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? 🙂

The Shooter I Could Have Been

The Shooter I Could Have Been

Here’s the thing that disturbs me about the whole conversation about whether students being “nicer” to outcasts would help prevent them from turning into shooters: The people taking that position are mostly ignoring the relevance of actual gun regulation, and the people calling it “victim blaming” are ignoring the traumatic impact of toxic school environments. This meme encapsulates it perfectly:


Fucked up, emotionally abusive social environments in schools (often compounding fucked up, emotionally abusive conditions at home) DO drive people to self harm and/or externalized violence, every day.

I can tell you that as a high school student, I experienced daily abuse that made me contemplate suicide frequently, because I didn’t know how I could bear going back to a school setting where I was constantly tormented, and I wasn’t aware of any other way out.

I was also full of rage, rage that came from feeling utterly powerless to stop the emotional abuse. Teachers and parents told me there was no problem happening and there was no help available, while other kids would be throwing stuff at me, loudly laughing about how ugly I was, and holding me up as a public example of someone no one would ever like.

So yeah, I acted out in pointless and ineffective ways. I once got in trouble with a teacher I respected greatly for whipping the middle finger at a random car going by. Yeah – it was dumb and seemingly unjustified, and I got thoroughly chewed out. But in retrospect, it’s so easy for me to see that I had literally no way (that I was aware of) to PRODUCTIVELY express my fury at being constantly targeted for verbal abuse, so I was trying to repress it all – which led to profound depression with suicidal thoughts, behavior problems and lashing out at uninvolved strangers, and eventually alcoholism, a self-destruction technique from which I eventually did almost succeed in dying.

It was only a few years ago that I realized that what I had experienced in school was definitionally trauma, and that it chemically impacted the development of my brain and my personality, not to mention my physical body, in ways that I am only now beginning to fully understand. Trauma SHUTS DOWN some of our rational abilities and puts us in a constant state of fight, flight or freeze – which is what I did throughout those years, pinballing between the three, feeling increasingly like a failure who didn’t deserve to live, yet also knowing deep down that what I was experiencing was not right. Long story short: the social climate in which I existed, and the constant presence of bullying, really did create in me an extremely toxic and dangerous mix of unacknowledged rage and powerful self hate.

I can so easily see myself in the profile of these kids who shoot up their schools and themselves. It’s not at all hard for me to imagine an alternative past in which I became one of them. What prevented me from becoming a shooter myself? My family didn’t have guns. My family had mental illness and addiction, so I did that instead. (Also, I was a girl. And girls are more often trained to keep shit inside and act nice, while boys are given more leeway to take their anger out on others. So more girls turn to self harm, while more boys become shooters.)

I think the evidence is clear that gun regulation would indeed prevent many people from dying in shootings, in much the same way that sensible regulation of motor vehicles prevents many unnecessary deaths in car accidents. And I also think that smart gun regulation is more than a Band-Aid – but less than a cure.

I didn’t get help until long after high school – after COLLEGE, even, when I finally moved away from the economically devastated rural area where I grew up, and finally had access to decent mental health services, where the providers didn’t tell me to just grow up and get over it, there’s nothing wrong with my life (like the therapist I sought out in my hometown when intensifying feelings of unworthiness to exist threatened to drive me over the real edge). (And some people wonder why I don’t come back.)

So when I see commentators scoffing at the idea that students in a school have some responsibility for “creating” a shooter by ostracizing and bullying them until they snap – well, I call BS on that. We really ARE all part of one ecosystem, and our actions do have impacts on those around us. Sorry (not sorry) to tell you, but when kids emotionally abuse a target outcast day after day and year after year, and when teachers turn a blind eye, it DOES have an impact on that kid’s psychology and mental state, and if they experience it as trauma – which is not a choice they can make – it will cause their brain to actually turn off the long-term reasoning faculties and focus on survival in the moment. Which, I can say from personal experience, can easily start to feel like a no-win situation in which escape is not possible, but revenge just might be.

And I can also see how one of those kids could hope that the excruciating pain of being could possibly be alleviated, just for a moment, by inflicting harm on someone else. Even if the someone who ends up getting harmed is a random bystander (like the driver of the car at whom I flipped the bird – he had nothing to do with anything, but he was there in a moment when I snapped and couldn’t hold back my rage and distress, emotions for which I had no safe outlet).

But –

When someone patronizingly tells kids who are organizing walkouts to stay put, and to just be NICER to each other, and shootings won’t happen? God, so infuriating.

One, just because the social environment is a factor, doesn’t make it the only factor. Who seriously believes that there is one single, straightforward solution to the national crisis of children massacring other children in schools? Regulation is proven to help – and is needed (not least as a declaration of national values, that we really do prioritize our children’s lives over money, which is sadly not very clear right now).

