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A few years ago, I noticed that I occasionally had dreams and idle fantasies of throwing things away – nearly violent images of picking up old clothes, old papers, random electronics, and broken stuff—and tossing them all haphazardly and mercilessly out of an open window. Sometimes I’d break the window in the process. It felt great to care less. What a crazy, cathartic forced way to affect clarity, well beyond the fabled “letting go.” The fantasy may be a bit on the extreme side, but it speaks to things that need doing, and perhaps a bit to my Virgo Obsesso nature. My living space has been incongruent with the order that I long for inside and out. I am pleased to say that is changing.

These last two weeks have been the beginning of reclaiming my home as temple. I call my place the Arts Ashram of Atco. I am dedicating my current practice to continuing to move the energies closer in line with the name. This morning in the middle of working peacefully in my room near the main altar, cleaning the kitchen, and in brushing the light layers of snow from the car, I felt the yoga coming back into my home and my being. As of a few days ago, an area that was once jumbled storage space is now “The Yoga Nook.” Next— on to the office. It doesn’t have a clever name yet.

A lot of people seem to think that the best thing about being freelance is that you get to create your own hours.  I find that what has actually been most beneficial so far is that I create my own days.  If it is time to tour through to Detroit or Sarasota or Kansas City, I can plan the dates, pick up and go. The hours within a day of writing at home can be a lot trickier.

Creating one’s own hours can be a joy provided that it is actually done in a way that promotes order and balance.  When I have been good at creating my own hours, I am up at least by 6:30am, meditating by 6:45, in the gym by 7:45, home and hitting the day’s work by 9:30.  I think that what some people believe would be so great about creating one’s own hours would be having the liberty to stay in bed ‘til 10, and work most of the day in pajamas.  I have sometimes taken that kind of liberty, but when it happens, it usually means that my mood is slipping.

When I’m happiest, I’m up and at ‘em.  At the lab where I used to work, I was so much the morning person that I was forbidden to play Uz Jsme Doma, the then #1 on my personal playlist, until everyone else could handle it—usually after noon. I love all kinds of sounds, but right now in my realigning phase, #1 on my chart is The Eternal Om (but there’s always room near the top of the chart for Steely Dan and Gary Wilson).

I resonate with the evenness that a monastic-style schedule creates – there is the potential for quiet joy with little tribulation. Here in my own space once again, I am very much in the midst of the multitasking world, but I have decided to add a lot more structure- to make my own hours for waking, exercising, working, eating, creating, socializing, and sleeping.  My friend Tom Limoncelli, activist and time management guru, advocates making your life “boring” through routine. I think it’s a good trick: Get basic life stuff done, time and mental space is available. Life is less worrisome, and in truth, not so boring. I am taking that advice to heart.

I believe in the Arts Ashram of Atco and what it can become, or not, as I choose. After this time of returning to center, I expect to invite in the kirtans, parties, retreats, and other gatherings I’ve wanted to host. Some will be reminiscent of events past and I have many visions of new ones making their way to fruition. So far, these visions don’t involve any SCTV moments, but I remain open-minded.

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Even as I am moving along into 2011 armed with optimism and new resolve, I find myself still looking back, trying to make sense of 2010.  Everybody may be sick of all the Top 10 Whatever lists we get pelted with in December of each year, but mine formed late.  So here it is.

I won’t  pretend that 2010 was an overall good year for me.  I am moving past it enough now, though, to have lost interest in enumerating the painful spots.  I would rather remember the important positives.  I’ve noted them in my cumbersomely titled Top 9 Very Good and/or Extraordinary Experiences of 2010, in chronological order.  I enjoy the Number 9 and multiples of 9.  I’m weird like that.

Top 9 Very Good and/or Extraordinary Experiences of 2010

1)      Recording with Producer/Musician/Composer Scott Pearson – February 7-9

It is not often when I hear the language that a song speaks to me, and find another person who hears more or less the same thing— plus huge leaps through a library of sounds just on the tip of my imagination.  In these sessions, we recorded two songs that I promise you’ll get to hear one day soon.   Scott Pearson is brilliant, insightful, and has hilarious stories to tell.   Add to it that getting to his Cary, NC studio involved driving through a blizzard, having my car buried in snow on a cul-de-sac in Alexandria, VA, and a tow truck to free the vehicle before another few harrowing hours of driving on ice, and you have a formula for quite the memorable time.

2)      Visiting with Anasakta – April 23-25

I met this Canadian mystic when he became friends with my former housemate.  His insights on Self-Realization are extraordinary, and he believes in my wisdom and inner awareness in the bhakta/tantrika realm more than I can fathom.  We talked for hours, laughed a lot, interviewed each other on South Street in Philly, and he even put up with my inexplicable obsession with Canadian folk singer Stompin’ Tom Connors.

