Today’s my birthday. Last night I celebrated with a few close friends and family around a socially distanced bonfire with music, dancing, and community. It felt good to experience a self-made micro-fest, reminiscing on old times while enjoying the grounded nature of these strange new times. And today feels like a good time to reflect on the past year. Whew. On this birthday, that’s a big challenge. Let’s just say that, like everyone else, I’ve been living in a whirlwind of uncertainty this year. I realize that this has given me a new opportunity to put my music and practice to the test, and it hasn’t been an easy path. But here’s what I can say for sure: Music is still THE MEDICINE, whether from home, the road, or any part of life.
When the pandemic hit I was on tour with my new album, Mantra Soul, near Los Angeles. Immediately I went into quarantine in the California Sierra Nevadas, where I discovered a mantra from a teacher in India and began chanting. During the next few months after coming back home to Oregon and setting up camp, I worked with my dear friend and organizer Lyris to create a video with a cast of singers and dancers from the Bhakti devotional tradition. In case you missed this feel-good chanting vibe, here it is. We organized a Mini-Festival release, giving the equipment in my home studio a real work out (you can see a replay here). I also have new collaborative singles in the works, as well as an instrumental album and an English universal conscious music album.
I’ve been teaching classes for Naam Yoga, including “Self-Soothing for Uncertain Times,” which is still available on their channel, along with dozens of other courses, by subscription. I’m now offering Lullaby Yoga™ through their channel every Thursday at noon. Online festivals are far from the same, but it’s been a sweet journey to explore this home studio and internet space. I’ve been able to perform from the comfort of my home alongside luminaries like Bruce Lipton, songwriter inspiration goddess Ani DiFranco, and so many other creatives, sharing virtually in song.
I’ve also launched One Heart TV to connect with inspirational singers, musicians, and yogis to guide us along the way with consciousness and hope. As the seasons begin their next shift, One Heart TV may launch into One Heart Festival, so stay tuned!
P.S. Autumn leaves are Coco’s favorite thing! She misses everyone on the road but is enjoying non-RV life and sends her puppy love to all #cocoacrossamerica fans!
As I write this today after news of yet another shooting of an African American man, tears of grief and compassion flow down my face. It’s been a humbling time to be a member of the human race on this planet. From my privileged position as a white woman. I remember that many people of color have had the cards stacked against them from the start.
I grew up going to pow-wows thinking that I had some Native American blood, until a DNA test revealed I’m a Caucasian mutt, like many of my other Pacific Northwest brothers and sisters. There’s a deep history of racism in my home state of Oregon, which was the only state in the country to forbid black people to become residents in the 1860’s and became a hub of Klan activity less than a hundred years ago.
To top that off, I live in a small college town with very few people of color. That’s what makes my introduction to true gospel music so improbable. In the middle of all this whiteness, along came Reverend Isaiah Jones, who was raised in all-black East St. Louis, before becoming a keyboard player for big rock groups like the Fifth Dimension. He had left secular music a few years before to become a Presbyterian college minister, but he still composed and arranged gospel songs.
Isaiah started a choir: the Inner Strength Gospel Choir, 98% white, just like the town. One member told me it took a year to learn how to clap and sway at the same time. I loved this music and started going to rehearsals as a teen dressed in Goth black, chains, and Doc Martens. As a queer youth in the 90’s, I could identify with standing out in this cookie cutter town. All were embraced by Isaiah, just like the Love Hugs he distributed generously whenever we sang. Pretty soon I was singing solos, and I even got to sing on his CD. But Isaiah taught us about more than music and unconditional love. He demonstrated the journey of faith, a path I still try to follow today.
Later I got a college degree in women’s studies with a focus on diversity education and social action theater. At that time, 15 years ago, the world was in need of change. I came to recognize my privilege and began to use my voice to help the silenced many, especially my LGBT sisters and brothers.
When I began singing mantra music ten years ago, the gospel roots kept showing underneath my blond hair. Last year I finally realized my dream of creating an album that blended my love of devotional music from both cultures and called it Mantra Soul. I was so lucky to begin to collaborate with Saeeda Wright of Portland’s Interfaith Gospel Choir, and also re-connected with my friend Angela Davise to create this album that is a prayer for unity honoring all paths, dedicated to Dr. Isaiah Jones and all I learned from him about gospel singing and the power of faith.
The last few weeks I’ve realized how much progress we truly still need to make, and what it will take to create that change. While I blend in more easily than I did in the 90s, our African American brothers and sisters will never have that advantage. The world needs us together more than ever now, black, white, Hispanic, Native American, heteronormative, gender non-binary, whoever you are.
