The Practice of Self Care with Sundus Abdul Hadi

SA
Hi Sundus!

S
Hi Fariha!!!

SA
I’m so honored to be doing this with you! I was just thinking back to the first time we met, which was (I believe) on your radio show in Montreal… and you had me on as a guest and we talked about self care! So it’s kind of a full circle now. I get the sense that that’s kind of what our relationship is like, that there’s these universal themes we traverse through different mediums, and we’re in constant dialogue with one another through different platforms. I find your work around “self care” so profound and important. Can you tell me a little about how you first started to think about self care and how did it develop into what it is today?

S
I remember that day so well. Actually, I had given you the catalogue for the Take Care of Your Self exhibit, which was only a few months old at the time. Speaking now makes it all feel so full circle indeed. I actually just finished reading Like a Bird—I read it in 3 days, and was eager to finish it before we spoke. I can’t wait to speak to you more about that too. It was so beautiful in so many ways. Congratulations for this work of (he)art. 

I just received the first copies of Take Care of Your Self: The Art and Cultures of Liberation. I spent the past three years writing it, and it is rooted in that exhibit, featuring the work of 20 artists whose work intersects with the concepts of care and struggle. The book is about the transformative potential of art, and how care, community and culture are intertwined in the journey towards lasting, decolonial, liberatory change. I’d say that the starting point for all my exploration of self-care was definitely through writing and illustrating Shams, my children’s book about trauma and survival, based on a little girl made of glass, named Shams. I wrote it because I needed a book like that when I experienced my own trauma(s).

It’s funny, with self-care, and my whole body of work around the practice of it, it is always rooted in my lived experiences, in the self. Recently, I have been coming back more and more to terminology and the words we use. I have started to drop the word “self” from the phrase, because I am realizing how that is really just the starting point for care. Approaching everything from the space of moving from microcosm to macrocosm, I feel like care as a concept has so many layers…

SA
I want to unpack that with you. Could I ask you for more explanation? 

S
I would say moving from my work as a visual artist to being committed to making books – a more accessible medium – I started to think much more about the idea of community. My lived experience is unique to me, but once I started thinking about how this experience can become a source of knowledge for others, it shifted my perspective from one that is centered on myself, and more about what the collective experience is, particularly for those of us who have experienced systemic injustice rooted in colonialism. I started to see the importance of changing the narrative around some of the universal experience that we have all been trying to face and heal from. Trauma is a universal experience that is at once extremely personal yet wildly relatable. Writing and illustrating Shams was my first offering in this journey. Simplifying the very heavy concepts of trauma, loss, displacement and collective suffering through a character made of glass, and the idea of putting yourself back together again after shattering is a reminder of our potential to heal.

SA
I really feel that looking at and reading your work. It’s so holistic. Studio Ananda is trying to do a similar thing, talking about healing as art — trying to expand what that means, how that looks? I feel like the more we can unlayer it the more we can heal… and I get the sense you feel similarly, which is why you wrote Shams as well as Take Care of Your Self. I was watching an interview with Michaela Coel about I May Destroy You earlier today and she was describing the feeling of being a mirror, and how honorable that work is. How noble it is to excoriate yourself to write and think about trauma and how it lives and thrives in us. What made you want to transition from making art for the market into art that is more accessible, like books? I don’t know if that’s correct… but what was the catalyst for that transition?  

S
Well, first I want to acknowledge that we – as in me and you, and our peers, our communities – and I’d say a lot of people around the world, are experiencing a pretty significant collective consciousness towards healing intergenerational trauma like never before. It’s a decolonial force. I see it, I feel it. I think the revolutions we are witnessing around the world are drawing from that energy. I think that is partly due to the stars and the planets, as we are moving into a planetary dynastic shift, and also something algorithmic, in both an ultra connected tech sense and in a spiritual sense. 

I also want to mention that I never saw myself as making art for the market. The capitalistic aspect of being an artist was never appealing to me, in fact, I was always really critical and aware of the ills of the art industry. I’ve carved out my own space as a fiercely independent artist since the very beginning of my journey. I also found a really beautiful community along the way – other artists who were engaged in the same independent practice, often working along the lines  of care and struggle. Moving into writing was very… interesting. Although I was drawing from the same creative space, and had been writing for self-expression since I was a preteen, I had never identified as a writer. Coming into that space was not easy, but because my work has always been so transmedia, writing just felt like another way to communicate intention, knowledge, and critical thought. It’s another conduit for imagination. I’ve always been obsessed with books. Books as an object, and a medium for knowledge. They are accessible, and the written word is one of the oldest media in the world. Books become legacy, they are for the future, as much as they are about our past and present. 

SA
I totally feel that presence and commitment in your work. I’m a Capricorn stellium, lol. My Saturn is in Capricorn, it’s annoying. So I feel like I really struggle between wanting to be identified with traditional forms of power while simultaneously wanting to critique them. That’s why I wondered if there was a hurdle in coming from one world to another, but you’re right — it’s sort of almost like you adapted into another medium, and it’s breathtaking. One thing that I felt immediately when reading Take Care Of Your Self is that I rarely felt seen in such specific ways… and I mean mainly in Muslim ways, I guess? There was such a relief to read lines of the Qu’ran, or an explanation of nafs. I see so much of your own consideration of Islam in my own life, and I wonder how that plays into your work and into your own conception of self care?

S
Thank you Fariha, for engaging with my work as you have. It means so much.

A little note about industry… in the beginning of my “career”, I was trying to get “accepted” by the art industry, hoping for opportunities that simply didn’t exist for a young independent Iraqi female artist. At a certain point, I realized I need to stop seeking out validation from an industry that so vividly suffered from a lack of care. Our creative industries, as they currently exist, can be so hostile, so exclusionary, and so damn colonial. They don’t reflect my community, my beautiful, rich, diverse community. That’s why I started curating my own shows, creating our own opportunities, outside of the so-called industry. The way I saw it was, if they won’t give us space or the validation to craft our own narratives, then it’s up to us to create those spaces, and if we go at it for long enough, they start watching. By then, we won’t need their validation anymore.

I felt the same way reading Like a Bird… definitely, this feeling of being seen, and narratives that I can relate to having the full space to breathe, is so rare. It’s not marginal anymore. It’s centered. And that’s the way our experiences should always be. I even stopped using the word “marginalized” or “colonized” because I feel so disconnected from the idea that we have to be labelled as secondary, inferior or compared to whiteness. By we, I mean the deeply rooted people. I think that’s the root of being empowered… not trying to share just the little bits and pieces of what makes us ancient and wise, but all of us, all of our ancestral glory.

While writing Take Care of Your Self, my friend and fellow artist/writer Suhad Khatib reminded me that my experience was worth writing about. She encouraged this idea of the book becoming an accumulation of knowledge that I had been gathering over the years. Actually, even before I was born. I chose to write about the wisdom of my ancestors, my spiritual heritage, my culture. Stories about the matriarchs in my family, and of Iraq are a well of knowledge that I wanted to share. As for the role of Islam in my life, I’d say it always reminds me to be intentional, whether its in my daily life or in my creative practice. I’m so grateful that it came through.  

SA
Thank you so much for saying that babe. Yes! I want to talk to you about Like A Bird! I can say that it’s such a lonely experience to put out this kind of level of work for me. I felt so many things as the book was coming out… and despite genuine (positive) surprises so far, I’m still processing so much grief. So much isolation. 

I want to bring this back to what you said about ancestral glory. When you access that kind of deep place it becomes a very arduous process on the soul. I feel like that’s something I try to contend with. It’s a dark thing having to retrieve a lot of my familial secrets which are all about power and sexual abuse. So much sexual abuse. There’s been such a shift I feel like in the Muslim World about the concept of abuse, and I feel like there is such a community reckoning happening when it comes to that, as well as anti-blackness. But that work is deep work, and not everybody has the capacity for it all the time. Yet, for us, we have to keep going. I don’t personally feel like I have a choice. It would actually hurt too much if I couldn’t let these things out. I really think I’d kill myself if I couldn’t. It’s dark, but true. Recently I was praying and I started to thank God for giving me writing, for showing me how to use this tool so early on. I’m trying to look at my own despair less, and maybe reorient it to see how I feel about it upside down… what if I could feel gratitude all the time for being this vessel? Rather than being upset by the burden of it?

