Awakin Calls » Owen O Suilleabhain » Transcript
Owen O Suilleabhain: The Role of Art, Hope and Wholeness in Troubled Times
Guest: Owen Ó Súilleabháin
Host: Amit Dungarani
Moderator: Pavi Mehta
Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that by changing ourselves we change the world to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us.
Amit: Welcome again to our weekly Awakin Call. Today in conversation with Owen Ó Súilleabháin, here's how today will work. In a few minutes, our wonderful moderator Pavi Mehta will formally introduce Owen and engage in dialogue with him. And then at the top of the hour, we'll roll into a Q-and-A and a Circle of Sharing where we'll invite all of your reflections and questions. Our theme or title for this week's call is "The Role of Art, Hope and Wholeness In Troubled Times." We have the great pleasure of having Pavi as our moderator, and it's fitting given she too is an artist whose poetry, writing and life's work touches the deepest parts of our hearts. We're grateful to have her as our guide on today's call. So Pavi, with that, please tell us more about Owen, our theme today, and lead us into dialogue with him.
Pavi: Thank you Amit for that wonderful opening. It's my pleasure to introduce Owen to all of you today. Owen Ó Súilleabháin is a singer, composer and storyteller whose music and life's work aspires to lift and (apprentice) the human heart to generosity and gratitude. He hails from a family of internationally-renowned artists, teachers and keepers of Irish sacred traditions and Celtic culture. His mother Nóirín Ní Riain is a celebrated theologian and singer of sacred chants. His father, Michael, a pioneering composer and founder of the Irish Academy of Music and Dance. Along with his brother Moley, Owen has released five albums of both ancient and contemporary music, the latest called Fields of Grace - Celtic Meditation Music from the Heart of Ireland. Across his career, he has performed around the world and has collaborated with a string of well-known including Riverdance composer Bill Whelan, poet John O'Donahue and the director Stephen Spielberg.
Owen is now based in the United States where he draws on his unique background to work with clients across some of our most challenged industries ranging from education and health care to the corporate world. In 2018, he co-founded The Studio,a business that inspires leadership, innovation and culture change through the experience and the inspiration of artistry. Every summer he curates and leads journeys of art and spirit in Ireland to share his family's gifts and the transformative wisdom, and numinous gifts of the region. Threaded through all of his work is a deep belief in the power of performance and listening to awaken creativity into being. It is a delight to have him with us today. Thank you so much, Owen, for making the time to share your journey with us.
Owen: Thank you Pavi and Amit for this extraordinary invitation and to all your listeners there. There's been such a build up of expectation and a trepidation here to be included in this circle of mystics and extraordinary light workers that you talk to every week. So I am absolutely delighted to be here and thank you. Very grateful for the opportunity.
Pavi: Owen, I wanted to begin with a quote from poet laureate Billy Collins who was talking of your music when he said, "Here are blendings so uplifting and mesmerizing, they may bring your mind to a complete stop which is a good thing if your thoughts are anything like some of mine." I loved that quote. And so appropriate having listened to some of your music. I'd love to invite you to set the space for our conversation with a mind-stopping song or poem or blessing from the rich tradition you come from.
Owen: Lovely. Thank you for the invitation. I'd like to start us of with a beautiful ancient Irish language song from the sacred tradition, and this is a song of lament, of letting go. And of course, in Ireland, we have a wonderful tradition of waking and of grieving and of letting go, and this song comes out of that tradition. It's a very ancient song that was perhaps recently Christianized maybe a thousand years ago or something. What returns is the refrain "mac hone es mac hone o" and this is this lovely sound of letting go and of grieving and it's something I want to talk about around the whole theme of "awakening" and how we awaken into a new world and have to let go of something that has held us that we must now come to put down.
Pavi: Thank you. Feels almost sacrilegious to break the silence after an invocation like that. This wasn't where I was intending to start but, given how you set the table for this feast, perhaps you could share a little bit more about the relationship to grieving in the culture that you come from and the insights that you have taken from it.
Owen: Well of course, that song for me is extraordinary. I've heard it said that never has sorrow or grief sounded so beautiful. Even musically, the song is in a major key, so it is this relationship to grief that positions itself melodically in a scale of hope. And it is this sort of caring, graceful, nourishing invitation to step into the new life that awaits us. And so thinking about "awaken" and this extraordinary Awakin Call at Awakin.org, where you describe it as waking up to wisdom in stillness and community.
Waking up, of course, involves at times a real letting go of something, of the dream states of a prior life. Recently I've been working with that great quote from the wonderful Islamic mystic and poet Rumi who says, "Why, when God's world is so large, did you have to fall asleep in a prison of all places? Why, when God's world is so large, did you have to fall asleep in a prison of all places?" So if we are to awaken, how would it feel if we were to awaken into what we were to discover actually was a prison all along? I had a bit experience in institutional life myself on the other end of the spectrum. I haven't been to prison, now, but I did spend six years in an all-boys boarding school in a Benedictine monastery in the west of Ireland.
This was an amazing place. If you can imagine Harry Potter, it was very Harry Potter-ian with monks swishing by in their vestments and robes. There was great chanting, incantations and spells being cast up in the church throughout the day. We grew up there, about 200 boys, trapped in the wilds of East Limerick in this old castle. And the bells would ring throughout the day to get your out of bed and then for breakfast and for class and then you'd finish class and a bell for supper. I also remember the hunger that those bells around lunchtime, the minute the bell would go, this extraordinary hunger would come over you, you know, which of course developed into that wonderful psychological study that Pavlov did with his dogs. So I can testify to the hunger that the sound of a bell can bring. But of course, I had to graduate from that school and go out into this other world at the age of 18 into college where suddenly there were these things called girls.
