There Is No Try
Talking Culture With Donna D'Cruz
We have spent this past year asking questions like, “What ever happened to the counterculture?” and fighting against sameness, and forming the belief system of the Culture Crush. In light of recent events it seems like our fight is coming to the forefront because not only are certain values under attack, culture itself feels like it’s under attack.
With this in mind, our founder Debra Scherer sat down with Donna d’Cruz, founder of Rasa Living, who began her career in the world of music, both with labels and as a DJ and uses these experiences with sound to conduct the flow of energy in a room. Donna has used her bond with music to begin a sound meditation program called A Dip Into Bliss to access stillness, and out of that stillness, she believes creativity is born. Donna encourages her students – and everyone, really – to tap into their creative spirits, especially in times of uncertainty.
Debra: So coming from the world of music, originally, you turned that into, "how can you take those feelings and bring them into your life so that you can experience a mindfulness of the uplifting joy that music brings you.” You seem to be asking "how can you bring that into your life everyday?" We both feel like our stars are aligning. So tell us a little bit about all of that. I see such a connection between coming from the world of being a DJ and leading meditative practices.
Debra: We have spent this past year asking questions like, “What ever happened to the counterculture?” and fighting against sameness, and forming the belief system all of the Culture Crush. In light of recent events it seems like our fight is coming to the forefront because not only are certain values under attack, but culture itself is under attack. It seems to have bubbled up to the surface.
Donna is an incredible, inspiring woman who comes from the world of music, originally, and sort of brought that into, how can you take those feelings and bring them into your life so that you can experience a mindfulness of the uplifting joy that music brings you, asking "how can you bring that into your life everyday?" We both feel like our stars are aligning. So tell us a little bit about all of that. I see such a connection between coming from the world of being a DJ and leading meditative practices.
Donna: It is interesting. I like framing it around the Culture Crush and we could put another “letter c” in it and call it Conscious Culture Crush. I started doing it because I love music and I like helping to awaken people. To me, there is no other joy than seeing somebody who might be despondent, or somebody that is catatonic, and they are in that situation, whether they are hospitalized or in an addiction facility, which is where I do a lot of the work that I do. And I say “work” in quotations because it is a pleasure to do the work. But I think it is emblematic of this moment.
So look at music. As a DJ, I use music on a dance floor in a certain way. I have people use their bodies, move through time and space, get elevated, be entertained essentially. I took that gift that I have in music and as a music label person and said, “How do we actually take this into a bigger arena?” Because I was born in India, grew up in Australia, I had always had that resonance of music and the power of what music can do. It is very easy when you are on a dance floor, and you are a conductor of energy, which is what a DJ can do, if you do it well enough and are open enough and when you think about it, you are really there to transform. Transform the dance floor. Transform the experience. It is a pleasure to do it. I was DJing a party one day out in the Hamptons for an organization called Phoenix House, and two beautiful young men talked about how alcohol and drugs really killed them. I thought, “Wow that is amazing. I wonder if they do anything that is in the space of consciousness out of the eight limbs of yoga?” When I asked them they looked at me and said, “We don’t have the bandwidth! We don’t really know what we’re talking about, but why don’t you come on board.” My voice bypassed my intellect – thankfully – and immediately I said, “Yep, I’ll be there.”
I really have created, over the last several years, a very dynamic and accessible program. I don’t really know if it is worthy of calling it a curriculum, but it is a vortex. I come from India. I know that sound impacts spirit. I know it has healing properties. I have been schooled in the ways of the ancient wisdom or knowledge of India. I had come out of transcendental meditation. My family and I had been involved with the Maharishi and all of that, and I thought, "I wonder if this would hold water here? if this might work? Could we use sound in the same way? It could give them anything but the ability of stop and listen.”
So I really have cultivated, over the years, a very simple and accessible awareness program that is really based on sound. It has changed the lens in which I see the world. Most people are not used to quiet. The human condition, the human psyche, in its natural state certainly does not want to invite stillness, does not want to have that moment of repose. We are used to having noise, clutter, having every ounce of everything being filled, especially being in New York City where we all live. So it has been a very interesting journey to use the power of sound as a doorway to access something else.
