Today’s podcast features Tami Simon’s interview with Alanis Morissette, recorded live at the 2013 Emerging Women Live conference in Boulder, Colorado.
Alanis Morissette is a Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter, guitarist, record producer and actress who has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide. Alanis was honored with the EMA Missions in Music Award for her efforts in speaking out against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Alanis Morissette has been acting on her strong beliefs for years—and encourages her fans and listeners to do the same.
Tami Simon is the founder of Sounds True, a multimedia publishing company dedicated to disseminating spiritual wisdom. Based in Boulder, Colorado, Sounds True has published more than 800 audio, video, music, and book titles along with online courses and events. A two-time winner of the Inc 500 award as one of the fastest growing privately held companies in America, Sounds True is widely recognized as a pioneer in providing life-changing, practical tools that accelerate spiritual awakening and personal transformation.
In today’s episode Tami spoke with Alanis about:
- The balance between Yin and Yang and how this shows up in relationship
- What that would look like to put the Sacred Feminine in the center of the music industry
- Listening as an art, and not letting fear stop us from doing what we want to do
- How Alanis uses the ‘nuggets of terror’ in her journal as seeds for her creative process
- Alanis’s work with Relationship First and her love of talking with people who are ceiling-less
- And finally, how she sees the Feminine Movement moving towards Sacred Union
Tune in and listen to “The Rock and Roll of Feminine Power” with the Radical Women: Alanis Morisette and Tami Simon.
Alanis Morissette: Hi! I want to thank Tami for being up here with me and having a conversation with me. It’s my favorite thing to do, as my friends can attest to, is dialogue and go and back and forth and see what’s actually happening in real time with you, with us.
Tami Simon: We want to make our love public.
AM: Exactly! [Laughs] There’s nothing better than that.
TS: Exactly. Making our love public. OK, the primacy of connection. I want to start right there.
AM: Let’s go for the jugular.
TS: Well, the jugular’s going to come later.
AM: There are so many jugulars and so little time.
TS: That’s right, exactly.
AM: That’s part of why I’m happier here.
TS: Your journey to connection, being, at least in my understanding, the most important thing for you in your life. How did you get there?
AM: I didn’t get there; I think I started there. I’m a highly sensitive temperament. I’ve become more and more obsessed with self-knowledge because I’ve seen how empowering it and how it enables me to actually have functional intimacy with people. So I’m the girl that uses every tool of divination and wants to know what number I am on the Enneagram and wants to know—I throw my I Ching coins. I basically have wanted to connect with God, intrapersonally with my own self and with people my whole life.
[It’s] to the point where, because of my hypersensitivity, when it doesn’t happen, in glimpses at grocery stores or wherever I am, it’s actually quite devastating for me. And I take responsibility for it and I don’t get upset at the woman who looks away when she’s trying to buy her watermelons.
AM: But I hurt. So I don’t know if that answers your question.
TS: Are there things that you do to invite or to magnetize to you the kind of connection that, as a sensitive person, really nourishes you? Is there stuff that you do, and what is it?
AM: I think it happens by default. I find that whatever energy I walk into a room with, the kismet like-mindeds find each other eventually. It doesn’t always happen, and sometimes I just people watch as a Canadian. Culturally—I’m going to do the broad stroke, which is a terribly violent thing to do but I’ll do it anyway—Canadians are very conversational, dialogical, and really great at people watching. We also snap when we’re pushed too far. [Laughs] Which has served my art, but not necessarily my personal life.
AM: So I don’t even know if that answers your question! Sorry, Tami. But you just asked what I do to foster the connection? OK, fostering the connection.
TS: And then what you’ve learned over the last decade as you’ve been able to—it’s a strong statement to say, “Connection is the primary feel that I’m looking for in life.” That’s a strong statement. So I wonder how you orient around that in order to receive that type of nourishment and to make that type of bond with people.
AM: Thanks, yes. It’s a spiritual idea for me, because I’ve always felt profoundly connected with God, and I know that word is—
TS: I like that word. It’s fine with me.
AM: You like the word? OK, good.
TS: I mean, we can substitute a bunch of other words—
AM: There are so many beautiful words! Let’s just use “God.”
AM: [Laughs] I’ve always loved God so much. [I was] raised Catholic, and even within a lot of that intensity, I still found God. I found God in Jesus, I found God in a lot of the parables. I found God everywhere. In the music—that was the first time I actually knew that I could sing. Someone turned around—I think I was 10 years old and I was singing at the top of my lungs the St. Francis of Assisi song. And my brothers had told me I couldn’t sing to save my life, which I believed, because they’re my brothers. And then this woman turned around and she said, [whispers] “You have a lovely voice.” “Really? Thanks!” So that was a turning point. But I think because I know on a very cellular, existential level how connected I am with everything and everyone, when there is this illusion of separation, it kills me.
TS: Now, I’ve heard you talk about connection in terms of connection to yourself, connection to other people, and also connection to spirit. But that, in your experience, that’s actually one thing, kind of. Can you explain what you mean by that? How is it “kind of one thing”?
AM: Well, I think the idea of relationship that is so enticing to me is that it speaks to what I believe is the fundamental truth of what’s actually going on here, which is—I know I’m not telling you anything that you don’t know.
TS: No, I do want you to tell me what’s actually going on here. Please tell me.
AM: Oh, really? OK! [Laughs]
AM: OK, good.
TS: Tell all of us! Exactly.
AM: I just really feel this profound interconnectivity, for lack of a better term. So I was going to answer—
TS: How it’s all one thing.
