084. Thomas Droge and Brenda Kahn: Story, history, and self-perception

Episode summary

Thomas and Brenda (250) W-LINK
Thomas Droge and Brenda Kahn

If you want to know someone, have a conversation with them. But if you want to know who they really are, have a conversation with their partner. Thomas Droge and Brenda Kahn share their story and how they’ve changed over the years. They explore the idea of our internal narratives and self-perceptions, finding your own way, and the human experience of time. Brenda and Thomas discuss ways to change the world and the importance of investigating your history.

Thomas Droge is a healer, teacher, and author, a lifelong student of Tai Ji and Qi Gong, and Embodied movement. His study of consciousness awakening practices and Daoism have shaped his path and philosophy. Thomas’s life work is to share these transformative teachings and practices with others to help them walk their unique path.

Brenda Kahn is a musician, writer, teacher, and mother. She is a former Columbia records recording artist with seven albums and two decades touring Europe and North America, sharing stages with Bob Dylan, Chrissy Hynde, and Jeff Buckley. She is the author of the irreverent poetry book about motherhood ( Ode to Chores: the Good, the Bad and the Laundry ). Bren is currently raising her two boys, teaching high school history, and working on a memoir of her time in the music industry.

Meeting, growing, transitioning

80 episodes later… stomping through the woods on a parallel path. — Movement part of meeting? — Not exactly… word movers, singer and poet — Met through dog, Tika —Terrible pick up line — Both uninterested in relationships, didn’t think they’d ‘get’ each other — Simple tests, like calling at 3am — First intro to Tai Ji through Thomas, contrast to dark musician self, life changing — Transition to “sunny side” of street — Shifting out of roller coaster part of life — Idea of maintaining your center while moving through space — Doing Tai Ji together, teachers always liking Bren best — Always had teachers who could fight, darker, moving on a path together — Pushing through to find the self — Shortcuts to getting there; Yes and no — Can’t change the path without losing something — Wouldn’t change it, maybe just the challenges in the world view —Breaking down what you’ve learned — Mentors could push you through faster

Mentors and transmitting information

Thomas has a list of mentors, Bren not as much — Women tend to have mentors less, less women in leadership roles TO mentor — Finding mentors, how to do it — Finding what you want to do, then reaching out to others who do it, and asking for help — Virtual mentorship opens possibilities, but not the same — Being in presence with someone, how to transmit things — There is still connection, it’s just different — Late night phone conversations, how video transmits — Developing new visual skills — Eye contact, bear encounters, losing hikers on the AT, getting lost in the woods — How to be lost in the wilderness… stop walking

Craig: (14:52) Right path. Would it have been better if you’d taken the shortcuts like way what’s an example of a shortcut you should have taken.

Thomas: I mean, you’re doing the thing I do right now with people where I say like, Oh, which finger would you like to cut off? Which part of yourself do you not want to have hole? In order to make it faster because you have to give up everything that you learned along that way. So for me, I don’t think I would change anything, but it’s interesting to see like the challenges that were created early on in my life before I had executional power over what was happening to me in my developmental years generated, you know, like Carmex fans, right. That’s one of the laws of karma. So if your brain develops certain kinds of neurological patterns based on the experiences that you have, that then creates a worldview, then you populate the worldview with your challenges. Right. So the challenges that I ended up populating my worldview with, yeah. I’d switched some of those around,

Brenda: Right. Like I think we both had a lot of that, like a lot of sort of breaking down of, of what we had learned to do. And I could, we have done it faster. I don’t know. We had, I think, I think mentors, like if there’s any there’s anything I think mentors would are the things that, that kind of push you forward faster.

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Craig: Oh, I love, I love that topic. Sorry. I have mentors. I, my personal business, I don’t have children. My personal 2 cents is mentorship is one of the things that’s missing in America. I’m not gonna try to solve all the world’s problems. But one of the things that we’re missing here is the people, was it Seneca? Who said that old men don’t teach young men can’t should think there’s that like 2000 year old and it’s to have been longer than that since like lousy must have said it too about you have one has a responsibility to not just live life, but then to also play the, the other, the, I don’t want to say it again in yet, but there’s two parts to that role. And I don’t think it’s fair to blame kids these days or millennials or people or my generation. You can’t blame people. If there was no other role present, like you did a good job considering half the piece was missing. So when you mentioned mentorship, that’s where my brain just went. And I’m wondering, are there any mentor, like any mentors that leap out when I say mentors, I mean, I have,

