Hope you have been safe and well during this challenging year. Hang in there, 2021 is almost here! Wanted to share my year-end greetings.
“Weep, grieve and mourn
The Death of Us, what we had and knew…”
These lyrics from the forthcoming album and single titled “The Death of Us” were extracted while I was reeling from heartache last year. My longtime co-writer Juan Lizarazo and I revived our musical project When Planets Align and worked with producers and musicians in Bogota and LA while facing pandemic delays, to create our most real portrayal yet of love and loss, arriving January 21, 2021.
Though I doubt whether the source of this art may ever hear the music. He and I haven’t spoken since our partnership unraveled in May 2019. Besides, my shaken little world would be just a ripple in retrospect. A more widespread despair would soon be crashing on every shore and household by early 2020. A collective mourning and loss of “what we had and knew…” has come to encompass grief so great and existential.
Over a million and a half people have perished since the outbreak of Covid-19 which started in China and spread rapidly worldwide. In fact, my mother, brother and I along with friends who joined for a wonderful New Year’s celebration in Vietnam a year ago – may have just missed the contagion as we returned in January before Asia started to lock down. The US has been hit the hardest as nearly 19 million have been infected and over 300,000 have died in less than a year, or grimly about 1 in 1,000 Americans. This has resulted in quarantines and work from home has become the new normal. With our lives upended, so many have suffered directly or indirectly as a result of the health, economic and other crises. I last saw students in person in mid-March and have taught business and marketing classes online since, including this semester at Cal State LA and next spring at Cal State Fullerton.
“Thank you professor. I really enjoyed your class. I hope that one day I can meet you in person and further discuss my career goals with you. It was really an honor to have you as a professor.” One of my students wrote in the online chat after taking the final exam on Zoom last week. It is rather inhibiting that I may never meet these students, or they their peers.
And now, during this grim winter the lockdowns have been reinstituted as the virus is raging again. Though, there is light at the end of this dark tunnel with the rollout of vaccines.
This has been a difficult and lonely year for many. Humans are inherently social creatures who like to gather and find comfort in our communities whether in teams and clubs, churches and temples, bars and theatres, weddings and funerals. The pandemic has undermined these bonds we have forged since birth as we risk harming each other through our instinctive behaviors like hugging and kissing. Now, that is the struggle and risk we are considering in every interaction with each other.
During what was seemed a respite from the rising infections in the summer, I took the first of eight Covid tests and traveled for a retreat in Sedona, Arizona, then tested again before flying to the east coast in the summer. I reconnected with friends and family in New York City, Washington DC and had a pleasant getaway in Provincetown before returning back West. Indeed, there were risks as people had to trust me and I had to trust those I encountered or sheltered with. It was a whirlwind of masked encounters, carefully screened dates, socially distanced birthday gatherings and viewing of the Fourth of July fireworks on the lawn of the National Mall in DC, while staying at least six feet apart from the sparse and jittery crowd.
I texted photos of the sparkling bursts next to the Washington Monument to some friends.
“Wow, I didn’t think fireworks were happening. They’ve been canceled here with Covid resurging,” my friend Christina back in LA responded.
“Illuminate the path, draw the mind back, It’s hidden in this moment, buried right where you’re at.” MC Yogi’s is heard singing during his virtual Vinyasa flow series.
He is a musician and teacher who mixes modern electronic music with ancient Sanskrit mantras. He happens to be my most listened to artist according to Spotify 2020 Wrapped as I’ve had his last album “Only Love is Real” on frequent rotation.
During his Monday evening meditations and Saturday morning sessions, I have followed other distant arms as they swoop up, breathing in and reaching towards the sky in mountain pose, or tadasana in Sanskrit. Then we swoop down, letting our heads hang heavy as we breathe out.
“Heaven is here, when the mind is clear” is heard in MC Yogi’s song “Heaven in Here” where he collaborated with Matisyahu, a singer who was raised in the Orthodox Jewish tradition and has challenged rigid religious norms in his expression of art.
“When you pull your minds back, there is much light on the other side,” he tells us as he guides us through the next asana or movement.
In February, I completed an extension of teacher training at CorePower Yoga. March 15 was the last time I was inside a yoga studio this year. Ever since, I’ve practiced at home and taught a few classes outdoors. I have also joined Zoom meditations led by MC Yogi, Lama Surya Das a renowned Tibetan lama of Jewish origin, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa an energetic Kundalini yogi in her late 70s and healer friends Christophe and Artie, among other spiritual guides.
