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This morning I ran across an old essay I wrote. It feels so apropos to share it. I hope you’ll forgive me for not waiting ’til Throwback Thursday.
I must be joking to soften how urgent and pertinent this feels for me in this moment. To live in spiritual openness, plurality, and fluidity, to be available to awareness of and wisdom in varied paths is a deep part of authentic spiritual growth. I want always to find new language for the great inner experiences, and to know that I may always find new ways to explore and express the same. I want always to know that how others find their way is a reason not for disdain but for celebration.
As I move in the flow of my own journey, I am discovering the ways kirtan, as much as I love it, has served to obscure some of the deepest work I need to do – the experiencing, uncovering, and writing down the blood-and-guts stories of pain, desire, memory, ecstasy, and daily life in all its messy glory. Now I am drawn to turn much of my attention to that work. Though my current focus is different, the essence of the essay below captures so much of what I feel and know in my bones tonight. I am glad to share this snapshot of what I was thinking about in October 2007, not long after the release of Live Devotion.
Buddha, Baal, and Mary— Finding your Footing Among Many Spiritual Paths
The other evening, a friend and I had a glorious opportunity to sit in a park in Bristol, PA with a fresh fruit picnic as we enjoyed the transition from summer to autumn, from evening sun to dusky night. If you don’t identify as Pagan, this is one of those nights that could beckon you toward that particular spiritual way—In the warm air, highlighted by an idyllic full moon, we savored the opportunity to sit close to the earth and to touch the grass that made its best effort to return strong from its most recent mowing, all in the company of a gorgeous, mighty oak. How easy it is to discover the Divine through nature on a night like this, and to experience the sacred energy of Goddess, God, Mother Earth, Father Sky—any of those names—ancient or new—that one may use to describe The Infinite.
I am a longtime practitioner of meditation, bhakti yoga, and eclectic Paganism. Indo-Pagan, Krishna witch—I enjoy wading through the words I might use to describe the set of practices that call to me. During our twilight picnic, my friend told me about her growing connection to the Druid path, and how she loves celebrating with her group, called a grove. She enjoys the righteous mix of reverence and mirth among its members, and that with each gathering they create anew while harkening to the ancients. We talked about how, like many modern Pagans, we both create rituals and adorn our own altars according to our personal connections to Spirit.
This friend of mine had a happy thing to report on that front – Not long ago, she added an image to her altar. Mary. Yes, Holy Mary, Mother of God. She had discovered a sweet, inner connection to Mary, opened to her guidance as a Protector, and for many nights has lit candles to honor her. It was a bit daunting at first, this foray into the icons of dominant religion by this devoutly alternative woman, but she has grown comfortable over time in talking about it with her grovemates. They welcomed her discovery of this connection, and the inner strength it brought to her and her practice. At first glance, her experience seems opposite to the religious dilemma of many, but her initial hesitation was really a lot like what so many of us go through when expanding out from the traditional religions of our families.
Most of us in the U.S. who now identify as Pagans grew up with a different tradition. For those from a Judeo-Christian background, it can be a daunting experience to step outside those boundaries and into a different way of seeing. For those of us who also grew up queer, quite possibly having been inside varying degrees of religious philosophy that called our sexual expression sin and instilled the fear of God in relation to all things Pagan is a serious 1-2 punch. You might well be caught in a dogma that told you there is only one true way. If you are feeling called to explore outside the lines, how can you move through your learned fears and get from the thought to the action?
The first time I bought a pentagram—a five pointed star, encircled, symbolizing the four sacred elements and Spirit—I have to admit, I was quite nervous. I felt in my heart that the small sterling pendant around my neck represented deep, Universal love and healing magic. But that little, irrational voice persisted… “No matter what I am feeling, is this actually the mark of the devil?” Putting time in working on the paths that call me allowed the fear to wane. It was different, yet nearly as odd when my devotion to Divine Consciousness found me honoring Jesus once again, having rediscovered that expression of light and wisdom in and through the beings of love I had come to honor.