AM: How it’s all one thing.
TS: All of these three kinds of connection.
AM: It’s that we’re all one fabric. In my mind, we’re all these unique filters. This transmission, or source, or God, or inspiration, or intuition is coursing through us in what I believe is in various speeds. I think some of us have energy coursing through us in a way that’s overwhelming. I think of Jimi Hendrix and I think he had so much energy coursing through him, and I’m not sure he had a way to calibrate it. I don’t know, I didn’t talk with him.
TS: You have quite a bit of energy coursing through you.
AM: [Laughs] Yes! And I have to be responsible with it and for it, to be honest, because it can be overwhelming in relationships. I can be quite a bother to people because this is the energy that I walk into a room with, and it can be overwhelming for people. It can be exciting for people. It’s exciting for my husband; it was horrifying for all my ex-boyfriends.
AM: Which is true. And for a long time I shamed myself saying that there was something wrong with me, that I was too much, or I was too intense, or I was too emotional, or I was too sensitive, or fill in the blank. And that’s all true, but it really just meant that there was a lens that I was looking through at this funny and harrowing and sweet little life, that I was looking for compatibility.
I write about it in “All I Really Want,” which Chantal referenced—the idea of wanting to have that cosmic giggle with people, to look at people I love and just say, “Isn’t it crazy being here? Isn’t it intense? Isn’t it so sad that our traumas have us completely check out of our bodies and check out of our relationships and do drugs and we’re dying to crawl back into the womb and we can’t?” I just love having those kinds of conversations with people. [Laughs] And I actually have them now, with you as well. Thank you, Tami.
TS: Yes. Now, you’re talking about your current man and your ex-boyfriends. You’ve made this statement: “I declare I am an alpha woman.”
AM: Yes, I have.
TS: And that this was an important claiming, “alpha woman.” It’s a strong, strong two words to put together like that. What do you mean by it?
AM: I mean that I have masculine qualities, and that I err on the side—maybe not always aesthetically, although sometimes—of really enjoying androgyny. I love the idea of having access to the whole range of what it is to be human while taking into account the physiologically, biochemically, I am a woman. So I get to have all the amazing aspects of being a woman—and there are so many. I mean, my shoes alone are reason enough to want to be a woman.
[Audience laughs and cheers]
TS: Maybe just lift your foot a little bit so we can get a good look at that.
TS: I like mine, also.
TS: They have their own sort of androgyny, as well.
AM: Those are Landons.
TS: Yes. Exactly.
AM: So androgyny’s been great. I’ve actually updated the alpha woman comment, because I think a lot of people, mostly men, where a little freaked out when I would say that. Because I think they may have interpreted [it] as my saying I want to be the man and [have] this men/woman/gender conversation. So first I attempted to take this conversation out of gender and take it into the feminine and the masculine. And that continued to piss people off. So now I basically say “yin” and “yang.” That pisses a lot less people off.
TS: So how do you translate, then, the “alpha woman” phrase into “yin/yang” language?
AM: I can be quite yang. And that would mean, in theory, that if there is to be some sort of compliment in my marriage, in this case, that there’s a lot of negotiation. There are moments where I’ll jump in the car and I’ll go, “You got this.” Or we’ll be driving and I’ll stop the car and I’ll say, “You’re driving.” And he’ll go, “Got it.” We’re constantly negotiating who’s going to be the yin or the yang person of the moment, depending upon our stress levels, PMS—there [are] all kinds of considerations.
AM: They’re in the Shakti woman book—forgive me for not knowing the author’s name. There’s this one paragraph where they talked about how in this particular village, in the days of old, the village people would seek out the women who were PMSing in order to have them make decisions about the village because they were in the perfect place to have an opinion without worrying about mincing words. I was like, “I love this book!”
AM: And I think ultimately—and I talked about this briefly last night at the get-together that we had with somebody—the idea of, for a long time, that this whole emergence of the divine feminine being a huge conversation, and at long last, obviously, my whole thought about the yin/yang androgyny whole continuum—I think in terms of continuums all the time. The whole idea in my mind at this point—and I might update this next month, but who cares?
TS: Even tomorrow would be OK.
AM: Whatever. In an hour, yes. The masculine and the feminine energies within both men and women alike are serving the feminine. So it’s not that men have to debase or emasculate themselves or be emasculated. Of course there’s rage and anger, as there should be. There’s been so much oppression, and not only do we feel it in our own lives in the context of patriarchy, we also feel it in the context of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
So when women are angry and they’re scared of emasculating, I get it. Just make some arrangement with your man where he can hold the bucket for 20 minutes and just listen to your rage and hopefully not personalize it singularly about him. Because we’re all subject to the context that we find ourselves in, and patriarchy is still alive and well in the rock ‘n’ roll business, I’m assuming in the book world—I’m about to find out, I’m writing a book. In a lot of context that I go in, it’s still there, totally shifting, which is the great news.
And I think what I’m excited about so much these days is supporting the divine masculine to continue to provide and to continue to protect, but the currency of the provision has changed. So instead of just bringing home the vegan bacon, they’re also providing empathy and listening and all of these things that they’re actually not physiologically predisposed to being able to do well, and that we’re teaching each other how to do it. If someone doesn’t have the capacity to empathize, there’s probably a trauma somewhere in the background that happened that made it so that—not unlike when someone steps on your toe, the first thing you say isn’t usually like, “Is your shoe OK?” It’s usually, “Get the fuck off my foot, you’re killing me!” [Laughs]
So when we’re traumatized, we don’t always have that generosity of spirit, which I believe is what men are known for. Men, in my mind, are known for providing and protecting, and that currency is broadening and becoming larger and larger. And the masculine within us as women—because you and I are pretty protective of the people we love in general. These qualities of masculinity and femininity can show up not only in both genders, but in different context, case by case, depending upon what you need to call upon.
