ch-ch-ch-ch changes


It was my freshman year in college, in Southern California. It was also 1974. I had never paid much attention to David Bowie. I was much more into the Grateful Dead and the Starship. And Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. But there were an awful lot of young ladies who were into Bowie in a big way. So I listened.

The only song I could get into, begrudgingly, was “Changes,” from his 1971 album “Hunky Dory,” which opens:


Still don’t know what I was waiting for

And my time was running wild

A million dead-end streets and

Every time I thought I’d got it made

It seemed the taste was not so sweet

So I turned myself to face me

But I’ve never caught a glimpse

Of how the others must see the faker

I’m much too fast to take that test

(Turn and face the strange)



Much has already been written about Bowie’s connection with the crazy wisdom Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa in 1967-1968, and this influence shows deeply. For example, later in this same song, Bowie sings:


I watch the ripples change their size

But never leave the stream

Of warm impermanence

So the days float through my eyes

But still the days seem the same


From my casual experience of his music, Bowie seemed to be about in-your-face creativity. He was a constantly morphing persona, so much so it would be difficult to pin down “persona” – a creative no-self, expressing itself radically, challenging our boundaries.

To be creative is to live fully. The Buddha said that only those who are aware are truly alive, that those who lack awareness are like the dead. The automaton, zombie-like state in which a lot of us spend our time.

When we are not mindful, that is.

And that means at times to “face the strange” and be with what is not-yet fully experienced, below the level of full conscious awareness.

Ah, meditation!

Mindfulness allows to see our fears, our hopes and dreams as the flow of the process of life, as impermanent arisings. Meditation opens the way for us to view everything we experience in this way.

Our very sense of a persona: just as chameleon-like as Bowie’s album cover “selfies”.

It’s not that we entirely lose our sense of self, but that we stop seeing our self as composed of anything substantive. Our “self” is not a final stage. It’s something in process. It’s composed of change.

Living this way is in-your-face creativity.

Creativity is not something we do. It just happens organically.

It is just life, living through us, effervescent, both as giving off bubbles (impermanence) as well as the vivacious and enthusiastic response to freedom unburdened by self and all its baggage and encumbrances.

Creativity knows there is no place to take a stand where we can fixate on or control anything.

Personally, I’ve tried to ignore the growing realization that my aging body pretty much can no longer stagger through life without regular aerobic exercise. (Thanks very much Katina, as with your persistence my denial is wearing away.)

I’ll leave you with a poem by Donna Faulds.


There is no controlling life.

Try corralling a lightning bolt, containing a tornado.

Dam a stream and it will create a new channel.

Resist, and the tide will sweep you off your feet.

Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground.

The only safety lies in letting it all in –

the wild and the weak –

fear, fantasies, failures, and success.

When loss rips off the doors of the heart

or sadness veils your vision with despair,

practice becomes simply bearing the truth.

In the choice to let go of your known way of being,

the whole world is revealed to your new eyes.


Katina and I are here to support your meditation practice in any way we can, just contact us through the Contact Page on this site. Or if you live in Honolulu, or ever visit, feel free to drop by our free, weekly meditation evenings.

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  1. Hi Tom– “In-your-face” creativity. I like it. Though I am of the Bowie generation, I was oblivious to rock music. Still, reading his obits, I have to admire his “in-your-face creativity,” that continued through all his days, even the very end. A grand example of living a mindful, courageous life.

    Always enjoy your posts!

  2. Thank you for your E-mail. I felt a strong pull to read it, and as l read it l felt a connection. I felt the need to change.

    1. Thanks so much Heather for this. Sometimes we are just pulled and we need to honor that, as long as we feel it’s a honest yearning. Sending lots of kind thoughts.

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