Tag Archives: The Levins

Change your Story, Change your life

Do I live in a friendly or hostile universe?

I was riding the train into Manhattan when a man sitting opposite hailed me.  He showed me his purple heart metal and said he had two of them.  Apparently,  he wasn’t being given enough common courtesy from the woman taking the tickets. His father came to the US from Italy and, as soon as he had landed, signed up and fought in the Second World War.  He, himself, had served in Vietnam but ruminated that, with the people coming into the country now and the way folks acted, he wouldn’t do it again.  I said there were a lot of good people. His opinion was that there are only a handful. We agreed that a little common courtesy went a long way. Just talking with him seemed to sway his view that this society was no longer worth serving. He boarded the train with a story in his head that he was verifying. That story was capable of being shifted.

When I got home, I found a letter from a close friend. She said someone had given her an unexpected sum of money and she was sharing it with Julia and I because she believed in who we were and what we were doing. This kindness and consideration blew us away. Even though our friend could have certainly used this money for herself, she felt she could afford to offer a portion of it to us. She believed sending us this gift would enrich her being. Knowing this friend, I can say that she does feel that this society is worth serving.  It is another story that can be verified.

One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein:

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

I do have to remind myself often that I live in a friendly universe.

However, I have demonstrated the validity of this decision to myself innumerable times. When I find that my mind is taking me down a rabbit hole, and I am becoming anxious about the state of the world and what might happen if this or that occurs, I declare that I live in a friendly universe. I can actually feel the story I am telling myself start to shift. The outcome, for me so far, is that I continue to live in a friendly universe. For that, I am immensely grateful.

I believe the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, would have agreed with Albert that our beliefs and reactions to the world around us reflect the stories that we subscribe to.  Each religion, spiritual practice and culture revolves around a set of stories.

People in power with vested interests, and salesmen in the media, often try to convince us that we live in a hostile universe. This belief leads to fear of others whose stories are different from our own. It can also lead us to take our own stories literally and become ridged in our thinking. Once our hearts are closed off, we often find that we do, indeed, live in a hostile universe.

I also believe we can get to a place where we are able to share our stories to mutually benefit one another.

I know someone whose basement was flooded one year just before Christmas. All of her families’ presents were destroyed. On Christmas day, her doorbell rang and when she answered it, instead of finding a person, she discovered a mountain of presents for her family. When people ask her if she has told her kids that Santa is not real, she says that he is. Someone used their story of a jolly man who brings presents and good cheer to others, to help this woman’s family; they became Santa Claus. Santa is a story that we can take to heart, that we share to mutually benefit one another.

There is a Jewish legend of the Lamid Vavniks, that predates Santa and describes 36 anonymous folks who are so pure of heart they keep the whole world in balance.  This story makes it a virtue to do something wonderful for someone else in secret.

How many other myths or stories outside of our comfort zone could benefit us in ways that we have not even considered?

Being willing to not only shift our own story but recognize something beautiful in someone else’s story, can help us to decide, on a daily basis, that we live in a friendly universe.

The Story I Can Hear

“If we see it all as literal, it might end up in a fight.

If we see it as a story, it might work out alright.

Let’s go out and meet the modern, willing to embrace-

See the gold inside the dust, be the change that’s taking place.

I long to tell the story I can hear.

One that fills my eyes and opens up the skies.

I long to tell the story I can hear.

One that fills the skies and opens up my eyes.

Not just for believers, or those who think its true,

but that holds me in its arms as it reaches out for you.

We’re busy telling stories. Meanwhile, life goes on.

It listens to our verses. It sings all of our songs.

One song. Our songs.

Not just for believers, or those who think its true,

but that holds me in its arms as it reaches out for you.”

The Levins  (inspired by Joseph Campbell)

May your story place you in the center of a friendly universe.

Promoting your Self (with a capital S)

A working artist’s guide to staying grounded in the grind.

 

Our world changes so fast, you have to be superhuman in order to stay ahead of the curve. Keeping up with trends is exhausting, especially if your livelihood depends on it. 

 As musicians, my wife, Julia, and I try to strike a balance between being grounded and soaring.  Accordingly, each morning we take time to activate our bodies, read books that soothe us, and we sit in silence to connect with non-duality and taste timelessness. Then, we get on Facebook, make phone calls and promote the heck out of ourselves.

