the ram sessions

 
  ©  eugene ruffolo

© eugene ruffolo

Hi, sweet blog reader… It's been a really long time since I've shared anything about my album and I apologize for being so out of touch. The truth is, I've been going through one of the most challenging experiences of my life with this creative project and up until now I haven't been ready to say anything about it. But now I am...

Three years ago when I embarked on this project, I had no clue that it would completely unravel my world. What started out as an innocent desire to record some new songs turned into a deep descent into the underbelly of my being. As one who is used to expressing herself with ease, this experience of stuckness has been beyond difficult. It's like I've been on a cosmic hamster wheel with no way off. On top of that, my "stuckness" has been on display for the world to see, and that has made things so much more intense. It's a terrible feeling to do a Kickstarter campaign and have people support your vision, and three years later have nothing to show for yourself. But there it is: It's been three years and I haven't delivered anything yet. 

Along the way tons of people have tried to analyze my situation, but, in truth, no one knows. What do any of us know about another's journey, never mind our own? Everything is shrouded in mystery. The only certainty is that this process has completely overhauled me as a human being, and it's been brutal and shattering and so incredibly lonely. It's been lonely because I've been going through something that has defied explanation, and it's felt like no one on the planet understands. I've mostly found comfort in a story my Dad told me about a year into the project. He said that almost 40 years ago he was at a tiny airport waiting to be picked up by my mom and there were only a few people around. One of them didn't have a ride and my dad offered to give him a lift—it was Paul Simon. He got in the car and as they made their way down the highway, my Dad noticed that Paul looked very down and dejected. Concerned, he asked him if everything was alright. 

"I just can't finish my album." Paul said. "No matter what I do, the tracks won't come together." 

God, those words have been like a beacon during my darkest moments. To know that an artist I admire so much could hit such an impasse—well, it's been encouraging in some strange way. Maybe this kind of stuckness is something that all artists experience at times, and perhaps it's even a necessary part of the path. One thing I've come to understand is that creative energy is a gift—a blessing—and it doesn't belong to the vessel that expresses it…. nor does it work according to the ego's timeline. How can it? The ego lives in the world of instant gratification, but the soul knows that things evolve through some other intelligent design. Who knows, maybe the soul works in dog years. Or light years. But it definitely doesn’t work in ego years. 

Sometimes I wish I could rush my evolution, but nature doesn't work that way. No one looks at an unripe fruit and says, "Why aren't you ripe yet?" It's an absurd question. But why should human beings be any different? We ripen when we ripen. Our projects finish when they finish. Our hearts heal when they heal. Of course effort is needed, but we don't always (or ever) have a say when or what the outcome will be. Other people may judge or criticize, but that just means they don't have the subtle awareness to see what's really going on beneath the surface.

Whether my album gets done in the next month or the next year, one thing is certain: After this experience, I will never again judge another person for their apparent "stuckness"—be it in a creative rut, a bad relationship, a crappy job, or any other pattern. Sometimes shit happens and we need to go through what we need to go through in order to learn important lessons. Those that truly love us will stand by and say, "Don't give up. I believe in you." And everyone else will just push us into deeper self-acceptance. 

At the end of the day, what matters is not the final product, but the journey. Ultimately, this whole shebang has just been a divine plot to help me learn more about patience, self-love, and surrender. This became clear a few weeks ago when I hit a wall of despair. After putting forth endless effort to no avail, I just couldn't do it anymore. Slumped at my harmonium with soaking wet eyes, I saw how attached I had become to the project... how terrified I was to give the whole thing up and walk away. But that's precisely what I needed to do. As the saying goes: If you set something free and it comes back, it's meant to be. Well, I needed to be willing to look my album in the eye and say, "Thank you for kicking my ass and helping me grow. I love you. And I'm willing to let you go." So that's what I did, and as I released my grip, I fell through some cosmic rabbit hole into a new world. The next day, everything flowed in the studio and it's been flowing ever since.  

Throughout this process, I have only had one thing to hold onto: the name of Ram. For some mysterious reason, the mantra of Ram became my touchstone during this wild pilgrimage and it took me down a path I never expected. As everything around me fell apart and I met shame, fear, failure, and so much more, Ram showed up in my life like the most compassionate lover. Try as I might to push him away, he remained steady and present in my heart until I finally let go. Amidst the pain and confusion, I tumbled into his arms… and every song I wrote thereafter contained his name. Despite my efforts to sing other mantras, nothing came out but Ram. Thus, THE RAM SESSIONS was born. 

