For Love of the Sea

Jenner

I have just returned from my favorite place in all the world.  Jenner by the Sea, a small community on the Sonoma Coast where the Russian River flows into the Pacific Ocean. This section of coast is one of the most dangerous in California, and its wildness stirs me in a way that is difficult to describe. The thrumming of the wildlife here reveals a thriving ecosystem. Hawks, frogs, seals, birds, fish, and plants are all abundant and happy, filling the hills with their song. It rained off and on throughout my visit, adding that wet lushness I adore about winters on the California Coast. At night, mist crept up the river and caressed the canyon with its otherworldly tendrils, and my heart was captured.

The moment we arrived, I felt it; a return home. Even I, with my unquenchable wanderlust, have a place that feels like home, where my soul belongs, and is a part. For this I am truly grateful. As I combed the beach that first day, on my way to visit the seals who breed and give birth there, it struck me; I feel close to the Gods in this place.

What I mean by that is, this area has a presence, a consciousness that is very distinctly its own. In a place such as this, it is no wonder that we perceive our earth as sentient. The Pagan gods make complete sense to me in this kind of environment. I could almost see a face overlaid amidst the natural beauty, sometimes temperamental, but at this time, sated and benevolent, fed by the calm rain that brought clean fresh life to all the creatures living there. In the presence of such palpable consciousness, is it any wonder that we anthropomorphize, for we feel such a sense of kinship that these overlays of human characteristics come unbidden, a natural effect of encountering consciousness that feels so familiar, so compatible with our own. Poetic license on our part, perhaps, yet such a natural thing to do, for do our own faces not also tell stories, revealing the qualities of our souls and the kinds of lives we have led? Is it any wonder then, that a place might reveal to us a face that reflects its stories, its distinct qualities of soul? Also, If the ocean can reveal an aspect of itself in human form, are we humans not also capable of shapeshifting and becoming part of the ocean? In this way does communion with the natural world occur. Or at least, this is one way that we can translate this inexplicable kinship. This is one way we can interface with these presences as we seek to understand this kinship within our own psyches. And, in me at least, it happens of its own accord, not something I coax or strive for, but as a natural response to my immersion in the soul of nature.

In these moments I truly do feel a oneness with the natural world. Not a sameness, but a sense that we are part of each other, our boundaries permeable as we flow into one another. Truly my soul is ravished by the beauty and wildness of this place. I am swept away, my breath catching in my chest and promising to overtake me in swoon, as though in the embrace of a lover.

I feel myself to be an integral part of this place, and that this place is a part of me. I feel this coastal spirit inside myself. Even today, back home on the San Francisco Bay, I feel this. That presence of wild aliveness that lives and breathes in Jenner has permeated my cells, my soul, my psyche. I am flooded not with anxieties but with mist. The clamor in the back of my mind is not from the news of the day but from the robust chirruping of frogs.  The rain and the salty sea have washed me utterly clean. I belong to Jenner, part of its ecosystem just like the frogs are.

The Gods of Jenner feel strikingly Celtic to me. The tales of Manannan mac Lir and the Celtic heroic legends came back to me with a vengeance during my time there. I am sure this says more about my own inner workings than it does about exactly which Gods live where. Presumably a Native American God-name would be more appropriate to this land. But such is the nature of Gods, I think, that they speak to us through the stories we carry within us. We translate their communion into languages that we know. The stories of our Gods don’t come directly from the Gods themselves, but by necessity must be an interaction between human and God, human and nature. Can we really know a thing independent of our own observations? I tend to think not. I believe our experiences of Gods are always an amalgam of pure presence mingled with our capacity for understanding. We filter these awe-inspiring encounters through our own poetic tendencies.

I lose this feeling living in the city, I must admit. I have to work to maintain my connection to the Gods. In Jenner they envelope me unbidden. No incense or incantations needed. In this environment, I am left with the conviction that we are part and parcel of the soul of nature, and that, in seeking to protect ourselves from the harsher aspects of nature, we have overshot the mark. We needed shelter from the storm, surely, and warmth on a cold night, and more stability and security in our methods of obtaining food. But did we need shopping malls? Cement poured over everything? Electronic devices that keep us disconnected from our neighbors as they connect us to the world? In protecting ourselves from nature, we have distanced ourselves from nature, too much I think. We have lost this feeling of aliveness, the visceral experience that we are an extension of nature. We are part of this pulse, not separate from it, and in remembering we are part of nature, we find a sense of meaning to our lives that we perhaps had forgotten.

We are part of an ecosystem. It is my hope, moving forward in life along our human destiny, as we by necessity figure out what it means to live sustainably on our Earth, that we come to our solutions by way of cooperation rather than competition. We are part of an interconnected, interdependent whole. It is my hope that we can shift our mindset from “survival of the fittest”, to a spirit of partnership, whereby we find value in all beings, all life processes. I think we can accomplish these goals while still keeping many of the conveniences of modern civilization intact. We just need to prioritize this interconnection, to value it for the pearl beyond price that it is.

Such are the ways my Muse is awakened by this patch of coast. I plan to spend much more time here in the coming months.

