A thing I’ve been thinking about is how art is very much I think, for me, a resistance and transformation of fear. And every album I’ve made, I’ve learned to challenge a huge major fear in my life, or several fears. Because I think that the opposite of fear is courage, and courage to love and be open.
Welcome to AWAKEN, a podcast from the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. I’m Tania Ketenjian, executive producer of AWAKEN. Over this second season of AWAKEN, we have heard the reflections of some extraordinary people, sharing their stories and ideas about the key mind states illustrated in the mandala: pride, envy, anger, attachment, and ignorance. Throughout, we have been guided by singer and songwriter Raveena Aurora. And in this special episode, we are turning the mic onto our host, Raveena, to hear her own story of Awakening.
It’s not a coincidence that we asked Raveena to host this second season. She grew up in a spiritual household and came to better understand herself as an artist while she was here at the Rubin many years ago. Later in this episode we will hear that story, but let’s start here, at the beginning: Raveena was born and raised in the US, but, like many Americans, she’s first generation. Her parents moved here from India.
I grew up in a very traditionally Sikh household. But I think what made it really interesting was that my grandparents, my mom, were tapped into their spirituality in a way that was very deep. Like they were meditating all the time. My grandparents were. My mom would describe these moments where she was praying where she felt like she was being guided through the universe, like super super fast. She would talk about events occurring before they happened and how she could see them. Seeing and feeling things through dreams.
My grandparents would practice reiki on me. They believed in the power of the mind over everything. And I think it came from a place of them experiencing a very rare thing for a Sikh person to go through. They went through the 1984 Sikh genocide. And obviously it affected thousands and thousands of people, but in the grand scope of being a Sikh person among hundreds of millions, it’s a more rare experience, and even more rare to lose someone and to be displaced by it. So, I think that because they went through that, that made their connection to spirituality even deeper, and they had to tap into something larger.
And even just, you know, prayer music wafting throughout the house in the morning, and all the energy being generated all the time, that was a very powerful thing to experience as a kid.
Raveena’s first visit to the Rubin Museum, a museum dedicated to art from the Himalayas, became a deep inspiration for her music and creativity. The Rubin opened her up even more to what is possible for her creatively. And now, as a host, she has done the same for us.
I visited the Rubin Museum I think for the first time in 2016? Or 2017, I want to say?
And it was—yeah, it was super powerful, because I had never really seen a museum that was dedicated to Asian art. And I think seeing that reflected back at me was so powerful. And you had these sound installations up of—I think it was temples in the Tibetan region, and they were sampling wind sounds and just the atmosphere, and we ended up buying the vinyl for it. And it was just like walking around, experiencing that installation, it was super powerful. And it was actually where the inspiration for one of the songs on Lucid was from, called “Petal,” which is the closing track.
“Petal” is about the acceptance of death. I wanted to make a song that was about what it might feel like before you die,
People describe almost dying and the kind of chemicals that are released—I wanted to make a song that was about that. The song is kind of like this meditative chant, but the chords of it are inspired by something like a D’Angelo song, like it’s very R&B chords over this very meditative Indian, Eastern-inspired chant. So that was kind of the starting point also for the next album. I was so inspired by what I had seen at the Rubin, seeing all this Asian art around me, feeling like it was time to blend East and West together, to pay homage to my culture in a way that I hadn’t before, and find its way through the music.
So, yeah, it was super beautiful. It just opened up the whole realm of possibility, going to that museum and being able to see it in such an accessible way.
There’s a kind of circular quality about the Rubin Museum and I remember going through a maze of colorful Buddhist art with—they’re so intricate, those paintings. It’s so beautiful. I had never really been exposed to something like that before.
And just seeing how that had—that intricate and kind of maximalist art had been inspired by spirit was so cool, because that was something that I resonated with a lot, as a person who leans towards maximalism, even though it feels like with spirituality like simplicity is often more valued, in a sense. So, that was really beautiful, walking around that, and then coming upon this dark seating area where I believe they had images projected of where they were sampling those sounds from. And there was really comfortable seating on the floor, and these headphones that you could put on.
And there weren’t that many people in the Museum. It was just like perfect. It felt like you could fully relax inside the Museum. And, yeah, I’ve never really had that intimate of an experience inside a museum before.
At the Rubin, art and beliefs are seemingly inextricable. As we have explored in the last seven episodes, AWAKEN walks us through the Vairochana Mandala, a work of art that illustrates the path to enlightenment. It is the quintessential example of how art and spirituality come together. And that resonates deeply with Raveena.
