Sunday, April 14, 2013

Interview with Asher Quinn (Asha) - Singer, Songwriter and Mystical Balladeer


Welcome to a new episode of the series: In Quest of My Oasis, a dialogue with seekers & lovers of Sufi path. The Mystic Master Prophet Muhammad said, "at-turuqu ila 'Llahi ka-nufusi bani Adam", 'the ways to God are as numerous as the human souls'. The reason it is titled 'In Quest of My Oasis' because this will be, God willing, about inspiring personal, individual journey towards that unique direction which takes one to the Real Goal.

An oasis is a lush green garden in a desert or wasteland. Here Oasis symbolizes both the Sufi journey and the Path. In the arid desert the oasis carries the water of life, spring gushes up from the heart of the earth that delights the soul. Rumi has hints for us:

Search, no matter what situation you are in.
O thirsty one, search for water constantly.
Finally, the time will come when you will reach
the spring.

In this series we wish to engage with contemporary seekers who are drawn to that Quest, who have tasted the sacred thirst and are searching. We hope to know them, connect with them, share their beautiful journey in the spirit of what sufis call Sohbet. This episode is blessed by the presence of British Musician and Mystic Asher Quinn, may Beloved's graceful glance be upon his heart.


Visionary musician Asher Quinn has been composing and recording albums of vocal, instrumental and piano music since 1987. His themes are invariably around higher love and opening the heart to deeper truths. Asher has a one-world philosophy, and his ballads, love-songs, ethnic folk tunes, fugues and musical vignettes fall into the new age musical genre, as well as the folk-rock, wandering minstrel and even classical traditions. His main inspirations come from spirit and mythology as well as from some of the great troubadours of our age like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.

His albums have been described as both tender and uplifting, and sometimes even other-worldly! Asher's music contains a kind of longing or melancholy... a longing for a more conscious connection with creation. Those who listens to his music deeply say that they experience his music as healing, and that it invokes tears of recognition, joy and re-connection... a kind of 'coming home' experience.

Asher is also a Jungian (trans-personal) psychotherapist, with a practice in Putney and St. John's Wood, London.

This sohbet revolves around his personal journey, his coming upon the Sufi Path, sharing of his spiritual insights, his visionary musics and the process through which these musics are conceived for the world.


~ In Quest of the Heart's Attunement ~

Sohbet with Visionary Musician Asher Quinn (Asha)


Sadiq Alam: Please give us a brief introduction about yourself. Where you were born, where did you grow up, and who influenced you most in your life?

Asher Quinn (Asha): I was born in London to a young Russian Jewish mother, Mary, and a British singer, Denis Hale. He was a quite well-known dance band singer at the time, and she was a young fan! Apparently, I was conceived behind the drum kit at London's Lyceum Ballroom. I was illegitimate... my mother's family disowned her, and my biological father was already married with two sons. I was eventually given up for adoption after Mary struggled for two years to raise me. She was just 19. I was given my father's name, Denis... a French corruption of Dionysus, the libertarian God, and prototype of Christ. I took note, in later years, that I was an illegitimate child who's mother's name was Mary, and that my name was synonymous with Jesus! I experienced myself at a very early age as being from what I came to understand, anthroposophically, as the Jesus and Mary ray of being, and I was proud of that and happy and honoured to be called to healing, somehow!

My adoptive family were Jewish, and my mother was a cabaret pianist. My father was an accountant, and many of his clients were musicians, dancers or artists. My adoptive grandfather was also a pianist. I grew up in London, very used to piano and song, and a warm family atmosphere. I began to play the piano intuitively, aged 3. As I grew up, I realised that my inner music was not like the cabaret music I was surrounded with... Gershwin, Cole Porter & Noel Coward! I resonated more with classical music, like Bruckner, Dvorak, Vaughan Williams and Baroque composers like Vivaldi and Albinoni. I played spontaneously from the heart... simple, embellished, melancholy Russian, Jewish and Celtic folk-sounding melodies that seemed to flow from my heart.

Aged 5, I had profound, emotional visions of Jesus. I told my adoptive mother about these, but she said that as Jews we did not worship Jesus! So Jesus went into the closet! Also aged 5 I had visions of being abducted by witches, who took me away and spanked me, and that has been my life path... to square the Jesus in my soul with the witches (the dark mother energy), somehow. If I was of the Jesus ray, the inner witches provided my personal, psychological crucifixion!

My adoptive Godfather was a big influence in my life. He introduced me to football... my passion from 9-19! He also introduced me to a synagogue, and when I asked what that silver thing was behind the gilded cage (the Torah), he replied that it was where God lived. I went cold and shook with excitement. From that day on I wanted to live only where God lived.

Musically, I particularly resonated with the young Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, as a child. It was not until much later that I realised that they were both Jewish prophets and mystics... great story-tellers in song. They helped me to realise my vocation as both a mystic and as a troubador. Similarly, I was particularly taken with the English mystical poet William Blake.

