This is an interview with my dear friend, Chris Grosso of The Indie Spiritualist. Chris is a wise, spiritual teacher and I resonate very much with his message about dogma free spirituality. Read this interview, you’ll enjoy it. –Lisa
Here it is:
Q: What led you to getting started on the spiritual path?
A: Well mine was the quintessential Dark Night of the Soul story. I’m a recovering addict and it was through years of very dark, self-destructive behavior that ultimately became the catalyst for me seeking to find a better way to live. A lot of people conjure images of folks having spiritual awakenings in temples, churches, monasteries, ad infinitum, but my awakenings began in numerous drug related trips to the emergency room, waking up in jail cells and even landing myself in a psych hospital twice after half hearted suicide attempts.
I’m not sharing any of this to glorify my past, but I do believe it’s very important for people to hear that part of my message, especially those who are still got in the grips of addiction or are in a dark place in their lives regardless of its source. I want them to know there is a better way.
To be a little more specific in answer the question however, after getting clean and coming into recovery for the first time, I decided to go back to college enrolling myself in a Substance Abuse Counselor Program. It was there that I met an amazing professor named Harriet Cianci. Harriet is an amazing woman who began to shape to the very vulnerable place I was at in my life- a place however, that left me ripe for cultivating a new and healthier way of life.
This may sound cliché, but she gave me a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now to read and it truly changed my life. My punk rock roots force me to interject here that this was before Eckhart Tolle was an Oprah certified household name. His book however, which I’ve come to experience as a sort of modern day take on the Tao Te Ching, completely flipped my view of “reality” upside down.
To this day, I still remember the overwhelming sense of liberation and spaciousness I felt as I learned that I was not the incessant chatter that played consistently in my mind. I actually remember reading the book cover to cover three times in a row when my professor first lent it to me and have subsequently read it easily over a dozen times since then.
The Power of Now fed the inquisitive nature I’d been penchant towards since an early age and led me to other authors such as Ram Dass, J Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Ramakrishna, Ken Wilber and many others. I also developed a new love and respect for Quantum Physics thanks to the film What the Bleep do we Know!?, which was also introduced by Professor Cianci. So there’s a very condensed version of how I came to the spiritual path, but hopefully you get the point.
Q: Tell us how/why/when you started your website, theindiespiritualist.com? How did you get involved in interviewing so many of the world’s coolest spiritual teachers, artists, writers, musicians, and even skateboarders?
A: Well as for the when, I launched the website in 2010. As for the why, it was the perfect storm of things going on in my material life that led to the sites inception. I was working full time as an Assistant Site Director for a before/after elementary school enrichment program, as well as working as a one on one youth mentor, on top of taking classes, doing an internship, then engaged and playing drums in a band.
It came to the point where things were just too overwhelming and I realized that at least one of them had to go. I chose to quit the band and that was a really tough thing to do. We’d just recorded a album that I was really into, and even though we didn’t play that often, the few practices and shows we did, took up the only semblance of free time I had.
A few weeks after leaving the band, I found myself becoming somewhat antsy, as I’ve always been the type of person who needed a creative outlet, and I’ve typically found that outlet through playing in bands since the age of 14. So one morning, I remember making the 30 minute commute into work when the idea to start a website hit me. A seed had actually been planted, and nourished, over the course of the prior two years, but I had no idea it would subsequently blossom as the nudge to start a website.
Over the course of those prior two years, through visiting various sanghas, meditation groups, spiritual gatherings etc I noticed a growing amount of younger people who shared many of the same independent/counterculture interests as I did including music, film, literature, art, etc. There was an ever growing amount of not only younger people at mediation groups and other various spiritual circles I would check out, but many of them were wearing punk rock t-shirts, and tattoos etc. It was awesome to chat with some of them afterwards and bounce back and forth between Buddha, Charles Bukowski, Fugazi and Skateboarding, all in the same conversation.
I started thinking about how it would be cool if there was a magazine or something that gave voice to this emerging eclectic unity of spirituality and all the other random weird shit I loved. I know that Noah Levine’s Dharma Punx and Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen both played a huge role in this emerging scene, I still however could not find a place the embraced spiritualities like Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism or my own personal path, A Course in Miracles, as well as indie culture and it’s ethics all in one place. Thus, the idea for The Indie Spiritualist website was born.