I want to ask you who you wrote Shams for, and what did it mean to put it out into the world?

S
Thank you for sharing that vulnerability with me. Inshallah writing will always be a tool for you to dig out of the darkness into a space where you feel held. I hear you.

I think that you and I are the only people I know that put out two pretty significant bodies of work in one year, and during a pandemic, no less. The isolation is real. I was supposed to go to Palestine for the Arabic book launch of Shams the week after the global lockdown. I was really nervous about putting Shams out into the world, and having to travel for the book launches. In a way, I’m kind of relieved that I can do all that public work in the privacy of my home. 

My creative space is full of light and shadows. Reading Like a Bird, I kept thinking about how much work you have done. Not just work as a writer and creative thinker, but as a spiritual being, as a descendent of your lineage, as a survivor of trauma. It made me think of all the young people who would read your book and how it will transform in their own hands, and how these printed words become weapons, tools, wisdom for their own path. I hope that will make it feel less isolating, because books truly have this incredible transcendental power. You may never know the people who have been impacted the most by the work, but it’s enough to have put it out into the world. 

I feel exactly the same way about Shams. I wrote and illustrated Shams for the youth. For the next generation. I wanted her story to become a tool for others who need to know, innately and intuitively, that healing and survival is within us. That dark space is not always our enemy – as you and I know, we can draw much creative energy from it – but the trick is not to let it retraumatize us, or traumatize others. There is this idea of trauma sometimes leading to a point of transformation, where we literally evolve, as beings, spiritually. I think I’ll never be free of the mental or physical anguish that I experience when I’m visited by my shadow self, but if I can keep my soul, or spirit, in the presence of God — light —- and practice gratitude, even when things are absolutely terrifying, then I’ll be OK. 

Shit, that was really deep. Too deep? Haha… that’s all my pisces moon for you, and my twelfth house cluster!!!!

SA
Hahaha, babe you know I love this shit. I’m a Cancer Moon and Cancer Stellium. My Jupiter in Cancer is in the 12th house and Venus Aquarius is in the 8th house… so I’m just so happy we can go here with each other. I absolutely feel you. 

I think as you were explaining the concept of shadow self something clicked… it was all in the phrasing “I’m visited by my shadow self…” that’s so uff, it’s so real. And it also made me realize how much autonomy we really have over ourselves but how difficult it is to maintain that level of integrity with yourself at all times. I’ve been feeling that a lot. Loss of friendships when you’re living your truth and putting up boundaries is something I’ve been dealing with a lot, and it’s a painful examination to accept that standing in your truth comes with casualties. Not everybody wants to see things objectively. Ironically, for as a society that prioritizes “science” and “fact” so much I wonder why we’re ruled by such pettiness and misplaced emotionality as a species. I’m also a North Node Aquarius in the 8th House LOL. 

Ok, I don’t want to keep taking up your time, this conversation has been so healing for me actually. One last question I wanted to ask, however, is what are the active ways you take care of yourself everyday? 

S
I’m loving this conversation. And I’ve moved back inside and I’m being able to do this while my kids are playing and it feels just right. 

I’ve always been a private person, because my partner is such a public figure. I keep my circle really really tight, and since the pandemic, it’s gotten even smaller. I’m critically aware of how much and what information we consume and share on a daily basis can impact our mental health, especially on social media. I’m really close to my family, and my world revolves around my children, who are both homeschooled and at home with us. I never sent my children to daycare, either, as a personal choice because I gratefully had the choice, so my pandemic situation hasn’t been extraordinarily different than before 2020. I do my creative work at night after they sleep. I’m very much in my own little bubble, but with Shams and Take Care of Your Self I feel like I now have antennas reaching out into spaces I’ve never visited or reached before. All this to say, the active way I take care of myself every day is by protecting this sacred space of self, home, family and motherhood, and by practicing gratitude every single day, even on the hard days. More than anything, I’m still constantly learning my own boundaries again and again. One thing I’ve done for myself recently was downgrading from an iphone to an old school nokia flip phone. That has been so liberating, and has given me back a sense of agency I was extremely worried I was going to lose completely as the world becomes more connected, and more dependent on algorithms and surveillance. I want my kids to see that we don’t need to have that constant connection to exist in our daily lives.

I don’t know what else to say I think 🙂 Not sure that’s a very strong ending from me…. 

SA
I actually love this ending, because it’s just refreshing to talk about boundaries, and the need for privacy… which I deeply relate to. I don’t really like my life as a “public figure” and don’t gain much from that in a lot of ways, but there’s a certain accessibility to art making that necessitates that I keep going. Having said that, I also have a really hard time writing about trauma sometimes… and battle with people’s assumptions of me and all that wild shit where people start treating you as if you have any power… and you’re like mate I’m barely surviving, lol. I’m still broke. I’m still getting by… so this question of “caring for oneself” is just always on my mind. My therapist asked me how I care for myself last week. I realized I just work as a way to care for myself because it’s actually where I gain the most… which is kinda fucked up. I found that the pandemic made me a workaholic but I was always feeling like I was on fire and I had to transmute that into something. So it was a big surprise (but not really) to realize the reason I was exhausted is because I’m literally exhausting myself. It’s kind of ironic for a person who writes about self care and wellness so much that I’m actually constantly trying to be well, and learning how to care for myself… like I haven’t arrived anywhere.

But, maybe I’ll ask one last last question though, has there been a quote, or anything you consumed over the last few months, that pertains to self-care, that really struck you? 

S
OMG Fariha. I feel exactly the same. After submitting the final copyedits for Take Care of Your Self, I definitely went through a classic burn out. Well, it was more like burn out after burn out. Its so ironic, isn’t it? I need to get better at taking my own advice.

The other day, I was doing a pre-interview and the person described me as an “expert” on care and trauma… and I was like, NOOOOOOO!!! First, I still struggle with my own practice of self-care, being a mama to two small children. Time is a privilege I don’t have access to like that. Secondly, I am so uncomfortable with the idea of anyone being an expert, an authority figure or influencer on anything. Even the word “author” is connected to authority, authoritarian, words I really don’t connect to, in fact, I resist these ideals. For true care to exist in our society, we need to be able to practice free and critical thought, intentionality, bringing ourselves closer to our spirits and our roots to actively decolonize our care practices, our industries, and our archaic racist systems.

The interesting thing for me coming into this conversation on care as a new writer on the topic is that I don’t have that kind of huge social media following. The publishing world has shifted into publishing books mostly by people who already have thousands or millions of followers on social media. The pressure is huge. They’re trying to guarantee their sales, I get that. So, I’m an anomaly in that sense. Social media platforms, the algorithms, and the industries that rely on them… they don’t care about us as real human people. It can be so harmful to consume, and to be consumed. I even toy with the idea of completely defecting from social media, for my own self-care, which makes books, as objects, even more of an important medium. 

The Quietest Revolution with Amber Khan

SA
Hi Amber <3 So lucky to have just talked to you. How are you?

A
Hey! I’m great! I’m so happy to have spoken to you. 

SA
I have so many questions. But firstly, what first drew you to Tarot? 

A
When I was a sophomore in high school I had to do a demonstrative speech for class and I hadn’t done the assignment. Naturally, I told the teacher and he told me I would fail. So, I went down to the locker room in tears and a friend of mine handed me a deck of cards with an instruction booklet inside. The assignment was to teach the class how to do something, so I learned the spread in five mins and taught the class how to do a reading. The teacher didn’t buy it and demanded that I do an actual reading and show the class. I did so and just went off what my gut told me the cards meant. The girl (who had given me the cards) was my first reading and I nailed it. When I got down to my locker there was a line of girls waiting. I guess you could say I fell into it. 

SA
Talk about fate… one one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is (well, it should be said for the readers, you’re my go-to Taroist/Astrologist) there’s something that’s so obvious to me about your connection to source. You speak in such profound ways, such profound truths. To hear the genesis of how you ~ came to be ~ makes so much sense. Do you feel like that’s accurate? Your connection to spirit?

A
So, when my mom was nine months pregnant, she fell in Mecca in front of the Kaba on her belly. There was quite a loud cracking sound and then I didn’t move at all for days. Everyone thought I had died, but she refused to go to the hospital, two days later I started moving again. I fell again when I was three in the bathtub (I slipped) and was out for an entire day. I think I learned in the womb how to leave and come back and have a tendency to do so quite a lot. It feels like the more disconnected you are from the body, the easier it is to travel and become a live wire – a connector of sorts. It’s not like I know what I’m going to say, ever. There’s no dialogue in my mind.  I just say things, so I know I’m tapping into a running current of knowledge, it’s not my own. 