Two, with what skills??? Bullies are often THEMSELVES victims of trauma and emotional abuse who ALSO don’t have the coping skills they need to stop themselves from causing harm, or to even be aware that they’re doing it. Leaving overt bullying aside, the harmful impact of the ostracism that happens as a supposedly “natural” byproduct of teen jockeying for social status is pretty much invisible to the people who are creating it by simply going about the “business as usual” of the game of popularity. Kids are not conscious that they are causing harm, that they are traumatizing each other in ways that can have lifelong consequences, or even result in tragedy.

And if some of them suddenly “got woke,” as it were, to the toxicity of this game, and tried to befriend someone who had been targeted for years – would they have any tools or understanding of how to actually build trust where it had been destroyed? Would they have the commitment to keep working on building trust, even if it took months? Even if the person they were trying to befriend acted out angrily and antisocially due to the pain they were carrying inside? Even if the person didn’t seem “fun” or didn’t have any of the same interests or came from a restrictive home environment and wasn’t allowed to hang out?

(These are all characteristics of ME as a teen, by the way. And I could list other barriers to friending the young me – like my being queer, and not remotely fashionable, and cripplingly shy, and if you hung out with me, people would pick on you too.)

In my view, so many of our national problems stem from a refusal to accept the interdependence of human existence. Mental health happens in a context. In addition to regulating the tools of destruction, it’s imperative that we address the environment in which the desire to murder one’s peers takes root. That’s a lot more damn complicated than just telling kids to be NICE to the outcast. A real change here would need intensive support from adults, consciousness raising for kids, and a recognition that different people need different things in order to feel safe.

Do we, as a society, really care about the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing of all? Do we prioritize it?

Of course not. Our economy is built, to a very large degree, on perpetuating violence and sickness and self loathing.

And we wonder why children are slaughtering each other.

Smh.

acs_0028

Kobayashi Maru and Me

Remember the old Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan? It opened with the starship being attacked – and quickly overpowered. Just as it seemed all hands were about to perish, the lights came on, and it turned out we’d been witnessing a test, the same one faced by every would-be Starfleet captain. It was called the Kobayashi Maru, and it placed the candidate in an impossible, unwinnable situation. The point was to see how they would act when faced with the end of the line, the failure to save their ship and their crew.

————-

A few days ago, I was at an event that referenced the work of Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, and I was reminded about one of the points she so abundantly demonstrated: that racism is fundamentally interwoven into the social and economic structures of our society, and that structural racism is incredibly resilient: as one expression, such as segregation, is dismantled, another iteration is already being consciously developed, is already waiting in the wings, ready to be deployed in the service of protecting the profits of the elite.

The experts were saying, We need to be constantly vigilant, constantly on our guard, because as we’re slicing off the head that’s actively biting us, this hydra has many more ravenous mouths that could very well be devouring our resources while we’re not watching.

And I was feeling despair. The thoughts going through my head: What’s the point of burning up all our energy and grinding ourselves down to useless little stubs to get this one law passed, when they’ve already regrouped for the next fight before they’ve even lost this one? Is the whole thing a setup? Are they keeping us distracted, battling for something they’ve already moved on from – while they just consolidate their power and wealth more and more tightly?

And if that’s the case, how can I go on?

—————

Something hopeful I took with me from grad school: Hegemony is never complete. It can’t be. It’s impossible for any ruling class to COMPLETELY control the discourse, the helping institutions, relationships, our thoughts, heck, even the military. These phenomena are too complex, too slippery. Yes, they can exert a lot of damn control, but it will never be perfect. There will always, must always, inherently be gaps.

And in those gaps exists the possibility of revolution.

—————

The next day, I heard this story, an African folk tale about animals getting the heck out of Dodge as a grass fire roared across the savannah. An elephant was distracted in its charge toward the safety of a marsh by something tiny and buzzing. It raced past the elephant – then it reappeared, going back the way it had come. Then it passed the elephant again, and again zoomed back toward the fire.

The elephant put up its trunk to stop the creature, which turned out to be a hummingbird, carrying water in its beak, a drop at a time, to pour onto the fire. The elephant asked why the hummingbird bothered. The hummingbird said, I want to save my home. And this is what I have to give. So I must give it…

When we decide whether to act or not based on whether we think we can possibly affect the outcome, the person telling this story suggested, we’re likely to stop acting entirely.

So we can’t allow ourselves to think this way. When confronted with disaster, with injustice, with huge suffering, we must give what is in our capacity to give, and try – as a spiritual practice – to let go of the need to know that if we keep efforting, we’ll get the outcome we want.

Because sometimes the calling is just to alleviate the crushing weight of sorrow for one person, for just a while, even if we’re still doomed.

And sometimes, our attachment to one imagined outcome is preventing something much better from being born.