It's perfectly possible that I was somewhere on the autistic spectrum, clinically, as a child and teenager. At school I excelled at the arts but could not fathom the sciences. I could not even understand how to read music... I could understand only the language of my own inner heart, and the narrow but intense field of endeavour that surrounded it. Hence, I liked Dylan, Cohen and Blake, Dvorak, Vivaldi and Vaughan-Williams, but hardly anyone else! Not even Mozart or Beethoven... only those with whom I felt a mystical resonance around simplistic, visionary beauty. Leonard Cohen's melodies for instance, are child-like folk melodies, and Blake's verse is deceptively guileless.

I had two favourite numbers... 7 and 49, and one favourite colour... blue. I was very partisan about these, and very little else! If those were autistic symptoms, I also possessed the corresponding savant gifts... as many autists do... I could play the piano without understanding how, and also football, at a very high level. I was frequently caned at school, and, ironically, by my piano teacher, because they thought I was lazy and dreamy, but I lived in my own world and had my own codes. My piano teacher was a formidable spinsterish woman who would coo and fuss over the beautiful music I conjured up from my soul, and then spank me for failing to learn theory!

I am not autistic now. I have long since arrived on earth!


When did you start to discover the spiritual longing within yourself, and is there anything particular that triggered this longing?

I was profoundly affected by being separated from my birth mother at such a young age. And even whilst I was with her she did not know how to care for me well, so I fell very ill and was hospitalised with malnutrition and sores. I suffered a lot and was undoubtedly traumatised. But all this was pre-verbal... my body retained the memory even if my conscious mind did not. Many years later I was able to recover certain memories through shamanic healing. They were grim, but at last I could piece together what had happened to me, in detail.

All of a sudden, aged 5, these visions of Jesus kicked in. He and his followers felt more like my true family than my biological or adoptive parents. Perhaps I cleverly spiritualised my longing for a good, immaculate mother into a longing for God, and repressed my experience of the bad mother. There may have been a psychological wounding that opened up my soul to greater realities. It is often the way... those with painful wounds can become healers themselves. As they find intuitively how to heal their own wounds, they open up the gates of perception to bigger truths. There is mythology around the archetype of the wounded healer... Chiron in Greek mythology... that I connect to in my inner world.

In my 20's, when I found the Sufi path, I came across the 'stage of the broken heart'... that, in the Sufi way, it is a pre-requisite to have the heart bleeding in order to know the beauty of God. It wouldn't do to close that wound, because that is a portal to the Divine.

The music I played spontaneously on the piano healed my own heart, and took me on inner journeys to commune with nature spirits and deities. I also sang euphonically, directly from the emotional heart, but quietly, to myself. No-one knew I could sing, and very few knew that I could compose on the piano. I was chronically shy as a child and teen... torn between the upper world of Jesus, and the lower realm of the devouring witches. I saw everyone around me do their thing, go to work, get on, thrive at school, make friends, have fun... but I lived a constant battle between heaven and hell, and all in private. I felt like a partisan in the resistance... a soldier of love. I felt I was not of this world, and I struggled, emotionally and intellectually to come to terms with the material crudeness of this vibration of being. I also had apocalyptic visions, and felt that I was born to bring healing to a wounded world, but found it hard to articulate this safely to anybody for fear of ridicule or of being accused of inflation. Curiously, my beatings grounded me in my body somehow, and helped me land on planet earth... a perverse healing for my condition! A strange mercy!

The world for me now is pretty much as I had imagined it would be then... wounded. These days, my visions, struggles and experiences make more sense. My role through music, and my career as a psychotherapist, is to reach out and help people re-connect with their true God-selves, to heal the wounds of injustice, inequality and soul loss. My spiritual longing is to re-connect to my God-self, to fully awaken as a Being of Light, and to help others to do the same.


How did you first know about the Sufis and come upon this Path?

In my early 20's I suffered a breakdown... perhaps even a schizophrenic split, clinically. It remained undiagnosed, and I just tried to get on with it. I had graduated with a good university degree in English and American Literature, largely because it was a more creative degree than an academic one, but I wanted to write songs and follow in the footsteps of Bob Dylan, and the mystical poets. But, being a middle-class, suburban, Jewish boy, I had very little of note to write about! My melodies were good, but my lyrics were pretentious and unworldly. I received 167 rejections from record and publishing companies, all saying the same thing... good tunes, stupid songs! My parents persuaded me to start a career in advertising, and I reluctantly gave it a go. I experienced it as soul death however, as I feared that I might, and had an emotional breakdown.

In that dark hour I had an intuition... a flash of light… an Elijah moment! Somewhere in the world I just knew that there was a teacher to guide me... I simply had to find him. So, following my heart, I headed west. I sold all my possessions (raising about £95) and bought a one-way stand-by ticket to New York. Within a week of arrival I had found a Sufi teacher in the Catskill mountains of New York state. His name was Adnan el-Sarhan, a Naqshbandi Sufi from Baghdad!

I spent two months at a summer camp with him and about 150 others. We ate pure, vegan food, exercised, lived in nature, and were introduced to traditional Sufi practices... whirling (like the Dervishes), drumming, chanting, zikr, praying... all of which I loved! My soul cried out for this spiritual nourishment. I felt like I had finally come home. My neurotic symptoms vanished overnight and I grew wings... a heart with wings! I began to compose songs from the mythological realms, from the Divine... channeled songs. This source has never dried up, and never will. I have been doing this for over 30 years now.