As for the spiritual teachers, artists, writers, musicians, and skateboarders I interview on the site, yeah, I’m still scratching my head at how they’ve all come together. I mean, there’s no real rhyme or reason behind it. I don’t have some amazing writing credentials or degree. I’ve done some freelance work for a Connecticut Paper but that’s really it. I think a lot of it is in my approach to be honest. When I approach the interviewees’ publicists or assistants, I try to be as authentic as possible, which isn’t really difficult as I’m reaching out to people who have impacted my life in one way or another.
What I’d really have to attribute it all too though, (WARNING: things are about to get cliché) is the intention I set every morning when I awake. Besides my daily meditation practice, I say a prayer asking for help laying myself (ego nature) aside as much as possible so that God’s work can be done through me, whatever that may be. Now 3-5 seconds after that, Chris is back at the steering wheel and doing things as he sees fit, but I’ve planted the seed of awareness so that 10, 100 or 1,000 times throughout the day, I can come back and do my best to re-establish that connection with Spirit and realign myself with Its guidance.
Q: You’re a multi-talented musician. How do you think music has informed your spiritual path and the work you’re doing today?
A: Music has always been a very cathartic release for me. From the aspect of playing, it’s allowed me to give shape and form to my shadow side and release things in a creative way. The majority of the stuff I write is often dark in nature, not evil, but like I said, I’m getting a lot of pent up shit out. In turn however, it makes more room for peace, compassion and love to reside. I also write as a way of extending my hand through personal experience to those who have gone through, or are going through, similar dark places in their life, and to let them know they’re not alone. Taken at surface value, my lyrics can seem dark and depressing, but when I sing a line like, “Hopeless, Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” I’m not glorifying dark imagery, but rather offering a sincere call to those whom can relate to that sentiment. Again, trying to reach those struggling in an authentic way they can relate to which may begin to help reel them back in. That’s also the approach I take while writing, whether it’s my book or blogging, whatever…I try to become as honest and vulnerable as possible through sharing my experience, and again, letting others know there is a better way available if they want it.
As far as listening to music and how it’s influenced my spiritual path, I have to give so much love and respect to my punk/hardcore roots. My naturally inquisitive nature was totally nourished by their ethics of, “question everything.” I’m also greatly influenced by old school/indie/conscious hip hop. Groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy and countless others not only have amazing beats, but their lyrics are amazing and thought provoking as well. I’d also have to mention my love of Kirtan and the impact that Krishna Das, Jai Uttal and others have had on me. The experience of call and response, just something about singing praise to God in that way, cuts right to the core of me. I could go on and on about music’s impact on me and the various types I enjoy including jazz, folk, shoegaze, metal, ambient etc but I think I can sum it up by saying spirit saturates everything, if only we’re able to quiet ourselves and see/hear/experience it. For me, there’s no easier place to do that than with music.
Q: What are the books and teachers who have inspired you the most?
A: I love books! So much so, I recently had the words “BOOK WORM” tattooed across my knuckles. True story. With the exception of my parents, brother and some dear friends, the majority of my teachers have been books.
A Course in Miracle states, “Words are but symbols of symbols, they are thus twice removed from reality,” so with that awareness in mind, I’ve come to recognize that all transmission of wisdom, whether through book, spoken word, guru, angels etc is all still symbolic of the One truth which already resides in us all. It’s all relevant, but one form of transmission is not necessarily better than the other. Direct contact and guidance from Source through the quieting of mind in meditation however, is hands down the most pure and inspiring way to experience this for me.
As for specific books, here’s a small list of the many titles that have greatly shaped and influenced my path. (Many of the authors listed below have written other titles that I also thoroughly enjoy, but these are the ones which have impacted me the most.)