It’s time to stand together in love. It is time to pray. It is time for the dawning of a new day.
Oh, and I’m just gonna keep singing.
My favorite way to pray.
The world shifted radically for me and for millions of others on March 15th. I had just begun my spring tour at the lively LA Festival of Colors. My brand-new Mantra Soul CD was done, and I was still on fire from recording with a wonderful collection of gospel singers. My touring schedule through the summer was just about full, and my RV was ready to roll in a joyous seasonal reunion with my Bhakti family. The Shakti Shop was full of new merch, and the winter check supporting the education of young women in Nepal was in the mail.
Suddenly everything was off. Having already performed and interacted with a crowd, I was a potential carrier of COVID. The world I knew was upside down. I joined millions and millions of people worldwide who no longer knew what unexpected challenges they would need to meet. This was echoed by other displaced yoga and music friends as we looked to our spiritual practice, and our resilience to create a landing space, even if was virtual. Next we began to imagine an unfathomable future, doing our best to stay present with what each moment has presented us.
I was blessed by a friend who offered a small lake retreat house in the Sierra Nevada mountains where I could go into quarantine before returning to be near my peeps (and my aging parents) in Oregon. I offered a new chant to combat the virus in an online concert that never got heard because of bandwidth problems. If I’ve learned nothing else from the last four years of touring, I’ve learned to roll with whatever presents itself. But these skills have been tested like never before during the last few weeks.
During the two days it took to drive back to the Pacific Northwest, I used my best hand-cleaning and self-calming skills and tried not to get too paranoid about every surface I touched. I arrived back to my home studio about a week ago to find a brand-new box of beautiful CD’s now in quarantine, like me. I’ve been humbled by my circumstances. While settling in here, I notice how important it still is to remember that Love is Always Stronger than Fear. Meanwhile, I’m meeting the unexpected by getting the technology in place for virtual concerts, and I’m checking out other ways to stay in touch.
Now that I’m in one place, I’m remembering another thing I learned from the road. I’m reminding myself daily to stay within the beam of headlights as I move, along with each of you, at a safe social distance, into the Unknown.
R.I.P. Baba Ram Dass. Thank you for showing us the way to move towards the heart and the expansiveness of each holy moment. I sit now looking at a candle wrapped with a mala given to us by Ram Dass, strung on the thread of the famous plaid blanket worn by Neem Karoli Baba in the photos.
I grew up hearing the story of being blessed in utero by Ram Dass here in Oregon at the Breitenbush Hot Springs’ first workshop ever. It was Halloween of 1981. My 9-month pregnant mother wrapped herself in an orange sheet, a Great Pumpkin. Seventeen years later we returned to the retreat center for a two-week immersion with Krishna Das and Ram Dass on the music and teachings of Bhakti Yoga, the path of the Heart. This inspired me as a young songwriter and planted seeds on my path.
After his stroke, my parents and I returned to his presence one final time. I had officially entered adulthood, in my mind, because I had just graduated from high school. There he was, sitting in a gazebo in the old growth forest. He looked at us and smiled. He stuttered out the words slowly. Look at the trees. So much silence. Infinitely complex. More complex than the Grateful Dead. Then he paused, looking at the two generations of women.
You are not a mother, you are not a pumpkin. You are a soul. I knew he was talking to me, the daughter, as well.
May your soul continue to shine and inspire transformation, Baba. May your boundless spirit share its wisdom from the cosmos. May I be an open channel to receive it. May this channel strengthen in your death. And may we always Love, Serve, & Remember.
A funny thing happened on my way to Bhakti Fest last week. Or maybe not so funny. As I got out of my car at the beach, I noticed a red baseball hat in the dash of a nearby car. I started chatting with my friend Chad about the current political situation, something I rarely do because it’s hard to keep up with it all when I’m on the road. The owner of the hat must have heard us because he started pointing his one good arm at me and yelling, saying hippies are responsible for everything. He started following us. We walked faster and made it across the traffic lanes before him. Right after we got across, trying to protect my tiny dog Coco, I lost my footing and took a big tumble.
As I picked myself up and looked at the boulders where I had fallen, I was grateful that my spine was spared. I was pretty banged up, however, and I spent most of the festival, when I wasn’t leading yoga or kirtan music, resting for the next event. I’m so grateful for all my friends in the Bhakti community who took care of logistics and details so I could take care of me.
