Ayla Nereo Interview
WOMXN | NATURE Stories of Rematriation
Ayla Nereo is as a voice for the planet, a modern bard and beacon who dances songs directly from her soul. With lyrical poetry splashing across a canvas of sound, her music has an uncanny ability to disarm and crack open the heart, as she sings for the depth of our humanness, and for the return to our pure wonder of existence. Her lucid storytelling and magical presence onstage and off creates a force field that is palpable, joyous, deep, and utterly enchanting. With a particular joy for bridging musical styles, Ayla's songs seem a genre unto their own, as she weaves between vocal looping, produced beats, live drumming, orchestral string arrangements, Celtic melodies, disco rhythms, electronic soundscapes, and even dashes of hip-hop wordplay. Calling us to listen deeper, her songs are elegant masterpieces of lucid storytelling, with lyrics ringing as anthems for planetary healing, human potential, beauty, and compassion.
Though you’d never know it by witnessing her perform, Ayla grew up with an intense fear of singing. In her final year of college, songs began pouring through her, and it was only through the constant urging of those around her that she began to slowly share her music. Propelled by the songs themselves, Ayla’s journey of meeting those fears and singing through them has grown her into the powerful performer she is today, touching an ever-widening global audience with the inspiring magic of her songs. A child schooled at home in the hills of Sonoma County, Ayla was raised on Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, opera, classical music, traditional celtic songs, and ABBA -- influences which have deeply shaped her music. Touching on both the timeless and modern, she always rides the line between genres, so that her songwriting and sound ultimately cannot be compared to anyone else.
Stories Of Rematriation Art
Hour of Infinity ~ Eternal Returning
(Acrylic on Canvas)
The art piece that wanted to come to life from this interview is about the paradox of connection and separation, and how everything is linked regardless of when we are living in separation or disconnection. Life and death are a continuous cycle, the paradox of endings, and new beginnings. We may end, however everything will continue in some fashion. We may fear, and be separate – however we are one and eternal. This piece is both about time, and timelessness. We are living at a point in history that feels crucial and pressing, a tipping point of change and urgency with our environment, and at the same moment life will go on. The Earth will change and continue, and we may not have as much control as we think, within the landscape of what is eternal.
The infinity symbol is ancient and found in many cultures around the world. It holds the meaning of eternal being, presence, no end or beginning and timelessness. It represents equilibrium between the male and female forces.
In my interview with Ayla we discussed how separation seems to be the root of most of the destructive forces on Earth, against women and the planet. Here are transcribed excepts from our interview.
Is there some way in which your work in the world helps to protect and empower the planet and women?
The creations and particularly the songs that come through are more helpful the more I get "Ayla" out of the way, so to speak, and the more I engage with nature, and with the wild, in a larger sense of the word. The wild in nature, but also the wild in us, which I feel is connected to the essence of spirit, and something that is not so covered up by the masks and conditioning of society. The more I can let all of that go, and actually let “I” go, and let something just emerge, then it feels like it is beneficial to others. In the same way that we transmit frequencies just by being. The more I "try" to help, in a way it can feel forced, even if my intention is pure, even if it is wanting to help people connect to nature or wanting to help the planet, or wanting to help us awaken in some way, it is my ego wanting that. So, right now, a lot of the journey is letting all of that "wanting" thing go, and just letting something that is meant to emerge, emerge… and then a nice side-effect is that it usually ends up being beneficial.
A lot of my songs, I don't understand why the words are put together the way they are, even why some of the words are there. They are sort of riddle like sometimes. I get to understand them as I go. I think part of it is just getting out of the way so that things can come through. Letting “trying” fall away.
You mentioned that you are finding ways to make touring more sustainable, tell me more about that?
I want to do all my tours in connection with different causes. A portion of ticket sales are going to tree planting causes and we are getting different local organizations out to table at the shows so people can also connect in with local tree planting organizations, local community gardens, things that help people be more sustainable and resilient and connected to nature and each other. So that's going to be a big part of this next tour, and the reason for tree planting is that they've identified that to probably be the best and fastest way to offset our carbon footprint.
I have also been carbon offsetting for a little while for my own travel and the people I bring with me on tour. If I'm going to travel and have this big of a footprint, I'm not only going to offset it myself, but I'm also going to have this purpose be worth it. It has to be at this point, it can't just be for my own ends anymore. Most likely, my touring will get more and more sparse and more intentional.
We are at a place collectively, of needing more depth than breadth, and more intentionality and purpose. Our evolutionary process is leading us towards the deeper purpose of taking care of each other, and this planet, and not serving our own short term goals.
Are there practices that you use in your music writing process that connect you to nature. Or maybe some kind of routine, or a time, or place where you feel most connected?
I notice that a lot comes through when I am out under the stars or under the sky and in forests. I think any time I'm just out in nature and especially away from people, particularly when it feels expansive or very quiet, I think it leaves a lot of space for my mind to get really quiet and for things to come through. Also, when I'm moving or dancing, or walking or some form of movement. There is an interesting thing about movement, I feel like it lets energy flow differently, and so words and songs often come, and ideas for other art forms too.
