Zen Shakuhachi: the Way of Breathing Bamboo (entry 2)

The 5 Elements of Zen Shakuhachi, the way of breathing bamboo

In entry 1,  I refer to “all the elements of this path” and here is an overview that I have arrived at after 16 years of deep involvement.  Each intention, action, and tone on shakuhachi contains all of these 5 important elements, and the lists below them just help to shine light on my personal experience of these 5 elements.  You should explore them your own self and see what happens, what you feel.

Always evolving and, like the general worldly elements–air, fire, water, earth, space–always interpenetrating and cross-pollinating. Engage, absorb, beckon on and penetrate any and all of these at will…

Music

sound, vibration, resonance, structure, texture, feeling, flow, power, combination, invisible relations, mystical transmission, rhythm, melody, breath, Life, styles, development, lineage, sages, songs, composition, voice, mind, heart, tone

Zen

presence, space, clarity, stillness, Tao, qi, awareness, consciousness, clear mind, open heart, Zen Buddhism, ancestors, sutras, lineage, koans, transmission, wordless teaching, interdependent co-arising, illumination, realization, meditation, contemplation, suchness

Nature

sun, trees, roots, soil, air, atmosphere, green, photosynthesis, grass, hills, mountains, valleys, water, river, lake, ocean, pond, creek, creatures, animals, Life, bamboo, Joy, fruit, Pan, nano-worlds, moss, cosmos, Earth, organism(s), death, space, light

Breathing

depth, Life, air, qi, lungs, ribs, blood, oxygen, connectivity, interconnectedness, inter-relatedness, divinity, God, smell, taste, Joy, presence, awareness, health, movement, flow, clarity, vastness, expansion, wind, atmosphere

Creativity

composition, imagination, tea, beer (fermentation), waffles, pancakes, albums, books, comics, TV shows, film, stories, songs, myth, art, color, Life, relationships, performance, learning, fun, enjoyment, celebration, reverence, gratitude, sex

In Entry 3, I will outline an example of applying these elements in shakuhachi practice.

Zen Shakuhachi: the Way of Breathing Bamboo (entry 1)

In teaching woodwinds for 20 years, and primarily (and ultimately, only) shakuhachi for the past 7 years, I have seen a trend in Incorrect View.  This usually treats value or “success” in one’s shakuhachi endeavors  as a kind of equation directly calculated on results.  Results such as: I can or can’t play Song X or Note Y.  Why? We have this approach in life these days in general, and activities that are intrinsically Zen do not play this way.  If you “get” a result–songs or note–but are not truly deeply present when it unfolds, what has really been accomplished?  And further: what did you really even get out of it?  (And stating this as a goal is also questionable, but let’s roll with this pleasure principle for a moment.)

The important thing is regular engagement with the bamboo, the teachings, and all the elements that comprise this path, as I am calling it, “the way of breathing bamboo”–and regular guidance.  Choose your resources wisely, or let them wisely choose you.  Results never fail to appear, in my experience, one way or another, but it is the engagement itself that contains the enrichment, fulfillment, ah-ha moments, joy, etc. (as well as ego-dissolution, frustration, dead-ends, etc.)–so, like in Zen, it all comes back to presence.

Just be with the sound, hold nothing back, and eventually, beautiful sounds and “difficult” songs flow through.  But, sometimes, there are blockages to the “be with” part of that instruction, so, all expectations need to be set aside at that time.  Literally all expectations.  So check that.  Also, the “eventually” part can be in years or decades, and is almost never in the case of our friend, the shakuhachi, get to measure it in minutes or days.  But, you never know! Expect surprises, as they say.

Deep Breath, Clear Mind.

The Mental Twist against Life in Music

Outside the mainstream and rejected by the avant-garde.

 My own experience is music as a force of nature, not only as a figment of a corrupt human psyche.

Because I come up with unusual project concepts and deeply embrace rare instruments and topics, most of the music I dinosuar robot at Japanese hotelhave created or helped to create over the past 25 years cannot be considered “mainstream.” In music, generally the “mainstream” is narrow-minded, uncreative and increasingly derived from market interests that have nothing to do with art. So the Unknown is increasingly toxic to it. This wasn’t always the case, but it is more and more.

Fortunately, there is always a thriving “counter” stream from which those who desire something more refreshing may drink. And our global digital age is great for supporting small and strange forces, to some extent. However, a big slice of the experimental avant-garde of the last several decades is often primarily characterized by a dubious marriage between a deconstructionist dogmatism on the one hand, and a neurotic clean-room aesthetic on the other.

