Philosophy

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January 2016

Happy New Year! I thought it would be fun to start the year with a philosophical offering. I recently had an exchange with a good friend of mine. He’s a guy with whom I went to college, and who is now a master jazz performer, composer and instructor in the bay area. I sent him my album called “Present Moment”, and he wrote back asking me a provocative question:

Clearly there is a cosmology in your work, which I don’t pretend to understand. Of course all good music comes from or at least is informed by a spiritual source, that we share. In your case is your world view coming from one line of teaching or is it your own amalgam of different spiritual streams? Its so present in your music that it begs the question. Having read a lot of religious texts, then having spent time as a “born again christian”, I’ve thought about this quite a bit. While not regretting any of the experiences, I’ve come to my own conclusion that mankind has invented religions as a way of ordering the chaos of creation. That viewpoint might change (I’m always up for a personal experience with God) but we humans indeed are quite capable of creating mythologies that help us along the pathway. In any case, the spiritual intent in your work is very deep and highly evolved. While as I say not pretending to understand, I do feel that this is key component to understanding/appreciating your work, something that started perhaps around the time we met and has continued to grow through today.

Here is my response to him:

“Present Moment : Wonderful Moment” is a breath mantra, Present Moment on the inhalation, Wonderful Moment on the exhalation. It originates with a Vietnamese Buddhist monk named Thích Nh?t H?nh.
The woman who hosts the meditation group I attend most Wednesdays turned me on to it. It points to the one place where free will is at work, our ability to choose how we feel in any given moment. This little breath mantra sparked the whole album, and I had a vision of the album’s arc from the very beginning. While I like to have a unifying flow to albums as a whole, this “seeing” of the album’s arc at the start of it has never happened in this way. The faith that life, at its heart, is both benevolent and eternal is the basis of my spiritual understanding. Clearly, life experience can be challenging and full of endings, but who we really are is vibrational awareness, eternally evolving across incarnations. There is no death as we think of it, only change. Science has come to that conclusion, with the idea that energy cannot be destroyed, only changed. Life is energy. Life never ends, but it constantly changes. There is a Hindu expression: Sat Chit Ananda, which means “Ever Existing, Ever Conscious, Ever NEW Joy.” This, I believe, is our true nature. And ultimately, everything contributes to that expansion of awareness, which could be called the eternal life of god. So in this way, despite appearances, everything is OK. Or to say it another way, “all is well and getting weller.” I go through the spectrum of emotional experience, and as Cath could tell you, I can be very cynical…. I’ve been known to say, “Humanity is a failed experiment.” But I come back to my fundamental mantra, “Life always knows what it’s doing,” even if we don’t. Whatever thoughts or feelings might flow through me in the course of my daily life, music is my sacred ground. I keep my musical realm focused on the transcendent positive, because that’s the best feeling place to be, and I believe it reflects the truth of what the life experience really is. Life is a journey, not a destination. Our awareness expands with the full range of our life experience, and the awareness we call god expands with us. We, through our focused perspective, asking questions and making choices, are where the rubber meets the road in terms of this expansion, so you might say that god bows in gratitude to us for being the vehicle of this eternal awakening. We are the spark that fuels the expansion that is the eternal life of god. Yeah baby.
So where does religion fit in to all this for me? Not at all. Religion is often the antithesis of authentic spiritual experience. Think of Jesus, teaching his followers how to pray. He calls god “Abba”, which means daddy…. Very intimate, close, connected…. And he tells his followers that they can access god directly. They don’t have to go through the Pharisees. So the Pharisees killed him… or actually, convinced the Romans to do it for them, because in telling people they could have their own relationship with spirit, Jesus was threatening their job security, and their power base. Another example of religion missing the point of authentic spiritual experience is when St. Francis was on his deathbed, and suddenly sat up, telling his followers that he felt a song of joy, and wanted to sing it to them. They told him to lie back down, he was dying, and this was a somber occasion… certainly not a time for a joyful song. And then they went out and formed the Franciscan Order, having already completely missed the point of his message. So it goes with religion, over and over again.
The big thing for me around religion is to not get seduced by my disdain. There is no freedom in defiance, and true freedom is everything to me.
I believe that the incarnation we experience is only a facet of the infinite diamond that we really are. Connecting with our broader reality is not only possible, it is constantly happening. Like a fish, asking where the water is. But the knowing is intuitive, not intellectual. The mind is a funny thing… it likes to act as if it is leading the dance, but it always follows the emotions. It looks for data to support whatever the feelings are expressing. And we do have a choice as to how we feel. As we find better and better feeling places, life itself begins to line up with that expectation. The better it gets, the better it gets…
So there you go!
Thanks for your wonderful question. I have enjoyed reaching for the high frequency answer.

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THE DANCE WITH MUSIC

A relationship with music is a love connection that comes and goes right from the source. After all, the expression of source is vibration. Music is vibration, as is life energy itself.

Today, that dance of connection has instant access to every imaginable expression, across time, geography, class, culture… even species.

For one who is a music composer, this palette of influences is both infinite and accessible at the same time.

For one who is a songwriter, you add the element of poetry through lyrics, and infinity becomes multi-dimensional.

Songwriting has always been like journaling to me. I’m in the midst of my 85th album, and around 60 of them have been original music. These songs, which began when I was 15, and have continued to my current age of 53, are a musical tapestry of my ever changing window onto the life experience, and the associated feeling tones.

The process of expressing such views and feelings in music triggers an introspective inquiry, and sparks an opening to a creative vortex where self-consciousness falls away. From this place, the song begins to appear, often quite suddenly. In such moments, the songwriter feels like the stenographer, witnessing and documenting the appearance of the song.

Uncountable styles & cultures have arisen from this unique moment of expression. From cantors to conductors, from musicologists to the popular music industry itself… the opinions, rules and regulations, are as endless as the songs. And they each have their place.

You can get lost in all the other view points. You can get confused, and somehow think the approval of others is important to the validity of your experience. If you do, you can have the fun of rediscovering your unique experience and clarity. Regardless of any of that, the only thing that matters is your personal “intercourse” with that vortex of music. That is equally true for the music appreciator and the performer/creator.

The only challenge to creating music is doubt… doubt that you can do it… doubt that it will be worth anything… doubt that you’re good enough to be even trying…

If popular music has told us anything across the ages, it’s that you don’t have to be good to make good music. A billion songs can use the same chords or notes, and every one of them can still contribute uniquely to the ever expanding whole.

What have I learned from all this? That life is not a f…ing achievement test. Lessons come as they will. Learn what serves you in the moment, and take that into the next one… or not. Everything brings you to your life. Better to just keep turning one’s attention toward what feels best. Life responds to our feelings like an answered prayer. Thus, it’s just more fun when you feel good. The better it gets, the better it gets.

  • #1 written by Mario Vickram Sen
    about 3 years ago

    Hi Doug, I was just trawling the web, looking for signs of George Conrad or Elixir, I came across you. I was the guitarist in Elixir just after you, so I suppose we have something in common. Also checking out your music, it seems that there are certain similarities between us. Please check out my website. Give the song “Mariah” a listen… I think it will resonate with you. And please feel free to e-mail me any time.
    Best wishes, Mario.

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