The Role of a Citizen 

I was talking to a friend whom I had invited to a “political” event just recently, and she said “I know you’re into that kind of stuff, but it’s just not my thing. I don’t DO politics.” 

To my friends who think this way, I must ask: if you’re a citizen of this country, and if you are paying attention at all, do you think there is someone else who will do your part to ensure we don’t lose this brief glimpse of democracy that was so hard fought for and won some 240+ years ago? Someone else who will protect your right, or your children’s right, to drink clean water or breathe clean air, to vote, to speak freely about what you believe, to make decisions about your or their own body if you or they happen to be female, to have access to care if you are sick or in need of help, to have a habitable planet to live on without the constant threat of climate chaos disrupting your or their ability to sustain life, to maintain some hope for the future? Is there someone else who will protect you or your neighbor from being attacked, imprisoned, deported, condemned or even killed for what you believe, the color of your skin, your place of origin, whom you love, how you pray, or any number of characteristics that might distinguish you or them from the increasingly narrow margin of those deemed “acceptable” by a small minority? To ensure that this same minority of right-wing, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic extremists who are currently working within our government at a lightning pace to dismantle the very institutions, checks and balances that were put in place to ensure that this fledgling democracy would not slip toward despotism or fascism DO NOT SUCCEED? To ensure that the divisions being very intentionally created and encouraged here and abroad by a self-serving man-child with dictatorial aspirations, and by a corrupt government unwilling to challenge him, will not dissolve into a cataclysmic civil war? 

I do not ask these questions to be alarming, or extreme. I ask them because, now more than ever, perhaps, the freedoms we hold most dear, the country we love, and the planet we live on, are in grave danger - and really, NO ONE can afford to sit this one out or suggest it is somehow “not their problem.” Citizenship is a responsibility, and by choosing not to be part of the collective process that ensures the creation of an America - and ultimately, a world - that works for everyone, you are making a choice to relinquish your role as a citizen, and leave it to others to determine – for better or worse – what kind of world we will live in. 

What IS truly alarming or extreme, as author and climate activist Bill McKibben once stated, is a corporate CEO or a government representative who goes to work making products or decisions that will knowingly harm people or planet in the name of short-term profit or personal gain – and yet this happens every single day here, and around the world. Thus it is even more incumbent upon those of us who care, who are consciously awakened or struggling to awaken more fully - and ESPECIALLY those of us in a spiritual teaching or other belief system that proclaims our oneness with all of life, that teaches love, compassion, unity, inclusion, peace and the principle of being our brother’s keeper, to step forward and be a voice for the voiceless, and for those whose voices are being suppressed or not being heard, as well as for the magnificent creation entrusted to our care, and of which we are a part. 

Yes, we are all incredibly busy living our lives, raising our children, working our jobs or careers, trying to maintain some kind of balance with so many demands on our time. That is absolutely true for so many of us. And YES, there has been a groundswell of grassroots activism and engaged citizenship in the last several years (coinciding, not accidentally, with the coming to power of this aforementioned would-be dictator), the likes of which I’ve not seen in my adult lifetime (or since a childhood at the tail end of the “baby boomer” generation, when the fight for civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam war galvanized a generation to come forward, and to speak out and express in ways previously unseen). That is incredibly encouraging, and wonderful work is ALWAYS being done by amazingly heroic ordinary people all around the country and the world to counter this sharp turn toward the right, and toward separatism and intolerance. 

But there is still so much work to be done, requiring ALL of us who believe in a unified and progressive vision for our country and world to step up and be part of the solution. Our politics are a reflection of who we are and what we believe at the very deepest level. We can’t separate ourselves from that without separating ourselves from life itself. Don’t go back to sleep. We love you and we need you.

Moving Forward With No Excuses  

7/18/19 

I awoke today with a sense of new possibilities, and a renewed recognition that I need to take complete responsibility for creating the life I want. Sometimes that balance can be difficult, with so many commitments placing demands on our time. But, at the end of each day (and every moment during it), we are still at choice for how our time is spent. I have often allowed myself to feel a bit overwhelmed by all that’s going on in the world, and within my own life, and used that as a (perfectly valid) excuse to simply let go of trying to pursue any goals beyond the fulfillment of day-to-day requirements. Go to work, shop, do laundry, make dinner, pay bills, go to a board meeting, practice, write, maintain healthy relationships, maintain personal health and fitness, read and stay informed, have some kind of social life, take the time to just be... If I added nothing else to this list, it would still qualify as a pretty “full plate.” So why try to do more? 