Aye, there’s the rub, me hearties! Musicians must eat and pay the rent. Even if it is our intention to play music that helps others slow down so they recognize the beauty within and without, we are part of the fast-paced world and must sing for our supper. Self-promotion does not come naturally to either one of us. While we are grateful to have an agent, there is always more work to be done. We have learned to step up to the plate.  

It is fair to say that we dance with our ambition, which provokes the actions that secure gigs. Then, there is our mind’s daily “To Do” lists, along with the ego’s assertion that there is always an image to project, to brand, to define, to deliver, to uphold.

Fear pipes in and says that we’re not getting any younger. It paints anxious, detailed murals of the future trying to get us to be proactive.

While our minds, egos, and fears all vie for control of our vessel, we are aware there is another part of us that is merely observing, watching it all happen from moment to moment.

I remember having a lovely conversation with my father one night. As we were talking about getting older, he remarked that inside he didn’t feel any different in his later years than he did when he was a child. His wonder at this observation left a lingering impression.

When my dad said he didn’t feel different inside, he wasn’t addressing the physicality or realities of growing older. It wasn’t about the aches and pains that start to appear, the life knowledge he has acquired or even the wisdom he exudes. I marveled that without labeling it, he was recognizing and acknowledging his conscious awareness; the part of him that is observing unconditionally. His body is not the same, his cells are not the same, his thoughts and desires are not the same, but his inner awareness has been untouched, despite all of his experiences, good and bad. 

Pondering this further, I recognize that while our minds are constantly busy, labeling, judging and classifying every little thing, there is always a part of us that is silently witnessing.

While we are going through the rise and fall of one cycle after the next, our being regards us.  It watches us react, reminisce, regret and reach out for more, or in some cases, less. It behooves us not to identify ourselves with any of these things, (e.g., pain, regret or even success.) This thought was reinforced at a conference recently when I heard an esteemed musician say that “if we can’t handle a standing ovation or if we need the standing ovation, we are in trouble.”

It is with the slightest shift of perception that we can identify with our observing presence. This presence offers peace, a freedom that opens us up to understanding, even gratitude for everything that comes in.

So, even though I carry on with my goals and my daily practices, I don’t have to postpone expanding into the calm and stillness streaming through me.

I remember seeing the group Beirut at the Treasure Island Music Festival.

Their lead singer, Zach Condon, blew me away, not for his master showmanship or for his incredible prowess. It was his openness. It was as if the music was streaming through him. 

His happiness was like a tranquil breeze. Something that reached us without effort. He was fully content and radiating a quiet bliss without attachment.

 

I say he blew me away and that is accurate. I was swept into the music; there was a merging, not a ‘me’ confining and codifying the experience.

In the midst of our daily dance, the slightest shift of perspective can transform the rat race into smooth sailing. So, if you are tied up in the riggings of your mind, quietly start connecting to your inner awareness and know that you are the boat, the sea and beyond. It makes the journey much more interesting and the treasures easier to find.

Oscar- panning for the Gold-en rule

Looking beyond the flubs to the treasures the Academy Awards offer us as a unique marker of time.

  ©A.M.P.A.S

There’s a lot of love in this room, and let’s use it to create and champion bold and diverse work, work that inspires us towards joy, towards hope and towards empathy.”

Jordan Horowitz, producer, La La Land

 “Tonight is proof that art has no borders, no single language and does not belong to a single faith…The power of art is that it transcends all these things. That is the magic of the movies and that is what we celebrate tonight.”

-Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs

***

I wonder what my grandmother would have thought about Twitter? It seems to have enough power to wreak political havoc or cause the biggest snafu in Oscar history. It is interesting that this year’s awards may only be remembered for what appeared to be Bonnie and Clyde trying to steal the Moonlight.  As with most things, where we put our attention yields up pyrite or gold.  There was also a vein of nuggets throughout the night such as Viola Davis’ speech that escalated this year’s awards for me.

The Oscars are such a unique marker of time. When I was 14, the Oscars were a holiday for me. The movies were a Shangri-La where my dreams and inner being were kept eternally young and whole.  I looked forward to the Oscars, like New Year’s, like Hanukah. It was a mecca for me. Not that I knew what a mecca was, but it was a pilgrimage to honor that which shined bright in my firmament.  Not just the current gathering of stars, but the art that they represented: the chance to simultaneously overcome and uphold the human condition.