There were young women in the class beside me and there were no longer any bells to mark the day out. I had to come into this new world and step onto this new ground. And it was actually a very difficult time for me to negotiate that. It was a very tough time for me personally. I suppose one of the things that I hadn't really come to terms with at the time was a letting go of an old life and an acknowledgement that a new life was beginning. I suppose a rite of passage, a coming into a new world, an awakening to a new world which can be extremely traumatic at times. So we need these pieces of art. We need art and we need ritual and we need community in order to transition over these thresholds as successfully as the human body can be brought over those thresholds. I think, really, when we try to go it alone, or reinvent the wheel in these scenarios, we can run into trouble. We see that, of course, so clearly in our own society today where older, wiser ways of doing things are considered outmoded, old fashioned and nostalgic and repressive. Which, of course, ways of being do become those and then they have to be re-re-awoken from themselves. I think the work that you're doing here with this Awakin Circle is calling together this community, calling together this ancient wisdom and re-re-expressing it. So that's really why I picked that song.
Pavi: Just incredibly fitting, and the way that framing in beautiful is such an alluring thing. We respond to it even before our minds understand what's going on. I think that's the feeling I had when you were singing. There was just a transportive quality to it. It's almost a bridge from the shadow to the light, and an understanding that there are two sides of the same coin. And then your description of your childhood -- it just sounds like some sort of magical realm that you were living in. I wanted to ask you, this is something we ask a lot of our guests, is, could you paint a -- and you've painted a picture I think of the school. But could you give us a snapshot of those formative influences. Your family is not your typical family that you grew up in. Could you speak a little bit about that sliver of your life, and I'd like to talk a little bit more about that rude awakening or transition period as well.
Owen: Both my parents met studying music in college in Cork in the south of Ireland. At the time there was an extraordinary reawakening in Irish traditional culture -- music, dance, arts, academia. My parents were part of that, and they returned to our traditional music in particular and really brought Irish traditional culture into the university system or into the concert hall, mixing Irish traditional music with classical music. That was my father's work. He really pioneered Irish traditional music on the keyboard, on the piano, which was never of course an Irish traditional instrument.
The piano was the instrument of the Western European courts. So he brought Irish traditional music to the keyboard and to the orchestra, and he also brought Irish traditional culture into the university system to be accredited to get degrees right up to the Ph.D. level in the performance and the study of Irish traditional culture. Meanwhile my mother, Nóirín, was focusing much more on the spirituality and the song of Irish culture. So she went around the country to archive sacred song in the folk tradition in the Irish language. So that song that I sung was part of her research. She only managed to collect about eight or nine of these sacred songs. They were all that really had survived. She collected them and notated them and went on to record them with this group of monks in the monastery where I went to school. So I grew up in this amazing cultural stew, this pressure cooker of culture and not only the performance of it, but the reflection on it. So the academic turn as well was always present. Not only, "What are you doing?" but "What does it mean that you are doing this?" as well, too.
And the image that comes back to me all the time describing it is, as a kid, my parents would bring me and my brother, they would throw us in the car and bring us to the arts center of the church or the venue where they would be performing. We'd arrive at the location for the sound check, for the rehearsal, and as little kids we would be let run loose while they had to tend to the important work, you see. So I have these memories of -- I had this obsession that I needed to run around every single room in every venue. And of course a church is the most magnificent place to let a kid loose, because everything is out of bounds, you know? So I would try to open all the doors and open the cupboards and look inside the vestments. Or in a theater trying to climb up the ladders up into wings to see the lights and the technology. So always I had this great desire to see what was happening backstage.and then during the performance I would look around me as the audience sat in rows in front of the house and I would think to myself they have no idea what's going on behind that curtain, you know, and if only they knew and this has been a theme throughout my life is to run around and to try to open every door that I can and to see what's actually happening behind this extraordinary drama that we have awoken into.
And that's really been my image that keeps reappearing of my childhood. Both my parents were wonderful parents. They were so warm and generous. They were geniuses at not imposing their own work and their ideology on me and I'm not a parent myself, but if I were to give advice to any parent it's just, if you think you should give your kids music lessons, just don't. If they want to learn about music they will learn about music. But so many people's relationship with music and art and many other things, of course, sports or language have been destroyed by this primitive type of educational systems that we engage with today, which are so prescriptive and restrictive and they shut, I mean I'm sure everyone can empathize here with the scenarios where we told, they scold us for singing, told that we weren't singing in tune or we're not doing something right or we're not painting that picture correctly.
And then all of us are extraordinary creators of wisdom and beauty. That's another thing I really learned from my childhood, that all of us are actually the witnesses today to the entire infinity of universal existence from the Big Bang until now. Our eyes are the eyes that see the entirety of creation. For these few blessed moments we are actually the best show in town. We're the sum of all that's happened. So to say to someone that they're singing out of tune within that context breaks my heart and angers me so much. So that's one of the things in my work too--to give all of us permission, myself included, to say that creative thing and to give that voice to what we know intuitively is within us.
Pavi: What strikes me as you're talking is it's really unique that your parents didn't have that, they gave you the freedom even though they were so deeply rooted and passionate in their own explorations and their work. Was it something, and you obviously have continued to be a steward of that same tradition in your own way, was that something you've always known you were going to do? Was it a straight line between where you grew up and where you are now or did you have to kind of wander off that path to find that path again?
