On a recent Saturday night in downtown Los Angeles, Belinda Carlisle bounced around the stage singing the classics, shaking her tambourine, and seducing a crowd of thousands. As she sauntered off the stage, the audience asked for more.
This demand echoed from the front-of-house to backstage, down the corridor, past the line of fans waving objects for autographs, and into her dressing room. Underneath the backstage buzz, the faint sounds of Kundalini Mantras could be heard. In a flash, Belinda was whisked back out into the excitement to appease the audience with an encore. Her performance as powerful today as when her presence first lit up the Sunset Strip some 40 years ago.
Belinda Carlisle and her Legendary Beginnings
Belinda Carlisle moved to Hollywood to join the late 70s punk scene. “It was 50 kids at most,” she recalls. “We formed [the band] the Germs, we came from the garage, I was the drummer. It was really amazing to be part of something like that, in the very, very beginning.”
It is from this pack of teens that punk revolutionaries X, The Alleycats, and many others emerged. They emulated The Ramones and read music rags from London, learning of The Clash, the Buzzcocks, and other British bands.
Belinda reflects on this. “It was funny because at that time when I would see the Sikhs around in LA, I would say ‘they are so punk rock.’ They were amazing looking, not mainstream at all. It was really wild to see a Sikh all in white back then.”
In 1978, Belinda Carlisle and some friends decided to form a girl-band. Low on technical ability but high on moxie, the ladies debuted at LA’s Masque Club. The attendees were not impressed with their musical acumen, but they couldn’t deny that the girls had the “It” factor. Adi Shakti some call it, the the primal creative, the feminine power.
The Ultimate Girl Group
This group dubbed themselves, The Go-Go’s. In 1979 they opened for the ska act Madness on a UK Tour. The Go-Go’s returned from Europe covered in skinhead spit, carrying with them their first recorded single, “We Got the Beat.”
They were signed by I.R.S. records, who arranged for them to open up for The Police on an international stadium tour. Within six months, The Go-Go’s debut album Beauty and the Beat reached #1 in the US. They sold seven million copies and garnered a Grammy Nomination. The break-out single, “Our Lips Are Sealed,” solidified their standing in songwriting history. The Go-Go’s are the first female band to write, perform, and receive their level of commercial success for their songs.
Sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, royalties, finances, and fighting overtook the band. Interpersonal dynamics were amplified under the microscope of stardom. Belinda remembers, “It was painful, but I knew that what I was doing, that was not an option. It wasn’t working.”
The band broke up, and Belinda was unsure of what came next. “I think it’s really uncomfortable, being in that place where you don’t know what is going to happen,” Carlisle confesses. “It’s not a very pleasant feeling, but sometimes we just have to just get on with it, sorta head in the direction we need to go, and hope for the best.”
Belinda Carlisle Bets on Herself
The songstress stood in the uncertainty of a solo career. With album offers approaching, Belinda remembers bravely, “I had no idea how it was going to go, and at that point I had spent all of my money, being stupid, so I just had to have faith that it would work out. That’s all I had was faith. I wasn’t sure that it was going to work out. I had faith that it would.”
Belinda Carlisle’s self-titled solo album, Belinda, went certified gold in the United States. Yet she is most remembered for her sophomore effort: Heaven on Earth. It contains the massive hits, “I Get Weak,” “Circle in the Sand,” and the legendary “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.”
Heaven on Earth was a Grammy-nominated chart-topper. It propelled a sold-out stadium tour. International audiences would sing Belinda’s lyrics back to her, “Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth? / Ooh heaven is a place on earth /They say in heaven, love comes first / We’ll make heaven a place on earth /Ooh heaven is a place on earth.”
Thirty years later audiences are still singing along. The remastered anniversary edition of Heaven on Earth, and her new album, Wilder Shores, hit #1 on Amazon’s pre-order in both the US and the UK. Through Wilder Shores, Belinda Carlisle’s fans of 40 years as well as newcomers are learning about a new side of the pop icon. One whose voice resonates with several decades of introspection, partnership, parenthood, and spiritual practice.
