What Is Virtual Chant Circle ?!?!?

We’re all connected. We might seem like separate individual creatures – and, ok, on one level, we are – but on another level, we are all part of one beingness, one planetary entity, one shared consciousness. And there’s a strength and a power in this connection that has barely begun to be tapped into.

Virtual Chant Circle is an experiment in using song to feel into this connectedness that we share.

This certainly not an original concept; scientists and mystics alike have drawn on the physical properties of musical harmonics to describe the actual WAYS in which we are interconnected with all of existence. I just thought, Hey, let’s use the practice of singing and the medium of the internet to see if we can perceive ourselves as being connected, heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul, essence to essence.

So I started Friday Morning Virtual Chant Circle the day after Thanksgiving, 2018. The concept is super simple: I go on Facebook Live and share one easy to learn, uplifting song, and I encourage people to sing along from wherever and whenever they might be tuning in – and I also encourage folks, as they’re doing this practice, to imagine they’re connected to every other person who’s participating via a network of light.

The whole thing takes between 5 and 10 minutes, and people can join in “live” or do it whenever it’s convenient for them. But there are a lot of benefits that I’m at least hoping to tap into with this experiment:

  1. Like I mentioned, the original impulse was and is to offer an opportunity for people to experience their interconnectedness across distance and time.
  2. Since the chants are easy to sing and uplifting in message, this practice can give participants a nice little energy boost for their Friday – when a lot of us may be flagging!
  3. Why are chant circles almost always at night? Oh yeah, ’cause that’s when we’re off work. But not everyone is an evening person, and many who would enjoy chanting just aren’t that keen on going to evening activities on work or school nights. So this is my chant outreach to morning people 😉
  4. It’s also designed to be accessible and non-intimidating for people who do NOT see themselves ever going to a chant circle “IRL” – whether because of shyness around singing in public, or discomfort with the spiritual aspects of many chant circles, or simply lack of desire to invest hours in an activity they haven’t tried before and don’t know if they will like. This is a “toe in the water” type of practice.
  5. I’m a big believer in putting out into the world what we want more of in the world – and especially of using our media platforms to spread positive messages and help awaken the awareness of oneness. And the more people add their energy to such messages, the more impact they can have.

Because of the diversity of backgrounds among people joining in, I try to choose chants that are really easy to pick up quickly. In introducing them, I try to ground each one in a relatable context, such as seasonal changes, major events or holidays, or – especially – connecting to our own inner wisdom, our own inner spark of the divine. I encourage people to express themselves with harmonies, alternative melodies, drumming, moving, resting – whatever feels right and good in your body and heart.

Do these chants mention God? Yes. Sometimes. Different chants from different traditions use different names for the Divine. However, the primary purpose of the practice isn’t to worship any particular deity (though of course you can if you want to); it’s more about using phrases that have been held sacred by various groups throughout history to feel our connection to the Divine in ourselves and in each other. The rest, as they say, is icing.

Where do the chants come from? All over. I have spent many years studying multiple chant traditions and collecting melodies (and maybe composing a few of my own). I draw on bits and pieces of songs from womyn’s circles, Neo-Pagan circles, contemporary Christian praise songs, gospel hymns, kirtan, Buddhist mantra, Sufi zikr, Jewish songs, children’s songs, and songs from the Dances of Universal Peace… and whatever melodies cross my path that inspire me to share.

Want to join in? Yay!!!

The exact time varies as I’m sometimes traveling or have other schedule bumps (like not being a morning person myself, lol) but it’s usually about 8:30 am Mountain Time. If you want to join in “live live,” friend me or follow me on Facebook and you should get a notification when a live video is starting. (Warning, if you do this, you’ll see other posts about social justice sometimes, but I guess you know this if you read my blog.) Or, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and you’ll get an email when I add a new video, or you can just go there and find the Virtual Chant Circle playlist. (You’ll also see an archive of all the previous chant videos here!)

And if you do decide to join in, and if you like it, it’s lovely if you share the videos so that more people can join the circle and we can create an even bigger energetic impact!