Yes, I will soon be releasing a concept album called The Ram Sessions, and it is a collection of songs to Ram and Hanuman. This idea isn't something I planned—it just happened spontaneously as I tried to complete my original project, "Touch the Sky". Despite endless work on that CD, no matter how much effort I put forth, it simply wouldn't flow. Finally, after two years of pushing against the current, I realized that it wasn't meant to be. Something else wanted to come through, and it was the Ram album. 

Now—after many months of hard work—my vision is finally starting to come together and I am so happy about the tracks. Each one is unique, yet they all share the same thread of Ram. Some of the songs are my own compositions in English and Sanskrit, some are more world-oriented, and a few are in the ambient genre. In a way, the album chronicles my journey over the past few years and it tells a story of disillusionment, descent, healing, and rebirth. And what I'm most thankful for is the fact that the project has integrity because it is a sincere expression of my heart. 

In addition to the Ram album, I will also be releasing a second album of other material (different mantras) sometime later in 2015. At this point I don't know the exact release date for either CD, but in the very near future (a few more months) I will be sharing lots of new stuff that I've been incubating for the past three years. 

Do you know how much I look forward to sharing the songs of my heart with you? I don't think it's possible to explain. Please just know how grateful I am to every one of you who has supported and encouraged me during this time. It's been a really rough road, but as Rumi once said, "What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle." Man, it's hard to believe that sometimes, but in my depths I know it's true. 

Please stay tuned, sweet blog reader! The fruit is almost ripe.

i love, revisited

 
   ©   duy huynh

 © duy huynh

I love. God, I love. There is just so much to love in human eyes and soft sighs and long nights washed with tenderness and rain. How could anyone not love such things: sunrays hidden in the silver moon, weathered books, and blessings from old souls and saints? I love the scent of autumn and the way green leaves give birth to gold. I love blank journals and the minds that fill them. I love the hands of woodworkers and the music of crickets. I love your open heart. I love that my mom is a potter and that I can drink tea out of her handmade mugs. I love that there are brave humans who put their lives at risk to help others, and that so many beautiful acts of selflessness happen in secret. I love that there are people who decipher palm lines and constellations and handwriting and auras and pulses—it just shows that we are so much more than we know.

I love my ears; I love yours too. All ears are beautiful—they’re like soft sculptures sticking out of everyone’s head. And they hear things like songs and waves and birds and rain on wooden rooftops and tap dancing and clapping and laughing and temple bells. I love when a lover whispers in my ear because it’s so intimate and when he says something sincere into that little space it opens me up like magic. If you could whisper in your own ear, what would you say?

I love Pablo Neruda. There’s just something about the way he describes a woman’s body that softens me. He sees the female form in colors and landscapes and flowers, and when I read his words, I feel beautiful. One of my favorite books of all time is his 100 Love Sonnets; I keep it by my bed. A few nights ago I was reading through some of the poems and this line leapt off the page: “From all the graces my homeland offered, I chose only your savage heart.” I chose only your savage heart. It’s hard to explain what happened when I read that, but I literally sat up and tears fell out of my eyes. It was as if he was saying those words directly to me, and I felt so seen and loved. Thank you, Pablo.

I love that I met a man once and we fell so hard for each other. One time when I barely knew him, he took my hand and walked to get some water from the kitchen. Without saying anything, he filled his cup and lifted it to my mouth so I could drink first. Do you know how much that touched me? Although it wasn’t possible for us to be together, I’ll never forget the way he put that glass of water to my lips with such love and kindness. Maybe sometimes we cross paths with people just to share sweet moments like that.

I love basil. Twelve years ago I actually worked on a hydroponic basil farm. That was during a time in my life when I had a little obsession with unusual farming jobs. The year before I spent a summer harvesting seaweed in northern Maine and, later, I shoveled cow shit on a farm in the Arctic Circle. It was a happy time—full of hard work, strong arms, bad beer, and good bread.