TS: Now, you talked about the music business and the publishing business. I’m curious—let’s just go right into the music business, because as an artist, you are also, in a sense, a businesswoman.
TS: You are, just by being part of the music industry. Putting at the center of the music business the sacred feminine, what would that look like? The little bit I know of the music business, it seems that it’s a difficult business that doesn’t usually support artists fully in the way that they want. So what would it mean to put the sacred feminine, your divine feminine, at the center of the music industry, as an example of the transformation of society? Let’s take that industry.
AM: Nice, thanks. Well, first of all, I think that what’s happened even in today’s day is that the values of the West—which, ultimately, is basically the planet almost at this point, if not entirely—fame, wealth, and staying 16 forever visually. So when I look at what’s on stage right now, I also see young women who are not in a position of wanting to be responsible for being a model to the millions of people and to leading the charge and to leading the cavalry home to divine union.
So they’re experimenting with their sexuality in a context, certainly, of North America, probably more so even the rest of the planet as well, of sexual trauma. We’re a sexually traumatized culture in my mind. And when I’m 17 or 19, and I have the kind of body that society approves of—and I don’t have to name names, we just have to look at pop culture right now, and everybody’s doing it. So I feel like it’s a response to this pornographic, sexually traumatized culture that we live in, and that has now become the definition of what the divine feminine is, that there’s a conversation around the empowered feminine being singular in our sexuality acting out or just being sexual.
So I think, to answer your question about what the divine feminine might look like in the epicenter of what is a bit of a shit storm sometimes, which is the music industry, it’s to play with the whole range. In a moment where I’m on a conference call with 25 people and it’s appropriate for me to set a boundary, I’ll set it, risking that I’ll be called a “bitch.” If I’m in a deposition, which I was in, and I start crying because it’s too much for me, that’s my divine feminine coming through.
So for me to be as authentic as possible in every moment, while being responsible for being politically considerate—
TS: You’re Canadian, after all.
AM: I’m Canadian! I like social grace. I actually think there’s something to be said for social grace and etiquette and manners. And then there’s also something to be said for setting boundaries. But I think if there’s anything that I would want to offer to not only the industry—that might be audacious to say—but to any young woman who’s in the epicenter of the eye of the storm of fame right now, it’s let that sexuality—the healthy and maybe even the unhealthy version, because it’s all out there—integrate it. Let the spirit and the brain and the somatic and the body and the fear and the feelings and the rage and the authenticity and the connectivity and the pain of disconnection and your sexuality and the break-up and the drama and the “so, no drama? So, boring”—let it all combine together and then write. It would turn the industry on its ass, I think.
But then what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Is the music industry evidencing what’s going on in our consciousness? Or is our consciousness dictating what we want to see on MTV? Probably both.
TS: Now, you talk about how you have—and you use this word, and I think it’s a powerful word—an imperative to create as a person, that there’s something in you that’s an imperative. So talk about that, what that feels like inside you, this imperative.
AM: Yes. If I’m not expressed, I’m very depressed, basically.
TS: Are there sort of two—is there the expressed, depressed?
AM: Pretty much. And that could be in an email, it could be what we’re doing right now. Being expressed is also picking the florescent pink t-shirt, cooking and putting some weird ingredient in that you don’t tell your family about.
AM: So being expressed doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m singing or writing a song or writing a poem or whatever it is. But just that the energy is moving, and it’s the energy that we talked about a few minutes ago, about having to be responsible not only for the energy moving, but for the pace with which it moves. So for me, it moves so quickly that if I don’t tend to it every day—it’s kind of like eating. If I don’t write or if I don’t chitchat or if I don’t listen, which is another form of art to me, or if I don’t have some kind of connection going on, I spiral downward pretty quickly.
TS: Now, listening as a form of art—that caught my attention, as someone who listens and loves to listen.
AM: You’re amazing at it.
TS: But you don’t normally hear people talk about that as an art form. If expressed is coming out, how is listening a form of art?
AM: Well, I think the whole monological approach that North America can sometimes take is dangerous because there’s really not a lot of connectivity going on in there. So for me, dialogue and relationship—I’m obsessed with it. So listening is 50 percent of the equation, and there is an art to it. You know it. You’re doing it right now.
TS: I’m expressing my listening. I’m expressing it.
AM: You are. Right. But I don’t think you would continue doing what you’re doing if there wasn’t some artistic payoff to being an amazing listener. And for me there is. I live to listen. When I first moved to Los Angeles, culturally speaking, from Canada to America, it was actually quick shocking because I think there may be a perception that there aren’t a ton of differences. But one of the differences was in Canada, everything is dependent upon dialogue and conversation, which is also part of the reason why I’m loving this right now.
So when I moved to Los Angeles, everyone was sharing and there was a lot of sending and a lot of monologisms, and I didn’t speak for six months. And I met thousands of people. And I just thought, “I have to become more American. I have to speak and speak when it’s not solicited.” But there’s a quality of listening that I enjoy speaking to, and when that quality’s not there, I’d rather just watch people.