So, to make a long story short, here’s the original announcement:

VIRTUAL CHANT CIRCLE!!! Friday mornings, Facebook Live, one simple and uplifting song that we can sing together from anywhere in the world. Sharing a song connects our hearts across the distances, strengthens our spirits for the work that each of us is here to do, and fills the spaces between us with light. We don’t even have to be chanting at the same time (though it’s fun when we’re there together and can “see” each other in the comments!). You can listen ANY time throughout the day and add the energy of your voice to what I visualize as a beautiful sparkling spiderweb made of light, reaching around the world. (And chanting feels so good, too…) Maybe you join in? 🙂

Thank You, Krishna Das

Thank You, Krishna Das

Where would I be if I had never heard of Krishna Das?

Probably somewhere being sad and pitiful. 

Well, ok. I’m still completely capable of being sad and pitiful even having heard of Krishna Das. But I think I am at least a little less so for having heard his music and for having sung along, for having read his writing and for having seen so many of my own struggles reflected there — for having been in his presence and chanted the Divine Names and felt the vibration of his voice and the vibration of my voice and the vibration of all those other people’s voices meeting like old friends in outer space, dancing together and becoming one joined vibration of devotion. 

Like at today’s workshop at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities. 

“I’m a born moper,” he said. He described himself as a baby, crawling around mopily. 

In his memoir Chants of a Lifetime, he talks about his long and intimate relationships with depression, drug addiction, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, regret. Even today he talked about depression as something that still comes around, still sometimes brings everyday life to a halt. 

And he talked about how singing the names of God helps. 

Because, he says, these names have power. They’re more than affirmations or reminders for our brains. They are “revealed” names, seen or heard or perceived by advanced beings and passed on to other humans for the purpose of awakening our souls’ memory, our awareness of the divinity that lives within us. They are like soft and subtle cloths that, with infinite gentleness, wipe away the deep layers of dust from our mirror hearts so that we can again reflect the light of God into the world and into our lives. 

And if he’s an example of this, one can reflect a lot of damn light without having to be perfect, or vanquish the inner struggles forever, or even give up swear words (thanks for that!!!).

It’s funny — just this morning after church someone asked me where I get the songs I lead. “They’re not hymnal songs,” she said. I told her, some of them are! But mostly they are chants, and I collect chants. I go to different circles and retreats and places of worship (and sometimes bookstores and YouTube channels) and learn all the chants I can. 

“What got you into that?” she asked. I said that I’d always been a singer, but at some point about ten or twelve years ago I suddenly felt an urge to take a break from choirs and go seek out ways to practice non-performance sacred singing. And I’ve been doing that ever since. Then I started sharing the chants I’d learned. Providing opportunities for people to connect with the sacred and to feel what’s in their hearts and to explore and express their utterly unique voices through chant and other forms of sacred singing has become one of the biggest passions of my life. 

But why?

Krishna Das says — “Why are we doing this? Because we want our level of suffering to come down.”

Ok, I’ll take that. 

We want to heal our small and big hurts, from the daily beatings our sensitive egos endure to the deep wound of our belief in separateness. For all of these painful places, chant can be a balm. And as we become (to use another of my favorite KD phrases) “gradually but inevitably” more peaceful, we also become more gentle with others, more compassionate, more available to help those of our fellow humans who are suffering — and who may be lashing out around themselves as a result of their own pain. 

Chanting is just one of many devotional acts that have a potential ripple effect that can contribute to the healing and evolution of this organism called humanity. But it’s the one that called me, and I’ve been following that call to the best of my ability. 

In Sufism they say that teachings are wonderful and helpful, but the juiciest stuff, the stuff that really gets you to grow and change, is transmitted on the energetic plane by being in the teacher’s presence. (And time and space being, well, not quite the fixities we think they are, a profound transmission can happen in a brief encounter, or across vast distances, or even after the teacher has left the body. The personalities involved do not even have to know each other. Our beings are operating on many more levels than we’re aware of.) I am so grateful for what I have learned from Krishna Das from his writings and recordings — and I also like to put myself, from time to time, when possible, in my teachers’ physical presence. Just to see what happens. 

What happened this time when I chanted kirtan with Krishna Das in Arvada, CO?

I went swimming. 