A Course in Miracles
The Urantia Book
Lao Tsu- Tao Te Ching
The Eseential Teachings of Ramana Maharshi
Ram Dass- Be Here Now
Jiddu Krishnamurti- To Be Human
Ken Wilber- Everything
Alan Watts- The Book
Sogyal Rinpoche- The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Stephen Levine- A Gradual Awakening
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche- Cutting Through Material Spiritualism
Gary Renard- The Disappearance of the Universe
Kenneth Wapnick- Everything
Eckhart Tolle- The Power of Now
Thich Nhat Hanh- Living Buddha, Living Christ
Carlos Castenada- The Teachings of Don Juan
Jarvis Jay Masters- Finding Freedom- Writings from Death Row
Pema Chodron- The Places That Scare You
Non-spiritual related titles I’ve enjoyed (just for fun):
Hunter S. Thompson- Hell’s Angels
Charles Bukowski- Everything
William S. Burroughs- Junkie
H.P. Lovecraft- The Call of Cthulhu
Peter Farris- Last Call for the Living
Harry Crews- A Feast of Snakes
Mark Z. Danielewski- House of Leaves
Q: What is your advice to others who may not feel as though they fit into traditional spiritual paths and how does it relate to the “dogma free spirituality” you emphasize in your writing?
A: Yeah, this question is what the majority of my writing on is based on. The dogma free spiritual practice is one of inquiry as inspired by the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Punk Rock Ethics and Counterculture Revolutionaries of the past & present. It wasn’t until I found the punk/hardcore music scene around 14 years old that I ever really felt as though I was a part of something (family aside.) Growing up and playing team sports like soccer and hockey was a great experience, but it was still an external, material sort of thing. Getting involved in the punk/hardcore movement was cool because it was a community of people searching for something more. There were bands discussing all sorts of relevant shit from politics to personal ethics, spirituality and all the “ism’s” you can think of. So having those roots prior to really becoming interested in spirituality was important for me because it helped me to begin finding my own voice and truth, regardless of the thoughts and opinions of others.
This path essentially guides practitioners to question everything in their lives- but to do so in a positive way in which they re-evaluate the paradigms of their life, and let go of the ones that no longer serve them. By reassessing these lifelong beliefs, practitioners will be empowered to become more authentic not only in their spiritual lives, but other areas of life as well.
The practice of dogma free spirituality promotes healing and compassion for oneself and others as we learn to get in touch with the true divinity that we all have inside ourselves, exactly as we are right now. It’s not that we need any major makeovers but rather, clearing of old conditioned thoughts and patterns which keep us from accessing the deepest levels of our inherent Divine nature.
There’s a very big egoic nature attached to many of the religious/spiritual circles, from Buddhism to Christianity and everything in between. That’s not to say all of it by any means, but still, a lot of it. In my earlier years of visiting various sangha’s, churches and spiritual groups, the thing that often surprised me the most was how many of them were not very welcoming. Sure, it may have had something to do with my tattoos, maybe not, but I clearly remember something feeling off in my gut while visiting many of them. The crazy thing is that often times “spiritual” folks develop a greater sense of ego than those who could care less about spirituality. It’s easy to become self-righteous when you realize there’s something greater than yourself that you’re now moving towards which others aren’t. I know I certainly experienced some of that myself when I was first becoming established in my practice. All I’m going to say regarding that is thank god for Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism.
So all that being said, my advice to those who feel as though they don’t fit in with traditional spirituality is first, and foremost, recognize that you are completely perfect and as spiritually adept, right now in this very moment, as the greatest saints who ever walked the earth. The true nature of God, Universe, Spirit or the Divine is 100% equally in Sages and Yogis as it is in criminals and murderers. The only difference is that the Sages and Yogis are in touch with it as the criminals and murderers are not. No organized religion or spiritual practice has any ultimate authority over God’s Word, so never, EVER let them talk down to you for being who you are, while hiding behind the pretense of God. You are already completely illumined and enlightened, you’ve just forgotten, and by finding a spiritual practice that resonates with the truth in your heart, you’ll find your way back, there’s absolutely no way you can’t!
I believe that literally, everything is saturated with spirit and that spirituality can be found in all places, and at all times. Spirituality is not all about incense and crystals, malas and words like “namaste.” Sure, that can all be part of it, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but most importantly, it’s all about what tenants of spirituality you feel connected too, regardless of what it looks like on the outside.
Do the teachings of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism or Taoism speak to you? If one or more does, great, explore them, but if right now none of them do, don’t worry. Spirituality is not strictly limited to traditional paths such as these! Do you like nature, dancing, music, hiking, exercise, meditation or writing? Spiritually is equally applicable with all of these things as it is with anything traditional practice and can definitely lead you to connect with your spiritual self at a deeper level.