I love rainbows. I know that’s kind of cliché, but I don’t see them too often and last week I saw two. I love that in the Tibetan tradition there is something called the “rainbow body”—it’s a phenomenon that happens when great yogis dissolve their body in light at the time of death. Some accounts talk about the body shrinking and emanating rainbow light until only the hair and nails are left. I love that this is possible.

I love Bekandze, the Medicine Buddha. I love to sing his mantra. I love how his form is a deep, translucent blue, and how he holds a celestial bowl of medicine in his hands. I love that there are healing deities in so many spiritual traditions and that we can call upon them anytime. I love that I am just learning it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes I feel like I have to do everything alone, but that isn’t true; it’s just a lie I tell myself.

I love these words by Ajahn Chah: “There are two kinds of suffering. There is the suffering you run away from, which follows you everywhere. And there is the suffering you face directly, and so become free." I love that in every moment we have the opportunity to investigate our suffering and thus liberate ourselves from it.

I love that spirituality is not a self-improvement project or a way to become someone higher, bigger, or better. I love how it’s ultimately about letting go of all attempts to change ourselves, and to accept who we are right now. I love that Osho said, “When you stop trying to improve yourself, life improves you.”

I love jasmine flowers, old stone chapels, passing clouds, and muffins. I love that in India people put flower garlands on cows and cars and photographs and people. I love how the aloe vera plant looks spiky and stiff, but inside it’s soft and cool and soothing. If you just open it up, the nectar is revealed. Nice metaphor, eh?

I love how innocent we all are, know it or not.

I love how being in the fire for the past three years has burned away some of my fear about what other people think. I used to be absolutely terrified of being judged—terrified. And it’s not like I particularly enjoy it now. But the truth is, we can only like or dislike our perceptions of each other, and often those perceptions are based on hearsay or clouded by negative mind states like jealousy and fear. I think self-acceptance is the truest freedom.

I love that I am learning patience. It’s not always easy to practice, but magnificent things often take time to ripen and they are always worth the wait—a creative project, a fulfilling love relationship, a spiritual experience, a delicious meal, an invention, a garden. I love that the earth is patient. I love that mothers are patient. I love that trees are patient. I love that Rumi said: “The lovers of God never run out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full."

I love that in the Buddhist tradition it is said that this precious human birth we’ve been given is extremely rare—about as rare as a blind sea turtle coming up for air once every hundred years and putting its head through a single ring floating in the vast ocean. I love that some brilliant human came up with that metaphor. I love that it seems totally farfetched, but if you think about how many zillions of life forms there are, perhaps it's possible. Years ago I read something in the NY Times that said there are more intestinal bacteria in one person's colon right now than there are human beings who have ever lived, so… who knows?

I love pencils with good erasers, dirt roads, lilacs, and the body of a rose in full bloom.

I love that it's been ages since I've been in an intimate relationship—basically since I started singing. It’s kind of strange, but when music came into my life, it was like being swept away by a long lost lover; I gave myself to him completely. He was so familiar and so foreign at once, and I wanted to spend every day and night immersed in his world… so I did. But unfortunately, before I knew it, there was no room for anyone else.

I love that I didn’t fully realize all of this until six months ago when my neighbor’s boyfriend offered to take some photos for my album cover. He said, “What do you want to wear—a wedding dress?” I had no clue what he was talking about, but as soon as he replied, it all made sense: “Yeah, it’s like you’re married to your music, so maybe you should express that." I love how his words snapped me awake and I realized—holy shit, I have been married to music and I’ve neglected my intimate life for way too long. I love how much I cried that evening as I realized how imbalanced my life had become. Oh how I grieved for the seeming loss of that part of myself… and I vowed to call her back.

I love that a few days later I went to my shaman friend’s place and we sat on her cozy couch as the sunlight streamed through her big windows and she asked me some damn helpful questions and brushed a condor feather over my body and anointed me with palo santo smoke. And I went deep inside my heart and had a conversation with music and told him, Darling, I love you dearly, but we need to change the form of our relationship because there’s no room for me to meet my beloved when you’re taking up his space in the bed every night. He smiled and said, “But what do you mean? We’re not separate anymore.” Just then I looked around and he was nowhere to be found because it was true: he had become a part of me. This profound love of mine—I had assimilated him into my soul. I love that this may sound absurd but it is totally honest and I woke up the next morning feeling like I was single for the first time in years.