TS: Now, this feeling of needing to be self-expressed, in whatever form it takes, I can imagine that many people relate to that sense of something inside that’s needed regularly or else something like a depression, deflation will happen. But yet for many of us, something keeps us held back, some fear, some sense of, “What if that secret ingredient I put in the recipe that I’m making actually ruins it, so I won’t.” So a lot of holding back. And I’m curious what you would say to that person who’s listening right now and says, “Yes, I see myself hold back all the time.” How can Alanis help that person?
AM: Well, the first thing I would say if I had the privilege of sitting across one-on-one would be, “Well, tell me more about that. What is the fear? Is the fear that if I speak out, I might risk becoming successful, and then if I’m successful I’ll be lonely and isolated and sad?” That’s true. You will.
TS: I don’t buy it.
AM: [Laughs] Well, I don’t buy it now. But that’s just one part of the equation. But there’s all kinds of other parts that are really, really, really fun about stepping out. And stepping out isn’t just this one version. For a long time, I would hear people say, “Step out and be huge,” and that’s just way too much pressure. What if one’s vocational calling was really tiny? Nurses, teachers, doctors, mothers. Why does everyone have to be Martin Luther King? Why do we all have to be Nelson Mandela? And we love those people, but we’re all contributing in unique, different, varied ways on the whole range of what it is to serve. And so the private, quiet, tiny servings are so generous.
So if I were to be speaking with someone about what might hold them back from being expressed, I would just hold their hand, not unlike what you just did with me, and say, “Well, what do you want to express? What do you love? What gets you going? If you had three days off and someone gave you 25 million dollars to play with, and you couldn’t spend it on responsible things, what would you do?” Someone might say, “I might make cocktails.” Or, “I might garden.” How many friends do I have who are dying to garden? Garden!
There’s this pressure we put on ourselves, I think, in this era, as women especially, that our empowered feminine force has to show up as something huge. And I’m one to talk, because mine actually did personally show up as something huge, but my biggest moments and junctures and seminal moments for me have been very personal, and often alone or with my husband or with my son or with my therapist. My team of therapists. [Laughs]
TS: It takes a village.
AM: It takes a village of therapists!
TS: You’re in Boulder, you’re in a good village of therapists.
AM: OK, you all have your teams. [Laughs] It does take a team.
TS: So here you are, you’re talking to someone who might have a sense of being afraid, some version of fear. One of the things I read was you were talking in Runner’s World about running marathons, and the interviewer asked you, “Do you ever feel afraid before a marathon?” And you said, “I never let fear stop me.” And I thought that was a strong statement. So yes, you had fear about the marathon that was coming up, but you wouldn’t let the fear stop you. And I wonder if you could talk about that, how, when you feel fear, you relate to it.
AM: I feel fear all the time. I feel fear right now. I’m always anxious. I’m either anxious or depressed or happy or sort of floating in consciousness, sometimes all in the span of a minute. So I think there was an element of having had two brothers as a kid that made it so I had to be counterintuitive with my fear, or I was going to be left out. So I had to jump off that cliff. I had to go snowboarding. I had to run really, really quickly to catch up to them. And I’m a connection girl, so I wanted to connect, so I was willing to push through fear.
So it started out maybe pathological, and then it turned into, “Wow, there’s actually a huge payoff to stepping forward, even in the face of fear. And being transparent around it.” Just saying, “Wow, OK, I’m really nervous, my mouth is dry, my neck is tense, it’s getting really somatic and in the body, I can’t feel my feet, they’re cold, my hands are cold. And here I am.”
TS: Could you think of any examples in your life where you have let fear stop you?
AM: I am a recovering codependent love addict, work-addicted person, so—
[Audience laughs and applauds]
AM: So I can say, probably, I’ve participated in the disassembling of relationships singularly based on fear non-stop. I think fear stops me a lot, but I’m counterintuitive enough with it that I have enough fun experiences. But there’s fear, always.
TS: Now, I’ve done quite a bit of reading, as you can tell, about you, Alanis—
AM: You are Charlie Rose!
TS: That’s right, that’s right. And one of the things I read—and correct me, of course, if any of this is wrong—is that as part of your songwriting process, you’ll actually look in your journals for the places of terror and find those nuggets of terror and go into them and pull them out as a potential seed for a song. And I thought that was actually so interesting and intelligent. Because so often, if we’re afraid of something, that’s what we push away. And here you are, and you’re using it as actually the seed of a creative process. I wonder if you can talk about that.
AM: There’s something about that visceral response of fear or anger or love—so basically passion writes songs for me. So I can be passionately terrified and I’ll go right to that. Or a lot of unspoken things, like, again, the Canadian cultural predisposition to not speaking often makes it, for me, to have felt liberated in the studio alone with my instruments to say exactly what I wanted to say.
And the challenge became, “How can I blend the so-called courage that I’m evidencing in this songwriting process”—and even in the performing of it, I suppose, on some level, although I can hide behind sweaty, glittery, loud, noisy things, so there is still a protection in that. But how can I blend the courage that I am applying in the writing of these words to my day-to-day life, because there really was a disparity for a long time, and there still is.
So really the journey is about blending that courage, so that when people meet me, they don’t think, “Wow, who’s that girl versus this girl?” And certainly they’re all aspects of me, but the invitation for me, with my own art, is to apply that courage.
And the other thing I wanted to say about that as well was that there is an erroneous message, I think, out there that art and the process of creating is very, very healing and therapeutic. And I don’t think it is. I think it’s cathartic. It moves energy. But there are certain songs, one of which is “You Oughta Know,” where I have sung that song countless times on stage, and if I were to run into that person right now, I would feel horrified.