Yesterday, the festival over, I spent some desert hot springs time and got a little help from some healing hands, and everything just seemed to pop back into place. I’m so grateful for the shift back into a healthy body, and for community. It’s important to remember how few people I have come across in the last three years of travel throughout blue states and red who have offered me anything but kindness. The grand total is one. I will keep that knowing in my heart as I head back to the Heartland in the next month.
I’ll be spending some extra time in IL with master instrument builder Nick at Old Delhi Music. If you’re thinking of treating yourself to a harmonium, a sitar, or other string or percussion instruments, you can get 5% off with the coupon code johanna5. Go for it now, or share this with anyone who might be looking to find a gift that will last a lifetime.
Call me a hippie, if you want. Please. It’s so important during these times that we find ways to tap into sources of love, peace, yoga and music and support people who make their livelihood doing this. Head on over to Insight Timer, a free website with a global following of meditators and yogis. My version of “Om Mani Padme Hum” was just featured on their homepage carousel. People have been writing glowing reviews about it and several of my other tracks there. Go on over and add your words, if you’re inspired.
And don’t forget about the folks at YogiTunes. They’re doing a great job of spreading da love through music. They now have my Beyond Love album available for easy streaming.
Grateful today to be in the safe and loving company of my people, as we remember what matters and support each other in the remembering.
I had a great conversation with Rebecca Warfield of Dharma Drops Podcast in late August and our episode just went live! We talked about yoga, feminism, integration of the genders through spiritual practice, the idea of a dharma path and what it looks like, the nervous system benefits and differences between powerful/asana practice and subtle body / breath work / restorative / sound healing practices.
I don’t know whether the big insights that can show up and change a life can actually be contained by a timer. But I do know that the Insight Timer app offers multiple ways to clear the mind, which makes insights far more likely. The app offers thousands (literally) of meditation, music, and mantra offerings, featuring some of my favorite teachers and musical/devotional artists, all for FREE. And it offers more in-depth classes as a part of its subscription service.
Insight Timer has become one of my most trusted traveling buddies. And what it offers goes way beyond timing meditation. It enables me to listen in and relax into my body with guided meditations and pranayama breathing, binaural beats, yoga nidra, and mantra music. As a teacher focused on assisting students to calm the nervous system with Lullaby Yoga, I’m grateful for the guided meditations and binaural beats and the teachers who help me find my way back to sleepyland when I’m staying in a noisy campground or hotel.
And, THIS Just In! As of today, SEVEN of my most-requested songs are available right here (with more to come):
Glowing reviews are coming in for most of the music. Within a week, Om Shanti and The Light Inside have each touched about 1000 people all around the world, many of whom have left sweet comments. Once again, I am moved and humbled by all the creative and spiritual support that shows up. Grace. Amazing Grace. Now that sounds like a good song title!
“I’ve been working in the studio and performing with Johanna Beekman for several years now. She is a fantastic singer and great songwriter. I mixed her album “Heart Beats One”, and produced, recorded and mixed her album “Beyond Love”. We are currently working on another album of groovy, uplifting jams. Please check out her fundraising video below and donate to help bring this album into the world. Thank you!!!” – Ben Leinbach, Grammy-nominated producer, composer, engineer, multi-instrumentalist
In the last few years, with a lot of help from my friends, I’ve released two albums of inspirational music in sacred languages. Since then I’ve been crisscrossing the country, sharing practices and music with all you openhearted people all along the way. This has inspired two exciting new projects.
Mantra Soul, the first album, gathers chants and songs from my travels that are often requested but not yet recorded. It features Shakti United, a song dedicated to a project I sponsor for empowering women and girls around the world. Proceeds from this song will go directly to educating children in Nepal.
The second CD, Spirit Song Soul, reaches into the broader world of universal inspirational music. It will include new songs and fresh recordings of some of my most frequently requested inspirational songs from other albums, taking me back to my roots in soul, gospel, world, folk and pop music.
Both albums are produced by award-winning producer Ben Leinbach and feature an amazingly talented collection of musicians.
We’ve already done much of the writing and recording, but to finish both albums we need your help. You can pre-order albums and other goodies here, or head over to GoFundMe if you’d just like to make a donation. Share it with your friends. Spread the word.
When we work together on projects like these, our hearts truly beat as one. I hope to see you you in coming season as we share da love here on this amazing planet!
A few of the available items:
- Signed albums
- Shakti United! gift bags
- Private Lullaby Yoga™ or Soul’s Voice sessions
- Custom mantra tracks
- Live private or group events
From the bottom of my heart to yours, thank you!
Butterfly wings and sun photo by Alan Alcid, design by River Ananda