How Maya Angelou Guided My Spiritual Practice

Maya Angelou


Some years ago I began to develop a spiritual practice. Like many, my entry came on the heels of hardship. Back then, I was a new mother transitioning into a life of being single. I was out of employment and full of feeling. I was searching for direction.

A dear playwright and friend, Akin Salawu, began sending me a lot of encouragement. After many months of exchanging messages, he asked for my home address. I’d forgotten I’d answered until a few weeks later, when a small package arrived at my apartment in Union City. Inside was a book called Discover the Power Within You: A Guide to the Unexplored Depths Within by Eric Butterworth. Unfamiliar with the title or its author, I flipped open the book and there she was all tucked away like a jewel:

Discover the Power Within You, a foreword by Maya Angelou.

My heart opened.


To explain what it feels like to have your heart open is to describe the warm feeling of joy, of belonging, of willing connection.

Here I was with Maya. We were two black single mothers -- two black women artists -- both attempting to find God and divinity within ourselves. In that moment, I was reminded of the inextricable link between what we might imagine and what we might create. It would be easy to imagine hardship, outsider-ness, mortality, and I could create that feeling in a moment’s notice. However, what I found was a lineage of so much more. It was a feeling beyond sight or touch; a new creation; it was a lineage of love.

This is the power within. This is the force that could bring about a poor Black girl from Stamps, Arkansas, and bloom her into being; bloom her into measures beyond her immediate environment. In her poet’s way, she began this alchemical process for me, this spiritual unfolding toward the Being I might become.

Using passages from the introduction to Discover the Power Within You, I’ll attempt to unfold a bit further the spiritual insights Maya left tucked away in unexpected places. Here lies practical advice for incorporating a more spirit-filled life.

Our power is God

Angelou writes, “The power of God, the essential spirit, is within each of us. We can ignore that, or we can draw upon it and decide to grow. We can heal ourselves.”

How do we heal ourselves?

We work with change

“We have the power” she says, “to call it up [change] and bring it about sooner by working at it..we could either mold it to our needs and the needs of others, or be run over by it.”

Momentum is created by change

“Spirituality is not a condition, it’s a path. One is static, the other is active”

We activate

“I find that prayer and meditation are elemental. Guidance comes from those practices. Sometimes in meditation one really tries to think of nothing. I do, anyway. I try to make myself a quiet vessel, a quiet pool where my ideas can rise."

We initiate

“Prayer, on the other hand, does focus and keeps the focus in focus. I think that I use both to get myself out of the way. Sometimes our daily problems can so impede our progress to quietude that one needs to step aside.”

We step aside

“I think when we step aside, when we get apart from everyone else and any other ideas and meditate and pray, I think that we can be led to the knowledge of how to meet our next challenge, whatever it is— whether it’s physical, psychological, practice, social. I believe that.”

We believe in asking for everything

“I ask for everything,
everything I need,
and I have much more than I need

When you get, give.
When you learn, teach.

If you plant one tomato seed and it comes up,
it will bring thousands of what you planted.”

We plant so that we might live

“People say I am remembered by various things, but I hope one of them would be the encouragement to live the life you want to live. Live your life so that you will not leave too many things undone.

Live the life you sign about.
Live the life.

That’s it.”

We live
the life
we sing


A-lan Holt is a poet and playwright based in the Bay Area. She is the author of Moonwork, a collection of poems, and the Associate Director at the Stanford Institute for Diversity in the Arts. Connect with Holt on Instagram here, see her personal site here, and read a KQED Arts 'Women to Watch' profile of her here.

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