The experience of chanting today was kind of like having my heart taken out of my body, dipped in kerosene, and lit on fire — then dropped into a sea so cool and so dense with salt that it didn’t sink and didn’t burn but floated and blazed there in the middle of the ocean —

Then every now and then my heart would look back at my body and see it doing silly things, rocking back and forth, raising hands in the air, and sometimes clutching at that space in my chest where the heart goes, as though yearning to physically grasp and take hold of that oceanic feeling and plant it there forever …

As I said, Silly. 

But so human. 

That feeling doesn’t stay forever — at least not on my side of enlightenment (ie, the side that isn’t enlightened). But next time I am depressed or feeling worthless or lying in bed furious and unable to sleep, wishing I could wake someone up and punch them (true story), maybe I’ll remember just a hair sooner that there ARE ways to restore equilibrium, to come back to grace. 

Thanks for this, KD, and for everything. You’re awesome. 

(I love this song so much.)

Membership Sunday 

Last weekend I took time out from a women’s retreat I was attending in the mountains to be at Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality for Membership Sunday. Then I stopped at a picnic at the Gender Identity Center to do a set with a newly forming choir before driving back into the mountains to help make dinner, participate in a badass equinox ritual and MC the camp talent show. I got up early and went to bed late and it was just an intense day, full of action interspersed with long solitary car rides. And in the midst of all that, I became a member of the Althea Center.

My relationship with that place has been evolving since the beginning of the year, when a weekly Sufi study circle I belong to started meeting there. My group had been seeking a “home” in Denver for a while, and the people at Althea had told our search committee that they had all this space that they wished would be used by diverse spiritual communities. Multiple organizations with different perspectives but common purposes – supporting people in their journeys of spiritual growth – sharing a large old building that looked like a Greek temple and had been built in 1906 by the metaphysical Church of Divine Science – well, that sounded good!

The hardwood floor of the room we’d contracted to meet in, a library-slash-classroom, ended up needing major repairs, and the church, or rather the congregation, had to raise money to pay for it as they went. So for the next several months we bounced around from room to room (of which there were many). Once a month as part of our regular cycle of classes, I lead a chant night, and each month it was a mystery as to where we would sing.

Sometimes we were in an area at the back of the sanctuary with blue carpet, big armchairs, and vast accordion doors that stretched across the whole back of the large hall, but never quite clicked closed.

My favorite, though, was when we met to sing in a little alcove with a rickety table at the end of a hallway of tiny meeting rooms. There was a square window with no curtain or blind that could with effort be opened onto a city alley below. The walls were yellow and there were not really any decorations. It felt old and worn.

This is a quality I love so much in buildings, perhaps especially in churches. It takes me back to St. Joseph’s basement where I performed in a children’s Christmas pageant in a quilted bathrobe, and to my dad’s UU fellowship that had its sanctuary and office-slash-library in the rooms above a rural community theater – where I hung out while my dad was in board meetings, where I took an early stab at novel writing, where I first encountered Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. 

The Althea Center IS old. It was the “mother” church of the Divine Science movement and has been a place where mystical and progressive and metaphysical spiritual perspectives have found a welcome since 1898. It’s fascinating to me to think of the teachers who have spoken there over these years, perhaps some of the people whose ideas influenced people like Sam Lewis, who originated the Dances of Universal Peace, my encounter with which has transformed my life in every possible way.

I’ve been thinking about these connections since I started attending the eclectic Sunday morning services at Althea, which happened when out of the blue I got an email asking me if I might be interested in sharing some interfaith songs and chants there. Seemed their previous song leader had left and someone (a member of the aforementioned study group who helped organize our rental of the space) had mentioned to them that I might be able to help out. I was utterly thrilled at the invitation. I led a couple of chants one Sunday in May and it seemed to be mutually agreeable so I’ve been going back ever since.

It makes me nervous, getting up there with what I consider not the best guitar talent, and I feel very conscious of my imperfect playing, especially with such incredible musicians as play there. The church website advertises the Sunday service as having “world class music” and they are not kidding – though I read that and think, “Everyone but me, of course.” It’s an extra bonus and source of inspiration for me that I get to hear these awesome classical (and sometimes New Age) musicians play each week. And somehow I, with my little acoustic guitar chant singalong, am part of that.

