Every one of us, at some point in our lives, has heard a sound that has moved our soul to tears. That experience is where classically trained singer, performer, recording artist, songwriter and teacher Ashana lives.
This incredible sound artist has spent the past decade exploring the healing nature of sound through her evolving relationship with quartz crystal singing bowls, and this conversation with her explores that partnership she enjoys with sound.
Ashana has received international acclaim for her CD recordings All Is Forgiven, Jewels of Silence, Beloved, The Infinite Heart and The Illuminated Path. Her groundbreaking new CD, River of Light, is the first full-length Kundalini Yoga Mantra album ever to be recorded. Her music is featured in the documentary film The Sound You Feel: Vibrations of Healing.
She will make her first visit to Minneapolis to present the Open Heart Holiday Concert, a rare musical experience that will expand your loving essence and magnify it with the sharing of that experience with others. She will be joined by special guest Sean Finkel on flute and guitar, and sacred readings will be presented by author, speaker and peace seeker Joan Steffend and Dr. Patricia Lawler, clinical director of Holly House Center for Integrated HealthCare in St. Paul and sponsor of the concert.
“Today’s world is a world that is sometimes short on compassion and love not only for our brothers and sisters around the globe but for all life and for the earth itself,” says Dr. Patricia Lawler. “We can even find it difficult to feel compassion for ourselves. The intention of this event is to respond to this lack by summoning healing for both the world and for ourselves.”
The concert will take place from 3-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, at Jeanne D’Arc Auditorium, located on the campus of St. Catherine University. Tickets are available at http://openheartconcert.eventbrite.com/?aff=edgeinterview
It is no accident that the Open Heart Holiday concert has arisen at this time. Ashana spoke at length, at the beginning of our conversation, about the need for all of us to be supported in returning to that silence within where we can connect with our true essence — and how much of a challenge that is for people now. We spoke two days after the mass shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
“The trending is that people are not satisfied,” Ashana said. “They’re not getting the answers they need. The tried and true ways of doing things aren’t working for a lot of people anymore. I think that’s because of the immensity of information and the intensity of the speed that things are happening now. A lot of people have been taken completely off of their center. People feel overwhelmed, confused and traumatized.
“We just experienced another mass shooting. I heard an interview with President Obama about how distressed he was, saying that he can’t stand the fact that he has to come on and talk about this every few months.
“My husband (a Native Hawaiian healer) and I were invited to Sandy Hook about four to six weeks after that shooting happened to work with the community and offer a healing session for people there. Many people went there to lend their support, and we were just among those who offered a helping hand. My husband continues to go back there regularly to work with people in the community. We know personally, three years later, that people are still suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of that event.
“These events are becoming so much more commonplace, and people are being challenged on so many levels. People are looking for therapy, alternative modalities, guidance and support to find their center, to find that place of balance within themselves, to find that place inside where they can experience their own peace and their personal connection to whatever you want to call it, whether it is the Higher Power, Divine Guidance, Divine Intelligence, God, Goddess. The name we call it doesn’t matter. People are seeking that eternal source of comfort, of wisdom, of love, that never dies and never goes away. It’s always present.
“This is just my opinion, but because we’ve gotten so overwhelmed, we don’t know how to find that anymore — in the same way. We need places to learn how to slow down so we can be ourselves. When we can find that, when we can relax, so many things happen from that place, when we settle down and go inside, quiet our nervous system, quiet our body and begin the process of quieting the mind. That’s the place where healing happens. That’s the place where we find our guidance about what our next steps are. That’s the place where we can sit inside our own questions and find our answers.
“That’s a huge and tremendous part of the work that I do with my music. The music that I do with the crystal singing bowls and the sounds that come out of them allow people to move into a state where there is no pain, where the mind simply begins to go quiet. It’s really extraordinary, and it’s incredibly comforting. It’s incredibly heart opening.”
When did you realize that you loved to sing and wanted to do more of it?
Ashana: I was singing since I was a very little girl. It was a part of my expression as a little one. And I can never stop. It’s only deepened. It’s a gift I have been given — and it’s also been probably my most powerful teacher.
What has it taught you?
Ashana: Singing has been a spiritual path, not necessarily as a religion, but as a life purpose and a life direction that has challenged me to my very core and expanded me beyond what I thought was possible when I first started. Back then, I couldn’t have imagined where I would be with sound and vibration and music and singing. I didn’t even have a clue about any of that when I first started taking my music and my singing seriously.
I followed my music intuitively. There was a part of my personality that wanted to prove myself — and be seen — in the years starting out in college, in conservatory, in the competitive environment of New York City. My music was tied into getting a lot of attention, because I would get it! I loved performing. That’s the nature of being a performing artist.