3)      Gunnison Beach Party – July 24

Anyone who knows me at all knows that being naked in the sun is one of my favorite life experiences.  I have been part of a large group that gets together annually for a party at Gunnison Beach, the clothing-optional beach at Sandy Hook in New Jersey.  This year the weather was truly perfect and being in the midst of this social experience while making moments to commune personally and directly with nature was profound.  Being in the ocean to me is to be enveloped in the essence of Goddess.  My longtime friend and spiritual sister, dancing rabbit, stayed for the weekend.  Any time with her is never short of healing and magic.

4)      Rocking out with the MMB on my Birthday – August 27

For the last few years, getting the chance to perform with the Mutant Mountain Boys has been a highlight of my musical year.  We’re a bluegrass-styled band that pays tribute to Devo and the Church of the SubGenius.  The group is a brainchild of my banjo-playing Devo freak friend, Samantha.  This year we played on opening night of the annual DEVOtional at the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland.  We performed what felt like our best show yet, and saw some excellent out-of-the-box bands.  That was a great way to celebrate another trip around the sun.

5)      Kirtan Cleveland, August 26 and 29

The Cleveland area was good to me in 2010.  Frank Barnett was a champion of the kirtan chanting community there, and he coordinated my first NPR station interview for the afternoon of the 26th.  It was a challenge and a joy to roll with linking my love of Devo with devotional chanting.  The kirtan on the 29th had Samuel Salsbury on violin and Joe Culley on tabla, and lots of enthusiastic people at Studio 11 in Tremont to share the experience.  The fact that Frank passed away two weeks later makes these moments so much more precious.

6)      Recording “Hare Krishna Christmas” – November 8

Last year, I finally got back in touch with my inner comic.  I have always loved parody, naughty limericks, cartoons, and all manner of zaniness.  Though “Hare Krishna Christmas” has humor, it also emerges from a heart sincere in love of Consciousness and blended spiritualities.  Finally, I followed friends’ advice and recorded this tune that has lived in my head for years.  I had never before begun a recording session by having to multitrack harmonies with the lyrics “Ding Dong Ding.”  Engineer/Musician/Composer Jack Walker and I tend to crack each other up no matter the recording project of the day, often with Warner Bros. toon quotes:  “This time, we didn’t forget the graaa-vy!”

7)      Silent Retreat – November 29

On this date every year, I have private, 24-hour long silent retreat.  I talked about it quite a bit in the previous entry.  This time around the silence was not so pleasant as it was functional.  Pain and thoughts and questions came up and morphed into much needed calls-to-action.

8)      Kye’s Birthday Parade Surprise – December 11

I really don’t know how I would feel if I were surprised by scores of people in costumes with twirling ribbons who came dancing and marching up the street to the front of my Las Vegas abode to do the box step and shout cheers for me on my birthday.  I do know that it was amazing to play The Cat in the Hat in this display for Kye Brackett.  Kye is one of the many extraordinary beings that make up the chosen family of people for dynamic and authentic living we call freedomcommunity.  I was overjoyed in this procession at the creativity and penchant for the absurd, and was moved to tears by the outpouring of love.

9)      Tears of Joy at the End of DADT

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a terrible policy.  I was angry about it when it was instituted, and always thought it should go away.  I admit I never truly understood its impact until I heard the ecstatic and exhausted tears of joy and relief when a good friend called to tell me it had been repealed.  The repeal of DADT meant that she will be able to continue to live with the love of her life, a career military woman, without lies of omission and fear.  An impending promotion will not mean separation and emotional chaos, but a new home and a next phase in the lives of two people dedicated to one another.  Oh, Happy Day.

Happy New Year to you.  Here’s to a 2011 full of love, health, growth, fun, and music.

Meditation is a practice of remembering.  It is taking the time to sit still and get quiet enough to have the memory of peace.  We all have it.  True peace rests waiting in the center of our beings.  I picture the quiet, expressive eyes of a gentle child watching all the bustling and working and posturing and passion that whizzes constantly in circles.  Peace just watches and waits.  Waiting, tranquil enough for the world to stop spinning is good practice, but sometimes more is necessary.  Sometimes taking it back—active reclaiming—is the essential next step.

On Monday, November 29th I took my annual silent retreat.  It is a midnight to midnight time for no speaking, no music, no news, no flashing screens.  Entering into the cone of silence is walking full aware into the echoing voices. When you get quiet, which voices echo for you?  Mine tell me about how I ought to be so much more efficient.  They worry about the winter heat bill.  They ask me if I’m crazy.  They wonder if I’ll ever be worthy of love.  They show me pictures and sing me snippets from the vast and ridiculous catalog of rock, folk, new wave, and punk that lives in my head.  Then they quiet down.  Gratitude and meditation happen.  I notice the warmth in my room created by altar candles.  The touch of the air on my arms and chest feels so much more physical than in the chattering times.   

