With everything that’s going on in the world today, it is easy to lose yourself. If you are yearning to love yourself more or make peace a bigger priority in your life, Jhené Aiko will inspire you with her unique story and perspective.
Jhené Aiko is a six-time Grammy-nominated R&B performer. She is also a Barnes & Noble best-selling author and a mother. Aiko pours her heart and soul into creating music and recently released her new album, “Chilombo.”
In this article, Jay Shetty and Jhené Aiko discuss her new album, her love of meditation, and how her heritage influences her music.
The Story Behind “Chilombo”
Writing “Chilombo” was an experiment in self-discovery for Aiko. In this album, she incorporated singing bowls, an instrument she fell in love with after finding one at a tiny New Age story her father loved. Said to balance chakras and soothe anxiety, Aiko couldn’t wait to use them in her music.
“It is the best feeling ever,” she explained to Jay Shetty. “I loved the feeling of my wrists going in a circle and the sound and how it was making me feel, so I bought one. I would play it when I was bored because I loved how they sounded and how they made me feel.”
Aiko named her album “Chilombo” after the last name her father chose for himself in his twenties. Aiko admits that she felt disconnected from the name early on because people could not spell or pronounce it. As a child, she could not wait to grow up, get married, and change it. As she got older, she began to feel differently.
”As I got older, I started to love it and love how it sounds and love how it looks,” Aiko tells Jay Shetty. “I started asking my dad more questions about why he chose that name. I researched and discovered that in the language of Chichewa, Chilombo means wild beast. For me, it was a metaphor. It was about accepting myself and acknowledging all the different parts of myself that make me who I am and embracing my wildness.”
Aiko shares with Jay Shetty that she feels the album represents chillness and humbleness. It has helped her heal, and she hopes that comes across in her music to help others.
Study Your Roots
Knowing where you come from can be empowering. Jhené Aiko started to study her family roots about four or five years ago by taking a DNA test from Ancestry.com. Although she had heard the stories from her parents and grandparents about her history, she wanted to go more in-depth.
“I got my results, and within that site, they take you to different records of the people in your family, and then it just keeps going deeper and deeper and deeper,” Aiko tells Jay Shetty. “I got super intrigued by following those roots, and I just feel more of myself seeing pictures of these relatives that I knew nothing about. They pull up people that share your DNA—your first cousin, second cousin, third cousin, fourth cousin, fifth, six, and you see these people, and you get to message each other.”
Aiko recalls the fulfillment she felt when she connected with family she didn’t know and learned about her family history.
“I think part of me feels more grounded today in discovering that my roots are so deep and so widespread,” Aiko explains. “So now when I look at trees and see the roots, I think ‘Oh, this is like me, I’m a tree.’”
Jay Shetty agrees the centering feeling you get from exploring and connecting to your roots makes you realize that your family has survived and thrived for a long time. He also did an Ancestry.com test and was surprised by the results. The test found that Shetty is 77% South Asian and 1% Native American. He did not realize there was a part of him from anywhere else, and that motivated him to trace his roots further.
“It’s phenomenal to see how interconnected we all are,” Jay Shetty shares. Tracing his roots makes him think of a lesson he learned from one of his monk teachers about the roots of the mighty redwood tree.
Growing Deep Roots
“Their roots do something exciting,” Jay Shetty explains. “They don’t grow down and far. They grow across and wide. They intertwine with other trees, so the other redwood trees that are small tie-up with the big redwood trees, and then all the trees share their nutrients through their roots across the whole network.”
Aiko is also fascinated by trees and their root structure. While hiking on California’s Central Coast, Aiko came across a tree that looked like it was ripped from the ground. The roots were smooth, shiny, and strong, and despite being exposed. They had formed a wall of roots, and the tree was still standing tall.
Just like a tree’s roots, family roots go long and deep, says Jay Shetty. These roots are the foundations on which a family is built. Sometimes family is spread far and wide like the redwood, but the support can still be felt.
