DRUMMER AS DELICATE FLOWER
A few weeks off at home, with a hiatus from shows. For as much as I love my life as a musician, I have a special wistfulness about the cultivation of a regular routine. This month, I’ve been able to spend each simple morning mostly in the same way, and this is luxurious. Writing, meditating, a little exercise, drum woodshedding. Catching up on the pile of periodicals. Plowing through a few books. Repotting some plants.
For much of my life, I would rigidly schedule such days and then fall away from the schedule in hectic panic. It is lovely to unfold into my mornings with ease. It reminds me how much frantic feeling I’ve let go, that energy of need, the drive to succeed. There used to be rigid lists of how to spend my mornings, and most of the time I would get only as far as writing and formatting them. Funny thing was, the lists were always the same: write, meditate, exercise. Why the battle?
It’s a familiar battle that keeps routine away these days. The disruption of travel, the unmooring of sleep schedule, the excitation of being fully in the world and all the extra energy expended and taken in. The life of a rock drummer. Sometimes, for all my love of my career, it’s nice to be reminded of myself, of my own patterns and habits and comforts, without input from anyone else. It’s nice to go have time to go deeper into the investigation of Clem.
When I’m home alone, I rarely watch anything except for occasionally an old sitcom to keep me company before I go to bed. When the old man is home, we watch a show or a movie around dinner time. While I enjoy that enough, I just don’t care much about watching anything these days. I’d rather read, honestly. The stillness of the living room in the evening, with the candles lit and the Turkish light casting a warm orange glow around the walls is one of my favorite things. Maybe Willie Nelson on the turntable, or some Thelonius Monk. I feel like I’m floating in time, lost in the world of what I’m reading. So peaceful and also so fully here.
When we watch something, though, it’s fine. The Ken Burns Country Music documentary has been a treat. I love stories of how music carries people out of desperate circumstances, and then how music tells these stories. My songwriting partner just moved to Nashville and I’m excited to get back, now with a new appreciation of what the town meant to so many.
Entertainment is mostly what I watch. I like documentaries about music or science, with a fascination for cults, if the story is not gruesome. I like movies that are funny or romantic or uplifting, with no suspense or torture or violence or horror. This makes me a frustrating movie-goer, I know, since suspense, torture, violence and horror seems to be required of most Oscar-nominated films. The old man is sadly resigned to solo movie-watching in most cases. If people break into song in a movie, I’m happy. This is not his idea of fun. We rejoice when we find common ground.
As far as current events, I read my news instead of watching. I guess that makes me strange these days. It’s remarkable to me, the obsession humanity seems to have with the running ticker tape of tragedy. It’s in every restaurant now, and elevators and cab rides. A few years ago I visited with an acquaintance to meet her new baby, and the news was blaring for our whole visit, bombarding me and the little two-week old with that chaotic sound. Might as well get used to it, I guess.
I realize this makes me a delicate flower. My nervous system doesn’t do well with the constant negativity and noise that is a part of our lives now. Because I never watch the news, I can feel what it does to my physical being when I am subjected to it. There is an immediate agitation, a crawling anxiety around my skin. I feel unsettled around my throat and chest, and a faint nausea happens. I could jump out of my bones, that’s how it feels. I worry about people who don’t even realize that it’s affecting them this way.
I feel similarly when I’m on social media for very long. I do want to check in with friends and keep current on show announcements and the like, so I spend some time on it every day, but I guess because of my meditation practice, I really notice how it affects my physical form. The slight nausea is there again, but this feeling is more like a depression than an anxiety. I feel a heaviness in my arms and chest, like car sickness. It is the sensation of not doing enough, not being enough, not responding fast enough, not contributing enough. It fatigues me and creates a rattling feeling all at the same time.
Maybe many of us dream of unplugging and being away from it all. My nervous system certainly does. I do love being able to keep tabs on the people I love, and I can’t see enough inter-species cuddling videos and baby elephants. Still, I wonder how much is healthy for me. I wonder how much I really need to know.