And so over the years, I had to look at all of that and find a place inside of myself where, gradually, it became my intention that it was important for me to be an authentic person through my music, through my singing, through my teaching, through my life expression. That became more important to me than the performing, than the acceptance and the approval. And, of course, when you reach a certain age — I’m in my 50s now — it becomes more important to be fully congruent as a human, the best that I can in a given moment.
And then, as I began watching what my music began offering to people, I realized that not only was I able to express myself artistically, but I was in a place where I was deeply in service.
When I began singing, I didn’t think I was in service to my audience. I was there not just to do a good job, but hopefully I would touch people’s hearts and give them an experience of beauty, of love, of comfort, of drama, of passion. I was in service to that. But when I really shifted and moved into what I call my dharma, my soul path of music and sound, it opened up in a completely different way.
Then all of a sudden, I was in service to people, to facilitate for them and to hold a space for them where they could connect with their own Divinity, where they could connect with their own Light. Through the music and through the sounds I would make, they would find that place inside of themselves that was real and was true and eternal. And inside of that space, they would be more in touch with that essential, beautiful core of their preciousness than before. Just the presence of that music would facilitate and hold that place and that connection for them.
There were benefits for people that I never dreamed of, when they would hear the music and the song and different things would happen for them. I haven’t thought of this in a long time, but this is something that happened. I did a concert in Mt. Shasta, California, a few years ago. A woman came in and she was in a wheelchair because she had a broken pelvis in 12 places. She had been in chronic pain for years. In the intermission, she was standing up and came to talk with me. I saw her the next day and she was in a walker, walking down the street. She greeted me with a huge smile on her face. It was the first time she had been out of the wheelchair in I don’t know how long.
Was it the music and the sound that did it? She was ready for that, to make some kind of shift. That space of that sound, the immensity of that love that comes through those sounds, that comes through those songs, that comes through the group chanting and singing experiences that happened in a lot in the concerts I did — all of that came together to take her to that place where she could make a shift.
I know that’s a dramatic example, but almost every time I do a concert people come up to me afterwards and say words to the effect that “what you just did changed my life.” Why is that? Because inside of that concert experience — the crystal bowls and the love and the chanting and the singing, all of that — there is a place where we go, all of us on stage, and we hold a space for everyone who is there, people who are ready for a heart-opening experience of love.
And I know that inside the experience of love is forgiveness. Inside that love is a release of the trauma or contraction that we hold in our bodies, in our psyches, in our emotions. It’s because of all of that contraction that we experience pain, suffering, disease and an inability to move forward. All of that is part of the human experience, but there is another part of the human experience that is expansive, that is in balance, and that experience can be anchored in a heart that is open and allowing. Those experiences include the feeling of connection, the feeling of the simplicity of love in all of its forms, of compassion, of kindness, of healing. It’s a place where there is mercy and understanding.
That’s the service that my music has led me to. So from an artist of 15, 18, 20, doing all the things that I did back then, where I was very “me” centered, I have shifted to a place where I am holding a space for the collective, for the many. That’s been a huge transition for me.
So I answered your question in a long way, but that’s what my music has done for me. And in the course of that, everything in my life changed. Everything. And I had to dig really deep — and I have to continue to dig really deep — inside of myself to do the work of learning how to stay connected within myself, to learn where I am in resistance, to discover where I am allowing. I’m going through my stuff just like everybody else.
And you do all of that to remain in service through your music?
Ashana: I don’t do it because of that. I do it because I have to. I’m compelled to. Just like everyone else, I find places inside of me where I go, “Wow, I don’t particularly like this aspect of how I do things, so how can I be with that part of me and love that, too? How can I be more loving towards myself?”
The whole process of working on my own life — because of how I do my music — in some really beautiful way becomes a very big part of the gift that I give other people. I’m a living example of what it is to walk through that stuff.
What led you to the quartz crystal singing bowls, and how do you feel when you are making them sing?
Ashana: I think it was a soul gift, to tell you the truth. It really was like destiny. I was living in Española, New Mexico, at the time. I had a spiritual mentor at the time, and one day she called me up and said, “Have you ever heard of a crystal singing bowl.”
I said, “No.”
And she said, “These are right up your alley. I’m going to order one for you.”
I said, “OK.” I didn’t have a clue what they were, and I don’t think I even looked them up on the Internet. Sure. Sign me up. I’m in. Three weeks later I received this ginormous box. It was the classic, white-frosted singing bowl, the first generation of the kind of bowls that I currently use. So the bowl arrived, and it was double boxed and there was a mountain of peanuts, because obviously it was pretty fragile. So I took the bowl out and it was 14 inches, pretty honkin’ big.
