Car Crashes, Concerts, Connections

It has been an utter whirlwind of events, excitement, and accidents! I can’t even begin to process the (ofttimes blissful) mayhem that has occurred over the last two weeks.

We headed out to attend CalderaFest, a wondrous, magical Pagan Music Festival (appropriately nicknamed the Pagan Woodstock by some), and it was much more than I could have ever imagined! So many wonderful musicians and bands, many of them favorites of mine for the last 6 years.

But amidst the excitement, this happened:

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Yep, we totaled our car. But luckily everything worked out, and the witnesses of the wreck turned out not only to be festival goers and amazing people who helped us out a lot, but also members of International Pagan Radio. It wasn’t long before our conversation went from car insurance and cops to pagan music. And now my music is on IPR for everyone to enjoy!

IPR Welome banner

Our day went from festival excitement to car crashes, back to festival excitement (though we sadly missed the much anticipated set from Mama Gina, with whom I’m performing in October at a house concert here in Kansas City!)

And to top it all off, on our way home I was invited to play at the Three Gates Gathering, where Rowena of the Glen, a CalderaFest performer, will also perform! I’m very excited for this opportunity, as I’m still riding on the festival energy from CalderaFest, and it’s sure to be an amazing experience.

So yeah, it’s been a wild few weeks here, but overall it’s been fantastic!

 

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Rambling Bran: Right Speech and Politics

RIGHT SPEECH AND POLITICS

You’ve seen it plenty of times, I’m sure: A meme, an article, a post attacking a politician, and since we’re knee deep in the political season, it’s running rampant. Whether it be Trump, Sanders, Clinton, or Cruz, these personal attacks are everywhere.

So what? you may ask. It happens every time there’s anything of significance within politics, you might point out. True enough, but we have to ask ourselves: What benefit do we lend when we spread gossip or slander or curse at an opposing politician?

We all can get political. We all rally behind our politicians of choice, and that’s perfectly fine. That’s what we’re kind of supposed to do. But the mistake comes when we harbor resentment for another politician, when we cherish that resentment more than we do our own support for whomever we’ve designated as the chosen one.

I’ve been thinking recently on the third aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Right Speech. If you’re familiar with the Eightfold Path, you might know that Right Speech discourages lying, slandering, gossip, and harsh speech. Basically, refrain from anything that will cause discord among our fellow human beings.

Then I recalled an anecdote that Joseph Goldstein told on the topic of Right Speech. In this book Transforming the Mind, Healing the World he describes an experiment he conducted when practicing being mindful of his speech. What he did doesn’t seem all that hard at first, but when you conduct it yourself you find how just radical it really is.

He took up the task of not saying anything about anyone to whom he wasn’t talking. He wouldn’t say anything about anyone not present. Nothing good, nothing bad. And you know what happened? 90% of his speech vanished. He said “As I stopped speaking in this way, I found that one way or another a lot of my speech had been a judgment about somebody else.”

This idea made me think about the political atmosphere, and why we get involved in politics in the first place. And I think for the most part it’s because we want change. We have these ideas about what will make the world a better place. We have opinions on issues, policies, ideologies, and actions that could be taken to change things.

Our mistake comes when we begin to mistake those issues, policies, and ideologies for the politician promising to put into effect what we want. It somehow anthropomorphizes our desires and dreams and opinions, and where we can visualize our political deity, we will begin to visualize their antithesis—usually in the form of an opposing politician.

Then begins the mudslinging. We start hating the other politicians, we resent them, we wish them to drop dead, we make personal death wishes upon them. We stir the pot of ill will and discontent. Soon, the pot begins to boil over and we forget about our wish for positive change.

Our focus in the political race morphs into putting the other politicians down, trying to slander them into obscurity, slap an ugly mask on them. We completely lose focus on the real issues: changing the world—or at least the white house—for the better.

We can support ideas, issues, policies. Heck, we can even support the politicians who support our own ideas. But maybe we should reduce the shouting of names—whether it be for good or for bad—and start sharing our own ideas. Then, when we’ve collected our senses and decided what we truly do believe is the best for our politics, we can investigate which politician upholds our own views. Then, check the box with their name next to it.

