Newsletter

The Great Awakening

Posted by on Aug 26, 2020 in newsletter | 1 comment

The seed of the song was first watered by my Dharma brother Jon Hart, an ICU nurse in Tulsa who shared honestly about the immense suffering he and his colleagues were facing as the pandemic took hold in the US. I asked Jon what I could do to help support. He suggested a song. It seemed small and inadequate, but also something within my power to help create. I continued to listen to the elders and the bearers of wisdom, to my own heart and mind, and to our Mother Earth.

After hearing Dharma talks given by many wise teachers in the Plum Village tradition as part of an online retreat, including Peggy Rowe-Ward, Larry Ward, Sister Peace, Thay Phap Luu, and Thay Phap Vu, I picked up my pen and journal and began writing. I picked up my guitar and sang.

I shared the song in a video call with fellow members of the Earthwork Music Collective, a Michigan-based group of artist-activist friends, who encouraged me to record it as a collaborative project. Soon we were doing our best to record sound and video from our homes, turning our bedrooms, offices, living rooms, and backyards into makeshift studios.

Elisabeth Pixley-Fink, Samantha Cooper, and Audra Kubat wove together tapestries of beautiful vocal harmonies. Seth Bernard added a compassionate acoustic guitar part and Mark Lavengood contributed haunting dobro slides. Jordan Hamilton created a deep bed of cello love and Peace Be Free wrote and rapped a whole new lyrical verse chock full of wisdom and insight. Chris Good added an electric bass line and Sari Brown sang a verse and danced with the other vocalists during the chorus parts. Dan Rickabus helped bring it all together with a solid rhythmic foundation of drums and percussion, Mother Earth heartbeats.

Using our cellphone cameras we captured our own images and the places around us that were helping us to remain connected to love and compassion. We enlisted the help of audio and video engineer friends Brian Woodring and Charlie Steen who worked with the raw footage and audio files to help us create something beautiful for the world.

Out of the compost of suffering, a flower is now blooming. Please, enjoy it’s beauty, witness any transformation that it helps to inspire, and take those seeds and plant them in your own soil. May we cultivate fields of compassion so that our world can harvest bushels of love. May we generate energies of peace and healing, so that our country can continue to evolve into more inclusive, compassionate, sustainable, healthy, and safe communities for all people, for all beings, for all our relations.

Listening with you,
Joe

May We Grow With the Trees

Posted by on Jul 8, 2020 in newsletter | 0 comments

“May we grow with the trees
May our hearts be at ease
May our education be
a lifelong ceremony”
~from The Rainbow Room Song, written with students at the Boggs School, April 2020

Hearing the gentle evening serenade of the cicadas. Noticing the vibrant orange blooms of the butterfly milkweed. Seeing the sun reflecting on the waves of Lake Michigan as it drifts towards the western horizon. Singing in the shade of a giant tulip tree. I welcome summer in Anishinaabe Aki, the land of the People of the Three Fires.

This, a season like none that has come before, presents us with our vulnerabilities as humans, our deep interdependence, and the vast racial and economic disparities of our society. The pandemic of Covid-19 and the pandemic of police brutality and violence against Black people and People of Color have laid bare the truths of enduring injustice and systemic racism that is rooted in the foundation of America.

In spite of the evasiveness and negligence of a willfully ignorant president, I have been encouraged by the consistent peaceful uprisings of people from all races and ethnicities who are awakening to the need for healing justice. Here we are, singing, praying, meditating, social distancing, marching, drawing, stretching, sketching, writing, riding, grieving, crying, meeting, smiling, laughing, listening, breathing; growing towards something greater and more inclusive than we have known before.

This is not a linear path, and there is no one perfect solution to the traumatic legacies inherited from centuries of racial oppression. Yet there are so many paths to healing. Infinite ways to learn how to be together, how to hold one another, how to listen deeply and be present to one another’s suffering. Music and songs are vital to these efforts. Our shared heartbeat. Our shared breath. The vibration of our being. Our common humanity.

We are creative, resilient, and good, we human beings. Remind yourself! Remind your neighbors! May we embody this goodness in small and great actions. May we use our gifts to help feed the fire of awakening that is burning away the fear and ignorance and transforming hatred into love. May we be the change we wish to see in the world.

I have some live streams and live shows coming up this summer (I am only agreeing to do outdoor performances where physical distancing will be supported). I have decided to move my Happy Songs mindfulness and songwriting camp online to protect the safety of all participants, making it now available to children from any geographic location. Please read on for performance and camp dates, and for a special musical self-care package just for you!

Growing with you and with the trees,
Joe

Be Still and Know

Posted by on Mar 24, 2020 in newsletter | 0 comments

Waiting in the Detroit Metro Airport for our flight to Seattle on February 28th, I told Allison “Something feels different.” I have made that trip each year for more than a decade as part of my annual West Coast Tour but I could tell that this would be like no tour prior. Without knowing it we were standing on the precipice of the corona virus outbreak in the United States. The day after we arrived in Seattle, the governor of Washington declared a state of emergency because the virus was spreading there.
 
My first response was fear. Then I remembered to breathe, and to take refuge in the practice of present moment awareness. Allison and I talked about what we should do, prayed about it, and sat with it in meditation, turning it over to the Great Spirit. We were able to have fun and joyful performances at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island. We were scheduled to end the tour on Lopez Island, one of our favorite places to visit. As we took stock of the developing situation, Allison had the idea of renting a car and driving home rather than flying, to further reduce our risk of exposure to the virus.
 
We reluctantly cancelled our Lopez Library show and used our final four days of the tour to drive across country, taking the southern route from Bremerton, Washington through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska (where a state trooper was convinced that we were trafficking drugs), Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and back home to our precious mitten-shaped state. Thankfully the weather was clear and the roads were dry. We enjoyed the journey and were grateful to have made it home safely, only to find the corona virus close behind. Soon after we returned the virus began spreading here in Michigan. Schools were closed, and just this week our governor ordered us to “stay in place,” or as I like to call it “be still and know.”
 
We have been home now for over two weeks and thankfully have not experienced any symptoms. We have been carefully taking precautions and trying to do our part to slow the spread of the virus. All of our music gigs for the foreseeable future have been cancelled or postponed. We, along with most other humans around the world, are learning how to adapt and live in this new reality.
 
Of course my old friends fear and anxiety have continued to arise. The spiritual practices of prayer, meditation, and making and sharing music have been so deeply helpful. I have been reminded that the ancestors and Spirit helpers are here with us, and that each moment is an opportunity to take refuge in their love and compassion. Music, meditation, and mindfulness help bring me back to this place of knowing; Knowing that I am deeply interconnected with all life, beyond space and time. Knowing that it is our human nature to grow old, to get sick, and to die. Knowing that I want to respond to this situation with wisdom and compassion. Knowing that I don’t know the outcome and that’s okay. Knowing that I can trust God, trust the Spirit, and take good care of this present moment.
 
Allison and I are aware that we are very fortunate. We are healthy and well. We don’t have underlying health conditions. We are currently out of work but we have enough savings to make it through the next few months. We are aware that those who work in health care are on the front lines of this fight. We pray for those workers, and for our elders and for those who are the most vulnerable.
 
In our own little way, we offer our music and songs as a refuge and support along your path. I’ll be doing two live stream music events this week and I hope you will join me. Whether you are young or old, sick or healthy, working or not, we are in this together. We inter-are. And we sing for you.
 
Wishing you and your family good health and happiness,
 
Joe