Owen: Did I have to wander? I certainly did. When I was growing up, of course, my parents were working and performing at a very high level, you know, international standard where they would travel the world and people from around the world would come and perform with them. So growing up I could never have had the reasonable expectation that I would be following in the family business and I recognized that from an early age. This is extraordinary. They are so good at what they do. I'll have to find my own thing, you know? So I never studied music myself. Instead I was drawn to study Philosophy and Ancient Greek and Roman Civilization and from that I went on to do Masters in Peace and Development Studies, focus on International Relations and Asylum Seekers and Refugees in my own town in Limerick in Ireland.
So growing up, that was really what I expected, but then I had this extraordinary experience with my brother, my younger brother, Mícheál or Moley to his friends, Moley and we started to write songs together and at the time in school I was in my first ever band, it was a cover band. I was able to sing every single lyric of Kurt Cobain perfectly and I was in the cover band and I loved this band, tortured grunge sound. I just loved it and Moley was getting big into rap and hip hop at the time and so we come together when I went away to college. We'd hang out and write songs together just for fun and slowly we started to sound good and we sounded quite good and people would invite us to sing at parties and then would invite us to perform small little performances at coffee shops or whatever and we started to write these songs and people would respond to them and really that was the start of the invitation into a more formal type of performance that continues on to this day.
And there was this, so me and my brother we ventured out into the world of the entertainment industry and pop music and our band was called Size2shoes because we had a song called Size2shoes, cool little pop song called Size2shoes, my brother wrote about a girlfriend he had. She was quite small. And off we ventured into the big bad world to make our fortune in the music industry. Had extraordinary invitations, of connections, people who were supporting us at the highest level of the world of entertainment. So introductions were made and we were able to record beautiful recordings, but as we continued to approach that world, we kept hitting walls. Doors were closing. And that world, the entertainment industry required more and more of us to invest in it more and more, to give more of ourselves away to this type of, this stage. So to get on this entertainment stage, we had to give away more of ourselves financially, artistically, creatively and there came a time when we had to make a decision. Actually we're not getting back what we are investing in this and we had to let it go and at the time we were both me and my brother were also singing, we were invited to sing all of our parents' music, the ancient Irish stuff and the traditional music with a wonderful poet, a great mentor of ours called David Whyte. And David had us spotted long before we knew what we were ourselves.
David was inviting us to perform the old-style songs and traditional songs to the audiences of people that he worked with in his poetry and again this world that David Whyte was performing for started to invite us to other events and these other events had audiences with people who were extremely positive. They would, you know, we could sing anything-- all the songs our mother and father used to sing that we grew up with. We could sing all these songs along with our pop songs, as well which also fascinates us.
And the audiences would love us. We would get invited elsewhere and even shockingly we would even get paid for these events and we didn't have to pay to be part of this entertainment industry, like cattle calls that they have these industry showcases where you have pay thousands of dollars to play songs in the back of the hall. So at one stage we said o.k. it's time to let go of the entertainment industry stuff. So we just literally stopped answering those emails and stopped making those phone calls and we focused on the places where we were being called to perform, quite literally being called, and that was an extraordinary moment of letting go, another letting go, another awakening into a world that was always there under our noses and all we had to do was just politely move toward it.
And that really has brought me to where I am today. And I am continuing to enter into that negotiation of working with whatever I inherited, whatever lineage, whatever cultural ancestry, whatever family ancestry I have. How do I take that, make it my own and bring it forward in a way that I'm proud of? How do I break cycles that I've inherited and how do I let go of painful pasts and wrong done, you know through my culture, that I've done myself? How do I come to terms with those and dedicate myself to those things that really I intuitively feel that I'm being called to prevent. There's the whole story now, Pavi.
Pavi: And what a story it is! I feel like the roots of your tradition were kind of quietly growing underground and they let you wander a bit and then reached up and grabbed you back. And for the reclamation and I wanted to ask about another intriguing connection that your family had with another remarkable individual, the poet philosopher, John O’Donohue. I wonder if you might share what he meant in your own journey and are there any particular stories from your time with him that come to mind.
Owen: John was just an extraordinary character and his work and influence are constantly unfolding and flourishing all the time. So when I was growing up with all the figure in my house, my mom would go off and perform at different events with him and was always so intrigued with this man, John, and his books, you know she would have his poetry around the house. And he also worked with David Whyte and David and John were great old buddies. So, they did a couple tours in the US with John. So she got to be on the road with him and developed an extraordinary friendship with him. Which John had been genius with as a friend of encouragement. Giving power, courage, and empowerment all around him, really a blessing you know, that's what blessing is. Allowing us to step into that part of ourselves that we know is the biggest part.
David Whyte says if he thinks that the soul in very precise terms is that part of ourselves that is attempting to belong in the world in the largest way it can. That the soul, the part of ourselves that wants to belong to the world, in the largest way it can. John really was one of the geniuses that gave us that blessing to belong to the world in the largest way we can and fully enjoy it. Embody it.
So, that was John growing up, and like everything with my parents at the time, I just thought it was something that would be there forever, you know. And in my adulthood, I would return to all this stuff and John would be there for all the righteous passage, for weddings, and for all those types of stuff, and so there was one time where my mama was producing an album in this monastery and at the time she was working with the Irish singer, Sinead O'Connor, and
Sinead wanted to record an album with Nóirín, & with the monks in Glenstal Abbey and she produced it, so she invited her friend John O’Donohue to come record some of the new poetry for the album. So, that was a really extraordinary time to be there with Sinead O'Connor and John O'Donohue and the monks & recording this album was a very particular time in my life. This moment of sensing that this culture that I've grown up with and taken for granted and during the recording of this album, there was a sense in me that was like oh my gosh, I am being included in this. As a singer and as a contributor.