That’s why symphonies with laptops have been supported more readily than, say, chamber music with djembe or throat-singing. If it still stinks of being from the Earth—and honors too much the beating heart and pulsing hot breath of biological life—don’t admit it into the concert hall. Or even into the dirty urban warehouse art-performance space. Cigarettes and booze (or hors d’oeuvres and wine) are preferred over potted plants and medicinal tea. Everywhere, toxic substances are prized above pure soil and clean air.  Because the Madness is high on the idea that it “made” them.

To me, this is another demonstration of the diseased human mind that self-conceives as separate from, apart from the natural world. And to me, this is the most prescient issue of our time. In fact—in actual point of pure, unbiased FACT—we are a part of this tremendous place, this planet. Actually, in deeper spirituality we are that and, at the same time, one with it. If it still feels “woo woo” for someone to say ”this living, breathing mother Earth” then that’s a huge clue right there: the very twist that is uncomfortable with that phrase IS the leading face of our collective mental illness. And at times, I admit to still feeling that too. But it is a living, breathing organism that gave birth to us. There is no work-around for that fact. And it is a beautiful and ridiculous fact.  And saying it superficially isn’t going to help, you have to know it from deep in your pants.

What was our place in this Garden of Paradise? Our role was to be masterful participants, not “masters.” We kind of fucked that all up. So, my music is rooted in music and the natural world, derived from the experience of the flow of energy, many kinds of energy. Yes, also transcendent and cosmic energy, but none of this is separate from earth energy, breath and sex energy.  I try not to just create status reports of the fever dreams of a sick psyche.

In my opinion, many sectors of the experimental avant-garde need to loosen their grip, admit to what they are, and what they are not. An “open mind” that is actually only open to 50% (or less) of what the dominant minds are closed to—this would need a different designation, not “open” or free. Something like “open for deconstructionist auto-neuroticists.” We are all breathing here, and we all have beating hearts, for Christ’s sake.  But not all of us want to take drugs and jump up and down to giant sound systems either.  We are also mystics, and obsessed with the invisible—including concepts—but let’s also try being more holistic, more practical. More sane, harmonious and sustainable. More reverent, grateful and humorous.

More aware.  MORE ALIVE.

You should also know that I know that I’ve got those other three fingers pointing back at me.

Have a Very Ronnie Christmas!

 

My ongoing infatuation with Ronnie James Dio is no secret.

His golden roar and dedication to creative, expressive music for half-a-century has permeated my career mindset and my creative output, for instance my upcoming album Holy Flute.  I keep uncovering new treasures and revisiting old ones with renewed appreciation.  Shame on the Night: Discovering the Inner Light of the Music of Ronnie James Dio is the working title for my eventual book project delving into the spiritual revelations he embedded within the visionary hard rock and heavy metal realms that he ruled over for decades.  He was even resurrected this past year as a life-sized hologram at the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany.

The 3-pronged approach here is hardcore dedication, and levity mixed with authentic “nonduality.”  Ronnie seems to have truly understood–in the deeper sense of “under” as in below ground, chthonic, underworld, Hades, Hell, etc.–that being dedicated does not also mean being deadly serious, and that real sanity requires a type of fluidity between opposite polarities, like Heaven and Hell, not a fanatical devotion to your side of a “one-sided coin,” which ultimately cannot exist.

And, he found the dark more fun, partly perhaps because he had almost been blinded by the light.  I never got to meet him, and never got to ask him about it, but his lyrics over the years reveal startling truths, if you listen as a keen-eyed lion.  He was a rainbow in the dark, this famous song of his is a self-description, not a metaphor.  On a soul level, I believe this was literal.  And he explored the dark because we wanted him to, and it was good fun for all of us.  It still is.  Just don’t get lost.  When in doubt, hide in the rainbow.

Ronnie at the Holly Days - 1980's

Digital Witchery

It is time for me to share with the select few of you who will read this a small and amusing secret that 3.5 million people don’t realize.

The secret is: the owner of this YouTube channel somehow found a picture of me playing inside an art project in San Francisco in 2010 and posted it as a still image for the music of a famous bansuri player.  In other words: millions of people are digging this great Indian classical music whilst seeing my picture, with a bunch of my Oregonian and Japanese bamboo flutes, and 99% of the time, they are thinking that they are seeing and hearing the same thing–or at least the same performer.  Or flute type.  Or style of music.  Or country-of-origin of music.  Or any variety of things, including being convinced for minutes at a time that I am actually playing, that this is a video of me, and that I am SO FRIGGIN STILL WHILE PLAYING that they just can’t believe it.

Indeed, I can confirm: they should not believe it.  Multiple millions of flute fans are being hoodwinked.

