A revelation, unprepared and overthrown. The birth of a storyteller. | Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen documentary

I knew I had to go to Hallelujah, the documentary about Leonard Cohen’s legendary song.
I knew I had-to, didn’t want-to…

It might seem quite obvious why someone who is into rock music would not get too excited about a movie about storyteller, and singer-songwriter (before the word existed) Leonard Cohen, but it was not that obvious to me because I love biopics and documentaries about musicians.

A few years ago I had enjoyed the Leonard Cohen documentary “Words of Love”, about his relationship with the Marianne from the song “So long Marianne”.
Maybe that was it; I had already seen the to me most interesting part, the love story that had lasted throughout their lives.
Marianne chose for a normal life, instead of being the on and off muse to a fickle troubadour, but the documentary proved love cannot be fooled.
The heart cannot be betrayed.

We can choose a good life, we can give our time, our love, our devotion, to a new partner who does not crush us, overwhelm us, does not overthrow us, as the word in the lyrics of Hallelujah say.
Overthrow also being the word Cohen uses to describe the austerity of the Zen monastery he will stay at for 5 years, “designed to overthrow you”.

We can turn away from those kinds of forces and do what is the right thing to do, in particular if children are involved. The price for Marianne’s life on the island of Hydra, was paid by the  son of Marianne and her first husband.
Together with all the other children of parents and families staying there.
They never got to grow up within the structured routines of a normal family life.

I think even more than out of her own need or necessity, Marianne chose a normal life to provide a better life for him.
She went back to Norway, with her son.
But his fate seems to have been determined by a trip to India with his father, Marianne’s ex-husband. A recently released documentary Little Axel, honors his story. 

Although Marianne remarried, and was happy with her new life, she and Leonard Cohen stayed in touch. It was no secret they were still very fond of each other.
A life can be adapted, but the heart chooses. Hers, had chosen.

Maybe because I believed the most important part of Leonard Cohen’s story, and the part I was interested most, had already been told in the previous documentary Words of Love, I didn’t feel like going to Hallelujah, which would only revolve around one song.
But I went, nonetheless.
Because it was unthinkable not to go.
I’m a rock star writer, and movies about music are the easiest, almost done-for-you stories to tell.
The work is already done by the maker of the film, all I have to do is to show up to watch it.

And I did, totally unprepared to be blown away by it.
Unprepared to be overthrown, by Hallelujah the documentary, like generations have been overthrown by the song.

Part of what resonated with me can be attributed to the song. To the universal principles of seeking meaning, of seeking God.
The story of a song that had a rough start of no one wanting it, then meandering for decades until a Disney movie (!), makes it so big it takes on a life of its own.

The lyrics of the version we have been hearing the past 20 years, no longer contain the original sexual references.
The Hallelujah that ultimately became the best known, most covered version is the Rufus Wainwright version of the official soundtrack album, with lyrics that were compiled by the Shrek producers.

No one expected Hallelujah to ever become this big, but now that it did, and we can see the painstaking, years-long, notebook-consuming process, it took Cohen to come to the song, crying out to God he could no longer do it because the work was just too hard, we can see it was well-deserved.
That Hallelujah was a song Cohen had to fight for, to be the one to bring it. To be the Chosen One, to sing this divine song.
A song Cohen would keep changing the lyrics from, moving out of the old testament into contemporary ones, but his lyrics always married sexuality with spirituality.

Writing Hallelujah was a process that took years, and even when we thought he had finished it, he had not finished it.
Cohen was still, writing.

To see an artist wrestle bringing forth his greatest work, I think that is what this movie is about. Not just to me, but for everybody.
But for me something far more practical and tangible came out of it.
Something hidden, in the story of how Cohen went from being a poet, to a  song-writer, to a singer, to a spiritual seeker.
He immersed himself in his relationship with God, just like he immersed himself in his relationship with women.
He lived it, he breathed it, he devoured it and it devoured him.
It overthrew him and he let himself be overthrown.

And then, he wrote.