Eventually, I got better at discerning what is true for me and what is imposed from another’s insistence—from any side of the religious equation. After all, what is the core of each religion, if not love? What is a religion but a path to the center of love along with a set of tools for help and celebration along the way? Why not find skillful, honest, and integrated ways to utilize all those tools that help us love the clearest and live the best?
Infinite numbers of seekers have realized the fabric of love, compassion, and enlightenment pervading all that is as the silence of The Buddha and as the pure love of the Christ. It has been found in an exalted Father-God and in Gaia, the living Spirit of the Earth Herself. You may find it in the named or the unnamed, a plurality of practices or a single tradition, Higher Self, or no-self.
There is no one answer or simple means to break through to a place of comfortable exploration. But as you begin to explore, consider giving yourself to the possibility that you may discover this: If you’ve been told of an “only way,” that one way may turn out to be whatever is suited uniquely to the longings of your own spiritual heart. Know that many, many seekers have walked the way of doubt, spiritual crisis, and emergence. In that, you are already a part of a beautiful tradition.
I have been remiss in keeping you up to date on the Audacious Eleven podcast – I’ve had to catch up on listening in myself! We’ve been publishing our wide-ranging conversations weekly on Fridays, and we’ve got some good ones coming up. Here are a few that have come out in recent weeks:
Show #39: Are We Crazy to Think We Can Change the World? Listen in and share your wisdom & inspiration with us.
Show #38: God(dess) Talk Hear us talk about our beliefs, rituals, The Universe, and Everything. It’s the most revealing conversation that we’ve had so far.
Show #37: Hey Strip Teasing Banana Man! STFU! This is a really f%!!&^ awesome episode, so you definitely better f*##! check it out.
Show #36: Driving Down the Shore Naked in Invisible Cars When you figure out what this conversation is about, please tell us!
I am planning my eclectic summer – feeling like it’s going to be a good one. Bhakti Dance! is on Saturday –It is one of the events I look most forward to these days. Dancing, in general, continues to save my life. My new partner is completely immersed in salsa and African dance – Maybe this New Wave chick will be learning some new moves.
Earlier this season, I was getting traveler’s blues in such an intense way. I didn’t have any major plans for a tour but I was seriously missing being on the road and started dreaming of taking a summer or fall cross-country drive. I was especially missing my friend Carol in Kansas City, and lo & behold, she wrote to see if I am coming out that way this year. No official plans yet, but with another call in for a potential show in Corvallis, OR (I won’t jinx it by saying more), I can start to envision something exciting coming together for this year.
Some of the usual fun stuff is on the horizon, with treks to Ohio for kirtan and DEVOlved bluegrass with the Mutant Mountain Boys. Before then, I’ll be happy to be part of the Hub City Music Festival again. Val at Rainbows of Healing has set up some more kirtan in the venues she works with in PA, and I feel good about keeping Bhakti Dance! going as a regular thing. Looks like I may head up to MA as well – Where is my teleportation device?
I still don’t know if this year will look like a tour or a bunch of excursions, but it is sure looking like I’ll be back in motion before too long. Want to help me in my travels? If you have or know of a venue, concert series, or alternative space that will host a concert, kirtan, or other event for this summer, the rest of 2014 and beyond, please do let me know ASAP: firstname.lastname@example.org. The schedule will be growing, and I’d love to add your city to it.
Saturday, March 15th 7-9pm 1/$15, 2/$20
10 N. Main Street, 3rd Fl.
Yardley, PA 19067
For more info: http://rainbowsofhealing.com/bhakti-dance/, About YogaLove: www.LiveYogaLoveLife.com
Come out on a Saturday night for a little bit of chanting and a whole lot of free form movement. Bhakti Dance! is a fun, transformative, alternative social event – Think of the high school dance only with great kirtan, mantra dance music, an uplifting party playlist, and none of the drama! Snacks and drinks will be available for purchase.