So it was a real magical time and a great time at Glenstal. I remember John's larger than life presence. His gregariousness and maya and his acknowledgement of me.....but again I just felt that he would always be there, to return to in the future, and I looked forward to that & then of-course he died very very abruptly 10 years ago, in January. This is the 10th anniversary of John's death. And his presence is very close to us, to our mother. John also encouraged Nóirín, my mother, to embark upon a PhD in theology. Nóirín had always been a sacred singer, but never a formal theologian And of-course John was a great formal theologian. He had his PhD from Tübingen University in Germany which is the great Catholic center, this Catholic bastion of learning. John got his PhD in German language on the medieval mystic and preacher Meister Eckhart. So John with a highly sophisticated and precise theologian.
But also it is magical being able to communicate that into this common language of beauty that was accessible to all of us or he said to Nóirín he really pushed her to do this to embark on this Ph D. in theology. And what she focused in on was she coined a new word - theosony which is from the Greek theos for God and sonan the Latin for sound. She focused on the sound of the divine or divine revelation to the sense of listening. Which in the Christian world was hugely neglected, the sense of hearing is very unusually neglected in theological investigation. It's all about the eye in the Christian world. It’s all about seeing is believing and so Nóirín devised this theology called theosony, which focused on the sense of revelation through sound and through the sense of listening. John was an extraordinary midwife to that process.
I remember Nóirín would send the Ph D. paper to him, and he would read through the whole thing, add notations with a red pen. And three times he edited that. He was one of the real encouragers. As any of you or your listeners know, to embark on a Ph D. is actually excruciatingly personally emotional process. So John was always there in the House as Nóirín was going through that as a great encourager or someone who really pushed her on and brought her through the process.
Pavi: What a tremendous relationship and as you're talking I'm thinking about how fortunate we are to be able to hear his echoes in your voice. And to feel like those of you who are close to him and have that opportunity to know him in the way that you did, you are keeping that voice alive.
Owen: I hope so. It's very much like this sense of something coming through the land of Ireland. Ireland being this place that has all this tragic history, its archaeology, been a place of pilgrimage, a place where people go on the edge of the ancient known world, out to the threshold where the wind and the rain in the midst of the North Atlantic just are blowing constantly, just assaulting you. In between the blast of sunshine and it's like a baptism up there, a cold baptism. But yet there it is this lushness in the land. It is cold temperate climate that never really freezes too much. So there's always this sense of abundance and growth in the midst of this change that occurs there.
So there's something in the land of that place that has been identified and associated with a place to go for new vows to be made. And the history I mean right up to our contemporary times where you see this is the small island, small population and yet these writers and performers just keep emerging, growing up out of the land just like flowers and really I see that in my own story and in John's and in my parent's story and in so many contemporaries from the country there who are engaged in really again giving people a gentle warm permission to belong to this world in the largest way we can.
Pavi: That power of place I feel is something so ingrained in the Celtic sensitivity and I was wondering if you can share for those who are not familiar with that tradition. Could you give us a whiff of the Celtic. sensibility and its perspective on the world and our place in it?
Owen: Well it's the most important thing that it very very simple and if anyone tries to get in the way of this and complicates it and try to overly sell you on something, you don’t need it at all, it is very simple. The more simple the better.
So the Celtic sensibility doesn't really take too kindly to be dogmatic and prescriptive types of initiations. Many other spiritual journeys that adhere to, it is quite aversive. And again that geography of change that the island holds is part of this perspective. So really the most important thing is that where ever you are right now in this moment is where you are exactly supposed to be. And it is not just the platitude, that it is actually cosmic, the entire universe will have to start again for you to be exactly where you are now.
So it's beyond profound to blow the minds to actually consider that. So now knowing that, that the entire universe is the shoulders that you as a little person are standing on. Now look at the world around you. Now you could be trapped in a concrete jungle of New York City where I was for five years or you could be in the wild the great continental Niagara frontier of western New York. All you got to do is lift your eyes and put them at the window and see a horizon beyond you and now you're beginning to have that conversation as you say the awakening can begin, the questioning can begin, what around me, where am I, who am I, what's happening, what does it feel like?
And once we step into that, then things can be built up you know. There is this wonderful prayer attributed to Saint Patrick who was this amazing figure as mediation between the ancient Celtic druids world and his new message of Christianity coming out of Palestine through Rome. And this is prayer from Saint Patrick's birth place and it really encapsulates the merging of these two worlds perfectly where in the prayer it says- Christ be before me, Christ be behind me, my left hand, on my right hand, Christ be in the heart of all, you meet me in the tongue of all, in the ear of all who hear me. So this idea of the divine being actually right here as close to us as the door you now. The importance of that I believe in our day and age where spirituality can be so rarefied where we need to engage, we need to sign up for six hundred hours of yoga before we can kind of have any peacefulness or mindfulness. The Celtic's mind comes in and actually subverts that, has a great old laugh and makes a cup of tea. And for me that's where I stand with it now and of course that will change too I think all of our perspectives change through time but right now that's where I am called to respond to that question.
Pavi: You had me at cup of tea. Thank you for that beautiful introduction. It is delicious. One of the things that you were talking about earlier that you touched on with your mother’s Phd, the term that she coined, what was that term?