—————-

I wondered then if we weren’t living some cosmic Kobayashi Maru. If our guides aren’t up there watching with serious faces, trying to see the mettle of our character as we struggle and give up and get re-inspired and struggle some more, even as each victory is absorbed almost soundlessly into the ocean of history, and the greedy and powerful remain untouched.

I wondered if that was enough of a point. If it could be enough to make me willing to keep living.

But then I remembered that Captain Kirk (well, Admiral in that movie) had forced a different outcome. As a cadet, he beat the Kobayashi Maru and saved his pretend ship from destruction by hacking the test, reprogramming the simulation to make it possible for the lives of the crew to be saved.

—————–

There’s always a hack.

There’s always a gap of possibility.

Actually there are MANY possibilities.

Just because we don’t know what they are yet, doesn’t mean they’re not there.

I think I need to have faith that a better world, a just world, really is possible. But I don’t need to know what it looks like exactly, or know that what I’m doing is going to help us get there in a linear fashion.

I think we need to keep trying everything. Every creative intervention we can think of. Even if we’re not convinced it will make a difference to the power structure currently hobbling our human spirits.

I suspect that whatever finally pushes us over the edge will be a surprise.

And it’s only by trying all the things, and keeping trying in the face of seeming failure, that we’ll ensure the door is propped open when the answer is ready to come in.

Self Care for the Creative Heart

You know that feeling when you’re all bright-eyed about some project you’ve been working on, but somebody’s careless comment suddenly makes you feel not so confident? Well, maybe that’s just me. But I was having a rough time navigating various rejections (and, let’s be honest, perceived rejections) a few weeks back, and it got me thinking about self care for the minor day to day heartbreaks that sometimes come along with the creative life. It occurred to me that someone else out there may deal with this from time to time, so I wrote this piece, Ten Cures for a Creative Person’s Vulnerability Hangover, which, to my delight and honor, was published in The Daily Positive, and I thought I would share it with you, too… just in case you ever have a need for such tips.

IMG_2332

New Song: Lean On Love

I’m so happy to share this video of my new song, “Lean On Love,” with all of you… I hope you’ll find it nourishing!

If this song touched you, I’d be honored if you would consider sharing it. And if you want to stream just the audio, get the lyrics, or purchase the mp3, you can do that here!

Also, if you haven’t heard, I’m having a joint CD release concert on Dec. 14th in Boulder along with my friend Carly Cohen-Fox. You can find all the details here! Oh, and hey, this song is NOT on my new EP, Turn the Key, because I wrote it after that project was done. It’s just a special bonus that I wanted to share with you all. 🙂

heart drawn with red ink and gray pencil

Something about America

It’s crazy, like
this country my country
that I am a part of, that is a part of me

I see my small personal dysfunction
in your big wide panic
I see your desperation to live up
to what you say about yourself
in the pages of my own journal
And that fear
of being suddenly without comfort
lives in a closet
I don’t like to open
but I know
is down there

So I can’t help but feel
your wound

Your shadow is my shadow
I carry a scrap of that
disowned dark
here in my own heart

For you after all are nothing
but my heart and theirs and theirs and theirs
You are nothing
but us

Each of us in all our complexity
each of us ourselves and also you
each of us ourselves
and somehow one

And I
with my thimble
of memory
becoming an ocean
as I sip
I can’t
look out
on those waves
and say
I don’t see
the water

American flag over liquor store

God Laughs

The other day I caught myself randomly wondering, “Is there humor in the Bible?” 

And my next question was – “Why have I never wondered that before?”

Because humor is serious to me. I’ve noted before that I take literally 100% of reasonable opportunities to make a joke. Life is freakin hilarious, humans are hilarious, animals are hilarious… Words themselves, spelling, grammar, and of course the times when these go off the rails, are endless entertaining to me. If I go for every jokey comment that crosses my brain, at least I know I’ll be making myself laugh, and if someone else joins in, then #success. And as far as I am concerned, laughter really is one of the very best medicines for this terminal condition known as human incarnation.

I think religion is pretty freaking hilarious, too. The pomp and ego, the ways we get tangled up in our own feet as we try to follow our spiritual path. The sacred songs that sound unintentionally carnal. The silly things we humans believe about God, life, love, ourselves and each other. I can say for myself that when I’m in the midst of a melodrama, I am not always immediately interested in “laughing it off.” I believe sorrow is a beautiful and important aspect of our journey, and even wallowing in one’s less enlightened thoughts has a meaningful place in our development. But I also believe in balance, and in the creative interplay between polarities. Humor balances grief. Administered at the right time, and with the right touch, it’s balm for the deepest wounds of our existence. 