I think this whole thing is pretty funny, and an example of a circumstance that a person of even 25 years ago could never have found themselves in.  I’m not sure there is any valuable lesson to be learned here, per se, but it seems, somehow, notable.

The owner of the channel is clearly on YouTube to make money with all the ads and “monetizing” that goes on during his or her many many videos of other people’s music (with other people’s’s pictures), all generating many many views.  I guess I am flattered that someone with such a clever business schema has chosen an image of me and my flutes (and Colin my coyote skull, and my Bourbon County Stout) to help peddle their–borrowed?–wares.

I have sent them a message (about a year ago) simply to request that my name and website be included in the video description, but, alas, I have not yet heard back.  Anyways, the description is already very full of other keywords that will be more helpful to the schema than the name of little ole me.  There are a few people–myself among them–who have gone into the tar pit of the comments section in order to clarify this digital witchery, and point out that what they hear and what they see have almost nothing to do with each other…or do they?

Perhaps we are all just playing one big giant universal cosmic flute, and all our videos, photos, soundtracks and ads and views and comments and clicks are all just

ONE.

 

 

In this World, Sometimes We Crave: Good Tastes and Dio

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Black People I Love

Solé "Skin Deep" debut album 1999

Solé “Skin Deep” debut album 1999

As musicians, we tend to judge another musician based on how much they’ve practiced, how creative they are, and how pleasant to be around they are, and most other attributes fall away to a distance, including but not limited to skin color, economic background, cultural heritage, and aesthetic sensibilities, for instance.  I am not saying that we are free of prejudice, but for decades, for example, I have been under the strong influence of a certain band (Fishbone) who is known partly for their unequivocal FUCK RACISM T-shirts and message.  Blow that shit up, right from the start.  So, there’s that.  I hope to be a bit more pensive about the topic in this post, so bear with me, but that feels like a good starting point.

How do we make decisions in life? The direct seeing of Zen or any deeper, noetic knowing pierces the veil of worldly conditioning, but it is our “worldly being” status that gives us the initial access to this depth.  Thus, initially at least, we find ourselves Conditioned.  By people and society.  Each of us–some more than others–seem to be messed with by our own society: the society that we make!  Everyday, every moment.

I thank God from the depths of my being that in spite of so much that is and has been twisted based on superficialities and fear (read: bigotry and ignorance), I have nevertheless grown into who I am in the company of people, fellow musicians, teachers, recordings, books, films and–yes, even TV programs–that infiltrated my life to its very core with some amazing, blessed and brilliant qualities.  Qualities that have shaped me from a young age, and that I am grateful to recognize.  Of the lists that follow, there is a part of each of these people in everything I do, and since it is Black History Month, I started with a focus on black Americans.  The list is thick yet was arrived at quickly, and I consider myself very picky, yet every person’s influence on this list seemed to have arrived in my life at exactly the correct time.

These are not casual presences for me, but true icons of varying degrees.

[“Ain’t That Love” by “Little” Stevie Wonder, 1962]

Deep Core, Life-Direction Influences and Role Models

Angelo Moore
Eric Dolphy
Sojourner Truth
Melle Mel
Cedell Davis
Stevie Wonder
Barry White
Jimmy Scott

Inner Circle, Super-strong Influences

Aretha Franklin
Ray Charles
James Brown
Charles Mingus
Miles Davis
Junior Kimbrough
Fishbone
The Swan Silvertones
R.L. Burnside
Howlin’ Wolf
Blind Willie Johnson
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Etta James
Buddy Guy
Sonny Terry
Elmore James
Eddie Harris
Mr. T
Corey Harris
Sly and the Family Stone
Parliament-Funkadelic
Ohio Players
The Last Poets

Basic Love & Respect, Strong Influence

Duke Ellington
David Baker
Diana Ross
Michael Jackson
Samuel L. Jackson
Eddie Murphy
Chuck Berry
Grandmaster Flash
Chaka Khan
Jimmy Hamilton
Harry Carney
Son House
Mississippi Fred McDowell
Sam Cooke
Robert Johnson
Leadbelly
Tina Turner
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Harriet Tubman
George Washington Carver
Run DMC
Gary Coleman
Spike Lee
Branford Marsalis
Malcolm X
Bill Withers
Billy Preston
Jimi Hendrix
Johnny Mathis
Billy Dee Williams
Janet Jackson
Bill Cosby
Prince
Wesley Snipes
Lisa Bonet
Grace Jones

 

Hardcore Dedication is Not a “Luxury”

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Andrea Dezsö: Heart Embroidery www.andreadezso.com

Today I got an article in my inbox from Derek Sivers–founder of CD Baby and general entrepreneurial, light-seeking , Gen-X musician-business-guidance-semi-guru–which you can read here. I liked what he said, and have been recently honing, consolidating, and focusing to a great extent myself, so the timing was nice.  This idea was reflected by many commenters who also felt his post to be timely in their own lives.