As far as the news cycle, I read the headlines in the morning, and that’s usually enough for me to get the gist of what’s going on. I read magazine articles for in-depth reporting about certain current issues. Occasionally, I’ll dive into a story on a newspaper site, but it’s rare that I feel it necessary.
When I see a headline about terrible things that have happened to people in my area, I feel like a voyeur if I read about it, as if I’m in one of those cars that has to slow down to get a good look at mayhem on the highway. National and international tragedies, I feel similarly, and usually a couple of headlines will tell me the whole story. I don’t need to tune in to have a teenager tell me what it was like to be involved in a school shooting. I just hear “school shooting” and I am there, in the school, playing out the horror in my mind. I feel deeply the tragedy of the victims and the tragedy of the life of the shooter, without having to hear the specifics.
Politics, I have discovered, I can only take in small doses. My many dear friends are very tapped into the ever-expanding story, and I joke that their involvement enables me to tune out. I know they see the whole thing as a fascinating unfolding of history, and I have felt this in times of my life as well. Now, I pay attention when it’s time to vote, and I have friends whom I trust to be my barometer when revolution is required, but I’d rather read about it all, and even then, rarely. The things I can do something about, I do. The daily family drama that plays out in political spheres, I let everyone else keep tabs on.
The old man is horrified by this attitude. At one time in my life, I too would have been horrified by such a person.
All I can say is, I know myself. I am the person who will quickly get obsessed by such things. The person who has terrible dreams of the apocalypse after just a few news stories, the person who quickly lets go of her positive outlook to chase blame minute to minute, the person who will affect her health with the worry of it all. I can become irrationally fixed in the us versus them mentality, and wallow in the anxiety and depression of things I have no control over, overtaken with a seething anger. I’ve fallen there, many times.
I’d rather read different stories. I’d rather live in the place beneath all story.
I watch my friends on social media who believe it’s their duty to call out the other side, constantly. I am conflicted about this, often feeling that I’m letting them down by not doing the same, by not broadcasting my views vehemently, by not un-friending those with opposite beliefs, and by not using my small platform to state my side of things. Maybe this is the heavy, anxious and depressed feeling I get as I scroll, this feeling of not doing enough or saying enough. Many times, I have questioned my role. Is keeping silent as bad as contributing to vitriol?
This is where I’ve arrived with it all: peace, love, one-heart, common ground. A belief that separateness keeps us enemies, keeps us trapped in our suffering, keeps us simmering in a despairingly low vibration, keeps us choosing war and hatred. You and I are of the same consciousness, manifest to learn from each other. In fact, even the idea of “other” is mis-knowing, and keeps us in pain.
Who wants to listen to all that baloney? Happiness writes white. Language falls short and words struggle to bring us anywhere. Walking with my vision on these truths is all I can do, I can’t convince anyone of it.
Every single human who has ever existed is the manifest divine. If you deny the light in anyone, then you cast everyone in darkness. What we damn damns us back.
The old man buys none of this. All of the ways human beings fail to appear divine is what he focuses on. “Reality” is a battle, and he is ready to fight. “People like me are here to protect people like you,” he says. This cracks me up. My perception is that I am doing the protecting.
Believe me, I tell him, you don’t want me believing as you do. You don’t want me to let go of my way of seeing the world, no matter how misguided you think I am. If I change course and start believing in your “reality,” the one that says we are all lost and forsaken, then we’re all screwed.
It’s important to have people like me believing in humanity’s light, and the infinite potential of peace and joy that each of us is capable of living in. If I give in to the belief that humans are inherently bad, self-serving and ruthless, then life may truly tip permanently into that news cycle, and we won’t be able to dig our way out. What do you think got us here in the first place?
And if not me, then whom?
I was told once that there are beings who spend their lives meditating in caves in order to keep the planet from tipping into ruin. Enlightened beings who keep us on track toward blissful awakening, and keep the balance tilted ever-so-slightly toward the good.