By the end of the month and year, I will conclude a 40-day meditation known as Kirtan Kriya, one of the oldest meditation practices that repeats a Sanskrit mantra while pressing the thumb against each of the other fingers: Sa ta nam ma or “my true essence” based on the four concepts of birth, life, death and rebirth leading to consciousness.
Throughout the pandemic, I discovered solitary practice. And, I found answers within.
Central to those lessons was that there is much power in realizing the truth, and our true identity which shapes how we see and interact with the world. Without embracing what is real, we are prone to be sad, angry, fearful or swayed by the delusions of our harsh environment which has become more uncertain with an invisible virus. While being in the present, we have a stronger awareness in which to realize compassion, joy and how connected we are to everything around us.
And 2020 was certainly filled with disappointments for me, if not for most of us. The biggest event I have planned in years with my co-organizer Allie, a showcase that was to take place on March 20 at the Whole Foods Market headquarters in Austin, Texas during the SXSW festival and would have raised a significant amount for Whole Planet Foundation, was canceled along with nearly all live events and conferences since March. I tried to pivot to online events, but 2020 has been a challenging year on many fronts.
I also devoted a lot of effort as a volunteer for the Biden-Harris campaign and other candidates and made thousands of phone calls and texts to voters ages 18 to 97 in my Congressional district and to swing states. Even though my convictions felt the choice was as clear as night and day, many family and friends and over 70 million fellow Americans felt the opposite and were swayed by different facts and their own sense of truth. But, I am hopeful of the resilience of democracy despite the tremendous political and cultural fractures in recent years which have divided rather than united one country and millions of households. Maybe they or I were misguided, and history will be the ultimate judge.
“Death is not as final as we think; energetically, it’s a transformation.” My longtime friend Christophe explained.
He spent several weeks at my home upon relocating from Mexico City to LA this fall to pursue his True North. “In fact, I felt like I died in the Utah desert during our retreat last fall.”
For Christophe, his recent move to LA is a recalibration and staying true to his path. Actually, it was in Moab, Utah last fall when I last saw and wished upon a shooting star as I was seeking guidance on my own journey. And on the evening of the Great Conjunction on December 21, when the planets Jupiter and Saturn aligned in such a close observable orbit which last happened almost 800 years ago in 1226 – I joined a Zoom meditation led by Christophe and a notable astrologer.
“We are on a precipice of rebirth…akin to the last Great Conjunction in the 1200s when the Dark Ages preceded the Renaissance,” the astrologer explained.
With this cosmic occurrence, it seemed ideal timing for When Planets Align to reemerge. The last time we released an album under this name was in 2012 with “The Universe in Me.” Perhaps with our latest effort, these personal stories will have universal appeal or touch an empathetic soul.
Even though our new record is titled “The Death of Us” – it is not meant to depress the listener with grief and sadness, but also encourage restoration through letting go and rebirth.
“Truths went unspoken, though wounded not broken
Sign, proof or token, sum of parts, we’ve awoken” (from the song “Redemption”)
Akin to our individual and common grief and mourning over “what we had and knew” – we can only hope this pandemic pause has resulted in greater self-reflection on our fragile mortality and intended purpose. In doing so, may it lead us away from external delusion and utter despair – and closer towards our inner truth and pure consciousness.
Sa ta na ma (“truth is my/your name”)
May we find power in truth, even if the consequence is the end of the life we used to know. Stay safe, be transformed and true to yourself.
PS – Here is a video montage of songs from “The Death of Us” composed by Juan Lizarazo and myself, featuring singers Boogiewhip, Diego Garcia, Shalini Varghese and Gabe Kubanda. Produced by Federico Perez and Sergio Martinez in Bogota with support from Joshua Cutsinger in LA.
Preview of songs and link to where you can get an advance copy of the record:
We greatly appreciate if you would follow/like our accounts @wpamusic on Instagram or When Planets Align on Facebook or Spotify (cover art attached).
We also recruited 20 student interns to help with the album rollout and projects, and contributions to the campaign will fund these promotional efforts. It will help me offer our interns perks like gift cards for their hard work. Very grateful for your friendship and support!