Each of us has to answer that question in our own way, based on our own desires, goals, talents or skills, and unique set of circumstances. There is no “one-size fits all” formula for happiness, just as here is no one definition for “success” or what that means to each of us. If I were to simply use a sense of over-all peace, gratitude and well-being as my measure, then it is safe to say I’m already quite successful. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I never experience frustration, sadness, anger, disappointment, unexpected challenges, and so on. But I don’t let these emotions or situations throw me off balance. I use the gifts of reason, compassion, patience, faith, openness, creativity, good will, love and forgiveness to respond to them in ways that will restore my true sense of self, my God-self. And maybe that’s enough, indeed. 

But then there is...  our PURPOSE, our true reason for being here in the first place. For me, that has always been music, above all else. And while I’ve had many wonderful and fun opportunities throughout the years to perform for many, many people, to support causes I believe in, to make four full-length albums and share countless songs written from the heart with the intention of inspiring or empowering others... there is still so much more I want to do, so many stories still needing to be told. As an activist, I believe music can be one of the highest forms of activism, of communicating messages that matter, of reaching and connecting with people at an emotional - even spiritual - level. Thus the journey must continue and expand. 

Now it’s time for me to embrace the challenge of actually MASTERING the “business” side of things. I have studiously avoided going beyond the level of “dabbling” in this area for much too long, mainly for the reasons already cited. It feels like overwhelm, like I’m already at my tipping point just finding time to write any practice with any degree of consistency, so how on earth will I find time for THAT?! The answer is... I don’t know. But if we want that which we love and are called to do in life to ever be more than just a really cool hobby, we must step up to the plate and treat it like a business. There’s just no getting around it, no matter how busy we might already be. And that requires time, effort, learning, stepping outside our comfort zone...

For me – and really for any musician / artist / performer in today’s DIY market - that means doing things like developing a consistent presence on social media, using at least some of the many tools, websites and platforms available (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Spotify, and so on) to promote and share (my) music with a much wider audience than I’ve done previously. Hence this blog post. Rather than just think these thoughts, I decided I needed to MAKE TIME to write them out and SHARE them with whoever might read this, since these ideas apply in one form or another to anyone seeking a fuller expression of their own talents and passions, their own purpose.

 I’ll keep you posted on my progress. And please share yours with me, if these ideas apply to you also.

I thought “What Are You Waiting For?”, a song from my 2009 album “Illumination”, was the best fit for this theme lyrically. Hope you enjoy! Now off to work. Make it a great day!

The Importance of Living from the "Inside Out"  

I originally posted this story on FB, but wanted to share it here too. The song at the bottom is a recent one I wrote, one of the many that look at the power of personal and spiritual transformation. Hope you enjoy!

1/26/19  Sat. night  11:51pm 

What an interesting day! It began with Theron and I attending an “Intro to Non-Violent Communication” workshop (en-route to which at least one driver caused me to use language that probably would disqualify me immediately). At one point we were asked to share, taking turns in small groups, what we felt were the keys to a happy life. While I can think of many answers to that question, what came up for me was self-love, self-forgiveness and self-acceptance, because I think my ability to have true peace, gratitude, empathy and appreciation for others was more fully realized when I could give those gifts to myself and heal old wounds, let go of old anger and feelings of unworthiness, guilt, shame that I’d carried for a long time. 

A short while later, I got a text from a friend that she and her husband were performing at a cool Antique Shop in the Opry Mills vicinity, in a strip mall off Music Drive., from 12-2pm. It was already approaching 1, but I decided to go and support them for the last part of their show. When I found the mall, the lot was almost full and there was a long line of people, 3 or 4 deep and stretching nearly from one end of the “L”-shaped strip mall to the other. I later learned, or heard, that the “Dukes of Hazzard” cast was signing autographs, in what I think was a theater of some sort, at the other end from my destination. Talk about a blast from the past – and still drawing that many loyal fans!! 