Ok, so humor is part of my spiritual path, for sure. I thought of the many very funny teaching stories I’ve heard in contexts from Sunday church services of all stripes, to Pagan celebrations of the seasons, to Sufi zikr halls, to hanging out in the woods with fellow pilgrims, swapping tales that make one go “hmm.” I am pretty sure most Christians would say their God has a sense of humor; one person argued that God must, since we are made in God’s image, and WE have a sense of humor. (Just look at all the jokes we have about God! And we haven’t been smitten yet, sooooooooo…)  

I crack myself up.


But the Bible itself, when I contemplated it, seemed like a very serious text. Plenty of emotional ups and downs, sure. And I could recall mentions of laughter. But I could not think of a single joke or humorous comment, from any of my Bible classes or my own personal reading – not one. 

Surely this can’t be so, I thought. There have to be jokes in the Bible. There are just SO. MANY. PAGES. I mean, it’s dozens of books by many different authors. It would be impossible to have that much text and NOTHING FUNNY AT ALL. Maybe there were lots of jokes woven through these chapters in their original languages, but they just didn’t hold up through multiple layers of translation. Or maybe they’re there, but for some unknown reason ignored by all the pastors and Sunday school teachers I have ever encountered – as if by conspiracy. Or maybe I just had less intimacy with this book than I thought. 

Well, I poked around on the internet a little just to see what better-prepared Bible scholars than me had to say on this topic. But first let me note that I find it rather telling that when I typed “humor in the Bible” into Google, the results that came back were all some version of the question, “Is there humor in the Bible?” This tells me that it’s not obvious to at least some other people, too. So if the Bible DOES contain humor, it’s not necessarily right on the surface.

Not surprisingly, I quickly found a few resources that told me, yes, there are jokes in the Bible. But I did not get a vibe from any of them that their authors were ROFLing over the Bible’s true hilarity. They were more like “Yes, class, some humorous moments have been identified by scholars and very devoted readers. Allow me to point them out to you.” To which I said over-eagerly, Yes, please!

This is funny, right?


This piece by Robin Gallaher Branch walks us through examples of God’s laughter – generally at those who think they can put one over on God – and notes some social commentary on the part of Jesus and other scribes which she thinks would have gotten a guffaw of recognition from the crowd at the time. A lot of the “one liners” she finds amusing fall into the category of irony, or things that are funny because of the contrast they illuminate. She makes a case for a gently humorous reading of the book of Jonah that makes me say, OK, sure, I can see it. But would any of these actually get a LOL from me as a reader, even being clued in that it’s supposed to be funny?

This one, an “Oxford Biblical Studies Online” essay by Leonard Greenspoon, similarly explores several anecdotes which, the author argues, were MEANT to be read as funny, “back in the day” (you know, two to four thousand years ago). I have no grounds for disagreement. He knows his shit way better than I do, and if he says people were laughing then I believe they were, or might just as well have been. But if I were a lay Christian looking for evidence here that my religion really knew how to laugh at itself – I don’t know that I’d be sold. 

So, it’s really been a barely a quest at all. I just looked at a couple of internet articles and indulged myself in pondering the implications of a Bible that is, I think it is fair to say, pretty sparse in the comedy department. The humor that is there is subtle, easily missed. 

And I do – I miss it. 

Oh, I love comedies. I just love a big-hearted joke-fest that’s full of compassion for us imperfect SOB’s. My favorite books of all time are both funny and serious (Catch-22, for example, or Candide). I think it’s so important for our spiritual nourishment that we laugh. 

I wonder if there really used to be more funny stuff in the Bible, if some of its humor was deliberately amputated as the texts were revised to suit various purposes. That’s pure speculation, but it wouldn’t be out of character. I wonder how much personal flavor has simply been lost to the millennia. 

I wonder if Jesus really was a funny guy. I wouldn’t be surprised; lots of wise and loving folks are crack-ups. And I guess if you are filled with the certain knowing of the divine grace permeating every atom of creation – well, surely you can appreciate that this human gig is – pretty freakin hilarious. 

The Bible may not be what I would call a side splitter. But I know plenty of Christians who can split sides with the best of them. I’ve seen how powerful faith can give a person the stamina to laugh right in the teeth of the roaringest of storms. I’ve noticed that a lot of people I respect as spiritual seekers walk around with a twinkle never far from their eye. 

And I aspire to be like that. I aspire to be someone who uses humor to make the path a little easier for someone else. I do hope to follow in the footsteps of the holy Fool, the one who gets us to see things from a different perspective and teases us into taking steps we might otherwise be too nervous to take – and who maybe offers a medicine that helps the heart to soften, to open, to trust, to heal, and to find the courage to come closer to Spirit. 

Can jokes really do all that? I think they can. In fact, I’d swear it on a Bible. 

Mural detail, Wesley Fellowship, Boulder, CO. Spiritual leaders, feelin groovy.