SA
Your life is so poetic, but I find and see my own life as such… how things just fall into place, and things are gathered so effortlessly. As a Muslim, I’m so grateful for your existence because you navigate both Islam and the intersection of other worlds so gracefully. Sometimes you’ll say Inshallah or Mashallah in a reading and I just feel so seen. How have you cultivated this space where you can just be and harness all those intersecting (and to some maybe oppositional) spiritual practices and meld them together? 

A
Well, it’s worth remembering that the first computer was created from the study of the iChing which led to the creation of binary math.  The iChing is a divination tool that’s made modern computing possible. So, for me there isn’t much of an issue with using another tool of divination because it’s not something rooted in the occult for me. It’s like a quantum computer before those words existed.  A series of pictures of broken and unbroken lines that reads the simulation at any given moment and shows you where your energy is at. I also shy away from predictive astrology for the most part. Sure, this transit and that card mean something, but your fate is always within your own hands.  These tools are just a guide to help you understand yourself better so you can actually create the future you want not be tied into something that’s inevitable. I believe very deeply in my religion and I believe that a big part of my appeal is that I give people control over their own lives. Knowledge shouldn’t hurt you, it should guide you. There are many who may see my work as blasphemous, I’m aware.  But there are many trenches and many ways of bringing people to faith.  The most desperate among us look to the dark corners where judgement doesn’t prevail.  I like working in those corners.  

SA
Absolutely, this makes sense. Is this a reason why you’ve dedicated your life to this work? There’s something about the information you give, with tenderness, sometimes with sternness, that feels like such an offering and salve. I’m sure you hear this so much, but personally for me it’s been life altering… and I can’t help but feel like you are serving your purpose by giving so many people across the globe this reprieve… but how do you view and sit with this offering? Is it hard?

A
Not at all.  The thing about tapping into a stream of information and energy is that I’m not a vessel.  I don’t get drained or need to be filled back up. (Gemini shit) The only thing I know how to do in life is help people, I can’t bear suffering and cruelty.  Wherever I see it, I have to do or say something.  And because I seem to be able to offer information that soothes people and eases their suffering, I just keep doing it.  There is no deeper thought process, so I don’t ever feel like it’s difficult or a burden. Someone appears before me and they’re hurting, they need some understanding, some hope, some information.  I blurt it out, they feel lighter, better, more hopeful and then I’m gone.  LOL That sounds bad but it’s pretty accurate. 

SA
No, it sounds like a miracle! I know I’m so corny but you’re an angel ~ this is so selfless and beautiful. I also relate. I feel this work is so necessary, and I wish more of us took the time to create space to listen and heal with others, so thank you. Thank you for everything you do. Many things you said earlier in our reading moved me, but one thing that really struck me is “internalized parenting…” When you said that, I felt it in my bones because of course we create patterns to govern and control ourselves via how or what we learned from our parents and upbringing. Pivoting here a little, but can you talk to me a bit about how Tarot / Astrology has potentially healed you… For me, they’ve completely transformed my relationship with myself but also my familial and interpersonal relationships, and I’m curious to know how and if it’s affected yours?

A
The first book about astrology I ever received was The New Astrology by Suzanne White.  I was a kid and I had no idea what I was in for… but suddenly I knew I was a Gemini Snake and it defined me so perfectly that I started carrying it around and reading to people out of it.  And every person would just sit there with their jaw on the floor. I saw right away the power of understanding and validating the self. The more I do this work, the more people come to understand and love themselves, the more healed I become. May sound trite, but whatever pain I may have had in my life has healed itself as I busied myself with the healing of others. I see so much of my own experiences in other’s trauma and with every word offered to them, my inner self is listening as well. Freud first coined the internalized parent in his work and when I first learned about it, I was in shock.  The idea that we carry a miniature version of our parent’s worst qualities around in our mind to “keep us in line” was shocking.  But of course, it resonated.  However, the more I learned about my own chart and transits, I realized that internalization had nothing to do with the real me.  When it didn’t make sense anymore, my mind just discarded it.  I think without realizing it, many people have this same experience. Tarot and Astrology bring them closer to the “them” that existed before the learned behavior took over.  It’s been the same for me. 

SA
Uff, the “them” that existed before the learned behavior took over… What I always learn from you is a) your deep wealth of knowledge, how much you know is truly astounding b) your ability to synthesize and see humans so clearly. I think I find it so remarkable as well because in many circles folks still assume that Astrology and Tarot is anti-intellectual… but you merge these worlds together in your work. You weave story, history, information with the moon and the stars. How do you navigate people who are perhaps uncomfortable with these worlds? What do you do to convince them of this real technology?

A
Well, first off as Carolna Casey says the proof of Astrology is in it’s persistence.  It refuses to go away and the stars continue to have deep and meaningful effects on our lives… so I never try to convince.  My strategy is this: doesn’t matter if you believe or not, you don’t have to.  You can scoff at it, belittle it… that’s okay. But if the information helps you, heals you, gives you insight into self, makes you a better you… then does it matter how legitimate you find it?  I’m also not one for allowing any sort of snobbery in my life, so those intellectual circles that would look down on these arts should remember that their favorite physicists, scientists, philosophers were astrology buffs first, and professionals after. Whenever I meet someone who loves Newton’s work but laughs at Astrology I am there to remind them that he spent most of his life studying the stars and much less time creating the laws by which we still define the Universe. There is a dangerous form of dogmatic thinking that exists in scientific circles at the moment and it saddens me.  We’ve only come as far as we have because the great minds of the past understood that the metaphysical was just as important as the rational. I actually feel a bit sorry for people when they cut themselves off from such a rich source of knowledge. 

SA
Isaac Newton was also Capricorn Sun/Cancer Moon!!! This makes sense, and I also agree. The ways in which we limit our own mind… is just incredibly sad. I’ve been thinking a lot about how trauma creates limiting beliefs and affects our own imagination and conception — the very possibility that there are worlds and systems that we might not fully understand — and I believe white supremacy/ colonization has done similar things, as well. Yet, we code things between a binary of rational versus irrational. 

What’s some advice you’d tell someone that perhaps wants to get more into Astrology and Tarot, but is overwhelmed by the plethora of information out there. How should one vet it and find the right fit? 

AK
The simplest way is to start with what you’re most curious about.  If the alignment of the stars at the time of your birth is intriguing, have your chart read. If you have an immediate issue that you cannot see yourself solving, use the iChing (which is basically a very sophisticated way of teaching various strategies of patience). If you’re wanting to try your hand at interpreting yourself, get a deck of cards.  I’m a big believer in trusting yourself first.  There’s no need to look outside if you trust your gut completely.  Any of these tools (outside of the chart read) can be done by you, interpreted by you… but it involves truly trusting yourself.  So, that’s where I always start.  What’s keeping you from trusting your own instincts?  What makes you believe that your intuition isn’t right?  That’s always rooted in a deeper pain, once you find that pain, everything opens up.  You don’t need anything out there to help you understand yourself. But it’s nice to have the resource. 

SA
What a beautiful reminder to trust ourselves first. I don’t think we are told that enough by anyone, I know I’m not. Looking toward the next few months—and moving into 2021—is there any planetary or intuitive guidance you feel like people should move with?

A
We have a few tranists coming up in 2021 that have to do with this very specific Gemini energy which most people find very difficult to navigate.  It starts with the Lunar Eclipse at the end of November and continues into next year.  The thing with transits through Gemini is that you’re tapping a raw nerve.  It doesn’t care one bit about your feelings, it just wants to give you information (sometimes information that doesn’t seem at all relevant).  When you’re inundated with all this seemingly useless detail, there’s a tendency to get overwhelmed and not face anything. But we can’t do that.  The way to deal with it is this: accept your faults, let your ego sleep for a few moments and receive the information as purely as you can.  It will sting, it will hurt, it will seem completely unnecessary but the purpose is much more esoteric than it seems.  The eclipses of 2021 show you what needs to change immediately.  There’s no more time to waste, the evolution train is leaving and you’re running to jump on.  You can’t run with baggage. So, first the eclipses rob you of the useless weight, then they make you run to catch the train, then you finally get moving… it’s terrifying, way too fast, where are we going anyway? The point is, you don’t know but you trust it, like you do a Gemini friend who meanders through a story and then suddenly it all makes sense.  Giving up control and trusting yourself becomes a real life exercise in 2021.  