I love resilience.

I love that the same moon shines on every continent and the same sky embraces all beings. I love that snow leopards exist. I love that my spiritual teacher Amma has been asking people to visualize white flowers of peace raining down on the earth. I’ve been trying to imagine that and it’s a beautiful practice. Will you do it with me?

I love writing about what I love because it helps me appreciate everything so much more. I love that my hands can type this, and that your eyes can read this. I love that we are all connected in an intricate web of techno madness and boundless love.

I love you, sweet blog reader. I never tire of saying that because it’s true. I love the depths of you that resonate with the depths of me. I love your sorrow and your silence and your secret songs of joy. I love the void from which you tumbled into this life, empty-handed and open. And I love your mystery, which perhaps even you do not understand.

Yes, I see the beauty of you—never to be replicated—and I love your savage heart.

don't wait

 
   ©  beatrice armano

 © beatrice armano

Go after her. Fuck, don’t sit there and wait for her to call, go after her because that’s what you should do if you love someone, don’t wait for them to give you a sign cause it might never come, don’t let people happen to you, don’t let me happen to you, or her, she’s not a fucking television show or tornado. There are people I might have loved had they gotten on the airplane or run down the street after me or called me up drunk at four in the morning because they need to tell me right now, and because they cannot regret this and I always thought I’d be the only one doing crazy things for people who would never give enough of a fuck to do it back or to act like idiots or be entirely vulnerable and honest, and making someone fall in love with you is easy, and flying 3000 miles on four days notice because you can’t just sit there and do nothing and breathe into telephones is not everyone’s idea of love but it is the way I can recognize it because that is what I do. Go scream it and be with her in meaningful ways because that is beautiful and that is generous and that is what loving someone is, that is raw and that is unguarded, and that is all that is worth anything, really.

HARVEY MILK

woman, underground

 
butterflycouch

Oh man. It’s been forever, sweet blog reader. I’ve missed you. I never imagined I’d go this long without writing, but after my last post I went into a deep hibernation and stayed there. I know it’s not really good form to abandon one’s blog, but despite my efforts to write, nothing flowed. I just felt like a wilted flower—unable to create, never mind articulate what I was going through. But none of that matters now. I just want to connect with you in this moment, like two soul friends who always feel close even after years apart. Will you meet me in the intimate space of our shared humanity, without posturing or pretense? Will you journey with me into the secret places that we usually keep hidden? That is my desire and I hope you’ll come along. Tell me, sweet blog reader, has your heart ever shattered? Have you ever experienced the unrequited or longed fiercely for your own love? Have you ever felt an ache in your chest for something unknown, yet strangely familiar? Have you ever suffered the sharp sting of betrayal or spun your wheels in stuckness? I have. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past year.

Yes, last year was one of relentless heartbreak for me. So many things fell away—relationships, self-concepts, support—and I tumbled to the very basement of my being. Just when I felt like I couldn’t bear another goodbye, something else was swept from the shore of my life.

On top of that, as you probably know, I’ve been working on an album for the past two-and-a-half years. It’s been a brutal process in far more ways than I can ever express. When I started the project I was absolutely burnt out and somewhat freaked about the path my life was taking. I never, ever expected music to ravish my soul, but it did... and like any good lover it flipped my universe upside down and shined a light on all of my stuff. For this reason, when I went back into the studio to start my second CD, I was a bit shell-shocked. I knew I had a vision, but I wasn’t sure how to convey it and that ignited a primal anxiety inside that rippled out into every corner of my world.

The truth is, I got scared. Without any warning life dropped me in a wild jungle of creative energy and it was beautiful and magical and dark and terrifying... and I was completely, utterly alone. No matter which direction I turned, no one was there. Sure I had engineers and musicians in my sphere, but my project was a job for them, not an investment of the heart. I had no real collaborators to consult, no producer, and no partner. I just had a song, a prayer, and a heavy sack of fear. Nothing was there to guide me but my own mistakes and no one was there to hold me but space.

