Interviewsand Articles

 

Gabriel Meyer: Stretching Identity

by Richard Whittaker, Mar 21, 2015


 

 







"There’s a concert this evening,” the message read. I had an hour to get to Canticle Farm -
six houses on adjoining lots with a large backyard garden in the Fruitvale District of Oakland. 
    
Canticle Farm is grounded in the vision of Joanna Macy and the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi. It's an intentional community in service of what Macy calls "The Great Turning." 
     Having no idea what to expect, I got in my car. At least I’d get to visit my friends at Casa de Paz, part of Canticle Farm at the time. Besides, Samir Doshi - from the Obama administration, and who I’d met earlier - had just gotten into town and he would be there.
     Arriving, I was directed to one of the houses where I soon found myself in a crowd of people mingling and chatting. Nearly all were strangers, so I'd have to practice breaking the ice -
not so hard once the decision is made. Thus emboldened, I soon learned I was at the closing event of a Joanna Macy workshop. She wasn't there that evening.  
     One man I was chatting with had an easy openness that made an impression. I might not have remembered him, but about twenty minutes later this same man picked up a guitar, stepped into the center of the room and began to sing. It turned out this was Gabriel Meyer, and the concert had begun.

I liked his first song, even though I couldn't understand the words. And I liked the second song, too. It was in a different language - Hebrew, I guessed. By now, I was focusing on Meyer with real interest. By the end of the third song, this one in Spanish, I was all in.
     Who was this guy? I wondered.
     He had an amazing gift for connecting with us. And when he invited us all to join in, not only in song, but in following his gestures, forgetting my reserve was effortless. I couldn’t remember such an experience. And how many languages did this guy know? It didn't matter. It was a joy-filled experience for everyone.


At a certain point in the concert I knew I wanted to interview this man before he left town. I'd stumbled upon a treasure.
     That happened the next morning, but not without missed emails, dropped messages and some frantic driving around. I finally caught up with Meyer at the Starr King School, a Unitarian seminary in north Berkeley. He was in a meeting with Dr. Ibrahim Farajejé, Provost and professor of Islamic Studies, a secretary explained. Could I wait?
     Sure. But was there some quiet place where I could do an interview?
     No rooms were available, she said, but the student lounge shouldn't be too crowded.
     I held my tongue because there was no room for bargaining. The whole thing was already a hasty pudding. Why shouldn't it stay that way? 
     So I waited. And about twenty minutes later, there he was. "I've got to make a connection to get to the airport," he said, looking at his watch. "I haven't left much time to get to my next event. It's in Portland."
     There was no time for anything except getting right down to it. So we grabbed a couple of chairs and, with students coming and going, we talked…
(Meyer performs as Gabriel Meyer Halevy.)


Richard Whittaker:   Now, one thing you did in the concert last night is you sang in several languages - English, Spanish, Hebrew, and Arabic, at least. 

Gabriel Meyer:   And Urdu.

RW:   And Urdu? So can you tell me how you ended up speaking all these languages? Maybe you speak others as well?

