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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’m joking in the title. I doubt there is any real art to knowing how or when to show up to things unprepared. I generally am a fan of a good plan. Often when unpreparedness happens it pretty much sucks, but I try my best to pull things together. Once in a while, though, being unprepared leads to something profound.
For someone who was about ready to throw in the proverbial towel when it comes to music, I’ve wound up with quite a few good gigs this year. There is something to be said for not worrying too much. Ohio continues to have some kind of cosmic pull – I have connected with great, loving yoga and kirtan community there, which balances well with getting to perform with The Mutant Mountain Boys there for SubGenius and Devo happenings. I’ve been to Ohio twice this summer and wouldn’t be sad at all if I managed to schedule my way back once more this year.
I didn’t feel terribly prepared for any of my gigs this last time out. At Kundalini Yoga & Wellness in New Cumberland, PA, I played music for yoga, followed by a short kirtan with my old friend JD Stillwater. That is supposed to be freeform and intuitive, so a lack of set list is fine, if not ideal. JD and I worked well together. I appreciated the practice with spontaneity and listening.
I’ve been working with a lot of changes this summer – focusing on health, having internal consciousness and intention exploration stuff – and it has been leaving me in a state of busy-brain. So much was going on in my mind that the long drive to Cleveland didn’t seem to help me solidify the house concert set for that next night. I mean, I knew essentially which tunes I would do, but I didn’t feel particularly balanced and rehearsed when I arrived and had to quickly set up the sound system (while making friends with the host’s four awesome dogs). The show turned out just fine. The people and the energy were better than fine. I was even surer about this Cleveland-area vortex that has seemed to open up in my life. Still, I’d like to find a more easeful pattern when it comes to travel and gigging. It continues to be a work in progress.
The main reason for this last trip was to make my way out to A Not … TOTALLY Dev-o Tribute Night at The Summit in Columbus. I absolutely love playing with The Mutant Mountain Boys, and when we were asked to do this show, I started working on booking gigs right away to make the unexpected travel reasonable. Well, we made it there, and we played the gig. We weren’t terribly prepared. Samantha was jet-lagged after flying in from Tucson and was running on almost no sleep. I was pretty exhausted, too, so how could Jim exactly get on a wavelength with that? We all could have played better, so… we were just ok. We had an amazing, energetic show at 16X-Day. Perfectionist that I am, I am (almost) ok with not having been 100% for this one. We talked about it later and hope to plan future shows so we have at least 24 hours in the same place together to rest, regroup, and rehearse before we hit the stage. We all had a good time anyway, Lieutenant Dance was fabulous, there are some great pics posted, and the impetus for a late August Devo fan event with friends was started again.
At one point relatively early in the evening, Thomme Chiki, the organizer of the event, asked people if they had any stories or pivotal life moments to share about Devo. There were two disco ball piñatas in the house and I stepped up to tell the story of how I’d been in the audience during the New York portion of filming for the “Disco Dancer” video and how that was an exciting time for me. I’m not sure why I didn’t think at that time to tell more of the story:
It was at a club called The World. The band played a few tunes, then prepared to record for the video. They did several takes of “Disco Dancer” and the audience gave their enthusiasm. I didn’t quite “get” this particular song or why it was the single, but I was of course ecstatic to be present for anything Devo. Afterward, the crowd started to disperse and the club turned into a regular dance space. After a while, I was dancing and turned to see Mark Mothersbaugh who had come out of the dressing room/green room area and was crossing the dance floor. I went into instant groupie mode, beelined toward him and asked, “Mark, can I have your autograph?” He said yes. I looked blankly for a split second, then said “I don’t have any paper.” Duh. I asked him to please wait, and I told him I’d find some. So there is one of my major heroes standing on the side of the dance floor kind of aimlessly while I scurry around looking for paper. Bizarrely (though maybe not so strange for 1988), the first piece of paper I found was a tri-fold AIDS info pamphlet that had fallen to the floor. It said “AIDS, Sex, and You.” I handed it to Mark and he gave me the most bemused look. I apologized and told him it was just the first thing I could find. He wrote “No sex is safe and also good.” I didn’t think that was very sound information, but hey, I had just prompted Mark Mothersbaugh to write something about sex, which I found to be pretty awesome. He wrote an “xo” and signed his name. I thanked him. Then I got even more bold and asked him if he would like to dance. He said, “No, I have to get back to Jerry.” Then he paused, looked at me, and said “You’re very beautiful,” before he disappeared back through the door. I was pretty much in heaven.
