For Those About to Rock, Rock the F*ck on & Still Be Spiritual.

Via on Oct 19, 2012

Through the repetition of certain actions, or in this case musical actions, it’s like you’re summoning something, or creating an openness that allows your mind to let go of your very conscious, rational forebrain and peek into something deeper and wider.

~ Aaron Turner (Isis)

My love of heavy music, metal, punk and particularly hardcore has earned me frowns on more than one occasion from veteran practitioners of various faiths.

I mean, it’s not like I roll into a sangha parking lot blasting Ride The Lightning or anything (and in case you didn’t know, Ride The Lightning is an old Metallica album from when they were still good), but sure, I’ll rock a band T-shirt to meditation.

I guess it shouldn’t totally shock me that having band names such as, Deadguy, Slayer, Bloodlet and Mastodon blaring across my chest as I walk into such holy and sacred spaces earn me perplexed, or even disapproving looks. But really, why the fuck should anyone care? I don’t go out of my way to wear shirts that will catch people’s attention just as much as I don’t go out of my way to change what I wear so I don’t. I just have a hard time imagining walking into a room to meditate with Christ Jesus, Buddha or Krishna and then getting dirty looks because of what I’m wearing.

Inevitably, between the shirts I wear and the amount of tattoos I have, someone typically strikes up a conversation with me that usually leads to music and I make no qualms about what I listen to. From metal to underground hip hop, jazz, shoegaze, ambient, doom… if it resonates with me, it resonates with me and I honestly couldn’t care less about what others think.

But for whatever reason, it always seems that metal is what gets the peaceful children of love and light into a tizzy.

Yours Truly. Photo: Breeze Floyd

What I don’t understand is that I’m not forcing anyone else to listen to it. It’s not harming others. It’s not affecting my personal mediation practice or any other formal spiritual practices I do, like prayer and mantra, so really, who cares, and why should they?

Of course there have been unfortunate events in the world of metal. There was the ’80s incident involving John McCollum who took his life listening to Ozzy Osbourne’s Suicide Solution. There was also the even more infamous suicide pack of 18-year-old Raymond Belknap and 20-year-old James Vance who shot themselves in the head while intoxicated and listening to Judas Priest’s Stained Glass album.

Marilyn Manson, who I can’t stand personally, was held almost as accountable as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two gunman of the Columbine High School shooting tragedy, merely because they were fans of his music.

Serial killer Richard Ramirez cited AC/DC’s Night Prowler as the inspiration behind his murder spree in the ’80s, and even the Beatles’, yes, The Beatles’ White Album was said by Charles Manson to be the driving force behind the Manson Family Murders.

So where do we draw the line?

When Elvis thrust his pelvis sexually, was that evil personified too? How about Chuck Berry, a Black man rocking the guitar the way he did, was that the sign of end times to come? In those eras, some people saw it as such, and in that very same completely outlandish fashion, many people today view heavy music in relation to spirituality in a similar light.

Someone actually wrote to me after one of my previous Elephant Journal articles in which I talked a little about punk/hardcore music influencing me. This particular person told me how refreshing it was for her to hear that. She went on to say that when her spiritual friends came over, she hides her heavier rock CD’s because they give her a hard time about having them and she just doesn’t feel like dealing with that anymore.

My first recollection of heavier music that had an impact on me was ambient drone bands like, Neurosis and Isis. I found I would lose myself in a meditative state as their riffs went on and on in an almost pulsating way, a way that anchored me in to a place where it was just the huge fucking riffs and hypnotizing drum rhythms and nothing else.

I wasn’t really into spirituality back then, but I definitely remember those experiences clear as day because they were unlike anything I’d experienced before. I was fortunate enough to interview Isis frontman Aaron Turner shortly after the bands breakup in 2010. I’d heard that Aaron had an interest in spirituality and was curious as to what that looked like for someone in his position, the frontman for an iconic underground band that had the amazing fortune of touring with Tool for 22 shows in 2006, and how it related to playing music in Isis. In response Aaron said:

I guess the closest thing I could say about my idea of spirituality and how that plays into Isis is that Isis is an outlet of expression for me. It’s a way to explore things inside myself and make sense of those things as they relate to the world around me. It was also a way for me to tap into an energy, and state of consciousness, which was not accessible to me in most other areas of my life.  It allowed me, at times anyway, to reach a sort of level of transcendence, and I feel that’s a very spiritual thing.