Friday, March 28th 7-8:30pm $10 suggested donation
10 N. Main Street, 3rd Fl.
Yardley, PA 19067
For more info: http://rainbowsofhealing.com/kirtan-with-robin-renee/, About YogaLove: www.LiveYogaLoveLife.com
Wednesday, April 9th 6:30pm
Hub City Music Festival
7 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
w/ Sounds of Greg D, Adam Bernstein, and Barbecue Bob
benefits Elijah’s Promise
Sunday, April 27th 4:30-5:30pm
The Peace Center
102 West Maple Ave, Langhorne, PA 19047
17X-Day @ Wisteria Campground
w/ The Mutant Mountain Boys!
*performance date/time and more info TBA
Saturday, August 16th
w/ The Mutant Mountain Boys!
15711 Waterloo, Cleveland, OH 44110
*more info TBA
The first time I met Tarot Grandmaster Christiana Gaudet, I believe it may have had something to do with an impromptu seasonal celebration ritual held in a hot tub. Over the years, I’ve grown to love and trust Christiana very much, and we share quite a few things like dedication to spirituality, a penchant for discussions on grammar and usage, naturism, and a serious enthusiasm for music (Robin is to Devo as Christiana is to The Grateful Dead.).
A little over a year ago, Christiana began hosting an online show called Christiana’s Psychic Café, and decided to use my songs “Funky Bhagavate” and “Blessed Be, Namaste” as her intro and outro music. She’s also invited me on the show to chat on quite a few occasions, so turnabout is fair play, as they say. I am so glad Christiana has taken part in The Dream Between‘s 11 Questions interview series. Here are some of her thoughts on science and mysticism, the rewards and business of writing and music, entrepreneurial spirit, and more.
1. Do you think of Tarot as an art? A system? A spiritual tool? I am interested in how you describe it to someone who hasn’t encountered Tarot at all.
Yes, to all of the above. One of things that fascinates me about Tarot is how unique it is in all the world, but how it is a part of so many worlds – art, culture, spirituality, and history.
Tarot is a book of spiritual wisdom in picture form that tells the story of human experience. Tarot is a collection of archetypes and symbols that can help us communicate with each other and with the divine. Tarot is a source of creative inspiration and a tool for magick.
2. How do you balance science and rationality with mysticism and spirituality in your life?
My belief system is grounded in the reality that I observe in my daily life, so there really is no disconnect between what I believe and what is obviously scientifically true. I believe the sun will rise in the morning, and I understand the movements of the planets that make that happen. But I also honor the rising sun as a spiritual force in my life.
Nature is my Higher Power. I am face-to-face with God every day. I don’t need complicated dogma and doctrine to know, feel, and experience spiritual truth. When I observe nature I learn all I need to know about Higher Power. I find spiritual power in the tides and the stars. I see the face of the Goddess in fire as it dances. I see the Four Elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, as spiritual forces operating in my life. The magnificence and improbability of the world around us lead me to conclude that a divine hand is at work. To me, science proves the existence of Spirit. There is so much order to the Universe, it seems a divine order. The more I learn about science the more I see the sacred nature of life.
I have an argument with many religions. If your doctrine doesn’t hold true to the obvious facts around you, it is time to change your doctrine. That’s an interesting concept given I believe that cards drawn at random can have specific bearing in a person’s life. But, truly, divination is as old as recorded history. Divination is something we do quite naturally. The same is true with earth magick. What child has not collected rocks and shells from the beach, or sticks from the woods, knowing, deeply and inherently, that these items hold power?
3. You’ve written and published two books on the Tarot – Fortune Stellar and Tarot Tour Guide. Through those experiences, what are the most important things you’ve learned about the process of writing and publishing?
I learned that writing is an arduous task. If we only write when we feel inspired, we’ll rarely finish anything. If you force yourself to write whether or not you feel like it, the inspiration will come most of the time.
I also learned that writing is sometimes more about style than structure, and that typos are a fact of life.
I learned that publishing is rapidly changing. Whatever you knew about publishing in the past may not be true now. What we used to call “vanity press” is now “self-published” and is a viable avenue. The big publishing houses are crumbling, and self-published authors are actually making money.