So it goes to say that in my mind, healing happens in relationship. Growth happens when we try on new behaviors because our partner asked us to do something different because we’re driving them crazy. Healing happens when your partner changes a behavior in order to take care of some part of you that has been left alone. So art, while it is beautiful and messy and sweaty and lovely, and there is that element of the gratification of being expressed, it has not always been healing for me, unless there is a relationship in it. Relationships, for me, are the healing balm.
TS: Maybe you could tell me a little bit more of what you mean by “healing.”
AM: Healing is the return to the original wholeness and original truth of what we are, that innate goodness, the one thing that is not subject to dualism, the one thing in this funny little playground that is life that is not subject to being good or bad.
I worked for many years with Debbie Ford, and she’s been a great teacher for me throughout my life. So [I was] doing a ton of work where I would embrace all these aspects of self, where I’m a murderer and I’m jealous and I’m envious and I’m hateful, and then equally that I’m a vision and I’m kind and I’m an angel. So I was working on all this, and where I got stumped, time and again, was the good and the bad. So I could embrace that I was good. Then when it came to, “I have to embrace that I’m innately bad,” I just couldn’t do it. And I’m pretty open. Like when my friends are challenging me, I’m pretty open to taking feedback that is hard to hear.
TS: So you could embrace—just to make sure I’m tracking with you—the idea that you’re a murderer, but the idea that you were innately bad—
AM: Or that I’m murderous. I have that part of me that just wants to punch someone in the nuts. I have that in me. I don’t do it. Yet. No, I don’t do it, but it’s in me. And so the bad part was a little confusing. So to speak to what you just posed, it’s because it’s not true. There’s no such thing as a bad seed, in my mind. So that is the unembraceable one. That is the one part that is not subject to relativity, duality, and it is the cosmic consciousness. It is the truth of who we are. It is the life stream that courses through us—all these beautiful words that so many amazing teachers have shared over the years.
So how did that speak to what you just asked? What did you just ask?
TS: Because, really, what you’re talking about is healing, and what is healing?
AM: Healing is returning to that.
TS: And that doesn’t happen for you only through your art. Your artistic process would not be sufficient for you to generate healing.
AM: No way. I feel the connection with God. I feel, for lack of a better term, like I’m channeling or like something’s moving through me and that I’m just being used, and all those beautiful definitions of creating art. But the healing of the return to the essential core self of who we are—so there’s the innate consciousness God part of us, in my mind. And Margaret Paul is here, [who has a] beautiful teaching on inner bonding, about God, the inner-loving adult parent that we can develop as we mature and as we heal, actually. And then the core essential self, the part that you’ve just always known you’ve wanted to be an aesthetician, since you were two. Or you’ve just always known that you loved cooking or that you loved skiing or that you loved building buildings. And then [there’s] this wounded child part.
So this core essential self, for me, my responsibility—and I’m not always responsible around it. Definitely not. But tuning to that as best as I possibly can, for it to lead me. We can call it intuition, we can call it talking to my inner child, we can talk about it being this essential self being expressed. So it’s when all of these are in harmony—the connection with God; my connection with being expressed; being responsible for the energy; knowing the truth of my innate, eternal, impermanent goodness; knowing that we’re in this wild playground that is really sensual and has a lot of pleasure and a lot of pain—and somehow being equanimous with that idea is, for me, healing.
A lot of it has to do with touch in my particular story, too. Being held. We’re in a society that if you touch each other, it’s sexual harassment and you’re being inappropriate. And yes, of course, sometimes people are doing that. But a lot of times, we just want to put our hands on each other. And that, I think, is deeply healing on a cellular, neurobiological, biochemical, heart/soul level.
TS: And fitting with your real heart investment in healing, in your own life, and with this profound definition that you’re offering, I know that you’re quite involved in a movement that’s called Relationships First. And I wonder if you can talk [about] what that is and why you are lending your energy to it.
AM: Yes, it’s an organization that I cofounded with Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, John and Julie Gottman, Dan Siegel and Diane Ackerman, and many others. Marion Soloman. And basically, we all came together because we’re obsessed with relationship. It’s called RelationshipsFirst.org. We’re doing a soft launch at the end of the year.
And the begged question is, “What would happen if you put your relationships first?” And this also includes, in my mind, colleagues. What if your relationship and the climate of your interactivity and the functionality of it in your work environment was more important than the bottom line? What if my marriage and what if my son, what if my friendships—which is a big one for me these days—what if they were the most important thing in my life? What would life look like?
I’m realizing that it just looks better and better the more I prioritize that. To me, that’s the ultimate divine feminine approach, honoring and nurturing and being an active participant, but even just an active protectress of my loved ones’ healing [processes]. The only reason I’m here is to heal, to support you in your healing, and to actively participate in that. And you are going to tell me what that looks like, because if I project onto you what I think you want, there’s a level of self-absorption and narcissism and projection onto you. And my imagination is that you wouldn’t feel very loved.
But that I would go by what my loved ones ask of me, what they request of me. And if they’re complaining and being really cruel, when I have my wits about me I’ll say, “Is there a request?” When I’m in an argument with my husband, we’re pretty quick to go, “Request?”
AM: So that’s basically how we do it.
TS: Have you had to change the way your life is structured, with all of the demands and being the fabulous rock star, to put relationships first? How have you actually done that in an operational way in your life?
