Your art isn’t just one finished masterpiece; it’s a city-sized mosaic that you never stop building
As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amber Herzog Lyman
Amber Herzog Lyman is a poet and performer who embodies profound clarity of vision, plays through earthy world rhythms and cosmic-cool spoken word journeys to restore human connection to nature consciousness. Her 2023 debut album LISTEN DEEP weaves together the terrestrial and celestial with otherworldly sensitivity to invite a reverent, reciprocal, rooted return to “right relationship” with Earth and Ocean. Her writing narrates the award-winning 2020 doc OCEAN SOULS, and her spoken word poetry was featured in the sonic immersion live show SOUNDS OF THE OCEAN, at COP 26 Glasgow, COP 27 Egypt, and World Oceans Day 2022 at UN Headquarters.
Thank you so much for joining us on this interview series. Can you share with us the backstory that led you to this career path?
I have always been a weaver of words. I spoke in sentences before I was a year old. I first learned my love of rhyme and rhythm, through Dr. Suess, Dr. Dre, then dead poets of the classics, before growing global roots through decades of wildlife and indigenous cultural explorations in 38 countries and counting. Now my allegiance lies with reviving ancient wisdom and protecting the Earth’s last remaining wild places.
As a young kid, I was focused on “taming” wild animals with my voice, and I learned energetic communication through many years of equine training beginning at age 5. I expanded my animal communication skills in bush living and wildlife field research across 6 African biomes, then underwater with dolphins and whales in the Pacific and Indian oceans. I specialized in wildlife rescue with birds of prey, handling and healing orphaned and injured hawks, owls, and falcons. I spent decades listening to the wild ones speak in body movement, in eye contact, in sound and bio magnetic frequency. They showed me how to listen through my animal body, expanding my sensory skills beyond the brain-focused human norm.
Sound is a short cut for body-to-body communication: Words speak to the brain, but sound moves through vibration and emotion, tapping directly into the nervous system and heart.
My sound communication teachers have been oak trees, elephants, big cats, birds of prey, and cetaceans. By living alongside them, watching, and studying them, I know what it is to be both predator and prey in this world. As humans, we are both; we take much from nature, but we must now remember how to give back. Identifying as an inherent part of the Earth biosphere and understanding our individual impact on ecology is the key to restoring balance to our relationship with nature. My mission is to challenge human assumptions about that relationship in creative, captivating, sometimes confronting ways.
This path guides my desire to share my poetry in innovative, engaging formats like short film, spoken word, live performance, and sound collaborations between humans and animals (like whale song, for example). This unique approach has honed the way that I translate my message, using poetry, sound, and emotion to more closely connect people with nature consciousness.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
During COVID, I challenged myself to try out different formats of performing online, in groups from all over the world. I spontaneously signed up for one open mic based in Las Vegas, and suddenly found myself in a poetry slam with several other performers who were decidedly more “street” than I; they were diving deep into themes of addiction, abuse, racism…and I showed up from the wilderness talking about listening to the Earth.
I definitely felt like I was in the wrong room, but instead of surrendering to my embarrassment and shrinking away, I focused myself on being fully present as a witness to their struggle, their brilliance and their artistry. I focused on reflecting their light back to them, encouraging and supporting each one of them throughout the competition, and I received the same support in return.
It was a moment of authentic, loving, cross-cultural artist bonding that opened me to new ways of building community when I started performing later in person alongside rappers from the Bronx, buskers from Frankfurt, shy kids from quiet corners everywhere…
I felt in my bones the truth that we do NOT have to “be alike” or “see alike” to love and admire each other as artists, as humans. Continuing that practice of co-encouragement across genres has led me to develop such a weird, wild, diverse creative community as I’ve traveled and performed around the world.
What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?
Get comfortable using your voice, especially in uncomfortable situations.
Drop your fear of being wrong (we’re all wrong sometimes).
Try EVERYTHING that interests you at least once. If you like it, try it again but make it better.
Your creativity communicates through your intuition. Follow what feels like flow; if you have to force it, let it go.
Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I was really moved by the final few years of work conducted by Naturalist Dr. Roger Payne before his passing last June. As our paths crossed in filmmaker panels, interviews and live events since 2020, I’ve heard him share different articulations of the same regret, like “data is great, but science has cut emotion out of the picture and now no one wants to listen anymore…It’s time for the poets and artists to take a turn at telling the story in ways that make people fall in love with whales, fall in love with nature.” Even after 50 years of scientific quest, he was feeling the sting of having over-intellectualized his life mission of seeking to understand whales. He wanted to bring the feeling back into it, the intuition, lean into artistry and creativity to activate change from the heart rather than convincing the logical brain. This reflection of a wise man so late in his incredibly focused professional life made me believe in the power of art — and inspired me to take on the sacred challenge of creating work that can actually shift perspectives, grow hearts and change minds.
How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you’re working on right now?