Gabriel:   Yes. I speak French; I speak Portuguese. You know, I've traveled a lot, and the keys to cultures are languages. That's how you get into somebody's heart when you empathize, not sympathize, with another; you're in the other person's experience from within. Then immediate doors open up.
     The first time I met a Palestinian Sufi Sheikh, I went to his house. The person who introduced me, my friend, said, “Listen, you are the third Israeli he meets, so be careful. Go slowly."
     So I sat; we were all very formal, you know, salaam. It was very serious. Then all of a sudden, I just took out my drum and starting singing, “Allahu, Allahu, Allahu.”
     His son came out from the kitchen with food. The Sheikh got up and hugged us and said, “You're staying the night!”
     The whole thing melted, all the seriousness and fear with that one expression of empathy. The same thing happened with the Dalai Lama. Did I tell that story last night? So I had the honor of having a private audience with his Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in 2005 with my Arab partner in the Sulha Peace Project I was co-directing until 2008. In 2005 we went to see his Holiness. There was only a guy who made the meeting possible, the Dalai Lama, his assistant, his translator, his secretary Tenzin Taklha, and us.
     I'd prepared three gifts. My friend who arranged the meeting, said, “Listen, you're going to have 10-15 minutes.” So we went through security and I'd brought this amazing olive oil from where we did the gatherings with the Palestinians, and I gave it to him.
     He said, “Oh, very good. Thank you. Sit down.”
     Then I gave him a mandala that a Sister drew with Christian / Jewish / Muslim symbolism.
     “Oh, very nice. Thank you.”
     Then my Palestinian brother, Ihab, talked, and the Dalai Lama said, “Very good. Thank you.”
     Then I had a paragraph—you know, my greatest hits. I was saying, “What we are doing is holistic and this and that.
     “Oh, thank you.” Then he talked—you know, his own greatest hits: the Palestinian perspective, the Muslims and whatever.
     Then came this Sufi Sheikh from Senegal, who was with us. He also said something.
     “Oh very nice, very nice.”
     But I looked at the clock and 15 minutes had already gone by! I’d been told that when the Dalai Lama says, “Photo, photo,” you take your photo and you're out of there. I thought, “Oh, no!”
     So I just closed my eyes and started singing a Tibetan song from the region where the Dalai Lama grew up, the only one I knew. I'd learned it while I was in India for five months with a Tibetan flutist's teacher. I just started singing at the top of my lungs in the middle of this audience with the Dalai Lama (he begins singing in Tibetan).
    
The Dalai Lama turns to his translator [Meyer mimics words in Tibetan] and they talk. I asked the translator, “What did he say?”
     He said
, “Where did you meet this guy?”

The Dalai Lama turns to his translator [Meyer mimics words in Tibetan] and they talk. I asked the translator, “What did he say?”
     He said, “Where did you meet this guy?”
     And then the Dalai Lama turns to me and says, “Very interesting.” Then he just opened up. He started telling about his spiritual experience in a church in Portugal and all sorts of stuff.
     Then we brought out all the things I wanted to talk with him about, some projects we wanted to do together, like bringing him to Israel to support the peace there. It went on for one hour. But if I hadn’t sung in his own language, it wouldn't have happened.

RW:   That's a great story.

Gabriel:  He goes with you wherever you're at. So if you're serious, he's serious. If you're deep, he's deep. If you're formal, he's formal. If you're wild, he's wild. He has no problem going with you wherever you're at. So if I wouldn't have known the song in Tibetan, and really felt the Tibetan love within me, it wouldn't have happened. So see? You asked me about languages. They’re keys to people's hearts.

RW:   It's always interesting in an interview when I know I’m only going to scratch the surface. This is that moment. But can I ask you to go back in your life?

Gabriel:   Yes.

RW:   Where did song and music begin to enter?

Gabriel:   Well, my dad used to love classical Western music. So since I was born, I was hearing Beethoven and all those things. And he used to sing a lot. He liked all sorts of stuff. I remember dancing to Gershwin with my sisters for hours in the living room and stuff like that. It was an activity for me. I remember bringing an older boy who played the bongos in when I was little, and closing the door and telling him to drum so I could dance. And I had this thing with Africa.

RW:   How old were you with the bongo thing, roughly?

Gabriel:   He was like 13, 14, and I was like 7, 8.

RW:   And you closed the door and told him to play because you wanted to dance?

Gabriel:   Yes. I just told him, and this was the only thing—don't stop.

RW:   Really.

Gabriel:   Don't stop. And I used to do all sorts of theater and animals.

RW:   So this seems to be deep in your nature from early on.

"I got out of my mother's womb at seven months. I was very busy and had a lot of things to do. I got out and said, “Okay!”

Gabriel:   Yes. I got out of my mother's womb at seven months. I was very busy and had a lot of things to do. I got out and said, “Okay!”

RW:   "I'm ready to go!"

Gabriel:   Yes.

RW:   And you were born in Israel?

