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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

So Long, Leonard Cohen

By Coach Cary Bayer www.carybayer.com

“In streams of light I clearly saw
The dust you seldom see,
Out of which the Nameless makes
A Name for one like me.” —Leonard Cohen, “Love Itself”

In November, Leonard Cohen, the great poet singer/songwriter and member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, died at the age of 82. Or more aptly, went home, for as he wrote in “Going Home,” one of his most deeply spiritual songs:

“Going home/Without my burden
Going home/Behind the curtain
Going home/Without the costume
That I wore.”

Leonard Cohen wrote a great deal about the mysteries of love, as well as the mysteries of existence. Born in Montreal to a middle-class Orthodox Jewish family — his paternal grandfather was the founding president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, while his maternal grandfather was a Talmudic writer. “I had a very Messianic childhood,” Cohen said. “I was told I was a descendant of Aaron the high priest,” he added, referring to Aaron, the brother of Moses. Even while touring, giving concerts, he would observe the Sabbath, eschewing Friday night shows, for example, quite a rarity for performers on the road.

Zen Meditation

But while he was always connected to his religion, he was also deeply drawn to Zen Buddhism, and many of the lyrics to his songs speak to that influence. In 1994, he retreated to the Mt. Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles, where he would spend the next five years, much of it in seclusion. Two years into his retreat, he was ordained as a Zen Buddhist monk, taking the name Jikan, which translates as silence. It was here that he served as personal assistant to Kyozan Joshu Sasaki, the roshi, or spiritual leader of the center. Cohen said of his spiritual practice that, “Buddhist meditation frees you from God and frees you from religion. You can experience complete at-homeness in this world.”

“Occasionally I’ve felt the grace of another presence in my life,” the poet has written. That other presence seems to speak in “Going Home.”  That song, some of whose lyrics are quoted below, is among the most popular songs I play and discuss in my workshop, “Rock ‘n; Roll Yoga: Pop Lyrics, Higher Consciousness & Meditation.”

“I love to speak with Leonard/He’s a sportsman and a shepherd/
…But he does say what I tell him/Even though it isn’t welcome
He just doesn't have the freedom/To refuse
He will speak these words of wisdom/Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing/But the brief elaboration of a tube
I want him to be certain/That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision/That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding/Which is to say what I have told him
To repeat.”

In “Anthem,” he writes of the great Light that virtually all the great spiritual teachers of all time have spoken of at length or written enthusiastically about:
“There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”

He speaks of the Buddhist concept of impermanence and detachment in “The Smokey Life:”
“It's light, light enough
To let it go
It's light enough to let it go.”

His legendary spiritual song, "Hallelujah," which has been performed by almost 200 artists in various languages, is probably the work he’s most famous for. Consider the opening two lines, which blend music and spirituality:
“Well I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord.”
Later in the song, he writes:
“But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah.”

Just a few days after his death, Saturday Night Live, that most irreverent of comedy shows, opened its November 13 broadcast with Kate McKinnon at the piano alone, reverently singing “Hallelujah.” The program could easily have opened with some satire about the Presidential election that had taken place the day after the singer’s passing. McKinnon, after all, had starred in numerous episodes as Hillary Clinton. Instead SNL chose to honor this recipient of the Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest honor his nation bestows.