Posted in Enchantment | 2 Comments

Sonic Alchemy – the Song of your Soul

SoundHealing

As I have two Sonic Alchemy workshops coming up, I figured it would be a good idea to talk about Sonic Alchemy a bit, and explain exactly what it is.

If you know me at all, you know I love singing.  When I am singing clearly and powerfully, I feel completely free. It is as though my soul is breaking through the struggles and strife of the world and soaring among the clouds. This unfettered feeling of liberation gives me a vantage point that I don’t have when I am mired in the struggles of a sometimes heartbreaking world. For a time, I feel exalted, and from this place of exaltation, I gain insights that guide my life. The gift of song is one of the great joys of my life.

I want to share this with you.

Sonic Alchemy was created so that you can experience the power of sound in a more intimate setting than performer-audience. Rather than being carried on the current of the performance, Sonic Alchemy facilitates your own experience of singing, and of music in general. Sonic Alchemy is a way for me to share just how deeply sound and music can grace our lives.

Sound moves energy. We all know this.

We’ve heard about vocalists shattering glass with their voices.

We’ve seen how specific resonances can create geometric patterns out of salt crystals.    

We’ve heard accounts of sound’s ability to harm, or to heal

But how often have we stopped to consider how sound might be used intentionally to shift what is stuck in our own lives?

Consider for a moment the catharsis of crying to your favorite song.  How the music moves you to tears you’ve been needing to cry, and how refreshed you feel afterwards.  

Sonic Alchemy is a gently guided journey through our inner landscapes, where we open, deepen, confront roadblocks, release, discover, and commit to our deepest desires.

In Sonic Alchemy, we use sound to orchestrate breakthroughs that may have been inaccessible otherwise. We can feel the resonance of sound in our bodies, which is why it can move us so profoundly.  Through opening ourselves to song, we can gain perspective on aspects of our lives that we may have been too enmeshed in to see clearly before.

Sonic Alchemy uses singing, drumming, percussion, Tibetan bowls, and Acutonics tuning forks to create a symphony of sound crafted to gently open us. We set the stage with Tibetan bowls, to ground us and call us to center. In alternating periods of singing, meditation, journaling, drumming, meditation, and more journaling, we surrender ourselves to sound. We let it stir us and shift things inside us. We allow it to fortify us for the journey ahead. We write about it so we do not forget. By singing together, we bring ourselves into resonance with each other, instilling feelings of empathy, compassion, and camaraderie. We feel seen, and we feel less alone in the world. We complete the session with the humming resonance of Acutonics tuning forks, to ground us and seal sound into our bodies.

At the end of the workshop, we take what insights we have uncovered, and make one commitment.  We choose one action we can take to bring our insights to fruition in our daily life. Each participant will be given a token of remembrance for their altar.

You will leave a Sonic Alchemy session with more clarity, more energy, and with a feeling of rejuvenation and renewal. You will feel closer to yourself and your community. And you will most likely have a renewed sense of conviction about some of the things that matter most to you.

We can use sound to orchestrate our own lives.  We can craft our lives to be a symphony of  meaning.

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(Next Sonic Alchemy in Denver May 30th and Chicago in October. Check Sharon’s tour schedule  for details as they arise.)

Want to learn more about Sonic Alchemy?

Try these:

Experience Acutonics Tuning Forks with this FREE Sonic Alchemy meditation

An amusing little rant about singing together.

An early article on Sonic Alchemy and the healing qualities of sound.

Posted in Sonic Alchemy | 9 Comments

Love – it isn’t just for Hallmark Cards Anymore

CupidLove has become cliche.

It seems trite now, a meaningless hippie platitude.  Love is not all we need. We also need water. And oxygen. And preferably, all our limbs. We need banks to stop robbing us blind. We need a stronger economy so that we have a chance to thrive. We need to find sustainable ways of living on our finite planet. We need a healthy immune system. We need to be able to defend our loved ones. We need competence and compassion. We need reliable news sources. We need creative outlets.

So, with a roll of our eyes, we toss “All we need is love” into the rubbish bin, alongside “We are all One” and “Visualize World Peace”.

Which is too bad, because it is one of the most ennobling experiences we humans can have.

How can we reclaim love? How can we remind each other that it is more than a sentiment for Hallmark cards and pale pink hearts and cloying romantic comedies where all problems are solved and everyone lives happily ever after within a 90 minute time frame?

Maybe we need to remember how fierce love can be.

  • Love is the strength of a mother to lift a car to rescue her child.
  • Love is a Tibetan monk setting himself on fire in protest of his culture being destroyed.
  • Love is giving up a cushy job so that you can devote your life to ending sex trafficking.
  • Love is speaking out against the oppression of others.
  • Love is keeping our commitments.

To reclaim love, we can also think about the awesomeness (and I mean that in the truest sense of the word, not with “dude” added after it) of life itself . Consider our situation: We experience our lives from within these automated meat suits, itself a miracle. We are breathing air because a long time ago a bunch of chemicals decided to bunch together for whatever incomprehensible reason – or no reason at all – and create life. And here we are, with a zillion different types of flowers and animals and rocks and things to eat, look at, and experience. We are on this planet alongside music. And Fjords. And Lions. Lions! And a gajillion stars that are 200 million miles away from each other. And those are the close ones! Just the ones right next to us in this one galaxy, which is frigging huge. And of which there are a gazillion more.