However, one sentiment gained some traction in the comments that I strongly disagree with. Basically, in response to the idea that someone might lock themselves away in a cabin for a year in order to finish their first book that they had procrastinated for much of their earthly life–the main example of the article–some commenters claim/complain/observe that “some of us don’t have that luxury.”

Here is my response to that notion, posted in the comments (#108):

Hardcore dedication is the point here, isn’t it? To those who here in the comments describe the lock-yourself-away-for-a-year as a “luxury some of us don’t have”– I must take the strong approach that you are missing the full impact of this method. And of the central main point here. 

We have what I am calling a “backstage” illusion in the human psyche, like we are or can be divided, “I got a family and job etcetera” okay: that was a choice, or at least, it is what it is. Hardcore dedication should not be looked upon by others who only dip their toe in the water yet desire a plunge as a “luxury.” In fact, that’s belittling. I suggest that true creative vision and follow-through are beyond either luxury or hard work: when the universe and you collaborate, transcendence occurs. I think, “no excuses” might sum up my sentiment here. Why did you buy into societal norms and then whine that you want to be “creative”? 

Also, most people, and musicians I am looking at you (us), truly need to stay out of their head more of the time, descend into their balls and ovaries and gut — put on some Danzig or Sabbath or Etta James — and present our current mentally unbalanced society with something REAL. Something true to your deepest, darkest, most illuminated, unfathomably powerful heart.

Dio Days 2015

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BEFORE – the sum total of my Dio library before Dio Days 2015

Dio Days 2015 Booty: after

AFTER – The expanded DIO library after Dio Days 2015

DIO – Lord of Roar secret compilation click here

Ronnie James Dio is one of the legends of rock.  Actually, he is a legend of metal, hard rock and classic rock, but let’s just elevate past all of that and say ROCK.  I first discovered his voice as I followed the thread of in-depth Black Sabbath study and listening exploration in 2006-7.  I had always been a mild fan of Black Sabbath, then in 2003 a friend gave me a copy of Master of Reality and that spun me all the way around.  Their writing reflected my own thinking back to me.  That 3rd album from the original (Ozzy) era Sabbath was much more fitting to my tastes than the ever-popular Paranoid, which perhaps I had just grown tired of.  Then in 2006, I got the remastered Black Box, all 8 of the Ozzy-era albums from the 70’s.  For almost two years, all I listened to were those 8 albums, Eckhart Tolle books-on-tape, and nature sound CDs.  Then in summer 2007, I came across the newly remastered compilation of Dio-era Black Sabbath.  It was so different, and yet, just as high-caliber as any other Sabbath.  I mean, if there was any doubt that they are the best band in rock history, to completely reformat in the early 80’s with a new vocalist, and sound so different and yet so good and still maintain continuity (Tony Iommi’s genius guitar playing and riffage)–this erased any lingering doubts for sure.  And this Dio stuff introduced me to one of my favorite singers of all time, which is a short and selective list to be sure.  With very few Caucasians…

Anyways: then my pal Nils played the epic track “Stargazer” one fateful New Year’s Eve for all of us (2007 or 2008).  Yet another great band that this Dio guy was in? Yes, Rainbow from the mid-70’s.  So my interest grew another dimension.  Then he rejoins with the Black Sabbath guys around this time (2008) and records a whole new album.  At this point, he is a 50-year music business veteran, an absolute master of his craft, and one of the brightest shining examples of creativity, commitment, enthusiasm, integrity and respect that you might ever discover in any “business” or “industry.”

So then he dies from stomach cancer on May 16, 2010.  Well, he had been working perhaps overly hard.  So every year since, around that time in May, in spite of not really paying attention to the general music press, I still get the urge to listen to lots of Dio.  This year just before the 5th anniversary of his death, the urge was particularly strong, and it became clear that the time had come to delve into the works that he had created with his own band, DIO, that existed more or less continuously from 1983 until 2004, and slightly beyond, and released 10 studio albums.  Dio Days 2015 also included the arranging of two Dio (with Sabbath) songs to add to my solo shakuhachi repertoire, but that will be the focus of a later entry (Dio Days 2015, Part II, most likely).