SA
I could talk to you all day, but I am mindful of your time, so I want to ask you once last question. You are such a beacon of light and knowledge, when you’re a seer like you are, how do you care for yourself? How do you aid your heart and rest? Are there rituals you do to protect yourself?

A
Absolutely.  This is where my faith comes in.  Every morning, I’m up before the Sun, praying.  Then I play Quranic recitations throughout the house while I burn rosemary.  I ground myself with bare feet on Earth or sand.  I bathe twice a day.  Meditation and yoga are a huge part of my life.  But more than any of those very valid and important practices, I never let a toxic person in twice.  I’m extremely protective of myself.  If someone shows me they can’t be trusted with my energy, they never see me again.  It may sound harsh, and it is.  I’m very strict with who I allow in my presence or in my ear.  I’m also celibate, which a lot of people find surprising but it makes all the sense in the world to me. There are games that people play with each other once sex is involved that can make it a very dangerous enterprise.  So, if I’m not madly in love, there’s nothing going on in that area of my life. Also (just one more thing) my priorities are simple and again, very strict.  My religion, my family, my tribe… everything else is a distant 4th place.  

SA
I’m hanging onto every word. Thank you for your wisdom, may Allah protect you 🧿🧿🧿🧿🧿 Thank you for your time, beloved. 

A
It brought me to tears to see your beautiful face. I’m so proud of you and the work that you’re doing.  It means so much to so many of us.  We love you kid. 

SA
I’m crying now… Thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

A
Anytime, like I said, I’m always here if you need me. ❤️

Unearthing Origins through Audio Codes with Meftah

SA
I’m so glad we finally could make this happen, thank you for being here this evening. How are you feeling? Can you describe your energy today?

M
I know, honestly so happy you wanted to do this, I really appreciate it! Today: my energy has been balanced. 

SA
Balance right now is so crucial given the circumstances. Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Where did you grow up? What did you want to do when you were younger + how did you get into music?

M
Yeah right now, the only thing I have been focusing on is my health, and my peace of mind. Time is crazy right now. I am from MetroDetroit, just a few minutes north of Detroit. I have lived around here my entire life. When I was younger, I actually did say that I wanted to be a rapper. Obviously I don’t rap haha but the obsession with hip-hop and beats started early. My mom had a piano in the house, and I would just sit next to her and listen to her play, and I eventually just started messing around with it. One thing led to another, I got a drum set from an old neighbor, taught myself to play, and then just kept growing from there.

SA
Sounds like a very organic progression, did you teach yourself how to read music as well? 

M
I actually do not know how to read or write music. Honestly, I don’t really ever know what notes I’m even playing. I was just sampling records and figuring something out to play over them on the instruments.

SA
Ok wow, my mind is blown. My parents tried to get me to learn the piano but I always struggled with reading music and so ended up kind of just learning by ear. We grew up around a lot of gospel and hymns (raised Christian) + eventually my parents would take me to temples and arangathams for friends’ weddings and performances where I was introduced to more ancestral forms of music making – this really informed my love for sound, less lyric, more vibrational. If and how do you think about your production as a form of ancestral transmission? 

M
Oh wow, yeah I was going to ask what your background was. That is interesting because my mother is Christian, and my father is Muslim, but we grew up going to church too, and eventually stopped because for me, it just didn’t make any sense. That style of worship does not resonate with what I know is within my own bloodlines. But my ancestry and familial history is actually the largest inspiration and influence for my work. I believe my understanding for music and percussion solely comes from that. Tonality, rhythm. All of those things are a huge part of Algerian and Indian culture. In the language, in the music, in the food. I don’t think I would be able to have the kind of relationship I do with music if it was not for my ancestry.

SA
Right – yes!! I’m Tamil, my parents fled Sri Lanka during the genocide in the 80s and made their way to England then Australia. What I’m hearing from you connects so deeply with me, especially knowing that you don’t really work through a ‘rigid’ form of reading/knowing music – it’s almost like a feeling that just comes through your tapping into your own lineage. A direct transmission.. Has making music allowed you to connect deeper with your lineage?

M
That is a lot of moving around, it must have been really intense for them when they initially fled Sri Lanka. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. Precisely. I don’t know why I feel so comfortable with the language of music, so that is really the foundation of my understanding, at least to my own knowledge. My environment also contributed, but really only until I started surrounding myself with other people who made music. I think ever since I seriously started to consider the message and meaning in my music, I began to look back into my roots, and reach out to my family back home. Moreso my father’s family in Algeria just because we have a more immediate connection with them. My mother’s side never really connected us with our family in India. But again, the music has allowed for me to connect with that side of me in a different way.

SA
I feel you, I don’t know what my lineage is like past three generations because conversion and colonization messed it all up. Meditating on carnatic music was one of the first ways I was able to feel a deeper link with my histories. I think it’s so beautiful to think about how we’re led to this art form as a way to reestablish that connection.

One thing we’re thinking about at Studio Ānanda is sound healing, the way that sound can facilitate the clearing of energetic blocks on a mental, physical, emotional and spiritual level. I grew up a pretty depressed kid and one of the only ways I knew how to feel was through sound. I was 8 years old and sobbing to Nina Simone and bhajans and then to experimental electronic stuff like Gold Panda – the raw climatic sounds really helped me articulate and experience a lot of suppressed emotion. When we think about Indigenous practices around sound, meditation and healing has always had this kinship with sound. Whether it be Aboriginal Australians using the didgeridoo or Tibetan Monks using sound bowls, there is a lot to say about the way the experience of sound manifests not just through the audio but also the frequencies and vibrations.

Is this something you think about when producing music?

M
Colonization is more than just stealing land, it destroys the identities and mentalities of people who have experienced so much violence. They think if they change, they will stop experiencing it, but it’s not true. It’s so sad, cause now look at us. When we have children, how are we supposed to pass on the stories and traditions? In a way, music is one of those traditions. A form of storytelling. It actually makes perfect sense that these tones and vibrations arranged in specific rhythms is like…unlocking something buried deep within our hearts. It is like cheat codes. The information we were not supposed to find. The physics that the colonizer tried to steal and hide from us. So yes, I completely believe that these frequencies, when played with intention, can ultimately heal and free us. The repetition and ritual of music is so sacred. It holds a power that can truly transcend our consciousness. I have actually been reading this book on Sufism, and it’s whole focus is explaining that the concepts professional musicians use for playing (specifically the Sufi drummers), are also the concepts they use to exist in life. Like harmony vs. dissonance. Tone and rhythm. It makes so much sense. I think you would love that book. It is by a person name Hazrat Inayat Kahn. I will send you a link to it after this!

SA
Ooooof yes – please share. 

There is so much more we could talk about about the uncovering of ancestral wisdom by tapping into frequencies + I really want to keep having this convo with you.

I want to just hold space for how I actually discovered your music because I feel that in itself is such a testament to how our communities build and grow. My dear friend + a spiritual mentor for me, Travis, sent me Information Travels Through & it became something I was listening to quite frequently, especially in the mornings as I meditated + stretched. Khalil Gibran wrote something about how “the reality of music is in the vibrations that remain in the ears after the singer has stopped singing and the player has stopped plucking the strings.” I felt that so intensely when I was passed on your art as a form of love. I then passed it onto a couple of my close friends who also said they felt like this was a piece of heaven – like this communal exchange to raise vibrations. 

What importance do you place on sound as something integral in community building + fostering strong networks? 

M
Wow, I am honestly speechless right now. It’s crazy to hear that it resonates with you and so many people I have never actually met before. That is the power of music though. You said it spot on though, just in terms of the testament on how our communities move. In the same way that we are trying to find ourselves, we are also searching for people who are on the same journey. People who are looking for one another. We have all been torn apart through colonization, and manipulation. Music is one of the last few things we still have to communicate honestly. That and food. Music has led me to create so many crazy relationships. So many intersections of different lifestyles and backgrounds have come together and built something beautiful through music. I always say, it’s just physics. The gravity that pulls us together is music.