Debra: It is funny. I always get suggestions for special issues of the Culture Crush, "you should do this, you should do that." And over and over again, it’s "you should do a music issue." And my answer to them is always, at the Culture Crush, every issue is a music issue, because so much culture, the richest, whether, it is visual or sound or anything, always comes back to music. In this studio, music is the most important thing. Even when we do video series and we work directly with composers and musicians, sometimes they will say, “Well, why don’t you give me a rough cut of the video and then we will do the music.” And I look at them and I say, “No, I need the music first.” I will tell them the story, and show them the imagery, but the music is the journey and we layer the visuals on top of that. That’s my secret.
Donna: Music really informs the path. It’s our salve, it’s what uplifts us, it’s what gives us soul. I think when we were talking the other day I was thinking about that idea. I think this is the most important time in American history, in all of our histories, in our modern history when we face a time when so much is in question. I’m not sure that it is under duress, I don’t know if that particularly means culture will be attacked. What can be attacked is only what allows a space for attacking. If you look at the Tao Te Ching, it is often talked about, what is mastery here? What is the ability to attack? What is the ability to succumb? What does surrender mean? There is great power in surrender. I think we can use this moment as a great moment to let in the noise. There is a saying in India, "let the dogs bark as the caravan comes into town." That’s what happens. The caravan comes into town, the dogs bark, the dogs subside, the caravan leaves. It’s like a circus. I think that describes this moment. I think we can use it as a moment to inform ourselves.
Debra: I really like that. "Let the dogs bark." That is how it feels right now. It is the end of something but that is because something else is coming. I think that we all can agree that things are changing. The human experience is evolving as always. I think that maybe the 20th century were loud grumblings of change and now in the 21st Century it is just this concurrence of all of these different events coming together. This is hard for people to understand.
Donna: I think the ones that don’t want to understand are the ones having great grief right now, great sorrow. Although I will say, it is all very fresh right now for everybody. We are in motion and there are a lot of people in a place of triage. When something has happened and we are in a place of triage we have to cauterize, we have to bind what is broken, we have to heal. But people are talking. Regardless of how polemic this moment is, the talking means that we are bound to listening. This is not a time to be mournful or to suffer because that is retrospective, it is what it is right now. That is one of my favorite sayings in my family. "It is what it is.”
The wisdom of this moment is going to require us to go from a place of reaction to a place of response and in between lies wisdom. That is the crucible of this moment if we see fit. Especially as women, if we want to be properly informed, this is a time to read, talk, get your information, be smart about where you are getting informed, look and listen to what NPR is doing. They are great navigators of this space. There are also great journalists out there. We were just talking about New Yorker magazine. There are some people who are really stoic, but very smart, about this moment. You too have great insights. I think this is the time to be not just an antagonist, but a protagonist.
Debra: That is exactly right.
Donna: We need to get really busy and being informed will allow us to respond smartly. Being informed allows to look at our legislation that is possibly being threatened and how do we respond to that. Just to go back, I think that there are a lot of smart sources out there like Wikiburg that Colin Miles and his team have started. They have been going at it for a while and I think that they might even be quite surprised that it is going to be used to connect and inform. It gives you different categories that you can go on, it is a website you go on and pick a category. Let’s say I am really concerned about women’s rights and the LGBTQ family. How are they going to be positioned through this and how are we going to care take? And then obviously education, education, education. That’s fundamental and certainly around youth and education in general. This site allows you to go on it, pick a subject, and it tells you how to act locally and how to act on a more gross scale as well. It gives you the legislation, how to actually petition in that legislation, and it also gives you the email, the Twitter, and the Instagram account of the Representatives and Senators as well.
Debra: I think that is one of the best things that could happen from this. People are going to start paying attention to who their Congresspeople are.