But that’s NOT the weird part (well, maybe a little, but...). The weird part is that, as I parked my car, I saw someone with whom I’d experienced a very painful break-up (painful for ME, at least) some years past come right toward my car, look directly at me with a moment of recognition, and walk past (apparently on his way to join the line of fans). It was weird because I hadn’t seen this person at all in eight years, and because in many ways, more than anyone with whom I’d had a relationship (outside my family), he symbolized the very epitome of what became a journey toward recognizing and ultimately “healing” or releasing those feelings of guilt, shame, unworthiness within myself that allowed the cruel things he’d said, his treatment of me and the manner in which he’d ended our relationship to go way down deep, to cut me to the core. 

In that respect, I am incredibly grateful to that person, for forcing me to look at the pain and see that it was coming from inside myself, from the fearful belief that, somehow, he was right, that those things he called me were true. He forced me to begin to see, slowly and quite painfully, that I wasn’t aching over “lost love”, but over a feeling that I truly was unlovable. 

Today, what I experienced in the brief, odd (serendipitous?) moment of seeing him was not pain, but pure peace and JOY!! Joy at how far I’ve come on that journey (which I know will continue as long as I have breath in my lungs), joy and gratitude at having found a real and lasting love, built on genuine respect, caring, honesty and communication. I felt joy that, somehow, both Theron and I have grown through our individual, sometimes very painful experiences of the past to become more whole, and to find one another from that place of wholeness. 

This afternoon, as I walked the trails at Bells Bend Park, enjoying the beautiful sunlight, the green fields and blue sky, the sparkling of the Cumberland, thinking of all the good and wonderful people in my life, my heart was so full. Despite it’s challenges – and sometimes BECAUSE of them, I am more deeply in love with this life than ever before. Thanks for letting me share that.

Reflections on Rohingya and the Burden of Connection  

Feb. 5th, 2018

Right now, at this very moment, as I sip tea at my desk, having eaten a healthy dinner and spent time working on music in a comfortable home, in a safe neighborhood, in what is still - at least theoretically - a free country, an extremely poor Muslim minority people known as the Rohingya are being systematically and brutally targeted and killed or driven out by military forces in the predominantly Buddhist country of Myanmar, halfway around the world. It is being described as ethnic cleansing; another of the seemingly endless examples within our species of hate and violence being inflicted, primarily as a result of differences in race and religion. So much for my pleasant stereotypes about Buddhists. 

At least 6700 men, women and children were killed in the initial attacks that began in August of 2017, with another 650,000 being forced to leave and travel by foot to neighboring Bangladesh when their villages were burned. At this point nearly a million people are refugees in makeshift camps along the border of Bangladesh, as well as in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, in what is considered a humanitarian crisis of major proportions. These people, who already had nothing, are struggling to survive in over-crowded camps, with extremely limited access to clean water, food, or sanitation - let alone shelter, clothing, medicine, etc. – things most of us take for granted. 

I would not have even known about the Rohingya people and the crisis they are facing, were it not for an ad from one of the major aid organizations that popped up in my Facebook news feed, causing me to dig deeper.  This comes on the heels of news of 20 million people facing starvation in in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria in 2017 due to regional conflicts and civil war, the loss of livestock and disappearing water and food resources. And let us not forget the ongoing misery in Syria, thanks to Bashar Al-Assad and his forces. These events are only a fraction of the extreme suffering that takes place throughout our world on an ongoing basis. It is no wonder so many close their hearts and minds to this reality, in order to continue to function. If we open ourselves to what our fellow human beings are facing, by the millions, the feeling we experience is one of helplessness and despair for the sheer magnitude of it all. Close your eyes, right now, and imagine holding a young child in your arms as he or she is dying, never having had a chance to live. 

Yet if we are to ever move toward a true Christ-consciousness, a consciousness of not only being our brother’s keeper, but of recognizing that our own lives are inextricably bound to the lives of all, we must somehow develop the capacity to keep our hearts and minds truly open, not just to the abundant beauty and good in the world, but to the rampant suffering, both seen and unseen. And we must learn to look beyond race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and other characteristics of the individual that separate us or allow us to falsely believe that someone else’s suffering is not our concern. How else can we evolve to that next level of existence, in which we finally create a just, peaceful, and sustainable way of being in the world? And if that isn’t the goal, then truly – what is? 