It would work in a perfect world, sure, but we will continue to hear and see the vitriol from the opposing sides—and heck, the same side, too. What do we do then? Abandon this whole idea of this radical Right Speech experiment? No. We respond with kindness, patience, and a willingness to not always be right. Heck, maybe we should respond with silence.

Long story short, I can’t imagine that pointing fingers and slinging mud can help much. Especially if you’re deluded into thinking that slandering and cursing one politician will change anyone’s mind…that’s just never going to happen.

When someone shouted “F***ing Socialist!” at me the other day for my political bumper sticker, did I think “Oh, he has a point…”? Of course not. He probably wasn’t aware of how unhelpful his anger-fueled verbal attack was in the first place, and that’s the same with the vast majority of political attacks.

Again, ask yourself what benefit does it have to slander/curse another politician? Especially when it’s fueled by anger.

There’s that pesky saying of mine again: We Can’t Hold Hands when We’re Pointing Fingers.

Peace, (and I mean that)

Bran

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Bit By the Bardic Bug: Musings on Gulf Coast Gathering

This past week I had the great fortune to attend the second annual Gulf Coast Gathering of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids down in Louisiana.

At this point I’m not sure what to say about it other than I had an amazing time. The Gulf Coast Gathering (GCG) is such an amazing time with some really cool people that shortly become friends and family. There’s a level of connection that comes with such a gathering, and OBODies are really some of the coolest people I’ve known.

Our days were filled with scheduled workshops and talks and panel discussions and rituals, as well as the more naturey bits like visiting the Seven Sister Oak, a 1500 year old live oak, and a nature walk through the wilderness of Louisiana. But the best parts come in between those scheduled events, in my opinion, and some of my favorite memories come from impromptu, unplanned things (like when the kids virtually cornered me and begged me to play my song Badger in the Bag).

When there’s down time you’ll find people sitting around each other deep in discussion, and this is where the magic happens. You get to know these strangers that have come from across the United States—and beyond—to fellowship with their fellow Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Like I said before, they become family, and it’s always really hard to say goodbye when the weekend comes to an end.

But I always leave with a renewed sense of inspiration. When I left last year’s GCG I bubbled with the Awen as I prepared my first album Four Branches, and when I left last years East Coast Gathering in September, I sat down and started working on my upcoming album The Hour Before the Dawn (which comes out in less than two weeks!).

So coming back from this years GCG I’m once again bubbling with a cauldron full of Awen, and I almost don’t know what to do with it. But I said almost. I know what I’m going to do with it, and what I’m already doing with it, but I’ll wait a bit later this year to tell you! (spoilers!)

But leaving GCG I also learned a lot about myself, thanks to the inspiration, motivation, and words of wisdom of some of my closest GCG family. It’s hard to transition back into the “mundane” world, but sometimes you can take a step back and realize that you’re not stuck in a mundane world: the “magical” and “mundane” are one in the same. It’s your perspective that  makes it so, much like the Buddhist idea of samsara and nirvana. They’re the same, it’s just how you view them that makes them what they are.

So no, I’m not plunging back into the beige meh of mundanity. I’m stepping into a world full of lessons and teachers, of insights and inspirations. Sometimes they might look like hardships and things you’d rather not deal with, but really in the end they’re the flames that temper your “soul,” whatever that might mean to you.

For now, I’ll pick up my guitar and see where it takes me. As always I’m really excited with what I have on my plate Awen-wise, and I won’t let the everyday world discourage me.

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Pagan-Musings Podcast Interview

This past Sunday I had the great fortune to be on the Pagan-Musings Podcast to talk about my new album The Hour Before the Dawn as well as pagan music in general and to catch up with RevKess and KaliSara.

You can listen and/or download the show if you missed its live broadcast!

It’s always a pleasure to be on their show, and at times I had to remind myself I wasn’t just listening this time! It’s one of my favorite podcasts to listen to, and they always have something interesting to share with the listeners!

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We Can’t Hold Hands When We’re Pointing Fingers

WECANT

You can purchase this bumper sticker!

For the last 5 or 6 years, my personal life motto has been “We Can’t Hold Hands When We’re Pointing Fingers,” and (despite the several silly attempts by people who literally try holding hands when pointing fingers) I think it’s an important thing to realize.