This particular year, my mother and I were watching the awards alone when the phone rang in the kitchen. My mom went to answer it and instinctively, I followed her.  I knew by her body language that something irreversible had happened.  I watched grief come through the receiver as laughter and applause rang out behind us, worlds away.  I watched before I understood what had happened; my mother bore herself up to be the bearer of what she instinctively knew would be unbearable for my father. My grandmother had passed away. This burden was momentarily buoyed up in her by the recognition that my grandma had escaped a drawn-out illness. She had bowed out before having to play the role of a patient, which she would not have enjoyed.

My grandmother Ida was the penultimate caretaker. She had cared for my grandfather for years before he died, she took great care of everyone around her. All of her grandchildren were convinced that they were her favorite. It was obviously me. My grandmother didn’t need an Oscar, her conviction was so complete, each of us can lay full claim to being her favorite. There was no measuring the love she showered us with every time we saw her.  For me, the proof was there in the soft golden gingerbread men with their raisin eyes and buttons, the hours she spent in front of her TV set wrestling with reception so I could enjoy my beloved Creature Features, her slipping me money for a party I was ‘secretly’ planning to throw for my friends.  My grandmother was a movie star in my eyes. She always wore sunglasses.  She was the grand poker player. That is, even in great pain, her grandchildren only saw her smile.  We never knew of her troubled childhood, of her mother and siblings having to move into a new apartment every time the rent was due. She held herself up regally. Ida was a matriarch, a magician, a master baker and chef, a conspirator, the delta of our heritage. For me, my grandma Ida was gentle, radiant, the personification of unconditional love.

My father came home.  I stood in the hallway, peeking around the corner as my mother told him. He put his hand on the waist-high stereo console for support but it did not console him. He crumbled. “She was my strength,” he said. I had never known anything but strength from my father. It was harrowing to see him in a seemingly helpless state. I couldn’t bring myself to go to him. I longed to. I didn’t believe I had the strength within myself to cross that distance or that I would be able to offer him what I wanted to give him if I could.

Here was the drama.

How many film makers try to issue the relief that I longed to pour into my father, to fill him; to make him stand again?

My father doubted his ability to move on successfully without my grandmother.  His vulnerability is something that has allowed me to take up my role with strength.  My grandmother lives fully within my father, as does his father. He remains one of the strongest, most tuned in and genuinely caring people I have had the good fortune to meet.

My grandmother was a star. She was strong and had a full life.  She didn’t need a movie to tell her story but she was worthy of one. She didn’t need a lot of words to convey to each of us how special we were to her.  She may have been a queen on Twitter.

During her acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress, Viola Davis said:

 “You know, there’s one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered. One place and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost. I became an artist—and thank God I did—because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.

So, here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people. And to … the cheerleaders for (making) a movie that is about people. And words. And life and forgiveness and grace….

…And the people who taught me good or bad, how to fail, how to love, how to hold an award, how to lose. My parents…Thank you.”

As life’s actors, we get to take up our various perspectives: child, parent, sibling, friend, enemy, lover, loveless, confident, fragile, sung, unsung, free, indentured, addicted, connected, intuitive, automated…

“A sky full of souls, you play all the roles. You are the Great Constellation, not just one soul in isolation.” – The Levins/ Great Constellation

This year, the Oscars reminded me to have hope in humanity, even as reports of Jewish cemeteries being desecrated, bomb threats in nursery schools and good citizens being deported rise up to separate us.

“Film-makers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others.” – Asghar Farhadi, director, Best Foreign Film- The Salesman

Keep dreaming, because the dreams we dream today will provide the love, the compassion, and the humanity that will narrate the stories of our lives tomorrow.”

Marc Platt, producer, La La Land

May the gold we seek to be awarded be the golden rule upheld in our hearts.

 

The Spherical Wonder of Intuition

Going beyond a linear understanding of our human nature.

“Intuition binds us together. Without it we lose our sense of purpose and belonging.”

-Malidoma Patrice Somé, a West African elder, spiritual leader and author

“In order to create something new human beings need to go into the unknown”

Marina Abramović, the “grandmother of performance art”

“Drink in the beauty and wonder at the meaning of what you see.”

Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

My wife Julia and I are a musical bridge between communities.  As The Levins, we bring Harmony-Driven Transformational Folk Grooves (TFG) into various settings to promote love and goodwill. One of the main benefits of this for us are the wonderful people we get to interact with. Recently, we played for a meditation retreat up in Hudson, NY.  One of our friends there talked of her upcoming trip to Sedona, Arizona. She said she was excited about immersing herself in nature for eight days because in nature there is no mirror. There is an opportunity to connect purely to your being without having to uphold a manicured image.

Nature is linked to our inner nature which invites and allows us to go beyond our linear rational confinement.

There is a insightful documentary called Innsaei, which explores our inner nature. Innsaei is an Icelandic term for Intuition. The word can also be translated as The Sea Within, or To See from Within. In the film, it is pointed out that approximately 2% of our brain is used for logical, fact and figure, linear thinking.  The rest of it is perhaps an aperture into what is unknown to us and yet constantly surrounds us.

The film noted that for eight generations Polynesians would travel hundreds of miles on the Pacific Ocean without navigational tools. They were able to use their intuition to read the depth of what was all around them.

“For most of us, knowledge of our world comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder

Another movie which delves into going beyond our linear perspective of the world is Arrival, based on the book “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.

In this film, space ships arrive on earth and a linguist is brought in to communicate with them to discover why they are there. The discovery and study of this new language is a wonderful metaphor for us dealing with our unknown nature. We see it as alien, but using intuition we can learn something  that rewires our brains so that we can experience time as spherical.  The solution, described as in Arrival  as a ‘Non-Zero Sum Game’, requires us to share what we have with those that we see as our enemies or competitors to both come away with something that benefits us. The result is a win-win game.

Our capacity to trust our intuition and redevelop our sense of wonder allows us to go beyond the linear constructs of our lives with empathy and an optimistic savoring.

The lead character in Arrival, Dr. Louise Banks remembers the future and concludes:

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads… I embrace it. And I welcome every moment of it.”

The melody of our lives reaches out in tendrils to harmonize intuitively with everything we intersect.

Thank you for the fullness of our intersections.

 

 

Come Dance with Me

“You’ve got to move to change the state you’re in.”- The Levins

“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”

~ Rumi

Dance Sweet Hafiz

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul”

~ Martha Graham

“Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”

~ Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Calvin and Hobbes

This past Sunday, Julia and I joined some friends at The Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County where Stephanie Miner-Berger of another group called Peace Forest Sanctuary led a guided dance celebration for a multi-generational community with the help of DJ K.  She picked very specific songs that would appeal to the range of folks there.  It was done with such a purity of intention, it engaged people without having them feel self-conscious or instilling a need to demonstrate ego or prowess. It brought me back to all the weekly parties my friends and I would throw during high school and college. We were able to almost fuse our hearts together as a group because our love for one another was able to dance freely.  There is a freedom in dancing that takes you out of your intellectual grasp of reality and opens you up in ways you are not even aware of.

During the cool down yesterday, we were asked to make eye contact and sing “Lean on Me” to various people in the circle. My friend Michelle was next to me and there was such a generous earnestness in her connection with me that even before we got to the line, “no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show,” I was so chocked up that I could no longer sing or look at anyone. I have certainly sung “Lean on Me” hundreds of times but there was something about the intention of this community dance combined with the direct contact with an honest friendship that broke me open.  It made me realize that we hold on to so much. We may not be a stiff-upper lip society but even if we do express ourselves and have people to talk to, we are taking on what is being broadcast all around us as well as our mind’s minute to minute updates.  We are inundated with information and suffering that we have no way of fully processing or understanding. Even with the desire to heal and be healed, there is no way to do that intellectually.  This is of course one of the best reasons to take up meditation but there is also something about dancing that puts you in the seat of Being where the internal meets the external.

Shiva dancing

Someone reminded us after the dance of the Hindu myth where Shiva dances the universe into creation. Buckminster Fuller said that “God is a verb, not a noun.” When we are dancing, even if we were not able to physically move a muscle, we open ourselves to being a part of that same verb.  This of course reminds me of Daniel Ladinsky’s rendition of Hafiz’s poem “The God Who Only Knows Four Words” and The Levins’ lyrical take on it called “Every Child”:

Every Child– Hafiz/Ladinsky/Levin © 2013

Every child has known God. 

