On Connection, Her New Album, Attachment Parenting, Postpartum, and Healing from her Eating Disorder.
Interview: Maranda Pleasant
Maranda Pleasant: Hi, Alanis, how are you doing?
Alanis Morissette: Really well!
MP: What is it that makes you feel most alive?
AM: I would say community, connectedness. Certainly family, parenting, relationships, friendship. I’m quite obsessed with the idea of nailing the girl friendship. It’s such an art, so delicate. Then all the way into colleague relationships and relationship with spirit, relationship with one’s own self and inner child, and animals, earth, planet. Fostering and nurturing and really focusing on connection—connection in relationship with other and my own self and God. When I don’t feel connected in all those three areas, life is not very good.
MP: Yeah, I’m kind of there right now.
AM: Yeah, it can suck so hard, man. I’m just like, wow, give me a reason to stay here!
MP: That is perfect. I’m going to say that today, “This sucks so hard right now.”
AM: [laughing] Someone give me a reason!
MP: [laughing] It puts a fun spin on this tailspin of pain.
AM: Giggling is good, humor is a good one.
MP: This last week and a half has kicked everyone’s ass that I know. Today is the full moon. We’re going to go up into the mountains all these women that I know and are going to just hit stuff with sticks.
AM: I’m going to join you on that one.
MP: One of our team members is already picking out her stick right now. We didn’t even make it until noon here before people had to hit stuff. [laughing]
AM: See what I mean by community? I can be in the worst PMS, Mercury in retrograde, most awful circumstance—and then if my girlfriends and I are giggling about it, everything’s okay.
MP: Community! What is it that makes you feel vulnerable?
AM: I think when someone blindly projects and it’s showing up in the form of envy or hate—and I actually think they’re synonymous—that’s when I feel the most afraid and disconnected and vulnerable. Like whenever I don’t feel safe in my own hands, in terms of my not being tender or merciful with myself, or when we’re treating each other that way. When we’re operating from the belief that we’re not connected, it feels so dangerous and scary and vulnerable and awful.
MP: Envy and hate are the same. I’ve never thought about that.
AM: Anytime there’s separatism going on. It happens all the time, because the illusion before us is that we are separate. It gives us this sense of egoic identity, which is lovely in its own way. But it’s almost like that’s step one in a four step process. Because step one is the story, the separation and the individuation and the dualism. I think Neale Donald Walsh nailed that so hard in his Conversations with God series.
The next step is, as Eckhart Tolle says, this further disidentification from this egoic story— as lovely as it is and as entertaining as it is, for us to continue to step back. I notice that when I feel the most disconnected, once I’m done blaming the moon and everything else, I can see that I am so mired in identification with form and ego and story and identity, and that if I want to, I can read some scripture or read some spiritual book or pray or meditate or sit in the sun or hang around the birds and the dogs, and get a real objective sense of what’s really going on here. That usually softens things. There’s a way for me to quickly return back, and that’s usually praying and meditating and journaling. Which are decidedly feminine, those are feminine approaches.
MP: I do have some big sticks, if you want to go with a more masculine approach.
AM: Those are the Kali approaches—love those, too, believe me.
MP: How do you process emotional pain? Whether it’s a breakup or a loss of some kind, do you have a process?
AM: I did a lot of work with the somatic experiencing from Peter Levine, and then a lot of Gestalt work. A lot of the journey over the last years has been returning to my body, which I have been so dissociated from for a long time. So really coming back into the body and feeling where those feelings are. We live, in North America in general, if I’m given the indulgence of selling us down the river, in a culture of fear of this connective sense of spirit. We’re in our heads so much in the West in general—but definitely in America, I dare say. My journey and my challenge has been to really see where those feelings lie. When I’m angry, do I feel it in my jaw? Do I feel compelled to raise my fist? When I’m angry, do I feel heat? When I’m in pain and grief and despair, my throat is clenched and my heart hurts.
Having done a lot of shadow work, working with Debbie Ford for many years, I have always noticed that if I feel healing all the way through, that there is a bottom. I think Gangaji really beautifully said at one point that the only feeling she has experienced as having been bottomless was joy.
When I’m really, really angry, if I’m privileged enough to be next to someone who can hold my anger, I’ll definitely take them up on holding the bucket. I just woke up this morning filled with anxiety. Some of it born from my hormonal moment, but I just woke up thinking, Okay, I’m really, really scared—I’m going to go all the way into that fear. When I didn’t resist it anymore, everything got much better. The whole idea of emotions being something we can’t escape as humans, but that deep suffering that comes from resisting them, we can move out of that just by not resisting anymore. But it takes a really brave warrior soul to sit there in these emotions that admittedly don’t feel good in the body. It doesn’t feel good for me to be in deep grief. It’s not my favorite.