AM: The good news about my lifestyle over the years is that it’s been incredibly communal. So going on tour surrounded by 50 to 100 people—although being a boss has an energetic of a tiny bit of separation. And the boundaries that are required to be an effective boss, I think, are really valuable. So I would tolerate a little bit of that separation for that reason, because it keeps the whole machine running really smoothly. But communalism is huge, to be around humans.
But how to prioritize relationship? I think I went after all the candy. I went after the fame and the awards, and, “OK, now I’ve got that. Now I’m going to be a marathon runner.” And I did that for charity, and that’s cool. And now I’m a charity person. That’s awesome. But I just kept going and checking on the list all the things that I thought that if I did that, or if I achieved that, it would give me peace. Because ultimately I’m always just chasing peace.
And then instead of all that time chasing the thing that will give me peace, there were actually ways for me to come from peace. And relationship, for me, is the way to do that. I can’t see parts of myself. Whether I was mirrored well in that stage of development in my life or not, doesn’t matter. I can’t see myself, and even a mirror doesn’t help me enough. Even though Louise Hay, God bless you, I love the mirror work, and it does definitely bring the vibration up, I still need other [ways].
And there was this big movement in the feminist movement, totally understandably, of men went off to war, women stepped in, “We can do everything men can do, maybe we can do it better,” which is funny. So that’s awesome, and that was a delightful and important link in the chain. But as Dr. Pat Allen says a lot, the feminist movement brought us power, and it did bring us this sense of competence, but it didn’t bring us love.
And so it’s the big, I think dangerous movement of autonomy in the world. So it really just separated us even more. “I don’t need anybody. I can do this on my own.” But even therapy is relational. And even the therapeutic movement is moving more toward more disclosure on behalf of the therapist, and more compassion, more connectivity, versus just clipboard, lie down, “I can’t look at you.” Which is—I love analysis in that way, too, it’s really cool. I just want to tie that bow.
So, autonomy. So the movement went into this autonomous place—again, a very important link in the chain, in my mind, but lonely and disconnective. And now what’s happening is that it’s becoming hip again to be dependent. Not codependent, although we all have our wounds and they all show up in different ways. But interdependent. It’s OK to need each other. Of course we need each other! We need each other for touch and eye contact and love and sex and food and care and concern and interest and conversation.
So how can relationship not be important to me? I don’t think I would be alive if I just kept going down the trajectory of wanting to grab all the brass rings and eat them. It becomes hollow, and a lot of people were upset when I would say that, because they didn’t want to hear it, because they were still on the ambitious journey. They didn’t want me to be sharing anything disillusioning for them. So I did start shutting up around that a little bit.
TS: You have this quote here about being famous, and you say, “Only traumatized people want to be famous. It won’t raise your self-esteem. It won’t create profound connection. It’s not going to heal your childhood traumas. You’re going to be subject to a lot of criticism and praise, both of which are violent in their own ways.”
AM: Amen! [Laughs]
TS: I did think, as I read that, how is it that praise—I know you said you’re a very sensitive person, but how is praise something you experience as a type of violence?
AM: Well, there’s praise projecting of the light qualities onto me, to the point where sometimes I don’t feel seen. And then what I would do with a lot of unsolicited feedback is that I would say, “Does this feel accurate?” So if I would read something that said I looked like the Elephant Man, which I did, on stage—hopefully not right now, but it doesn’t matter, because I’ve done my work— [Laughs]
AM: So I would just say, if it hurts, if what I read hurts, I would say, “What is it about this thing that is being spoken about around me that hurts?” It could be that it’s some aspect of me that I’ve fragmented off and I don’t want to think about. So I’ll do some integrative work around that.
It could also just hurt because it feels like I’m being missed. And being mirrored as a child, I think, is such a big deal, when we can look at the children and say, “Yes, you are Spiderman! Yes, you are so strong, so big!” All of that stuff is so huge. And I’ve spent 30 years trying to figure out that I actually exist. And I heard Gangaji talk about that once, and I don’t even know if it’s the same example that we’re talking about, but this sense of floating. On a certain spiritual level, it actually is a portal into the spiritual approach because that floating, non-identity thing is what a lot of us aspire to in the spiritual journey. The unfortunate part is that the psychological egoic part is actually important for me to have fleshed out enough to be able to interact in the world. So it made for some trouble in that area. And I don’t know—
TS: One of the things that we were talking about last night had to do—and I think it’s related to this topic of praise and blame—[with] your experience of people’s envy, and how terribly painful you experienced that. And I’d be curious of you could talk about that, but also, what you might say to people who have a moment where they do feel envious. They might feel envious of someone they’ve seen on stage here at Emerging Women. “I wish I had that. I wish I could talk like that, dance like that.”
AM: That’s not envy, though.
TS: What is that?
AM: That’s jealousy, which is precious.
AM: I think jealousy’s precious. I’m jealous all the time. And Debbie Ford, a sweet woman, basically said, “Take whatever you’re jealous about, write it down, and just foster that in your own life.” So if someone like’s my hair, just go get the shiny project to put in your hair and don’t worry about it. Just wear a wig!
AM: But I think jealousy is sweet because it also shows us a part of ourselves that we want to have take form. It’s previous. Envy, on the other hand, is hate, and it wants to spoil and kill and hurt and make it go away. And that hurts.
So have fun with jealousy, and just make it work for you. When I’m jealous of someone, if I see something that someone’s doing or something someone cooked, I’m just like, “I want to make that cookbook.” Then I’ll just say, “Well, go make a cookbook. Let’s do it.” I’m trying to think about my own hostility and my own hate. That’s another conversation altogether, I’ll write about it in a song.