I learned that unless you write a New York Times bestseller, the way to make money in writing and publishing is to be prolific. Yes, I am working on books three, four, and five right now.
Finally, I learned that books aren’t like fashion – they don’t have a shelf life. If you write a good book, that book will continue to sell year after year.
4. You and I connect a great deal around music and you’ve often incorporated music segments into your show, Christiana’s Psychic Café. What are you listening to lately?
The recent death of Pete Seeger has me revisiting my favorite folk singers. This week I’ve been listening to The Weavers, Pete Seeger, Holly Near, and Arlo Guthrie.
I listen to a lot of different genres. In terms of newer acts I like OneRepublic. Isn’t that cheesy? And I love Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. I think Grace has huge potential.
I’m a Deadhead. I catch as many DSO, 7 Walkers, Phil Lesh and Friends, Ratdog and Furthur shows as I can. We always wondered what would happen when Jerry died. Well, what happened was a lot of smaller bands mushroomed from the one. Fan musicians made it their mission to carry on the music, so there are still plenty of opportunities for us to experience those songs played live.
5. Does music help inspire your writing, preparation for readings, or other aspects of your work?
I can’t have music in the background when I write – I am easily distracted by shiny objects. I love meditative music, and I love chanting. I use music in magick and ritual quite a bit. Dance is an important part of my spiritual practice.
6. As the music business we once knew has changed so much since the Internet Age, many artists are struggling to understand how it will manifest in the future. Any predictions?
The changes in music are similar to the changes in publishing. On one hand, everyone has access. On the other hand, there are so many voices it is hard to be heard. I think one thing that is changing is there are more ways to be heard, and more ways to develop an audience. Often success will go to the diligent.
Where do I see things going in the future? I think there will be even more access to high-speed internet, recording technology, and marketing opportunities. I think the big labels, like the big publishing houses, will start to crumble. There will still be pop stars, but radio – the star maker of yesteryear – really is dying.
Right now, everyone who listens to adult contemporary knows the same songs. When Lorde won a Grammy, everyone knew the song. I see a time in the distant future where that might no longer be true. There might be so much variety available we will all listen to exactly what we like and we won’t all know the same forty songs.
In the meantime, my advice to artists would be three words: diligence, networking, and innovation.
7. Your show seems to have developed very organically and features many artists and practitioners who you know personally. How has this network of people come about for you?
When I agreed to do Christiana’s Psychic Café I knew I didn’t really have the time to take on such a project. I also knew I had a huge network of interesting people who would help me. Networks always grow. You were my very first guest. You, and many others, have introduced me to other people who have been great guests, and are now my friends. You are right about “organic growth.”
I have always been really good at bringing people together. I have organized festivals, huge parties, psychic fairs, and creative communities. It is something I do naturally. I am not as good at constantly nurturing a community. I am better at short-term projects and getting things started rather than tending them over long periods of time. Social media has allowed me to stay in touch with people that I have known over the past forty years. That is a lot of people, and a lot of energy, on which to draw.
8. In your work, you not only maintain a private reading practice, but you create a weekly newsletter, host the online show, and hold periodic worldwide Skype teaching sessions. What are your practical methods of generating many varied ideas and holding it all together?
I am grateful each day that my work allows me variety, creativity, positive human contact, and spiritual fulfillment. I work very long days, but I take frequent breaks. When I feel overwhelmed or under-inspired I picture myself working a regular job. That’s usually enough to get me back on track.
I have a lot of interesting ideas. They often come to me in the shower. My biggest problem is remembering them, since I can’t write them down while I’m washing my hair! So, the practical methods I employ boil down to gratitude for what I can do, fear of not doing it, and being open to inspiration!
9. What is the most gratifying aspect of your work?
Unfair question. That’s like asking a mother which of her kids is her favorite.
When I was really young I knew I didn’t have the ability to tolerate routines, power structures, boredom, and creative limitations. I needed to create a life where I had real passion for my tasks, and control over what those tasks would be. So I did. That my work is my work is my greatest gratification.