SA
So so so beautifully put, Omar. What a grounding and healing art form you have created, thank you. I could talk to you for hours about this – but I want to be mindful of your time so, to end, what are three things you’re listening to right now that are helping you find the aforementioned balance, and who are three dream artists you would want to collaborate with? 

M
Again, this couldn’t have been any more proper. Just fascinating how we even got here haha when you sit and think about it, it bugs you out!!! Makes you wanna know, “How???” But right now, I have been listening to a TON of Horace Silver, he has this series of 3 LPs called the United States Of Mind, and all 3 of those records are absolutely integral. I have also been listening to a lot of George Duke lately. Seriously always blown away everytime I put his records on. And lastly, really mainly listening to my own stuff. trying to see how a lot of these new ones sound together for a project. I feel like I am already working with who I’d be dreaming of. I am blessed to be surrounded by so many inspiring people. Seriously, thank you for reaching out to do this Prinita. I appreciate talking to you so much, and I will definitely send over that book!!

You Belong with Sebene Selassie

SA
Hi Sebene! How are you today? Where are you right now?

S
I am in Noto, Sicily. My partner grew up here and we came six weeks ago to support his sister through a health crisis. Turns out she’s fine so we are now all quarantining together on their farm/land. It’s quite beautiful. We are nestled in a peaceful valley surrounded by olive, citrus and nut trees and fed by creeks and springs. 

I am doing okay. Working through some personal patterns which is always challenging (until it’s finally over…soon, please?!). A little raw still from the past week, months, years, decades! Ha! 

How are you? Where are you?

SA
I’m in Crown Heights, New York. Of course, I feel you. As we’re talking, Biden is the expected winner in the presidential race and yet I feel… unmoved, maybe? People were partying in the streets on Saturday and it was beautiful to witness but something about this time feels eerie. Maybe in my own life I’ve had an atrociously hard time this year—but also these past years, decades as well—so I’m more of a realist which might surprise some. I just know we have SO MUCH WORK TO DO and maybe that’s how I want to pivot to you and You Belong… which I devoured over a few days. Maybe it’s because we’re thinking of a lot of similar things, i.e. white supremacy and how it encroaches everything, I want to know… how does it feel to put out a book like this that is so personal, but also about the ability for humans to transform…

S
Big up Crown Heights!! I miss our neighborhood and we will have to hang out when I get back.

Oof. The personal and the collective. It’s such a balance. 

I was just thinking about that this morning. I don’t know if I said it so explicitly in the book but I definitely feel the weight of always having to hold the projections of a group identity. I can’t remember when I didn’t know myself as Black or female. AND it’s central to my healing and freedom to sometimes NOT have to think about those identities. 

Being nestled in beautiful nature right now and not seeing many people besides the five other humans here on this land makes me long for a liberation that can both include my identities but also be free of them. Paradoxes are at the heart of my spiritual practice.

I embrace a paradox that affirms my relative realities/identities and also holds the absolute truth that I am so much more than those fictions/constructs. That paradox often feels like a seesaw and I think as a Black woman I am made by society to sway towards my identities. But I could actually benefit from balancing more toward my sacred connection to everything. 

Conversely, I think white people (and men) actually need to explore their relative identities more, especially if they’ve never had to investigate them very much. 

But, me, I am at the moment really turning to nature as a place/way to feel beyond those identities. 

SA
That makes sense, and that’s what I found so beautiful. Whenever white supremacists wanna make fun of the perils of racism, what they don’t want to understand is most of us want to be liberated by what pains us. I don’t want to continue fighting to be seen all the time. I want to be understood inherently, with space to be dynamic and complex, just like my own identities of being queer, Muslim and a South Asian woman who has her own complicated relationship to gender. So, I’m curious, what does it mean for you to be seen? And then, what does it mean for you to belong?

S
I’ll bring in paradox again (forever!). 

Because it’s true, I don’t want someone to erase my ethnic or gender or cultural identities in the name of belonging or even in the name of spiritual freedom. When and how I express or release those identities is up to me. That’s why spiritual friendship is so important for liberation. In Theravada Buddhism, the concept of kalyana mitta or spiritual friendship is very strong. It’s called the “whole of holy life” and to me it implies relationships that are very tender and transparent and require a lot of listening and reflection. 

I feel seen by certain friends and communities (and many of them are not in spiritual/religious contexts) where I am allowed to show up and balance on either side of the see saw and anywhere in between as needed. And when I fall off the damn thing, those folks are there to help me get back up.

SA
Do you remember the first thing that drew you to be spiritual? Was there anything that motivated about the decision? Do you have a spiritual genesis story?

S
When I was a teen, my older brother started exploring things like the Tao Te Ching and Siddharta and then joined the “Hare Krishnas.”  I was definitely intrigued and eventually dove full in. From then it was a huge occult, esoteric, spiritual fest for the rest of high school (palm reading, auras, kirtan, chanting) and that led me to major in Comparative Religious Studies at McGill. 

I would add that my experiences with psychedelics in college (which were many) opened my mind and heart in a way that I did not fully comprehend at the time. I believe I also unwittingly healed some deep trauma through various trips which probably saved me a lot of time in therapy (not that I didn’t still spend tons of time in therapy, I just think it would have been much more).

SA
I absolutely agree. My use of psychedelics over these last few years — a big shout out to mushrooms and ayahuasca — has completely transformed my life. Through the use of them perhaps was the first time I ever fully understood the concept of magic. This world is magical, yet we forget because of the matrix. Unrelated but related, what has been one of the most surprising parts of the journey to belonging for you? 

S
I would never wish cancer on anyone, AND I would not change that experience for anything. I have a lot of ongoing impacts from my various treatments including physical deformities and I continue to learn from each one of them. Belonging to my body, especially as I age, as I experience menopause, as I navigate decreased lung capacity (from radiation), and as I nonetheless find appreciation, love and even adoration for this body and for life… I didn’t expect all that.

SA
Thank you for being so honest with that. Not at all the same, and perhaps a bit problematic (my therapist I think would say so) but these days I accept my abuse and understand all the things it’s shown me about myself, and, in my own ways, I’m grateful for it. Not all the time, but I know I wouldn’t be here — at this serene place — if not for the life I’ve had. 

In such desperate and painful times, with the continued onslaught of a pandemic we’ve been under for about a year now, things are deeply chaotic and unhinged… yet we have to go on, we have to move through the extremeness of these days. What are ways you’d suggest people can start coming into feeling like they belong? Reading the book I realized so main issues in life is this feeling of being really isolated in my experience. Only just last night was I howling into my mask while riding in a cab. It’s a rough time, many of us feel unrooted, destabilized, completely confused, afraid. So many of my triggers have gone off this year… and yet, I gotta keep going. 

S
Yes, acknowledging how hard it is… that is so vital. Also, allowing ourselves to feel it. But that means “feel” not “think.” There’s a meditation circle saying: drop the stories and feel the feelings. I believe cultivating a practice that helps us distinguish between thinking and sensing is so important. We are unconsciously ruled by our thoughts and emotions. Not that thoughts and emotions are bad or wrong, but they can take over to the point where we are perpetuating unwanted states beyond their usefulness or relevance. 

There’s a lot to say here because learning how to navigate this is pretty much the whole spiritual path but learning to get into our bodies and out of our heads is the first step. Our bodies are always in the present moment and what’s happening in them is not always pleasant but it’s almost always navigable and it’s always, always impermanent. If we can learn to ride out unpleasant sensations/feelings and not perpetuate them by retriggering them through our thoughts/emotions, we can actually learn to reregulate and recognize that we are safe in this moment (of course, that is if we are literally physically safe… if we are not, that’s a whole other conversation). 

All of this is complicated by trauma which can trigger us into those mind/emotional states over and over. Finding therapists, communities and practices that offer trauma sensitive practices is key. I actually do not recommend meditation to people who have acute or severe complex trauma until they have sought support to help make meditation truly beneficial for them. 

SA
All of that is so useful, thank you Sebene. You’re a Scorpio, we’re talking during Scorpio season, you also write about death, about the “final contemplation in mindfulness of the body is maranasati, or death awareness.” You end with your mother’s death, the agony of not having the chance to really say goodbye, and then having to tell your sister about it. I felt the waves of that so hard, in a year that we’ve also been struggling with the vastness and the punctuation of the time. How does the remembrance of death help you on your journey?

