Music

Composing and playing music has almost always been an important part of my life. During the COVID-19 virus pandemic from early March to June of 2020, I found myself meditating on the journey of the human spirit as I perceive that it unfolds along the four sacred paths of Creation Spirituality. I was open to whatever feelings and understandings flowed through me, into my hands to my guitar or keyboard, and captured the improvisations that eventually became ten instrumentals on an album titled Via Transformativa. Read more about the theme of the album below, and the description and my thoughts about each instrumental.

Brent Thomas Ladd · Via Transformativa

Album Theme

The theme of Via Transformativa represents my reflections through musical meditation improvisation meditating on the transformative journey of the microcosm/macrocosm of the human spirit as reflected in the universe and the universe as reflected in the human spirit.

The unfolding story of the universe is also the unfolding journey of the human being. We are wonderfully made from the dust of stars and 14 billion years of planetary wisdom pulled through the knothole of time to be here now. We have an eternal one-ness song, the ‘uni-verse’, playing in our DNA. It is up to us to learn our own unique ways of dancing with it.

Each human being is birthed into a personal journey of lived experience, ideally accruing wisdom, and ultimately living by and through compassion – that which transforms us. We learn to receive love and to give love, and on our best days, we enter into the awe and wonder of fully receiving the creation and living as co-creators with the Divine energy of the universe.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Rhianna Rain Ladd for her artistry and graphic design in creating the album cover. Thank you to my wife, Elizabeth, and daughters Colleen Couch and Rhianna Ladd for recording background vocals on two songs. All instruments, keyboards, and other sounds by me. Recorded, mixed, and mastered via the free Garageband software, using a PRS electric guitar direct to computer, a salvaged and repaired acoustic guitar from Elizabeth’s grandfather, and a $5 garage sale midi keyboard from the 90’s.

I am grateful to Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox for his lifelong work of living and writing and sharing teachings and books such as Original Blessing and bringing the Christian roots earth-based creation spirituality into the modern era.

Song Meditations in Text

In the Beginning – Track 1:

This instrumental had me imagining the Divine energy flowing at the beginning of the universe, and what the imaginings might have sounded like moving and echoing. A great knowing, an immense loving, and flow that becomes a part of each of us, and all of life.

The Birth of Sol -Track 2:

It is often darkest just before the dawn. “Birth of Sol” is the second song on my album, Via Transformativa. Thanks for listening, and my gratitude to Elizabeth, Colleen, and Rhianna for their vocals on the song.

Birth of most kinds involves pain and beauty all bound up together. The birth of our solar system’s star, the sun (named Sol by the Romans and many other peoples around the world), was a cataclysmic, violent event that also brought light and generated conditions for life to flourish. The flow of all the energy, all of the wealth, and all material life on Earth can be traced back to gentle rays of sunshine constantly emanating from that great orange ball of nuclear fusion at the center of our solar system. It is a source of great awe.

Breath – Track 3:

Following the cataclysmic birth of Sol, the sun, the story continues with today’s song, “Breath”.

Bringing in some of the same elements from “In The Beginning” breathing is connected with the beginnings of the universe, and relies upon the energy from sunlight. I imagine the first Divine breath of life occurring in that transforming space of faint glowing semi-darkness just before dawn.

In turns out that the whole world can be found in a single breath. Science confirms that Earth herself breaths and that each one of our human breaths is inextricably bound up with the Earth’s breath.

There is a divine cycle of breaths that we continue to partake of today. We each are breathing in the very same molecules that the ancient dinosaurs breathed, that our ancient ancestors breathed, and more recently the same as Jesus as he was hung on the cross, of Leonardo as he painted the Last Supper, we breathe the same air as Crazy Horse breathed as he fought against extermination at the Battle of Little Bighorn, the same air as Amelia Earhart as she crossed the Atlantic ocean on her solo flight, and of Anne Frank as she wrote in her journals bravely persevering in the midst of the Nazi death campaign, and as that of Rosa Parks as she courageously shifted history by sitting in the front of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955. We are all connected in many ways in the present and to the past, not the least of which is the air we breathe and share with all other life forms on the planet.

A single breath is the first action we take upon entering this world, and the last thing we let go of as our body dies. We receive and take in, and we give away and let go of. Silent, and yet central to life, breathing connects us with the sacred element of air. One could treat breathing with gratitude, as a sacred act itself, as a gift.