It’s a lesson in getting over myself, all right. If I succumbed to shame and hid away whenever I felt embarrassed about my playing, it would all be over. But it is such a dream come true to be able to actually share the type of music that I do, which is so quirky (and, I often feel, dorky, though I nonetheless am compelled to do it almost without ceasing) with people who seem to find it helpful in some way. It’s shocking to me that I could ever find myself having this opportunity, and I keep thinking that they’ll soon be tired of me and my mistakes and that will be that, but I am so grateful for each and every chance to share this music in this space with this community.

That’s part of why I chose to become a member of the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality last weekend. There’s also the way the church supports and encourages the arts, especially artists and groups from marginalized communities; the way it opens its space for all kinds of conferences and real, in-depth conversations about the critical issues facing our nation and world today; the way it puts the guiding principle of oneness into action, the kind of action that makes things better.

I thought this part of the membership ritual perfectly captured the essence that I love about Althea. People who were joining the church each lit a candle on a table at the front of the church. But the candles weren’t new candles that all looked the same. They were every different kind of candle in every condition of prior use and semi-meltedness, some practically straight and some bulbous or gnarled. They were all different heights and the long stove matches we were given to light them with didn’t reach down neatly to the burnt wicks but left black marks on the white wax sides.

To me it was like – Look at this motley crew, so quirky and so loved. Each member empowered to give their gifts in full acknowledgement of their imperfection – their uniqueness. It’s such a great vibe and I’m honored and delighted to be a part of it.

So I feel like when I completed that little ritual of joining the community, a door quietly opened somewhere in me. And I am very curious to see where it leads.

Looking up, looking out, looking beyond.


Sing With Me

Let’s make sounds together. It’s good for you and for the universe.

Heart Song – Sufi Singing 

First Thursday of every month from 7 to 9 pm at the Althea Center for Engaged Spirituality in Denver. This is a Sufi-flavored chant gathering that honors all traditions. Everyone is welcome. Bring your voice, your harmony, your passion, your presence. If you want, bring musical instruments or a chant or a poem to share.

Suggested donation: $10 for rent if you can.

33rd Annual Ozark Spring Sufi Camp

May 22-27, Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Missouri. I am going to be there, and so will a bunch of other people, and we are going to dance and sing and pray our little hearts out all day and all night long. Don’t you want to come too? Here: http://shiningheartcommunity.org/camp/ozarksuficamp.htm


I hope to see you around, here, or, you know, anywhere!

New CD: Starter Kit!

Oh goodness, how did that much time go by? I got caught up in the rapids of the end of the semester. Then, no sooner had I hit “save” on the final grades than I was off to Missouri for Ozark Sufi Camp, and when I got back to Colorado, here it was, time for summer session to start.

And then there’s that old “I don’t want to write about that, that’s boring, but I do want to write about thisthisthisthisthisthis and this, ah, but, maybe later, right now I need to, uh, rearrange all the cans in the kitchen cabinets.” That ever happen to you? No? Must be just me then …

Well, one project I did work on and actually finish during that time was this CD that I made with the help of my friend Jen F., who provided the equipment and technical know-how. It’s called Starter Kit and it’s a collection of songs and chants I’ve written over the past few years. This past spring I started really working with reclaiming my dreams around writing. I started to have a growing sense that before embarking on new projects (or at least while embarking…), it would be good for me to clear out some of the stuff I’d written but never published. For whatever reason, I got the inspiration to make this CD. I had long resisted the idea of putting folk-type songs and chants together on the same album — I planned to wait until I had enough of each to make two separate records. But it just came to me one day that this was the thing to do — collect the songs I have, and let them be available for those who have expressed interest. My goal was perhaps as much to open the flow of writing and sharing as anything else.