If this doesn’t inspire love, or at least awe, you might already be dead.

I believe this level of awe is also love. For what is love if not an experience that cracks our hearts open to the beauty, wonder, and amazement of creation? What is love if not to be overcome by the majesty of this glorious, mysterious life?

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! May you fall in love with everything!

 

Posted in Enchantment, General Musings | 2 Comments

In Honor of Beauty, Mystery, and a Life Well Lived

Teresa

Teresa Morgan, Sep. 20, 1956- Dec. 26, 2013
Rest in Peace. I love you.

Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, one of my closest friends died.

It wasn’t unexpected. But it did come more suddenly than we thought. The whole thing seemed to happen so fast.  Last year, we had plans to visit her and her sweetie on New Year’s day, and she decided to take a rain check as she had an important doctor’s appointment the next day. Nothing serious, she just wanted to get something checked out.

That something turned out to be cancer.

Less than a year later, she was gone.

We got the call on Christmas, as we drove home from Christmas dinner with my sister. Her husband wasn’t sure she would last the night. Thankfully she did, and was still with us when we arrived on December 26th. She passed at roughly 11:36pm that night.

Here’s the thing – her death, sad though it was, for she was far too young, was also strangely beautiful and inspiring.

Does that sound callous? Delusional? Did I make it beautiful in my own mind, to buffer myself from the pain of losing a dear friend? It is possible. However, I have  borne witness to 3 deaths. 5, if you count cats, which I do. They are family too, after all. Each death had a different quality. My father’s death, although fairly peaceful, was much more matter-of-fact.

Teresa was a trained magician. And honestly, I have no better explanation for why her death was so much more majestic than my father’s. She departed this world in an array of lights, shimmering blues and golds and whites. I began seeing these lights as soon as we got the phone call on Christmas night, and they lasted several days after her passing.

Admittedly, I have always been a very visual person. It’s as if my third eye came into this world on acid and never came down.  I have had to find a framework for this, and the language of magic fits better than anything else. Either that, or I’m in need of medication, but this interpretation has always felt annoyingly dismissive.

That said – Teresa’s passing was psychedelic as all get out.

This is what it felt like:

It was as though she was streaming out of her body for 48 hours. Gently diffusing like an essential oil, permeating the room with her essence, slowly and steadily rising out and up, as though she were rising on the plains. And the lights! The air around her was positively crackling with lights! Blue and green and white and gold – like fireworks. As her life force ebbed away from her body, the room was infused with this pulsing energy and light.

When she was gone, she was gone. Her body was an empty husk, nothing of her lingering.

And yet this perception of light lasted a good 3-5 days. My perception shifted to the view of all life as a river, that the things of our manifest world are not so solid as they appear, and that all life blinks in and out of the world of form in an endless dance of light and energy, never truly ending, just returning to a great sea of consciousness.

I have perceived the world like this off and on since childhood, and it has always struck me as somehow more “real” than our day to day mindset. It has always felt like an undercurrent that exists just beneath the surface of habitual perception. I don’t always live in this mindset, due to the need to participate in the day to day world. But it came back to me as a consequence of Teresa’s passing, as if she were leaving me a final teaching before she went, a reminder not to forget. It was utterly beautiful, to the point of ecstasy.

Were my brain inventing a story to protect me from the pain of  loss, I would expect comfort. But ecstasy?

Were my brain inventing a story to protect me from the pain of loss, wouldn’t it have produced a similar experience when my father died?

“What exactly is going on with consciousness?” remains, for me, one of the most fascinating question life has to offer.  What is this experience of life being a river, of the separateness and concreteness of matter being rather less absolute than they appear?  The postulation that we can explain away these experiences as mere brain chemistry does not hit the mark for me at all. It feels like just the very tip of an unimaginably vast iceberg. Why do we have these experiences? Why do they so often strike us as more profound than “real” life? These are the questions that captivate me. Our brains give us the ability to have them…but what purpose do they serve, and why does it feel so essential to who and what we are as humans?

I don’t have answers for these questions. I do have a conviction that these experiences are vital.

Larger questions aside, I sit with the observation that each death has its own story to tell, its own current that manifests as an extension of the quality of life that person lived. My father, who lived his life without any strong spiritual convictions, felt as though he sunk into the earth, dissipating into the elements and molecules. My friend Tara, who passed a few years ago, felt to several of us in the room as though she shot out her heart and into the body of Hecate. (Complete with a spontaneous song to Hecate shooting through T. Thorn Coyle at the moment of Tara’s passing).

Teresa felt as though she rose up into a vehicle she created for herself through years of magickal practice.

In writing this, it is not my intent to attempt to prove or disprove magick. Only to stay open to mystery. It is my will to acknowledge Teresa’s friendship, her wisdom, and to honor this feeling that as she departed, she left me a very great gift, a feeling that life is so vastly more beautiful and fascinating than we can ever imagine. Teresa was a friend that I spent many years exploring life’s mysteries with, and as she departed she gifted me with an experience of mystery that I will not soon forget.