Embarking on a Spiritual Journey
Aiko believes her spiritual journey began when she was around five. Her grandmother passed away, and she found herself struggling to understand why. Her father, who always explained everything in a very scientific way, told her she had been cremated. Cremation was not something that five-year-old Jhené could wrap her head around.
As she prepared for her first Buddhist funeral, Aiko recalled the days she spent going to Sunday School with her grandma at a Christian church where she learned about praying to God. As she also was learning the teaching of Buddha, she knew her grandmother had passed but was not convinced that she was gone.
Aiko became fascinated with death and loss and the meaning behind it, and a spiritual encounter at the funeral changed everything.
“I went outside,” Aiko tells Jay Shetty. “I was talking to the sky, talking to God and saying, ‘You can bring my grandmother back, it’s okay. I won’t be scared if she falls from the sky.’ Then I saw butterflies flying around. There was something about that moment that made me feel like she was there, and she didn’t have to drop out of the sky.”
Life’s Pivotal Moments
Everyone has pivotals moments they can pinpoint in their lives. For Aiko, it came at age 17 when she spotted a Thich Nhat Hanh book, Peace is Every Step.
“I read it in two or three days,” Aiko tells Jay Shetty. “It was so simple and poetic. I applied it immediately to my life. I felt good. I felt happy. It was the same thing with meditation. It is something I like to practice because I can feel better physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
Aiko’s music has become more and more influenced by her life experiences throughout the years. As a young teenager, she was having fun, traveling, and meeting new people. As she got older, heartbreak from the loss of her brother and the experience of her daughter’s birth became the launching pads for her music.
“I was focused on putting my real story and my personal story into the music,” Aiko tells Jay Shetty. The birth of her daughter brought her great joy. She started to make songs about the love she felt for her. But the most pivotal moment in her life and music was in 2012 when her brother passed.
“I had so much to express, and it was so life-changing,” Aiko explains to Jay Shetty. “It was something that reworked my whole being and my whole perception of life, family and love.”
Struggling through her emotions and feelings about losing the closest person to her, Aiko started to self-medicate to escape and forget. This abuse took its toll physically, mentally, and spiritually on Aiko. The realization that she was responsible for another human, her daughter, brought Aiko out of the destructive pattern.
“I’ve read books about meditation, and I’ve tried it and all these things,” Aiko tells Jay Shetty. “But once I got to that point where it was a life or death situation, then I got into it. My music is just a reflection of me and what I’m going through at that time. For the past several years, I’ve been trying to heal and just evolve and ascend to be the highest form of myself.”
Red Light Meditation
“No one is the perfect meditator,” Jay Shetty explains. “We’re all learning and working to figure it out. I love meditation because when you feel you’ve reached a level, there’s just another level. There’s always this continuous awakening.”
For Aiko, meditation is more like breathing through the moments throughout the day, whether it is a difficult moment or not. She admits she is not perfect at it but as she gets older and things get even more real, it comes in handy.
“Red Light Meditation” by Thich Nhat Hanh is Aiko’s go to.
“Every time you arrive at a red light, you come home to yourself,” Aiko explains to Jay Shetty. “You take that red light as a bill of mindfulness to center yourself. Instead of viewing it as ‘this red light is making me late’ and letting it frustrate you, it’s more a moment to take for yourself and just breathe.”
How do you tap into your intuition? Do you know the difference between your ego and your intuition? In her early years, Aiko quickly identified her intuition. As life went on, however, Aiko became jaded. The voices in her head multiplied, and her intuition became harder to hear.
“I just felt like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m crazy,’” Aiko explains to Jay Shetty. “In the line of work that I do, I started to start to get a lot of anxiety about things and just really doubt myself. I had a habit of listening to these voices in my head and letting them control how I feel about myself and how I move daily. I was mindful enough to see that it was not the best. Now I practice doing things that I feel are best for me and my development as a person.”
Sleep has been instrumental in keeping Aiko mentally healthy and feeling recharged. When difficult situations arise and her energy feels all tangled up inside, rather than try to get through it with anxious energy, Akio has learned to slow down and breathe.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode with Jhené Aiko ON “Learning to Love Yourself and Making Peace a Priority” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.