Brenda: So this is a very right. And this is a really classic thing for men and women. Like women tend to not have mentors and, in our culture,

Craig: You mean in our culture. Okay. Cause why not would be the thing that I ever want to say, but you mean in our culture,

Brenda: Right? It’s like hard to find them and women aren’t taught to mentor their younger people. And they’re often it is starting to shift, but women are also often not in a leadership role. So then like they don’t sort of take on the next woman in their job or whatever. So it’s yeah. It’s just been a lot on my mind lately too. Like, I feel like if I had had those people along the way, I may have gotten where I wanted to go faster, but, and there were people it’s not like I didn’t have any, but I definitely, it wasn’t something I was looking for.

Craig: So what do you do if you, I always laugh. Like what do you do if you listen to me, this podcast, all hi mom, what’d you do for listening to the podcast that you decide that you want to like, Oh, I think I should find a mentor. Like how do you do that? Cause I actually at this, I’m going on 49. I have no idea how to go find a mentor. If I wanted to find one, they tend to fall in your lap.

Brenda: I mean, it depends what you want to do. And I think getting into whatever it is you want to do and then reaching out and saying, Hey, I’m really looking, I’m looking for help in this world. Can I help you? Can I learn from you? Like, you know, I think, I think it’s a probably, I don’t know.

Thomas: I mean, it’s interesting in the virtual world that we’re in now because the number of mentors available online is quite, quite a bit more than ever before


But is it the the same. Like they see, I think that if you’re not in person, yeah. I think virtual doesn’t even come close. I would argue that I can’t learn chigong from you via video. If I had access to you and I had a little bit of granted, but I’m just like, I’m sorry, you can’t do the energy work through the computer post recorded, but I’m not, I’m not criticizing the work you’re doing because we’re not, I’m just saying like, Oh, but like if

Thomas: I don’t think anyone can learn from the recordings, if they’ve been in the live class with me in that moment, there seems to be a certain level of transmission. But so I have a discussion group once a week. That’s like our Tsonga to sort of talk about things. So in that class or that conversation, you know, our little Pathfinder Tsonga, we’re talking about this form we’re doing, and we’re moving through the five phases and they’re like, Oh, fire the fire phase. I completely feel it. I totally got it. And then we went into the water phase and we do this thing where we like suck in the whole front of the body and round the back. And it stretches open the entire young section of the body in a way that we don’t normally think of to do. And they were like, I really couldn’t feel that. And I was like, Oh yeah. Cause in that practice, when you do that, what happens is the energy rises up through the center really fast and comes out and it comes out through the arms. But when I teach that in real life, I just showed them the martial application. And if you’re not hooked up, it doesn’t work. And if you are hooked up, it’s effortless and you can figure by making contact with another human being where you’re disconnected. And so that whole piece of the reality of the practice that we always had in contact with each others, that’s gone at the moment. And that seems like something you can’t do virtually at all, but I’m surprised how much work I’ve done virtually. It’s been, you know, like maybe I’ve had to squish it into the section to make it fit. Right? Like it doesn’t quite deliver, but I’m surprised at how much connection you are able to get. Yeah. Like even meditating with groups of people online and practicing. Like there’s a moment in class where everybody kind of drops in, you know, that feeling. And you’re like, everyone’s in sync. That happens when we’re online. Hmm.

Brenda: But think about even in the old days, like if you’re on the phone with somebody and you’re sort of in a moment and you’re kind of having a late night conversation, you know, there’s a lot of transition that I mean transmission that that happens. Yeah. And that,

Thomas: I bet we’re building neurological material on our visual quadrants in ways that we never have before. Right now, in order to like build much greater imaginative worlds to fill it today, screen, we’re looking at,

Craig: that’s a good point about having to bring your imagination to bear. Yeah. It is amazing how much you can pick up like have been like in 400 zoom calls, zoom has not become a thing. It’s like just make me a Xerox. Right, right. Yours was a brand name, but anyways, zoom has now become a verb and a noun and a little thing. But you can totally tell whether people are distracted or focused, and not even, I mean like glasses are a dead giveaway for reflections, but just, you can tell whether, yeah. I’ve told in many of these episodes of the podcast, I tell stories about eye contact. And like for obvious reasons, humans are really good at detecting eye contact. I’ve always wondered like what, like what is it that you can actually see? Cause I’m like at beyond 15 feet, you really can’t see pupils anymore. But but your brain can tell. Yeah, you’re looking at me. That’s weird.