At The Summit last Friday night, the MMB were getting ready to leave and something gave me the idea to seek another autograph. I picked up a black and white flyer for the event from one of the tables and thought it would be cool to have Thomme Chiki sign it, since he’d done so much to put the night together. I didn’t know him so well, but always thought of him as a cool and dedicated spud with encyclopedic knowledge of Devo and probably lots of other things. I asked him half seriously if he’d sign the flyer, and when he said yes, I thought that would be a really great souvenir. The next question was, “Do you have a pen?” I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t think I did. I started to dig through my bag. The first thing I came up with was a tube of red lipstick. I said, “You could sign it in lipstick.” He made a funny kissy face, but then took the lipstick for real and went to the other side of the club where there was either a mirror or a mirrored section of the wall. I could see he was putting on the lipstick. When it started to take kind of a long time, I realized he was doing this quite seriously. I had assumed that if he did it at all, it would be taken as a big, goofy joke (interesting bit of gender stereotyping I did there).
I was stunned by the image I saw walking back toward me. It was a simple, sweet and graceful androgynous beauty. I was basically rendered momentarily speechless. He returned the lipstick and said quietly, “Thanks for sharing.” He kissed the flyer. I rather awkwardly vied for a lip print on the cheek. I had not at all been prepared for this aspect, this physical manifestation of the beautiful in-between to show up in that moment. I was engrossed – It was moving and exciting to be so taken off-guard. Reflecting on it now, I see a gorgeous, encouraging reminder that this place/non-place where I live and love and write is absolutely real – and here is another soul, perhaps gliding through a similar journey.
I suppose I would do well to try my best to be prepared for most things. Virgos prefer order, they say. But at least when it comes to autograph-seeking in Devo-related contexts, being a bit out of sync has so far worked quite well.
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.
I was a bit startled to realize on my birthday this past Monday, August 27th, that it was indeed the 10th anniversary of the release of my second solo CD, All Six Senses. I had what still feels like an idyllic, dreamlike time recording those songs out in Marin County, CA with producer Scott Mathews at his Tiki Town Studios. Over the past few days, I’ve spent some time listening to those tracks with my friend Amy, who played them, intermingled with other tunes, from her iPod in her car. It is sometimes annoying to listen to old recordings, but this time I really dug hearing some songs that have mostly fallen away from the set list (“Cling To You,” “I Skate Alone”) and others that have become standard fare (“Holy River,” “First Sight”). It is a very rewarding feeling to listen and feel that All Six Senses, for the most part, really does sound like the songs that I had in my head. It does a decent job of expressing snapshots of the spiritual growth spurt I was in when I wrote these songs (there is the one cover – a slow, jazzy take on “Cruel to be Kind”). I hope it might still manage to inspire anyone listening to examine their own lives and take their own journeys.
I remembered how much I enjoy these tunes and the recordings of them, and then I remembered another anniversary. It would take more than a short blog entry to tell the many stories and make even an attempt at the impact, but the super-short version is that I was (and still am) blessed in life to have met and gotten to know one of my greatest musical/lyrical/cultural heroes, Warren Zevon. Since meeting him at The Stone Pony (his show [opening for The Band!] was August 26, 1994 – his after-midnight autograph says August 27th – now this story is even stranger), we kept in touch. The day after my official, yet totally indie release of All Six Senses, it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard from WZ in a while. I happily tapped out a long e-mail asking him what was going on, telling him about my life, the new recording, everything. The response I got back was very brief:
He was ill.
“My lungs and liver are shot” he wrote.
I didn’t know, and couldn’t have comprehended on that day the seriousness of what he was saying. If it wasn’t that very day that he’d gotten the diagnosis of inoperable mesothelioma, it was within a day or so at the very most. I don’t have words for what I felt, or really know what I did the rest of that shocking day.
He asked me to send a copy along to him, so even in the midst of coping with finality he took the time to listen to All Six Senses. He said he enjoyed it, was glad I was continuing to work on the music, and advised me to “keep chanting.” I’ve definitely managed to do that.
I could say more – try to create some storyline about the impact of cosmic crossroads or the mystical fusion of wonderful-horrible anniversaries. I won’t. I will just try to sit with it all as it happened, and with my own uncomfortable twinge at having been moved to share this ball of entwined emotions with you tonight.