I’m exploring ways to bring wildlife voices into global advocacy spaces. For the past few years, I’ve been a poet and advisor on SOUNDS OF THE OCEAN, a global touring project that brings ocean sound, whale song and human artistry into global gatherings like COP conferences and UN World Oceans Day events. The multi-media performance creates a space for delegates to pause in mindful connection with other voices: the dolphins that roam every continental shore, the great whales that migrate across oceans from the poles to the equator every year. These smart, emotionally sophisticated beings kept the oceans in perfect ecological balance for over 30 million years…. so perhaps we should listen to them — What do they see that needs help and healing?
So before delegates walk into the meetings to converse on policy that will impact the future of our oceans forever, I want them to listen to the whales. And to feel the sacred responsibility of protecting the magnificent life forms that our colonial forebearers nearly exterminated. That loss is still close; humans need to see that we have just as much power to nurture and grow as we did to extract and exterminate.
Can you share with us a story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?
I have watched and studied whales and dolphins with fascination my whole life, but when I spent time face to face underwater with humpback whales in 2019, they captured all of my attention. I began to feel their significance — to understand the critical role they play in maintaining the ecological balance of our oceans; how their feeding and migration patterns from pole to equator spread nutrients like fertilizer to feed vast blooms of phytoplankton that go on to 1) form the base of the massive ocean food web, and 2) make most of the oxygen that we breathe.
When I watched brand new calves learn to dive and breach; I realized that every whale alive will learn its language, culture, and behavior from its mother; and she learned all she knows from her mother, and onward back in an unbroken chain of matrilineal wisdom that stretches through the generations over 30 million years. I realized THEY are the ones who know how to keep our oceans healthy.
And we rely on the oceans to provide us with food, make the oxygen that we breathe, fuel the weather that circulates fresh water as rain, and stabilize the climate of our planet. We need healthy oceans for our survival. And the oceans need healthy whales.
Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
The impact that is the most meaningful to me is on my own kids; at ages 7 and 10, when I see them considering the health of the oceans in daily choices they make about what they want to eat or buy, that’s when I actually feel things shifting. Our behavior changes when nature’s needs become a high priority in our daily lives.
Are there three things or are there things that individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort?
- Stop eating seafood (with 4.1 million commercial fishing vessels at sea, ocean food webs are collapsing and key species like the Southern Resident Orca are starving because of overfishing)
- Buy /use less STUFF (consumer culture feeds cycles of extraction, overconsumption, and waste)
- Ban plastic (it is choking our oceans, the lungs of our planet)
Why do you think music in particular has the power to create social change and create a positive impact on humanity?
Because music is a current of sound that flows from heart to heart…when we release inspiration and emotion through the open channel of our flowing, floating voice, we are utilizing a current of soundwaves that leaves our body, moves through and into another body, communicating in the most ancient, animal ways we are capable of… it (music) is a tribal and animal communication technology that can bypass that brain. It employs emotion to unite the flock (like songbirds), or the pod (like whales). Music is a space where the joy cries or mourning wails of one of us can be felt directly in the heart of our kin. Language and species become less material when we connect through sound. Music is a form of emotional telepathy, where one of us onstage can lift, pull and swirl the hearts of thousands in the audience in perfect unison.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started”?
- Finish making the art, then go do the business of selling it
- Don’t feel stuck in one genre; branch out as many times as it takes to fully express yourself
- Be patient enough to move with the rise and fall of inspiration; you don’t get to pick out the day that you create your best work
- Every single thing that you experience contributes to your creative form
- Your art isn’t just one finished masterpiece; it’s a city-sized mosaic that you never stop building
You’re a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
To honor the Earth and oceans as THE SOURCE, not a resource. We need to re-learn how to live in a reciprocal relationship with our planet; to feed her as she feeds us, clean her as we clean our homes, love and hold her as she loves and holds us, every day of our lives.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote? And can you explain how that was relevant in your life?
“You wanna fly, you gotta give up the shit that weighs you down.”
-Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
As humans, we all have our moments of self-doubt; and the criticism of others can dim our light. We can grab onto heavy habits that sap our own energy and pull us deeper into the dark.
But if you’re here to build a brighter future, you have to be positively MADE of light. You have to be bright, airy, buoyant enough to rise up and see what others cannot yet see. So that heavy shit? You’ve got to get good at laying it down, throwing it overboard and sweeping it out of your mind, time after time, after time.
Every day that I want to fly higher, and do something new, I have to give up something old that’s dragging me low. I swear I think of that quote every day…those words give me wings to fly.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I’d invite Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach to my house for breakfast. They have mobilized a generation of American women to move deeper through their feelings and intuition to trust themselves; to get back in touch with their inner wild to feed and fuel whatever advocacy, business and movement-making they choose. If I could show them how the next step of that embodied self-trust extends into a deep relationship with the Earth herself, that their kind of sisterhood and solidarity can extend to the Earth herself, then we can begin to feel the depth of change and healing possible when we feel loved and held by the natural world, not threatened by it. Understanding the Earth as Mother instead of “other” is key to loving and nurturing her back to good planetary health.
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!
Music Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Amber Herzog Lyman Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.