Songs, lyrics, verses, versions. But also poems and prayers. For his 50th birthday he wrote Words of Mercy, with 50 prayers, which he offered to those in need of them but which he wrote, as he stresses, out of necessity.
Because at that time, it was the only way the words came out.

radio interview:
Leonard Cohen discusses ‘Book of Mercy’ on CKUA (1984)

And it was this necessity to write, the mixing of sexuality and spirituality, the knowing that the two are intertwined, that I recognized in myself.
And it was him defining himself as a storyteller, and letting the medium be in service of the story, that I needed to hear.
That I needed to hear, now that my own career, aged 50, needed to be restarted. And this time, I wanted to choose right.
I did not, ever again, wanted to be known for possessing a certain skill or craft and then be limited by the rules, regulations, business models and expectations tied to that skill or craft.

But it wasn’t until I saw Cohen’s struggle with God, with words, with telling the stories he knows are his to tell, and his surrender to using whatever medium was at hand;
That I understood what I had done wrong.

What I had done wrong, and had course corrected, but still-
not in the right way.
I had course corrected wrongly.
And this wrong course correct, had ultimately made me toss away something that despite 20+ years of being delusional about it, had been mine!
And that thing was y
oga.
Yoga is my craft after all.

Just absolutely not the way I thought it was for 15 years and not the way I thought it was for the last 5 years, when I desperately tried to understand it.
Course corrected it.
Wrongly….

To be frank, I have tried to burn both my writing and as well as my yoga, the two mediums I am most skilled at.
And for years I failed. 

I wanted to burn writing because it was too unpredictable, cost too much time (a post like this easily costs 5 hours) and writing bore the hallmarks of a hobby.
My writing was like the 180 verses of Hallelujah;
To market it, there was too much and it was too messy. And yet there were still more verses for me to write.
My work as a writer is never done, there are always more thoughts to be had and more stories to tell. I often say that if they sold writer’s block in a bottle, I would pay for that.

And then there was yoga.
Oh…. yoga.
Although I still understand why I chose it, late 20th century, and I can still see the amazing things I, as a teacher, would have been able to do with it, my resentment to being a yoga teacher and in particular to being seen as a yoga teacher, and what my profession entailed- my resentment had become unbearable.
I was more than ready to burn yoga, ritually, if I had known how.

And last week, the big WHY dropped. I saw why it was important to burn the yoga teacher badge forever.
Because yoga would take my life, if I didn’t.
It would prevent me from doing the work I absolutely want to do, before I die. An urgency better and more eloquently expressed by a 70 year old Cohen.

There comes a moment when the net starts closing in, you know your timeline is ending, and you know it is now or never.

Everybody tries to talk me out of this fatalistic way of thinking but for me it is clear;
If I don’t choose right this time, my life is lost.

I will never finish my Hallelujah, and step into the role of being a modern-day writer whose task is vastly different from the book-writing author of the 20th century, as well as profoundly different from the commercial bloggers of the 21st- if I don’t cut ties with the yoga that cost me two decades.

I will never be the writer I know I am meant to be, if I keep dragging that old yoga teacher identity with me, like a cross.

Last week, it made me so happy to say goodbye to yoga.
I glowed as if I had found a new lover, God, or both!
And could not remember the last time I felt SO good.

But then I saw it…
And I did see it before the documentary, to be honest;
Glimpses.
When I saw that I had already done a lot of writing, creating books, guides, manuals, all in the field of yoga and that I absolutely wholeheartedly loved.
My book The White Tigress Yoga Workbook.
The free Bon Jovi yoga manual.
And the Dutch compilation, Love Duckie’s Yogabook, that I wrote in my child-like handwriting to make it extra cute. Well, it’s Love Duckie’s handwriting of course.

They were glimpses where I understood that in order for those and all the other yoga schedules on my computer and on paper, and for all my still-to-be-made yoga creations, and the books about the White Tigress lineage I still wanted to study so desperately and perhaps write a new one- that topic is my necessity to study, like Leonard Cohen’s 50 prayers of Words of Mercy were a necessity to write!-
that I needed to get back to yoga.

notebooks containing verses and variations to Hallelujah

That somehow, despite yoga already having taken 20 years of my life which I could not get back, the only way to honor the work I had created, the yoga schedules in those three publications and all the schedules I create as abundantly and prolifically like Leonard Cohen created new verses to his Hallelujah-
that in order to save that work, I needed to get back to yoga.

But I also knew, that I could not be trapped again in the yoga teacher’s body. That I could not lose one more day, being confined in this role of being a yoga teacher. Not teaching like that in real life, nor in the way I had been on YouTube since 2015. 
Not to mention I had lost 2022 entirely, because I thought I would reboot my two YouTube channels with yoga, and then hardly creating anything for a whole year.
And wept, because 2022 had been the worst year of my life.
Totally lost.