That’s quite a claim.

For they don’t know God

as a ‘God of Names’,  

as a ‘God of Don’ts’,  

a ‘God of Shame’,

of stormy moods or any strange behavior. 

Not a king or a queen, a giant, tyrant or savior.

But every child knows God.  Not as someone you can see,

But the God who only knows four words:

Come Dance with me!  Come Dance with me!

Come Dance!  Come Dance!  Come Dance!      

 —with me.  Oh, Come Dance with me!

(Listen here)

Come Dance with Me

May your stillness give way to a peace that cannot help but trip the light fantastic.

Let’s Be Big!

Smile into this next choice.  We are confronted by an endless series of choices and this one is the most vital. Relativity transfers the universe into the seemingly insignificant.  Ponder how much goes by without our noticing.  We feel incrementally what importance we can place on our own self-worth and subsequently that transfers to those around us.  The dream we hold in our heart is guarded by fear of survival and being drawn into degradation.  Empowering the purity of our deepest connection with this life, we become bold and can make the right choices; that not only safeguards us but encourages those around us. 

PrintSize-NJDPhoto-01

Change has come and complacency will not serve us. We may be afraid to see what will happen next but having courage in the face of fear will see us through.  Tony Robbins says we must divorce ourselves from the story that debilitates us. Mooji says we are not our wounded limited egos but limitless awareness. Each of us had leadership quality. While none of us may fully ready, now is the time for us to begin, as Brene Brown would say, Rising Strong. Playing it small, small minded, petty with blame-throwers in our hands will serve no one.  Embrace that which is endless in yourself and let us keep our hearts on the greater turning of humanity towards true liberty, equality and freedom. 

Let’s reach out to one another and start talking about manifesting our dreams in a way that will not only benefit ourselves but bolster those around us.

Albert Einstein peace quote

Let’s Be Big

“If Al were here, I’m sure he would agree, if you want to move around at light’s velocity 

You’ve got to be big, as infinity. 

So take the afternoon and come along with me. 

Chorus: 

Hey! Let’s be big today. We’ll travel all around chasing troubles away. They’ll never see us coming. They’ll wonder why they’re humming. Come on, what ya say?  Let’s be big today.

Sitting on a moving mountain of gold.  Riding out past everything that I’ve been told.

Internal navigation, blindsided by degrees.  The fear of not succeeding was defining me.

I’d rather think big. So I’m getting out of my way. Out into the open where it’s not so gray. 

Chorus.

Bigger than heart-ache, bigger than strife. Taking the cake, we’re larger than life.

When I am in tatters and about to cave, in elementary matters, 

be the particle and the wave.

When you’re scared and loose your way- be the particle and the wave.

Stand and be brave- be the particle and the wave.

Chorus.

Bigger than heart-ache, bigger than strife. Taking the cake, we’re larger than life.

Hey Let’s be big today. We’ll travel all around chasing troubles away.

Bigger than heart-ache, bigger than strife. Taking the cake, we’re larger than life.

They’ll never see us coming. They’ll wonder why they’re humming.

Come on, what ya say?  Let’s be big today.”                  – The Levins

Particle and wave

Rock the paradox, you are essential!

The Floating Dock- a week’s reflection

“Climb back singing. Climb praising as you return to connection. Here among the disappearing, in the realm of the transient, be a ringing glass that shatters as it rings. Be. And know as well the need to not be: let that ground of all that changes bring you to completion now.” – Rilke-Sonnets to Orpheus,( II, 13 h)/ A Year with Rilke /Translated and Edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
“Push will wear you out. When you’re pushing to do something, you only got so much willpower. But when you’re pulled, when there’s something larger than yourself that you’re here to serve and that you believe you’re made for, that brings energy.”- Tony Robbins
 