So this is basically a DIY project by two women.  I played all the instruments (wow, multi-track recording! I am such a newbie) except for one track on which my partner Sam plays the bass, and Jen did everything technical, including providing the recording location in her home studio.  I wanted to do it all with an intention and an aesthetic of simplicity.  I drew the art for the cover of the CD; that too popped into my head in a sudden flash.  Weird, but honest!  All these ideas, I just went with them, and crossed my fingers that it would sound ok! I frequently quoted Anne Bradstreet in my mind: “In better dress to trim thee was my mind, But nought save homespun cloth i’ th’ house I find,” etc.  But I wanted to take the CD with me on my summer travels, so we took the takes we liked and put it together in a little less than a month.  Craziness! And yes, we had a lot of fun!

Starter Kit Cover

So, you can read more specifics about that CD here on its own page, including how to get one if you want!

In other news, my dad asked me today if I was still working my ass off. I told him, “No, it’s summer; I’m only working one cheek at a time.” That means I actually have a couple of days off in the average week, and I’ll be posting more soon about my travels in the Show Me state, new projects under research, and more thoughts about paradigms.

Until then,
Much love!

The creek's up; now that's "in the flow"!

The creek’s up; now that’s “in the flow”!

Low Strings

I learned to drum in Ubaka Hill’s DrumSong Orchestra at MichFest. I’m sure she wouldn’t even recognize me as a two-time participant (that’s peanuts — although I did have the honor once of doing vocal improv on stage with her and several other women at a concert she did at a church in St. Paul), but from her I learned how to play some basic, passable, serviceable rhythms on the djembe, rhythms which have given me much joy and have helped me to express many songs and chants. It was in those sessions in the tent on those hot August days that I began to understand myself as a drummer, and eventually to claim and own that part of myself.

I also enjoyed Ubaka’s talks on social issues and philosophies of music and sound and drumming. In one of these, she discussed the tendencies of men and women to choose higher or lower drums. Women, she proposed, often liked to play big, low-toned drums to compensate for, or balance out, a high vocal range. Through the drums they could express those parts of themselves that vibrated with deep notes, and men often sought the same balancing with smaller, higher-pitched drums. She drew the connection between the tones of the drums and the chakras, and suggested that women would benefit from playing the smaller drums too, because their sounds resonated more with the higher chakras. … A theory, and reasonable enough, in my opinion.

At the time, though, I remember thinking that I was more drawn (or at least equally so) to the higher-pitched drums and other instruments. I hypothesized that I feel the urge to fill in the high notes because of my low alto singing voice. I’ve always felt self conscious about my upper cut-off, and sometimes, while singing along with a fearless soprano, I feel a blankness where no sound comes out, and wish that I had some way to externalize that feeling, to express it in a vibration that can be heard. When I play high notes on my guitar, or uke, or on a sharp, tight doumbek (which I only wish I could play), it gives me such a feeling of satisfaction, like that pent up sound is finally being let out. The feeling in my chest is as the excess air hissing out of an overinflated tire.

The other night after I was playing the guitar for a while and leading a dance, someone who’s a good guitar player told me she noticed I play only my high strings, never the low ones. I told her my theory about the high notes and the low voice. She didn’t dismiss it, but said that in her opinion, the way I was playing did not make me sound commanding. I said I didn’t want to sound wishy-washy … ! She said it wasn’t that exactly, but she noticed the absence of low notes when I was playing.

I’m a guitar student without a teacher who takes advice and feedback and instruction wherever she can get it. I take it to heart and try to use it to improve myself and my playing as much as I am able. I consider this information. To me it feels like maybe a lack of foundation in my playing, maybe the instability of my fundamental insecurity about whether I will be allowed to play at all, and if I am, whether I will just embarrass myself. Maybe I need to just get over it.

I want to be able to play all the notes. I want to embrace and love every part of myself. I want to shake off that dang insecurity that keeps me down as a musician! So I’ll keep working on it — get knocked down and get up again (in the words of Chumbawamba — I really love that song, not even kidding). My ego gets some message that it interprets as a need for shame. I lose confidence in myself, I think I’m a total loser idiot, I sulk … and eventually I just put it out of my mind, lalalalalalala, and go back to doing the thing I love doing and being goofily grateful that people let me do it. Hm, yeah, I think a little more confidence would soften up that cycle a lot.