We can spout off about peace and about getting along and about tolerance and coexistence, but until we realize that the problem doesn’t just lie outside of ourselves–it’s actually within us, for the most part–it won’t really change. We need to realize that we can and do create this discord on a daily basis when we gossip, when we talk about someone behind each other’s backs, when we blame something on someone.

Blame. You might feel like it’s productive, that it makes a difference–and it does make a difference, but not a very productive one. It changes your mindset to make you believe that the problem lies within the other person.

And we see this mentality thrive like a cancer through society. “Well, everything’s messed up because of them!” or “It would all be better if it weren’t for them.” Even just “Ugh, why do they have to be here?”

I was reading Pema Chodron’s Practicing Peace in Times of War, and something she said really hit it on the head. “…as long as we justify our own hard-heartedness and our own self-righteousness, joy and peace will always elude us. We point our fingers at the wrongdoers, but we ourselves are mirror images; everyone is outraged at everyone else’s wrongness.” (Chodron, Practicing Peace in Times of War p.27)

So what do we do? What can we do with this information, this idea of letting that pointing finger fall open into an open hand?

We first work on ourselves. Conflict starts with ourselves. Your reaction to an adverse situation gets the ball of intolerance and hate rolling. Once you open your mouth and spew a mindless, negative word in the direction of someone to which you are opposed, the lines are drawn.

First, patience. When we feel the urge to react, don’t…at least not immediately. This can be a very difficult thing to do, but when you do it and sit with that anger and fear and aggression, not reacting on its behalf can be magical.

There’s no easy antidote to intolerance and its many manifestations, and I don’t have all the answers, but pointing those fingers and blaming others for the problems of the world won’t help.

On a lighter note, you can purchase a “We Can’t Hold Hands When We’re Pointing Fingers” bumper sticker! Spread the peace and tolerance! Every purchase comes with a free download of the song of the same name.

 

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Prairie Land Pagan Radio Interview

Today I appeared on the Prairie Land Pagan Radio podcast to talk about my music! There are two parts to it due to technical issues, but I had a lot of fun! Go listen!

Part 1 is here:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/prairielandpaganradio/2016/01/17/interview-with-bryan-vanunen

and Part 2 is here:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/prairielandpaganradio/2016/01/17/interview-with-bryan-vanunen-1

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The Hour Before the Dawn

It’s coming! No, not Winter, that’s been here for a while already. I’m talking about my new album! “The Hour Before the Dawn” is now available for pre-order!

It’s been almost a year since I set out to record my first album Four Branches: Tales of the Mabinogi in Song, and here I am releasing my second album already. It’s been quite a year of Awen, inspiration, and creativity, and I’m so blessed and fortunate for all the support I’ve gotten the last year. I’m so excited to see what this year has in store!

So, The Hour Before the Dawn, what is this one all about, anyway? Dawn is a departure from Four Branches’s Celtic storytelling theme as I focus closer to home. I turn inward and explore Nature and my own spirituality.

For example, the opening track Brothers of the Night is a piece I co-wrote with my brother years ago, and as one might imagine, it celebrates brotherhood and sisterhood of all kinds. The pagan community, as well as many spiritual paths, can come together to form a strong, family-like pack not unlike a wolf pack. This song celebrates the wolf packs of the world.

Then there’s the second track We Can’t Hold Hands When We’re Pointing Fingers. The title itself has been a personal motto for me for a long time, and it celebrates world peace, interfaith dialogue, community, and just plain ol’ getting along with each other.

And I Wish I Was a Tree is a song I wrote one February night when I discovered my Bardic, Druidic side, and has become a personal favorite of mine.

And then there’s the closing track, Early Bird. This song is where the album gets its title from. The chorus says: Do you sing for the night, do you sing for the day? Do you sing for the sake of the song? The song you sing I too will sing in the hour before the dawn. This song chronicles some of the most magical moments I’ve had in my life, nights where I decided on taking a midnight walk through the country roads of rural Kansas. Watching the night slowly turn to day has been an inspiring memory for me for years now.

Those are just a few glimpses behind a few of the songs on the album. It’s a much more natural, personal album for sure.

Oh, and if you pre-order the physical CD, it’ll come signed, and I’ll include a disc of bonus tracks and a few extra little goodies, too! Why wait?!

The artwork for the album is in the works by my wonderful wife, so stay tuned for that! I’m really excited about this one!

Spread the word!

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