S
Ah, death. The greatest teacher. 

I think it’s so ridiculous that we have made death so scary and taboo. It’s the only thing that we are all certain to experience. It’s literally the only experience that connects all living things… we all die. That’s why in Buddhism it’s said that impermanence is the greatest teaching and that understanding impermanence leads to the greatest happiness. 

I don’t have an easy answer here. It’s not that I’m not afraid of death, but I do aspire to not fear death. That means to talk about it, normalize it, explore it, even expect it… Even these little openings help. 

SA
Death really is the only absolute, and I agree, we must look at it, face it, know it as intimately as we can. In these times, how have you been caring for yourself? What have you been eating? What have you been listening to? Reading? Watching? Binging? Any secret healing techniques you wanna share / pass onto us?


S
I am in a unique situation because I’m not working so much at the moment. But that’s not an accident. My partner and I decided a few years ago that we would try and make late November through February our down months – following the flow of nature in the Northern Hemisphere. We try not to book jobs or schedule too much activity during this period. 

This is often the busiest time of the year for people. Everything in nature is slowing down now except us stupid humans. So I encourage us to follow the rest of nature, instead of humanity. Sleep more, eat warming foods, don’t turn on too many lights when it’s dark outside, use candle light… But also, get outside during the day, breathe fresh air, watch the natural cycles around you. 

I have terrible Internet connection right now (as you know Fariha!), so not watching/listening to very much… except bees. I’m currently obsessed with the bees here (there are a few hives on this land). Bees are amazing! Also, watching the sky. And the rain.

Nature is the greatest healer…

Sebene Selassie is a Brooklyn-based dharma teacher, writer, coach, and consultant. She began studying Buddhism over 30 years ago and received a BA from McGill University in Religious and Women’s Studies and an MA from the New School where she focused on cultural studies and race. She is the former Executive Director of New York Insight Meditation Center, has served on the boards of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies and Sacred Mountain Sangha, and is a teacher on the Ten Percent Happier app.

A Journey Through the Akash with Aditi Ohri

SA
Hi dearest Aditi, how are you?

A
Hello my love! I am well! How are you?

SA
Oh my… I’m! A lot of things. Week after sitting with grandmother Ayahuasca, and now the Full Moon in Cancer, it’s been a lot of ~moving through it~ so there’s that. It’s not been an easy last couple of weeks, but I’m finally emerging. 

I’m so excited to talk to you though! This has been a long time coming and I’m truly honored because you and I have done so much deep work together. So, I wanted to start kind of at your genesis… How did you start all this? 

A
I am unsure where to start, because I always go back to the womb and maybe that feels too far back. But, for as long as I have been incarnate on the 3d physical plane, I have been surrounded by spirit and religion. I am super fortunate to have a relatively uncomplicated relationship to spirituality, because my grandmother was so fluidly religious and spiritual. I grew up watching her pray, read and write scripture, sit for meditation twice daily, and she just made it seem easy and feel good. My mother was and still is active in a Buddhist community called the SGI (Soka Gakkai International) since I was a kid, and it was really normal for people from different backgrounds to be in my home, praying and chanting together. I rejected Buddhism and Hinduism as a teen who desperately wanted to be white, but ironically reading Tarot cards as a teen was an important part of my spiritual practice and led me back to my roots in my twenties. Does any of this make sense?

SA
This makes so much sense! I didn’t put all of this together, though I kind of knew the relative story of your awakening. Was there a moment for you that felt like that? When everything just clicked for you?

A
Mmmm. The first time I sat to meditate I knew I was doing something really special. I was in my twenties when I started meditating seriously, but I remember sitting with my grandmother when I was four or so, and it felt so nice. So safe. When I was 23, I sat my first Vipassana course and that’s when it all came together in terms of my spiritual commitments. I could put Tarot and meditation together in a new way after that experience.

SA
Yeah I feel like I was there to witness that. I mean we first started to really become friends as we started working with each other in these spiritual dimensions… and, I think you know this, but the reason I first came to Montreal was to do Vipassana on 12/12/12 and I didn’t end up sitting, LOL, like literally I cancelled the day before because I was like there’s no way “I’m going to survive ten days of sitting in silence.” Like the horror of not being able to write or read. God I’m still uncomfortable thinking about it. I maybe felt a bit of pressure to “find myself,” back then. I’d just ended a 3 year relationship and I couldn’t afford to live in New York (and wasn’t allowed to legally) anymore. So I was coming back to myself. Anyway I’m glad I trusted my gut on Vipassana. I’ve always admired your voracity for spirit, to attain spiritual knowledge. I think in that sense, we kinda grew ourselves together (not sure if that feels accurate for you, too) but I’ve definitely felt that having someone that’s felt like a spiritual comrade has made me put words to so many lost and inexplicable feelings about being on this path. So thank you. Tell me how you started to merge meditation and tarot… and how that led to where you are today. 

A
Ah, babe! 1000%! I am so fortunate to have you in my heart and on my spiritual team. I love that Vipassana anecdote, and as an aside, definitely interested in exploring the timing of that astrologically LOL, but yes another time. So, there’s an important piece that bridges meditation and Tarot and honestly I have some shame around it… it’s weed!!!!!!!!! I remember when I first came back from my first Vipassana, I vowed never to consume cannabis again ( L O L ) and of course that backfired. I went through this dark night of the soul style shame spiral after a day of overconsuming weed, and Tarot helped me come back to a stable place. I pulled cards to reassure myself of my connection to Source (though I probably didn’t think of it like that then), and eventually I pulled myself out of my shame spiral to sit and meditate, even if I had consumed weed recently. Sometimes when I smoke weed, all I want to do is meditate. It is a very nurturing plant in my life. When I started reading Tarot for others, my relationship to cannabis changed too because it was OK for me to be stoned during a reading!!! Maybe that sounds crazy, but it all felt normal and good and like I didn’t have to force myself to be perfect or pure. There are three pillars to my spiritual praxis: meditation, spiritual study (which includes Tarot) and … weed bahaha. Moreso the way that weed helps me get in touch with my curiosity and joy. It helps me love myself and not be so hard on myself! This feels totally crazy, but I trust there is some sense in it. 

SA
I actually want to talk about the shame spiral… Last year, I called myself a stoner to Jyoti (my ayahuasca teacher) and she basically slapped me with her eyes. I was so embarrassed (and have since learned a lot about why some schools/spiritual lineages don’t like a cross-contamination of medicines, while others like the Santo Daime for example, do…) anyway… I carried that shame for a while. Maybe all of 2020, lol. But it also helped me examine my relationship to Santa Maria (which is what I’ve decided to call it all the time now) and made me understand that I have spiritual agency and autonomy. You get to choose how you want to practice as long as you’re being intentional, self-aware and respectful. 

Actually, just this retreat, I was talking to one of my ayahuasca siblings about Santa Maria, and she was the first person that really inspired me to think more deeply about how we interact with the medicine… She smokes everyday, and has found a deep reverence for it, as (another sibling pointed out, shout out to adélàjá) it’s actually the Divine Feminine… and potentially the reason why we have this relationship to the medicine is because it has been misused (much like the plight of the feminine) and abused. (Of course gender isn’t a binary, but I like the way that nature understands gender dimensions and what is read masc versus femme). So smoking Santa Maria, and praying with her, is actually to have a deeper communion with the sacred feminine. One way to think of weed liberation is to also think of the liberation of the matriarchy, and the values of matrilineal societies. I found that so moving and it’s been a life-changing (though preliminary) shift for me. I think for a while I’ve been trying to really think about what feels good and to not force myself to be what I’m not. Studio Ānanda is a synthesis of this as well, to talk to folks about how we can heal and be well collectively, without this puritanical (white) gaze that forces us to all subscribe to one point of being… when we are so fucking complex! I don’t want to be small anymore.