Belinda Carlisle’s Kundalini Practice
Belinda Carlisle first met Golden Bridge Yoga’s founder, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, during a difficult pregnancy 26 years ago. She appreciated the teachings but didn’t quite get it. “I thought Gurmukh was really pretty in her white everything, but I didn’t understand the yoga. I would dip in and dip out.”
Then thirteen years ago, “I got sober,” Belinda opens up. “I needed all the help I could get.” She began to learn the Kundalini kriyas (actions) and mantras (sounds) and she would chant up to four hours a day.
Gaining reverence and respect for the potency of the practice, she read Kundalini Yoga – The Flow of Eternal Power by Shakti Parwha Kaur Khalsa, and purchased devotional albums by Snatam Kaur. Belinda attended a yatra (pilgrimage) to India with Gurmukh (in 2006), where she had a life-altering experience.
A Life-changing Pilgrimage to India
During a rebirthing class in Rishikesh, India, Belinda remembers, “I began to get angrier and angrier and I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from because it didn’t make sense to me. I ran back to the ashram where we were staying, crawled under my covers, and cried in the fetal position and couldn’t talk to anyone. For three days, I just pretended I was asleep .”
Needing to be alone, she checked into a nearby hotel. There the anger spread throughout her body, into her mind, reaching a peak manic state. It took two weeks to stabilize from the experience and return to Gurmukh for guidance. Belinda thought Gurmukh would offer “this big profound thing.”
However, the wise teacher just responded, “Too late now, you can only move forward.” Pondering this response, Carlisle admits that her life has never been the same. She says, “I was kind of in limbo between the world I came from, the world I was used to, and having a spiritual practice.”
Belinda Goes Deep
Over time, Belinda Carlisle has attended two Kundalini Yoga teacher trainings and continually practices and studies. In her own practice, she self-prescribes 40-day morning and evening meditations, reaching into the richness of a mantra, absorbing its therapeutic, subtle but significant shifts.
Belinda begins her day listening to Snatam Kaur’s “Mul Mantra” (a foundational mantra of the Kundalini tradition). Some of the mantras she resonates deeply with include: “Adi Shakti” (Embodiment of Creativity), “Rakhe Rakhan Har” (mantra of protection), “Har Gobinday” (The Magnificent Mantra), “Hum Bruhm Hum” (mantra for the heart chakra, to bless yourself), “Aad Guray Nameh” (Meditation for Projection and Protection from the Heart), “Ek Ong Kar” (the mantra that connects you to your creator). She uses mantra conjunction with her beloved mudra the miracle mudra (gesture).
A Practice that Works
When in Los Angeles, Belinda Carlisle studies with her primary teacher, Tej Kaur Khalsa. Appreciating Tej’s humor and wisdom, she says,” [Tej] has taken me to levels where I was then able to really absorb Guru Singh’s teachings.” Belinda regularly listens to audio, and watches old footage of Yogi Bhajan, the first Sikh to walk around West Hollywood in white in the 1960s and 70s. He’s the energy responsible for bringing these practices from India into North America (and beyond). Belinda says of this technology, “It’s scientific. It works.”
The most obvious evidence of the practice’s efficacy was on The Go-Go’s recent reunion and farewell tour. Belinda explains, “With familial relations, you know it’s very intense, so in that situation I really wanted to look at myself. I’ve been through the [Narcotics Anonymous] twelve-step process; there’s the fourth step, where you do a personal inventory. Well, kirtan kriya is like a personal inventory times 10. It will take you down into yourself. For me, it’s like an ego recalibration.”
The kirtan kriya involves repeating the mantra “Sa Ta Na Ma” silently and aloud, while moving through a series of accompanying mudra (hand gestures) for a minimum of twelve minutes a day for 40 days. Belinda reflects, “I got to really observe the dynamics I have with the girls that I’ve had sssooo much history with, and there’s really complicated dynamics. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this anymore, because I don’t know if I want to take a look at myself like this.’ [she laughs] It’s kind of horrifying, but I stuck with it, came out the other side, and I got to understand my role in very complicated relationships at a much deeper level.”