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A state of transcendence, like the same state of transcendence often talked about happening in a kirtan setting? Yup, abso-fucking-lutely, and I speak from personal experience in both. I’ve been taken to that transcendent place chanting to God along with Krishna Das, just as I have been sitting with Isis’ ambient riffs. They are two sides of the same coin as far as I’m concerned. Knowing that most spiritual types wouldn’t buy that however, I asked Aaron to elaborate on the relationship between Isis’ music and meditative states.

Well I think there are certain aspects of our music that are very meditative. Some of what I found interesting about doing Isis was the sort of meditative and ritualistic aspects of it. I think there is something about this type of music that maybe lends itself to personal and spiritual experiences. The songs are long and very often have some underlying droney element, which allows the listener’s consciousness to stretch out rather than just being completely bombarded throughout the song or album, especially with the earlier material, which was really repetitive.

There was an element that I thought, rather than being monotonous, was sort of hypnotic. These are things which share some common ground with certain religious practices, like the idea of a repetitive cyclic mantra and certain religious music which is sort of based in a drone oriented approach. Also, through the repetition of certain actions, or in this case musical actions, it’s like you’re summoning something, or creating an openness that allows your mind to let go of your very conscious, rational forebrain and peek into something deeper and wider. Hopefully, in some way or another, this will connect you with the world around you, and perhaps other people who are sharing in that experience.

Both of those paragraphs hit the nail on the head exactly, but I’d like to point out one particular line again for you, “creating an openness that allows your mind to let go of your very conscious, rational forebrain and peek into something deeper and wider.” Again, “creating an openness that allows your mind to let go of your very conscious, rational forebrain and peek into something deeper and wider.”

Isn’t that the thesis of true, deep spiritual aspirations, to cultivate and reach that place? I find it exciting to see more and more younger folks attending meditation groups of various spiritual traditions and often times, I’ll see them rocking an Isis or Neurosis hoodie. I was recently talking to my girlfriend Jenn, a fellow heavy music lover, and meditator, about how cool it is to be able to find the sacred in places that are so often overlooked. She made some super great points I wanted to share here as well.

Photo: Grosso

It is totally awesome to find union with the sacred in the overlooked and unexpected places of our daily lives, and for me, heavy metal music definitely fits that bill. Ever since I discovered metal around the age of 11, it has been a medium for me to lose myself in. The heaviest of riffs, pounding of drums, and deepest of death growls, there’s always been an inner calm brought on by the droning chaos. Interestingly, most of it very similar to that state of transcendence I have experienced while repetitively chanting during kirtan, or with aboriginal drumming during a sweat lodge or drumming circle. The concept is all the same, isn’t it? A repetitive and rhythmic beat (or chant), beckoning an altered state of being.

A quieting of the mind that allows the soul to expand with a feeling of peace soon washing over you. There are so many vehicles that allow for the transportation of self, which ultimately generates a spiritual experience, so why not through heavy metal? For so many, myself included, this genre of music acts very much as a catharsis. Soothing tumultuous feelings and helping to sort through our daily experiences in these bodies. It assists us to expose the dark and sometimes hidden aspects of ourselves, often facilitating a new perspective. Isn’t this what meditation generates as well, an opportunity to look inwards and create that space for transformation? Heavy metal music, bad reputation or not, has definitely been a valuable tool on my spiritual journey.

So music—heavy, soft and everything in between, can be wonderful catalysts for spiritual experiences.

As I said earlier, if it resonates with me, then I’m gonna go with it, and if it doesn’t, on to something else. I think there’s better things to spend my time on then judging someone else for whatever they listen too, and I’m definitely not going to judge their spiritual character based on it!

In the interest of full disclosure, sometimes I put on old thrash metal just to rock the fuck out and for nothing more… I don’t feel I have to be in a rigid, holy state of being 24/7 so I honor that. If that’s someone else’s cup of tea, I’m happy to honor that for them, but in return, I ask for the same common courtesy… please.

Here’s a video of the amazing Hardcore band 108 who is also… wait for it… wait for it… Krishna Conscious! These weirdos play heavy music and sing praises to the Divine. Crazy, I know. And in case you didn’t catch it, that was definitely sarcasm right there.

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Editor: Brianna Bemel

 

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About Chris Grosso

Chris Grosso is an independent culturist, freelance writer, spiritual aspirant, recovering addict, and musician. He serves as spiritual director of the interfaith center The Sanctuary at Shepardfields and created the popular hub for all things alternative, independent, and spiritual with TheIndieSpiritualist.com. Chris continues the exploration with his bestselling book titled Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Atria Books/Simon & Schuster). A self-taught musician, Chris has been writing, recording, and touring since the mid-1990s. Follow Chris on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

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38 Responses to “For Those About to Rock, Rock the F*ck on & Still Be Spiritual.”