Tonight I had a very happy experience: I paid my dues and became a registered, active member of the Leader’s Guild for the Dances of Universal Peace!  😀  😀  😀  I confess that I have officially been in training since January of 2012 (yep pretty much exactly a year ago) when I asked Timothy Dobson to mentor me, but have not felt like I could afford the dues until now.  (My mom gave me the money as a Christmas present.  Thank you, Mom!!!)

I am super, super psyched.  The main reason is that I will be able to access the database of Dance write-ups … at last!  Up until now I have been gathering Dances here and there … sometimes quickly scribbling them down in the afterglow of a Dance evening, then figuring out the chords later; sometimes exchanging PDFs with other lovers of the Dances; sometimes pestering leaders to tell me the movements, or chords, or the rest of the words to Dances that spoke to me so deeply that I couldn’t go on without knowing how to play them and teach them and pass them on.  These methods have given me plenty to work with over the past years, and there are several Dances of the collection gathered in this way that I am still learning.  But I have been dreaming of being able to access the huge accumulated body of work that is the PeaceWorks database of Dances.  I can’t wait to be able to immediately follow up with learning all the Dances that I feel a connection with, and find new ones to suit specific occasions.  As I said: Really Excited!!!

This evening I was going through the folder of Dance write-ups and hand-written instructions (sometimes even hand-transcribed musical notation … though it was tedious, I actually had a beautiful time copying from the original Dance booklets at Hakim’s house in Florida … I felt a connection to the old Irish monks) in preparation for leading some singing tomorrow night.  The Sufi Order in Denver just started this new monthly gathering called Heart Song: Sufi Singing and they invited me to contribute.  I felt, and feel, incredibly honored and humbled to be called upon, but also deeply thrilled, because sharing this music is my passion.  I really just couldn’t believe that they would ask me to contribute to the community in this way.  I feel like … I want to do the utmost honor to my teachers by sharing music and leading singing in a way that creates an opportunity for the people participating to really connect with their hearts, to feel a sense of expansion and unity and the joy of praise.  I know those are just some of the things that I get out of this form of music, thanks to the incredible spiritual musicians and song leaders whom I have been very privileged to be around.  Part of me feels like it’s silly for me to think I could ever contribute anything worthwhile, and that my attempting to do so just shows my naivete, or perhaps my upstart-ness … I want to serve with respect for my teachers and with humility toward those I might lead, but of course I question the purity of my attitude.  I’d like to say I know what an idiot I am inside … but sometimes I still surprise myself with new levels of idiocy.  In the midst of this internal muddle about “how to be,” when I have a moment of consciousness I just try to get out of the way and let something come through me.

One of the songs I want to share tomorrow night is from the Dance called “Clouds” by Susan Sheely.  This was one of the first songs I learned to play, back when I did everything on ukulele.  I got to meet this amazing woman this summer, at “The Crestone Experience” Dance Camp.  (She actually led a Dance playing the ukulele!  !  !)  I went up to her and thanked her for composing or bringing through this Dance, and this chant, which have given me so much heart-felt ecstasy.  The best way I can put it is this: The mantra OM MANI PADME HUM is said to be untranslatable, though it uses actual words that gesture toward the concept of a jewel in the lotus heart; it is also said to contain and transmit the whole essence of the teachings of the Buddha.  I feel something similar, though more personal, with this song, with or without the Dance.  It is like the song carries the whole essence of Sufism for me.  It’s like the song is a doorway into another plane of felt knowledge, of understanding beyond mental doubts, beyond explanations.  The words are from a Rumi poem, one of Coleman Barks’ translations.  Each line is repeated twice:

This is how I would die, into the love I have for you,

As pieces of cloud dissolve in sunlight.

La illaha illa’llah, La illaha illa’llah,

Hu Allah Hu, Hu Allah Hu

I looked and looked for a video of this Dance online, but couldn’t find one.  I remember the first or possibly second time I experienced doing this Dance in Columbia with Hakim (going by Hakima then) leading — as I spun out singing “Hu Allah Hu,” I did feel myself dissolving into the light.  As I waltzed with the new acquaintances who would become such close friends, my heart expanded far beyond its previous borders, to include everyone in the room, and the world beyond.  That was one of the moments when I felt released from my usual mental background noise, and fully present with the Divine in myself and in everything and everyone else.  That was when we Danced in the Unity Church hall, which I loved, with its shiny concrete floor and beautiful, dramatic, glittering felt wall hangings.  For me, it was the beginning.