Gabriel:   No. I was born in Argentina. I grew up in Argentina. I lived in Argentina for 21 years, 22 years.

RW:   For some reason, I thought you were Israeli.

Gabriel:   I live in Israel. I'm also Israeli. I’m many things, you know—like stretching identity.

RW:   I got that listening to you.

Gabriel:   I'm human, basically.

RW:   Oh, my goodness.

Gabriel:   It's our goodness.

RW:   [laughs] So you said so clearly how language unlocks the key to people, and yet, how do…

Gabriel:   But it's not just cognitive language, it's spiritual language, it's cultural language, it's emotional language, it's physical language. It's songs, it's lullabies, it's jokes, it's recipes. It comes through the body. It's not “Oh, I learned French.” It's not like that.

RW:   No. I think I was so touched by you last night because clearly, you embody something and connect so beautifully with people. I mean, at some point, I was in tears. I couldn't believe it.

Gabriel:   That's beautiful.

RW:   You know? Really. And so, as the interviewer, I'm like, where did you come from? How did you get to be who you are?

Gabriel:   Yes. I was born in the camp that my father and my mother created in Cordoba, Argentina. That's where I was born.

RW:   You said "camp"?

Gabriel:   In summer camp. My father was a rabbi, Rabbi Marshall Meyer. His memory is a blessing. He was a very well-known human rights activist. He worked in Argentina, but also for the homeless in New York, and for the Sanctuary Movement in the States when he came back to the States. He was a student of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. He was his private assistant for eight years. Before he went to Argentina. His other teacher was Martin Buber.

RW:   Oh, my gosh!

Gabriel:   So you know, those are my spiritual grandparents.

RW:   That's a pretty good pedigree.

Gabriel:   Well, yes. But it doesn't help much when I get angry, you know, or when I do stupid stuff. But when I'm connected, they help.

RW:   How did you learn Hebrew? Through your Jewish heritage?

Gabriel:   Yeah. From a rabbi.

RW:   Of course. How did you learn Arabic? That's a better question.
 
Gabriel:   Well, I lived in Sinai Desert for one year before I got to Israel. So I got to Israel the traditional way, like the Israelites did. I first went to Sinai and then I got to Israel.

RW:   Do a lot of Israelis do that?

Gabriel:   No. Nobody does that.

RW:   That's what I'm thinking. I mean, that sounds really unusual.

"I trained to be a guide in Sinai—with camels, jeeps, busses and stuff. Then I started working as a guide for one month. But then I said I don't want to ruin Sinai for the Bedouins. I want to live here."

Gabriel:   Yes. Well, it used to be like that before. So I did that for a year on and off. I started as a guide in the Sinai, because I went to Africa. I was traveling with a girlfriend. I did hitchhiking from Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and then I went through Sinai on my way going, and on my way back.
     Then I stayed in Sinai. I trained to be a guide in Sinai—with camels, jeeps, busses and stuff. Then I started working as a guide for a month. But then I said I don't want to ruin Sinai for the Bedouins. I want to live here.
   
RW:   So you learned Arabic by going to the Sinai?

Gabriel:   Yes. Then I went to Morocco. Then I was in Jordan, and then I learned more Arabic from my Palestinian Sufi friends.

RW:   You just learned it on the ground with people?

Gabriel:   Yes. That's how you learn it, man! Like French—I was an Argentinian poet in Paris. I used to go and drink wine at the bar and talk and make a million mistakes! That's how. I then went to study a bit of it, but the real stuff I learned with people. That's where language comes from—way before books and the printed word. I mean, the printed word is very recent.
     It's like agriculture. It cut off lots of dream lines and song lines and spirit connections. It's like a domestication of spirit, you know.

"Religion trapped spirit into different ways and people got stuck with hierarchies and interpretations of photocopies. They got facts the wrong way, and we don't even know what we have now. They all talk in the name of something and don't even remember what it is."

     Religion trapped spirit into different ways and people got stuck with hierarchies and interpretations of photocopies. They got facts the wrong way, and we don't even know what we have now. They all talk in the name of something and don't even remember what it is.