Donna: We never looked, did we, any of us. As we went down that ballot, the 51 percent of us that did vote. We went down the ballot. I can’t tell you who those other folks were. I just said, I don’t really know who they are or what they stand for. I don’t know anything about them.
Debra: On the New York ballot we had almost no choices except in the presidential column. They were running against nobody. Some people say, "Oh they are running for Congress in Pennsylvania." I’ll say, "where in Pennsylvania?” and they don’t understand that there is a difference, that those elections are completely local. Education is the most important thing.
Let’s get back to what is going on in the media. I founded the Culture Crush as a reaction to media and my frustration with media. I come from the magazine world, from old media, and that wasn’t moving very fast with technology, and I was paying very close attention to new media. Honestly, I didn’t really see that they were going down such an incredible path that I wanted to jump on that train either. And now with the problem of the fake news and how easily outsiders, or anyone, can manipulate those systems. It was very, very naive of society to think that wasn’t going to happen.
Donna: I think that is something that we are going to have to look at. As much as it is all part of the zeitgeist of the moment, that’s how we communicate, "hit me up on Facebook or Insta me." Snapchat and all of that. I think that companies like Facebook really have to look at the responsibility that they had and have right now. All of the crazy fake news; we are trained now because we are so hyper vigilant about media and we have so much that we get inundated with. When you see those stupid headlines and when you see that nonsense, of course there was a part of us that knew it was nonsense, regardless of what part we were subscribing to. At the same time, you still looked at it and it still made a dent on your psyche.
Debra: And you still had an emotional reaction. It’s the gamification of information. It is like you are playing a game where you get the dot inside of the circle and you get that rush, its the same when you see something come up on your Facebook feed and you are like, “Oh my God, that is what I think too!” I guess the reason I brought this up is because what is so shocking to me is that people get their news from Facebook. For me Facebook is the bucket of, “oh this friend I went to high school with just had another baby.” I just feel like anything I see on Facebook, if it’s news, is three or four days old. But we just found out that the opposite is true. A lot of people do get their news from Facebook.
Donna: I think what this election particularly has revealed is how much in silos we’ve all been living. Here we were thinking, we all are connected and we can look at anything that we want. No you don’t. It’s already been decided and it was curated for us. And I think this is where Culture Crush and so many of us who care to make a difference are going to make a difference. I think the veils are off on what was actually going on. When you realize, “Oh my gosh, even my feed. Facebook, Insta, all of it.” The algorithm actually works where you were getting fed what you were already looking at, including advertising. This is why it is very exciting when you have disrupters like Wikiburg that are coming and saying, “Well, here you actually are going to have to do some work.” It’s called discovery. You actually have to go in there and ask. It will give you a response. The idea is to be properly informed so that you can make a decision based on the information at hand. I think everybody felt like we were almost ready to vomit. We had so much media on our heads, down our throats, in our ears, in our hearts. It was really hard to remove ourselves from all of that. The nonsense that transpired a week leading up to the election. I think all of that bruised us. We were all part of a game here.
Debra: We all, for the past two years, have been in a very abusive relationship with media. This whole election cycle. It has been brewing for a long time. In a sense, I don’t think a lot of people understand what Facebook is feeding them…it’s not just like, “If I am going to post something, they are going to see it.” I really believe that most people don’t understand it at that level.
Donna: But I will say that this moment has clarified that, especially for me, there are whole bunch of people whose response to you would be, “I’ve got so much to deal with, I don’t actually want to do any of that. I am happy for Facebook to curate and give me what I want to look at. Thank you.”
Debra: Even look back to when the government was trying to get Apple to open the phone for them. To me, it’s a horrifying fact that people trust Apple Inc., which is a corporation, more than the government. I’m not even saying that one is better than the other. This gets back into another Culture Crush topic, which is the over branding of society. People have relationships with brands, as in “I trust that brand” or “I don’t trust that brand” or “I believe what that brand tells me” and it goes right back to the Supreme Court decision that corporations are people, which seemed crazy at the time. And now that is a correct description of how people feel about brands, which actually are just the happy cartoon faces of corporations.