Children of First Light – Track 4:

You can’t get to the dawn of a new day without first suffering through a dark night. The fourth song on the album, “Children of First Light”, continues the instrumental story introducing an awareness of suffering together with a promise of redemption and resurrection.

For this soundscape meditation, I imagine our ancient ancestors, a group of early human beings awakening to themselves and to the spirit of Earth, struggling with their own self-awareness, limitations, frailties, and fear of death while still entering into communal gratitude for the new day upon them; walking the path of suffering, and along the way discovering love and joy there too. For both suffering and love are of the same path.

It may be true that the heart can only love as deeply as it has been broken. Even then, it is daunting in that it requires lasting courage and faith to show up after being broken in the dark night to embrace a new day without your armor and sword, instead with only a handful of compassion. But, that’s enough. Meister Eckhart, the medieval mystic and priest, is recorded as having said “If the only prayer you ever said in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it will be enough”.

We may have long taken for granted the life-giving sunshine and the air we breathe, but the Divine energy that flows through the sun and air has not forgotten us. There is still time to rekindle an awareness and gratitude for this life.

Holding Pain and Promise – Track 5:

Sitting with silence, with pain, with sorrow and loss is hard. Especially on our own. Welcoming the possibility of holding promise at the same time often seems out of reach, unless we have support from others, from community, from a practice of connection with something greater than ourselves. Being with pain, yet holding the promise of a new day, someday, is one of the bravest things we ever do – except maybe for learning how to trust in letting go.

Journey of Unknowing – Track 6:

The motif cycles continuously, as unknowing and letting go is a lesson I have to learn over and over again – it’s a life long journey.

I have so often tried to know as much as possible to solve problems that can’t be solved with the head alone. What I know fits into a thimble compared to the universe of what there is to know. In other words, the more I learn, the more I understand how much I do not know.

Maybe, I’m beginning to see that wisdom does not come from head knowledge, but from the heart and spirit, and from embracing the journey of not knowing, and unknowing, and letting go.

Awakenings – Track 7:

This composition reflects how one can become awakened, perhaps after a long journey of unknowing, like a root down in the dark silence that one day breaks through into the open air. Or, the birth of something that has waited and slowly gestated, now being realized into the wider world. It might even be a sense that an opening has occurred or a light is shown on a pathway forward. Perhaps it is a dramatic unveiling or event that changes everything, or at least there is a major shift that you can see, feel, experience. It could also be a quiet re-imagining or small acts of kindness, that when a hundred or a thousand such tiny shifts occur then our intended destination is forever changed. So often awakenings occur due to a very difficult loss or change – a family member unexpectedly dying, being diagnosed with cancer, the loss of a job. These are never welcomed or even expected. They hit us like a ton of bricks. Ultimately, given time, hope is that every awakening, however small or large, however joyful or sorrowful, or jarring will be fully integrated into one’s life. I attempted to embody this range of human experience regarding awakenings in the composition through key changes, instrumental arrangements and timbre, together with major tempo shifts.

Arrival – Track 8:

This composition is a meditation on arriving home. I’ve attempted to conjure in the music a state of arriving home to yourself, embracing and being embraced for being you– which for each person is nothing less than the divine manifestation of the physical and spiritual wholeness of the universe.

Coming home to oneself, as well as arriving at that physical and spiritual place of existence that engenders a deep “at home-ness” is in many ways the journey of life. This “home” is the places and the people and the animals that celebrate and love you no matter your failings, your shortcomings and bad decisions, your faults, your past transgressions. Places where you can re-discover your true name, and be your full self.

It is about internalizing inwardly while manifesting through outward actions that while we are within the universe, the universe is also contained within us, that we are all of the same body, the same self. It is also a thanksgiving prayer like Zen Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh says at mealtime,

“In this plate of food,
I see the entire universe
supporting my existence.”

As much as we require food and water for our bodies, we all long for and require for our soul such places of being at home within the wide universe. This is even more so in our culture with its self-destructive traps of what success is that has us asking the wrong kinds of questions, coupled with cultural values centered on outward appearances, veneers and facades. Are we not a society that has become a coliseum of harsh judgement where so many sitting in the cheap seats throw stones of insult onto those vulnerable souls down in the arena, who are often taking nearly intolerable risks to even be there? For many of us, being out in the world gives us a crushing need to retreat behind certain masks and to put on layers of armor in order to feel safe, ready to do battle against judgement or rejection, so that we can function in the “normal” world. To appear normal, and strong and tough, and “fine” when we are anything but “fine”.