The 150 of us were from all over the world... young and old; black & white; Europeans, Americans, Asians, Africans; wounded and sane; wealthy and poor; educated and illiterate. Ironically, there I was, a neurotic Jewish orphan with Jesus in his heart, finding God through mystical Islam! But to me Judaism, Christianity and Islam are three brothers.

I followed the Sufi path with Adnan across America and Mexico for two years, working itinerantly along the way... busking and writing songs, too. I fasted and went on long retreats. The prayer La ilaha Ill'Allah became etched in my heart, and still is today. It is my refuge, sanctuary and source... there is no God but God. The wazifa (mantra) I was given was Haq... truth. This is still my mantra after 30 years. I was given Wali (compassion) to soften it, but I ignored the teaching! Consequently, I caught fire (metaphorically) but I survived. Now compassion prevails, naturally... it is an inevitable consequence of truth. Truth begets mercy, and mercy begets love.

Eventually I was deported from the USA as an illegal alien, as my tourist visa had expired 21 months earlier. I was arrested in Kansas, and put in a juvenile detention centre for eight days while they decided what to do with me. I declined to eat, preferring to fast, under the circumstances... was visited by a drunk Irish priest on the sunday who leered, boozily over me and told me that I was a sinner, and was paddled each day for refusing to eat... another set of beatings that put me back into my body from my lofty heights! The world is merciful! I was being guided to stay on earth and not fly away.

Back In London, I found a Sufi centre and carried on my practices through the 1980's, training to be a therapist there as well. On my retreats I was always assessed by my guide as needing to meditate on Jesus. Through the Sufi practices I feel that my heart is constantly opening more and more to the Christ-light... according to my early visions and longings.

I don't regard myself as a Sufi even... I have not developed my practices, but remained faithful to my original ones. I have no interest in mosques or churches or synagogues... except, perhaps, to sing in them... and make no outward concession to any ideology. My teacher is in my heart. The Sufi path is an ecstatic path... an intoxication with the Divine. My inner Jesus is an ecstatic soldier of love. This path suits me very well, and has helped me to release my inner fire. These days I am finding the same experiences through the Kabbalah... that ecstatic branch of Jewish mysticism.


Some of my music reflects this fire... this solar energy... but much of it reflects the deep waters of emotional longing for re-connection with source. My music comes through sun-angels into my heart, and the name I adopted after a dream, Asha, is the name of my sun angel. She revealed that to me in 1988, and gave me the gift of that name... her name. More recently I changed my name from Asha to Asher, partly to protect Asha from this world... I am Asher to the world, and Asha in my inner heart.


Could you please tell a little more about your meeting with the Sufi Teacher Adnan el-Sarhan? We know for people growing up in the west, the idea of accepting a teacher, surrendering one's ego to that teacher and also to open one's own vulnerabilities is hard. Was it easy for you?

It felt entirely natural for me to open myself up to this teacher, Sadiq. But remember, I was in a desperate place spiritually, emotionally and psychologically at that time. Adnan inspired trust. The summer camp where we did the spiritual work was a beat-up former Jewish summer camp in the Catskill Mountains! It was ramshackle. Adnan drove an old, dented white Volkswagen car… not a Rolls Royce like Osho was reputed to have done. We slept in sleeping bags on the floor of wooden huts. The main building was a wooden shack with peeling paint. Adnan walked the walk as well as talked the talk! He had no pretensions, did not ask us to give him our life savings and renounce materialism, and he was always available… without a bodyguard! He was a small, compact man, but incredibly strong. He'd obviously done the practices all his life and was super fit. He demonstrated impossible physical feats to us, day after day… and after two months, some of us were nearer achieving the impossible than we ever might have imagined!

One lady there, Louis Weiler from Kentucky, was 76. She had come to him, originally, crippled with arthritis. When I met her, she was able to do headstands, and all manner of subtle physical things. She was cured! It was not always so… one middle-aged lady came, terribly depressed and suicidal. She loved the work, but her body stayed wracked with torment… with toxins, alcohol and drugs, as she de-toxed. But she didn't make it. A few years later she committed suicide. Adnan did not heal by touch… he didn't close a bleeding wound like Jesus… but he facilitated the purifications that could bring about organic physical and spiritual healing for many, including myself. Ultimately, all psychological neuroses can be cured by spiritual salvation; indeed the symptoms of depression, addiction, phobia and anxiety indicate that our ego is restless for spiritual input. The cure is not psychological but spiritual.

We paid Adnan what we could afford. I had no money, so he let me stay and help out to pay for my place… in the kitchens, cleaning up and so on. The boss of a big cigarette company came, and he paid a big fee, because he could afford to, which he volunteered to do. He was not asked to do that. Somehow the Robin Hood system seemed to work; the rich paid for the poor!

Adnan himself said that it was time to bring this teaching to the west; that his own teachers had instructed him to do that. What had once been the esoteric preserve of only the devoted in the Sufi lineage, now became open to all. Many eastern and African teachers said that kind of thing in the 1980's and afterwards… not only Sufis, but Tibetan Daoists, African shaman and the like… many said that their teachers and ancestors had instructed them to bring spirituality to the west, because now it was 'the time'.

