Episode 24

Trust the Nothing with Claire Tonna

Published on: 16th February, 2022

Claire Tonna is a Maltese singer/songwriter who uses the power of words and music to give “strength and courage and a sense of belonging in a pretty much lonely world.” In this highly philosophical first episode of Season 2 of our podcast, Claire shares her views on:

  • trusting your intuition
  • living life in love, not fear
  • surrendering and giving up
  • feeling whole and complete
  • separation and being being part of the ecosystem

You can listen to Claire’s music on Soundcloud or follow Claire on Facebook or Instagram.

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Music: Pablito's Way by Paolo Pavan

Transcript
Maribel:

This morning we have Claire Tonna with us. I am so excited to have you with us, Claire. Claire is from Malta and she is a singer and songwriter. And well, I'm just saying that she's also a philosopher, a life’s philosopher. You will understand later when we start talking with Claire why I say that. Thank you so much, Claire, for being here. Would you like to share with us what is it that you do, in your words, and what are all the fantastic, audacious things that you have done? I know there’s a lot, so maybe just pick the ones that you prefer?

Claire:

It’s very hard to define what I do and what I am, simply because I see myself as a human being, like everyone, trying to live, trying to feel alive and trying to be. So I write because I have this impulse or need to hear things that help me have this sort of peace in my head, in the world that we live in. So I tend to write what I need to hear, to have courage to continue. We live in a world where of course there is injustice, there's plenty of unbearable human emotions like loss, grief, rejection, abandonment. So since I was a kid, I always wrote things that gave me strength. I wrote words that gave me faith, whatever happens. So that’s where I started writing, and then life gave me this gift, that I actually can sing these things. So that is what I do — I sing the words that give me strength, courage and the things I don’t like about me and the world. And slowly, without knowing and without planning, it became my life. So I think the difference is that maybe in the last 20 years this cause of joy, of singing and contributing to humanity, I started singing in bars, little concerts and then I started performing in prisons, hospitals, slums, moving everywhere. And I realized that it’s not me that actually does this — it’s like I’m an instrument, like we all are. It’s like, humanity, I see it like a chain, like we’re one big family and we need to help each other. We need to share whatever gives me strength or whatever makes me trust the shit in life and treat it as a nice thing as well. The more I share what helps me with others, the more belonged I feel in this pretty much lonely world. So that’s a bit, maybe a part of me, of what I do, how I can describe myself. Trying to survive. Not survive — revive. I don’t think we’re in life to survive, I think we’re here to actually be alive, to have that appetite to live, not just survive and try to make ends meet. When you told me that this interview was about audacity, I had to Google what it means (laugh). And I think in my early 20s when I finished university and stuff, I started working as a social worker, but inside, I was really, really, not happy. And I confronted that feeling. If I believe that I'm here to feel happy, what am I doing? I’m not happy. I’m dedicating all hours of my day to earn money to pay my rent and then in the little time I have free on the weekend, I go and do humanitarian work and all this stuff. It didn’t make sense. So once I was, I think I was like 23 or something like that, and I said, I just saw the sun and I felt like the sun rises and gives light and energy to everything without expecting a thank you. Basically it's her nature to do so. It doesn't ask how I'm going to do it, it just happens. So I realized that what makes me really happy is contributing to people's joy and peace and I'm going to do that full time. And I'm going to find a way to do it. So I gave away all my belongings. I didn't have much, to be fair. I gave away everything and just kept my guitar and some photos. I saved 500€, which was nothing, and I went to live in Calcutta. And I was sure that I needed to be somewhere where I don't need much money to live and I don't need much money to help others. And if I just teach and share what I know, I'll be doing something. For example, if I know how to write, I can teach someone how to write. Then the other idea was of course that for me to find solutions to problems, doesn't cost money. So it was like, every person with a problem, I can think of a solution. So for me it was like an illumination. I was so sure that that was what I needed to be. Get rid of everything and what I had inside was what I needed. And I went there and everyone was telling me, ‘you’re crazy’, but I was so relieved. I was so free. I was so sure. So from Calcutta, I ended up living in the slums. There were moments that were tough, but I always felt it's where I needed to be. And of course, Calcutta taught me everything. It’s like 100 years. It’s like you see people dying on the street, you see this beauty and this fate, the simplicity and everything is naked. No words, no material things are going to save you. So that could be considered as a bold move or that you need guts to do. But for me it was exactly the opposite. For me, someone is bold or has guts to do the things that they don’t want, to be who you are not and most people do that, be that if they have a full-time job that they’re tired of doing and they keep on doing it, be it if they’re stuck, it could be a relationship, a marriage, a country. So I think you need more balls to do that than actually do what you want. So for me, even though many people think that I had guts to do 15 years, because I ended up doing 15 years in Calcutta, I could never come back to society. And I had no money, but then opportunities were coming, to do a little concert, maybe they would give me 50€. But I would live, little by little and when I didn’t have money for rent, I lived in a forest. I just trusted this force of joy. I trusted that I’m here not just to suffer. We’re here to actually live what makes us happy. And for me, at that time, that was what made me happy — contributing to humanity in some way or another. I didn’t plan it. When I went to Calcutta, I stayed there for a year first. I was asking the people what they would like to say to the world? I collected these lists of what these people living in the streets with nothing wanted to say to the world and when I came back to Europe, I was doing concerts, singing those stuff. That’s how it started. Like I would do little babysitting jobs or temporary jobs, but for all those years I always managed to live with what I had and sometimes it was nothing, sometimes it was less than nothing. And of course, that trained me to really trust my intuition, trust the nothing. Also, I never had a support system, if I got stuck. I remember one time I lost my bank card. Maybe I had 100€ in the bank, but I lost the card. The first tense thing was like panic, but I trained myself that every time that something like that happened, I’m like: ok, this was supposed to happen, I have to deal with this with a thought based on love, not based on fear. So for me, when I think of audacity or what makes you bold, I think it’s much harder to do the things that you don’t want to do, it’s much harder to be stuck in manners of living that are actually destroying you or that deep inside you know that you’re not happy. I think when we actually accept that we are here and our nature is to feel loved, to feel belonged, to feel alive, that is our nature. So when you trust and you accept that, somehow things start changing in your life. You start taking better decisions that are more honest with yourself. And they change, like me now, I’m 40, I can’t go back and live what I was doing back then. I don’t think I have the strength for it. Every experience you learn about yourself, you have to break many times as well. Things happen, you lose people, not just because people die, but you lose things and you break and it’s like you shave your skin. It’s like life shaves layers of you and shit and issues, not just mentally. We are a product of our experiences, of our childhood, of the culture we’re born in. We learn many things that are not good for us, so there’s this process of unlearning many things.