Mentorship and view of self

Mentorship story, changing in Thomas’s thinking on mentorship — Mentors who are younger, keeping you connected to a changing world, as you teach them — Two way street, change your perspective — Bren feels that way as a musician returning to music… so much has changed — Needing to find someone younger to help with tech — Parkour and learning to return to abandon, courage, pushing past self-imposed limits — Seeing the abandon helps you find that feeling in yourself — Bren’s memoir, realizing her own perceptions while she wrote it — Re-writing the entire thing from a transformed perspective — The stories we tell ourselves determine our lives, have consequences —The facts vs the experience of the facts — How to re-write or re-think your own stories, viewing it objectively, with compassion and love — Fabric and text, thread of reality through perceptions and words — Scriptures meant to display\\ the thread between heaven and earth, change perception — Life as lego parts, what you build with it, the path you’re on — Life is a journey, and the kind of journey depends on your perception — You can’t change the facts, only how you view them

Craig: (39:35) How, like, do you know the metaphor of like, if you try to take a barn down, you can do it with a hammer or you can do with a crowbar. If you try it with a hammer, you get, you think you just get exhausted. But if, you know, if you put the crowbar in and pry off a board, you can get started. So like where do I put the crowbar if I want to try and do what you did because you did it.

Brenda: (40:11) I know how to do it. This is what you do. Thomas Oh, me too. Me too. Right.

Craig: (40:15) You go from okay. One [inaudible].

Brenda: (40:21) I mean, I don’t think you have to write 60,000 words to get there, but if you took a pivotal sort of regret maybe, or like moment that you, that could have gone one way, but it went this other way and really like, wrote that story as if you were telling it to somebody and then step back and look at those decisions that you made and kind of say like, well, here’s the situation you were in and what did you do? And how did you do it? I bet you’ll find that you did some courageous things, even though you’re seeing the, the hard truth of it. Like, you know, I went out with a guy who was a drug addict and I like didn’t, I didn’t care for myself. You know, like at this, this would be for Thomas,

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Craig : (41:15) Thanks for clarifying,

Brenda 6: (41:19) You know, like, that’s all I could focus on, but in, but at the same time, like I dropped everything in New York. I moved to Minneapolis, I tour around the country, like, you know, but I, it was like my past my, you know, like my kind of vision of myself was not, it wasn’t healthy enough to, to allow me to say, no, this is a dangerous situation. You know? Like I was just like, Oh, that’s probably where I belong. You know? Like, and there was a lot of that, like a lot of me making that sort of ultimately wrong decision because I just felt like that’s was what my life was supposed to look like. But when I, but I, when I looked back and saw like all these other things that I did, I was like, I was trying the whole time to kind of like, it was like two people, you know, like I was trying to find my way out, but I didn’t know how to like, get the perspective. Cause I was too young. I think like having that perspective and looking back and sort of telling, retelling your story with compassion and love and like, sort of like that, like when I figured all this out, I sort of wrote a new kind of like intro to the whole thing and it, and I dedicated it to my younger self and said like, you know, this is because I wanted her to know that she was awesome. you know, she was strong. She was this like light in the world and this other stuff happened along the way. It wasn’t that she was this other stuff. Does that make sense?

Craig 5: (42:58) I think it makes sense. All right. That totally makes sense. What’s your top that go. Thomas: So the word scripture, text Sutra and Jang is the Chinese word prescription. All those words come from a root and in each one of those languages, the route relates to either sewing like Sutra and suture or text is textiles and cloth DJing scripture is about thread single line of thread. And they all relate to this idea of the thread of reality, being woven together through our perceptions and expressed in words. And so scripture is when people go to them are like hidden tools that are designed to peel back the confusion of reality and display the thread between heaven and earth of reality as it’s woven together. And I think the goal of studying any kind of scripture is that it should deliver this clearer sense of reality. Like we could talk about dependent origination and how that affected her view of reality, and then changing the originating thought of how she perceived….it shifted that. But the idea that you could write a story of a moment or that you could do a meditation where you visualize yourself being 85, 90 years old, and coming back to tell yourself what you need to know right now about who you are bringing in future wisdom. Right? But to write down in some way, the story you’re looking at, or the facts that you’re looking at, or the way that you’re perceiving it and try and strip it down is like, like she wrote a scripture of her life in order to become aware of her life. She exposed it in this way that she couldn’t hold on to the emotional content that kept her in the limited view of it when it’s just snapshotting through in her mind. And instead she laid it all out and then once it’s all laid out, you’re like, Oh, those are just Lego parts. Like I could build a boat or I could build a cannon. I could build a hot air balloon or I could build pain and suffering.