Unfortunately, as the months rolled by with no end in sight, an upsetting thing happened: I built a fort around my heart so I wouldn’t feel so vulnerable. It wasn’t conscious, but by the time I noticed the degree of contraction and overwhelm in my being, the damage had been done. All I wanted was to be strong and push through the obstacles like a tough little warrior, but as each day passed I felt weaker and more worried. People kept asking when the album would be out and I had no idea how to respond. There was simply no easy way to explain that my old self was in the process of being deconstructed and reconstructed through the creative fire. How could I answer any questions about the album when it seemed like the album was nothing but a divine hammer smashing away at my ego? I was afraid that if I let down my guard all of my fragile efforts would disperse in a million directions, so I shut down and retreated into a dark cave of isolation.

But there was no way to go on like that forever. Being the compassionate force that it is, life began to tear down my walls. Little by little, things started to shake and crumble around me. Long-held beliefs and structures suddenly had no meaning. People that I cared for turned their backs and walked away. Confusion stalked me. And all sorts of painful emotions that I had never embraced burst out of my depths like a geyser of black mud. I met shame. I met insecurity. I met failure. And I wondered if I’d ever make it through that moonless night.

Still, I didn’t turn away. I kept reminding myself of the words a wise medicine man once shared during a sweatlodge. It was pitch black in the tiny hut and I kept squinting my eyes shut and pressing my sweaty palms into the dirt. Just when I couldn’t handle another moment, he spoke in my direction: “Open your eyes, Carrie. You have to look into the darkness.”

Look into the darkness. Those words changed my life. I realized in that instant that transformation comes from meeting the shadow, from seeing it without resistance. And that is what I have tried to do during this grueling artistic odyssey. After so many months of unearthing my depths, of feeling humiliated, pathetic, unsupported, and afraid, I finally hit a place inside that ripped my guts out. It happened this past January when I was in India, sitting with a French Tarot card reader who shattered my protective shell.

“What are you doing?” he asked when I sat down. I had no idea what he was talking about, but something deep within me trembled at his question. “What are you doing?” His words hovered in the air. “Do you really think you can survive if you just exhale all the time? You have to inhale too, otherwise you’ll die.” I tried to explain myself, but he wasn’t interested.

“When are you going to open up and receive love?” he continued. “You want love, don’t you? Then why do you keep pushing it away? You’ve barricaded yourself from nurturing and support, and veiled your true desires under a cloak of self-judgment. How do you expect to complete a huge creative project when you’re so imbalanced? If you don’t honor your feminine nature and let love in, life will keep drilling you into the ground until you get the message.”

Whoa.

In an instant his words lit a match right next to my diesel-doused heart. I wanted to run, but the session had just begun so I knew I had to stay in the room and burn. And that's what happened. For the next hour, the Tarot dude looked in my eyes without wavering and spoke about my struggles with perfect perception. He explained that over the past year my whole foundation unraveled because it was time for change. He talked about the importance of forgiveness and letting go. He pointed out my ego strategies and defense patterns. And by the time he finished I couldn’t see a damn thing because my face was soaked with a year’s worth of unshed tears.

Sweet blog reader, have you ever known something, but pretended you didn’t? Perhaps you were in a miserable relationship, but convinced yourself that everything was “fine”. Or perhaps you worked in a job that you hated, but made believe you were happy just to get by. So many of us betray ourselves like this, even in small ways, but no one can live in denial forever. Eventually something will happen to tear our illusion to shreds—an affair, a layoff, an illness, a habitual pattern that we can’t break through. It may seem awful in the moment, but in actuality this kind of destruction is nothing but love calling us home.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that love is synonymous with truth. And love does not like bullshit. No. Love doesn’t want our lies. Love wants our liberation. The challenge is that in order to become free, sometimes we have to go to the places that scare us, as Pema Chodron says. We have to reclaim the parts of ourselves that we have disowned and allow the sheaths that conceal our sweet heart to be severed. Maybe that’s why Rumi once said: “Love comes with a knife, not some shy question, or with fears for its reputation.”

Sitting on the temple roof, all of the feelings I tried to ignore came flooding into consciousness; there was no escape. For the first time ever I realized my greatest fear—that if people really knew me, they wouldn’t love me. But that realization was a gift. As soon as I surrendered to the pain, something amazing happened: my heart softened so much that it completely disappeared. That may sound strange, but when I went to look for my heart there was nothing there but space. It was as if I could stick my entire arm—actually, my entire body—through the center of my chest. Yes, what was once my heart had become a gateway to the galaxy and it was the coolest magic trick the universe ever played on me.