So I think that distinction is really important, because there’s a lot of shame—I have felt shame, over the years, when I’ve been jealous of people, but it’s because I couldn’t make my jealousy work for me yet. And once it started working for me, I was like, “Oh, this is great!” But the danger in relationships, and I’ve had some challenge around this, is when that hostility and that hate is just being hurtled toward me a lot. And it definitely hurts, because it’s the ultimate disconnect. I mean, hate is the opposite of connectivity. And it’s also an illusion.
So that beautiful quality—it might have been Thich Nhat Hahn that talked about that beautiful quality of being really, really happy for another. It was Jack Kornfield, the other day. He spoke with Dan Siegel at UCLA. He was just talking about that beautiful quality of being happy for another. And he probably had a couple of really gorgeous words that he used to illustrate it, but that quality really requires, “If I’m going to be happy for your success, there has to be a connection here.”
So when that hostility and that envy happens, there’s a big fragment, there’s a big trauma. And that quality of inquiry that you seem to live by so gorgeously—I love inquiry, I love curiosity. It’s the antidote to violence to me. When there’s some violence here, if I can just shift the mechanism a tiny bit to get curious, everything changes. It gets really loving and warm and feminine and soft. And quite wise, too, because all these parts that are really angry and really violent have so much to say.
TS: Now, there’s a word that I heard you introduce in describing how you like to talk to people who are “ceiling-less.” That’s an interesting word, and I’m curious what you mean by “ceiling-less” and how you experience that both in yourself and in other people.
AM: It’s very selfish, basically. I love the quality of this between that is between us. There’s been a lot of talk about joining the conversation, or starting the conversation, or catapulting the conversation. For me, the conversation is serpentine. It can go into psychology, then it can go into nail polish, then it can go into conflict with partner, then it can go into consciousness, then it can go into, “What was Timothy Leary talking about?” And it just goes all over the place.
When I reach someone’s ceiling—perhaps it’s [that] their capacity for intimacy gets smacked, or their capacity for vulnerability gets smacked, or sometimes it’s intellectualism. Howard Gardner talks about the nine intelligences. Sometimes I just meet someone who really isn’t that interested in talking about or calling upon that particular form of intelligence, so we’ll hit a ceiling. So when I have an interaction with people where there’s a ceiling-lessness, I’m totally in love. I just want to put my pajamas on and sleep on the floor right there.
TS: Well, we’re removing the ceiling from this room right now, invisibly. I want to circle back to your songwriting process. You’ve mentioned in several interviews [that in] 30 to 40 minutes, the song just comes out, and here today you used the word “channeling,” that it’s a type of channeling process for you, whatever people think of the word. What I’m curious about is, what’s going on for you? And if something’s coming through, do you have a sense that you’re connected to a being, just the mystery as a whole? What’s happening? What’s your understanding of that process?
AM: Sometimes it’s a spirit guide. But when it’s music, it’s almost like these faculties and these God-given gifts that I was given are just being used by the life force. And it’s careening through, and these words—because I love the English language and I slaughter it sometimes and I malapropism myself all over the place. But I love words. I love making up words. So that faculty, that capacity, is being used. Howard Gardner calls it the linguistic intelligence.
So I’m just having that part used, not unlike scientists and dancers and pole vaulters. That just have that talent, and sometimes their beleaguered by their own talent. And everyone in this room has 1 or 20 talents. Geminis, for some reason, when I talk to Geminis, they have so many they’re just bothered by them.
AM: Any Geminis in here?
AM: Is that your experience? Oh, it bothers me all the time. It’s over-option paralysis sometimes. And not to say that we’re the greatest fill-in-the-blank of all time, but it’s multiple talents, multiple hyphenate, all of it.
So you asked, a second ago—
TS: What you might be channeling. What or who, and what that process is like. What’s it feel like in your body? A song is about to come. Each of these songs, 30 to 40 minutes, that’s it. I mean, that’s amazing!
TS: I mean, it’s clearly non-conceptually delivered.
AM: Non-conceptually, but it is syphoned through the intellect. So there’s something to be said for that. It’s not unlike—I think we all know what it is to have this energy channel through us. It’s like writing an email. “I’ve just got to send this quick email, I’ll be right out.” That’s what it feels like.
AM: You know what it’s like to write a really quick email?
TS: Yes, I do.
AM: I know you do! So it’s that feeling.
[Audience laughs and cheers]
TS: It’s awe. I feel awe when I hear that. It’s just awesome.
AM: Cool. That’s great.
AM: That’s awesome! I think that way when I see people draw. I have so many non-talents that when I see other people have them, I have that. So that’s why I just said it’s great, because I understand. You say, “What does it feel like in the body?” It’s pretty stressful. It’s not my favorite thing. I don’t like writing. I’d much rather just eat a sandwich and go watch a movie.
AM: And sometimes I do. But I’m writing a book right now, and that is just awful.
AM: I hate it. It’s the worst.
TS: But when a song/email is about to come through you, do you have a sense of, kind of like, “I need to go to the bathroom”? It’s like, something’s about to happen here.
AM: Yes. That’s every day. And when I don’t do it, I get depressed. But I don’t always do it. So what I like to do is I like to have discipline and inspiration meet halfway. So sometimes, yes, am I the girl writing stuff at four in the morning on my iPhone or a little piece of paper? Yes, of course. But what I’ll do is I’ll structure it.
