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Lions Roar : September 2015
Inviting her in, I led lang to the publisher’s office where a circle of our staff gathered to chat and drink tea. She talked about her life as a Buddhist and the projects she had underway with Lama Gyatso. Then, as she sipped from a Chinese porcelain cup with a fish design, I asked her if she ever suffered from stage fright. Almost never, she said—she’d been in the business that long. Lang was touring to support her album Watershed, which could be described as a culmination of everything she has ever done. In it, you can hear her alt-country roots, and also strains of jazz and even a light Brazilian touch. When asked what it’s like to open her mouth and have amazing sounds come pouring out, lang describes it as “mind- blowing,” as feeling like a whole ocean of surfers are available to her at any given moment to open up her voice and play around with a melody. “But the deeper truth is that we all have world- level gifts,” she says. “Maybe sometimes we are not able to reach and bring out our gifts, but they are there. It can be quite ordinary—when you see a Bhutanese woman making cheese dumplings and you taste one and it’s the best cheese dumpling you’ve ever eaten in your life, it’s the same thing! It’s essence. Ultimately, I don’t really see myself as separate from anybody else in terms of having a gift.” I appreciate lang’s modesty. I really do. Still, I can’t help feel- ing like her gift is bigger than just everybody is gifted. I remember the concert that night, perched on my folding chair. Sure, for years I’d been listening to recordings of lang belt- ing it out. Hearing her in person, however, was a whole other experience. Now I am going to use a phrase that has become something of a Buddhist cliché—forgive me, but it’s the only way I can think of to describe what it was like when lang hit the silken, deliciously tortured high notes of “Hallelujah.” Her singing stopped my mind. ON OCTOBER 13, 2009, Lama Chödak Gyatso Nubpa died in Sikkim, India, and lang made the trip overseas for his funeral. Now, looking back, she believes that Lama Gyatso gave his stu- dents a lot of warning regarding his death. “How so?” I ask. “His number one teaching,” she answers, “was impermanence. “You don’t realize,” says lang, “how amazingly precious it is to be able to access your teacher on a daily basis in a casual set- ting or a formal setting—at Costco or in the shrine room. To have that proximity to the enlightened mind and to see it in action in a worldly sense is a type of teaching that is peerless. When we lost Lama Gyatso it was difficult, but at the same time I think he had prepared us. I really feel—as his other students feel—that it’s just a part of the process. It’s not over now that he’s died. It’s just a different teaching.” Without her teacher’s physical presence in her life, lang admits there are times when it’s more challenging to stay on the path. “Sometimes,” she tells me, “my faith is strong and sometimes it Lang’s own culinary experience was stretched too. She had been a committed and vocal vegetarian for twenty-one years— and unpopular for it in places like Texas and her native Alberta. Then Lama Gyatso suggested that she eat meat during a tradi- tional Vajrayana feast. This was incredibly challenging for lang, and she bawled while swallowing the first piece. At the same time, however, a whirlwind of realization flashed through her. “I realized,” she says, “that in eating the flesh of an animal, I’m eat- ing the flesh of my mother, I’m eating my own flesh, I’m eating no flesh, I’m eating nothing.” As lang sees it, she faced her aversion to eating meat and moved through it. She’d been afraid that the experience at the feast would somehow lead her away from being a vegetarian, but the reverse was true. Her commitment to vegetarianism was actually strengthened. Now, says lang, she has a clearer understanding of what meat is and what our responsibility is in regard to helping all beings find liberation. “It’s a big responsibility eating meat.” K.D. LANG RANG the doorbell at our office and I answered. For her visit, I’d worn my best suit and nicest plum-colored lipstick, but I felt over- dressed as soon as I saw her. I’d been thinking of the cocksure lang on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1993. I mean, who could forget that provocative image of lang leaning into supermodel Cindy Crawford’s cleavage as Crawford gave “Desire is such a common theme in my music. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I like it so much.” Lang’s groundbreaking 1993 Esquire cover, with model Cindy Crawford wielding the razor. her a wet shave—lang clad in pinstriped pants and a tie, Craw- ford in a swimsuit and ankle boots? But many years had gone by since that famous photo shoot, and our Halifax location was a far cry from L.A. Lang was in town to perform a concert that evening and came by the office of the Shambhala Sun Foundation for a visit. She was wearing jeans and she did not have an entourage with her. In short, she was as down-to-earth as her haircut. SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2015 54