Atlanta’s Danny Fluker, Jr. is a writer, yoga teacher, IT professional, and wellness advocate. He’s also the founder of Black Boys OM and — as of March 15th — Esalen’s current Artist In Residence. We chatted with Danny halfway through his stay on campus.
What drove you to create the Black Boys OM movement? What has the journey been like so far?
I was inspired when I co-led a meditation workshop for men. All of the men who showed up for that particular class were Black and it dawned on me during the class that I'd never been in a room with Black men meditating before. That experience planted a seed of what would later become Black Boys OM. So far the journey has been a continuous process of imagining, reimagining and letting go. Black Boys OM is a grassroots movement turned non-profit, and the non-profit aspect has been trial and error and still continues to be. There are lessons of getting out of my own way and lessons on what it means to be a servant leader.
What led you to first take up yoga? How has the practice enhanced your life?
I started Yoga because of a suggestion I received from an herbalist consultation. I had severe anxiety and my breathing was shallow and constricted. Yoga helped me move and breathe better — it literally opened me up. My practice later on led me down the path of becoming an instructor, and that has led to finding my "teacher voice" and has allowed me more confidence and opened the door for other things in my life, like Black Boys OM.
What were your first impressions when you first arrived at Esalen from Atlanta?
I actually arrived at Esalen from Costa Rica although Atlanta is home. I decided I would spend a good part of 2021 traveling. Esalen literally feels like a dream. It reminds me of images I saw growing up in religious communities of Heaven on Earth or in Jewish spaces "Olam Haba" the World to Come... my spiritual views have changed but I still think of that imagery. I'm still in awe at how the sea disappears into the sky, of the cliffs, gardens and just taking meditative intentional slow walks with fresh air.
What has a typical day at Esalen been like so far?
I wake up, shower, dress, and get breakfast and I usually read one of a few of books on hand (Bhagavad Gita, and Be As You Are by Shri Ramana Maharishi) while eating breakfast. I walk back to my room and meditate (either in my room, or i'll stop by the meditation hut), and if there's enough signal in my room I'll answer emails and do small administrative non-profit work. I go for a walk through the farm, do yoga and will soak in the baths about 2- 3 times a week. I always spend extra time at lunch to stay in the Sun. Same with dinner.
What does wellness mean to you? What brings you joy?
Wellness to me means quietness, ease, and peace in mind and body. All of these things bring me joy — along with good food, good company and dancing.
What practices have sustained you through this pandemic? What were your biggest struggles?
Meditation has been huge for me. Oftentimes it's just as simple as sitting comfortably and observing my breath between 20-40 minutes each day. Or I may include a mantra or energetic feeling during my time.
You’re also a writer. What role does writing play in your journey?
Journaling and creative writing are very cathartic for me. I'm grateful to have the space to do that more here at Esalen.
How are you feeling as we emerge from this global pandemic after a year filled with so much tragedy and pain?
I feel both hopeful and vigilant. There is so much work to be done — individually and collectively.
“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.”
“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”
“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“
“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”
“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“
“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”
“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.
What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?