When I arrived at San Quentin in 1970, it was with a tortured conscience, confused thoughts, and a malnourished body. After two trials, a conviction for murder and a sentence of death, I was a perfect wreck and bitterly resentful of the travesty that passed for justice in America at that time. My friends had abandoned me and, so it seemed, had God. I was at ground zero in the self-wrought devastation of my life.
The prison chaplain occasionally visited me at my cell on death row. I criticized and ridiculed his Christian faith. A dedicated rebel, my inclination was to reject all systems founded on dogma and superstition, not realizing at the time that this stance was also a dogmatic system. A recitation of the litany of things I didn’t believe in would have made you scream for mercy before you heard the end of it, yet I would have been hard pressed to tell you what I did believe in. About the social ills of the world I had opinions aplenty, with only limited experience and knowledge upon which to base them. What I had apparently become was an uncompromising fanatic sitting in judgment upon the world without any qualifications whatsoever to do so. Before anyone can know a thing truly one must first know oneself, for the truth, ultimately, is always inside. This is what I have come to know. Back then it was easier to project outward those opinions and judgments of a world that appeared to be insane, self-destructive and unjust than it was to turn my critical eye on the turmoil within my own mind and the injustices of my own thoughts and actions.
Those two years on death row turned out to be, in a strange way, a blessing to me. There was nothing at all of nurture in that place where I had brought myself. My immediate surroundings were harsh−cold, ugly and heartless. At the time, the only place to go where I might find the nourishment I needed was inward. On the row I had the gift of solitude for much of the day, and quiet especially at night, providing opportunity to turn within and reflect on where I might find something sound enough to use as a foundation for restoring myself to integrity.
At first I didn’t like a lot of what I found there. The turmoil of my thoughts and emotions were a tangle, and made the interior of my mind a noisy and confusing place. Most of that I knew to be meaningless mental masturbation, a fugue of repetitive responses to recent personal experiences. Understanding this to be the case, and further understanding that this turbulence was not truly myself, became the place to begin the daunting process of weeding and clearing my interior world to make some space to be at peace with myself. It’s a lot like cultivating a garden. The work is never really done, it seems, but I like to think that I’m gaining on it.
No journey is more arduous than the inward journey−or more rewarding. Religion, in the institutional sense, has not been particularly helpful to me. While I have never been an atheist, I have never been able to accept on faith what is offered as platitudes and ritual and rote learning. I need to know a thing within myself, to know it by heart, before I can accept it as truth, and even then there may be some lingering doubt.
Consequently I have negotiated some dark passages on my journey to the light; peering in on the ancient myths and esoteric practices of personal transformation, learning the ways of shamanic and earth oriented traditions, seeking ever higher levels of spiritual awareness, arriving eventually at the mother lode of spiritual thought contained in the Vedic traditions. I have found inspiration in the gems of wisdom to be mined from a myriad of religious philosophies, and in the teachings of the great sages who have visited this world as avatars of the Divine, regardless of the religious traditions they have come to represent in the context of culture and civilization. All genuinely spirit-derived thought, I have found, is of a single weaving. There are common threads running through all of the great spiritual traditions of the world.
The voodoo gumbo of these influences has led me on the meandering path that has brought me to my present spiritual orientation. At heart, this is what informs all of my work, including that work which is done purely for play.
This long-secret teachings of the Tantra demonstrate that just about any activity can be a focusing tool for meditation. The Sanskrit word Tantra translates and refers to techniques that may be used to awaken and encourage elevation of the kundalini, with the goal of one realizing ever higher levels of self-awareness. One technique that has proven itself of great value to me is nada yoga, the practice of using audible tones as the focus for inspiring and stimulating awareness of the true self, as in meditation. Much of my work in sound design and music is centered around this practice.
Back in the 1960s when I was a young vagabond musician, I heard the humming dynamo at the heart of existence, that which is symbolized in the Upanishads by the syllable OM (pronounced AUM). When I heard it for the first time I knew instinctively that it had always been there, a very subtle pulsing vibration humming within everything everywhere, the foundation giving rise to all phenomena. I heard it in the sound made by my instruments, and in my own voice when vocalizing in consciousness of it. We all know this vibration when the awareness awakens to it. Everything, including ourselves, exists as harmonic waves riding upon this dynamic hum. It is the voice of existence itself.
All of my music and soundscape design is the craft of working with and bouncing harmonies against the primal vibration. The higher frequencies of the visible spectrum arise from the infinite vibration as well, so a similar process is at work when my focus is concentrated on producing the visual image. It is a kind of self-hypnosis, I suppose, that with these enabling tools it becomes possible to pierce through the obscuring veil of nescience and subdue the discontent of the yammering ego to a murmur, at least for long enough to pry open some of the vast realms within.
Most people experience a sense of spaciousness within their minds when passively listening to music. Actively producing sound and music with the intention of inducing spiritual awareness greatly intensifies this effect. Any muscle that is flexed and used often enough gets stronger. Over time my imagination became buffed and cut like a Mr. Universe, powerful enough to enable me to transcend the apparent limitations of physical confinement and deprivation. Freedom or its lack is a state of mind, as I’ve proven to myself again and again. The physical world has rules I cannot change physically but the spirit is not bound by them. My music attests to that.
The inner world has become far more to me than a mere refuge. As I’ve explored it across the years the truth of myself has gradually been revealed and I have discovered that it extends into infinity like the vibrations of a string plucked on a well-tuned guitar.
The recordings I have been blessed to be permitted the opportunities to make on occasion are not the goal of my music by any means. They are merely some artifacts left behind by my inward explorations, like postcards sent back home to report on places I’ve visited along the way. May you find in them something to encourage you on your own inward journey.