A Fresh of Breath Music

20 04 2016

I like it when the music breathes,

when the wind fills the space between branches of trees,

when sound sweeps its way through the cracks of obsession,

indifferently shifts perception,

then leaves.


Unique Lives, and the Desire to Connect

31 10 2015

I once saw a child swinging on a swing set, her mother nearby speaking with a friend. At one point while swinging, the child exclaimed with excitement and a small amount of trepidation, “I’m going to close my eyes!” I saw that she did close her eyes, flying through gravity, sound and sensation, yet from her perspective, vanished from the visual world. A few seconds later, still with her eyes closed, she yelled to her mother, “Mom! Look at me! I’m swinging with my eyes closed!”

In the depths of our
unique perceptions and realities,
there is connection.

Fare Well: On Passion, Jamming, Inclusivity and Goallessness

25 06 2015

I love music, especially live, improvisational music. It’s the soundtrack to my life, and it’s greatly informed how I try to live, whether I’m playing guitar, rapping with friends or taking part in any relational interaction — we’re jamming.

This weekend begins the 5-show Fare Thee Well run, where Trey Anastasio (of Phish) will be playing with the four living members of The Grateful Dead and other friends. I don’t see these 5 shows as a “passing of the torch,” as some people have posited on social media. Rather, I see these shows as a celebration of Music — the black blues, the bluegrass, jazz, rock and roll, classical compositions, the “Americana” music that has been influenced by so many other cultures; the past 50 years that The Grateful Dead has been an integral part of a cultural revolution, and the new music they have inspired that has evolved the possibilities of the cliché-only-by-stigma “jam band.” These shows will be a celebration of music-past and music-future, taking place the only way improv music can — in the present.

I’ve learned so much about how to live by listening to Phish, The Grateful Dead, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others. For instance, in the new documentary The Other One, Bob Weir describes the ethos of playing with the Dead:

If Jerry had the line with the most energy, the most life to it, we’d fall in behind him. If I was that guy then they’d fall in behind me. That was what the band was all about: supporting whoever’s moving the story furthest, fastest.

There’s a fluidity of roles in the jam, where anyone can be a leader, and everyone’s voice is equally important to the complete sound and story being expressed. Everyone is supported, and listening to each other is key. Apply this to social circles and any group dynamics, and the possibilities are radical. Perhaps white men will stop being the loudest and most-listened to voices. It’s a bummer and a drain when any one person or group is dominating a conversation or experience. If men, especially white men, could open space for more voices and activity of women, trans folk, people of color, and anyone whose voices are looked over, ignored or ridiculed, our human community would be so much richer and more alive. The jam would be fuller, more integrated, and a whole lot more exciting and energizing.

In a Rolling Stone interview that came out yesterday, Trey says about Phish:

But I don’t think anyone cares anymore what the result is, as long as it’s inclusive of the other three… We all kind of see the value for everybody to have whatever kind of space they need.

It’s empathy and it’s compassion in action. It’s sharing with each other and the world. And it’s about the process, not about the result. In my life, I’ve found that if I trust the process of whatever I’m doing and focus on doing it with integrity, authenticity and respect, the end result will be worthwhile, and usually something very different and better than what I may have been expecting. So by letting go of my little hopes of how things will turn out and going with what’s actually happening… well it’s a beautiful thing.

I’ll be celebrating music in Chicago at Fare Thee Well. I’ll be honoring the lineage I feel most connected to — the lineage of live, community-oriented, improvisational music. For ever and ever.

Small wheel turn by the fire and rod,
Big wheel turn by the grace of God,
Every time that wheel turn ’round,
Bound to cover just a little more ground.

Transform Yourself, Transform the World

8 06 2014

That’s Naropa’s slogan: “Transform yourself, transform the world.” It’s also the title of a performance piece I wrote, co-directed and performed at the 2014 Graduation Ceremony, grappling with the question of how self-development can effect our greater communities.



Dan Halpern (Narrative Director), Todd Bilsborough (Musical Director), Adderly Bigelow (Choreographer / Dancer).
Singers: Jenne Ballatore, Julia Davis, Ariel Eisen, Hiroko Hirata, Alida Lettunich, and Greg Yamada
Percussion: Eli Mueller

Embodied Spirituality: One Path of the Emerging Post-Religious Paradigm (a thesis)

29 04 2014


In eleven days, I’ll graduate from Naropa University with a BA in Religious Studies (my minors in Creative Writing & Literature and Contemplative Psychology will go unwritten on my diploma, but now you know). To complete my degree, I wrote a thesis on a topic of my choice. My topic: grounding spirituality in the body, rather than in any particular religion. You can read the whole paper here: Embodied Spirituality: One Path of the Emerging Post-Religious Paradigm

It’s basically about how I have found personal, social and cosmic meaning intertwined in my everyday life—through physicality.