Pavi: And you spoke briefly about the power of listening and that seems to be another deeply important thread in your life and one of the projects that you have been involved with is actually working on the role of listening and healing and transformation in the public hospital in California that was affected by gang violence and I would love for you to speak a little bit about how that project came about and before that I want to ask that in your own journey have there been moments that really tuned you fiercely into what that power or role of listening is in the healing process.
Owen: Yeah the role of listening. Yes it is amazing how in the work of James Joyce talks about epiphany a lot and Joyce talks about the epiphany of every day, this transformation that can come as a bolt out of the blue. or as Joyce spent his life, dedicating this epiphany from the most simple closest to hand everyday objects.
He dedicated a whole novel to one day in Dublin that has one of the most influential novels of the time. So often when I think of the idea of what are the big moments that have influenced the life, it's the small moments. And the small moments are actually every day and that goes back to this thing about the spiritual being right here with us in these little little moments.
Like today I get to make my cup of tea and have this conversation with you here and I can be consumed with the busyness of that from the preparation and the flattery of that, or else I can take a step back and I allow myself to think of what this actually means, what is happening. Even when as we are speaking its been revealed to me that all of this is a listening occurrence. I am listening to you, you are listening to me, and all the speakers here and all the listeners out there are following along too and will follow along and that is really taking me over now.
And even as you referred to that project with the hospital in California that I am working with. We founded what we call the Academy of Listening. And there is a woman there in this in the fundraising foundation for this hospital and her name is Linda Ford. And Linda called me into her office and we were talking and she looked me into the eye and said, “You know what? You have to meet this young man I just met. His name is Sriram Shamasunder. And he is a young doctor at the university hospital in San Francisco and he is involved in this extraordinary developing healthcare project or health care in developing countries called Heal initiative. And Linda is someone when she looks into your eyes and tells you to do something, you do it.
And Sri also recognized this and so Linda put us in touch, he agreed to meet me and so we met in San Francisco and struck up fast and furious friendship. And it was Sri who put us in touch because he was very much involved with the Awakin movement there along with many other movements so to think of listening has been the common thread through of all of this.
So to think of listening as the common thread through all of this is striking me now as a very profound thread through all.
Pavi: And how did that project at the hospital come about?
Owen: It came about, again, I met this woman, Linda Ford, at the back of a David Whyte performance that I was singing at. I was back at the hall and this woman approached. She said, "I recognize your voice from a recording that I have of you and your mother." And she had been playing this recording almost daily as part of her ritual and meditation. And she had quite innocently signed up for a David Whyte event. As she was sitting there for David to appear, suddenly we 2 Irish lads burst into song towards the back of the room. She then fell of her chair, ' I know those voices. I know who they are'. So, of course, she had to come up and she had been to the monastery and met my mother there so she came up and she introduced herself. And we just had one of those conversations, you know, where all of these connections were made. And Linda is a type of a woman, a deep listener herself, to the music of what happens as the old Irish myth says The Music of What Happens.
If we can tune in to that music, the music that is around us and listen to the voice within. Listen to our own intuition, to our own conscience. Linda is a genius with that and she would look at me and she invited me to work with her on a donor event that they were having. They are involved in really innovative and extraordinarily progressive projects at this hospital and one of them is around certifying interpreters of rare and indigenous languages.
So, in this hospital, they have people who don't speak Spanish or English. They speak these very rare languages that aren't necessarily even literate. And there certainly not interpreters on hand. What Linda and her office were doing was finding a training module where you can take someone from that community and train them to be professional interpreters in health care setting. And it's an extraordinary program that has served as a model that international organizations all over world are approaching now to do in their own work.
So, what struck me about the process of interpreting is that of course, the focus, is so much on the production of the translation. But the prime act of the interpreter, of course, is listening. And not just listening to translating the words, but listening in between the words, which is why Google Translate can get you into real trouble because the real meaning, when someone opens their mouth is not the words themselves, but what's between the lines. The job as an interpreter, is as a diviner almost that has to tune in to a frequency that is past the word. Even, of course, that translates into the role of the healer, the health care, doctor, nurse, the heath care workers, who actually trying to divine and tune into the problem that is beyond the language, the invisible. So, there is a type of listening the healthcare workers enter into, which is trying to listen to that invisible world. Listen beyond the symptoms, to the root system. So, we naturally, we focus on listening as the metaphor for the whole process of healing, for healthcare. We have been working on a little training, a 3 short module training on listening within that healthcare context that's very exciting that's just been finished. Slowly investigating and inquiring, doing some focus groups some research all the time, and deepening the actual implementation of what it means to listen at that deeper level in that context.
Pavi: That's just brilliant to hear about, given today's world, particularly in the medical world, there is so much attention and media around the latest advancement in technology and what's coming up in the horizon, the robotic medicine, and we forget the ancient technology of the human heart, of human presence, and what that has to offer that is not replaceable.
