Monday, October 19, 2020

About Soulfulness, Artistry, and Future

"Just tell the truth about your own life, what you're experiencing, what you're seeing and dig into it. Don't be afraid of it, confront it. Let's see where it comes out. Let's describe our most intimate relationships with the hopes that other people can see themselves in our work."---Bruce Springsteen quoted by Steve van Zandt, talking to the Band.

I want to say thank you. You keep showing up. If there's going to be any future worth creating in this troubled world, it's going to take the likes of you. Where would we be without each other?

But there you are for Saturday Conversations, with all of their eclectic madness and occasional disorganization and hours of preparation, all of which seems to disappear as soon as we lift off. And Gita Sessions for their reliable indifference to sticking to the text but also never really leaving it either. You've been there now for months and there's no end in sight really. I'd tell you that you've saved me but that would underestimate the truth, which is that you really did save me. I don't presume any such drama on your part but I'm confident you have felt deeply too. I no longer shy from the tears anymore than I shrink from the argument. With you folks, I know humanity stands a chance. It's your goodness, your curiosity, your commitment. I think to myself after every session: How he would have loved to have met you too.

Since pandemic and this madness that has infected America, you have dedicated yourselves to a deeper sadhana, a soulful life of learning, company, and conversation. "You kept returning," Appa said when I asked him, "Why me?" It wasn't about talent or ambition though what I lacked in one I tried to make up in the other. It was about the good company. It was for love. That's just got to said.

"Rajanaka" as we know it together turns 20 or thereabouts this year. But it doesn't matter how long you've been around. What matters is that you've been willing to reach into your heart, offer yourself up, to stand in yoga as Krsna puts it. Yogasthah. In these troubled times you've all managed to look across the horizon to ask what more there is even as the world burns and rages and quarantines and some people can't even wear a mask to keep their neighbors safe. But you have all this and then some.

Tonight I was reading an interview with Nils Lofgren and Steve van Zandt about the new E Street Band album that will be released in full this coming Thursday. Yeah, I know, here I am talking about Springsteen again. And I'm not trying to make you like anything I like. Music leads the way, like other art, and we're all made to hear our own songs. But this record is going to come some 10 days before the election and whether it stirs your soul or not, whether its lyrics about love and friendship, grace and death are to your tastes, what it _means_ to do is remind you that art is something we are going to _need_.

We're going to need to do a lot of hard work if there is to be a reckoning with all that has been hurt. But we are also going to need art to heal. We're going to need art to address these terrible challenges we will face, some deep and foreboding, and with those who will not love us even if we offer an open hand. We'll do what we can, you've proven you will go as far as it takes to create community and conversation. But I tell you, we'll evolve, perhaps even take a few steps towards progress if we make art that bares our souls.

In Rajanaka the soul is not a metaphysical fact or an argument made through dialectic. Soul isn't something we contest or need to prove---or disprove. (Those pesky Buddhists. Gotta love'em.) Soul traverses through feelings, all feelings, but it's not itself a feeling. Soul is what _moves_ feelings. It is the prime mover within us and requires no cause or reason, no maker because it is the creator. It takes courage and humility to bare your soul. It takes work to dive deeply into parts unknown, unasked for, into shadows hidden by the light that creates them. Soul is a journey best taken together even when it is wholly ours.

Soul happens when we dare to turn ourselves inside out, what the Tantrikas call, what Rajanaka calls uttanita: the extended, the upside down, the contrarian way. Art dares to move with and against, towards and away at the same time; the soulful doesn't resolve such paradox so much as it brings out its beauty and power and strife and value. Your art is whatever you do that makes that happen for you and it's your artistry, your soulfulness that changes the world. Don't suffer alone. Don't be alone unless you want to. Share that journey and your artistry becomes a gift.

Becsuse art emerges from soul it can't help but create more soul, more connection. It's no small task to learn how to reach into the unconscious and from that source create the forms of memory that express the heart's secrets, its wishes and desires, hopes and fears. Some of us do that with music or dance or in our commitment to a yoga practice or in raising children and caring for them, or even through the power of food and love and other forms of human care for the world.
Soul comes from the depths but means to reach the surface. What happens then isn't something we can completely control or direct but it is ours to experience. The worlds of yoga, worlds of care, of artistry are truly astonishing. Soulfulness is the liquid fire, the source of rasa, the essential, the elixir; it is the self coming into its own light, emerging from mixed up, muddled up, shook up worlds that invite us to _see_ ourselves and _be_ ourselves at the same time.

Everyone has the talent but not all get their chance. And somehow it doesn't seem to burn as hot for those who never kindle the fire. Or maybe they never learned how. And as we have come to learn over the past four years, soul can be callow, damaged, and even empty. There are no guarantees that the soulful will be found or cultivated, much less evolved into distinguished artistry and authenticity and take the shape of the integrity of self. But most folks, given the opportunity to love deeply will find the soulful because they will experience joy and pain and they will grieve too and likely find their way to offering something of what they have learned and felt.

Now I confess, the real reason for this note was to cite from this interview in Forbes what Bruce told the band when they got together to make music.
That could have been Appa those years ago because that is what he offered. He wished for me---and for you---that chance to tell the truth about your lives, to not be afraid of what you find and to share it because it is in your soulfulness we will all grow, each into our own artistries. If the love we give is equal to the love we take--- to quote those other guys who put it all on the line--- we'll have lived enough.

Sing on, Rajanaka. And dance like Nataraja is delighted you've come. Kali is holding you close. If all that seems a bit much, well, we've got even more stories to tell. I hope to see you more, and soon. If we dare to tell our truths then we will have a future. Better yet, together.