Thank you Teresa. May you be blessed on your journey, and may we meet again!

Posted in Enchantment, Inspiring People | 3 Comments

A Tale of Two Stories

One upon a time there was a girl with stars in her eyes. She had tumbling red curls and a song in her heart. But she realized, she was sad. She had abandoned her dreams. So one day she turned to her charming prince and said “let’s hit the road and be musicians”. And so they did. Across the land they roamed, singing songs and making friends. Tentative and bumpy, but overflowing with passion, was this humble musical venture of theirs. When times were tough, they always had a place to stay. One day, they decided to take the leap and give up their home so that they could afford to take more risks and spend more time on the road doing what they loved most. They were nervous, but they had support and love enough to feel good about taking the plunge. They were in love, they lived a creative life, they travelled the world singing, and were very happy.

Meanwhile, in a parallel reality -

Times were tough. Everywhere you looked, folks were losing their jobs, their homes, their security. Debt was increasing, jobs were decreasing, and people were having a much harder time weathering basic life challenges. Folks who had little to begin with were hit especially hard. Such was the case for our protagonists; struggling to make a living in an uncertain industry, they were eventually confronted with the need to abandon their home in order to stay on top of their bills. They just couldn’t keep up with the demands of daily life, and became yet another statistic in the saga of the dwindling middle class.

Both of these stories are true. One sounds like a wonderful adventure and the other is a hard luck tale. I would so much rather be the person in the first story, wouldn’t you?

As it turns out, I am.  I am also the person in the second story. These stories are both about Winter and I, where we are at in life, and some pretty big changes that are coming up for us. In some ways these changes are brought about by events that could be considered unfortunate. But we are pretty excited about them!

In a nutshell, we are giving up our darling Lake Merritt apartment with the hardwood floors and the bay view, and moving into a tiny loft bedroom in an Emeryville townhouse. We will have considerably less space, for considerably less cost.

This is something that we have been discussing for a few years now. Most of our musician friends have given up their homes at one time or another to live on the road, and saving on rent costs really helped them get ahead. They invariably describe this time in their lives as challenging, but ultimately beneficial. We can’t help but imagine the possibilities for ourselves.

However, we’ve been reluctant to give up our own space. A place that is just ours, where we can let our hair down and not have to be “on” for anyone. Don’t get me wrong – being the celebrated “Artist on Tour” is loads of fun. But sometimes I just want to sit around in my underpants, you know what I’m saying?

So we put off making this choice.

Until Winter’s dentist made it for us.

While we probably could whether this new expense, it feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back. We want to invest in our business more than we’ve been able to. We want to get out of debt faster than we’ve been. And the more we are on the road, the more it hurts to send back a giant rent check for a place we aren’t even living in.

So we are taking the plunge, and for the most part, we are feeling pretty excited about it!

Of course, it could be said that medical bills are driving us into downsizing our lifestyle. There are those who would interpret our situation as tragic. There are those who will shake their heads in pity, thinking us fools for chasing this music dream. There are those who will see the second story as the hard truth, stripped of the romanticism I am known for.

But frankly, I identify with the first story so much more! And since it’s my life, I get to define what is adventure and what is tragic. I have dreamed of being location independent for years, traveling the world as I sing songs for people and work from my laptop. As I see it, this is the best of both worlds! I will get to experience the benefits of location independence, and still have a place to hang my hat. This is freaking awesome!

I can see wanting to have a larger home again someday, where I can spread out and have art projects all over the place. Indeed, owning a home is a significant measure of success to me. But I can do the gypsy thing for awhile and feel just fine about it. I am so thankful to be given this opportunity (thank you – you know who you are) and it really brings home the point to me that community, love, is what makes the difference between whether our stories are tragic or exciting. It is community and love that makes the first story ring true.

It also brings home to me just how much we live in our stories. How much our stories color our world. How many different viewpoints can be simultaneously true, and what it says about each of us which version of truth we choose to live in.

I live my life as an epic saga. Every day is an adventure, and if someone wants to tell me my life is nothing more than a sad newspaper statistic they can kindly piss off.

I am looking forward to sharing this new phase of our adventure here on this blog as I step more fully into the life of the touring musician! Will I freak out sometimes? Undoubtedly. Might I fail? Well sure. But you know – when I am on my death bed I am going to be damned thankful that I took my best shot at living my dreams rather than clinging to the (rather flimsy) promise of security and the American Dream.

How about you? What parallel stories do you have going on in your life?  What stories do you claim as yours? What stories define your life?

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

20 Penises

www.catherinebuchanan.com

Several years ago, a friend and I went to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco.  As you probably know, San Francisco is sex-positive mecca, (or a den of debauchery, depending on your viewpoint), and the Folsom Street Fair is sort of our Kink Pride Day.

So off we went in full leathers, drinks in hand, weaving our way through thumping techno, writhing bodies, drag queens, leather daddies, damsels in distress,  and impossible heels. Among many, many other things. Mark my words, if you can think of it, someone has developed a fetish for it.