RW:   I look at you and I see a person who has great understanding of people and knows how to connect with almost anybody. I have that feeling about you. It's kind of inspiring because I mean, we're full of fear. I'm afraid of the other, you know? And that fear is just a terrible problem. It keeps us apart.

Gabriel:   And you know, when you reach out—I think I told this story last night—when I was in the camp in the Gaza War, I had this Palestinian brother, and I told him, “I wouldn't be with anybody else but you in the war.”
     I never thought I would tell something like that to someone.
     So when you are with the enemy, when you get through that fear, and you actually go and have the other there with you, it feels so safe. You feel so strong. You feel so good. It's sustainable. It's totally sustainable.

RW:   That's sustainability. This connection with others, relationships.

Gabriel:   Yes. My dad used to say, when you die, it's not about how much money you have, it's how many friends you have. How many memories do you instill in people's hearts? So whoever has more friends, wins. That's the story of humanity, really.

RW:   You told some stories during the concert at Canticle Farm about being some place on the beach. Was that in Israel?

Gabriel:   No, in Sinai, in Egypt.

RW:   Would you describe that again?

Gabriel:   Well, it's just an organic beach. There's the sea; there's a beautiful coral reef, and people have been going there for 20 years and just meeting and playing music. There's no agenda, no NGOs, no government, no anything. It's just people going to hang-out on the beach.

RW:   All different kinds of people—Arabs and Jews, Egyptians…

Gabriel:   Palestinians, Lebanese, Israelis, Bedouins, Sudanese, Pakistanis—because it's easy, geographically, for people to get to without visas.

RW:   There are connections.

Gabriel:   There are always connections because what is there not to connect? You go into the water. You have pita bread and tahini or something else to eat. Then you go to see corals and then, you know, you are in the sun, and it's beautiful. Behind you is the Sinai Desert. It's like the grandmother of the Hebrews, and the Muslims, and the Christians. It's like Grandma's there. Like you're hanging out at Grandma's.

RW:   That sounds beautiful.

Gabriel:   Then you just play music around the fire. I mean, how can you not connect? Some people come there with a lot of hate in the beginning, just hate, like Egyptians and Israelis. Then after two hours of singing, you say, “Well, this guy, I like his songs; maybe he's nice.”

RW:   Wow. Last night you talked about being in, I don't know if it was in Gaza…

Gabriel:   Not in Gaza. We were in the war. But we refused to be enemies. Is that it?

RW:   You were telling about a situation where there were all kinds of people, lots of peace types, but when the bombs and the bullets started flying, they were out of there.

Gabriel:   Forget it!

RW:   I would probably be one of the people. I'm out of there.

Gabriel:   Yes, but it wasn't just that. They were really talking war. People who were activists were talking war. Not just, okay, I want to be safe. No. They were talking hate - some peace activists.

RW:   So you were describing a situation in a place where bullets started flying, bombs, and you were talking about…

Gabriel:   That was the eye of the storm, because we were in the midst of it. And it was so safe. That's where I hugged my brother at three in the morning and it felt safe.

RW:   A Palestinian?

Gabriel:   Yes.

RW:   So what allowed you to stay connected with this vision for connection with others in the midst of the shit flying?

"You know, verbs are God, and nouns are the death of God. When you name something, it dies. When it's a verb, it was, it is, it will be."

Gabriel:   Just by following your bliss that you know, following your verb rather than your nouns. You know, verbs are God, and nouns are the death of God. When you name something, it dies. When it's a verb, it was, it is, it will be. Something that is present continues. Then you keep connected because that's how blood runs through the veins and the arteries of our soul.

RW:   Well, here is something I see for myself. Something bad happens, all of a sudden I get tense. Then fears and thoughts start running and the tension is just solidified. Then I'm completely shifted out of who I was, and now I'm someone else. I've lost touch with myself.

Gabriel:   It's true.

RW:   So how?