Maribel:

Was I exaggerating when I said she's a philosopher?

Helen:

Exactly. Claire, I could listen to you for hours. I'm so enjoying listening to you. I'd like to, I mean, thank you so much for sharing that, I'd like to pick up on what you were saying about being audacious and that it takes guts to be bold, to do something that you don't want to be doing. Because when you're doing what you're meant to be doing, then life actually becomes quite easy. You're living in love and life becomes easy. And I'd like to pick up on that part and ask when you were doing what you were doing, writing your music and doing the work in India, what did it actually feel like for you to be living what you were meant to be living?

Claire:

It felt right. It felt timeless. I was extremely grateful all the time. And somehow I was really strong as well. It's like sometimes, not sometimes, I think always, life is not just about beauty or life, death. Life is life and death, like in the seasons. There's a cycle, there’s a time when the flowers and trees grow and there’s a time when the tree looks dead. So I think I felt complete and I don't think it's because I was living amongst what they call the poorest of the poor. It's because I was experiencing my own fragility and my own strength because I think being strong is not to have guts. Being strong is allowing how fragile you are. I think I started feeling strong when I realised I'm the most fragile person I know. Many people when they see me and they say Wow, you're so confident but I'm a very broken person. I struggle a lot with self-confidence, insecurities, like many, but the thing is, because I am conscious and aware of how insecure I am and how much I can be self-confident and how much I can not value myself, accepting that makes you confident in that. It’s like feeling secure in your insecurity — feeling confident that you're not confident and this is what it is, this who I am.

Helen:

Fantastic. You also said you felt complete. I wonder if you could say something a little bit more about that. What does it mean to feel complete?

Claire:

