting as its owner and creator, Bernice Baird-Browning, who researches and discovers fun treasures from merchants all over the world.
Every inch of every shelf of her store is brimming with uniqueness and quality. Up near the ceiling, a colorful miniature train chugs along on a wooden railroad that somehow winds around or tunnels through every item in the store’s densely-stocked alcoves. Puppets and marionettes from faraway places smile at you as you pass by. You see boxes full of wooden trains and miniature construction sets from Scandinavia. And from Germany, kits for building colorful fire engines and taxis, or grand cathedrals and skyscrapers. Musical instruments and finely carved pull toys come from Poland, Italy, and Czechoslovakia. Delicate French dolls beg to be pampered and primped, but they’re tomboyish enough to be bathed in a washing machine!
Bernie married a doctor before the age of 20, and raised two brilliant kids who’ve launched successful careers of their own. So she’s also a grandmother-made-in-heaven! (Can you imagine dashing over the meadow and through the woods to such an enchanting place?)
And just as in a fairy-tale, Bernie met—or rather re-met—her current husband Ralph Browning at a high-school reunion in the late 1990s, and they’re living, traveling, and prospering happily ever after!
The source of Bernie’s passion for joy and fun and letting kids learn as they play might come from having started school in first grade. She longed for kindergarten ever since, so maybe skipping it was the twist of fate that led to the blessing Small Wonders is to the world. There, where everything has been so carefully searched, selected, and displayed by a mother, grandmother, businesswoman, and grownup kindergartener, you’ll find yourself warmly embraced in quality, charm, and just plain fun.
Fun, in fact, sums up Bernie Baird-Browning in a word.