So let’s bend this into the positive. The Culture Crush was born because we love beautiful stories, which there are plenty of, even if they’re not on your Facebook feed. There are these profound stories all around the world that can be very simple stories, just like your conversation at Phoenix House. There are these human moments going on all of the time. What we do at the Culture Crush is we go out and we fall in love with these stories and we want to put them together and communicate them back to our audience. We want them to fall in love with the story too. And how can we do that? We can do that through music, through beautiful imagery, through documentary photography, again which is why we are so adamant about. Most magazines are product based or about who has a movie coming out. There is nothing wrong with a beautiful photograph of a beautiful celebrity. I love that just as much as anyone else, but they are always selling something.
Donna: It is always a sell. I think this is a moment to kind of look at magic and mystery and to also be willing to be a creator of that yourself, as an individual or with your company. I was thinking a lot about that. You look at those moments historically, even the last 40 or 50 years. You look at what happened with hip hop. Look at Reggae. Reggae music with its beautiful lyricism, poetry and harmonic sweetness, that came out of some crappy situations in Kingston, Jamaica, which were very dangerous, very volatile. If you read the words, “emancipate my mental slavery,” that’s this moment again. That was born out of that. Look at hip hop, born out of some crazy situations in the ’70's, from '74 to '79, when it was urban renewal and the African American communities were calling it "Negro Removal." You look at what came out of people being so pushed down and so penned up in bigotry and hatred. A very complex time in world history. New York City happened to be emblematic of that moment, but look what came out of it! Turn tabelism, beautiful graffiti art, break dancing, and a movement that is still now so prevalent. It got spun out of some really hateful, horrible situations. Going back to this idea of hope right now. I think that is our biggest leaning right now, to actually look and say, why be fearful? Even Obama was talking about it, he said there is no apocalypse. Don’t talk about it until it is here. There is no such thing and it is not going to happen. This is a moment to say, “It is what it is. What is my response?” Not, “what do I think so that I can talk to my friends about it or my family.”
Debra: Or, "what do I think the President should do?." It should be "what can I do?"
Donna: Don’t worry about the President. He is a reflection of, just like the Kardashian phenomenon, of what we collectively looked at. We all looked at enough rubbish for long enough that our energetic response is that. That is now. We all are complicit. It is what it is.
Debra: We are part of it. The world that we are in. The Trump presidency the result of that world and if you can remove yourself, pretend that we are from a different planet, look at it from the outside, it kind of makes sense. Who else would it be? Of course he is the president.
Donna: It is a living embodiment of what this collective consciousness chose to look at. And that’s globally. We chose to look at it. And now we can make conscious decisions. And that is where my work comes in. So this meditative practice we have created, I call it a “Dip Into Bliss.” Just dip in! It is very much so that we can give you access to stillness. So that you can quiet your thoughts in a very elegant and simple way, but also, more than anything, so you have access to your own stillness, and in that is where you have access to your creativity. All creativity comes from stillness. It comes from listening to yourself.
We will say, the first step is that place of self inquiry, and I think that on a bigger level, what is my opportunity here? How do I feel? One of our great teachers said you should forego all of the looking at holy places, your temples, your mosques and your churches. There is one question to ask yourself and it’s, “Who am I?” And in this moment right now, what is your contribution? Not what do you want to deride someone else about, and what do you want to poke fun at. When you see things that are repugnant, whatever that might be, what is your response going to be? It is easy to be a complainer. My dad always says, “What is the creative response? What is your creative response?” That is this moment. For me, it is going to be the music that we make, to make sure that the meditation experiences that we make, the food we make, which is the next thing that we are going to make, the scents that we’re creating, the jewelry, which is all created with crystals and stones, all of those things have got to be incredibly beautiful and make people feel lustful, which would be great. But more than that I want them to have powerful healing properties that will inspire you, elevate you, uplift you, give you a feeling of other and remind you of your own magnificence. That is the moment. That is the power of this moment if we shut up enough.