 FullSizeRender (4)– photo: Julia Bordenaro Levin
 
Last night Julia and I were driving out to a nearby lake and I pondered what I would write about today for the stream.  I felt I had nothing to offer today and it bothered me. We started our walk around the lake and Julia immediately started taking pictures. The poetry of her surroundings is always calling out to her. As we were in motion, the week started coming back to me. We had a marathon of gigs last weekend, including two commemorative healing concerts for 9/11 with our friend Judy Kass. There is a group of folks from a marvelous collective called Peace through Play who came to one of our shows and danced and danced.  Getting to play music that inspires and provokes dancing or seeming stillness is an honor that completes and generates concentric joy.  We got home from this eighth concert in four days and instead of turning on the tube and tuning out, we picked up on a suggestion we got from our beloved clowns, Coventry and Kaluza, and watched a documentary about Tony Robbins called,  I Am Not Your Guru.  Watching the first part of it, energized us and cut through our mental and emotional fatigue.  Here is someone who has been gathering people from around the world for over twenty years to reach them where they are to raise them up to their own potential.  Authenticity, Joy and Honesty are the pillars that Tony stands on like a giant tiger and he is not afraid to face down anything.
Watching this show ramped us up for the week.  We got to jam with an amazing rhythm section as we prepare to begin our next recording.  We have continued a 30-day cleansing where we are eating only whole and natural foods. So instead of keeping ourselves awake with popcorn, snacks or something easy to grab while coming back from Long Island late at night, we stopped at a grocery store and felt like we were riding together with Coventry- Kaluza as we laughingly binged on bananas, raisins, sunflower seeds and almonds.  The nutritional shift has restored a clarity of thought.
One of my mom’s friends from the theater passed away this week. She had been a major force for getting my mom into the theater.  She was a tremendous inspiration and motivation for me as well.  I was practically a member of her family. In fact, her son and I were tremendous friends.  I called him and although we haven’t talked in a while it stoked the fire between us.  His mom had dementia, so he recognized the blessing of her passing.  We all remember her for the firebrand she was and is within us.  I realized that with the intensity of our schedules, it would have been easy to allow myself to think that his mom’s passing was sad without taking the time to reach out, touch base, reflect and rejoice in what her life offered us and so many people. 
Walking last night brought the turning back to me.  I could feel the curve of the year pulling me towards the change rising, blossoming within me.  What we are capable of is intertwined with the delight we take in connection.  As Rilke said, “All becoming has needed me. My looking ripens things and they come toward me, to meet and be met.”*
So much happens in a week, we take so much in but the simple act of walking around a lake can not only bring it all back but remind us to allow what we have gathered to germinate so that what we have to offer is something we were born to give.
 
*The Book of Hours I, I/ A Year with Rilke/ Translated and Edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
Rilke
 The photo on top is a picture Julia took along the lake yesterday of the “floating dock”.

14 years of Wonder!

“In the place my wonder comes from, there I find you.  In your heart where the world comes from, there you will find me…When you be beside me, I am real.” – Bruce Cockburn/Love Song

This post was written on 8-18-16:

Wedding Photo

Fourteen years ago today I married Julia Ann Bordenaro in the Stephen Mather Redwood Grove and Amphitheater in Berkeley, CA.  It was an enchanted day and certainly the sweetest decision I have ever made.  Certainly the grove of trees provided the perfect sheltering atmosphere and the amphitheater held a theatrical flair that was open for us all to enjoy. The breeze, the music and love floating through us and our company of cherished family and friends was like the summation of a Shakespearean comedy.  Still, the decision I made was to become a soul mate.  Not to be completed by but to make the commitment to a partner who would not settle for less than my true authentic being.

Julia and I have formed a bond that is not conventional and yet feels like we are home, regardless of where we are.  Six years ago, we left our comfort zone in California and embarked on a quest to play music full time together.  We continue to succeed and manage to uplift one another, even while we spend most of our time together on and off the road.  Our policy of only one of us getting to go down the rabbit hole at a time has been very effective. That way one of us can hoist the other up out of the pit of doubts and other beasties the mind can concoct to throw us off course.

We continue to see each other, regardless of how we may be seeing or not seeing ourselves from day to day.  The journey has weaved us in and out of various circles with many beautiful people assisting and joining us as we strive to be the bridge between communities.

To commemorate our time together I will share snippets of some of our lyrics with you:

“You’ve got to move to change the state you’re in.”

“Hold my hand, and I will lead you to a quiet stream. Together we will understand the meaning of this dream.”