Through anthroposophy, I have come to understand that Jesus travelled the world from the ages of 12-30, often with Joseph of Aramathea, learning about the different spiritual traditions of the world. He was initiated into the Hindu way in India, and into the Daoist way in Tibet. He came to Glastonbury, in the UK, and built a little prayer shack. That is now the site of Glastonbury Abbey, where King Arthur is also buried. Aged 30, he was baptised by John, and was initiated into Christ consciousness. In essence it is clear to me that Jesus was a Sufi dervish and also a shaman!

Adnan-el-Sarhan playing drum as part of his therapy "to find present" (May 29, 30 1975)

Many sannyasins from the Osho camp came to taste Adnan's spiritual cocktail, but Osho built a whole community and a business around his teachings, first in Poona and then in Oregon. He had his fleet of Rolls Royce's, his bodyguards and inner circle, and the implicit recommendation that his followers give all their material possessions to the foundation. My own cousin joined Osho's community, and gave away her inheritance to him.

But Adnan was more in the spirit of the wondering dervish. He lived simply and purely, and was a highly developed teacher… always seeming to be able to attune to the needs of any individual at any moment. He impressed me from the word go, even with his greeting! He smiled, shook my hand, grinned and asked me to destroy my cigarettes! How did he know? Then I was warmly invited into the proceedings and shepherded, sensitively, at all times. Within two days, of good food, physical exercise, meditations, practices, and evening teaching parables… Adnan was a great story-teller… I felt transformed. Gone was my fear and neurosis, my shyness and submissive compliance. There was no ideology to follow, just the practices and an introduction to the culture of the mystic. I felt I was home, for the first time in my life. I understood God to be available to me through my own Self; through my instincts and intuitions. I could make a clear distinction between that experience and the more urgent, demanding style of my ego. I quickly came to feel grateful and humble instead of deprived and anxious. My ego felt nurtured and parented in a way that western conventional parenting and education had never provided.

It was also easy for me to open myself up to a teacher and a teaching because I am as a child in my essential nature… a natural child; trusting and open, not power hungry. In that respect I was unusual in my own formative London culture; my friends were more ambitious, more materially-minded than I was. I realised then that I was a spiritual seeker who had found a teacher, one of the very few like that in my home culture.

The only flaw I detected in Adnan, which I forgive him for, was that he seduced certain women. There is no issue here morally, in the normal man/woman sense, but… as a teacher, carrying huge parental projections, especially from vulnerable females with 'Daddy' issues… he should never have acted upon that impulse. When I learned of this years later, through one of the women involved, I felt betrayed. A teacher should never seduce a disciple. My forgiveness for him came through realising that it is archetypal for the human being to feel betrayed by the 'Great Father'. It is there in Hebrew mythology, even in Jewish humour, and it's there in the story around Jesus on the cross. The betrayal by the father is a precursor to spiritual independence. I took the deconstruction of my first teacher, Adnan, to be a teaching in itself… not by him, this time, but through my understanding of who he was in my psyche. I took the spiritual power I projected onto Adnan back into myself. At first I felt angry and upset… as if my own Dad had been caught with a mistress, somehow… but eventually understanding, compassion and forgiveness replaced that, as I reflected upon it all.


You mentioned in the description of your composition 'Missa Greca' (Greek Mass) that you came to know Vilayat Khan at some point. Was he influential in your Sufi journey?

After I was deported from the USA, I returned to London. I found a Sufi Centre there, run by a British fellow, who himself was an initiate of Vilayat Khan. I began to attend the meetings. The Sufi way here was less fiery than Adnan's 'rapid method'… much more watery and gentle… but I appreciated the differences, and carried on my practices. I also began to do guided retreats… at first four days, then six, then ten, then fourteen and finallytwenty-one. Here, I stayed in a little cabin day and night, eating only rice in the evenings, or fasting, and doing the practices I was prescribed by my retreat guide. These were around the wazifa 'Haq' (truth) and the figure of Jesus.

Adnan Sarhan
With Adnan, up in the Catskills, I had also fasted… fifteen days out of twenty-one; first six, then a break, then three and a break and then another six. I had never done this before. To begin with I had found it very worrying! After the first day I got a terrible headache (de-tox, though I didn't know that at the time), but Adnan grinned and said 'it will pass'! After the second day I got weak knees, but Adnan grinned and said 'it will pass'! After the third day I got incredible food fantasies that tempted me like the devil, but Adnan grinned and said 'it will pass'! After the fourth day I panicked and thought I would get ill and die, but Adnan grinned and said 'it will pass'!

And it did! After that I became as high as a kite, felt fantastically light in my being, and became infinitely more open to higher truths. I began to dis-identify with my body, and identify more with Spirit. It was a fantastic lesson, helping me to realise that I was much more than my body or my ego. It helped my ego know its true place in the scheme of things. When I fasted in the juvenile detention centre in Kansas, two years later, and they assumed I was refusing to eat as a political protest (or that I thought the food was scummy), I was punished each day by being strapped down over a judicial punishment bench, and paddled on the bottom… 10 whacks each day! Recreational sport for bored prison officers! But I barely noticed the pain or humiliation in my high, fasting state! It was just enough to re-connect me with my body, though, and I remembered to love my body and not abandon it for the love of Spirit. So even this served as a spiritual teaching.