Owen: Yeah, that is an old story around the latest technology blinding us into believing that we hold the key to all the answers here. And that really is a way to bypass suffering and a way to live an eternal life, which is one of the promises behind our curtain of artificial intelligence that we will upload our mind to a robot and live infinitely in robotic space. And as we can see throughout, every empire or epoch that has attempted to live forever is lesson of history that none of us have a clue. That our minds are severely limited when it comes to the experience of living in this world. So, hopefully through the activation of listening, we can actually listen to the lessons that are encoded within our great western traditions, within our art, music, and spiritual traditions. I'm thinking of David Whyte, again, had a great hit with his book called Heart Aroused Poetry and Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America. That was published back in the mid 90's. He really pioneered bringing poetry into the world of organizational management which he said that our world today of organizations that it's language isn't big enough for what it's really trying to do. We need a new way of talking, a new way of having a conversation. And the title of that book, Heart Aroused, he took from the poet, William Carlos Williams, and he said, “my heart rouses thinking to bring you news of something that concerns you and concerns many men. Look at what passes for the new, for the new. You will not find it there, but in despised poems. It is difficult to get the new from poems yet men die miserably everyday for the lack of what is found there. It's difficult to get the new from poems yet women die miserably everyday for the lack of what is found there.” He talked about this constant search for the new and actually all we have to do is stand our ground and to actually ask ourselves what is the old thing? And that is where we can stand on that new ground. There is so much that come to my mind around that theme today. The power of the new is totally undeniable. We would not be able to speak right now if not for the advances over the last 100 years in technology.
The problem is when these extraordinary gifts overtake us and eclipse and blind our vision from the true meal that has been set out before us. It's like jumping to the dessert. [chuckles] So hopefully listening there is one of our ways in, to allow us to calm ourselves and still ourselves and link back into that network of eternal life.
Amit: Speaking of listening, I did want to take this moment to see if any of our callers had a question or comment they wanted to share with Owen or with Pavi in the role of Art, Hope and Wholeness in troubled times which is our theme today. If you do have a question, please press *6 and you'll be entered into the queue. For those of you who are listening to the livestream or feeling a little shy today, email us at ask at servicespace.org and we'd love to hear your questions and comments, let us know your name and where you're calling in from.
And while we wait for our callers to jump in the queue there, it's just so beautiful hearing all these wonderful stories and your experiences. I wanted to continue on this conversation about listening. I couldn't help appreciate that you are able to take a step back from it all even while you're speaking on this call, you're listening to Pavi and you're listening to what's happening. Even what you're saying, it seems to me that listening can be so nuanced because we all hear so differently. One could say from a distance, well Owen must listen differently because he's a musician and an artist, not to mention the dimension of the Celtic mysticism. So in a sense, you can go beyond the music. I say this all in the spirit of us wanting to be connected to one another. How do you think we can be better listeners and truly hear one another. As you said, to go beyond the words and tune into the problem which is invisible, outside the context of perhaps a hospital, in everyday life.
Owen: Yeah, you see, this question is fabulous because it's almost like the question itself is our natural schooled and proper type of go to thing, "ok how do I do this?" The answer to all of these things is that we are the universal experts on this already so the question is how do I do it rather than how does one do it? I do it already, we all do it. Really, listening is about just doing nothing. It's the most gentle, near, knowable, warm, kind thing that we have within us. Very very simple. It's as easy as falling over. Whatever it is, that is the easiest thing for you to do is what it means to listen. It's the gentlest thing, it involves absolutely nothing. It's light as a feather, as simple as opening your eyes, breathing inwards or taking a sip of water.
So how do you do this listening training? That was one of the things about this listening training when we were devising it. We were working with this extraordinary group, intervention specialists, who work with people who are presenting at the emergency room from severe violent wounds. This program was there to help these people to change their life and move away from violence, from gang violence. So the whole way this training is devised is that these intervention specialists are experts in listening already. So the training is to create a container so that these people can talk about how they listen and tell their colleagues and overhear themselves say something astonishingly erudite about listening themselves. So really that's what I would say about listening is just do nothing. [laughing]
Amit: I love that, I love the simplicity of that deep wisdom. That's great, I'm going to go to one of the callers in our queue, please let us know your name and let us know where you're calling from.
Kozo: Hi Owen! Thank you for this amazing call. You had me at the first song. I was in love there. My name is Kozo and I'm calling in from Cupertino, California. When I was younger, I had this obsession with Irish women singers. Enya, Sinead O'Connor, Delores O'riordan, and even Elizabeth Fraser from Scotland. You really put it into context here, because I would have sworn to you back then back in high school that I could hear God in their voices. There's something about that Irish voice that struck a chord in me. And with your - that theosony - that really resonates. And my question to you is, I know there's the strong tradition of the Irish woman singer and that tone, what is your experience as a man, what is your experience with either Celtic mysticism or Irish music or Celtic music - what is your experience with the divine feminine? And the emergence of the divine feminine? And your relationship with it as a man?
Owen: That's great. I think about that a lot myself. And share that with you. First of all, my own mystification as the extraordinary power of performance that does come out of Ireland. There's many other places in the world that are very thin places that are described, Ireland is just one of them, it's the one I know the best. It's extraordinary when we get this place and get geniuses for this kind of thing. Ireland seems to have this ability to perform something divine. Perform something that allows others to resonate, as you were saying, in a way that was healing for you at that time. I learnt a lot of these old songs from my mother. They are women songs. In the Irish Lament Keening tradition was always women who would ritually wale and lament over the body that was laid out at the wake. And there's an old myth of the banshee woman ghost would be heard wailing in the night to foretell the death of someone in the community. And in Celtic and Celtic Christian theology at this time is the feast of St Brigid, Brigid of Kildare, Brigid the triple goddess. And surprisingly, to many, Brigid is actually as important a patron saint to Ireland as St Patrick and perhaps even more important than St Patrick. Brigid was an extraordinary peace maker, patron of the arts, of creativity, of beauty, of story. And she was quite a fierce woman who would bring peace between warring chieftains. A trickster, an artificer, a creator, a magician, And further to that you have more, there's great mythology of powerful queens in Ireland and more ancient gods. The goddess of Aine, where I'm from, Aine the Sun goddess, the goddess of fertility and creation. So there is a very strong connection to the divine coming out of Irish culture. Which the more contemporary Greek, Roman, Western European society had something very different in that gender balance.