“I can see you are me in disguise.”

“I am one of many, I’m not one alone.”

“There’s an intricate weave between seen and unseen, pulsing life into winter until white becomes green”

“When I step out of the story, then I get the chance to see…there’s a bigger picture here, something more than me.”

“Hope brings motion, motion brings change, change is your friend when the going gets strange.”

“I can bench press the world by just letting go.”

“I’m all things at once and I’m nothing at all.”

“Be the particle and the wave.”

“A smile is forgiving.”

“Hey, let’s be big today, we’ll travel all around chasing troubles away.”

“I am here and I am needed, I will stand up and be greeted by what comes my way. I will fill my day with love.” – The Levins

The Levins on Couch poster

I am so grateful to continue to have Julia in my life.

May your bonds be fulfilling and invite you to be a soul mate to yourself, wholly committed to life and spilling over the side; barely contained ; )

“With love, with love, with love”

 

Dirje Childs: This is the seminary; this is the Zen monastery…The cello, my heart and me.

“The ultimate aesthetic value is closely connected with the notion of a higher experience to create beautiful things, but ultimately to reach this higher state of mind. The skills and techniques of the arts are…  nothing more than the means to reach this deeper aesthetic value… Religious enlightenment and aesthetic enlightenment are the same thing…”  Hideo Kishmoto, “Mahayana Buddhism and Japanese Thought,” Philosophy East and West, Vol. 4, no 3 (Oct. 1954), p. 221

“Nothing is more hallowing that the union of kindred spirits in art. At the moment of meeting, the art lover transcends himself.  At once he is and is not. He catches a glimpse of Infinity, but words cannot voice his delight, for the eye has no tongue. Freed from the fetters of matter, his spirit moves in the rhythm of things. It is thus that art becomes akin to religion and ennobles mankind. It is this which makes a masterpiece something sacred.”-     K. Okakura, The Book of Tea, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1991 (!906), p. 10

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Dirje Childs

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, I would love to spotlight Dirje Childs.  (Dirje is pronounced Dear-G)

In our search for a cello player to record with, Julia and I asked our friend Mark Dann. He enthusiastically recommended Dirje.  He said she was right in line with what we were doing.

“Great,” we said, “where does she live?”

“Austin Texas.”

Well, that was that for a while.    

Then he suggested her again. We looked her up and found this video:

Dirje Childs-The Grateful Cellist:

https://youtu.be/TdHXzrBRo6U

Here is a portion of the transcript:

Dirje: “I finally said to the universe, alright do I need to be a nun, should I go to seminary? … I knew this is the voice I am meant to sing through. Right from the heart. This is the seminary; this is the Zen monastery. The cello, my heart and me.

Kate Potter: On retreat in the morning after meditation, we agreed that we would be silent until after breakfast.  Dirje played for us during that silent portion and everybody who was on retreat was suddenly alive in the silence, quite engaged in the silence.

Dirje: They get a space of time where they are totally held in a peaceful quiet place where they are allowed to wake up to their life.  It goes beyond regular meditation practices because the cello is there singing to those broken places.  A tonic that is practical as it is deeply nourishing to the spirt. Something different yet simple, accessible to everyone.  Breath, presence, rest, clarity. How many of us could use that oasis of rest in the breath and this present moment? …  Any human being, to have the gift of coming out of all the things, the busyness of our mind, even the pain of our body, to rest in the moment… When I am in the future, I am in anxiety. When I am in the past, I am in regret and depression. When I am in the present, I am in the gift. … to be present to each other is a gift.  One of my great heroes is Mother Teresa, binding up these people on the street. Well, you wouldn’t think that any of us are the wounded or the broken, but we are. And so this is that spirit of Mother Teresa offering to bind up and bring us all out of that craziness that we have in our heads; back to ourselves and our breath. Simply and to each other.  My dream is that not only do people feel access to some healing but that it begins to wake up in their hearts.  The call to be who they are in this earth.  That’s what my cello wants to whisper in the ears of every soul that listens, “wake up to the gift that you are on this earth.”

When you listen to the video, you can hear the tone of Dirje’s cello delivering what she is describing.

There are moments, when religious or meditative practices do not reach us.  Moments where we long to be immersed in the fullness of being.  At these times, we may be moved aesthetically. Dirje’s music provides that aesthetic.