I’m not moving into a cave any time soon, no matter how much I may fantasize about it now and then. However, I guess I’ve signed up to see things differently in order to change the patterns of suffering in which the world seems to be caught. I’ll give you an example.
I happened to see a news segment about a reporter who went around asking people what they thought of a political candidate. A man was railing against the candidate’s desire to make higher education free for students.
“I had to work my ass off to put my kids through school,” he was saying. “It’s only fair that everyone has to do that.”
Now, I totally understand this way of thinking. Of course he feels this way. It’s only fair. It’s important that things be fair. I was taught this. We were all taught this.
I wondered, though. What if he had said:
“I had to work my ass off to put my kids through school. Anything we can do to help people not have to make that same sacrifice, I’m for. I know how difficult it was for me, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
It’s such a small shift in the way to see the world. What is fairness? Is it tit for tat? Or is it working toward an easier path for others? Rather than saying, I had it hard so you should too, what is it like to shift to: I had it hard in order for you to be free.
How do we feel about that man then? What kind of energy comes back to him? Who now sees this man as a hero? Then, what does our view of him manifest in his life?
Further, can I see the man as there already? As a man capable of making this change in perception? And even further, can I love him no matter his perception and belief? Are we sharing the same lesson here?
We have the potential, moment to moment, to change the way we understand the world, and then the world reflects our view back to us. When we choose to buy into the 24-hour tragedy cycle, then we see the world as a 24-hour tragedy, and we keep it generating. How, then, can we imagine anything different?
I choose to see that we’re on the brink of a better world. And when I say “better,” I mean joyful, peaceful, one in which each person realizes the light of infinite possibility and connection. Our true nature and our true birthright. You want this as much as everyone does. And everyone does, if they look closely enough.
We don’t understand how our view of reality changes our reality. I see friends on social media who rail against the other side, whatever their perception is of “the other side.” Political parties, social beliefs, music tastes. There must be a way to state our preferences while uplifting the whole. It’s not easy, but there is no other option if we want to cultivate change.
So many posts scream unhappiness, and I guess this is what has been affecting me physically. I see a profile picture of a friend behind the barrel of a gun. Pain and fear right there, defensive and hating, ready to mow down all possibility of another way.
How much of this image is not a pushing away, but a pulling in of fear, perpetuating a suffering heart, the worry and the dark despair? The maw of the barrel is a tunnel straight in, drawing in my love for this person, my recognition of this display of all his suffering.
I feel the pain as mine. I examine all of the ways that I close off, push away, keep my pain all to myself and nurture it. I too hold myself in defensiveness in so many ways. When I let this guard down, when I access the freedom from fear that is at the core of my true being, in my heart, then I am grateful to be reminded of it. I feel his pain and I feel his freedom, too.
Into that barrel, then, I pour all my knowing of our combined consciousness, one in which we already live awakened to our infinite heart. Fearless. Open. In love with the whole damn thing. There is another way, I want to say, and it is as close to being “reality” as the air we breathe.
For the holidays, I’d like to share this lovely meditation for cultivating gratitude, written by my teacher Joe Lozzio of the Nalanda Institute. I hope this month brings you loving, peaceful and joyful days.
Cultivating the Spirit of Altruism, Remembering the Kindness of Others in 7 Steps
Settle into a calm, meditative state, and contemplate each step, one by one:
- Recognize all life as your mother
- Remember the kindness of those who have cared for you
- Cultivate gratitude and the wish to repay that kindness
- Channel that wish into the loving urge to nurture others
- Extend that love to all as universal “great” compassion
- Resolve to relieve the suffering of all
- Commit to awakening the compassionate spirit at the heart of all life
You can hear me read this on Soundcloud HERE or as an iTunes podcast HERE.
To support this writing and for meditations and other goodies, please visit patreon.com/clemthegreat.