Phoebe Bridgers: Her Music as Meditation

Ray Buckner on how Grammy nominee Phoebe Bridgers’ music is a spiritual friend, a path forward into the unknown.

Ray Buckner
1 November 2021
Phoebe Bridgers. Photo © Daniel DeSlover / ZUMA Wire / Alamy Stock Photo

“Chinese Satellite,” from Phoebe Bridgers’ triumphant second album Punisher, is about loss and longing and yearning to feel connection in a landscape of emptiness.

“I’ve been running around in circles / pretending to be myself,” Bridgers sings. “How could somebody do this on purpose / when they could do something else.”

In my reading, Bridgers’ words are about choosing a difficult path that seems to have little payoff, yet is undoubtedly part of her calling. Her lyrics grace my heart as I’ve been spending my life too in a difficult search for home. I flashback to those early years, when I was seven or eight, and relive ridicule and judgment for being transgender. But while being transgender isn’t easy, I know it is right. I know this is me. The testosterone and anti-depressants and surgeries are all part of that challenging, yet meaningful, path.

“Chinese Satellite” is a ballad of impermanence, of facing the reality of our lives. It’s about not being saved by anyone else, even as we wish we could be, and finding a way to save ourselves. It’s about yearning for hope and also about lacking belief and feeling absolutely alone. It’s about wanting love and home and belonging. It’s about not wanting what we love to be gone, forever.

“I want to believe,” sings Bridgers, “that if I go outside I’ll see a tractor beam / Coming to take me to where I’m from / I want to go home.”

We all want something that can help us feel safe and belong. We all want something that will help us not suffer—something that won’t leave us. If the Buddhist path is our route home, then so is Bridgers’ music. If we come to the Buddhist path to find a way out of, or within, suffering, then we come to Phoebe Bridgers for just the same. Bridgers’ music is a meditation—a breath by breath, word by word reflection—on that which we carry. Her words exist as an invitation to live, feel, and discern our hearts and minds.

“Chinese Satellite” is a wish and an answer. It’s a wish for home and a call to create it. Bridgers is part of my home: helping me hold this tender heart with honesty, safety, and grace. Her music is a spiritual friend, and a path forward into the unknown.

photo of Ray Buckner

Ray Buckner

Ray Buckner is a PhD Student in Religious Studies at Northwestern University. His research examines sexual violence in American Buddhism and transgender experiences with Buddhism in the United States. Ray’s article, “Buddhist Teachers’ Responses to Sexual Violence: Epistemological Violence in American Buddhism” (2020), was published in The Journal of Global Buddhism. Ray’s article, “Zen in Distress: Theorizing Gender Dysphoria and Traumatic Remembrance within Sōtō Zen Meditation” (2020), was published in Religions.