I knew I could not, let that happen again.

So I was left to find a way to get back to yoga.
Back to the schedules I had made in twenty years time, schedules that had been my little works of art, my words of love or drawings of love (and of Love Duckie), and find a way to be with them, share them, teach them, which was as I now realized my work to do just like Leonard’s work was his poetry and his seeking, his writing.

But I had to find a way to do it without being a yoga teacher.

Fail, and my life will be in vain.
My life stands upon the edge of a knife and if I stray I will either lose yoga, and the work that was mine to do, or I will be devoured by being seen as a yoga teacher.
By this role, that constricted me so much, because I did not know I was a creator, a writer, and not a business owner or a professional.

To be seen as a yoga teacher was harmful, because I am an artist and I need to be free.

Stray.
A little.
And fail.

And then the documentary gave me the answer. Hallelujah provided both the context to understanding that yes! Yoga was indeed a medium that I should be using. Just like Leonard had poetry, song writing, prayer writing, singing and recording, and performing.
Yoga was a medium, like any other. But this was mine.

The mistake I course-corrected wrongly, the one I talked about a few paragraphs further up,  was I thought I had been drawn to yoga from a performer’s perspective.
That what I had wanted from yoga, was to use it as a performance tool. As a way to let my body express something.

That’s what I wrestled with these final years.
I knew that I had been drawn to yoga, when it was done by performers. Which had led me to believe, that it had been the performance element, that I had not found in the official trainings I took, and it was not part in the yoga I taught either. 
For years I had been convinced performance was the craft I wanted to develop, both with and within yoga.

But the Leonard Cohen documentary showed me, the key element to my art, is not performance.
It isn’t performance at all.

That I, like Leonard Cohen, am a storyteller.

What had appealed to me, when I saw a performer who did yoga, was that they told a story, with their body!
It had not been the performer thing, it had been the story-teller thing.
Their body had added meaning, urgency, and energy, to yoga.
Their body had given yoga, a story.

Exactly like my White Tigress workbook, my Bon Jovi yoga manual, and Love Duckie’s yoga book, had given yoga a story.

The reason I have felt so absolutely horrible, desperate and ultimately devastated and ready to burn all yoga, was that I could not tell my stories.
Sure, I created a little 5 minutes here and there to talk about it;
A themed class, a themed series.
But ultimately I knew those little creative outbursts were in service of yoga, because THAT was the role of a yoga teacher. To be in service of yoga, and in service of the people looking for yoga.

But my job is to be in service of the story.
And my yoga should be in service of the story.

I don’t want to teach yoga, create yoga, do yoga, that is the most effective, that is the best, or that is highest in demand.
All those years, from late 20th century with the performer Madonna expressing all kinds of Rock Star things with her muscular yoga body;
To the frustration I had when I felt that as a yoga teacher my job was to be silent when I wanted to scream and wake the world.
It all came down to one thing;
Story.

And the absolute necessity, the knowing, the urgency, the motherfucking CALLING, of knowing I am here to speak, and write, and share, and shake up.
And that yoga is part of how I express.

And it’s a very, very large part.

So I was right, last week, when I knew I would never be a yoga teacher ever again. I’m not a yoga teacher.
I’m a storyteller.

And my yoga has been going on for 25 years, and although it looks like I’m done, there is still so much work to do. 
It is so horribly and terribly, so terrifyingly incomplete, compared to the vastness of all the untold yoga stories, still inside of me.

It took until the movie, the Leonard Cohen documentary, to understand that yoga is not my profession.
Being a storyteller is.
And my first expression is writing.
My second is speaking.
And my third is yoga.

And together, they are my time-consuming, life-bringing, impossible, maddening, euphoric, Hallelujah.

Together, they are Grace.
.

~Suzanne
Rock Star Writer

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This Rock Star Writer blog is an element of “Rock Star” [phase 3]

Title: “Rock Star”
or “Rock Star yoga/ business/ writer”

artists: Suzanne Beenackers, little bear Puux           
art form: writing + YouTube videos
leg 1: earliest expressions, mixed work, July 2019 – March 2022
leg 2: The Void April 2022 – January 2023
leg 3: Storytelling 17 January 2023 – 

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1. English YouTube Stories of Bon Jovi and the White Tigress
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