I love a good freak show. And Folsom Street Fair delivers. My eyes nearly popped at the imaginative costumery! I saw fabulous feathered headdresses, skin-tight leopard print and latex body suits, chain mail and patent leather platform boots, scantily clad women with pig noses, masters with slaves on leashes, spectacular tattoos, drag queens dressed as nuns -

“Penis,” said my compatriot.

“What?” said I.

“Penis. Didn’t you see it? It was right there.”

“Right here on the street? With all these people all over the place?” I said.

“Yep,” he said.

Some people are braver than I will ever be, I mused.

And on we went. We had lunch and listened to a band. We checked out various vendors. I saw men in top hats and nose rings, queer pirates with epically long beards, half naked Indian-pirates, bras made out of soda pop tabs, faces covered in glitter-

“Penis,” quoth my friend.

“Again?” said I. “How do I keep missing them?”

I decided I would make extra effort to see some penises. We continued on. I saw transgendered folks in bootie shorts, green hair and cat ears, impossible piercings, Hello Kitty underpants -

You guessed it:

“Penis”.

This happened at least 20 times. And I never saw one.

So then – several years later, there I was, reading a book on exploring our money mindset (“Get Rich, Lucky Bitch” by Denise Duffield Thomas, which at first peruse is a little too “Law of Attraction”-y for my tastes, but reviewers swear she’s got all kinds of practical exercises so I am giving it a chance)  and the author suggests we do an exercise where we write down all the ways we do bring in money. Every time money comes in, write it down. In this way, we see that we already are better at manifesting money than we realize.

And it popped into my head: “Just like the penises!”

We can be surrounded by abundance, whether it be penises or money or love or whatever, and if we are in our tapeloop of lack, we don’t even notice it. We filter things out ALL THE TIME. We can’t possibly process all the information our brains receive, so we develop selective attention. And we decide what we will let in based on what we expect to see.  So, if we have already decided “I’m always broke” we are not likely to notice the ways in which that isn’t true.  We end up seeing what we are already attuned to, constantly affirming all the ways in which we are broke, unloveable, unlucky, or whatever, and not even noticing the wealth, love, luck, or whatnot that is all around us.

This is why gratitude practice is so important! It helps us to tune into the parts of our lives that are glorious! Parts that we may well be taking for granted.

I went to the Folsom Street Faire expecting to see some fabulous drag. And boy did I! My friend, who was at the time exploring his attraction to men, saw a sea of penises.

The verdict is still out for me with this “Get Rich, Lucky Bitch” book. The Law of Attraction has issues, as far as I am concerned. But still. It isn’t total bullshit. (It is partial bullshit, which is the most deadly kind of bullshit, but that is another blog post). Remembering the penises helped me to remember that we really do see our lives through selective filters. “What the thinker thinks, the prover proves” Robert Anton Wilson always said. And it helped me remember how often we can improve our lives just by consciously taking note of the awesome that is already in them. And the more awesome we see, the more we attune ourselves to other opportunities for awesome. Instead of habitually seeing everything that sucks, and turning into a big curmudgeon that no one wants to hang out with, you start seeing opportunities for more of what you love. This is how the Law of Attraction makes sense to me. And this is why I am going to give Denise’s book a chance. Because maybe my judgements about the Law of Attraction are just that – judgements. Perhaps there is some value I can glean from it.

So what have we learned here? Start seeing that which we want more of in our lives. It may already be there more than we think.

Also – if we are seeing nothing but scuffed shoes, empty coffee cups, and gum on the cement, and our friends are seeing penises – maybe we need to set our sights a little higher.

 

Posted in General Musings | 13 Comments

The Quest for Enchantment

sunset-treesI haven’t been blogging as much as I’d like to lately.

I think it’s because I feel I have to be brilliant somehow. To say something deep and insightful. But I don’t always have something deep and insightful to say.

All I have is my journey.

I want to reset my intention here.

I want to remind myself that the theme of this blog is the theme of my life, really. That my response to the world’s suffering is to create beauty. To re-enchant the world, or at least, the small corner of it that I can touch.

And since that is also the theme of my life, I can trust myself, here on this blog. I can trust myself to share what is honest for me, in the moment that I sit down to write, and that whatever I write from the heart will be on topic. I don’t need to try and write something useful, or inspiring, or insightful. I can just write what comes, where I am at in this moment on the quest for enchantment.

For truly, every waking moment for me is a quest for enchantment.

And enchantment is right there bristling through everything. We just get so easily distracted. We don’t see it. I don’t see it.

The sufferings of the world are great. And sometimes I feel I must acknowledge these things. But really, I don’t know what do do about many of them, other than to try and hold space right here in my little corner for beauty. For kindness. For hope. For helping one another.

I am not an activist. I am more comfortable trying to live the changes I want to see in the world, and hopefully influence others by example. I’ve seen too many activists alienate people from the very cause they are fighting for. Too much “Us vs. Them”. I also know some skillful activists, but I don’t know that I could manage to avoid turning into an angry one. It just isn’t my superpower.

I sometimes feel bad about this.

I do not know how to make my government stop instigating war.