Of course no one of us can solve all the world’s problems, or attend to the needs of all who suffer, whether we think of those in our own communities or geographically a “world away”. And just as we acknowledge the existence of this suffering, we must also acknowledge and celebrate the amazing number of people, all around us and in every corner of the world, who reach out, giving of themselves so generously - even heroically - in order to help others. But until each one of us who is able is also willing to create our own form of healing ministry and spend some time walking through the darkness alongside those who so desperately need our help, whether we do that through prayer or financial giving or volunteer work or non-violent activism, or arts that heal or enlighten, or some combination of these, we deprive ourselves and others of the chance to know our true identity as the living expression of that divine creative energy and intelligence, that love which dwells within and connects us all. In the search for life's meaning, maybe this is the ultimate destination. Just a thought.

This is a song I wrote for a progressive event some years back, but it still encompasses some of these ideas, as well as a remembrance of the foundation of our own country's democracy, established of, by and FOR THE PEOPLE.

NYC's bold action is a victory for us all  

Sunday, Jan. 14th, 2018

Some of you may have heard by now that on Jan. 10th, 2018, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that the city is divesting all of its pension funds from the oil and gas industry. This is a huge victory in the fight against climate change, and against the ongoing devastation throughout this country and around the world caused by a warming planet. 

Mayor DeBlasio also announced a plan to sue five of the major oil and gas companies; Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips, for knowing the scientific facts of climate change and it’s increasing risks to people, property and planet, and willfully denying and obfuscating those facts for decades so that they could continue to reap major profits at the expense of us all. 

Someone who’s been prominent for years among that pack of industry polluters and deniers is Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil and current Secretary of State. And while he now acknowledges the truth about climate change, he is also working within an administration that is continuing the trend of denial by removing all mention of climate change from government websites, gutting funding for science, the EPA, clean energy initiatives, emergency response agencies and infrastructure, and common-sense regulations intended to protect our communities. These actions put all of us, our children, and our future at risk so that a few can continue to squeeze profit from the misery. I don’t know about you, but I’m not okay with that. It’s time to fight back. Thank you, Mayor DeBlasio, for doing the right thing. I pray many more will follow in your tracks.

Rex Tillerson, this song is for you - and for all those within the fossil fuel industry who deny or ignore the facts, putting corporate profit above people and planet.

*One lyrical correction: I referenced a "billionaire businessman" in the 2nd verse, but apparently Mr. Tillerson's net financial worth is only $325 million. My bad! But it did flow a whole lot better than "multimillionaire"...

Confessions of an Earth Mama, Volume 1  

Sat., Jan 6th, 2018

Hmmm... where to begin? First, let me introduce myself. My name is Susan Shann. I’m a performing songwriter, a spiritual seeker, a progressive thinker. I believe, as both modern or so-called “new thought” spiritual teachings and the metaphysical sciences seem to affirm, that we truly are all one, connected energetically with each other and with the magnificent creation entrusted to our care. I call myself an Earth Mama because I am a child of nature, a child of the most high, a descendant of ALL who’ve gone before me, offspring of the Sacred Mother herself, that divine feminine and creative force of the world in which we live. 

Although raised “loosely” Presbyterian, I do not adhere to any one set of religious beliefs. Yet my faith in a divine intelligence that passes all understanding, and in the power of love, is absolute. While this love may often seem to exist in our world as unexpressed potential, I have witnessed how it also, in an instant, can break through the seemingly mundane and ordinary aspects of each day with all it’s glorious brilliance intact, as if the wonder and mystery of the ages was right there before me, within me, surrounding me. I’ve experienced how love can change a person’s life, bring healing and hope, restore balance, offer peace where before there was only unrest. I’ve written many a song about these phenomena, and will no doubt write many more. 

I begin this journal, to share with my brothers and sisters of all cultures and religions, wherever you may be, because I believe our world needs us now like never before to stand together, to lift each other up, to speak out about what needs to change within our individual and collective societies, to resist oppression and discrimination in every form, to be a voice for change and for the healing we so desperately need. To my Earth Mama sisters, may we each find new ways to bring forth the strength, caring and nurturing that is unique to our identities as women. I’m honored to share this journey with you all.