Feeling complete means that you allow your darkness and your light the one thing. Like, as a woman every month, we have menstruation and the cycle of the menstruation, it's a cycle of completeness where you are fertile, where you’re like a sorceress, where you can’t stand anything and you need to be alone. And it's funny, not funny, it’s really beautiful and naturally founded — when you're ovulating, it's a celebration of life and when you're menstruating, it's a symbol of death. And these are emotional, every month we go through this, like being responsible, like a mother being caring, being free and then being like you can’t stand anything. So, I think being complete is allowing yourself to accept that every darkness in life is making love to you as well. I have one song, actually, it says the night is clear as the day, so when shit happens, you're going through a depression, you suddenly go into mental health, all of this type of darkness that we experience as human beings. Many times we try fight it. We try to get out of our depression, we try to get out of these dark thoughts, we try to feel better, when in reality the darkness is making love to you, just as the beautiful things make love to you. And death is completeness. We can't be complete just by, like the season, it's not always spring. We need the rain, we need the drought, the dryness. And if a little seed tries to plan and think logistically how it's going to become a tree, she's going to have a breakdown. She's going to say, this is impossible. And that is what we do — we try to control and see how I’m going to get there. You can't do it. You can't do it with just the human mind or just with thought. Nature does it on its own. Everything that happens in our life is helping us to arrive wherever we need to be and it's natural that sometimes you're going to go through a period of darkness or even sometimes several months of just shit happening. I call it, when you have a series of unfortunate events, like sometimes it happens, sometimes you meet someone and say, You know I had a week, all my appliances just stopped working. You have to trust it. That is completeness. That you allow the darkness and the light to be two lovers holding each other and holding you. Just trust it. And it's hard. You have to sit with it. Sometimes I mean I struggle, and I do sometimes still with my mental health, and it's hard because sometimes I remember I couldn't be alone because I would be suicidal. I couldn't stand to be with others. And you can’t do nothing. We just have to let it be. We have to trust it. For sure, fighting it doesn’t work because whatever process natural thing is happening around you or to you, you have to allow it. And the minute you allow it and you trust it, it stops being a demon. I mean, I don’t think I’m a philosopher, I just think I'm a human being like everyone and we all experience things, we all feel things. I think we are all like alchemists like you transfigure yourself. And I don't say ‘transform’ because sometimes the changes that you make to yourself, to suffer less or be better, you don't even recognise who you were before because you saw life different. Sometimes even your past can change because you see it in a different way.

Maribel:

I remember you telling me once, Claire, you said, “Maribel, the future is now. You are exactly where you need to be.” And this reminds me of the concept of trust that you mentioned before. For people like me who don't trust like you, with abandonment and freely, how can I become better in trusting that whatever is happening is exactly what needs to happen, to have this trust?

Claire:

I think the first thing is to accept that even though we see ourselves as individual and separate, we're one ecosystem. So the first thing is to realise that it's like the sea, like if we are the sea and you are a drop and I am a drop, it’s very easy to feel, Shit, I’m a tiny drop, I’m nothing, how am I going to get there? But every drop of the sea is the sea as well. So I think for me, it definitely helped me to realise that I don't have a life — I am life. So everything that's happening around me or to me is part of me and is conspiring for my favour. So even if I don't understand why this thing happened, even if I say this is so horrible, why did this thing happen to me? So, this is part of me, this is happening for me, I have to trust it. So I am a tiny drop in this massive thing. And whatever this massive force is doing, it's doing it for me and I have to surrender. So that is I think to have the trust, that’s the first thing to realise. You’re not just a tiny little drop in a big ocean — you’re the ocean as well. Another thing that helps you trust is to practise it. The minute that something shit happens or breaks you or it you lose your job or anything. Something unexpected and something you don’t want to happen. Of course, many times our first reaction is like, Aargh, so there you start practising ways. I have to trust this. I'm going to try. It's like all my life as a kid growing up I was the shyest person. My head was always down like this, I would walk like this. And maybe when I was in my late 20s that I realised all this shyness or whatever, it was easy for me to say I'm shy. But then it was like, I need to change this. So the minute I would stop myself and when the situation comes and I’m again being shy and I was, Come on! And we have to do the same with trust. You have to practice it. You have to try it and fake it, if you don’t believe it. Many times I would be feeling really bad or things are going or not flowing. Plans change, things break and I convince myself, it's going to be alright, this is what needs to happen. And I won’t be feeling great, I won’t be feeling death, but I say it because it's still much better than saying everything is going wrong. Because in the end, many times we live what we think. If I have this lighter and I don't know this is called a lighter and people are telling me, You have a lighter. And I say, No I don’t have a lighter — we build our reality as well on how we think, on how we perceive things. And the good thing about that is that even if you don't trust and you have issues with trusting, you can stop saying that you do and then start saying, I'm starting to trust. And trust is basically letting go of control.

Helen:

It sounds then like you're getting into a place of surrender and relinquishing control but it's like the society in which we live in, it's all about control, isn't it? You have to take control. We mentioned this before. So how do we step out of that part of society, of wanting to be in control when the society is telling us to be in control?