I always feel bad about this.

I am not a brilliant doctor who heals the sick. I am not a great innovator, creating new ways to serve the world. I am not a political pundit, with my finger on the pulse of our times.

What I am good at is seeing through the veneers of culture, news, and trends and into the timeless; the immediate, wild, beautiful grace that is the never-ending flow of life.  I know how to find the spirit of enchantment, and reflect it into the world through art. This is my superpower, and thus, it is from this place that my voice will sound most authentic.

Enchantment is a feeling I have quested after for as long as I can remember. Since childhood even.  My Dad had it, in his way, and it was one of the things I loved most about him. This quality has always felt like home to me.

Enchantment is an internal landscape, a mood that comes upon us, of wonder and delight. We feel the underlying rhythms of nature, and the whole world feels harmonious. Like music. We feel ourselves to be part of this rhythm. We may even feel ourselves to be in the presence of a God,  or Spirit. We sense the awareness, the presence of life itself. We feel a profound sense of belonging in these moments, that we are part of the soul of nature. We feel that we have a role to play in the unfolding destiny of life. Life feels brimming with purpose and meaning in these moments. In these moments, it seems we will prevail.

Of course, I don’t always feel this way. I am prone to depression. I feel outside of life sometimes. Separate and disconnected. So I do what I can to cultivate the conditions for enchantment, so that I can find my way back to this place relatively easily.

This blog is, ultimately, about that journey.

I believe that enchantment is our birthright.  I believe that delight and wonder, a sense of being a part of the miracle of life, the awareness that the magic that makes the plants grow is the magic that we are, is how we are meant to feel about life. Somewhere along the line, we have forgotten this.

And it’s no wonder. Nature is terrifying. And so we learned to protect ourselves from her. But we have lost something too. A sense of connection. A sense that we are a part of nature, and can not separate ourselves from her and thrive any more than we can cut a tree from its roots and expect it to thrive. I believe learning to live in harmony with nature is as relevant a quest as ever.

Finding a place of harmony in our world extends to finding it with each other, and within ourselves. To do this, we look for the music within us, and we wiggle around with it until it hits that sweet spot where magic is evoked. It is not a science, and it is not easy to talk about. It is more something that we intuit, and suddenly it comes upon us, the full moon cresting over the hill on a clear night, or a glint of melancholy in a stranger’s eye, and blam, we are enchanted.

We never know quite when it will touch us, but we do know that we can take steps to cultivate a spirit of openness. For truly, an open heart is essential.

So this is my hope, for this wee humble blog of mine. That as I wiggle around my own inner landscape in the quest for enchantment, that occasionally I strike a harmonic chord in you as well,  sparking a moment where magic happens, where the constructs of everyday life fall away, and we are in that timeless, miraculous place together. A place of gentle mist, a warm cup of tea, and a steaming bath waiting for you. A place of introspection and renewal.  A sanctuary that we share, and then carry with us out to the world.

For truly, the world needs enchantment.

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Racism and Cultural Preservation in Modern Paganism

As I sit here NOT heading up to the Stella Natura festival this weekend, it seems a good time to explore my own thoughts about racism, and the prominent place it still apparently holds in the ancestral traditions I value.

If you are involved in the Neo-Pagan movement you likely have seen this post, by Morpheus Ravenna, “Whose Ancestors”? 

I won’t rehash the entire conversation, you can follow the dialog on Morpheus’ blog, but one thing that gave me pause was the issue of cultural appropriation.

A quick summary of my thought process is represented well in one of the comments:

2) The notion that we have access to other religious traditions because of common human heritage is one that is used to justify cultural appropriation. I don’t think that’s what you were suggesting or implying, but it’s important to consider. We don’t think twice about the Lakota refusing to share their religion with an outsider. Should the Asatru have different expectations? – Chirous

Yes, I thought. This sums up my own hesitations nicely.

I have been on the other side of the cultural appropriation issue, wherein an accusation that I was appropriating another’s culture led me to believe that I should stick with my “own” Gods.  A woman in an online forum, who claimed Hindu lineage, stated that I couldn’t possibly know the Goddess Kali, ignorant white person that I was. This person had never met me in person and made this judgement knowing nothing about my practices. She was extremely dismissive and it was quite hurtful.

My response was that the Gods call who they call, and she should take it up with Kali. But still. It affected me deeply. I spoke of the incident to another friend, and his response was, why don’t I work with the Celtic equivalent of Kali. (Because I don’t see the Gods as interchangeable, that’s why).

Eventually my work with Kali dropped off. I came to believe that it was more appropriate to work with the Gods of my own ethnic heritage. That perhaps this woman was right, how could I ever think I could really know Kali. It is only recently that I have been realizing what a loss this has been.

So I had to wade through some emotions around this. Since this incident, I have been holding to a “culture and religion evolve out of the folk-soul of a people” worldview. Which is scarily similar to what the AFA says on their website.  Now, of course, the folk-soul of a people is not necessarily genetic. But still. I had to think about this. If I was so willing to accept that I couldn’t possibly truly understand the traditions of another’s culture, can I so quickly say that another could understand the traditions of mine?

