ON CULTIVATING PRESENCE

Meet Nkechi Njaka and Cory Tauwoo. They kindly answered several questions for us about RESONANCE, a project they developed together and their personal quests for creative expression through music, movement and mindfulness. 

Tell us a bit about yourself.
Nkechi: My name is Nkechi Njaka (pronounced N-K-Chee | N-Jock-Uh) and my pronouns are she/her. I am a neuroscientist, choreographer and meditation guide on unceded Ohlone land (SF). I am the founder of the Compass, and NDN lifestyle studio. I am also the co-founder of the sleep app DreamWell and the other half (with Cory) of the music and mindfulness project RESONANCE. I have spent the majority of my life investigating the relationship between the brain and the body and have always felt the significance of their integration and my work allows me to express this interest and gift access of presence to others. Through my work, research, practice and study, I keep discovering that mindfulness and creativity are crucial for sustaining individual and global wellbeing.

Cory: My name is Cory Tauwoo. I grew up in Ventura county. My dad is a musician and my mom is a writer/artist/graphic designer, so my interest in being a songwriter is very much a byproduct of their views on the world. I love to surf, and hike with my 10mo son Amaru, partner Jen, and doggo Yogi.

How did you meet?
We met at SFMoMa Spring of 2019—a bunch of our mutual friends were invited to a party... Then later that year we were at another party together with mutual friends and Jen, Tauwoo's wife, started talking about wellness and music, of course both things I love! I might have told her I was looking for a music collaborator to experiment with an idea I had, not knowing that Tauwoo was a musician. So when she suggested that we do collaborate, I was hopeful AND nervous AND excited about the possibility of combining music + guided meditation! At an art opening at the SFMoMa (I believe it was either a JR or Warhol opening?) We both had mutual friends that we were there with. Nkechi was talking to my partner Jen about looking for a music collaborator :)

Describe the work you do together
Nkechi:
We collaborate in a variety of ways but RESONANCE is the most publicly accessible one. RESONANCE is an immersive experience that cultivates presence, being in the moment, listening, seeing and feeling with real-time awareness through a guided mindfulness meditation that is supported by original music. We also have worked on music videos, dance films and live choreographic work as well! We had an artist residency at The Kennedy Center this summer and are currently residents at ODC.  Regardless of the project, we are inspired by the way music makes us feel. And with music, we are able to access profoundly complex emotions, create and draw upon memories and discover new thoughts and ideas. RESONANCE invites a present-moment practice with music that allows us to meet ourselves exactly as we arewonderful and complex—moment to moment.

How did RESONANCE come to be?
Nkechi: I attended a wellness event at Shack15 in early 2020, saw the piano and really wanted to have a permanent place to host RESONANCE. I was teaching meditation at The Assembly at the time and had one special music + meditation offering with Tauwoo that went really well and I knew it could be really special if we found the right space to offer it more often. Then COVID happened and we were not able to host IRL as we planned. We thought the offering was so important that we decided to host virtually every month until June of 2021. So we hosted RESONANCE online since the beginning of this pandemic! And we are incredibly grateful to have been able to safely share this offering virtually to our community during that time. We are hopeful now that things are shifting to be able to gather and be in community now—as we always imagined.
How do you stay creatively inspired? Enjoy spending your time?
Nkechi: Movement, dance, art, music, writing and meditation. And I would include laughter, eating, watching reality TV. And also traveling/hanging out with my creative partner and best friend Anna-Alexia Basile

Cory: I feel like it’s more about taking advantage of the inklings of inspiration when they swirl about, rather than trying to sustain it or create it. I try to stay emotionally in tune so that I know when it’s time to express, and when it’s time to rest. That’s the theory anyways.
Daily Rituals?
Nkechi: Right now I probably do some combination of meditation, dance, writing, and singing most days.

How do you approach wellness/self-care?
Nkechi: With grace and with necessity. Here in the pursuit of the truth of the present moment, here for our humanity and here for our beauty. And I ask myself  constantly, do I feel free? Nourished? Restored? And do I feel connected to the Truth of who I am?

Cory: Music for me is a means of emotional/mental catharsis. Writing helps me make sense of the chaos that is my Cancerian brain. It helps me put the scattered thoughts and feelings into a tangible form that I can observe and process. Surfing helps me achieve the same clarity.

What are you currently reading or recently read?
Cory: 1Q84 by Murakami

Nkechi: Radial Dharma Talking Race, Love and Liberation by Jasmine Syedullah, Lama Rod Owens, and angel Kyodo Williams; The Way of Tenderness by Zenju Earthlyn Manual; All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks; How to be an Adult in Relationship by David Richo

Lessons from the pandemic?
Nkechi: There are many things I learned from the pandemic. One that stands out to me is that both grief and love is forever present — already, always happening.

This time away from gathering has shown me that we are so much more beyond the separate self. This is TRULY the hope of the practice — to move more in the direction of healing and sustaining our species with presence.

Cory: It’s more important to learn how to gracefully adapt than effectively plan. Things won’t often go your way, but will always go the right way.
A taste.
Nkechi: Toasted almond gelato
Cory: Salt water

A sound.
Nkechi: Water
Cory: A chime in a deep cave

A smell.
Nkechi: Rose
Cory: Bay trees mixed with redwood dirt

A joyful moment.
Nkechi: Dried bougainvillea petals falling and collecting
Favorite quote or personal mantra.
Cory: Just keep swimming. –Dory

Nkechi: In order to understand the dance one must be still. And in order to truly understand stillness one must dance. –Rumi

For one human being to love another, that is the most difficult of all of our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, for which all other work is but preparation. Rainer Maria Rilke

The body never lies. –Martha Graham
Dance is a song of the body. Either of joy or pain. –Martha Graham

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. –Martha Graham
All that is important is this one moment in movement. Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused. Martha Graham

Photographed by Peter Van Der Pas in the Presidio and the Ferry Building.