I do think at some point though, it’s worth exploring various spiritual teachings and seeing if any resonate with you. Try to look past the dogma that surrounds names like Jesus, Krishna, Mohammed, Buddha, etc. It really is quite unfortunate what much of the major religions have done to the very Holy and High teachings of these illumined masters, but I digress, I’m getting off topic.
So again, and most importantly, ALWAYS trust your internal guidance or Spirit, because when you’re truly in touch with that, It will always guide you to wherever will be of the most benefit to your life at that moment.
Q: How do you stay inspired? What does your daily, spiritual practice look like?
A: There’s a Ram Dass quote I love which I think is very applicable here, “Inspiration is God making contact with itself.”
As far as my own personal practice, there’s a few basic disciplines I try to adhere too on a daily basis. One of them is proper sleep. I catch shit for this sometimes from friends when I’m out after 10 or 11pm and can’t stop yawning but whatever, sleep is important. I do my best to get 7 hours a night which is very important for me. Without proper rest, I definitely don’t function all that well throughout my day. After a good night sleep, I wake up and as quickly as possible, I bring my focus to gratitude for a new day. I believe it’s very important to start my day in a positive mental state and spend a few minutes giving thanks for various things.
From there I typically read a bit from two or three books, for roughly 15-20 minutes followed by meditate for roughly 30 minutes. Some mornings I may substitute some of that meditation time with the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or Reiki if I feel moved too. I finish up the routine by going out for a run and then I’m ready to start my day. Getting up early enough to incorporate all of this into my morning routine is very important for me, hence my emphasis on sleeps importance. It is less time consuming than I’m sure it all sounds though, roughly an hour and a half or so. I used to do mostly anything for drugs, so this practice isn’t all that difficult in comparison.
Throughout the rest of my day I make a conscious effort to take time, even if just for a minute, to take a few conscious breaths, give thanks for anything I’m feeling grateful for at that moment, and then go back about my day. It’s huge for me to do my best to stay in conscious contact with my Higher Power and check in as frequently as possible as it helps keep me grounded and focused.
Every day is not perfect, far from it, but having a practice like this helps me to weather whatever storms arise with a greater sense of acceptance and peace. I do my best to stick with these disciplines yet not be overly rigid in my practice. I try to be like the palm tree swaying with whichever way the wind takes it. How’s that for some corny shit?
Q: If you could distill the wisdom you’ve attained from interviewing so many awesome people, what would the main teachings be?
A: Eesh, there’s so much. If I were to try to sum up a main theme, or core message from the wonderful teachers I’ve interviewed, it’s that we’re all in this together. We are all ONE, and though we have our physical bodies, which create the illusion of separation, underneath that illusion, everything is 100% connected energy. According to Quantum Physics, everything comes from one Quantum Soup, literally everything. The computer you’re reading this on, the fingers you used to click the link that brought you here, the chair, couch or bed you’re currently sitting on, it’s all the same. So even though you, I, the trees, plants and animals are all frozen at different energetic levels and appear to be separate on the material level, we’re all still created from the exact same energy and are connected at our very deepest core!
When people say Namaste to one another, the sentiment is beautiful, but I still think it’s limiting. The Divinity in one saluting the Divinity in another is a beautiful notion but it’s still basing its acknowledgment on separation. I may just be getting into semantics here, but that’s really the major teaching I’ve culminated from speaking with those amazing people, not necessarily the exact physics behind it, but the theme of the message.
Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “When you go beyond awareness, there is a state of non-duality, in which there is no cognition, only pure being. In the state of non-duality, all separation ceases.” I can get down with that.
Q: What guidance do you have for people in making positive, lasting changes in their lives?
A: From my own personal experience, the most important thing I’ve learned to do, hands down, is become more loving and compassionate towards myself. At first, this may sound selfish, but honestly, it’s probably the greatest gift we can give not only ourselves, but the Universe as a whole. When we’re able to have a more loving relationship with ourselves we don’t have to seek for love and validation to make us feel fulfilled through others. When we look outside ourselves for that love, we’re ultimately setting ourselves and others up for failure because no one can be perfect and satisfy all of our needs, all of the time. When we learn to be more loving and compassionate towards ourselves in an honest way, we can then bring more love and compassion into our other relationships, which will allow them to reach entirely new levels.