In London I decided, eventually, to be initiated into the Sufi order of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan. I was not one for joining groups, societies or clubs in life, but I felt a calling from my heart to do this. He was a magnificent looking man, leonine, in a white gown, and was a great and graceful teacher. He was very different from Adnan, who was the wandering dervish. Pir Vilayat was noble, with a pedigree… a scientist and a mystic! Adnan was a poet and a mystic!

Pir Vilayat Khan
On the day of my initiation I went into a little room to meet Pir Vilayat, in Regent's College, London. In the corner, there were stacked chairs. Unaccountably, instead of walking straight up to him to receive my initiation, I found myself walking into the chairs! My soul felt humbled in the presence of such a majesty of being. My wife reports the same phenomena when she has met her own important teachers… in the Daoist path. Somehow she walks away from them at first, instead of towards them!

I immersed myself in the culture of Pir Vilayat's lineage, fascinated by all that I found. His father, Hazrat Inayat Khan (they are an Indian lineage of Sufis), wrote many wonderful books, essentially bringing Sufi mysticism to the west and marrying it to western psychology. I have a wonderful quote of Hazrat's on my own music website:

'What science cannot declare, art can suggest.
What art suggests silently, poetry speaks out.
But what poetry fails to express in words,
Is expressed by music.'

~ The Gayan of Hazrat Inayat Khan

Through Pir Vilayat, I came to hear the Slavonic liturgies of the Bulgarian male voice choirs that were used as a musical attunement, sometimes, prior to his meditations. Meditations are, of course, impossible! Everyone knows that! It is barely possible to still the mind… one has to constantly bring the wandering mind back to the focus, gently, as one might do with a distracted child. But sometimes… sometimes… something else takes over. Nowadays I realise that my whole life is a meditation, a spiritual attunement. To be invited to meditate was merely a discipline; a technique… a dress rehearsal for that tipping point where one becomes aware that all of life is a meditation.

Spending the summer of 1988 in northern Greece, around Olympus and Thessalonika, I composed the 'Missa Greca', inspired by the slavonic liturgies. But it was the Sufi way, the ecstatic dervish way, that inspired me to find beauty in the Greek Orthodox mass. I made my composition both sacred and sensual, as if the sacrament is somehow erotic, in a Tantric way.

In my little retreat hut in London, I used to do the practices and enter a holy realm, and then, as an inevitable conter-point, be besieged by sexual fantasies! My struggle veered between the call of Jesus and the call of the carnal body. Those sexual fantasies were both my instinctual way of recalling me from leaving my body altogether, and also a metaphor for the erotic nature of existence… erotic as in Eros, the God of Love. Life is Love, and Love is Eros.

One minute I would be envisioning Jesus, just as I had done aged 5… being part of his legion of children coming over the hill near Jerusalem (Jerusalem means 'gate of peace'), and sobbing with the unifying thrill of it all, and the next I would be abducted by the internal witches again and taken to some sexual place. These witch fantasies were sometimes sadomasochistic… certainly through no conscious intention of mine… but I came to realise that they symbolised the surrender and humility that I craved in my soul; that humiliation, symbolically, is a metaphor for the soul's craving for spiritual humility… of the surrender of the body to Spirit.


Every journey matures with time and take us closer to the destination. In your journey on the Sufi Path do you still have active association with other Sufis? What is your prime nourishment of the soul (eg. regular zikrs, or private contemplation with the Beloved etc.?)

I have no active outer involvement with any Sufi group, or path, any more, but I am a true dervish, living the ecstatic contemplative life with the Beloved. I stopped my formal journey with Sufi teachers in 1991, and also my retreats, when I married my wife. I felt the need to ground myself in this earthly life. We soon had two boys and I needed to ground myself to provide for them. I put my Sufi learning to practical use… head in the clouds; feet on the ground, as they say. I am in the world, but not of it, as they also say. Jesus said 'my Kingdom is not of this world', and I understand that to mean that when we live in God, if we ever find out how to live in God, we fully realise and experience that we are from a higher place, a higher, angelic realm, and that we come down to earth to incarnate and experience this mortal vibration, to complete that gnosis for the Beloved… to play our part in making God conscious of God.

Therefore, each earthly experience has infinite value… each human life becomes a candle of illumination, and adds to the light. In this way, our experience on earth is valuable because it completes God. The Kabbalah sees things in a similar way… we are co-creators; we are God-ing. Human experience adds to God's gnosis of itself… always infinite and yet forever expanding, like the big bang! A paradox.

I trained to be a psychotherapist at this Sufi centre in London, which is also a well-established therapy training centre. The course was entitled 'The Spiritual Dimensions of Psychology', and I gained a high, accredited qualification. I have been a therapist for 25 years, about the same length of time that I've been creating music albums.

My music and my therapy practice take me to the same inner place of communion with the Divine. That's where I go for my inspiration… to channel songs and to help my clients. My wife is also on a spiritual path, and in parallel we have explored various traditions, including shamanic healing. My own analyst and clinical supervisor are both Jungian… Jung was a great mystic and scholar, schooled in shamanic and mythological traditions. The Beloved is also called the Self… one is a poetic description, and the other a scientific one.

