Professor of Religion Jan Willis’s forthcoming memoir, Dreaming Me: An African American Woman’s Spiritual Journey, is creating a buzz even before it hits the bookstores this spring. In its Dec. 11 issue, Time magazine named her a “spiritual innovator” in a one–page feature and photo.
Time quoted Willis as saying, “I became able to deal with the deep wounds of race because of Buddhist practice.”
Willis had suffered many painful experiences, the article noted, by growing up in Alabama during the turbulent ’50s and ’60s when the Klan was active and a cross was burned on her family’s lawn. After graduating from Cornell University, she considered joining the Black Panthers, but instead set her life on a spiritual path by becoming the only woman among 60 monks at a Buddhist monastery in Tibet.
“Buddhism is a come–and–see model,” she told Time. “You don’t have to accept dogma. You have to spend time on the cushion.” In the monastery she learned the chants and devotional rituals of Buddhism and the essential meditative process.
She is currently developing meditations for Buddhist centers that focus on race. Speaking about the legacy of slavery, she said, “People tell you for centuries that you’re just a cattle, just a beast of burden. The consequences of that remain with us and need potent, powerful medicine.”
The winter 2000 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review carries an excerpted chapter of her new book.