Craig: (45:14) Okay.

Thomas: (45:15) And with each of these things like, this is what all the major teachings teach us. And I think it’s what you learn through movement practices. And why we use moving practices is because you eliminate the language piece where you take the symbol out of it. And you start to just find yourself relating in nature, which is one of the best ways to understand yourself and the movements like, Oh, okay, what’s the story here? Okay. Let’s toss the story. Now what’s left. And eventually you’re just left with you at this very deep visceral metaphorical level for your, I mean, it’s a metaphor for your imagination. It’s actually reality. And you’re like, Oh right. I’m me. This is me right now. Tomorrow is a different me a minute from now is a different me, but this is me right now. And then I go back to the like, you know, what finger would you cut off? Like, what part of you are you willing to like remove from you in order to not have gone through that, but still somehow get the lesson that you’re not going to get the information like you’re cultivating this path. And so, yeah, we definitely were on trajectories of, of like, I mean, I grew up believing this and I think you did too, but that like suffering was required for revelation and for genius. And I wanted to be like a genius of some kind. I didn’t know what kind

Brenda 7: (46:35) Of suffering

Thomas 5: (46:37) It sort of made that my art form for awhile. But I think the idea that those things are connected, you know, you eventually, or at least I eventually realized was they’re not true at all.


We don’t have an organ to experience time; our memory is our fixed linear timeline, how we orient ourselves and the basis of our sanity — Time as a human construct? — How we view time collectively, and how it’s changed — Linear view of time vs circular view — Using the right tool for the job, not just the same tool again and again — No direct perception of time, nature of time narrative, optimization of time — Optimizing living is about balancing opposing forces, duality — But also the wholeness of everything —Connecting to everything requires different tools than working in the duality — Letting go and seeing what’s next, what’s possible — Shifting from optimization into the bigger picture, being in the dual vs whole realm, scrapping linearity — Connecting to story rather than your core self, risks there — Boston accent to mess with high level execs, using parkour concepts: balance, falling, leaning, connection… exposes people’s things

Changing the world

Getting to where you’re trying to — Bren’s teaching job, going virtual, relearning history in order to teach it — Teaching about civil rights in the age of George Floyd, Black lives matter — Teaching the next generation, having them imagine where we’re going — Global citizenry, changing perceptions — Watching documentaries, Bobby Kennedy for President documentary — 1968, an amazing year — Things that are missing from history classes, the women; Dolores Heuretes, Wilma Mankiller — Teaching more history, or teaching passion for history — How to share passion? Allowing freedom to explore, finding yourself in history, making meaning through it — Meditating by breathing and staring at the sky, or by playing video games — Your own way and process, understanding your own operating system — Trusting yourself and the moment

Importance of history

Bren’s current music, becoming political again — Political science, understanding how the world worked, the people impacting it — Growing more segregated, not less as time goes on. Self and societal segregating — Crazy events of 1968… pulling threads of history to investigate — How people used to engage with history, culture… reading newspapers, watching TV (not news) — Media far less of a role — Igniting a passion and letting people follow it — What are you giving up to pursue your passions? — How to get information, learn from the internet — Digital natives vs immigrants.


Thomas: grandmother came from Greece, semi dark story — Thomas’s memories of his grandmother… relationship from food — Carrying the tradition on to his own family, connecting with kids, sisters, but all because of her — Return to structure, and dinner in the midst of quarantine — Brenda: Synchronicity with grandmother because of music, and negative story following her — Opening for Bob Dylan in Paris, straight to her grandmother’s funeral — Brought her bouquet from the concert back to the funeral, buried it with her — Connection point of making it in the musical world

3 words

We have an index of all of the guests’ answers to this question.

Craig: (01:48:52) And of course the final question, three words to describe your practice.

Brenda : (01:49:04) You think I’d be thinking about it the whole time and had something really? Yeah. You told us

Thomas: (01:49:13) Trust, joy and danger. Craig Wow. Now you’re in trouble.

Brenda: Watermelon, my favorite food. Inspiration, my favorite feeling. 1968, my favorite year.

Contact and further info

You can follow Thomas and his work via his website (thomasdroge.com) or his instagram (@thomasdroge). You can listen to Brenda’s music and follow her work via her website (brendakahn.com).