Category Archives: Honesty

The Wild Comedian Breaks Free

How Comedy Can Transport Us Beyond the Walls of Conformity

I loved the first season of Amazon’s, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. For me, it is timely historical fiction at its best. It features the story of a woman in the 1950’s who starts to question the tightly wound structure of her reality after her husband unexpectedly leaves her. Throwing herself into the world of stand-up comedy, she finds she has a natural talent for it.  Her first two times in front of the microphone, she gets arrested for obscenity but it is really because she went beyond the bounds of where society felt safe. On the show, she becomes friends with Lenny Bruce, comedy’s pioneer crusader for seeking truth outside of society’s comfort zone. Lenny helped pave the way for the wild men and women who dared to laugh at the elephants and asses in the room.

Comedians have the prerogative to laugh at what we hide behind. They are the ones that get to speak truth to conformity and fear.  The wildest comedians have a driving ambition to break out of all constraints.

I remember watching John Belushi on Saturday Night Live and in Animal House, and feeling that he might actually be able to explode right out of his body.

Comedians like Mel Brooks were my first heroes.  They brought a zaniness to life that seemed to expand its possibilities for me.  By the time I was in High School, I actively declared, “Normalcy is a fallacy!” I had caught the same bug that prompts the comedian to go beyond boundaries, to discover a larger, less confined space in which to dance.

The wildness of many comedians, conventionally, has been associated with alcohol and drugs, which can break down walls of inhibition. There is a labyrinth of defenses that we have built around us, not only individually and culturally, but historically as a race.  So, while the conventional means of breaking down a few barriers seems to work, part of us may yearn to find another way to go out past our collective defenses.

Jim Carey started off as a wild comedian, who seemed like he could turn his body into rubber and bounce off the walls into another dimension. After making the film, “Man on the Moon,” about Andy Kaufman, another comedian who pushed reality to the edge, Jim went on an odyssey to learn how to transcend societies’ corral.

Recently, I watched Jim’s 2014 commencement speech at the Maharishi University of Management. It is well worth watching. He is still his animated best, but has come to a calm place within that is not limited by his physical form.

Jim Carrey’s Commencement Address at the 2014 Maharishi University of Management:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V80-gPkpH6M

Jim then grew the long beard, that has become associated with philosophers, gurus and seekers. He began to risk sounding insane while talking to the paparazzi, declaring that he didn’t exist, that he was just another character, like the many colorful characters in his 40 films.

“I played the guy that was free from concern so the people who watched me would be free from concern.”- Jim Carey

Jim is identifying, not as a “Me” but as the energy that animates all things.

“It’s a play, it’s a giant field of consciousness dancing for itself. “

“We all long to belong, and the truth is, we do. We already belong to the wholeness within us and every living thing. The plethora of groups, communities, circles, families, here on our planet are like flowers, they allow for variance of taste to offer us the opportunity to connect to the beauty that we are.  However we connect to this wholeness, the joy lies in our ability to celebrate it within our interactions.”

“The effect that you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.  All that will be left of you will be what was in your heart.”- Jim Carey

I am grateful for the drive that continues to play with reality and wake us up from complacency. Waking up to the richness of being, provides so much to rejoice in. I am especially thankful for the bouquet of interactions that I have with everything around me, especially you. This certainly is a wild ride that affords us the chance to literally laugh our asses off.

 

 

 

 

Where We Belong

The advantages of being a bridge between communities

One of the advantages of being on the road a lot is getting to listen to audio books like Brene Brown’s latest, Braving the Wilderness: “The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone.”

In the book, Brene describes her struggle with Maya Angelou’s quote, written above. Brene shares how her own life experiences and forged path kept her from belonging in any one place or to any one community. She finally realized, through vulnerability and honesty, that she belongs to herself, which allows her to belong everywhere.

Standing in a wilderness that is outside the borders of each established group, but within her own boundaries, allows Brene to “speak truth to bullshit” while remaining civil, to be courageously vulnerable, and to come close to hold hand with strangers, because “people are hard to hate close up.”

As The Levins, Julia and I have held the intention to be a musical bridge between communities. We feel so grateful to be able to celebrate with each group we sing with and encounter. There is depth and truth within all the communities we visit and yet, we don’t fully feel we belong to just one. We recognize and rejoice where truth overlaps in puddles that we can splash in and sing.

My roots are in Judaism, which I moved away from as a teenager. I explored various faiths and practices. Music brought me back to Judaism and I discovered that what I had found in my travels, was all within its depths, hidden away. It was not pointed out, but left for me to discover on my own.

