I don’t remember how I discovered Chris Grosso or how I stumbled upon his book, Indie Spiritualist, but the name of the book, it’s subtitle (“a no bullshit exploration of spirituality”) and Chris’ image (a tattooed guy, about my age, with gauges in his ears) spoke to me pretty much immediately.
As it turned out, Chris is a fellow musician, podcaster, blogger, and serves as the Spiritual Director at The Sanctuary at Shepardfields, an interfaith non-profit facility in Connecticut. I connected with Chris on Facebook, and quickly learned that we shared a common love for drone metal and old school hip hop. I messaged him to find out where the book was available.
It was reportedly on shelf at my local Barnes & Noble, but when I arrived — literally as I was looking for it — the sole copy was being pulled for return to the distributor. Apparently, Barnes & Noble needed that inch of shelf space for more Bill O’Reilley endcaps and Lego Architecture gift sets. So, the book came home with me.
Indie Spiritualist is what I expected it to be — a series of essays on spirituality that is rooted in the punk rock and DIY ethos, centered in Eastern philosophy, and (according to the extensive credits) the newest in a line of books released by former punks who’ve embraced Buddhism (Noah Levine’s Dharma Punx) and social progressives who are combining spirituality with political buzz words (i.e. Occupy Spirituality by Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox).
It’s a quick read, and perfect for a young person seeking a spiritual path of their own, yet unsure if a “spiritual” lifestyle is really as uncool as it sounds. Chris is the perfect spokesperson to greet them on this journey as he is decidedly not uncool.
It’s also a story of addiction, told by an addict. A memoir of Grosso’s own dark night of the soul that allows the reader inside some very embarrassing and painful moments that, simply through the act of being told, allow them to be transmuted into powerful life lessons from someone who has been to the very bottom and chosen to look up.
Buddhist tradition is central to Grosso’s religious experience, and this is evident in his explanations of spirituality, all of which are told in a very down-to-earth and conversational voice. Chris makes it clear that he is not a stuffy-guru-expert-type, and there’s a lot of cursing and swearing to support this. The upside to this is that Grosso finds role models and heroes in such modern day figures as pro skater Mike Vallely and death row inmate Jarvis Jay Masters. The downside to this is that in more than a few instances, Grosso tends to downplay any distinctions between his own writings and any that have come before (i.e. “This may sound clichéd, but …”), which may be a device to avoid sounding preachy to an already cautious audience, but as a fellow musician this merely comes across like the cardinal sin of apologizing for the song before it has been played.
Some may argue that a book on spirituality shouldn’t be written in such lay language, or that at times the ordering of the book’s chapters seem incohesive. But, whatever Indie Spiritualist may lack in depth (details of Grosso’s interior spiritual experiences to balance out the more graphic and sensational details) or breadth (inclusion of paths and practices from other faith traditions), it more than makes up for in sheer innovation. The book is an interactive experience, laid out into “Side A” (the memoir) and “Side B” (meditations, practices) and is full of strategically-placed QR codes, allowing the reader to scan them using their smart phone and instantly stream Grosso’s own ambient and instrumental music as a soundtrack. As someone with Bluetooth speakers in nearly every room of the house, this was amazing. This well-thought out approach of sequencing the tracks and sides of the “playlist” to coincide with the chapters of the book creates an atmosphere that can only be described as immersive. It’s as if Chris is in the room with you (yes, even the bathroom), playing the guitar, telling you horribly awkward and painful stories, and teaching you how to meditate.
If the disaffected youth of America could spend just one hour with Chris Grosso, I believe they would see him as someone who understands their loneliness, their depression, their sexual and social frustrations, their inability to fit into any mold, but also their infinite potential. Reading his book from start to finish could very well change them forever.