10. Do you have any advice or wisdom for anyone in any field who is striking out with your kind of entrepreneurial spirit?
Plenty. You have to want it so badly you can taste it. You have to believe in it when no one else does. You have to be willing to suffer for it. You have to be willing to do what it takes to make it happen, even when your friends are mad that you can’t play with them. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
When I was a theatre major at Baldwin-Wallace College for a semester I had a great teacher who said that success is the product of talent and tenacity. I think that is true for just about any kind of success.
11. What is the best course of action for creative artists in this Imbolc season?
Transform your fears, hurts, and disappointments into art. Let creativity be a source of healing for you, and let the depth of your pain energize your process. Let nothing be “good” or “bad” in terms of what you feel or what you produce. Experience everything as power, wisdom and beauty. Be free to heal, and free to create.
This is apparently a good week for the number eleven! See yesterday’s post.
Saturday night was the second Bhakti Dance! at YogaLove in Yardley, PA. I am so glad the Bhakti Dance! idea came into focus at the end of 2013. Here is the way I’ve been describing it:
Come out on a Saturday night for a little bit of chanting and a whole lot of freeform movement. Bhakti Dance! is a fun, transformative, alternative social event – Think of the high school dance only with great kirtan, mantra dance music, an uplifting party playlist, and none of the drama.
We started out with about half an hour of chanting. I felt as though we sang just enough to become present in the room and in the event we were creating together. Then came the lights and the time to move. Transforming a yoga studio into a dance club is so satisfying and joyful! It is a good thing to have happened upon a truly natural expression of the connection I find between music and spirit. In the past I’ve had trouble creating the right balance in chant/performance spaces to reflect this. I’ve had trouble saying it in words. In the midst of dance, there is no need for words.
Val from Rainbows of Healing has been liaison for the event with the YogaLove space and has helped so much with her overall enthusiasm to make cool things happen. I love the look on her face when she hears the first notes of a back-in-the-day song and dives into the dance. Julio and Jana drove from NYC to join us, and were a total trip with their in-step dance moves and exuberance. Jane brought bindis and made everyone extra sparkly. Whenever I felt the urge to redirect the energy, thinking that people weren’t “getting it” or were heading toward boredom, I looked again and noticed they were dancing in their individual moments. I saw people keeping to themselves a good deal of the time and realized it as an indicator of deepening into the experience. There was also plenty of interaction – smiling, spontaneous rumba, clapping, random happy shouting. I’d planned to resolve the evening with “Shivo Ham,” but singing the Om Shanti together on “Holy River” turned out to be just right instead.
Creating Bhakti Dance! is feeling so amazingly good and it gives me encouragement to keep moving toward the singer/songwriter/rock performance meets chant meets dance party blowout creations I’ve been envisioning for a long time. My 2013 New Year’s resolution was “more dancing and more glitter.” It may sound silly and playful, and it is those things. It also turns out to have been more moving an intention than I could have guessed. I’ll keep it around this year. More song and dance and glitter all around!
A few tunes from Bhakti Dance! 1/18/14:
It’s time to see about taking Bhakti Dance! on the road. If you’d like to schedule one, get in touch at email@example.com.
Well, if you’ve ever had the urge to quote me on any number of topics, this is your week to gather material. Today’s stop on the Robin Renée Blog Tour is an interview by award-winning author Fran Metzman, whose book, The Hungry Heart Stories, I mused about here. She got me to think a lot about the step-by-step process that happens in the act of writing as well as kirtan’s effect on my singer/songwriter pop music and vice versa.
Read all about it and post your comment here: Fran Metzman Interviews Robin Renée
Tomorrow, the next stop is at Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey.
Today’s blog tour stop brings me to Patti O’Brien’s blog, A Broad Abroad. I have enjoyed following her travels from time to time, so I’m honored she’d take a moment to write a bit about me, highlighting some of the places I’ve journeyed.
You can catch up with Patti’s discovery of Mantra-Pop, my upcoming trip to Canada (Finally!), and more here:
Tomorrow’s stop: A guest blog by Fran Metzman. You can check it out here.