And I remember singing it again with Hakim this fall at Ozark Camp.  We were gathered in the Healing Temple, people sitting all around the room on chairs and bunk beds and floor pillows because it was too cold to sing on the porch.  It was late at night and everybody was finding their own harmonies.  The music filled the room like a golden shimmer; the energy was tangible to a sensitive hand.  My chest opened and my heart soared upward and I thought, This is where it’s at for me.  Everything I need is in this song.

So it’s with great gratitude and honor especially to my beloved teacher and original mentor Hakim, and to all the teachers that I have had, that I go forward on this path, knowing that I have been blessed to sing with and learn from some truly, truly great leaders, with the real gift for drawing out people’s heart songs.  I carry the imprints of these blissful and life-changing experiences within me and I hope that some of the energy of those times may come through what I offer.  I think maybe it’s part of my ministerial calling, to lead and share and join in worship music.  At least at this point in my life, it’s what I love doing most of all.

Okay, I will leave you with this video — it’s not the same as “Clouds” but this chant is another one that early on had the power to transport me out of my ordinary experience and into a more connected state — like maybe the song is the outlet that I plug my cord into … or is it the chord?  Clearly I’ve stayed up past my bedtime writing this, so.  Shakur Allah — the quality of Divine Gratitude — when we give thanks, we experience God within us.  Sweet dreams!

Allahu Akbar

Yesterday began the first snowstorm of the year (that I’ve been in town for) here in the mountains.  We knew it was coming – we knew when it started coming down, around four p.m., where we live, even though down in the city it was still just gray and rainy.  My car, though functional (and cute), is not the most winter-adept.  The “smart” thing to do, I thought, would probably have been to hurry home right after I was done teaching, while the sun was still out – while, hopefully, it was still just light flurries that weren’t piling up as mounds of slush or freezing into sheets of ice.  But it was also the last day of my guitar 1-A class and our music-school recital — a big deal for me in terms of personal accomplishment and heart-goal follow-through, though nothing any musician would be impressed by.  I thought about skipping it for about two seconds but knew I would be really sad if I did – so that meant facing worse weather on the mountain roads going home.  Oh well.  I am a little squeamish still, since my ice accident last winter when I totaled my beloved red pickup truck by crashing it into a tree.  But I’m not a person who ultimately says no to things just because they’re scary.  (Or, for that matter, just because they’re stupid.)

I was with my partner, who, in his extreme sweetness, actually came to my recital.  Afterwards, we discussed which route we were going to take home.  We were in separate cars, so we decided to caravan – I would follow him so that his ridiculously bright headlights wouldn’t blind me (but WOULD help me to see where I was going, as MY lights are ridiculously DIM).  We decided to take the winding canyon road instead of the main freeway.  He felt it would be easier because it is less steep.  Personally, I find that road quite scary to drive on in the snow – with all its twists and turns and cliffs with no guard-rails – it is hard for me to keep from imagining my light little car sliding off the road and going down, down, down.  I imagine that there are patches of black ice everywhere, that no matter how cautiously I drive, Nature can still screw me if that is what is meant to be.  So I started out this drive biting my nails, or I would have if I were a nail-biter.  Mentally, that’s what I was doing.  Biting my mental nails.

I said a little prayer asking the angels to assist me in getting home safely.  Then I took some deep breaths.  And I noticed my breathing becoming more rhythmic.  I have been reading Hazrat Inayat Khan’s writings about the rhythmic breath.  He says the breath is not just air moving in and out, but a current that flows from the (supposedly) “external” world, through our bodies, and down into our deepest levels of being – it’s a mystical current – not made of air, but a stream of energy.  And in touching our souls before flowing out of the body again, it actually flows through the Divine Source, which is what our souls are always in contact with, and emanating from.  I will be honest – I do not really grasp this concept.  I only even sort of get the idea of what he is talking about.  But so many messages have brought the rhythm and depth of breath to my attention lately that I am convinced it’s something I need to be paying attention to.  And sometimes I find that resting my attention to something that I want to understand, without probing or puzzling over it, but asking it to unfold its meanings – invites little bubbles of sudden comprehension to rise up silently and unexpectedly from those soul depths, that connection to Source, to which I was just referring.