As I develop my own self-awareness, through being guided by the meaning of my own dreams and symptoms, and through writing and channeling songs, I have reached the place where many of my old boundaries do not remain… time and space is not at all what I once thought it was, neither is the division between conscious and unconscious, or even that between life and death.

I live each moment as if it might be my last, with as much dark humour as I can muster, and in this I am sustained and fulfilled, and feel relatively grateful and humble… though never passive. I remember hearing Leonard Cohen once say that each day he wakes up, and looks to see if he has attained a state of grace. If not, he goes back to sleep!

A state of grace, I feel, is to be in the 'now'; to feel genuinely humble and grateful; to not be attached to any outcome; to live in 'Thy will' not 'my will' and to be ready to help, serve and be kind whenever possible. In these ways we begin to live as a Being of Light, and something else starts to take over… some spiritual transformation. The dancer Isadora Duncan once said that she spent 30 years preparing her mind and body to dance, and then one day… when she was ready… the 'dance' took over. It is the same with Spirit. If we prepare the mind and body, one day the Spirit takes over. If it doesn't, it's not a design fault, it's that we haven't prepared properly yet! Many fragile souls blame God for their troubles, but what they haven't yet realised is that they haven't found out how to prepare properly yet, to receive Spirit. I'm reading this wonderful book at the moment, that my wife passed onto me; it's called "The Instruction Manual for Receiving God", by Jason Shulman. It's a beautiful slim, white volume from the Kabbalistic tradition. This is great for helping one to prepare to receive Spirit.


Looking back at those times when you sold all that you had, decided that you needed to find a teacher and… now… remembering the state and station of your heart at that time, what would you advise for anyone who might be in similar stage in life in this contemporary world?

Gosh! Now that's a very tricky question to answer, Sadiq. I sent a couple of my wounded clients off to Adnan, once, but it didn't work out for them at all. They either didn't resonate with the culture, or were too afraid to open up in that way. One's path has to be according to one's heart. The Sufi ecstatic way really suits my temperament, and is in accord with the mystical ecstasy of Jesus and the ancient Kabbalists, too. At source, whether through a Sufi, Christian or Hebrew portal, I am an ecstatic soul, and I haven't even begun to investigate the many other traditions in the world, yet. For me, being a Sufi is not the important thing… or a Christian or a Jew… it's seeing and experiencing God in everything, that does the trick… it's the 'participation mystique' that's the thing, however it's achieved. The path is not the same as the destination, although the path IS the destination, in the final analysis!

I have known folks who seem to 'find' themselves by becoming evangelical Christians, or orthodox Muslims, because they are sustained by the moral structure and then feel that they have stumbled upon the one truth… the one true ring! I cringe when I hear an orthodox Christian or Moslem say that their God is the only God, and then squabble over it, as if they were in the playground, saying that their Dad was better than the other fellow's. Blimey! There is no God but God… but let's get beyond getting hung up over what to call God. The orthodox way can lead to a kind of mania… an over-zealous inflation… where one feels alive with the Holy Spirit, but that the newly found way is the only way.

I came across the most beautiful piece by Semnani, a thirteenth century Persian mystic, called the Seven Prophets of the Soul. Here, he write about how the mystic can meet a prophet in each of the major chakras , or spiritual energy centres of the soul. In the lower chakras one might meet Abraham and Moses, for example. In the sixth chakra, the brow or third eye chakra, one meets Jesus, represented by the dark light! He says that meeting Jesus in your soul is particularly perilous, because one can be overtaken with that feeling whereby we feel like proclaiming 'I AM God'. The trick is, he says… to quell this inflation… the trick is to remember, instead of feeling and proclaiming 'I AM God', to say and feel instead that 'I am God's secret'!

I love that! I am God's secret! For me that means radiating your inner light and going about your business humbly and quietly, but also not hiding your light. No proclamations or ideology, and no evangelism. 'Be' it, don't talk about it… live it, don't preach it. It is not a possession, becoming a Being of Light, it is a state of grace available to every soul, according to our Divine birthright.


But sometimes, a sense of belonging or ideological certainty helps a fragile soul even begin to start living a life properly at all… later, perhaps, they can take down the scaffold that helped build the cathedral of their soul.

In answer to this very tricky question, Sadiq, I would tend to say that it all boils down to the old hippy idea… follow your heart; follow your bliss! The trick is, of course, in working out what that truly is, and being able to distinguish it from ambition, the false self, inflation, greed and all the deadly sins that we need to be spanked for!

I have a tip in this regard, that I've learned along the way… the true heart, the Self, the Beloved, speaks softly, quietly, intelligently, gracefully and efficiently. It almost whispers… and only when needed. Any more urgent, conscience-ridden 'ought' or 'should' voice is an imposter.

I like Van Morrison's idea… no Guru, no teacher, no method… just the inarticulate speech of the heart. The teacher is within… not in any ideology or sect, or even in any major faith. The teacher IS the Beloved… found in the heart, not in the book or the law. But then this is the path for the mystic… it may not be appropriate for other souls.