Gabriel:   Well, listen. For example, fear pops in, and hatred. So you get into this reptilian consciousness. Fight, fright, flight. But if all of a sudden, you put a flower into somebody's nose and they smell the jasmine, they go, “Wait a minute.” They're not angry anymore. You can shift the senses; you surprise this defense system.

RW:   What do you do for yourself?

Gabriel:   Well, I just mentioned an example. I do everything different every time, you know. There's no recipe. Everybody needs something different at a different moment. There is no magical pill.

RW:   So you know, though?

Gabriel:   I know the melodies… Like if I know the lullaby your grandma used to sing to you and I sing it to you when you're afraid - not talk to you about lullabies intellectually, but sing that lullaby to you - your limbic brain is going to go ahhhh. And your face relaxes and then you can talk.
     Then you can go to the cortex and say, “Richard, do you want to share your fears? Maybe talk to me about it?” Then you're okay because your grandma—it feels safe. Then you can do it.

RW:   Okay. And you apparently know for yourself what you need in a moment when the shit starts flying?

Gabriel:   I just needed to get out of my house, out of the Facebook, out of my situation where I was feeling trapped with my neighbors who are my friends. I had to go. I got invited to this camp; I had to go. I just had to go. I had to cross this fear of getting out of my house. I didn't know if I would make it because there were sirens.
     I mean, I was playing at a synagogue in the south of Israel and at the sound check I was doing, there was a bomb alarm. I had to go running to the shelter. Then I continued the concert after that.
     So when you're driving the car, you’ve got to stop and get under it. But I did it, and nothing happened to me. I got there and I felt the safest I ever felt in the war—without a bomb shelter, with nothing.

RW:   And that’s extraordinary.

"The deepest stuff is the simplest stuff. You don't have to be complicated to be deep. You have to be simple to be deep."

Gabriel:   Extra ordinary. Because it is ordinary. It's simple. The deepest stuff is the simplest stuff. You don't have to be complicated to be deep. You have to be simple to be deep. That's when you really connect. There are no intermediates in the neural reality. There's nobody. There's not like an agent between you and God—“Okay, I'm going to book you a session with God.” There are no booking agents for that. That's direct, you know?

RW:   Yes. I just wanted to stay with how you felt the safest and you were with…

Gabriel:   The enemy.

RW:   The enemy. How many people were you with?

Gabriel:   Fifty.

RW:   And Palestinians?

Gabriel:   Palestinians, Israelis, Internationals.

RW:   A mix. And was everyone feeling this connection?

Gabriel:   Some people were really afraid. Some people started crying. Some people left. But most of the people who stayed were totally into it; the feeling was amazing.
     We would listen to the news in meditation and not react to the news, which is when you start reacting. In Israel it's on the radio a lot—or even worse, the TV. Or in the paper, or the Internet, whatever. And your first reaction is, “They're going to kill us. I've got to save my children!” Then you can start—our people, their people, them, us—and that's it. You’ve lost it right there.

RW:   Yes. But in this situation what developed was this human connection.

Gabriel:   Yes, yes. Direct.

RW:   Truly direct.

Gabriel:   Direct, dynamic. That's what melts fear away. Songs, lullabies, jokes, food, sun, moon. Get out of the anthropocentric, also. We had a couple of donkeys that we were taking care of.

RW:   Donkeys?

Gabriel:   Yes. We were planting trees. There was a rabbit; there was a dog. We weren't the center of the issue. We even talked about other conflicts on the planet. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not the most important conflict. We are not the only people who hate each other. There are many other peoples who hate. So that helped, zooming out.

RW:   Yes.

Gabriel:   Focus on the medicine, not on the conflict, because everybody knows the reality of the injustice. Just naming injustice, “They are the bad ones.”
     “No, they are the bad ones.”
     “No, I suffered more.”
     “No, they suffered more.”
     “No, they killed more.”
     “No, they….”
     That's not going to help. Those are the old tools. You can't change a new situation with old tools, because it's just perpetuating the same.
     You know, all the revolutions in the great name of whatever: Justice, Marx. Everything becomes what they were fighting against. People all start getting attached to their power. People are people.
     Then when fun is not there, when creativity is not around, where there's not enough love, then scarcity pops in, and people need to take care of their own. Because they've got to pay the rent, they've got to get their job, take care of their family. So then it's about me and money, and that's separation.