I feel that Judaism is a part of me. It may even be in my DNA. Yet, I am grateful to sing for not one, but several Jewish communities of varying denominations, as well as the other spiritual, folk and Literary circles in which we are privileged to perform.

Each community and group throughout the globe face their own challenges. There are politics, inter-personal dynamics, and obstacles that must be sorted through to achieve harmony.

Brene talks about each group’s tendency to fall into the, “If you are not for me, then you are against me,” mentality.

It is all too easy to become subservient to our need to be accepted by our “home team”, whether that is the faith of our birth, our political party, family or whatever circle we would feel most lonesome to be outside of. To be brave enough to examine and speak from your heart-centered truth, will, at times, be at odds with your home team but will also strengthen and enrich that team; even if they cannot hear it at first.

Julia and I have often witnessed, when someone from outside the group periodically   visits, they can usher in a fresh perspective. When we are in the car and are stuck within “our own little group,” or are feeling a strain between us, it is wonderful to listen to an “outside voice,” such as  Brene, or Krista Tippet’s On Being, or even a fun game-show podcast. These, “visitors” from outside our group, open the window between us, so that we can shift our focus back to the love and good feeling we have for each other. Being a musical bridge allows us to have a similar effect when we visit and sing for a variety of communities.

Brene refrences a concept by the sociologist, Emile Burkheim called Collective Effervescence. This is when a group of people come together for something, like a concert, and experience a temporal unity by being in the moment together and sharing the excitement and joy of what is taking place. The people experiencing this may belong to different groups that would not usually get along, but through this Collective Effervescence, they bond.

If you examine your life, you may find that you have many opportunities to be a bridge between communities. Between your family, your place of work, your friends, your spiritual practice, or book club, there is bound to be varying opinions and stances. Standing in our heart-centered truth, we can begin to see the beauty of the people who seem to be outside of our inner circle. We can look for moments to create or encourage Collective Effervescence.

Being brave enough to stand on our own, we can bring real honoring presence into each group we encounter and usher in a little light and understanding to close the gap between us.

 Julia and I have one week left of our Indiegogo Campaign for our upcoming new album, Caravan of Dawn. It is Harmony-Driven music for folks, like you, who usher in the light wherever they go. Please join us! https://igg.me/at/thelevins 

 

Beauty has claimed you

Caravan of dawn

There’s a caravan of dawn. Always on the curve.
  Always moving on…
Breaking up the darkness with an aviary song:

“Beauty has claimed you.
  Seasons are changing.
Love makes its debut.  Bowing your heart strings”

Side by side- wide as the horizon,
  
giddy as a bride; the universe inside them. 
Lighting up the streets.  Lighting up the fields.
Splash the sky in streaks of azure, lilac, gold and teal.

“Beauty has claimed you.
  Seasons are changing.
Love makes its debut.   Bowing your heart strings.
Splendor reveals you.
   Nothing conceals you.
Beauty has claimed you.”

Breaking up the darkness with an aviary song, singing:
River of broken hearts
“Gather up all of the broken hearts.
Pour them in a river of tiny parts.
Set them in motion, lighten their burden. 
Head for the ocean. Flow out and over, away from the falls. 
Rising  like mist ‘til  they can’t recall,
Not being  kissed  by sunbeams. 
 Separation is only a morphine dream.

Authentic joy and honesty cut a path right through to me.
Splendor reveals you.  Nothing conceals you.
Beauty has claimed you.”

I close my eyes and breathe you in as if I’ll never have to leave again.
– The Levins
hearts rising up
 

A Conversation between two books and a TED talk

A Conversation between two books (When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron/ Letting Go by David R. Hawkings) and a TED talk (Listening to Shame by Brene Brown):


Listening to Shame: There was a part of me that was working hard to engineer staying small.
Letting Go:  Blame is the world’s greatest excuse.  It enables us to remain limited and small without feeling guilty.  But there is a cost- the loss of our freedom.  Also, the role of victim brings with it a self-perception of weakness, vulnerability, and helplessness…
Listening to Shame: Vulnerability is not weakness, it is our most accurate measurement of courage.
When Things Fall Apart: What we’re talking about is getting to know fear, becoming familiar with fear, looking it right in the eye- not as a way to solve problems, but as a complete undoing of old ways of seeing, hearing smelling, tasting and thinking.  The truth is that when we really begin to do this, we’re going to be continually humbled. There’s not going to be much room for arrogance that holding on to ideals can bring.  The arrogance that does arise is going to be continually shot down by our own courage to step forward a little further.
Letting Go: It is not a matter of right or wrong; it is merely a matter of taking responsibility for our own consciousness.
When Things Fall Apart:
When we don’t blame it on anyone else, and also don’t blame it on ourselves, then…we encounter our heart.
As one student so eloquently put it, “Buddha nature, cleverly disguised as fear, kicks our ass into being receptive.”
Listening to Shame:
If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path. And I know it’s seductive to stand outside the arena, because I think I did it my whole life, and think to myself, I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and when I’m perfect. And that is seductive. But the truth is that never happens. And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in. We want to be with you and across from you. And we just want, for ourselves and the people we care about and the people we work with, to dare greatly.
Things Fall Apart: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”
************************************************
Letting Go by David R. Hawkins

