Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reborn in Long Beach

IBMC, Where Kusala & I meet up to carpool each Sunday

After a long 3 month hiatus, I journeyed back to Long Beach, CA to begin singing for the lovely Vietnamese Buddhist children with Kusala. After travelingholiday breaks, and dealing with my own personal stuff, it felt like a second chapter in my personal world of peace singing was about to begin. To be honest, I was still feeling a bit run down. I woke up with the feeling of being homesick... the worst part was that I technically don't have a home right now. In the car, Kusala asked me if I wanted to listen to some blues. That would be perfect, I thought.

At the temple, the children waited patiently outside under a canopy. They sat cross-legged, shoes removed, clothed in blue uniforms with adorable little lotus patches on the upper left side of their shirts, which reminded me of the badges I used to earn in Girl Scouts. I wanted to open with the song "Imagine."

Kusala & Company welcome me back to the temple.

A few months ago, when the Arizona shooting happened, Kusala and I were talking about how sad the world is and how we feel like it is time to stop playing safe. In that conversation, we both talked about needing to sing songs that express more deeply how serious it is that we all learn how to live in peace. "Imagine" is in my opinion the best peace anthem I have ever heard.

The kids listened quite reverently, and when one of the temple workers adjusted the volume, a shrilling wave of feedback noise made me suddenly stop the song. When I told the kids that I had almost finished the song anyway, and that I would start another one, they all moaned loudly in protest. It was cute. So I finished the song. It was the verse that goes "Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can? No need for greed or hunger. A brotherhood/sisterhood of man." A very Buddhist verse really.

After that, I sang "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free." I like singing this song, because I feel like we all feel that way. We all just want to be free. And even though we who live in so-called free nations feel like we are technically free, we all seem to place these limits on ourselves or we feel our bosses or parents or teachers or spouses put limits on us, and sometimes it is difficult to feel truly free.  I like singing this song to the Buddhist kids, because they learn meditation. In meditation, you can get yourself into a zone where you feel free, even for just one little moment. That one little moment is better than any drug or medicine, because it comes from within you. It teaches you that you have the ability to feel free.

The last song I sang was a song I wrote called "Courage to be Real." The chorus of the song goes like this: "I have courage to be real, I have courage to heal from the mean things that someone has said to me. I have courage to be great, and to never, ever hate anyone for being messy with their words."  I wrote this song one year ago, and it was inspired by a student who was being picked on by kids at school. I was picked on in Middle School, so I thought that writing the song would be a good way for me to release any negativity that may still be lingering. The process of writing a song can be quite therapeutic, and sometimes I am surprised at how much trauma still sits inside my mind. The act of singing and writing is the best way I know for releasing such feelings.

I wanted to sing "Courage to be Real" yesterday, because I needed to hear it. As I make this journey from musician to full time, *living-breathing-sleeping-music* musician, I have to summon up courage. The act of performing, especially singing, is a vulnerable position to be in. People are cruel. They can say the meanest things to you about your voice or your words and not even realize how awful it feels. It feels awful, because when you sing, you are exposing a part of your soul. When someone decides to do this for a living, they are taking a very big risk. But, I feel like I have a strong heart and a level head and that I am ready for the challenge. Also, it is important to admit that this is just who I am, and I want to be real. Bottom line, I just want to be me.

Sunday's temple experience was a beautiful one for reflecting on Spring, re-birth, times of change, etc. In Buddhism, Reincarnation is a very important concept. This is a tough one for many westerners who do not grow up believing in such a concept. When I began studying Buddhism about 12 years ago, I remember thinking, well it's a good thing this is not a dogmatic-punishment style philosophy, because I will never believe in THAT.  But over the years, I have heard the term "Reincarnation" or "Rebirth" to mean something much more important than what happens when you physically die. In Buddhism, it is taught that we are constantly being reborn, year after year, week after week, even hour after hour. Who I was yesterday is gone. Dead. She does not exist. I had a few experiences, and I choose what I want to carry on with me. But other parts of me and experiences are not here anymore.  Only this present moment is here. The person I am in this moment is the one who is alive right now.

Kusala: Possibly the Coolest Monk EVER

After I sang, Kusala gave his talk and played his ukulele, and I wandered around the temple grounds. I sat in front of the sanctuary as dozens of children and adults chanted and rang gongs, and I thought about rebirth. As Spring approaches, I feel good about the new person I am becoming.

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