  1. Brianna says:

    You just made me feel so much better about the kinds of music I listen to sometimes! Thanks!

  2. Love this. I feel like so often people pay lip service to the idea that there is sacredness in everything but then, in actuality, they place a lot of restrictions on what can and can't be "spiritual." Music affects me spiritually more than nearly anything else…but it doesn't have to be "spiritual" music to do that, and it usually isn't.

  3. Angela Diaz says:

    I was just talking to someone yesterday about how much I love my morning commute because I get to listen to whatever music I want/need at that moment, as loud as I want, Sing along etc.
    No one can argue with me, pick on me for my choices, ask me to change it, turn it down. It's a very important part of my day and yes, very spiritual for me! Loved this, thanks! :)

  4. Shan Ahmadi says:

    Thanks alot for posting this article about heavy music and meditation. I’ve seen Neurosis several times as well as Isis and Today is the Day (and countless other heavy, droney bands). Those bands actually had soul-searching/stirring lyrics with a strong backbeat and crushing guitar riffs. I definitely remembered feeling closer to my true Self during those moments listening to Through Silver in Blood (Nuerosis album) as I did attending a Jai Uttal concert. The feeling is the same-stripping away of the outer-physical and mental layers until you’re at the center of your being/essence.

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Shan, yes exactly! I was fortunate to record with Steve Austin (Today Is The Day) in two of my previous bands. He's a super rad guy. And Through Silver In Blood will forever be in my top 10 greatest albums of all times! I have 2 Neurosis tattoos as a matter of fact!

      And regarding what you said about the music itself… exactly. We are one in the same my friend. Bows.

      • Shan Ahmadi says:

        So glad finding a kindred spirit in this “yoga” journal. Neurosis gigs were always so intense! It felt as if you were on something even if you weren’t. I remember seeing them during Word as Law tour and their dreads were always up in the air, pounding the mess out of their instruments. Lately, I had the same experience with a local band Destroy Judas (members of Mindrot,Eyes of Fire,Phobia,etc). They had a strobing projector visual show which was hypnotizing and their music was heavy yet etherial. Yoga and metal-what a combo!

  5. Timmy_Robins says:

    Maybe they think you've got the 'vibrational' coodies and that you caught them from listening hardcore and punk , no?
    :D ))))

  6. Gary S says:

    You had me at Deadguy!

  7. Dave says:

    Dude, thank you so much for this article. I have felt so like nobody understood when I cried with joy from the spiritual cold chills at a metal concert. This summer has been a big time for some of the classics to tour and I have felt just as moved on the front row of a Def Leppard show or at Iron Maiden as I feel during the deepest meditation or chanting at Kiirtin. For me, at least, the chemicals that get released in my brain are very, very similar. Rock on, and Namaskar!

  8. iambethanne says:

    Chris, I really love this article and actually I think I read all of your articles on EJ and enjoy your writing immensely. I do read most of the spirituality and love articles on EJ, mostly because I am hoping to learn to love myself more. I love your writing because I love your non cookie-cutter take on things. And today I really love your 3 tips by the way, especially no. 1. Which leads me to comment about the sex articles on EJ. Often great advice for people that are in super loving committed relationships. Wouldn't we all love that? It's not happening in my life at the moment, so reading those articles just kind of leaves me having a mini pity party, table for 1! so I've just been skipping them lately. Carry on! Can't wait to read your book!

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Thank you so much for you kind words and checking out more than just this article from me. I really appreciate it and love everything you said in your comment. The mini pity party, yup… I accept invites there sometimes too. You're not alone my friend ;) Be well.

  9. Shay Dewey shaydewey says:

    Love punk and hardcore music, music is such a part of how I identify with the world, can't imagine how my life would be without it.

    Love 108 too.