A
MMMMMMMMM! Yes, I have chills! I love that connection. I have been cultivating a prayer practice to the Divine Feminine this year, and I have never made that connection explicit before, between Santa Maria (<3) and the Divine Feminine, but it feels deeply resonant. When I consume cannabis in prayer and as medicine, I feel so supported and held. Of course, there is the potential to indulge in it in a way that is harmful, but I appreciate this reminder to frame my relationship in terms of harm reduction, because our collective relationship to the Earth, our Mother is so challenged right now. I think the beauty of praying to Divine Mother is that you don’t have to lie – you can tell her I am feeling like shit, my life sucks, I hate x y z, and weed definitely helps with the practice of being honest with myself. Lately I’ve been having a recurring dream where I am shown a cave floor and I hear a voice telling me “this is who you are” (LOL, I know) — and this conversation feels like a key to decoding that message for me. Santa Maria helps me to receive all of life’s abundance, to slow down and luxuriate in my humanity, as does prayer and meditation, and it has been possible for me to hold so much more space for others as a consequence. I vacillate between thinking of myself as a stoner and the reincarnation of a Himalayan hermit with a beautiful ganja crop. I feel like it’s an open secret in many spiritual communities that people smoke, but there is such a generational divide, I feel in the way that we relate to it… like, I could never really talk to my parents about my relationship to the plant, but I’m sure my ancestors were down. How many generations back, I wonder!!

SA
Yeah I really like this idea of thinking back to our ancestors and how they interacted with this plant, or plants in general. I’ve actually been trying to really get closer to my indigeneity recently, and as you’ve known me over many years, you’ve seen my struggle with family and culture. In some ways, I kind of wish I had more of a classical upbringing, but I think being raised with/ in abuse and also being raised by a Marxist with Sufi tendencies my understanding of faith was so complicated. My mother through the years has become more and more religious, in a way she never was. I think this really traces back to how Bangladesh has completely changed, and been ever-changing since the Liberation War, so her awareness of who she is so convoluted. Now there’s a rise of Wahhabism throughout the country, which makes sense when so many displaced people, who haven’t even begun to uncover the layers of trauma they’ve experienced from post-colonial British India, let alone Partition, then the devastating war in 1971—it’s a lot. I feel so much for my people, but also feel so dislocated by it all. The overwhelm gets to me too, where do we even begin to understand where we’re from? How have you done that yourself, as another South Asian person?

A
I am in admiration of your commitment to looking at your roots and how your peoples’ history informs who you are. Honestly, I have a very compartmentalized relationship to any sense of indigeneity I might tap into, partially because the way it gets discussed in my family is through the lens of Hindu Nationalism, and I find it very distressing. It pains me to think that the cultural identity of my ancestors, in the generations during and after British Colonial India, is laced with shame and power politics. Currently, I’m doing my best to have compassion for family members who exhibit some really frightening political views while holding space for my own guilt around the relative privileges I experience. I hesitate to take up space with that guilt because, I mean… it feels like something to process outside of public discourse, but lately, it has felt more urgent to have those conversations with people in my family, and I think there is a space in which others who are feeling this way can come together and process that guilt without centering it… it’s just… in process/progress right now… 

SA
Yes, I absolutely understand. It’s such a complicated thing but thank you for your honesty about it. This is definitely something I’ve been trying to think about more, how to appropriately decolonize, and also how to have compassion for folks that are adently stuck in their trauma, without necessarily thinking how they perpetuate that trauma on everybody else. I know a lot of Indian friends recently have talked to me in secret about their families descent into Hindu Nationalism/ Fascism, and I wonder if you have any advice for folks that are having a hard time adjusting or doing the due diligence with their families to heal. 

A
It’s so interesting to listen behind the political claims and hear the trauma. I think it takes a lot of time cultivating calm within yourself to be able to hear someone else saying something hateful and not react. Sometimes, when I hear certain family members pushing an agenda on me, I bring in the breath and mindfulness practice first. If I’m honest with myself and I’m also triggered, I don’t respond right away. Usually, it’s my dad sending me a video of some angry Indian dudes and uncles on YouTube, which I cannot get through without wanting to throw the phone across the room. I usually don’t respond to the actual video content, but instead ask him questions about our culture that feel important to me, because I think, underneath some of his political rage, is a worry that his kids don’t want to be Indian and that we have internalized the dominant narrative in so-called North America about Hinduism as Other. When I ask him questions about stuff I genuinely want to know about, we are able to have conversations that feel a little more loving. I know I can’t change him or any of my family members’ beliefs, and I feel like arguing with him will only be more painful for both of us. It’s so different for everyone, and it’s taken me a lot of inner work to get to a place where I have a relationship with my father enough that I can do this, and it’s still a challenge honestly.

SA
Yes, it’s truly powerful, thank you for doing this work for your lineage. In Native American traditions there’s this concept of seven generations, which is “usually attributed to an Iroquois law outlining the responsibility for the sustainability of future generations. It instructs that when important decisions are being made, one should consider their impact on seven generations into the future,” as well as the past. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, how it’s imperative I heal for my family. That’s why this work is so deep, it’s immense, and watching you try and heal with your father over the years has moved me a lot. Just recently, I’ve started really reframing how I think about my mother, and how I talk about her. It’s complicated, but we owe them compassion when we have all of these resources, when we know so much about how to heal. 

How has this awareness about your lineage evolved into your Akashic and Astrology work as well?

A
Oh, I love the concept of seven generations! It is so inspiring, thank you for the reminder. The piece you brought up around resources is so key for me, because so many of the resources I have access to are spiritual. And I feel this unspoken continuity in my spiritual practices that I am so grateful for, and it’s something that has survived the wretches of colonialism. As I write this, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the spiritual work my ancestors have done and the material work my elders have done to offer me this life! Ah, it’s so beautiful. Just reveling for a second. I feel so blessed with the power to reimagine tradition going forward, and spiritual study – which includes my current work with Astrology and the Akash – is an important part of that.

The Akashic and Astrology work feels like a re-remembering. When I first started studying astrology it felt like I had encountered astrology before in some dusty cobweb of my consciousness and it made so much sense, it was inexplicable. When I studied my chart, I learned that many of my placements indicate a love for astrology, LOL, which is so typical of astrology – telling you things you already know about yourself in a fresh way. I got into sun-sign astrology in my early twenties, and when Chani Nicholas became more popular I started following her work and taking her classes. Her approach is rooted in Hellenistic Astrology, which has a lot of overlap with the Vedic tradition. I started studying Hellenistic and I can’t stop, I’m obsessed. There is historical evidence, too, of Indian and Greek astrologers influencing each other in the first century AD, through a book called the Yavanajataka, and I feel there is something in my spiritual lineage of having studied astrology in multiple past lives. 

I recently came across Maryam Hassnaa’s New Earth Mystery School at the start of the pandemic and the way she talked about the Akash felt surprising to me, because she was describing internal experiences that I was already having, but I never thought of it as the Akash, I was just into my imagination. When I added a little more structure to my visualization and daydreaming practices (if you can really call them practices… though I guess you can), I realized I was accessing the Akash! And I think it’s something we all do in different moments when we connect to our Higher Self or our inner child or our spirit guide team. 

I started talking to my mom about the Akashic realms — she’s really into Sadhguru, so she sent me some videos with him discussing the Akash, and I realized there must be a connection in my lineage to accessing this ethereal space. There are many Sanskrit chants that talk about receiving blessings from different parts of the universe, and Hinduism, at least as I understand it, is endlessly psychedelic. I think there is something really empowering too about feeling the embrace of the universe, and that’s what my Akashic practices help me feel — that wherever the original Source of all creation resides, it’s with me as I’m on this earth, permeating every piece of my being. I think as a child of diaspora, it’s a practice that connects me back to the land of my ancestors, knowing that they saw the same sky and connected to the same Source.

SA
It’s kind of wild because in Bangla “akash” means sky. So this feels fitting, the portal you’re entering is literally Grandfather Sky… and how beautiful that it’s also bringing more attunement with your relationship to your mother! This makes me so happy. I think ultimately, what’s been so liberating about our individual and collective spiritual experiences—and this mapping that we’re doing—is that each time we find a new medium that resonates it brings us closer to ourselves, but also that we are beginning to unveil so much about our past through it. I’m learning and piecing together my ancestry through this work, to shine a light on them and to also release them. The first ceremony I sat this year was just so epic and painful and I was essentially told to channel the vibrating energetic trapped in my body (that was activated after I took the medicine) right into the center of the Earth. It was so wild, it felt like a literal shamanic excorcism. And so extraordinary. And so painful. But I gained such an awareness of myself through this experience, through this sacred medicine of Ayahuasca, inside of a tipi from the Arapaho Nation, on the soil of unceded Miwok land, where I can gain a better understanding of familial and physical trauma from Bangladesh. Fucking wild. 
Thanks for this conversation. There’s so much more to say, but we’re coming to an end. I I have one last question, what are a few things you have been doing recently (reading, routines, anything) that’ve been really healing for you? 