I really love today’s stop on the Robin Renée Blog Tour. My friend Glenn Walker has had This. on his iPod for a few months now, and it is clear he’s really been listening. Coming from a perspective of someone with no background in kirtan, yoga, or concepts from those traditions, he took in the sounds, did a little research, offered his impressions of each song in turn, and gave me the chance to respond. It was a great experience to hear what he had to say and to get a unique real-life glimpse into another person’s encounters, questions, and growing fondness for the music. It was just as cool to take some time to respond to Glenn’s questions and impressions. Even though it was a challenge to explain what, for the most part, lies beyond direct explanation, I still managed to find plenty to say.
Read Glenn’s great blog entry here: This. Song by Song.
Remember to check out tomorrow’s travel-themed blog tour stop @ Patti O’Brien’s blog, A Broad Abroad.
It looks like I’ve waited a little too long to blog about my experience at Zombie Run. A week ago Sunday, it was exciting to run though the campy horror-fantasy, but today posting pics and going on about death at a race event does not seem the thing to do. So, another time for that. My 6k run in Berlin Park yesterday evening could hardly approach the impact and dedication of a world-class marathon, but I ran it as an offering of love and healing to everyone affected by the madness in Boston.
This has truly been a season of Monkey Mind for me, but Monkey Experience has been keeping pace. New romantic curiosities, absurdly awful (non)communications, another easeful friendship deepening. There was the closing of Fluid Nightclub, where I rediscovered essential bits of my being. Played at a great event last week, the first Hub City Music Festival, and got to share the stage with old friends who I admire hugely. I’ve been asked by a friend to write a song or poem about the problem of transphobia, so I’ve been letting those thoughts percolate. There isn’t a whole lot on the official schedule, but that is actually a good thing right now. My brain is busy catching up to a thousand details.
I keep trying to find words to express how I feel about the Boston Marathon bombing, but they don’t show up. It seems as if I couldn’t say it any better than the compassionate internet memes that are already trying. Petty concerns of all of the above – and just about anything – are snapped way back into perspective. I am recognizing more than ever how music and art soothe and teach, learn, respond, and heal. So, yes. More of that, please. At this moment, I am much more a listener than a maker of sounds. I will, however, be chanting kirtan this Sunday in Langhorne, PA – the more voices the better: http://rainbowsofhealing.com/kirtan-with-robin-renee/.
I want to be sure of what I think I believe and how I behave that I believe – that by living quietude we can have a small part in helping quiet the angriness in the world.
Getting the word out on the new chant CD, This., has so far been a gradual, but purposeful process. The official press release is finally here. I have been sending some info out myself as well as finding more efficient, mental health-conducive ways to let people know there’s new music about. The business of music had me down when I last wrote here. Now I find a great deal of optimism in new approaches, and so today you (and I) have a happier me. It’s a buzzword, but true – I feel incredibly empowered to make different and better decisions, having decided to dispense with the status quo.
I listened to “Keshava,” the first song on This., today, and it made me smile. It is one of my favorite kirtans to share live. Having not been on the road much at all in recent months, I am looking forward to singing this with others for the first time in a while tomorrow evening near the Jersey shore. Another of my favorites on This. is “Blessed Be, Namaste.” It is one of those songs where the lyrics seemed to show up fairly miraculously at the right time and in the right order. Bridging and blending spiritual traditions is important to me, and this one does that. It feels good to enjoy the music again, after a bit of time away from hearing these recordings.
One common frustration I’ve heard other musicians talk about is the need to perform and publicize the current project while the creative impulse has already moved onto the next. I have been taking an easeful approach to the new songs. They are in there, but not yet clamoring desperately. Interesting phrases and definitely some wild dreams have been showing up. I’ll court the REM stage influence for a while longer and find instrumentation I’ll love. Today it felt comforting – not at all a frustration – to immerse myself again in the sounds of This. and embark on finding more ears to hear it and souls to sing along.