Speeches of Acceptance – worth the gold

After a successful weekend in Kansas City at the Folk Alliance International with amazing musicians from around the world, Julia and I got to watch the Academy Awards.  What struck us were some of the acceptance speeches. JK Simmons started by telling children to call their parents.  Then, without anger or histrionics, an actor, a writer and musicians stood up, not for themselves alone but for their particular portion of humanity.  Beyond the nit-picking of behavior and evaluating performances and dresses, people from around the globe were treated to earnest concern and bravery.  With the overlapping of these speeches alone, the bridge towards our collective humanity gets a boost in production.
That was worth the price of watching.
********************************
 “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s time to have wage equality once and for all. And equal rights for women in the United States of America.” – P.A.
http://youtu.be/OteoFQvQczc
We stand in solidarity with Commons, John Legend, MLK and all of those who long to see this truly be the land of the free and the home of the brave.
“…the same bridge that Dr. King and the people of the Civil Rights movement marched on, 50 years ago. This bridge was once a landmark of a divided nation, but now it’s a symbol for change. The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status. The spirit of this bridge connects a kid from the South Side of Chicago dreaming of a better life to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy. This bridge was built on hope, welded with compassion, and elevated by love for all human beings.
Thank you. Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights, the act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you that we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on.
“-
from Commons and John Legend’s acceptance speech at the Oscar’s.
 
“I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here,” he said. “I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.” – Graham Moore
 “Call your mom. Call your dad. If you are lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call them. Don’t text, don’t email, call them on the phone. Tell them you love them and thank them and listen to them as long as they want to talk to you.”- JK Simmons

Happy MLK Day! Wedging ourselves into the doorway of love

This weekend Julia and I had the pleasure of playing at a Folk Festival.  We were part of a songwriting competition.  We were grateful to be asked and got to play under a huge banyan tree, a living backdrop that made this the most amazing stage we have played on. We really allowed the songs we sang to not be about us exclusively and had a wondeful time. It was a pleasure to connect with so many beautiful songwriters and the people for whom music appreciation is not only a lifestyle but is life manifest.
The three judges announced their favorite three songwriters and we were happy for our friend who was among them.
Now, while I personally went though a sadness of not “winning” and noticed the thoughts that go with that dissappointment, I was keenly aware when one of the winners said to me, “You two (Julia and I) get to play together. Many of us have tried to make that work and weren’t able to. You are the real winners.”
The next day what stuck me was that it is great to win and to be recognized in a certain light, to be able to put things on your resume, but what is most vital is the ability to come back in with your love and delight, to honestly connect to the people around you, to see them, to build them up.  We all seemed to play from a relaxed place the next day and we got to hear some amazing songs from the heart.
All of this seems relavant today as I think of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of the men and women and children who persevered through doubt, sadness, humiliation and death to uphold their love and the belief that we can all be together, free to share the songs of our hearts.
Surely our troubles are very small compared to many who have plunged into the frey for freedom. Still, our struggles can seem insurmountable in the moment.  Here is to the bonds of friendship, family and even strangers who see our light and help us get back to a place of joyful strength.
My friend, the poet Ashby Lankford shared this MLK quote:
 
“I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
-MLK
While this is more pertinent today, it holds up and holds us up.
We may see ourselves as winners or loosers but beyond all labels or external acknowledgement, it is about wedging ourselves into the doorway of love, to let the light come through as long as we can.