The only word I’ve been able to come up with to adequately describe the silence, once it really settles in, is delicious.  It gets easier each time to enter into silence, and if it weren’t for outside demands clamoring to get in, I could let it go for days.  There may have been moments of delicious this time, but that was not mostly the case.  This was a difficult silence.  I did not have the usual tools to stuff down what had been circling in — nervous tears and caged-animal uncertainty.

My friend Elisa once said “Whenever I come to your house, I feel like I did yoga.”  I loved that observation.  That was the problem.  My home had lost its yoga and it needs it back.  In the midst of the erratic every day, I was forgetting the essential yoga in my being.  Showing up again on the zafu to sit still more and more often is a first step.  I have discovered that the Universe is fond of placing obstacles in the way of those who ought not to forget to meditate. 

I have other more physical actions in motion:  changing the current living situation, managing and releasing old family items, honoring my need to be free of disarray.  Depression had its hooks in deep this summer, and I am letting go of punishing myself by lack of exercise and stupid food.  It’s back to Ballys for me, and I love it.  I will chant and play guitar and boogie oogie oogie openly in the living room again.  It doesn’t always take a seismic shift to take back what you need.  Sometimes we dwell just a half step to one side of our essentials.        

At the Integral Yoga Institute holiday party in Princeton this Saturday, Jayadeva told the crowd that we are never alone.  If we are all One and all Love, how can we ever be abandoned?  I wonder if I made my cameo at their Holiday Hoopla just to hear that message.   It was another moment of returning focus. 

There has been chaos in my household over these past few months, but that will be changing.  I am taking back the yoga.  The Christmas cactus by the kitchen door is blooming right on schedule.

My “new” holiday song is here! 

During the 2010 holiday season, 20% of download proceeds will go toward vegetarian donations to food banks for those in need.

You can download it here: www.cdbaby.com/cd/robinrenee5

I am very happy to have rediscovered my inner “Weird” Al.

At the end of the kirtan last night at The Yoga Place in North Canton, OH, I mentioned that I like being in the area.  Someone said “Why don’t you move here?”  My impulse response was “If you move the ocean here, I’ll think about it.”  I feel most at peace and most able to uncover a sense of union with All when I am on the shoreline.  On the edge of the continent, cool and sandy earth, vast sky, fiery sun warmth, and infinite-seeming water couldn’t be more clear expressions of the makings of all life.  Rarely do I ever feel homesick, as I am generally happy to be wherever I am, experiencing what is there.  In that moment of remembering the shore, though, I had a twinge of it.  It suddenly felt alien to be more than seven hours from the closest ocean.  How fitting that as I drove over the Ben Franklin Bridge this evening NPR was playing an interview with Bruce Springsteen on the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town.  It was good listening– I’d never considered his poetry that directly before.  Welcome back to Jersey.    

 All four of the gigs on this mini-tour worked out very well.  The people and the vibe to carry the evenings all showed up.  I am never sure what my inner experience will be while I’m singing, so I let myself be surprised.  Somewhere in the middle of leading chanting in Kent and in Toledo, the bemusement crept in. 

 What the heck am I doing up here?  Why am I singing mantra again?  How did all this even happen?  Am I here to facilitate spiritual experience?  No, I just sing.  Whatever – Time to stop analyzing – Sheesh. 

 It is the old familiar WTF that I try to treat as I would any thought in meditation – see it, breathe, and let it go.  It’s not an easy one to let go.  Sometimes I need to run through the timeline in my head just a little—remembering the visions, the love, the white light, the dreams that swept me into recognizing that Spirit would be more a part of my music and overall being than I’d ever known. 

 Why does all this still surprise me?     

Thankfully, the surprise washed through and moved along, swept up and sublimated in the ocean of sound.  All the events this time out were sweet experiences.  House of Yoga in Berkely, MI near Detroit was an ideal in many ways – not the least of which was for the chance to see some amazingly cool black squirrels nearby the next day!  But I digress—the musical joy was that I was able to sing nearly an hour set of songs and then the same time was given to chanting.  It feels wonderfully dynamic and balancing when these elements are invited together and I intend to develop the show and do more in this format.  North Canton was a straight-up kirtan after which there was a sense of exuberance and deep fellowship in the air.

All the people I met or had the chance to see again on this trip are good, good, solid, loving beings.  I am blessed to have found a path that leads me to them.  Some kind of general positivity swirls for me in the Cleveland area and into some margin beyond.  It is where the Devo fans gather for the annual DEVOtional.  It is where kirtan connections have led to knowing kind people on rich paths.  It is where whenever I am linked up with a musician for a gig, we usually sound like automatic magic.  I may be a coastal being, but I will be back to be part of these circles as I am able.

 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.

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