From Reciting Mantras to Recording an Album
About six years ago, Belinda Carlisle started feeling the urge to record a mantra album. While she spent some time in the studio, that particular project didn’t come together. She said to herself, “It’s not just singing, it’s an energy transference of the naad [voice of the soul’s purpose]… maybe this is not the right time. I just have to put it away. I’ll know when the right time will be.”
Four years later, the idea persisted. She thought, “Why not do a chant album, but as pop songs. Construct it as a verse, bridge, chorus maybe middle eight, so that’s what I did.” As the album auspiciously evolved, Belinda committed to a daily community Kundalini class with Tej in Los Angeles.
“I would always, always, go to class before going into the studio. I would open to what was coming through….Yogi Bhajan was there every step of the way, saying, ‘Yea, no,’ and giving me a lot of guidance.”
Wilder Shores Downloads
Belinda cites an experience that affirms this guidance. It’s something she still has trouble believing. She says, “The weirdest, weirdest one, is, I was coming from Tej’s class and I wrote the music to “Light Of My Soul” in two minutes, into my iPhone as I was coming off the freeway, onto Burbank Boulevard.” She continues, “Now that’s never, ever, ever, ever happened to me. And that was almost like [Yogi Bhajan] whispered in my ear. I felt like every step of the way was being guided. In 40 years, I’ve never made an album where that just happened.”
Friends like recording artist Simrit Kaur and Kundalini Yoga teacher Normandie Keith joined her in the studio, offering their advice and support. Belinda’s songwriting partner Gabe Lopez built tracks around the iPhone audio recordings she made from the freeway off-ramp.
Allowing the energy of the album to dictate its own course, Belinda received astral plane advice from another angel, her husband’s late godmother, Lesley Blanch. Blanch, a well-known novelist in Britain and the editor of Vogue in the 1930s and 40s, would answer the door wearing turbans and kaftans. She allowed visitors to immerse themselves in her large library while she regaled them with listen to stories of solo travel to Afghanistan, where she visited her boyfriend in the 1920s.
According to Belinda, Lesley had “done everything, been everywhere, and was a light in my life.” Lesley Blanch left the body with a sharp mind at the age of 103. She had helped Belinda acclimate to the life after the intense experience on her first yatra to Rishikesh, giving her advice on forging ahead on a more spiritual path.
Naming Wilder Shores
When Belinda Carlisle began to contemplate the album’s completion she thought of the title of Lesley’s most famous novel, Wilder Shores of Love. She says, “That’s the perfect name for the album and it sums up transitioning from my life before yoga, to this new life of having a daily practice where my perspective on a most things is totally different. So, I thought I made it from one shore to another. Which is much more exciting, much more kinda crazy, actually than the one before…”
As a final confirmation, just before the album went to press, Belinda and her husband were moving out of their house of 24 years and they found a handwritten letter from Lesley. The note began, “Dear Belinda, + a brilliant new career hovering round the corner.” Belinda says, “The whole experience was weird, because I’ve never had this kind of experience before, it was like a download and YB [Yogi Bhajan] was there every step of the way. He really was, and he still is…”
The way she describes her experience is reminiscent of some of of Belinda’s most famous lyrics. Ones the crowd couldn’t get enough of that recent summer Saturday night in Los Angeles.
“When I’m lost at sea I hear your voice / And it carries me / In this world we’re just beginning /To understand the miracle of living / Baby I was afraid before /But I’m not afraid anymore/ Ooh, baby, do you know what that’s worth? / Ooh heaven is a place on earth.”
Belinda Carlisle’s Latest Debut
Wilder Shores debuted at #1 on the UK and US Amazon charts. It is currently available as an import in the US and was released in the US by Spirit Voyage on September 29, 2017. For more information about Belinda Carlisle, visit Belinda Carlisle’s Official FaceBook Page.
Amy V. Dewhurst is the President of Sense + Color. She has spent more than a decade, building brands, creating content, and ensuring success for projects, and personalities globally. Learn more about her at @sense_and_color