A Conversation With Geneviève Medow Jenkins, Creator of Secular Sabbath
Multifaceted creative Geneviève Medow Jenkins on the power of ambient music and tea ceremony for a special sensory experience.
Raised in Big Sur, California, at the Esalen Institute, Geneviève took her early lessons in exploring human potential and brought Secular Sabbath – a collaboration between artists and healers for the participation of everyone – all over the world. She tells us more about tea ceremony as a moving meditation, intuitive creative direction for musical project Rhye and Sun Potion by fellow Esalen baby Nitsa Citrine.
Listen to Geneviève Medow Jenkins’ Spotify playlist “Bridge into Ambient Spaces” – exclusively curated for Make it last!
How did Secular Sabbath begin?
– Secular Sabbath appeared kind of like the answer to a riddle, almost as if it were there the whole time, just under our noses. And once I started following all of the clues, the answer became clear.
– The first clue was my upbringing in the communal environment of a learning center based on the human potential movement. Another clue would be my college experience – Reed is known for its intellectual rigor, quirkiness and competitiveness. That environment, while incredibly special and unique, can breed really unhealthy lifestyle habits, whereas my childhood was inherently the inverse: clean eating from the garden, bodywork, silent didjeridoo meditations in the hot springs every Wednesday night, and a lot of introspection.
– I think in moving to LA, I was really craving my home still but wanted to dive into the pursuit of my dreams, of making film about the subjects of my college thesis. Secular Sabbath began, in some ways, out of that space.
How would you describe it?
– The nucleus of Secular Sabbath is ambient music, but it is so much more than that. The music and tea ceremony set an introspective tone, and all of the other elements provide ways to engage or deepen in that space. In Big Sur at Esalen, the striking landscape and hot springs set the tone, and the workshops provide ways to engage or deepen in that space. I think the components of my project is a collage of the pieces of my childhood and life experience that I see have benefited me as a person, and would benefit others as well.
Are there any tea teachings you hold particularly close to your heart?
– One of the things I love about sitting for tea with different people is that the practice is so subjective. The movement may be the same, but the personalities of the human beings always impact the meditation. A friend described Mia Maestro’s tea ceremony as a sunset: beautiful every time, but unique to each experience and you never tire of experiencing it. I would agree.
– One of the most powerful people I have sat with in tea ceremony is my friend Baelyn. She holds silence in a very powerful way, which gives space for personal reflection. One time I was looking at my cup and saw myself in the clearness of the water. For me, tea is a space to deepen my acceptance of myself and the things that I struggle with internally. It is a place of nonjudgmental reflection and sensory meditation. I have always had an aversion to meditation: sitting in one spot, silent, breathing. But tea ceremony is this moving meditation that feels that it gives more space to my limitations.
Who are some of your other collaborators? How do they inspire you?
– I love collaborating with people around the world in the cultures we inhabit for just a brief moment in time. Working with individuals who eat, breathe, live the atmosphere, architecture, microcosm of a foreign culture is inspirational. Traveling with Secular Sabbath has become about interweaving our core elements with the practices of local artists and healers. It also creates a space to meet new friends around the world. And there are so many who inspire me: Rocio of Xinu Perfumes in Mexico City, Nus Nus enchanted me in Iceland, Sara and Chris of Elevator Factory in Atlanta, Wildcrafted Love in Big Sur… the list goes on.
– But perhaps the collaboration that has been going on the longest is the most inspirational for me personally: my friend Nitsa Citrine is just nine days younger than me. Our parents raised us in Esalen for our early childhood (I even drank her mother’s breast milk as a baby!). She has since built up a company called Sun Potion and has invented amazing recipes for tonics that literally make you feel like you are imbibing a magic potion to revitalize you. I love the way she has integrated the way we grew up in how she helps heal the world.
“For me, tea is a space to deepen my acceptance of myself and the things that I struggle with internally. It is a place of nonjudgmental reflection and sensory meditation”
Across photography and creative direction, which projects have marked particular growth for you?
– When I moved to Los Angeles, I had just done photography as a hobby. My first big photography job was an intense world tour with Pharrell Williams. I remember thinking it was unreal, that my life was going to change forever. But actually, things didn’t change drastically. What did change was my perspective on work – understanding the positive impact of travel, connecting with new people, and making art with friends. And the dancers I became close with on that tour are women I continue to collaborate with to this day. I recently hired Jaylene Mendonza to freestyle in the Rhye “Count To Five” video, after I fell in love with her dancing back with Pharrell. Most of us were in our early twenties then, and it’s impressive to see how we each honed in on our craft over time.
– I think that working in creative direction for Rhye has truly impacted my life because I have been a part of the whole journey of the “Blood” record – from early iterations of songs to the release of the album. Experience is my greatest teacher, and most of how we developed content and wrote videos came from real moments in our lives. I think that embracing the power of experiences has been the biggest moment of growth. When I was in college, the writer Junot Diaz came to speak at Reed and he said something that has only been reaffirmed in my experience of creating art. He said that it’s important to write intimately and personally, because the more personal your writing is, the more people can relate to the experience. I totally agree.
– It’s the underlying feeling that is universal, and the more specific your art is, the more that underlying feelings get experienced by your audience. It’s not something that you can spell out in words. It’s a secondary layer. This understanding deepened in creating the Rhye “Song For You” video, in which a lot of the content came from experiences I’ve had, like kissing under a hand dryer… It’s very specific, and in that specificity is the special underlying feeling of true intimacy. My confidence in expressing intimate stories is something I hope only continues to grow.
You’re captured on some of Rhye’s album artwork – how would you describe your working rhythm together?
– Our rhythm is best described as intuitive and natural. We are in a relationship, and spend most of our time together. The Blood album artwork is almost like a scrapbook of our travels and experiences. These scrapbooked moments are powerful moments like when I brought Mike home to meet my family in Big Sur, or our first trip to Iceland where we jumped in a glacier lake on a day when the sun never set.
– Last week I booked us a trip to Mexico for Mike’s birthday and I scoured the internet for hot springs in Baja. I found these random internet directions that lead us down a narrow dirt road for 10 miles in the middle of the desert passing rouge horned cows, and then happened upon a little gate where we paid a man 20 pesos entry. When we arrived at the hot spring, there was just one family on their way out. They gave us a tip to stay to the right of the water and go up 3/4 of a mile. So we did and we hiked up 40 minutes across boulders to a little cold spring with a waterfall. It was magical. Mike brought his camera and we took photographs that will likely be used for the next releases. It’s intuitive and natural. And I suppose most importantly, requires a little bit of adventure magic.
How did your upbringing influence your own environmental awareness?
– Growing up in nature inherently gives a person more perspective on the coexistence of all of the different life forms, but even more than that, growing up around people that foster that awareness solidifies its normalcy. Each summer the children of Esalen would work in different departments on the property: the laundry, kitchen, Gazebo (preschool), so there was an awareness of how things work in pieces to function as a whole and an awareness of how much water and resources go into supporting human life. Everyone recycled, composted, ate from the garden. It was just a part of life. I think that when I started going to school, I began to understand that there were different ways of life and ours wasn’t the norm. So I’m grateful for the intrinsic practices built into my upbringing.
And finally, tell us a little about your playlist!
– I call this playlist “Bridge into Ambient Spaces” because ambient music is such a vast world. Did you know linguistics used to be a field of study under the umbrella of anthropology before they realized that it was a field of study so vast on its own? I think that ambient music is incredibly diverse. So this playlist bridges music that is soft pop and chill indie to deeper ambient realms. It is a bridge, like dipping your toes in the water to feel if the temperature suits your current state of being.
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