So with the record writing, I’ll ask my collaborator or my producer or I’ll set up studio time from 1 p.m.—once my son was born, I basically built a mini-studio in my home so that I could breastfeed and write and go back and forth. Sometimes at the same time. But I—what was I just saying there? Discipline, thanks!
TS: The combination. And you talk about this as a masculine and feminine combination.
AM: Yes, both sides of the brain.
TS: So the structure that you use—
AM: Yes, the structure is 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every day for music. Sometimes I stay as late as 7, especially when it’s in my own home, because it’s just fun. Book writing, for me is five days a week. I do the—what do you call it—administrative, empire-running work from 12 to 2:30. I work out in the morning, hang out with my family in the morning. Then from 3 p.m. until 6 or 7, I write. And then I’m off, and I play with my son and hang out with my family.
TS: So your son is now almost 3, Ever. And when was 5 months old, this is when you decided to make this most recent record, to start the process.
TS: What was going on for you? I mean, here you’re a new mom, relationship first. Why the big push to make a new record? And how did you know that it was trustworthy and not something that was some type of work addiction or something like that?
AM: Well, it was probably a combination of work addiction and ego. Probably 20 percent was that. The other element was that I had post-partum depression. And the only time I’d had depression was when I wasn’t writing or working out or sleeping properly or I was in a break-up. So I thought, “Well, one way to address this might be to just write a record.” Also, I had a lot of journals full, so I’ll go through rhythms—and Eckhart Tolle talks about this. It’s so sweet, where he talks about certain times where you go away and that ebb, and then the flow comes up.
So I call it the “under the rock” time. And I can’t spend too many years there, because I start feeling—you know, you just said, “Do you feel like you have to go pee?” For me, it just feels like I have to throw up. There’s just so much to say, and I’ll see things going on around me. Also, there is this added element where, when I’m at Whole Foods or some restaurant somewhere, and people’s perception of me—and this is the image-conscious 2, 3, 4 part of the Enneagram. I hate to admit that I’m pretty image-conscious, but I am. And for a pointed reason, actually, because I’m very agendaed around serving.
So when I’m out in the world and there’s misperceptions about what I’m dwelling in based on the fact, understandably, that the last record they heard was four years ago, there’s this part of what I call the positive part of my ego that is like, “Update.” [Snaps fingers] “We’ve got to start writing songs about what’s happening now,” so that when I got out in the world and someone stops me in the street and they want to talk about content, I can go, “Oh yes.” And it’s topical and palatable and immediate. It’s in real time.
So there is an element of my wanting to catch up to real time. I wanted to pull out of my depression. It was also just time, I had tons of journals full. And also, I had these intentions, when I was pregnant, of finishing the book and finishing the record, and I did neither, because by 4 p.m. every day, I couldn’t move. So I had to push it all until later.
And also, this terror—I think part of the post-partum depression, for me, had a lot to do with being a career woman and how much of an about-face my whole life experienced. I went from being on airplanes non-stop [for] travelling to talking for interviews to radio shows to rock shows to South America. And then, all of a sudden, it was like, I’m home, and I didn’t have that sense of community that I now know is so vital and so important to have gather around you. You need your women, you need your loved ones around you. And I didn’t even know how to do that. I didn’t know how to invite that.
So it was a huge exercise in receptivity and learning how to be taken care of, because my role in my family was the therapist, to take care of everybody, and I just kept doing that over and over again.
TS: And here you are also modeling that, in the first year of your child’s life, you did both. You were a mom and an attachment parenting mom, and you made a new record.
AM: Yes! It was so great to be able to do it. And it also just required coffee.
TS: OK, Alanis, I’m going to ask you one last question. Final question.
AM: OK, great! Are we going to talk with everybody, or no?
TS: No, this is it. We’re wrapping it up.
AM: OK, great.
TS: It’s been very intimate.
AM: Oh yes.
TS: With all of us here.
AM: Yes, it has.
TS: Here at Emerging Women, we’ve been exploring, from many different perspectives, where we are as women, you could say, in the feminist movement today—where we’ve come from, and potentially where we might need to go now, what’s next for us. And what I’m curious to know is the Alanis Morissette feminist agenda going forward.
AM: Oh no!
TS: What do you see?
AM: I touched on, a few minutes ago, the beginning part where it was very much about women proving their competence and their capacity to do and take action. To me, that’s just obvious now, especially to our generation, it’s obvious that we can. Where we’re going now is for us to cultivate and integrate both sides of the brain, both sides of the masculine/feminine yin/yang. Let the whole spectrum be available to us. And then, for the divine feminine to lead the charge so that the masculine and the feminine qualities in all of us would bow down to the feminine agenda, which is inherently connective. And that the divine masculine would provide and protect this feminine agenda, which is the sacred union, which is what we’re moving toward.
And that eventually, the feminist movement will slowly fall away and it will become this sacred union, and it will become a no-brainer for us, this androgynous multitudeness, [this] huge range of masculine/feminine yin/yang will be embodied in our day-to-day life and we’ll call upon whatever aspect we need to. So God bless the feminist movement, because where we were in the patriarchy has been so violent and so oppressive and so fucking painful, that where we’re going sounds so much better to me, for men and women alike.
[Audience applauds and cheers]
TS: I said to Alanis when I first met her that I experienced her—I didn’t write you a song, but I wrote you an email. And the email said, basically, “You’re a glitter bomb.” And that’s how I experience this person. So I’m so happy that the glitter bomb exploded right here at the St. Julian with all of us. It was wonderful. Thank you.
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