I put it on the kitchen table, and I picked up the mallet they provided with it. I didn’t read any of the instructions. I chimed the side of the bowl, and I promptly burst into tears. And I had two thoughts in that instant. The first thought was that Light had come to live in my house. And the second thought that I had was that one day I would mold these sounds into music. It took six years for that to happen.
In three weeks after receiving that first bowl, I had seven — and I never looked back. I worked with them myself and then I began doing public meditations. For two years I took them with me to different places and played them for people. I never charged for it. I gifted people with the sound. And then my mentor at the time said, “OK, it’s time to start actually using these on a more professional level.” So I began offering meditations, classes and workshops. I was singing with them and improvising with them, but I hadn’t put them into music at that time.
In 2005 when I met my producer, there was an incredible synchronicity of events. It was a very magical and amazing time. I sent him a piece of music of me improvising with the bowls, and when he heard it, he said if he were to point me in any direction, it would be in new age music. It surprised me — and yet it didn’t surprise me.
I thought I was going to do something completely different when I got into the recording studio. After about three days, I was so agitated and said, “We can’t continue doing what we’re doing. I need to put the big bowls into music.” And my producer laughed and he smiled at me and said, “Great. What key?”
And I said, “B sharp.” And an hour and a half later, we had recorded the “Ave Maria,” which is probably my most well-known song and it’s heard all over the world. It’s been extraordinary. That piece has been on NPR, on compilation albums of sacred songs of Mary, in films.
I really know what it means to take a leap of faith, when we’re willing to take the risk — and just jump, and you don’t know where you’re going to jump — and that’s exactly what happened: my soul, my spirit, was at that place where it recognized that the way I had been doing things was not working and I just had to EXPLODE out of my old way and into a new way. That first album, called All is Forgiven, catapulted me into an entirely new phase of my life.
That was the place where my music finally resulted in things happening to people when they listened to it. And it hasn’t stopped.
What pieces will you be presenting at the Open Heart Holiday Concert?
Ashana: I will be singing the “Ave Maria,” because I was asked to do that and it is one of the favorites. I’ll probably be singing a piece called “Opening to Love,” from my second album Beloved. I will be doing improvisational pieces with the crystal singing bowls so people will receive a direct transmission from the bowls, without any vocals. I’ll also probably be doing a little bit of Christmas music because it’s that part of the beautiful, holiday season.
So much of the music that I sang for years — such an innate part of my spirit — are these very old, traditional, Medieval and Renaissance carols, some of which people are quite familiar and some of which are quite obscure. I sang them for decades and they’re very near and dear to my heart. So I’ll probably do a little bit of that, because it’s the holiday season and I don’t get to do that very often anymore. It’s going to be beautiful!
You sing prayers, chants, songs and mantras. What is the common thread between all of the works that you perform?
Ashana: Every chant, every mantra, every song that I’ve chosen to work with can be a bridge for people to find that resonance that helps bring them into that oneness connection with their heart and with their soul. And I choose music or write music where I find that resonance within myself.
And what I’ve experienced — and it’s just the nature of my own spirit — is that I have deep connections with many spiritual lineages. I have a deep connection with Tibetan and Hindu Sanskrit, with Hebrew, with Native American chant, with Sufi, with Sikh and the Gurbani, and deep connections with Christian chant. For me, my own experience is that the absolute essence of every single spiritual path — that absolute core essence — is the same. That essence leads us when we strip away any dogma and go straight to the spirituality of something. It leads us to love.
I think we can lose ourselves in the structure of a religious practice. But when we get lost, we get to find our way back. Every practice that I’ve either experienced or learned about — whether it’s an ultra orthodox Jewish person, a monk in the desert hills or monastery, or an ascetic in the Himalayas — the soul is looking for that experience of itself as eternal — that knowingness, and being able to remember that, in physical form, in this consciousness, in this present moment. So all the chants and songs and mantras that I do are reflected in my own experience of that sound current as a resonance that reminds me of that.
I say all of that, and what I’ll do is take it one step further. When I go to the crystal singing bowls — where there’s no chant and no mantra, just the sound of the bowls — that, to me, is the sound of pure, tone frequency. That, to me, is the sound of absolute expansion that goes beyond any chant or any mantra, that goes beyond any construct that my mind can put on it, and it goes into the experience of pure vibration of pure light and pure sound. When I hear that, that is the sound of the Eternal.
Do you have any closing thoughts to share with our readers?
Ashana: Only that I’m really looking forward to being in Minneapolis. It will be our first trip there. I just invite people to come, regardless of their religious persuasions or spiritual background. Everybody is going to find something at this concert that will help them, support them and engage them in connecting with their own heart and the love that they are. I welcome all people. Just come, and be.
For more information on Ashana, visit soundofashana.com and join her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/soundofashana. For more information on the Open Heart Holiday Concert, visit http://openheartconcert.eventbrite.com/?aff=edgeinterview