Claire:

Letting go. It’s really giving up. I prefer to say giving up because letting go has this kind of hippyish or zen thing to it and giving up is a bit more grounded. So I was operated on my spine and I was paralysed and they told me my voice won’t come back and my voice came. And when my voice came back, I was rushing — I need to record the music, I need to do this. It doesn’t always flow. I was stressing myself out. And then I came to a point and I said, That’s it. I give up. I give up trying. I’m tired. I’m tired of trying to make things work. And the moment I said, That’s it, I gave up. I'm not praying anymore: “Life, please send me this.” Because I used to pray a lot to life, like please send me this, please make sure I have this. And it’s another type of control. It was another way how I was controlling my reality and controlling the things that were happening. So I stopped praying. Instead I say, Thank you. Instead I thank what I have and even if in my bank I don't have any money or I have €10, I say, Thank you for the money. Even if I have nothing, I say, Thank you for that. And that amplifies it, so giving up a fight is very relieving. And giving up is, you’re allowing, you’re receiving and things change. Things really change when you stop trying to control. And I think it's the best way to be responsible, because we are all responsible of every decision that we do in our life, where what you're doing day by day. That's why, again, the future is now because you've built your life in every moment. And sometimes you see it, like many people, their present moment or their day is building something that they would live in the future. And they're not living at all. It's like, it's more expected to take onto the present, so you manage to go to work and all that. I see it, like everyone is dying. And we're all gonna die, no one is immortal. But I don't see people alive. And it's normalised. It's more normalised to feel like shit and suffering, than actually choosing to do the things that actually make you happy, or have some peace. And we’re living in a time in the world where it's hard to be optimistic because there are many things really going on, but I trust the decadence because many times for things to change they need to be destroyed completely and us, many times we get destroyed completely. Life, for me many times, it took away everything and I have to trust it. That helped me. For me, this trust and knowing that you're kind of not alone. You're alone, but everything that's happened is somehow… Again, this little drop in the sea. You have to trust the sea and knowing that you are part of it. A little, little, little drop but you’re part of it. It's not going to abandon you.

Maribel:

But then again you said, I mean what I have seen is most of the people do stay in that job that does not fulfill them and continue doing that and you said doing what your calling is, that doesn't require so much guts. Doing what you don't want requires more guts. But why most of the people are doing what they don't want to?

Claire:

Maybe because they're afraid to be judged or not encouraged to do so. For me, it's very clear that I cannot have a full-time job. Because each time I did that for a long period, I was not creating, I was not doing, I didn’t have time, I got very quickly crucified and I ended up with a breakdown. And I know how that breakdown felt or how it is. And when you feel all that shit inside you, you're the only one carrying it. No one will actually understand it or carry it for you. So when you decide I'm going to find another way how I’m going to live, even if it's for a short time, that's where you need to grab your ovaries and say, I don't care what people think. I don't care if I’m going to be encouraged to do this or not. But I know that like that I don't want to feel. I think more than balls or guts or adversity, it's honesty with yourself. And how you feel, only you know. Like I remember before I had went to Calcutta, I tried to convince myself, what’s wrong with you? You’re loved, you have friends, you’re doing music, you have a nice place where you’re living, what do you want? But inside, I was not happy. I knew there was this [Pugh!] and when I realised what actually makes me happy, I knew that that's what I needed to do. So I think people don't make that step to make the change because people are very scared of change. They’re very scared of stepping into something unknown, stepping into something that they don't really have control over how I’m going to get there. But definitely every person on the planet, where they stand now, they see maybe a horizon where they wish to get. And maybe five years ago or maybe the things you have now were one time on the horizon. Again, like the seed becoming a tree. So I think the more honest you are with yourself, the better your life is going to be. And unfortunately, honesty is not encouraged. Many people live a lie because they are scared or they don't have the balls to admit what you feel. If you feel like shit or you’re unhappy, it's scary and it's hard and maybe it's better to just leave it there and keep going, like autopilot. And yes, sometimes you face that truth and you say, Okay, I'm gonna step out of this, I'm not gonna do this and people gonna say. You're crazy or you’re an outsider, it is definitely something that you’re doing alone. You’re doing your shit alone, you’re going to make big decisions alone. But you would know it’s the right thing and eventually, slowly, it does transform your life. For me, it happened many times and most of these decisions that I took no one said, Oh wow, great, you’re going to Calcutta! Or great, you’re going with €60 to Spain and you have nothing. People’s thoughts were really based on fear. But I really trusted my intuition and how I felt. And how I felt was very fearless, because it was the right thing for my state, my heart, my head and it's much more easy to engage in things that everyone does — buy a car, buy a house. Boys play football. Is it really every boy likes football? I don’t think so. And the boy that says I don't like football is many times considered to be gay or fem or what's wrong with you? Because it's hard for a boy to say I don’t like football. So it's hard for a person to say, I can’t live like this. I don't like the way we’re encouraged to live — everyone lives in this manner but it does not fit me. I come from a very Catholic place, like 24km circumference, very small. I’m a lesbian, I live with little money, I really don’t conform to many things. And I am honest. So when I express myself or when I have a conversation I am honest, I am who I am. Not everyone likes this. And many times I feel like a solitary wolf. I feel so invisible. And I don’t need a lot of people that I connect with. So there is a cost as well. But it's worth it. Because inside me I am at ease. I struggled much more when I was trying to fit and trying to bend and trying to be accepted and trying to be loved, trying to be seen, trying to have some sort of belonging, trying, trying, trying to convince people to see me or to have my perspective. I can’t do that. But I am responsible to be who I am and I am responsible to not engage in things that do me wrong and sometimes it means being alone and doing everything alone. That’s hard.