Within this paper, you will find sections on the term “religious,” on being “spiritual but not religious,” on the harm of cultural appropriation sometimes found in the spiritual but not religious movement, on the benefits of consciously engaging one’s body in one’s life, and on Body-Mind Psychotherapy, Rolfing, the Diamond Approach, and an embodied Judaism.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, questions and challenges (for you or for me) around this!

Thanks to my parents for supporting me through college. It’s been good.




Update, May 26, 2014: I presented my thesis to my peers on May 5th. My friend Greg filmed the presentation and recorded audio. While the video did not capture the entire talk, the audio is complete. Thus, the last few minutes incorporate images to accompany the end of the talk. The images were all found on Google Image Search, and include a few Alex Grey paintings. In Joy:

Body, Breath and Mind

16 04 2014

I participated in a Naropa-sponsored meditation retreat weekend with Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche last weekend. At one point, he described meditating in terms of maintenance of the mind, which explains, in part (*See Note Below*), why so many people suffer so greatly. We rely on our mind for happiness, contentment, emotional stability, kindness, better relationships, creativity, spontaneity, organization, and much more. And if we don’t maintain it, why should we experience any of those qualities? If we do not maintain our car, it will break down quicker, work less fluidly, and make upset sounds more often. So too, if we do not maintain our mind, it will break down quicker, work less fluidly, and make upset sounds more often.

Sometimes, when talking about meditation with friends, others (and myself) will say something to the effect of, “I meditate when I play my instrument, or paint, or go hiking in nature.” I think these are great activities with many benefits. And, in some ways, I don’t think they are as cumulatively affective and effective as sitting meditation, and here’s why. (Note: There are many many many types of completely different meditations. In this post, I’m mostly talking about shamatha, or “calm abiding,” or just sitting with oneself).

When one plays an instrument, for instance, that practice can extend its benefits into other activities in which music or one’s hands are involved. When just sitting, one is sitting with only their body, their breath, and their mind, purely as they are, without any other diversions or crutches, working with three aspects of being a human that apply to all situations. Through sitting meditation, one can develop one’s focus, clarity, precision, resiliency, vigilance, patience, equanimity, understanding, compassion, etc. These developments can carry over and permeate into any instance in which the body, breath, and mind are involved, including, and not limited to, times of art, music, or the use of the hands. Playing an instrument is incredibly valuable, and I think it can develop parts of a person sitting meditation cannot. When it comes to the notion of meditating, I believe the effects of playing an instrument are simply not as all-encompassing or all-applicable as basic sitting meditation. When one removes every distraction which can dilute the pure presence of being… all that is left is the simplest and most fundamental characteristic(s) of all life – the body, the breath, and the mind.

I think anyone can prioritize anything. How do you spend your time on Earth? What do you maintain?

Note: I believe in the truth of what I wrote here; and I also believe that it is much easier to practice what is talked about (the transformation of suffering through meditation) when one’s basic needs are all met, i.e. basic needs of food, clean water, warm shelter, health, being treated with dignity and respect by the police / government / employers / society, and being supported and cared for by one’s family and community, instead of being judged guilty before innocent, and being neglected and/or structurally, institutionally, systematically and personally oppressed. This blog post is not about transforming systems of disregard or oppression – it is about transforming one’s own inner state of being, which is not unrelated to outer, social expressions of human beings.

Why Does A Vegan Love Phish?

24 07 2013

(I’m not totally a vegan – I’ll eat free pastries and wedding cake, in moderation.)

Rising Senior Summer in Boulder is swimming splendidly: I’m working customer service for my hypnotherapist neighbor and setting my own hours at decent pay, jumping in the creek at 17th street and swimming round the eddies (it’s no ocean, but satisfies my freshwater fix and cools the day off right well), meditating, practicing ta’i chi, hiking, biking, poetry writing and reading and seeing and music playing with acoustic strung electric drum noise too, reading about embodied spirituality (especially dug Spacious Body), and sharing the personal social and the social personal with great and exciting friends and strangers. Sometimes, it’s talking with some one I don’t know that can brighten my day more than anything else.