Eulogy for a bold force of kindness

This week a woman Julia and I knew from a handful of gatherings, through a family that we are very close to, passed away. We were both moved by her passing as if we had known her our whole lives.  This was a woman who embodied the maternal. She did not apologize for being here.  She parted the waves of complacent ignorance.  Her laugh emptied you of fear and filled you with a support that encouraged your being to come forward.  She created an arena around her, a forum for whatever truth was present to be nourished. She was real in every sense of the word.  Her candor was so refreshing, not only did it put you at your ease but lightened you up so that you could laugh at your own pretense.
We went to her service and learned that when her children were being bullied in school she brought the bully to tears of contrition in the principal’s office by asking “What is hurting you so much inside that you have to make my children sad?” She was not only larger than life, she was larger than death.  When she had learned she had cancer, she refused to let it stop her from embracing the things and the people she loved.  She raised money for cancer treatment and continued to be a brash force of kindness.
The couple who introduced us to this wonderful woman, led her service.  They were strong in the way that everyone needed them to be, but not only did they put us at ease, they lifted us up to her level.  We would all be rich beyond compare to have someone lift us up after we have gone, with such good humor and earnest praise.  Certainly, she lifted herself up enough to be remembered in the best way but it takes a true friend to present us to those who didn’t know who we were and expand us to those who did.
It makes me feel very fortunate to have such amazing people in the fabric of my time here.
One of the last people to speak said that if she was there she would have said, “What were you thinking having these people get up at this hour of the morning?”
This was worth getting up early for.  It wasn’t a funeral, it was reminder to love fully, regardless of the rules; to live life on our own terms. To remember that we are all part of one delicious Self and then to be Self-ish and wrap our arms around life and not let go, even when we loose form.
For all of those who have shown us the secret value of being here, no hug is strong or long enough.

Stream of Light 10-30

If you think that you are the author of what is coming through at any given moment, whether it is words or any craft or action that you do, then you are in an amused state of confusion.  We are all deluded as to what our true identity is.  If we are fortunate we have someone to remind us in a loving way.   We all have innate gifts and when we get recognition for them, it becomes all too easy to be swept away by the intoxication of hoarding that feeling for ourselves but it is meant to share. Without being humble the gift is diminished, even if what we have done lasts for centuries, our individual experience becomes hollow.

King Lear Laughs

Here is a video of The Levins singing a new song inspired by King Lear: The Levins at the Towne Crier, Beacon, NY – God’s Spies
  King Lear is essentially us in our pride needing to know how much we are loved.  That which loves us the most purely and ineffably seems to remain silent while that which is false proclaims it has our best interest at heart and once we have separated ourselves from what is essential to us, we go mad.  However, if before we are lead away to our supposed doom, we recognize the love that was always there, we can walk off the stage in the fullness of our being, “..and sing and tell old tales and laugh at gilded butterflies and take upon us the mystery of things… as if we were God’s spies.”*
 *- King Lear Act 5, Scene 3- Shakespeare
Old Will Shakespeare has 157 million pages on Google that refer to him.   The wisdom and wit he managed to impart to us transcends the common wheel of daily drama.  We are suffering from the same components of our collective dumbshow as the groundlings experienced at the Globe while watching Hamlet for the first time. Yet, the perspective his plays offer us allows us to rise not only to the finest seats in the house but out through the roof and above the firmament.
Our lives are not a forgone conclusion but “One of the finest comforts that life offers us is that you can not sincerely help others without helping yourself.” – Shakespeare
“Let no one who loves be unhappy… even love unreturned has its rainbow.”  –  Shakespeare
Savor your week and may your time be as gold collected at your rainbow’s end ; )

 

Focus on positive news

Last night sitting by the fire of a friend’s house, I had a conversation with a fellow songwriter.  He said he was trying to write more positive songs but that he found it very difficult. He said he wrote mostly dark songs because there was so much to write about.  He recalled seeing a horrendous story in the newspaper at a gas station and wanted to write a song to remember the people who had been effected by the nightmare action the paper’s described.  I said that there lives were worthy of being remembered without being associated with the indignity of how they left us.  
 
It is true we can be overwhelmed by the terrible stories we are faced with on what appears to be a rising tide but it is equally true that what we focus on increases.  As storytellers we can choose to relate examples of hope and those that are making a difference.  
 
This morning I found a lovely talk by a woman who fights depression who went around the world to find positive hopeful stories in places we associate violence and despair.  She wanted to help her Junior High students escape from the age of Anxiety where suicide seems like a viable option and give them something to build on.  I also found a newspaper in the UK that reports only positive news.  I also learned about a rally against austerity (sternness or severity of manner or attitude.) in which 
speakers talked of facing current suffering and the inevitability of disaster and transforming that outlook by realizing, 
” The best way to reject a system that allows these things to happen is to envisage a new and better one, and nurture the values that will underpin it.”
Lucy Purdy
 
I will include the links and excerpts from what I found below but I also encourage you to find things that bolster your mood and strengthen you today.
They are out there.  Share what you find if you like.  
May your week be a great instructor.
 
 
 
Of the Iranian women Ruby team: “They were not going to let a piece of cloth stand between them and their dreams.”
 
“Sometimes we just want to know that the good guy can win.” – Kate McKenzie
 
“It’s not about ignoring the difficult things or ignoring the hard realities of life but its about rather what we can do about it.”
Rin Hamburgh- freelance journalist for Positive News.