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the blues

what does it mean to practice egolessness? to get out of our own way so that we can be in right relationship with those around us? to open ourselves to the world and be liberated from harmful patterns that shut us down and divide us?

one of my teachers, jerry granelli recently drew on his experience and love for the blues to demonstrate. it is worth sharing.

for jerry, the blues is much more than a method that he can use to teach spiritual leadership. it’s in his blood, his soul. as he taught us, his embodiment of the music was magical and mysterious. he was giving us a part of himself.

nearly eighty years old, jerry is an experienced jazz percussionist and spoke of what it meant to be a white drummer taken under the wing of african american musicians during times when venues were segregated and times were different. and yet the same. he taught us of the history of the blues, drawing on the inspiration of the likes of louis jordan (who, according to jerry, introduced rap) and bb king, and marveled at the sheer genius of the form of blues–“a perfect cycle”, made up of 12 measures, 1,2,1,5,4,1. this form, from jerry’s perspective, has shaped the music of the world. for jerry, the blues is everything. and everything is the blues.

jerry. ghost ranch, new mexico. august 2019.

as jerry was careful to point out, the blues originated from slaves and their descendants–from those most oppressed. this form of expression has a lot to teach us about liberation and the source of power.

for example, the blues offers a clear and unwavering form that allows improv and beautiful musical expression. but here’s the kick: the expression is not about self-expression but expression in service to the music.

the truth was simple and yet beautifully complex: “freedom is in the form”.

over the course of a week, jerry taught our cohort the blues–and we learned, with a lot of discomfort. this was by design. we were forced out of our comfort zones to embody an expression that literally went against our ingrained patterns of domination. this process was disarming and painful–tears and rage were expressed more than once.

one day, we were directed to move from one point in the room to another point in the room in the span of a blues’ cycle. so, while the cohort sang the blues, i had to move from point A to point B, and touch point B on the exact end-beat. the group struggled as we grew distracted with witnessing each other’s performances; we screwed up–nearly every time–due to an interest in both “performing” and “witnessing”. i got a sense of how hard it is to hold true to form. to distant ourselves from our own self-interest. to be in service to the greater good. or service to the music.

dang, how hard this lesson was. the last evening, we sang the blues, collectively. each of us had created our own personal blues song. we sang these, while the rest of the cohort held the form, singing the background. at one point, one woman in our group began a very emotional piece and as the rest of us were drawn into her song.—distracted from our service to the greater thing—we let the form collapse. in that moment, we failed her. and ourselves. and the music.

“this is unforgiveable” jerry asserted. he went on, “it’s like we launched an astronaut into space and then moved earth–we just let her hang out there, all alone. we let her down and let our form collapse.” meanwhile, tears ran down the woman’s face.

from that moment on, during our collective blues song, i shut my eyes and tuned out my friends’ songs. as much as i selfishly wanted to hear their blues, i cared too much about failing them by failing the form. our liberation was in my holding the form. and i was going to do that. so, i focused all of my attention on the form itself. i was not going to let anyone else down. i took myself out of the equation. until it was my turn to sing my song.

i’m questioning the training/conditioning i’ve received about love and justice. the training has not always served me well–has not served the common good. what i’ve come to believe is love and justice can also be disguised as self-serving and ego-driven. even while well-intentioned. maybe especially when well-intentioned. at times, these tendencies are about me feeling good about myself and the best i can do for all of us is to stay focused on the form…

freedom is in the form. there is freedom in becoming nothing. in losing my self in the greater whole.

the question on my mind is how we determine what the form is…or how do we create a form that is healthy and whole and can hold us all? i’m interested in serving the music. i am an instrument and need to get out of my way so that the music can move through me.

i believe jerry and Spirit knew that this bunch of white women needed something to move us out of our heads and intellects and into our bodies and souls…and the blues were the key. right now, we are being called to serve not ourselves but the life force that connects all of us. it is a path that demands egolessness and learning to get out of our own way, to discover connection and right relationship. it is the path to liberation.

thank you, jerry.

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