So one practice is to place a mantra or wazifa (in Sufi terms) on the breath, which both helps to draw one’s mindful attention to the breathing itself, and also helps to cultivate or draw out the qualities expressed by that wazifa.  And the phrase that came into my mind was Allahu Akbar.  Usually translated as “God is Great” (or God is the Greatest), this saying has also been said to refer to God as the quality of strength (and, I have heard some say, specifically the incredible strength that is peace).  Not one I usually use, but I thought, Okay, this is what came to me.  I began inwardly chanting Allahu Akbar on every inbreath and outbreath – not saying the words aloud but saying them in my mind, speaking them to my inner self.  And I did immediately notice myself becoming much calmer.  My posture relaxed and straightened – no longer hunching tensely over the steering wheel, now I sat up with chest expanded, shoulders back, eyes clear and focused on the taillights ahead of me.  Though I did encounter deep piles of slush and whited-out surfaces, I felt if I just held steady and followed those red taillights, I would be just fine.  It was the regal quality of Jupiter flowing through me as I thought these words over and over, continuing to bring my attention back to the phrase when it wandered (to things like – the hundred-foot drop-off to my right).  I released myself to the strength of God to carry me home.  I felt the column of gold light I’ve been cultivating in meditation enter through the crown of my head, flow down through my spine and firmly anchor me to the earth even as I moved along the road.  I allowed myself to trust in the strength of the Divine and let myself be carried in arms of ultimate strength.

The drive took something like forty minutes, and after a while I began to struggle to keep my focus on the wazifa.  My mind wanted to daydream, especially as it began to feel more relaxed and confident.  I did not think that would be a good idea.  I tried to keep returning to the phrase; I tried changing where I placed it on the breath.  I noticed my breathing was not as deep and peaceful as it had been at first.  It was hard for me to maintain that sweet, surrendered state for the whole drive.  Like in sitting meditation – sometimes it can be hard work to just direct the attention to one word, one concept, one stimulus, and keep herding it away from distraction, which, in this case, I thought would be detrimental to my safety.  I felt as though I had been holding on to an invisible cord that was pulling me up the mountain more gently, lovingly, and securely than I could do for myself.  I did not want to break that cord by breaking my concentration on the Divine strength that held the other end.

But as I finally turned off the canyon highway onto the county road to my place (the road on which my previous accident had occurred), and as I watched the heavy snowflakes swirling wildly through the sky in front of me, as I saw the snow already piled on the branches of pine trees, and as I felt the drafts of cold wind though the leaky places in my car, one of those bubbles came up from below.  Allahu Akbar – the Greatness of God – wasn’t the feeling of confidence and support that I had clung to all during my drive up the mountain.  Or it was, but that was only a tiny part of it.  The Strength of God was visible all around me in the snowstorm itself!  How powerful it was – making people afraid, and altering all the terrain; but its mightiness was part of the great wheel that moves the earth through its right cycles and seasons, and all of us with it.  It came to me that relying on the Divine to support me through frightening natural events, like holding my grandfather’s hand, was one thing, but a whole other way of looking at Allahu Akbar is this: the Divine Quality of Strength is inherent in all things, because all things are emanations of the Divine.  If I look honestly and without fear at the snowstorm, I can see Divine Strength evidenced there in a form that is awe-inspiring and beautiful.  I can connect with that essence of strength as I see it in the storm.

I suddenly recognize that I am actually part of that snowstorm.  It is happening all around me and I am not just in the midst of it but part of it – like I am part of my environment, not just being impacted by it.  The quality of Divine Strength is in me just as it is in the storm – we are not separate.  Why should I be afraid?  The storm and I are part of the same being.

The moment of clarity quickly faded after I got home safely and was reabsorbed into the general distractions of life.  But I hope I will remember in the future to look at those things around me which frighten me, which I perceive as outside of me, threatening me – and remember that we are one in essence, and there is no need to not be at peace.

Enjoy your day, whether it is snowy or sunny!


The view from my window