John Astin: Musician
How did you get started in your music career?
I come from a musical family. Though my parents eventually pursued careers as psychologists and researchers (something I too ultimately did!), they were also musicians. My Mom was a very serious student of classical piano as a teen and young adult while my father was actually a music major as an undergrad and is still an accomplished jazz pianist at the ripe age of 84. My folks encouraged me and my brother to take up musical instruments when we were quite young (I was 7), and when they asked me what instrument I wanted to study, I said, “drums.” My Mom’s response was, “what’s your second choice?” Needless to say, I never became a drummer! Instead I began to study guitar and though I thought I’d be playing rock and roll, as it turned out, the teacher I found taught classical guitar.
I got quite serious about music in my teens, studying the guitar for 5 summers at the renowned Aspen Music Festival with the great Italian guitarist, Oscar Ghiglia. But when I was 18, I decided that I didn’t have the single-pointedness I felt it would take to make it professionally as a classical artist. And so I let go of my musical pursuits at the time and ventured off to college.
Has your music always been spiritual or was there something in your life that inspired your profound messages of love, life, awakening?
Well, picking up the story, when I was 19 as a college sophomore, two major events occurred. First, quite out of the blue for I had not been raised in any sort of overt spiritual context or religion, I became rather obsessed with exploring my own interior life and through that investigation became exposed to many of the great eastern and western contemplative traditions, eventually taking up a pretty serious yoga and meditation practice and almost becoming a monk. Around that same time that those early spiritual awakenings were arising for me, I also discovered that I actually loved to sing and wasn’t half bad at it! A girlfriend at the time encouraged me to express myself vocally and so I started around the age of 20 to write songs, bringing together my classical guitar skills that I’d developed in my teens with the devotional poetry that had begun streaming out of me. Thirty-seven years later, I’m continuing to write music that attempts to express that which is ultimately inexpressible, this great mystery that we are and everything is!
Do you write the words and messages as well as the melodies to your songs?
For the most part, yes. All but one of the seven CDs I’ve recorded over the past two plus decades are almost exclusively my original poetry and music. The exception was a project I recorded in 2003, "Voice of the Mystics," in which I set to music some of my favorite poetry from the world’s great sages such as Kabir, Rumi, Dogen and Jesus.
Can you tell us about your spiritual awakening process?
Well, it has certainly been a fascinating journey since those early spiritual rumblings began to make themselves known to me during my first year of college. I could, like each one of us, write an entire book on the myriad twists and turns my own awakening process has taken. But if I were to sum it up simply, I would say that from age 19 to about age 40, I spent an enormous amount of time and energy, reading, practicing meditation, going on retreats and studying with various teachers, all in an effort to become one with God, realize the Divine, find the Awakened Mind or whatever else one might choose to call the Primal Reality or Source of existence.
During those many years of practice, while I felt at times as if I was making progress as I would experience various insights and breakthroughs, feeling as if I was getting a glimpse of what it was I imagined I was searching for spiritually, truth be told, I was somewhat frustrated, feeling as if I just couldn’t arrive at the destination I'd set my sights on, no matter how much effort I put toward realizing that.
But then in 2000, I went on a retreat and my seeking mind was turned upside down. During those 5 days, through a series of indescribable moments, I came to see that the very thing I’d been searching for, the very God, the very Source I aspired to no longer feel separate from was in fact, what I had always been. I’d been looking everywhere for the Divine when all along, it had been my very own self, my very own existence! I realized in those moments that as the teacher J. Krishanmurti was fond of saying, there can be no path to here for here is all there is. We are always here, always home, always inseparable from the Great Singularity, this Indivisible Reality that moves as all things, all moments, all experiences… Since that time, I have continued to let this profound truth and its implications sink in, this realization that the Grace, the Freedom and the Love we all search for is already present as the very source and substance of each and every moment of life.
What message or messages would you like to share with our readers, with the world?
Contrary to almost everything we ever been taught, nothing is actually missing. We have never ever, for one instant, been separate or apart from the divinity, the freedom, the God that we have sought. And so lack has never in fact existed. This very moment, this present experience, no matter how we might be conventionally labeling or describing it is in fact a dance of inconceivable, indescribable, transcendental intelligence and energy. If we peer around the edges of what we imagine things to be, we can discover that no matter how we might categorize or define the moments of our lives, every instant is an utter free fall into endless openness, subtlety, nuance, lusciousness and depth. Using words and music to try to evoke a taste of this always and already present fullness shining forth as each instant of life is one of the great joys of my life.