In order to do this, I recommend finding some form of healing method that works for you. I’ve made some wonderful progress in this area through the use of EFT, Reiki, Exercise and Meditation (especially Metta (Loving-Kindness) meditation.) Find something, anything that works for you. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things. I know people who have made an amazing spiritual & healing practice out of dance, hula-hooping, gardening, hiking, playing music, anything that helps you become more connected to your spiritual self.
A side note to those who may be really struggling in their lives right now- From my experience, Hell is not some fiery brimstone afterlife experience but it a reality for many people here on earth. I know because I’ve been there, and not just for a quick visit either. No matter how dark things have gotten, there is a Divine Spark in the deepest recesses of our Heart’s Center. This spark is something we can never lose, even if we tried. So if we’re able to make even the faintest attempt to reconnect to that, It will do amazing things to help you through whatever we’re going through and to begin a healing process. Do you best to find even an ounce of faith, blind or not. What do you have to lose in trying? I promise you, YOU ARE WORTH IT.
Q: What projects are you working on right now? Where can we connect to you online?
A: My main focus right now is on my upcoming book tentatively titled The Indie Spiritualist, which my agent is currently shopping with publishers. Besides that, I’m setting up a few new interviews for The Indie Spiritualist website which I’m excited about. They’re not 100% confirmed so I can’t say much more than that right now.
I’ll also be doing some blogging over at elephant journal (www.elephantjournal.com) starting at the end of August, as well as some guest blogging spots on various other sites. My current musical project Womb Of The Desert Sun (http://wombofthedesertsun.bandcamp.com/) is releasing our first E.P. soon on The Path Less Traveled Records (http://www.thepathlesstraveledrecords.com/)
I’m the Spiritual Director for a non-profit in Connecticut called The Sanctuary at Shepardfields and am psyched to have just booked Bernie Siegel to come give a talk for a benefit we’re having! If you’re in the CT area look us up, http://www.oursanctuary.org. I also organize a weekly interfaith meditation group there ever Sunday at 11am.
Otherwise, I’m looking forward to an inevitable collaboration project with you at some point Lisa, whenever our hectic schedules will accommodate it and wanted to say thank you very much for your time and the interview. To anyone reading this–buy Lisa’s book out in November from Hay House Publishing called Rebel Chick Mystic’s Guide! Do it, you won’t be sorry! (Lisa’s Note: Aww, thanks for the shout out! Much appreciate your support. Hey though, this interview is supposed to be about you!)
Chris Grosso is the Spiritual Director of the interfaith center The Sanctuary at Shepardfields, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit land preserve that offers educational resources for personal transformation, community evolution, and environmental restoration (http://www.oursanctuary.org). After years of studying various spiritual paths, Chris took his Bodhisattva vows during a Medicine Buddha ceremony in 2007, as transmitted from Venerable Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tenzin, who received the initiation from H.H. the Dalai Lama before being appointed as Abbot of H.H.’s Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala, India. Chris has since gone on to devote the majority of his practice to the disciplines of A Course in Miracles and Advaita Vedanta, with a complementary exploration of quantum mechanics and metaphysics.
Chris’s main writing endeavor, however, is his work with his website The Indie Spiritualist (http://www.theindiespiritualist.com). Since the site’s inception in 2010, Chris has interviewed an eclectic mix of individuals from the worlds of spirituality, film, music, neuroscience, art, comedy, and more. One of the more notable individuals featured is singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, punk music icon/actor/author/TV and radio show host Henry Rollins (Black Flag and Rollins Band), and Comedy Central Roast Master Lisa Lampanelli. The site also features interviews with some of today’s leading bands, hip hop artists, and spiritual teachers, including Lama Surya Das (Author of Awakening the Buddha Within), Chino Moreno (Deftones), Dan Millman (Author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior), Al Jourgensen (Ministry), Brad Warner (Author of Hardcore Zen), Ian MacKaye (Fugazi and Minor Threat), Atmosphere, Marci Shimoff (NY Times Best-Selling Author of Happy for no Reason), Aesop Rock, Kaki King, Concrete Blonde, skateboarding icons Mike Vallely and Christian Hosoi, actors Danny Trejo (Heat, Machete, Spy Kids), Demetri Martin (Taking Woodstock, Important Things with Demetri Martin), Scout Taylor-Compton (The Runaways, Rob Zombie’s Halloween I and 2), and many more.