For me today - in our society today, where gender is being reimagined in extraordinary ways. It does come up to me of what does it mean? and whats the relationship with the divine feminine? And personally right now, what I'm interested in is I'm being called to something about redefining the masculine side of things, as I think you're asking there Kozo. And I don't know what that is actually. And I only recently started to ask myself that.
For example, one thing that has come up for me is around the early Greek and later Christian and Medieval concept of virtue. Virtue was essentially formulated as having four main components. Virtue comes from the Latin word vir or man. So these virtues were what was required to be a man or even a warrior. This was almost a warrior code that was prescribed for you to be an effective masculine energy in the world.
And those four virtues used to be terrible catholic dogma that was beaten into poor children, you know, back in my parents/grandparent's generation. And those four virtues were the virtue of prudence, which was the most important of them. Prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. And these four virtues all had a whole system of psychology underneath them that was required, highly sophisticated, and highly worked out. And that is something that I'm exploring myself these days–that idea of virtue and what that means for redefining a type of masculinity that I think is absolutely lacking in the contemporary Western conversation.
Kozo: Beautiful. And I look forward to seeing what emerges from that exploration. Real quick comment, Owen. So Dr. Sri and I are hosting a Healing+Transformation retreat, day long retreat in February for ServiceSpace. And you just made it irrelevant because it is as simple as doing nothing and listening. So now our whole curriculum...we could just toss it out and say, "We are going to do nothing and just listen."
Owen: [laughter] Yes, tea and nothing. Wouldn't we be delighted if we were to go on a retreat, where you just drank tea and hung out? We need a bit of that. We are ruined from meaning--the vendetta of meaning that we put ourselves through.
Kozo: So, thank you for that.
Amit: Thank you, Kozo. Really appreciate the question and the comments. I'm going to go to our next caller here.
Shweta: Owen, this is Shweta.
Owen: Hello, Shweta.
Shweta: Hello. This is your biggest fan and most ardent supporter calling from Los Angeles. I'm so happy to be on this call because I have not been able to wipe this smile off my face. And listening to you just reminds me of everything that is good and right in this world. So thank you for your wisdom that you have shared.
Lest I just take over this call and ask you this page of questions that I have, I'm going to try to summarize here and roll it all into one giant question of a few parts if you don't mind.
Owen: Ok. I'm ready. Go for it.
Shweta: Ok. So Owen and I got to spend a week or so last summer in rural Western Ireland and it was a beautiful experience. And I would just love for you to share with everyone what touristianam is and what it means to be journeying into the soul through visiting all these sacred sights because that was certainly transformative for me, being there in this culture and this country that was so different than what I knew. Yet, spoke exactly to who I was and what I needed.
That is one part of my question. And in hearing you and reflecting on our time there. You mentioned this in some of our responses, but the one thing that struck me about Ireland and Celtic Consciousness is the connection to the land. Frequently, we talked about how Irish are people of the land. It made me think about how there is this natural intuitive space that is woven though out Irish culture and one thing that I noticed for sure is this idea of kindred spirits and kinship and partnership that also John O'Donahue talks about. I would love for you to share, especially considering you have this amazing partner who is by your side and who has delved into spirituality with you, if you could share what partnership and kinship means to you through your art and through wholeness and sort of the spirituality that has transcended.
The last part is that we sort of explored that when we were together through song and words and listening. I often felt that the Beatitudes was a place that we came to. So if you wouldn't mind singing a snippet of the Beatitudes to sort of encompass it all. If that is not too complicated.
Owen: That is wonderful. Thank you so much for that. Kindred spirits, yes. Certainly that was the story when I met Sri there, your husband, in San Francisco. Yes, it is amazing. I think the way we are brought up to view this world is so much about this cause and effect. You have to scramble your way to pull everything in and earn everything that you deserve. And there is no such thing as a free lunch. That type of view of the world is important in certain circumstances, but then there’s this other type of life which is abundant, flourishing, that seems to occur sometimes when there is a type of letting go, you know. A type of letting go and a type of listening.
So, for example, even me meeting your husband Sri, I had to sort of enter into something that I knew nothing about based on the trust of another person. Someone told me something. It resonated with me as something right to do. A risk take that felt and resonated as the right thing to do. And then I had to act upon that. So there is a lot going on there.
And Sri had to do that same process himself. Then the two of us met and something occurs, something happens, when you do let go, following a voice within that said it is the right thing to do, because we can let go with a voice that tells us it is the wrong thing to do as well. And that is when we get into terrible trouble. There is a very subtle and sophisticated way of navigating, of angling the sails to move forward. And that is really my experience of that connection, that Anum Cara, that soul friend that John O'Donahue used to talk about and that was very present in certain Celtic ways of relationship with the world. When you are in a type of sensitivity to the organic nature of the world around us, then we can "connect into the network of eternal life." We can actually hook in. And when we do hook in, we experience the slow process and people emerge and relationships blossom.
So really it is the external symptoms of something that we have hooked ourselves into. The tree being judged by the fruit. And it is a very mysterious thing. This is where all the great wisdom traditions lead us. They are actually these deep, multi-year processes of deepening our awareness and our relationship to the subtleties of moving in the world. Like a dancer trains themselves to move and to work their body in just the right way. Our wisdom traditions show us ways of doing that.