I’m also following the news closer than I do the rest of the year. My #1 News Source: www.phish.net. Every show this band plays, every song, transition, song, rain delay, stage-crowd banter, set 1, set 2, encore, and incessant phan reviews, I am following with rapt attention, anticipation, excitement, and joy. And as I am packing a backpack to take with me as I ride with two phriendly craigslisters 18 hours away to see two Phish shows at the Gorge in Washington, there’s one curious statement that punctuates my near addictive obsession with a pause and a question: They’re just a phucking band.

I write this to help you and me understand conceptually what I know bodily and emotionally: I love Phish. I love dancing at their incredibly high energy shows and laughing at their absurd antics, everything from the intentionally bizarre timing of some songs’ composed sections to covering the entire floor of Madison Square Garden with grass last New Year’s Eve to stage a “Runaway Golf Cart Marathon” and play golf-related songs after midnight, i.e. Fly Like An Eagle, Iron Man, DriverSand, etc. Their lyrics are bizarre, and while not as timeless as Bob Dylan’s or Robert Hunter’s lyrics for The Grateful Dead, Phish’s uniqueness is what keeps me interested and in adoration.

Individually, all 4 members of the band are phenomenal musicians. Collectively, they play together like The Borg but with feeling. They listen to each other, know each other, support, challenge, and intensify one another’s playing. It’s truly an honor and a delight to see 4 individuals so completely in tune with each other that they can all enter into 20 minute improvisations and sound so fluid, coherent, intentional and effective. To me, every moment of a Phish show sounds complete, and when those moments are strung together in a way never done before (as every show and setlist is different), the effect reaches much furthur than one great musical moment – it reaches into the realms of relationship, where time and exploration combine in a field of intimate empathy and trust. Listening to and seeing Phish, I witness Musical Love take place. Feeling the band’s rhythm, chords, notes, pedal effects (and the light show by Chris Kuroda, the unofficial 5th member of the band), I feel that Love myself.

There are many bands that inspire similar feelings in their fans. I connect to Phish’s style, cool and hot, their happy, catchy, quirky, melodic, and ridiculously fun songs, the breadth of their abilities and genres of music played. It’s worth noting that Phish plays a lot of major chords. Their entire attitude exudes joy (the name of their last studio album). What I love and have learned the most from this band, though, is that when they are jamming, if a jam gets funky, they play funky; if it gets dark, they play dark; if it gets heavy, they play heavy; if it gets happy, they play happy; and if it gets awkward, they play awkward. Whatever arises as they play, they play with it, and they keep smiling all the while. The first rule of improvisation is “Never say ‘No’,” and Phish’s playing lives this rule, and it is beautiful to witness: complete acceptance of the music they make. And when I accept them, I accept what seems to be an infinite expanse of possibility. And that’s heavenly elating.

I think one reason I love meeting strangers is the excitement of the new blending of energies. Phish has been playing some of the same songs for 30 years, and even now, their playing is fresh, ever-new, with beginner’s minds, with curiosity and expertise at the same time. Every show, the newness of every moment is as apparent as a child’s awe at the world. To remember the newness, to live in the newness, with all the potential we’ve ever dreamed the world might have: this is why I follow Phish.

Phish’s playfulness, in all senses of the word, is one of their strongest aspects to me. To illustrate this, here is a video from last summer’s tour of Trey playing his guitar with a lightsaber someone in the audience gave him. Background – earlier in the show, Trey asked drummer Jon Fishman (“Fish”) to tuck in the muumuu he wears every show; Fishman complied. After changing lyrics throughout the show (from “Run like an antelope out of control” to “Tuck in your dress man, you’re out of control!”, and from “Split open and melt” to “Split open and tuck”), the band invited anyone else wearing a muumuu to come on stage if they would also tuck while Fishman sang the tune “Lenghtwise.” As can be seen, the band did not think the audience’s tucking was adequate. After (and through) this spontaneous, utter childlike silliness, Phish played their song Maze. Let yourself enjoy why not.

You might also be interested in these articles: A brief interview with a former Onion writer about his conversion to the bliss of Phish, and a slightly aggressive explanation of why Phish deserves their alternative phame.

If you’ve never really listened to Phish, here’s one version of the first Phish song I remember singing without listening to at the same time, a song I love even more today. This song has some of everything – fun composed parts, reggae, happy, dark and scary (just for a little), patient and shredding jamming, and a blissful ending you can feel good about.

I hope you enjoy whatever you enjoy 🙂

I also hope it includes some art 😉