I began this blog last night. It was going to be something very different. As I woke up on this warmish, misty Ostara morning, it was as though all the things I was poised to worry about in writing had put themselves in order. Whether coincidental or a function of syncing spirituality with the seasons, I do feel balance on this Equinox.
The making of the new chant CD has happened in about as opposite as fashion as the last one as possible. The kirtans and other spiritual songs on Live Devotion came quickly, jumping into my head as I worked, drove, or sang other songs—anytime, and when least expected. A few rehearsals, one long day in studio, and it had arrived. I already knew that what we were affectionately calling “Studio Devotion” would be a more traditional recording experience, but I didn’t think it would be a year in the making. Given that a lot of the year was pushing past emotional obstacles ad absurdum, I am happy to say that the gestation period for what will officially be called This seems just about over. I would like to release it well – with some traditional and innovative promotion and viable distribution. I’m open to suggestion from all quarters on how that may best happen. In the meantime, it is a wonderful feeling to be just about through with recording and mixing and to feel the emergence of new spiritsong on the first day of spring.
A recent blog by my friend LauraLynn Jansen inspired me to reflect on “What is yogic?” Today, I believe it is the practice of remembering, of coming back to center, and living a life that allows all sorts of activities and interactions to be the instrument of balance. Music, when I lose myself in it, does this work. Lately exercise – especially swimming and biking – are just as much music to me, just as much a journey toward Center. I am undertaking a sprint triathlon training, also inspired by LL. I keep finding more and more depth in meeting the challenges. I have considered the workout to be a form of meditation before, but it is new for me to think about fitness as art. The metaphor of Oneness meets the day-to-day.
April is coming, and that means NaPoWriMo. It may make me very busy, but springtime is emergence is yoga is staying in the flow of writing.
I am feeling like a fully erotic being again, after too long a hibernation.
I don’t believe in raking leaves. On Sunday afternoon, the air was just chilly enough to coax me to admit that summer would not, in fact, be back until the wheel of the year turned again. The leaves on the ground were a worn, welcome home blanket. The ground is exactly the place they should be beautifying this time of year. I thought of my friend from Tucson as I noticed the deep, red orange that still hung onto the sassafras and wondered how she would regard the seasonal shift. I imagined that to someone who is amazed by the water flowing in East Coast rivers, these changes would be directly magical.
In the Pagan traditions that have come to align with much of my spiritual instinct, Sunday was Samhain, the day that belongs to neither year. I was preparing for the few people who would gather to celebrate the holiday. I did my Halloweening the night before as a banana-clad Josephine Baker at Jack & Jenn’s Fright Night Party. Samhain is a more somber affair, and we gather to honor and release those who have passed away in the year prior. We listen for wisdom carried on the last of the October wind and whispered into our ears by the ancestors. We welcome the coming of the new year and the Divine spark we will once again have the opportunity to recognize and embrace. However literal or figurative a participant’s experience, these moments are meant for quiet reverence and insight. It feels good to release what needs to go— to redefine, redirect, and get ready for what’s next. I celebrate a new year whenever I can, though this time of year, it feels most serious.
The simple altar was set and thankfully, Vigile was more than happy to start and tend the fire. That left me more able to finish preparing quinoa vegetable potluck, to relax into a ritual mind space, and to be ready to greet those who would arrive. At six o’clock, we shifted ourselves into sacred space with a song, the smoke of white sage and the recognition of the four directions to mark our circle. Over the course of the evening, the energy and love of God/dess was called and honored by Names most dear to each of us: Krishna, Ram, Brigid, Astarte, Jesus. Everyone had a turn to speak the names and stories of those who had passed through the veil. I remembered Frank Barnett, kirtan aficionado of Cleveland, a natural force for the drawing together of community. Though I didn’t know him, I remembered Tyler Clementi and all kids who have died before they were able to grow out from under ridicule to recognize their worth and brilliance.
We chanted for quite a while, and danced a little. A young woman I met for the first time at circle asked me how I came to love chanting and to know about the Hindu path. The question had me wondering: How have I gotten anywhere that I am? The times of initial impact of all the most important aspects of my life feel like vibrant blurs of information, like sudden, unexpected downloads. At its most genuine, my writing seeks to unpack and understand the visions, experiences, emotions, and intentional turns of the journey. I keep trying for genuine.
These autumn days which I once resented on behalf of my beloved summer now find me loving their beauty and metaphor. I welcome these changes, and the inner work that will follow. I am ready for a time of gentle and courageous newness.