Another thing that was bothering me is the “Universalist” piece. Some folks are very concerned that our “We are all One” stance is going to lead us to a homogenized monoculture. This is a fair argument, and one that concerns me as well.

Thankfully, Wayland Skallagrimmson addresses this very skillfully here:

http://www.uppsalaonline.com/uppsala/racism.htm

In a nutshell he speaks of three basic categories of Heathen: the Folkish, who take the stance that only those of Norse or Germanic descent can practice Asatru; Universalists, who posit that anyone who has an affinity with Norse deities can practice Asatru, and Tribalists, who take a middle road:

“ The members of the middle faction of modern Asatru are called Tribalists, and shun the errors of either extreme. The racism of Folkish practice is avoided as well as the “anything goes” motto of the Universalists. The answer the Tribalists have to the question of “Who can practice Asatru?” is: “Anyone who makes a sufficient effort to understand and adopt the culture of the ancient heathens.” Wayland Skallagrimmson

This last sentence brought it home for me.

I don’t want an “anything goes” spirituality. I want traditions with lineage, insofar as that is possible. I want traditions that carry a strong identity and depth of meaning beyond my own imaginings.

The types of lineage I value are not based on bloodlines, but on culture.

So here’s what it comes down to for me:

I take the tribalist stance – as far as I am concerned, the Gods call their own based on any number of factors, which we may or may not understand. I do not believe culture is defined by race, but by shared experience. We have been “going native” in one another’s cultures for years, and it often leads to beautiful collaborations. With respect for one another, I think we can continue to share traditions in a way that does not feel appropriative.

Amy Hale’s distinction between appropriating and borrowing, (also from Morpheus’ blog) is a useful guideline:

There is a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural borrowing. Appropriation occurs in the context of domination and exploitation. Borrowing happens all the time and mostly flies under the radar – Amy Hale

Limiting the type of culture we can participate in based on race, i.e. white people should play “European” music and black people play the blues (I actually read this online recently) is ridiculous, and an incredibly stagnant way to live.

Preserving cultural diversity is more effectively accomplished by preserving the culture itself. Genetics are irrelevant. Regarding monoculture, we have far more to fear from shopping malls and fast food chains than we do from sharing our cultural identity with one another.

Also – cultures change. It is inevitable. Whatever our ancestors were doing a thousand years ago, we can be sure that much of it is lost or irrelevant. We live in a global society now. The tribes of yesterday are not the tribes of today. They can’t be. Time marches on and things change. We needn’t fear this. Micro-cultures will continue to crop up. The best way to preserve this diversity is to keep doing interesting things together in our local communities. Turn off the TV, get away from the strip malls, and create together.

I will speak out and defend against racism when I hear it happening. I will add my voice to those who say we do not accept racism in our Pagan traditions.

Also – I am uncomfortable with some aspects of the dialog around racism. There are a lot of snarky blanket statements about white people floating around the internet. A lot of anger is hurled about, and while I understand it, I also find it alienating. I am not the enemy, but a lot of the conversations make me feel as though I am.

I feel that on one hand I am told that white guilt doesn’t help and on the other hand I am expected to atone for my white privilege. I have read blog comments that say white people need to sit down and shut up. I want to partake in conversations where I am welcome to speak.

I wish we didn’t speak in terms of “White people” and “Everyone else”. It pits us against one another. We are all people of color. I am peach. I know we aren’t at that point in the conversation yet, but I hope we get there.

I understand why this anger exists and am willing to sit with my discomfort in order to participate in the dialog and hopefully be part of a solution.

I acknowledge that there are also those who speak about these issues from a powerful  and well-thought-out place that does not feel alienating. (Crystal Blanton, I’m thinking of you).

Also – the “We Are All One” thing is getting a bad rap. It was never meant to be some hippy-dippy platitude, although it is quite often over-simplified to come across that way. It almost certainly comes from Buddhism and is meant to point to the interconnectedness of all life. It was never meant to encourage monoculture, monotheism, or “anything goes” New-Agism, but only to point to a common ground of being, a pregnant void of pure potential before the manifestation of any form. From this an endless cornucopia of diversity manifests.

This seems a good stopping place for now, as this post is already plenty long. Suffice to say these thoughts will surely morph over time, but I did want to give an honest weigh-in of where I am currently at with this, since it lies at the core of my community. Some of it is difficult to talk about, which is why I have been silent up till now, but better to speak of these things and work through them than stay silent. I hope I can contribute some value to this conversation over time.

 

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World Domination Summit – Giving to the World, Being True to Ourselves.

Sign

Perhaps this red sign seems a bit ominous for my report on Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit, which I attended July 4th weekend. And yet, when I came across this photo, it really cut to the core of what I got out of the Summit.

This world can be heartbreaking. We humans can indeed be very destructive and hurtful to one another. And yet, we can also be incredibly compassionate, inspired, caring, and creative.  This past weekend, I had the pleasure of spending time with about 2800 other folks all gathered together in the hope of making the world a better place.

For two and a half days I mingled with creative entrepreneurs of all stripes, seeking to live on their own terms and create something truly remarkable with their lives. Every one of them approached life with a sense of artistry, and every one of them hopes to be a force for good in this world. That much concentrated optimism can be pretty potent!