So follow your heart! Even if atheism calls you. Atheism is also a path to the heart, because 'no God' is part of God. I have met kinder atheists, sometimes, who live generously, than fundamentalist Christians or Moslems, with their righteousness. One has to see the wood for the trees.

For me, I love the zikr, and the practices. They are my rosary. But they are ultimately not 'it' but a path to 'It'. All paths that lead to Self-awareness are beautiful, and they all have different terrains, colours, landscapes and weathers. We should not mistake the path for the truth… they are a way, not the being; a living not a being. To 'live' is to have a way, to 'be' is to be at one with God.

Martial arts is another thing that can, and should, take one down a profound spiritual path if the teacher is schooled in spiritual discipline, and not simply in combat. I did Aikido in my 30's with a fierce, piratical-looking Greek Cypriot called Theofanis. From him I learned that Aikido means 'the way to union with God'. He drove us hard, physically and emotionally… the girls just as hard as the boys. We became incredibly fit and supple, and I realised that the combat moves were ultimately a metaphor for spiritual discipline. We have to learn how not to be defeated by our own demons and complexes, let alone the outer assailant. We have to learn how to be a Ninja! He once attacked me for real, as a lesson, and I became so momentarily enraged at the seemingly outrageous injustice of it, that I had the impulse to destroy his dojo and his shrine. Then he smiled, his black, beady eyes beaming! I had been floored by my own anger, not by his wooden staff. A girl once asked him 'what would you do if someone pulled a gun on you?' He replied instantaneously 'not be there'. The ultimate defence is not to engage. I wrote an enduringly popular track called 'Soldier of love' with him in mind, about which I say a little more later.

I feel a certain flippancy arising here, too… follow your heart, I say, and find a good witch to spank you! That's what worked for me… a great combination! Life 'spanks' us… confronts us with lessons, sometimes punitive-seeming. The whole metaphor around the punitive authority figure is actually archaic and Old Testament… the wrathful, zealous Jahweh. Jesus was the libertarian… his way was kindness, not punishment. We are many of us caught in this Old Testament/New Testament dichotomy in our own souls… our conservative, punitive, witch-like (negative mother) sensibilities in conflict with our more enlightened, libertarian, loving sensibilities. The battle rages within us, and within the structures we create in our governments and industries. The enlightened energy is prevailing, because we are becoming more accountable and more just and fair in our legislature, but the old dinosaur of fear-based conservatism doesn't give up without a fight.

Our world is torn not between east and west, or Christian or Moslem, or rich and poor, but between fear and love, conservative and liberal, Old Testament and New Testament. And the battle rages within most of us, individually.

Sometimes, as a therapist, how I interpret what my clients' unconscious is telling them through their dreams, symptoms and fate patterns, appears to them as a confrontation… as a metaphorical 'spanking'.

So… follow your heart, find a good witch to spank you or come to me, and I will spank you, myself (for a suitable fee!). Then you will become a Being of Light!


How would you describe your vision for Music. When you create music, when you capture the lyrics from the deepest recesses of your heart, from the perspective of your inner heart, to your soul, what does it mean to compose a new song or create music?

I follow my heart always in writing music. I never sit down and think 'what can I create today?' It always calls me. I feel the need to play the piano to heal my own heart, and sing euphonically… just sounds that need to come from my emotional heart… and then I cry, usually. After that, words come into my consciousness and I simply concentrate and listen, and remain faithful to what is coming through me. Other feelings may follow the melancholy and the longing, like joy or majesty, and that can then also transform the melodies and arrangements.

For instance, last month the name 'Eliador' came into my mind in a dream. I googled it and found very little… it was a knight's name on a computer game with warriors! There were a couple of references to it as a grail knight's name. Three days later I awoke with a melody and a whole verse in my consciousness. Then I sat down with it, and out popped a 15-verse song called 'Maryam and Eliador'. It seems mythic in content, about the liberation of the feminine consciousness, and about how the woman needs sovereignty, and not to be treated like a possession of the patriarchy. The 15 verses came so fluently, in rhyme, that it was like writing an email… I barely paused. Now tell me… where does that come from? That comes from beyond me. It's true that I'm educated in such matters now, but it's really a classic example of the mind and body being ready and the Spirit taking over. This song is now recorded, with a very freeing, uplifting melody, and will be on my next album "State of Grace" (due out in June, 2013). Maryam is a Persian name, so the princess on the Sufi magic carpet meets the grail knight as the heroine and the hero!

The songs desire to speak through me… I am just the vessel. I am the postman; the messenger. I am Mercury or Hermes, here. I channel archetypal truths that wish to be re-told for today's audience. I have a calling… I am a story-teller in song.


For the audience, could you please recommend some tracks and albums of yours which are directly influenced by the Sufi mystical tradition? Or anything which you think is a signature of who you are as musician.

Certainly, and thank you for this opportunity, Sadiq. I sing the zikr on a track called 'O great spirit' from my album of the same name, made in 2011. It's eight minutes long, and has shamanic drumming on it. It swells and is very atmospheric… though not eastern sounding. It accumulates, ecstatically. Near the end I sing euphonically to express my love for the Beloved.

