Singer and songwriter, artist and teacher, mother and activist, Alanis Morissette is used to bridging different worlds. She recently returned from co-teaching a weeklong workshop at Esalen, entitled Hurtling toward Wholeness, and shared her thoughts on what it means to explore and deepen your connection with self, spirit, and other.
eNews: How did your workshop concept come about? And is there any hope for those of us who may not want to hurtle – but more like slowly glide – into wholeness?
[Laughs] No pressure on the hurtling. In fact, personally, I usually make my quantum leaps when my pace is very slow and mindful and body-led. For me the idea of wholeness takes into account the three relationships: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and suprapersonal. In other words, self with self, self with other, and self with god (also nature). This takes into account our interiority, cultivating our connection (or healing rifts in the connection) within all our delicately nuanced relationships, and with spirit, and our personal practice. It also takes into account our relationship with the earth. If I am to lead anything, it would be fueled around supporting the functionalization of these relationships, creating harmony or healing within them.
Doing this in the context of a group is incredible because we can take whatever is taught via a “lecture” type of teaching (or theoretical) and turn it into an experiential/embodied one with the group we are with. It allows for the academic, the artistic, the cosmic, the scientific, the physical, the neurobiological, ALL PARTS…and grace comes in and lets us know which part of the teaching is most resonant, which part of the teaching touches us the most, based on what itch most needs scratching, or which element of our life needs the most attention.
It is why I loved teaching with Ann [Randolph] and Justin [Hilton] and Andrea [Juhan]. If my style didn’t move someone, they had three other avenues to traverse down. Styles of learning, applying learning, and temperaments were honored in our time together which warms my heart. I feel that we modeled, as teachers, how much we need each other and that not only is there no shame in that, but that it is a very modern and deeply considerate way of operating in our day-to-day lives. Leaning on each other is not only ok, it is part of why we were born.
eNews: How do you define wholeness? Is there ever a moment when we feel whole or is it a continuing process/state of being?
For me, life is a process of expansion, evolution, healing, and ultimately, a RETURNING to the awareness of a pre-existing wholeness. But hurtling feels like what is happening often, as well. Wholeness, as an EXPERIENCE, is like the center point on a seesaw. Yes we can touch into this sense of wholeness (and some of us can do it relatively abidingly) but rarely do I, personally, stay there for too long. There is usually something that begs for my attention, begs for course correction, begs for allowing room for my fallibility and humanity, which, not incidentally, is all part of this wholeness conversation.
For me the wholeness journey is all about the process of being human—about calling back parts of myself that were lost or hidden or denied or calling forth parts that are latent. It is a process of defining “self” and taking relationships up on their ability to heal us. I also think of the quote by TS Eliot when I think about wholeness: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
So perhaps this “hurtling toward wholeness” is arriving at a place where we ever so gradually, and sometimes instantaneously KNOW what has been here all along. That’s why I like putting a verb near the word “wholeness” because it is a moving process. Moving us away from and back into the felt sense of wholeness, or home.
eNews: Most people identify you as a singer and songwriter. When did you first begin teaching? Can you share what that experience has been like for you?
I quickly saw (based on letters people would write to me or people coming up to me before or after shows) that they were responding to so much more than just my music or the zeitgeist aspect of my fame. I would share my psychological and spiritual and often academic views in interviews. And while often it would be edited out to make space for my answer to “Are you close with Madonna?” there would be some journalists who would offer me the floor to go off.
And I could tell that what I was sharing—from personal experience and my “secret” ongoing education and nurturing of these many less public parts of myself—was resonating beyond just the songs. It was as if there were parallel universes: one had me the rock star; one had me the spiritual teacher; one had me the academic; one had me the artiste. In the 90s there was less integration…so it seemed as though I was “asked to pick one”. I picked music. But the comedienne and the scholar and the prose writer and the designer, etc., were kept alive, but much more off the radar.
Now, in this exciting era of integration, it is much more acceptable to be a renaissance human…to have MANY aspects shared. Whereas it was an anomaly for Bo Jackson to excel in both football and baseball now the world is an oyster for those of us who feel passionate and have gifts that bring us into many different fields throughout our lifetime. Mine personally always dwell around what I wrote above: the relationship with self, god, and other, including the earth. And always, always expression. Art.
eNews: You have had a long-standing relationship with Esalen for two decades. How did it begin and how has it evolved?
I ran to Esalen to escape the wild, over-stimulation of fame. In the middle of my tour for Jagged Little Pill, in the mid-90s, I went up to Esalen to fall down, to recharge. I fell deeply in love with the vortex of Esalen and Big Sur itself. It was everything I loved…psycho-spiritually oriented with an embodiment orientation long before it became “hip”, a rich history of beatnik writers, a profound relationship with the earth…and a deep grace sitting on the edge of the Pacific.
I have had so many healing moments at Esalen. Some in workshops, some in the baths, some when I was there on personal retreat. All of them rich and moving and balm-like. To come back in the context of teaching a five-day workshop experience was an honor. And I had an incredible experience with Ann and Justin and Andrea.
eNews: In your song “Big Sur” you sing that all roads lead to Big Sur. What does this area mean to you? How does it inspire you as an artist? A teacher? A mom?
Big Sur represents the convergence of all things I love: breathtaking nature, food, community, healing, growth, bravery, art, leading-edge learning/teachings…body, mind, soul is all taken into account. Its landscape is a touchstone for me, a return home. Something about how the ocean is fierce and gentle, at the same time and how the breeze, while warm, has a crisp cool flick at the end.
If I were an animal, I would be an animal whose habitat is Big Sur’s habitat. As an artist, I feel that there were so many brave writers who were there before me. As a teacher I am inspired by all the teachers who taught there, certainly, but also what was BORN there. Gabrielle Roth. Fritz Perls. So much of what Chris Price and Dorothy Charles have been doing there for decades moves me in the most touching way…probably because their teachings include all the aspects of what I care so deeply about: relationships with self, god, other, the earth, art.
As a mom, I see the Gazebo Park School and what goes on there and my dream was always to have a child who would be an “Esalen kid”. By that I mean comfortable in their bodies, in their aliveness, their energy, their innate beauty and wholeness…their giggles on the lawn. Being at Esalen to teach, and having my family and friends and their kids with them, allowed this long-held dream of mine to come true.
eNews: With all that you are involved with, how do you stay present and mindful?
I don't. ☺ As best as I can, when I disassociate or “jump out” as I call it, I attempt not to beat myself up for it. As best as I can I attempt to be responsible for my temperament, my passions, my values, and my mission. And when I fall off the rails…I often want to make it an opportunity for a tenderness toward my humanity, my imperfect perfection. If there are consequences to my not being mindful (sprained ankle, offending someone, creating conflict, etc.), I do what I can to correct it, to repair it. I think a nice dose of healthy shame is a sweet way to kneel before life, ideally not turning it into a misappropriated and big shame spiral all the way down.
When there is silence and solitude, or if I am doing one thing at a time, mindfulness comes very easily. The first indication that I am about to “jump out of my body ” is that I am holding my breath. So, as often as I can, I notice my breath. Or if the pace I am operating at is too fast, I attempt to slow down to my REAL pace, as opposed to the one that is being imposed on me from my own self or from outside circumstances.
And if there is nothing I can do, I reflect on it later…and see how I might do it differently next time. One foot in front of the other.
To read more about Alanis at Esalen, visit her blog at http://alanis.com/blog/teaching-at-esalen/. For more Alanis, listen to her podcast, Conversation with Alanis Morissette at http://www.alanis.com.