Highlights for me were:

Danielle LaPorte. This woman has just got it. She came across so completely relaxed, in her slinky black dress and bare feet. And as she spoke, a light radiated out from the crown of her head and filled the room. Her words came from a place of such authenticity that it gave everyone in the room permission to be as true to themselves as they possibly can be. She reminded me that yes, we can be successful on our own terms, we don’t have to conform to anyone else’s mold. Which of course exemplifies the entire spirit of #WDS.

Chase Jarvis was also another truly inspiring force, with his lecture on creativity, and how our system dumbs people down and teaches us all to be good little robots, but what we actually need is a whole world of people taught to think creatively. Folks who know how to apply creativity to problem solving will be the ones who find solutions to the world’s many problems. We are hampered by both the style and cost of education. So he and a partner have launched a learning site, Creative Live, where you can take classes on just about anything, for free.

I had a chance to meet Pace and Kyelie, of the Edgewalker Academy, and felt immediately at home. I’ve been admiring their work for years. And bonus – Dyana Valentine was dining with them, so I got to meet her as well.

I could go on and on, but if I had to declare just one takeaway  from WDS, it would be this: I already have all I need, right now. I have a strong sense of identity and mission. While I will always be a seeker, I know what I want to bring to this world, and am already well on my way to doing it. I want to re-enchant the world. I want to be a living representative for what the world can become if we strive to delight each other. To create beauty and wonder and magic for each other. To be kind to one another, and to lift each other up. And I want to sing this from the rooftops, both for you and with you. My mission is clear. My passion is strong. I just need to get the word out about it better than I do.

And that feeling? It made me feel like I belonged there. With these people. With the creative world changers. To be in a giant theater of awesome and feel like I truly belonged there? That rocked.

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Neofolk Romantique – It isn’t just for music anymore.

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Beveled bottle seeks exotic liqueur for mutual fulfillment.

Hello friends! I have an announcement to make!

This year has entailed a lot of soul searching as far as how to do my sweet little music career in a way that keeps it fun and creative, so that I don’t burn out. None of us can do our best work when burned out, and it has always been important to me that I craft my career on my own terms, not just for me, but for you. You guys deserve the best music I can make, not music that is rushed because I need to make rent.

At the core of my musical mission is the desire to rekindle a sense of enchantment in our world. The music I make comes from this place, and as such needs to be nurtured in this way. I need to be rested, rejuvenated, and inspired to create music that conveys this enchantment to you. I need to take time with a new song or idea, roll it around in my mind for awhile and let it ripen and take shape organically. For songs to reach their full potential, they must be allowed to reveal themselves slowly, as a lover would. I can’t give this process the respect it deserves when I am trying to slam out product as quickly as possible. Assembly-line music is not what I am here for.

For a while now, I’ve made money only when on tour. Which makes for a stressful time indeed when I am taking time off the road to create new music. As I’m sure you know, stress isn’t all that conducive to creativity either!

So I’ve spent a significant amount of time this year developing arms of my business that can sustain me while I write and record new music. In February, I unveiled the Ring of Enchantment, which in the fall will launch as a full fledged school.

Today I reveal to you the third – and final – arm of my master plan:

The Neofolk Romantique Etsy Store!

Why an Etsy store? One of the things that keeps my creative juices flowing is to approach creativity from a completely different angle every so often. I have been known to make my own clothes, draw, and meander aimlessly exploring new things. One of the things I have become enamored of lately is the vintage world. Over the years I have collected, crafted, or otherwise created a collection of goodies that fit the Neofolk Romantique style. And now I offer them to you.

This serves the dual purpose of keeping my own imagination kindled so I can write better songs, and also gives me the means to earn an income when not touring, so that I can develop new songs in a relaxed manner.

In my Etsy store you will find clothing, home accents, art pieces, and vintage treasures all handcrafted, upcycled, or found by me, and that represent the Neofolk Romantique style. A FREE song is included with each purchase.

What is the Neofolk Romantique style, you might ask?

Old world charm with a feisty dash of whimsy and romance. A quirky-sexy love of nature, and a flair for adventure. While we, the Neofolk Romantique of the world, may indeed dress in white lace, it is not without  grass stains on our knees. We are quite content to have high tea in the garden, but we are more than ready to brandish our blades at the first hint of danger. If Pippi Longstocking were to breakfast with Wendy and the Lost Boys, the scene might well be appointed with several items from the Neofolk Romantique Shoppe. Belly dancers with daggers, pirates in eyeliner, eccentric old ladies, brave explorers, epic love, fairy tales and fetish boots, circus acts and re-imagined history; if it seems like something the characters in my songs would have, it will be represented in the shop.

Care to step a little more into the world of Neofolk Romantique?

Then come for a visit!

PS – all proceeds from the shoppe go toward the care and feeding of your very own Neofolk Romantique musicians as we complete recording of the formal release of  our “Neofolk Romantique” album, slated for release at Faerieworlds 2013.

UPDATE: I found a little widget to display stuff right here:

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