Debra: I completely agree. There is this very powerful moment and it is about looking at it and trying to harness something out of it to make a beautiful expression and there is a lot of power there, so we actually have a lot of power to harness and to do very beautiful things. The opening essay of Issue Seven, “Kids Are Alright,” was done just before the election. And that is what I was thinking. We are from a different generation and the world that we are living in right now is the result of the culture of the Baby Boomers. I think they shoulder a lot of the responsibility for the world as it is right now. As a Gen-Xer, we got ignored by marketers and advertisers because we were too little and we were the slackers and we were just sitting around watching MTV and all of that stuff. We didn’t get marketed to, we didn’t get as manipulated, we didn’t get as branded. When I look at the younger generation, I look at the Millennials and Generation Z and I just think to myself, I feel like they are not as responsible for this, but this is the world that they are going to have to live in.
Donna: But now they are responsible because there was an enormous amount of young folks who were able to vote, and have their voices heard, and they didn’t.
Debra: Especially the Millennials, they now are participating in adult life, but they were born so marketed to, so over branded, so “Oh my God I am 14 and if I haven’t developed my own personal brand and have 20 million Instagram followers I’m worthless.” I can’t imagine what that would have been like as a teenager or even being in my 20's.
Donna: I think you have to look at that retrospectively and say, “What would that have been like?” None of us know what any of it is. I think that it is what it is in the moment that it is. I think that everyone has these different things that they have to deal with generationally. One of the things that I wanted to suggest that we all do as people that are in business and branding and have big media voices like Culture Crush is. Let’s all be a community. I have a bunch of people that come to me that are classifies by marketing people. Marketing people say “here is Gen Z and here are the Millennials.” I think it is rubbish.
Debra: And that is what I was getting to. I think we have a responsibility to do exactly what you are saying. To sort of throw all of that away and build communities around these things that we do have in common, regardless of age or location and I think the Culture Crush is a lot about that too. Finding different tribes, different communities of people who all share in things that can’t be described through demographics or advertising buckets.
Donna: Those buckets I think are fallacious and I think they always have been. You only have to walk down a street in any city, in any town in the world, and it used to be that a gal of a certain age would wear a certain thing and now we have people wearing kicks in one way, wearing hats, and the veils are off because part of what has happened is we are able to see fashion in a different way. We are seeing ourselves in a different way. We’re going to see similar movies, we’re listening to similar music. Because of the advent of technology being so frictionless, I think it makes people feel like, “Hey! I can order that book and I can download that song and now I am part of this moment too.” I think technology kind of put people in silos before and that is defunct and today we can lean into and be real protagonists in a wisdom community.
There are tons of folks who I have in my life who are much older folks who feel like, “I am kind of an outlier.” And I say, “No, we want to hear you.” And then I’ve got great wisdom coming out of people who are 17 and 18 who I think we better listen to as well, who are saying, “Please consider me differently. I have got something to say and I haven’t been on the planet as long as those folks over there but I kind of feel like this.” And this is a moment when we can be gentle with one another and invite wisdom as a community. When I say that word “community” I don’t mean that we just sit together and have a social, and have a bit of a drink or whatever. Which is why I was saying with the LGBTQ community, that community is filled with artists and writers and painters and beautiful sensitive spirits who are feeling like, “What is going to happen to us? Where do we fit here?” It is very demoralizing right now for a lot of folks and they are really starting to mobilize around ACT UP and great community work is starting to happen. We are starting a meditation program so that we can have a space and a protocol for people to come into a place of quiet and sit and listen and feel and be in a sacred safe environment so that they can speak. Speak from their heart, not their mind necessarily, but speak.
Debra: Again, that’s why to me I feel like it’s culture itself that is under attack right now. Just as you were saying, where do creative things come from? From all of these communities who had made so much progress, now there is a movement to marginalize them again.
Donna: That is where we are going to stand up and say that is not an option.
Debra: That is when we get more creative.
Donna: Absolutely, we get more creative. Part of community means convene, which means we can talk, listen, and then take action.
Debra: And dance, and paint, and photograph and all of those things.