Helen:

I bet the people that you meet though, Claire, are the people that need to be in your life at the time. You're meeting the right people at the right time.

Claire:

Yes, yes, definitely. And what helped me a lot last September in this ‘giving up’ was when I realised how much I still tried to control things. I remember I was walking in Valletta and there’s a busker, a guy that I really don't like, I don't like what he does, the music. And I remember walking there and instead of saying, I can’t stand him I said, He’s part of me. He needs to be there. And that helps because there are many things I dislike and I see toxic. I don't like gossip, I don't like people amplifying bad things around us, I don't like dishonesty, I don't like hate, I don't like when people say wrong things about other people. I don't like guns, I don't like many things. But from September I realised everything that I don't like needs to be here and needs to be my life too and they are part of me too. I guess, it’s again with the completeness, with the trust and with the connection — we are all connected. What I don't like about where we’re living now is that it seems like we want to separate everything, like even sexuality. We want to have a name for every person. So, we think we’re empowering, but we are separating more. Why do you need to make a name for every sexual identity? If you want to make a name for every sexual identity, you need to make a name for every person that is on the planet. We separate a lot and the less you separate, and the more similarities you see and the more wholeness you see in everything, the more you can trust, because the more you’re going to realise that everything is part of you and part of everything. And also, everything is borrowed. This body is borrowed, age is borrowed, everything is borrowed. So what do you want to possess?

Helen:

We're all just part of the ocean and we're all going to go back into it in the end.

Claire:

Yeah, we're all going to be compost. It's true, once I read somewhere that the shit is what sustains life. Like when they put the shit on the soil to fertilise it, and in our lives the same — the shit is what’s sustaining us.

Helen:

Exactly, and that's all we are. Maribel, I think we need to come to the end.

Maribel:

Do you think that we even need to ask that final question? I mean, I'm happy to ask it, but I think I know the answer. Let's go for the last question. Claire, the name of our podcast is AudaciousNess and, well obviously the audacious part is being bold and doing audacious things, and the ‘ness’ part describes a spit of land where you have grounding. With all these changing things that are out of your control, things that are happening in your life and are being thrown at you, how do you keep your grounding?

Claire:

Trusting the gravity that's holding your feet on the ground.

Helen:

What a fantastic answer!

Claire:

What I'm saying is that I'm only saying things from my experience. I feel privileged because I am nothing and I really love the fact that I am nothing.

Helen:

That’s lovely. Thank you so much, Claire.

Claire:

Thank you.

Helen:

I’ve so enjoyed listening to you. Like I say, I could listen to you for hours.

Maribel:

Thank you for sharing all your life.

Claire:

You made me feel like I’m not a solitary wolf, so I thank you.

Helen:

I’ve just learned so much from you, Claire. This has been amazing. Thank you so much.

Maribel:

Thank you for taking the time of sharing all your life’s knowledge.

Claire:

Thank you, really.

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About the Podcast

AudaciousNess
A solid grounding on which to practice your audacity.
AudaciousNess showcases individuals who have set themselves bold, audacious goals and have worked to achieve them. Our purpose is to inspire people to act with the courage to create a positive impact in the world.

Through interviewing 'regular people' about their audacious goals, we highlight the fact that role models are everywhere. Each and every one of us can have an impact in some way. Our goal is to enable a courageous community that honours their genius and lives their calling.

The name 'AudaciousNess' has two components: audacious, meaning 'bold', and ness, meaning 'a strip of land projecting into a body of water'. We believe having a solid grounding on which to practice your audacity is crucial, or, in the words of the great philosopher king Marcus Aurelius (Meditations, 4.49):

"Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it."

About your hosts

Maribel Ortega

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I help women find their worth and be confident so that they can use their voice, speak up, take new opportunities and ultimately lead fulfilled lives.

Helen Strong

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I run an eco-friendly, vegan B&B in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. This is just one of the many audacious goals I've pursued in my lifetime.