RW:   Focus on the medicine.

Gabriel:   Yes. Always. Or 90%. Of course, you've got to have the 10%. You've got to know your history. The water resources. You've got to know your stuff: solar energy, wind energy, permaculture, this, that. But if you focus on the CNN reality, the conflict, the problem, that's what we have all the time. Everybody knows the problem.
     You've got to focus on the medicine of the problem, on the solution of the problem. Always go for the medicine.

RW:   That's beautiful.

Gabriel:   The medicine is just reaching out, learning a lullaby from your enemy, and singing it to him—like you were him. That's it.

RW:   Wow. How old are you?

Gabriel:   I'm 77, but I do a lot of Pilates [laughs].

RW:   You're 77?

Gabriel:   No [laughs].

RW:   [laughs] I'm willing to believe anything you say.

Gabriel:   No, no, no. Actually, tomorrow is my birthday. I’ll be 49.

RW:   Well, God bless you! So you've been traveling around now for?

Gabriel:   Since I was seven months old. No, three months old, two months old, because I went to Buenos Aires from the camp where I was born. My parents took me, you know.

RW:   To Buenos Aires.

Gabriel:   Yes. I had to go to the big city.

RW:   And you live in Israel now, though?

Gabriel:   I've lived there for 20 years, yes. But I travel a lot, and I try to spread my music and my message.

RW:   You're a messenger. Always traveling and spreading these beautiful…

Gabriel:   Yes. The Ambassador of Surprise.

RW:   When I see something that's beautiful and needs to be spread, I try to go for it.

Gabriel:   Great. I have videos on YouTube. One tells a story from how we crossed the border into Jordan. We were planting trees at the border between Israel [Eilat] and Jordan [Akaba]. This guy came with a saxophone. I had a drum and we just sang: “I'm singing my visa to you, so open your borders to me.” The Jordanian soldiers didn't know what to do. They just started started laughing and stamping passports.

RW:   Great story. There's something so beautiful about being creative and coming up with stuff that's so of out-of-the-box. It disarms people, right?

Gabriel:   Exactly, that's it! That's it. You got it. Say it over and over and over and over—and you'll get it.

RW:   Yes. There's a Swiss woman I interviewed, Denise Zabalaga. She was in the Bay Area doing video work for a group called Global Oneness Project. She traveled alone, a beautiful young woman, through Kazakhstan and some other places where people would say, “Are you out of your mind?”
     Her secret was that’s she's not afraid of people. She could always connect. I mean, there were a few close calls, but she worked out of them because she was able to connect with people.

Gabriel:   It's the safest.

RW:   Relationship is what we need.

"And it's not an intellectual thing. You’ve got to reach out. How do you jump into a pool of cold water? You just jump. You can't think about jumping. You’ve just got to jump. There's no middle way. And when you do it, you feel stronger. You feel happier. It's sustainable; that's the thing."

Gabriel:   Yes. And it's not an intellectual thing. You’ve got to reach out. How do you jump into a pool of cold water? You just jump. You can't think about jumping. You’ve just got to jump. There's no middle way. And when you do it, you feel stronger. You feel happier. It's sustainable; that's the thing.

RW:   I love this idea that relationship is the sustainable medicine.

Gabriel:   Yes.

RW:   How did you connect with Joanna Macy?

Gabriel:   She was in Israel. I was part of her workshop, and then I started singing. She said, “Okay, Gabi, you're going to sing whenever, I need you to.” And we loved each other. So I kept in touch a little bit. Then I lost touch. Now I said to Annie, “I want to see her.” It was a long shot. Annie said, “We're on our way. Joanna would love to see you!” So I saw her last night. We had a great time together.