How do you feel connected or disconnected as a woman to nature?
And how does disconnection lead to destruction?
Well, I would almost shy away from the word woman and go more towards the aspects of feminine and masculine. The feminine part of me understands the feminine part of nature. And the parallels of womankind on our planet and the oppression of women through history and the subjugation of the body of women through history as being very paralleled with the subjugation of nature's body and the rape of nature's body, and bodies being sold and used and taken advantage of. I see this as manifestations of the same distorted hunger or desire. It is a sickness, I mean, it is one of the biggest sicknesses that plagues all of humanity, particularly men through conditioning. Not all men, obviously, but a lot of minds are very sick with the thought and the desire for body, for their own satisfaction. Whether it is a woman's body, through a forced marriage, or rape, or sex trafficking, or whatever it might be. Or through the Earth's body, through it being thought of as a "thing" as something that can be owned. It is this big separation. And it is very fascinating to look back to where the roots of that began and why. I do not claim to have all those answers, but I'm learning a lot right now, about how that originated, and the old stories that tell of the first man that raped a woman, or the first time these things happened. The gradual disrespect and hunger for power, through domination, rather than the understanding of power through connection. There is immense power in knowing how connected we are to all life, and therefore to all nature. We have all the elements inside us, the power that gives a person, versus power through dominating someone. The desire to gain as much as possible is really deep, whether it be prestige, or money, or land. It is easy to distract ourselves by things that are just perpetuating the problem, whether it be consumer culture, or focusing on ourselves, or being an active force of domination. It is like a distraction from the deep, deep grief that we are not feeling connected in life.
A part of this is no one has been taught how to grieve. We haven't been brought up in a culture that can initiate us into feeling, and into having a relationship with our deep, deep roots of history. All of that is not shown to us, so we are like these young children that don't know how to deal with the immensity of the ocean that is inside us and therefore we damn it up and distract ourselves. So we try to fill the void in ourselves with all manner of material things.
The downfall of taking too much is it leads to such infinite destruction. The only remedy for that is belonging, connection, and sharing. If you feel connected to everyone and everything, then there is no way you would ever take too much. Right. Because then you're taking from yourself.
Do you view nature or this planet as a living being deserving of rights?
I feel that any culture that has honoring the sovereignty of the land as a core tenant, is a culture that is living in harmony and balance with the planet.
That is what is awakening right now, and the children are at the forefront of that march, literally. It is the awakening to this planet not being separate from us. I will weep in joy when our country makes a statement like that, that we can live by.
It is a macrocosm, when you look at ourselves as a body versus the planetary body. It is also a microcosm when you look at the spiritual bodies, because really then the opening of our awareness into our connectedness with nature is a layer of our recognition of our connectedness with all life, which is a recognition of our connectedness with all of everything in experience, and not actually being separate "selves". Which then is that journey that many, many beings have gone through towards an experience of oneness or not-self, which is, I believe when the consciousness can move into that awareness, that realization, the body and the self still exist, it seems, but they are wholly and utterly connected to all of existence. So there's no self-serving stories left, they just do not exist.
I love that we are exploring unity, and the grander interconnection of all life, and yet, most of my questions are grounded in the assumption of separateness, because we are still dealing with that in this dualistic reality. So on the subject of identity politics, how does your culture, class, ability, gender identity, your location, and your religion (if you have one) inform your connection to nature and how?
My experience of my connection to nature is very influenced by being in a woman's body and my gender identity. Calling myself a woman and understanding women's history, seeing the devastation of the Earth as rape and having a very, very strong somatic experience. It is a violation in my body to witnessing that violation of the Earth. Freedom of womankind and women's bodies on this planet is intricately related to the freedom of the planet and the respect of the planet's body, we cannot advocate for one, without advocating for the other.
Have you read Star Hawk’s book Dreaming the Dark? She talks about the witch burning times in Europe as well as Silvia Federici also writes in depth about primitive accumulation, and rise of capitalism in direct correlation with the subjugation of women in Europe. Many millions of women were killed, tortured and burned at the stake during the 1400s as well as the privatization of the commons took place in conjunction with this. So I really feel what you are saying this tie between the devastation of women's bodies and the claiming and exploitation of land. But please continue...
I think my location and the beliefs I was brought up with or adopted, as well as, who I interact with effect my relationship with nature. We are so influenced by the thoughts, people, beliefs around us, and what our upbringing was. I feel very lucky that I was raised in a way that was very connected to nature, so it gave me a foundation. I was raised in Sonoma County and was homeschooled through eighth grade. It was largely my choice, actually, I didn't want to go to school, I really like the self-direction and the autodidact nature of learning. We learned a lot through nature too. We were lucky to live in a rural area and my brother and I had these huge hills behind our house that no one was on. We had the freedom to roam about freely. Some of this got covered over by going to public high school and then college and then going out into the working world and being an “adult". But my foundation was so strong that when I started remembering, the un-layering only had to go back to age 12. Whereas for a lot of people it is much longer distance to trace back to their connection to nature. For example, someone who is raised in a violent urban area with parents that are mean to them, or they don’t feel safe, they never see trees, or there is war, it creates a completely different relationship. I think about Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and how important safety is, you can’t think about your emotional or spiritual development if you don’t have enough to eat or are unsafe.
