Spiritual epiphanies come to us in odd and unexpected places. Cat Stevens has had a few, the most famous being his conversion to Islam after almost drowning. On a less life-changing scale, the album Buddha and the Chocolate Box was inspired by an epiphany Stevens had when he found himself boarding a plane with no carry-on but a Buddha tchotchke and a box of chocolate. What if, Stevens mused, he were to die with those two things as his only possessions. It would make for great symbolism; the spirituality and wisdom of the Buddha on one hand, the sensuality of chocolate and all the material pleasures it represents on the other. As he went to write the album, those themes were strongly on his mind. It wasn’t the first time Cat Stevens thought about the balance of the spiritual and the earthly, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Eventually, he shocked the world by taking a fully spiritual path and renouncing most of the material perks that came with stardom. He also renounced music, which, unlike merely seeking God, is strange. Strange because it’s perfectly acceptable to be a practicing Muslim and still play guitar and write songs and sing them (though maybe not in hot pursuit of extravagant wealth or in egotism.) Strange also because up until his conversion Stevens viewed music as a positive form of spiritual self-expression, and it seemed just plain uncharacteristic to renounce that view. Thankfully, he’s since found a path that includes both Islam and a musical career, and he seems happy enough about it.


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