It is so funny because our contemporary ideas of psychology and psychoanalysis, as if the unconscious was just discovered by an Austrian scientist a hundred years ago. It is ridiculous when you look at the sophistication of the psychology that our within all of these ancient religions. And one of those things is that...when you talked about the Beatitudes, this is on of the great secrets of psychology, of the spirituality of psychology.
And this is attributed to Jesus's first sermon on the Mount. His first sermon that he gives Where you talked about the beatitudes, this is one of the great secrets of psychology, of the spirituality of psychology. And if attributed to Jesus its first sermon on the mount, his sermon he gives in the bible and there are eight of these blessings or beatitudes, there known as, to beautify is to bless, to beautify, a similar root of that word, these blessings or beautification are attributed to his first sermon where he said blessed are the poor in spirit the kingdom of heaven is theirs, blessed are those who mourn, they will be consoled, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, the justice of god shall be theirs, and there's eight of them, where it says the first shall be last, the party is suffering is is the party that will be exalted. the part that we're experiencing difficulty with is engaged with honestly and truthfully keep going through that and that is a part of us that is no longer big enough for this story that were being called to tell, that's the experience of the soul desiring to be in its largest possible way, it is a difficult journey and its a journey that involves suffering and its a journey that involves struggle and agony.
This agony the old Greek word "agono" struggle or agony or the christian concept of passion, passion being the pain necessary to get us to where we are supposed to be. So all of that to say that we live in this embodied world, one of the great experiences i had growing up was being involved with groups who came to Ireland, who my parents performed for, groups that the poet David Whyte would bring to Ireland to create these experiences where people could be with the landscape with the art, with the spirituality of the place, and then to allow the element to do their work on people to have that embodied experience that brings you to where you need to be. So one of the things I embarked on last year with my family was what we called the (trust dana1:22:26) or the journey of the soul and it is really an invitation to join us in our home and our landscape their in the west of Ireland in Limerick in county Limerick. And we take over this group of cottages, by the lake, the Lake Lough Derg, a great ancient lake and we form a little community about twenty six people and each morning we gather in one of the cottages by the fire, and we gather for some poetry, story and song and mythology and the we strike out onto the land to meet the weird and the wonderful that the land has to offer us so all sorts of and all the time, again it is all about bringing people into this space and trying to do as little as possible, trying to get out of the way, you know. For people to have this experience that drawn them to this place, this self-section to have actually sign up for this. And Sweetha, you and Shree, were our perfect case studies where there were no Irish or Irish American that we are aware of, in the family and we wanted to see with the case study of the others who do have Irish American connection if this experience had the same effect on you as the other control group. AB testing its called over there. And we were blown away by the deep presence that you and Shree engaged and we were a little apprehensive, would these strangers feel at home in our place, would you be comfortable, would it be just right, we've all felt this. And were blown away by how you engaged and really how the landscape and the work really spoke for itself and what you left behind was ten times as nourishing as anything you took away, because that's something very beautiful, the testimony, the witness, that you brought to the land there is something healing that place, needs and that country. So I could give us a little blast of the beatitudes if we have time, Pavi.
Pavi: That would be a beautiful closing.
Owen: Right, so this is a setting of those blessings that my mother recorded with the monks in Glenstal Abbey and we've sung this all over the world. It is a wonderful way to ground us. And this I sing in gratitude to all, to Pavi and to Amit, and to all of the Awakin Circle of mystics and all you listeners out there.
Pavi: Owen, sorry, we have one more question before we go into our closing gratitude. This is a question we ask all our guests. What can we as the extended Awakin Call ServiceSpace community do to help further and support the work and the vision that you hold in our world?
Owen: To do nothing. [laughter] So much comes to mind, you know? It is just for me personally, as Shweta pointed out, it is this idea of connection and community. So very selfishly and very personally, it is the friendships. Just even next time I'm in the Bay Area to be able to meet up with you guys there. Something very simple like that. A very simple and real reaching out on a very small local level, that is my own personal desire.
And anything else than that is out of my hands really. So it is a very warm and shy invitation to hang out sometime.
Pavi: That is so resonant to what our approach would be. That is just beautiful. I think these shared cups of tea and little conversations. And, of course perfecting the art of doing nothing. We will all get on that. [laughter]
Thank you so much, Owen. There has just been a wealth of beautiful metaphor and imagery and story and insight that you have passed on to us today. And I can't get out of my head that image of the little boy in the church racing through to try and open every door and look behind every curtain. That spirit is alive in you. And inviting all of us on that journey of exploration and curiosity as well. That beautiful one line message that you had for the world: "The beauty and ferocity of your questioning is the measure of the world that awaits you." We will definitely be holding that beautiful wisdom in our hearts. We will close with your offering of the Beatitudes.
Owen: [singing] Amen, truly I say to you, gather in my name, I am with you.
Amen, truly I say to you, gather in my name, I am with you.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom in heaven is theirs.
Blessed are the gentle, they shall inherit the land.
Amen, truly I say to you, gather in my name, I am with you.
Blessed are those who mourn, they shall become souls.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, the justice of God shall be theirs.
Blessed are the merciful, mercy shall be shown onto them.
Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall behold their God.
Amen, truly I say to you, gather in my name, I am with you.
Blessed are those who bring peace, they shall be children of God.
Blessed are those who suffer in the cold of light, the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Amen, truly I say to you, gather in my name, I am with you.
Gather in my name, I am with you.
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