A
Thank you for these questions, babe. Really important ponderings and I am going to marinate on this conversation for many days to come.

Lately, I have been doing my best to keep things simple. I have a long list of things that nourish me, and I try to do one every day. A few favorites include singing loudly — sometimes just scales, but it feels so good to exercise my voice and let it be heard. I go for walks and try to find a slightly different route in my neighborhood each time. I pray to Divine Mother, especially when I am feeling at my wit’s end, just lying on my soft carpeted floor, letting my body be held by the bones of my home. Drinking tea, esp nettle and tulsi, is a forever ally. <3

Aditi Ohri is a student of life, lover of mysteries and total weirdo. She spends her days coding, studying astrology and chatting with the Pecan trees around her house. She currently lives with her partner and a grumpy but good-natured cat in so-called Austin, Texas, on the land of the Tonkawa people.

Rhythm Connection with Jay Daniel

SA
I’m really so grateful to be sharing this space with you today. How are you feeling? Can you describe your mind/body/spirit today?

J
I’m feeling great 🙂 the weather is opening back up. & I’ve been in a really creative headspace which is good.

I’m glad you hit me up about this because I’ve been wanting to discuss these types of topics.

But things are really aligning & I’m just grateful 🙂

SA
Same, I’m happy we synced up in this way & I’m looking forward to digging into some of the ideas I’ve been thinking around sound as a tool for spirit. 

When I re-heard Paradise Valley a few months ago after returning back to Sydney, it instantly transported me back to spring mornings in BedStuy. I had such a visceral reaction to hearing that track, it reminded me of walking down Marcy Ave and meeting loved ones for a coffee in the park. I think it was a moment of intense emotional and spiritual connection, kind of like, I was calling my spirit back to my body from where I left her in BedStuy. What do you think about audio and sound as a way to connect to spirit?

J
I love hearing people’s experiences with music that I made, because it lets me know that what I put into it is working. I think from a recording standpoint, music becomes visceral when you realize that you’re capturing the essence of a moment in time. I have had times with music that I haven’t even released yet, when I listen to it I remember where I was coming from & what I felt. I think the fulfillment you get from creating is like no other & it really transmutes when others feel something similar from it.

SA
Do you have a particular spiritual process around music making you can talk me through? Do you incorporate rituals or practices into how you make music? Is it always intentional in that way?

J
Well for one, I have a lot of plants in my studio. So whenever I come in there, I immediately feel their energy lol. They’re big so it kind of feels like their studio as well. I like to light incense & burn sage but I think just the plants being here is such a vibe & makes it so much easier to create. It kind of separates me from the rest of the world. 

SA
Do you think the end product of what you make would be different if you didn’t have that connection to nature via your plants? 

J
Yeah definitely, plants are a reminder to us that we should take our time. And be patient, and that is also very imperative in music. If I wasn’t as connected to them I think I would feel some of the same stress I feel outside of the studio while I’m making music. But because my space is kind of consecrated, it makes it easier to discern between profane time & sacred time.

SA
I love to think about the way the nature we are surrounded by, their energies get transmuted into our creative practices. I believe plants, flora, fauna have and hold spirits that have been here before us and it’s really, as you say, such a sacred way to create.

J
Even the way the sun shines affects our mood. If it’s overcast one day, you’re gonna feel it. We’re definitely connected in that way, that we both need sunlight & water to sustain us.

SA
Right, we live in this divinely interconnected ecosystem where all flourishing is mutual in that way. Recently I’ve been thinking about how ancestrally, song and chant were a form of prayer, since the beginning of time. I’ve found that when I am listening more closely to God and my own spirit, the music I listen to is reflective of this. Less lyrical, more rhythmic and vibrational sounds. What do you think about audio as a transmission and communication from both God and ancestors? 

J
Rhythm & melody animate the spirit, to grieve or to praise. Certain tones evoke certain emotions. To express our emotions and be aware of them is such a big part of our livelihood. When we deny our emotions we deny a certain part of ourselves, and in turn our spirit.

Lately I’ve been watching footage of early jazz musicians on youtube, & everytime I watch it feels like a transmission from the past. You can feel the energy & intent in what they were doing.

SA
Yes!! Just recalling our brief convo yesterday on cosmic jazz, and here I’m specifically thinking about Alice Coltrane, and how the sounds she was creating in records like Ptah The El Daoud were like this ancestral fusion – for me, that’s not only a glimpse of the past but also a blueprint of how we can all build together, intentionally in the future. Have you found that your spiritual evolution has gone hand in hand with your commitment to your practice as a musician?

J
Definitely!! I think this past year alone, not being on the road. Being at home in solitude, I can finally practice the piano. I haven’t played drums this often since 08. Really the drums have been my saving grace all my life. So it makes sense that I’d have all this downtime to get back in tune with that part of me. It goes back to the thing about making time sacred, it’s very hard to do when you’re always on the go. I haven’t been able to sit & make an album without going on the road to DJ since 2013. Which is crazy to me, because like how lol. You can’t start a book then keep leaving and expect the narrative to not change you know.

And spiritually, just being away from the nightlife has been so gratifying. I know there’s nothing there for me. I’m content where I’m at.

SA
That’s a very profound realization to come to as a musician. I feel the lesson of the past year has been slowness, and nurturing the isolation despite all the catastrophe that has unfolded, but nurturing the ways that we’ve been able to see ourselves and others like never before. What has music shown you about yourself?

J
Just listening to songs I haven’t heard since high school, now with a more keen ear. It’s like revisiting times in my life when I may not have been happy & telling myself it will be okay. And again, just how important human emotion is. We can’t show each other the love we used to be able to, so we have to find ways to love ourselves & new ways to love each other.

SA
Do you think synchronicity through sound can shape the way we interact with each other on a communal level? Can a spiritual connection through sound be a gateway to collective liberation? It’s obvious that religious structures use music as a way to bring people together, but pushing past that framework, do you think that can sound usher a collective awakening?

J
I think so. It comes down to the narrative behind your music. The purpose behind the music is what people gravitate towards. So basically it’s up to the musician to take people there. You have to be there already or on the path at least.

SA
Right, and that’s the responsibility that comes with tapping into and uncovering your purpose as an artist. I kind of want to go back to what you said earlier about nightlife not being as gratifying anymore. Can you speak more to that? I’ve personally found that my earliest connection with community has been on dancefloors – but, recently I was doing an interview where I was speaking about how I felt safest in my body when I am on dancefloors. Tada Hozumi, who I was interviewing, asked me to question that safety because, in reality, I also had to rely on substances to get to that level of safety. Are dancefloors still a gratifying space for you + what makes you steer away from nightlife?

J
I think from a DJ’s standpoint, dancefloors can be liberating, but all in all the culture of nightlighte promotes disorder. You know, drunk, sloppy lol. These are the things I think of when I think of clubs  because that has been my experience, especially in Europe. I just don’t feel at home in clubs because it’s not my space. I’m triggered just thinking about it lol.

SA
I hear you & it’s truly horrible how in electronic spaces especially, the way non Black folks have both profited off Black culture & take up unrequited space. 

I’m glad that you’ve been able to cultivate a more safe and nourishing environment for yourself where it sounds like, your practice has been able to evolve further through these realizations. What have been some ways you’ve been able to ground during this time? 

J
Yeah, it just feels weird playing Black music in Europe. And I was thinking about what you said about relying on substances to feel safe, it took me a second to process what you meant by that. But that’s another reason I don’t like nightlife. I have been reading a lot, listening to weekly youtube videos on astrology. I have been drinking chai with lion mane & ashwagandha every morning. That’s definitely been keeping my spirits up.

SA
I feel like as we’re entering the Age of Aquarius, more people (hopefully) are coming to understand the importance of not dissociating through substances + creating more healing, sober spaces to grow in. It sounds like you’ve found some really transformative modes to heal and I’m looking forward to seeing/hearing all that comes out of this abundant time for you! Do you have anything you want to add as we come to an end?

J
Thank you again for sharing this space with me, my next album will be out within the next two months!! 

Jay Daniel is an electronic musician, producer, and selector from Detroit, Michigan, United States