What can I say?  It is like a magic realm.  Correction: it is a magic realm.  You are either in and you have your mind blown wide open, or you are not in and remain outside the stone wall and iron gates of The Land of Dio.  There is a kind of long pathway that leads to this gate, mainly featuring the “hits” or classics, as it were: “Heaven and Hell,” “Holy Diver,” “Mob Rules,” “Children of the Sea,” “Rainbow in the Dark,” “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Neon Knights” and others.  Lots of people know these and like these: how can you not?  These are some of the best rock songs of all time.  But there is a beyond: a Deeper Dio, if you will.  Lots of people know about it; most of them were, like, between 15 and 25 in 1983, when Dio made the leap from Sabbath to his own project and, in that era, 1981-85, his voice and performance prowess reached its ultimate peak, in-my-not-so-humble-opinion.  He always sounds good–really good–but some of the live shows and studio albums from those years contain an extra bonus–something.

Now understand this: because I was only 9 years old in 1983, I was still listening to Duran Duran, Hall & Oates, Billy Joel and–like everyone else who was not a Dio fan–Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  So I came to the band Dio with relatively fresh ears.  Sure, I have the bias that “Children of the Sea” and “Stargazer” are two of my favorite songs of all time, but those aren’t from Dio, the band, so this year’s study was begun with some uncertainty: will I like DIO, the band?

So here are a few caveats: there’s some keyboards, so expect that.  And what’s more, within the sphere known as “early 80’s metal,” that’s where the Sword of the Land of Dio was forged, so, like every house or property that has its own style and era it hearkens to, it is kind of perpetually 1983 in the Land of Dio, or so it can seem when you first arrive.  Even songs from the final DIO studio album Master of the Moon often have an 80’s flavor added, like a spice, even though it is a fresh, creative album from 2004. Just accept it and the visit will be more fun.  Then–even though he is widely and wildly respected and championed among musicians and metal fans in general–there’s sometimes the classic metal-snob gripe: “Dio sings too much about wizards and rainbows and witches and dragons and dreams.  That’s too, like, wussy or D & D or whatever.  REAL metal is just about, like–hate, death, Satan or rotting corpses and stuff.”  Fine.  Stay in your dark hole if you want.

Part of Dio’s genius was his deep understanding about balance and the ultimate sham that is dualistic thought, whether that’s in life, society or mythology or religion.  Given a choice, I’ll take the vaster, larger viewpoint, thanks very much.  And thanks RJD for seeing that clearly and sticking to it.  (Although in the 90’s, he did get pretty angry and pushed his dark edge much more.) Angels and demons are among us every instant.  Stand in the shadow for awhile and look back to the light more clearly.  It is all a play.  With some really great album artwork, too.

“There’s perfect harmony in the rising and the falling of the sea.” -RJD

“The closer you get to the meaning, the sooner you know that your dreaming.” -RJD

Now go listen to some DIO!

DIO – Lord of Roar   secret compilation   click here

Art is short for Artificial

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This is a pretty basic thing that we tend to gloss over.  It might actually be short for “artifice” but it is for sure not short for “Arthur.” Not only are our creations not “just” the finger pointing at the moon, they are a photograph of an oil painting of the finger pointing at the moon.  We might be served to remember these layers and pay attention as they form.  The whole process is a synthesis of various inputs leading to a “special” or unique output that is then a Work of Art.

The artist’s state of consciousness at each stage of the process infuses the final result.  And the result is in fact not final, but continues on an adventure into the spheres and minds of others, and ripples out in time and space.

If I am getting too philosophical, try this experiment: some evening while you have some time to yourself, dim the lights, grab a tasty beverage, put on Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and sit or lie down somewhere comfortable.  If you are not transported–within seconds, no less–to an undeniable experience of the state of consciousness that resulted from that recording, of those musicians, at that time, with that vision, then you should check to make sure you have a pulse, as they say.

So, “artificial” does not mean inauthentic as I cast it here: it just means, know what a thing is and what it isn’t.  In-of-itself any created thing is an equal part of the entirety, an undeniable facet of our complete Suchness that we both Are and are Within.  So, we are vast and so are the things we create and make.  But, from our standard and daily viewpoint, if we can stay humble and remember that we are the imitators as we create, then the original–our original–creative nature might pour through, effortlessly and abundantly.

Like molten gold, like honey, like sunlight.

Older cultures and tribes had completely integrated routines and lifestyles, in this way their creations, creativity and “performances” were embedded in and in no way separate from, well, life.  Or we can say Life, with a capital “L”.  But things were not to stay put in that manner, it has been the human path to separate, to behold, to create and destroy on the basis of whims, dreams, divine and diabolical inspiration, power-trips and even sarcasm.

In these heady pre-apocalyptic times, when will we know for sure that it is finally, once and for all, the correct moment to Eat the Sandbox?