That moment was like an initiation into something I still can’t define, but oh man it was beautiful. As soon as I met my resistance fully, it fell away. And since then so much more has come undone. It’s hurt like hell at times, but that’s alright. I’ve been shedding the skin of an old life and an old self, and that kind of renovation doesn’t always come easy or happen fast. Sometimes it’s necessary to torch the person we once were so we can more fully embody the person we’re meant to be. As Nietzche said, “You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new if you had not first become ashes?” While it may suck in the moment, letting go of outworn defense structures allows the soul to blaze more fully and that is an untold blessing.

Of course this process is still unfolding, but I'm at peace with that. After all, the soul’s journey of awakening may unravel for eternity since love has no beginning and no end… but that’s just part of the play. Until we pierce the veil of separation, life is but a brilliant dance of opposites: openness and closure, expansion and contraction, yum and yuck, yay and nay. Thankfully there’s a place of stillness at the center and that is where I am slowly learning to rest.

In some ways I feel like I’ve just crossed the darkest, widest ocean on a piece of driftwood. When the waves dragged me out three years ago I searched day and night for the sand, but there was nothing but sea. Exhausted from paddling so hard, I surrendered to the wind and, by grace, she guided me. Now I see the other shore and, though I haven't reached the land yet, it is in sight. This new land—it already exists within me like an unrevealed song, and when I finally I place my feet upon the earth, everything that’s happened will make sense.

For now I’m still out on the ocean where the clouds and stars are my companions. Out here my clothes are tattered and my hair is a tangled, salty mess, but my eyes are bright and clear, washed clean by the brine of my tears. Truthfully I’ve come to love this solitary sea, though I sense we’ll soon be parting ways. Why? Because I’ve finally uncovered the lesson that these dark waters have been trying to teach: Don’t fight the current, darling. Let it carry you.

While I can’t say I’ve totally let go and stopped resisting, I can say that some really old shame has been cleansed from my heart, swept out by the surf. I feel a deeper resilience and a new kind of strength—a strength that says, “Even when everything falls apart; when people misunderstand me and cruel words are fired in my direction; when all of my efforts crumble and I screw up out of ignorance... there is still a place within that remains unaffected by the drama of life. There is still a silent presence that knows my essence is pure and untainted, despite what the world—or my own mind—may say.”

Ultimately what I’m learning is how to let go of control and have faith in the invisible because sometimes the most amazing things evolve in secret, shrouded by darkness. When the seed of the Chinese bamboo plant goes into the soil, it stays underground for five years with no sign of life—no bud, no sprout, nothing. But if the seedling is tended to with loving care, eventually it will grow up to 90 feet in just five weeks. Pretty wild, eh? Well, I don’t think human beings are all that different. We may work for months or years on a project or practice with no visible signs of progress, but that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. Perhaps during this time we are developing a strong, sturdy root system so that later we can rise up and touch the sky.

Sweet blog reader, I know this isn’t the most lighthearted entry, but it’s honest… and honesty creates intimacy, which is nutritive and healing. In my experience, a little deep sea diving is good for the soul—especially in this flyby Facebook culture we live in. You know what I mean? Real life doesn’t look like the cover of a fashion magazine and it can be helpful to remember that. Who wants to live an airbrushed existence anyway? Imperfections make us more relatable and love penetrates much deeper when there are cracks.

For so long I’ve tried to hide my mess under a guise of perfection, but this album journey has made that impossible. All of my strategies have fallen apart and my egocentric efforts have failed; it’s been mortifying at times, but that’s been the grace of it all. I finally get that it’s a waste of energy to worry about what other people think because my path has its own intelligence… and so does yours. When we honor this intelligence instead of looking to the world for approval, we become free.

Sweet blog reader, I appreciate your virtual presence so much. Thank you for bearing witness to my story. Of course there’s more, but for that we’ll have to share a cup of tea and talk all night beneath the stars. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Then I could hear your story too—I know you have one and your heart interests me. Until then, I send you my love.