MP: It’s not my favorite, either.
AM: Watching my son right now—how stunning it is to watch him. He’s two and three months old. Watching the waves of emotion that move through him and beholding him in them, literally sometimes holding him in them—my validating and emphasizing his bevy of emotions that moves through like currents every ten seconds, my offering this to him has actually taught me how to offer it to myself. I’m much better at giving it to him, incidentally. But it’s becoming habitual now. When emotion or feeling presents itself, I would move toward it with a little bit more of a sense of curiosity and inquiry versus, Oh shit—I have to run away from this through shopping or eating or having a cocktail or whatever the yummy fun thing.
MP: All of the above!
AM: By the way, they work, too, temporarily. I was going to a therapist to recover from my eating disorder for years. At one point, in this one particular exchange, I said, “I feel so badly because I was really overcome with these feelings, and I just went and ate.” She said, “What’d you eat?” I said, “I ate a bagel.” She said to me, “Well, that’s so great that you ate that bagel—was it delicious?” I’d had so many people try to show how I was wrong for moving toward food to comfort, when really, on a very basic level, and in a way that I think Byron Katie would chuckle about, these things that we move to, these addictive substances and processes and people, they really do temporarily help us step out of that despair. They release us from this grip that cortisol and stress has on our body. I am a firm believer that one way to become enlightened is to be so relaxed, as relaxed as you possibly can be.
MP: I’m in trouble.
You talked about meditation. I don’t know if you do yoga. But how do you maintain your center in the middle of chaos? Do you have some sort of practice?
AM: I have two answers to that one. One is that sometimes I just don’t. I don’t always maintain my center and then I feel the effects of that. As an attachment parent and a wife and a friend and a writer and a performer—the many hats that we wear, a modern woman these days wears about twenty hats on any given day—some days I just don’t. Some days I’m not centered and that’s just how it’s going to be. Other days, when I’m really losing it or I need to return, I have altars all over my house. I have a very special one in my room. I literally just sit down and light a candle. I have a couple of books around, journals, pens, markers, crayons, incense, sprays, and oils that I’ve collected. I’m a bit of an alchemist sorceress. I’ve collected probably 1500 oils from around the planet over the last ten years. I’m kind of obsessed with the sensuality of it. Elaine Aron, who wrote all the Highly Sensitive Person books, she super validated my temperamental predisposition. I was able to come to see that my temperament and my approach and the lens that I saw life through was actually quite lovely and not freakish. I’ve been enjoying my own identity in a way that I was definitely taught not to.
MP: Let’s talk about your current project.
AM: My album came out last year, it’s called Havoc and Bright Lights. The first single’s called “Guardian.” The chorus was inspired by my relationship with my son, and frankly, the verses were about what we talked about a few minutes ago: I was noticing that mama bear guardian protectorship that is what it is with my son, and it’s really glowing and striking. The verses are about applying that to my very own self. It was an inner child and outer child song. That’s the first single.
We’re shooting different videos, picking different singles. The second song, my preference, is a song called “Empathy.” We were on tour last year for seven months and we shot a video in Jerusalem. I love the universality of music and how it can viscerally connect people from culture to culture, regardless of anything. It kind of levels everything out and connects us. That universal sound thing is a big deal to me. We could talk about that for hours, too, the whole art and planet part.
MP: Is there something special that this album represented for you? Is there something in you that wanted to be born, that had to come out?
AM: My son was five months old and I built a makeshift studio in my living room so that I could do the attachment parenting approach and write the record at the same time. That was fortuitous, that we could build that in the house. My husband was making his record in the other room, so literally this house was this secret makeshift studio for both of us while I was breastfeeding and hanging out with my son. I had postpartum depression—I’ll look back on this and just shake my head and wonder at some point, but I’m still kind of in the trenches right now. Writing the record for me—every record is almost a surprise. When people ask me, what are the themes you want to grapple with on this one? I have no idea until the record’s finished. That was again the case. I love it.
2013, to me, is the Year of the Divine Feminine. It’s this resurrection of the Divine Feminine. Not just in women. 2013 is about embracing and embodying and evidencing the Divine Feminine in me, period. That showing up in the professional context. How can politics be rendered more driven by the feminine? How can commerce? How can retail? How can dancing? How can cooking? How can all of these day-to-day experiences for us have the feminine be infused into it? That’s my whole orientation for this year. It’s been really healing and terrifying and breathtaking at the same time.
MP: That is powerful. Thank you so much.
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