Back in 1989, I wrote a track called 'Allah, Hallelujah, Elohim' on my album "Mystic Heart", where I sing invocations from different traditions, but in the form of a sweet folk song. I learned from Pir Vilayat that the three words come from the same Aramaic root… a heart chakra sound. It attempts to demonstrate that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are brothers.

Some Selected Albums of Asher Quinn | Click here for full Discography


I love the 'Aaaaaaah' sound… the heart chakra sound. I love the word 'Hallelujah'. I once heard an American guru in all seriousness, and in a broad American accent, talk about how the 'Aaaaaah' sound was in so many of the deity names… he went on to illustrate this: 'Krishnaaaaah'; 'Buddhaaaaah'; Allaaaaaaah'; 'Jehovaaaaah' and, of course… 'Gaaaaaaaahd'!!!

In 2006 I wrote 'Tomorrow's God' for my album "East of East". This was a prayer to the Beloved in many different traditions. I started the song with these words;

'I looked into the heart of my Jesus, and I saw an indescribable beauty there,
I looked into the heart of my Mohammad, and I saw a truth beyond compare,
I looked into the heart of my Jewish roots, and I saw my father's Moses and Abraham,
And I looked into the eyes of my Beloved, and I saw myself in each of them…'

I called the album "East of East" because east is the direction to go towards the spiritual life for those of us in the west, (except that I went west to go east, myself!) East of east is even further, then, down this road. I'm hardcore! I was inspired musically for this track by Van Morrison's 'When will I ever learn to live in God?'

My first album, "Open Secret", from 1987, has an instrumental track called 'Soldier of love' on it… western, musically, but expressing that ecstatic Jesus thing, and my respect for my Aikido teacher. All the tracks on this album came out of the Sufi retreats I did. Another track is called 'Journey to a remarkable place' inspired by reading the Sufi scholar Gurdjieff's 'Meetings with Remarkable Men.' The first piece I ever composed for the market-place… the first track on my first album… is called 'Sacred Heart' a baroque, melancholy, instrumental vignette, where the Sufi way opened my heart to my own sorrow and then, in turn, to the sorrow of humanity.

'This love' a track on my compilation album "This Love", written in 1990, came directly from a Sufi retreat… I wrote it in the little hut when I should have been meditating on Jesus! It WAS itself a meditation on Jesus.

Many of my compositions come through the portal of my constant companion La illaha il'allah… but they often express my in-love feeling for Jesus and Mary.

In recent years this combination of Sufi ecstasy, shamanic journeying, Jungian analysis, Daoist and Kaabalistic practices, and Rudolf Steiner philosophy, has gelled into a kind of constant visionary state of being, inseparable from my everyday, apparently more mundane life. Each an every experience is sacred and a teaching… even going to get a morning paper. By the time I have returned from the corner shop I have seen many life incidents and had many reflections on humanity, and upon my place in the scheme of things, and how we are all connected. I find it all immensely moving and emotional. I pay my bills, and shop for food whilst communing with the Beloved. I get irritated by automated phone calls whilst communing with the Beloved. I commune with the Beloved whilst communing with the Beloved. It is all communion. And the music pours from me in a torrent… four albums in three years, and dozens of concerts… all opportunities to practice communion.

A recent song on my new album "State of Grace" is called 'Communion', about how all of life is the blood and the body of the Beloved. There is no separation. Life itself is a ritual that is a mystical union with the Beloved.

One of my most popular songs is called 'Falling through time' (listen via SoundCloud), from "Falling Through Time" in 2010. It is a very tender, intimate, higher love ballad written as if by the Beloved to the Lover… or the Self to the fragile ego. Similarly 'You are loved' from "Sacred Songs" in 2012, is written as if from the Beloved to the Lover.

Back in the 1980's I was inspired by Rumi, who showed me how higher love songs can both express the flow of love between the Lover and the Beloved, and yet appear to be a romantic song between earthly lovers at the same time. Pretty much all my songs are in this style.

I thank you so much for inviting me to express my thoughts and feelings here, Sadiq. It has been a great pleasure and honour to do so. May I now shamelessly promote myself, please?

AsherQuinn.co.uk (full discography, CD and download shop plus mailing list)

Youtube.com/user/asherquinnmusic (many lovely videos!!)


More about Asher Quinn Biography




# Past Episodes from the Series:

Quest for the Meanings of Existence / Sohbet with Naila Amat-un-Nur

* When Dreams Begin Our Quest / Sohbet with Noor-Malika Chishti

* In Quest of My Oasis / Sohbet with Amatullah J. Armstrong

* Quest in the Province of Ecstatic Exchange / Sohbet with Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

* In Quest of A Friend Beyond Compare / Sohbet with Carol Sill

* In Quest of a Naked Intent Toward God / Sohbet with Barbara Flaherty

* Sohbet with Hilary Hart / Author of The Unknown She

* Quest of Meeting the Great Artist / Sohbet with Dominique Dubrule

* In Quest of the Truth that will set us free / Sohbet with Sheikha Maryam Kabeer Faye

* Quest of a Dusty Traveler / Sohbet with Brenda Wentworth

* An American Sufi Quest / Sohbet with Mansur Johnson

* Painting with Bawa / Sohbet with Denise Sati
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