RW:   This has been great talking with you. Would you say you just have a natural facility with language or do you actually try to learn it?

Gabriel:   Well, as a musician, I listen as a singer. One of the key things I did, like when I was in Turkey working with Iranians and Israelis, one of the main ways of connecting with someone is to sing with someone. As a musician, as a singer, that's my main way. And I kept all these notebooks, and learned how to pronounce things. And I listened. Deep listening.

RW:   You hear the melody of the language?

Gabriel:   Yes, the melody and the rhythm. It's like call and response like they do in primordial cultures, indigenous cultures. So you just listen and you repeat. So acoustically, you learn a language much more than if you go three years with books and grammar.
     What's alive in language is what's important. Grammar is terrible for learning a language, according to my experience. And here in the U.S., for me, someone talking in Harlem or in Memphis, that English is more interesting than what’s spoken at the Royal Academy.

RW:   I like what you're saying, that language is alive.

Gabriel:   Yes. That's why they do acupuncture on the ear, and that's why babies go like that [touches his ear] and they fall asleep. This relaxes you, this part of the ear.

RW:   I didn't know that.

Gabriel:   It's like the womb of tomorrow, the ear. In Hebrew in the Kabbalah, you make anagrams of letters, you know? [yes] You take the same letters and you turn them around. It’s one of the methods the Kabbalists use. So the word for womb is rechem. So it's (says phonetically) R, Ch, and Mmm, in Hebrew, right? If you do an anagram with it, it's macher—tomorrow. So in the Kabbalah the ear is also connected to the future.

RW:   Interesting.

Gabriel:   If you listen good enough, you can hear the future. There is a prophet called Havakuk in the Torah Bible. They say he was a musician. He said, “I heard your listening,”

RW:   "I heard your listening." That's beautiful.

Gabriel:   Yes. He heard the Divine's listening. And as Jews, one of our main prayers is shema, to hear: listen. So that's how you connect the most, when you listen to someone.

RW:   Absolutely.

Gabriel:   And if you listen deeply, you can feel what they're feeling, and rather than being sympathetic or politically correct, or tolerant, you are empathic. You try to find in yourself an experience that can be similar to what the other person is experiencing.

RW:   When you listen well enough… I feel that you understand this. And this listening is also through the heart—and through the body, too, wouldn’t you say?

Gabriel:   Yes, yes. Totally.

RW:   You know, I was struck by something you said at the concert. You looked around the room and you said something like, it's so great not to have a microphone.

Gabriel:   It’s good if the room is small enough because sometimes cables and objects get in the way, you know? And you don’t have to pay attention to a microphone.
     One of the things about sacred singing, which I do workshops on, is to sing to transform yourself. So you're not singing to hear if your voice is beautiful or loud or soft or high or low. Sacred chanting or singing is for you to transform yourself. So if you finish the chant and you didn't transform, if nothing changed inside, it didn't work. It doesn't matter how beautiful or how good you sing it.
     So the most powerful singing is when you sing the melody without a voice, but you sing it with all the words. You sing it and then it gets into your bones and stays with you longer.

RW:   A form of prayer, would you say?

Gabriel:   Yes, of course.

RW:   How did you learn about this?

Gabriel:   In so many ways, from connections with the animals, trees, plants—and humans; and from teachers like Joanna Macy and Jack Kornfield—and from so many different Sufi teachers from Turkey, from Morocco, from Palestine; and from rabbis of course—my dad, Rab Zalman—and from different students of Rab Zalman; and through my life with Native Americans and shamans. So I try always to go to the essence and the heart of each culture and their sacred dances, and songs, and realities. That's how I am who I am.

RW:   You find yourself connecting with so many different people and cultures. I hear that.

Gabriel:   We are all connected. It's just that we don't see it; we don’t feel it. We are too busy trying to protect our little niches because we're afraid of losing them. But once we let go, we realize it's safer. It's just safer.

Learn more about Gabriel Meyer.                         
 

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.       

 

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