I think spirituality is the driving force in everything I do. Because I was introduced to this kind of more conscious and sweeter and more ethereal way of looking at life, I was immediately connected to music. But the thing that I didn’t have growing up in a traditional Indian household was the ability to talk about issues, talk about feelings, in this way that is very open and is healing.
Because things just get swept under the rug in Indian households, most often. And I think that’s a lot of immigrant households. So, music was the way to be quietly resistant. Like writing a song about how I felt about certain dynamics in the house or maybe even racism that we were experiencing as Sikh people—all this pain, I would transform through the music. And I noticed that every time I was in touch with my voice and in touch with music, it would bring me to a very similar space that spirituality did. And I think that the most beautiful part about being a musician is that it has led me to such an open and free and like even more spiritual life. Because being connected to artistry means you have to keep your vessel open.
You have to be able to tap into something larger than yourself. And this is the—yeah, this is kind of the central force, and it’s led me here, and I’m super grateful.
Season 2 of AWAKEN is fundamentally about coming face to face with our seemingly darker sides, the emotions that we feel most challenged by. And the idea, of the series, of the mandala, of life, is that to really come to a place of peace within ourselves, we need to come face to face with our more challenging mind states. Some call it negative emotions, some call it kleshas, Raveena refers to it as shadow work.
Shadow work is integral in being able to heal and being able to be the most open and hopefully enlightened version of yourself. And I think that in this lifetime, we come here to work on all of our different shadow sides, and it’s very hard to even get to a place in life where you could probably say that, yeah, I am a fully fifth-dimensional being now, and I have no worries on my plate. I think part of this dimension of being on Earth is that heaven and hell and everything in between exist here.
So, we’re here to—to feel all of the emotions, and to work through them, and find our peace with them. And that was actually kind of the—the ethos of even what my second album was about. Because I think that I had an idea about healing before, that it was about reaching this kind of nirvana peaceful-like state. But I think through my second album, through the life experiences I was also having, I unlocked this realization that being human is just being at peace with the constant flux of anger, joy, jealousy, excitement, sexuality. Like we’re such full beings.
There’s no reason to not live out and feel all those things. But I think the peace comes in the acceptance that’s there. And yeah, I think that a thing I’ve been thinking about is how art is very much I think, for me, a resistance and transformation of fear. And every album I’ve made, I’ve learned to challenge a huge major fear in my life, or several fears. Because I think that the opposite of fear is courage, and courage to love and be open.
The synchronicity between the title of this podcast series, AWAKEN, and the name of Raveena’s most recent album, Asha’s Awakening felt magical.
My album is called Asha’s Awakening, so when I found out that the name of this podcast was AWAKEN, I was very, very excited. What “awaken” means is to be like fully in the throes of life, and fully in the throes of present in whatever emotions it’s bringing to you. Awakened means to be in flow. It means to be kind of radically joyful. I think that a lot of the systems we have in place are meant to divide and keep people not feeling the full depths of life and joy that they can experience. So when you decide that you want to live a life that is saying no to all of that and choosing a life that feels really meaningful to you and like you are here to experience the fullness of whatever this fate or this life has to offer you, I think that is radical joyfulness.
Radical joyfulness. Let’s sit with that for a moment and imagine what it can feel like, to have it, to share it. We invite you to think of all the ways we might be able to bring radical joyfulness to ourselves and everyone around us. It doesn’t take too much, just an awareness of each other, a willingness to look at the harder aspects of ourselves and an understanding that by doing that, we increase our ability to connect, celebrate and honor one another. Raveena illustrates this so much in her words and music and it was wonderful to have her as our host.
This is a bonus episode of AWAKEN, offering deeper insight into our host, Raveena.
Awaken is produced by the Rubin Museum of Art with Dawn Eshelman, Tenzin Gelek, Jamie Lawyer, Christina Watson, and Tim McHenry in collaboration with SOUND MADE PUBLIC, including Tania Ketenjian, Emma Vecchione, Philip Wood, and Jeremiah Moore.
AWAKEN Season 2 is part of the Rubin Museum’s Mandala Lab. A multiyear initiative generously supported by 28 donors and sponsors.
To hear all 7 episodes of Season 2, go to rubinmuseum.org/podcast or wherever you get your podcasts.
You can continue the conversation by following us on Instagram @rubinmuseum. And if you’re enjoying this podcast, leave us a review wherever you listen to podcasts, and tell your friends about the conversation you just heard.
AWAKEN is inspired by the Mandala Lab at the Rubin Museum—an immersive space for social, emotional, and ethical learning. Come explore the Lab in New York City, or in one of the installations that is traveling the world. Visit rubinmuseum.org to learn more about the Museum and about the art, cultures, and ideas of Himalayan regions. We look forward to seeing you.