Donna: And sing our songs and write our poetry and all of those things. Because that’s why the troubadour is the one that holds the energy that will tell the story. I know that our songs will be different. How we dance will be different. How we are entertained, what films will come out of that. We have already seen that in the last couple of years. Beautiful, sensitive stories. They are not just films, they are stories, musicals, documentaries, where we are actually looking at people’s stories, and looking at what wisdom we can learn from someone’s great journey on this earth. I think this is the most fantastic time we’ve seen, really. But It’s tough too.
Debra: It’s tough but of course now is the time when great creativity is going to be seen as valuable again rather than how many page views or how many followers do you have. Obviously that is something very exciting for us here at the Culture Crush.
Donna: It was funny when you were talking about branding, as I was just meeting with a big agency, and they’re asked “What are your social numbers and what are you doing on Twitter, what are you doing on Instagram.” They were peppering me with questions about what I have to say, which is a lot. I said, “I just want to tell you guys I really don’t care how many followers I have. The work that I do is for you to find yourself.” And they stopped the meeting, looked at each other and said, “Did she say that? Write that down! Write that down! Tweet it!” And I said, “I actually mean it.” This is what is important. That we help one another find ourselves when it is tough. People are really struggling, no doubt about it, probably more than ever right now. Part of going local and being a part of this culture is, look at that person. The doorman downstairs, it’s his birthday today. Ask, “Hey how’s it going. How are you today?” Don’t just say, how are you in a bleak way and off you go. When someone is struggling ask them how you might be of service.
Debra: Right, exactly. So we are putting heads together…
Donna: And hearts…
Debra: ...and hearts, and trying to move forward with where the Culture Crush is going from here.
Donna: I’m looking at Yoda behind you. Yoda says "don’t say try, do. There is no trying."
Debra: So we are sitting in the studio and there is a huge portrait of Yoda behind me (coincidentally). It’s not as if we need to change course, I feel definitely all year that we have been sort of shouting this battle cry and I think we are about to get louder. I have had a lot of meetings this year in launching with people saying, “what is the size of your network of influencers.” And I am like, “I really can’t answer that question. If I start to think like that I really can’t do the Culture Crush. The Culture Crush isn’t about that.” So what is it about? We are very excited for all of the stories that we are going to continue doing. And I hope to up the frequency of everything because I think these stories are bubbling up to the surface now faster and faster. They are coming at us.
Donna: I would love us to do something on consciousness. Conscious Culture Crush. Let’s crush it!
Debra: We are going to go down to Washington to cover the inauguration and we are taking our team of documentary photographers with us and we want to represent the whole thing. Not one side or the other side or whose side is anybody on, or try to get pictures of celebrities, but sort of take stock of the whole situation. And again, like we always do here, try to grab the stories out of the world and actually document the moments that are happening.
Donna: This is a great moment to realize that there are no sides. There is you, and me, and us. And the world. And we’re it. And this is a moment to be welcoming of what that means even when you find something to not be tolerable to you. You better stop and listen and see what it is because it is not only not going away, but there is also a reflection of you in that. That which we despise, that which we find repugnant, almost always echoes something within ourselves. It just does. That is also part of it. I also think that when we go to Washington and we are part of it, there is no us and them. We are part of it. This is our collective story.
Debra: We can’t act like we have a Democracy and say, “Oh it’s not me.” The government is us. I believe that is the case. And I think you agree and I think we already talked about that. I take responsibility for what is going on.
Donna: Yes absolutely. Take responsibility and next comes action. Informed action where we can say, what is it that you want and what do you want it to look like? What does it sound like? what does it look like? what does it feel like? what is the vibration of it? what does it taste like? what does it feel like to be heard? what does it feel like to be a participant?Because we are participants, and not to be lazy right now. We should keep an open dialogue so that people can come to the Culture Crush site and see what it is that is new and interesting that we can share.
Debra: To quote the Jedi Master Yoda, “Do or Do Not, There Is No Try."
*listen to the whole conversation on the podcast