I’m learning (with great helping guidance from folks like Brene´ Brown and Richard Rohr, and my own family members) that the very difficult, but crucial, work of life is about choosing courage over comfort to show up as your authentic self, while also giving every other soul the grace that they are doing the best that they can. And then, on top of that, deciding to work to create new paths of opportunity where others can access the ways and means of growing into their own full potentials, with a success not measured by society, but by their own hopes and dreams. This is work that creates the kinds of places and a culture where we all can arrive home. Is this not what the Universal Christ teaches us daily about recognizing that the kingdom/queendom of God is at hand, already here within us, and among us?

Speaking from experience, this is all very much easier said than done. The kind of freedom to come home to yourself is what the great and courageous luminary Maya Angelou refers to when she responded in 1973 to Bill Moyer’s question about the struggle for identity and freedom:

“You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great…One works at it, certainly. Being free is as difficult and as perpetual – or rather, fighting for one’s freedom, struggling towards being free, is like struggling to be a poet or a good Christian or a good Jew, or a good Muslim, or a good Zen Buddhist. You work all day long and achieve some kind of level of success by nightfall, go to sleep and wake up in the next morning with the job still to be done. So, you start all over again.”

Arrival, at home, where we are most at home, in our own hearts – with the freedom to belong to and celebrate our own true names – is often fleeting, temporary, a continual journey. The price is high. The reward is great.

Transformation – Track 9:

Transformation is the title track of the new album and represents the final of the four interconnected sacred paths of Creation-based spirituality (CS): Via Positivia, Via Negativa, Via Creativa, and Via Transformativa.

Full transformation is ultimately all about the full embodiment of compassion.

What behaviors do you think of when you hear the word “compassion”?

As I’ve been reflecting and meditating on compassion, I’ve realized my perceptions of compassion have in many ways been confined to a one-dimensional way of seeing; that compassion is having empathy and being caring and kind to others who are in need. Compassion is certainly that, but not only that. Meister Eckhart, the Dominican priest and CS mystic of the middle ages paints a multi-dimensional understanding when he said that “Compassion is where peace and justice kiss”.

“Compassion is where peace and justice kiss”. This kind of bowls me over. It is not enough to simply be kind and caring to those in need. Transformation, then, isn’t at all about being peaceful in the sense of “being nice”. It is equal parts of bringing peace and justice into the world.

I’ve often bristled when I hear religious leaders (mostly evangelicals, but mainline as well) stating that the political realm is not “our battle”. They, in other words, are asking us to not question or make accountable our local, state, and national political representatives. That somehow “God put them there and we must trust unquestionably that process and their decisions.” They say that the only thing we can do is “pray for them”. There is this peer pressure to “be nice”, “don’t question too much”, “accept that this is ‘God’s’ plan”. I bristle because acquiescing to power, and often destructive power, completely shuts down our compassion for the oppressed. That is, active justice-seeking, transformative justice that seeks to dismantle the violence, hate, profiteering and oppression that so often targets the least among us.

I’m reminded of the works of people like Martin Luther King, Jr., and of scholars and practitioners like Brene´ Brown, who understand the deep necessity of emotional intelligence and not denying your anger; individual anger, community anger, generational anger. To recognize it and use that passion to change things through non-violent movement and protest.

Recently, I read a daily meditation by spiritual CS elder, Matthew Fox, where he says:

“Remember, it’s part of the conspiracy of the master to tell the slave that anger is a mortal sin. But the truth is that that’s not the case. Anger is not a sin. Aquinas says nothing great happens without anger. Anger is that energy, that passion in you that sustains the struggle [against oppression and destructive power]”.

Such recognition of transformation asks us to have the courage to raise our voices and use our bodies and our creativity and imagination to bring compassion to bear through justice-seeking. Using our abilities to write, to speak, to raise awareness through art, music, dance, poetry, story, film in all forms of protest against oppressive power, as well as envisioning new ways of bringing all into community where all can be whole.

Ground of Being – Track 10:

This instrumental is about returning to The Source. The Source is within each one of us. Returning back to your true name, your own self, your soul’s home is a kind of completion of a journey, but also an ever-turning cycle. To be in touch with the Ground of Being is to be in communion with all of Creation and all that is beyond it. It cannot be understood from the intellect alone. It is a holy mystery of knowing and unknowing that we all have as part of the human spirit. It is always there, has always been, and will always be. It is what connects us all.