I do believe that at our essence we are all connected and that just is. If we encounter something that can open us then the remembering is such a strong cord of connection, that then the hunger for connection can become conscious, and can lead us away from what is distracting. And whatever the short-term material attempt to fill something becomes less appealing.
For a while, I have been looking at the impact of different cultural and religious beliefs, and how fundamental and big those ideologies can be in our lives. For example, Christianity, when God is male and white, and living in a very mechanistic type paradigm versus an animistic one, and the impact this has generationally on people’s view of the Earth and their sense of connection to Earth. Especially when for so many centuries to be correlated to the Earth is to be dirty or sinful. I question the ability to quickly break down those types of beliefs systems especially when there is trauma involved that spans centuries. What are your thoughts on this?
It is very profound, most organized religions center on a masculine archetype of God and a very masculine type dogmatic system. It is very hard if you are identifying as a woman to think of yourself as part of God, if God is "he".
It is also a very anthropocentric story, God is human and he is not of the Earth, but elevated above it in heaven.
Even in new age circles this idea of “ascension” versus “dissension” and of light as good and dark as bad, I try to avoid the hierarchy idea, because from what I’ve learned, obviously, light and dark are so essential. If you go back to pre-organized religions there are father and mother figures, and they make love and that is how the universe if born. There are Gods and Goddesses and you can’t have one without the other. Current religions represent the lopsidedness on the plant.
One of the things that ecofeminism tries to deconstruct is value hierarchy. Why is one thing elevated above another? What does it bring to our experience or ways of relating when one thing is elevated above another, and when we have a structure that is like a pyramid?
It is so deep. I think one of the best things we can do is all meditate, learn to not identify as “ourselves” not identify with our thoughts, and let connection just be as it is. And on a mental level learn about those pre-organized religion times and learn about how it turned into what we have today. And learn about the tribal peoples we all descend from. Regardless of our ancestry if you go back far enough we all descend from tribal people, and the culture of those tribes is so colorful and beautiful. As well as, complex beyond my minds comprehension, because that is how complex our ancestor’s minds were. Their way of describing life with beautiful intricacy and depth. My teacher Martin Prechtel taught us to learn who we descend from and their culture, that this is something that can awaken us.
What cultures and peoples do you descend from?
Italian. I have an amazing book called Italian Witchcraft it is revealing so many things about who I am. The magic beliefs and practices that existed there. Also, definitely Druid and Celtic peoples. They didn’t write their stories down because they recognized that writing froze the magic, so it is really hard to trace. But there are people who have devoted their lives to studding Druid culture. Their whole religion was about connecting to nature. Also the Nordic tribal traditions and the Eastern European, and if you trace it back far enough you start to go in the direction of Siberia and Mongolia and the ancestry before people came to Europe and it is amazing, you start to see these stories across great distances and lands. There is such a deep root that you start to notice, that you begin wonder how that story existed in all these different places, in a slightly different way. Where did it come from, it is a treasure hunt...
What resonates with me in using the term ecofeminism, as opposed to traditional feminism is that it is a much later wave of feminism which takes into account the intersectionality of different movements. It is really trying to look at not just white women’s issues but all forms of oppression, as well as, the more than human injustices. And yet the word Feminism is so charged and triggering for some that I feel that this project is going to be inherently alienating to men especially. However, I do see it as important to talk about because we are still living in a paradigm that is out of balance. Out of balance between men, and woman, and the Earth. I love that you being you, we went to the spiritual interconnection of everything very quickly (which includes everyone regardless of gender identity) in a deep and profound way. However, I’m curious how to do this project without immediately alienating people with the word feminism?
When feminism began as a movement it was about women having men’s rights which honestly feels a little distorted. However, it was important and essential for this movement to occur in this way at the time. The historical connotation of the word, carrying this story, is primarily about women and women having masculine rights, which may be why it feels alienating to men because it excludes them.
It is tricky when you use a word that has been used in a lot of ways and has different connotations to different people. But, there is an opportunity for a deeper understanding of the words masculine and feminine, they're often used as synonymous for men and women. But my understanding is closer to yin and yang. Yin is the receptive flowing intuition, the connectedness that is all of existence including all of us. Yang is directed, more rational, active, structured, and which is in all of nature, including all of us. When we start understand yin and yang, feminine and masculine as existing in us… I think if more men experienced this and recognize that, then there starts to be balance in us. And we start to see words like feminism as representing the feminine aspect which is different from being just about women, so then it doesn’t alienate men. Reclaiming these words to their deeper meaning. It is a balancing of the masculine and feminine in us and those aspects in life and in our relationship with nature. It is a balancing of those aspects on the planet so that nature is not being destroyed and therefore we are being destroyed by ourselves. Too much masculine creates disharmony, which will be destructive, just as too much feminine creates disharmony, which ultimately will be destructive.
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