I am grateful to say, that we reached out to Dirje and she will be on The Levins’ next recording.

May we come into a greater equality within, so that we can finally reach the summit of our humanity.

www.Dirje.com

www.Thegratefulcellist.com   

A tale of two clown schools

Transformation is something that occurs within the space between recognizing we are not alone and that external blame is an illusion.
Relying on the past while guarding against projections of fear keeps us rooted in our smallest understanding.  We rise out of the ashes of our own misery and are capable of being clear and kind, which in itself is larger than life.
 
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Last weekend, Julia and I collaborated with Sweet Can Productions to put on a circus show using the music of The Levins called Barely Contained.  It was well received and we felt very fortunate to be allowed to be a part of something that was so funny, beautiful and well, sweet. 
Our friends Jamie and Natasha have an incredible clown act called Coventry & Kaluza.  They are a part of Sweet Can Productions and coordinated this show.
Coventry and Kaluza
During the run, Jaime and Natasha went to see a show being put on by the students of a local clowning school. Jamie told us that there had been a rivalry between this school and the school where they had trained.  Their school put a strong emphasis on coming up with story lines and practicing the beats within that story to convey it clearly and simply to the audience. This other school taught its clowns to work on their individual characters, to discover idiosyncrasies to present to the audience. 
Jamie and Natasha’s teacher had criticized the teacher of this other school and the method he was teaching his students. This had started the controversy and subsequent rivalry.  Fortunately, their instructor finally went to see the other school to see for himself.  After that, he was able to tell his students that they were doing good work in the other school.  He could see the merit in the other method.
I just finished reading a wonderful book by Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman called The Dude and the Zen Master, which is a conversation between the two authors using Jeff Bridges’ character the Dude from the movie, The Big Lebowski as a jumping off point.
At one point in the book Bernie says he was taught that if something is not a paradox, it isn’t fully true.  There isn’t just one way of doing things correctly.
the dude and the zen master
Bernie: “…You’re helping people see that there is no one truth, that everything they believe or that others believe is just an opinion…We choose what we choose and then people have their opinions about it. Society may say, “you’re screwing yourself up…. Everybody has opinions… if I can really just be in touch with myself, I’m going to wind up doing things that are good for me and cause me the least pain.
Jeff: There are a number of spiritual traditions that say that you should treat the other person as God, or divine.  Turning that around, you should treat yourself the same way, and with compassion.
Bernie: That’s my opinion too. Just don’t wallow in self- pity.
Jeff: Sometimes I can give myself shit no matter which way I go.
Bernie: So the practice of befriending the self is a good one for you.”
 
I love this concept that there is more than one way of working through and that we can befriend our self in the process. This is especially important in my partnership with Julia.  We both have different approaches of working together that end up providing the needed balance to what we do. My tendency is to push and to go, go, go. Julia makes sure that we aren’t just spinning our wheels but are making traction with the ground.  She reminds me to take stock in what is going on so we can savor it. She helps me slow down to make sure things are done right.  I am pushing us to succeed, to “make it”.  Julia is striving to make sure that when we arrive, we have something to worthwhile to share.
Bernie: In Zen we say that the other shore is right here under our feet. What we’re looking for- the meaning of life, happiness, peace- is right here. So the question is no longer, how do I get from here to there? The question is: How do I get from here to here?
Jeff: I sense these two impulses. One says, Do, do, do, achieve, achieve, achieve. The other says, Sssssshhh, please relax. Do you want to spend the rest of your life doing some sort of never-ending homework assignment? Sssshhh.
Bernie: I always have this red nose in my pocket, and if it looks like I’m taking things too seriously, or the person I’m talking to is taking them too seriously, I put the nose on.
Jeff: Clownsville, man. Tightness gets in the way of everything, except tightness.
Bernie: Our work may be important, but we don’t take it too seriously.  Otherwise, we get attached to one relatively small thing and ignore the rest of life. *
This concept of opening up beyond tightness, to be able to see the paradox in everything and laugh at it keeps coming up so that I will embrace it.
Here’s to befriending ourselves so we can take stock of the fullness of our current picture and the beauty of everyone in it.
*- The conversation between Bernie and Jeff has been juggled in this article. It appears here slightly out of sequence.