  10. Vanessa says:

    Some of us are more in touch with our shadow self than others. We don't deny it, we love and accept the darkness within each of us as it joins the light and makes us whole and fully formed human beings. The music expresses the feelings we have been forced to hide or push down. Those who judge are not as enlightened as they purport to be and may have fear of their own hidden darkness. I yoga-out to NIN and Tool on occasion and pan pipes actually make me feel homicidal lol. Life is not all bunny rabbits and rainbows and to become a person who is in touch with all of life, we sometimes need to go into the darkness. Those musicians, writers, painters and poets who have been there before me. faced the abyss and have come out the other side always give me hope. If someone judges me for loving metal and horror movies that is their problem and nothing to do with me :)

  11. dub_xion says:

    I enjoyed your previous punk article (forwarded to a friend trying to resurrect Mute on the Floor mag), and this one as well. I think there's such a honesty to metal/punk/hip hop of the nature of this life that "mystical" music tries to transcend. Whatever. You're in this shit, don't turn your nose up at it, that's just turning your back on your own desires and energies you pretentiously try to deny.

  12. Katherine says:

    *Everything* is sacred. It is our job to open our hearts to experience it for what it is, not what we think it is. Obviously, some things are a greater challenge for us than others. Everyone has their own challenges.

    What you resonate to is not your challenge, that is your compass. Your challenge is that which you see as unspiritual, such as judging people.

    Therefore, see what others judge you for as their challenge. Let them experience their own lessons.

  13. Chris Grosso says:

    "*Everything* is sacred." Thank you Katherine. Exactly.

  14. Edward Staskus says:

    That was an interesting video, and helped me understand your well-written post-modernist thesis. I am not sure I agree with your deconstruction of the genre, but, that's just me. (BTW, even though I don't listen to it much – I prefer the heavy metal of The Ring Cycle – I did listen to an hour of Judas Priest recently in my car, and I did think it was pretty good.) I agree there are many paths to the same end.

  15. outlayers says:

    Hello again Chris. I just noticed that i have read two of your articles without noticing you were the author. I truly enjoy your writing AND it resonates with me. I was so happy to see you write this. I am a classically trained music lover and by that i mean i grew up playing Bach on the piano and listening to Tchaikovski on a side. Also lots of Russian rock and Queen were in my life. I consider myself a spiritual person and i love System of a Down, and TOOL and Texas in July. I also enjoy Bon Iver and Chants of Tibetian Monks. I am surprised by people now who are in a "spiritual community" and are judgmental with these choices. Isn't there a balance that is created with this diversity? Internal and external? How can you have light without the dark and black without white? and consonance without dissonance? If we are all in the search true self how can you not have your guiding extremes to mediate the road ahead?
    In regards to moksha from metal. Abso-f*kinglutely:) There is an emotional and physical release that inevitably comes with the invasive sounds of metal that resonate through the body. I love it. I crave it and when i feel the dissonance inside me, be it because i am asking the "eternal" questions, or just had an argument with my father, this music provides a balance, a freedom feel, be in the rhythm, love the base and strings and swim in the sound so deep that my bones rattle.
    Thank you again for your article. Hit the spot.

    • Chris Grosso says:

      I'm really glad you were able to connect with the article, and it's cool you've read some of my other stuff too! My musical tastes are very eclectic just as yours are. And wow, I'm jealous of your upbringing on the piano learning Bach & Tchaikovski! That's awesome. And that's part of the point too, I love classical music, and Tibetan Monk Chanting, Jazz, Folk and yes, metal… it all serves it's purpose in my day to day life, but that's just for me, you know? I'm not trying to convert anyone to listen to heavy music but rather, simply ask them to re-evaluate their "holier than thou" viewpoint that it's okay for them to judge me. Anywho, thanks much for your comment!!!

      • outlayers says:

        Thank you Chris! Funny enough i wrote a tiny little blog on it probably while you were writing your brilliant one. It doesn't go as deep, but i was talking about music and discovery and depth too! If you are interested http://thetexastimesbynellya.blogspot.com/ I started this when moved to Texas for now…just so i keep my experiences authentic and alive:) Keep writing, i will be on the look out for your stuff for sure. I bet i will be able to recognize it by the title and "feel" . Thank you for your written word! Yeah, and Bukovski definitely rules!

  16. Alan Bell says:

    Hi Chris.
    A real interesting article. It defo makes me ok with the music I listen to now, Old school Metallica, Disturbed, Rammstein, the list goes on. I have always felt that sort of music stirred something deep within me. I'm off to look for some Neurosis and Isis now to see what they are like.
    Again, cheers for another interesting article full of points of identification.

    Peace out,
    Al.

    • Chris Grosso says:

      Thanks Al. Very glad you dug it. Neurosis & Isis is a completely different beast than the bands you mentioned but I personally think they're amazing in their way. Two of my favorite bands actually. Very deep stuff. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it!

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