Anatomy of a Feat of Strength
On a Tuesday before a weekend of shows I realize that the routing is different, and that I will be required to perform a feat of strength this weekend. We always play in Seattle and Portland in December, and we make our way up through Oregon for a relatively civilized drive. This time, I see we play Arcata, California on Thursday, and then Seattle on Friday. This means a 10-hour drive on the day of our most strenuous booking of the year, when we play two full shows in one night.
I discover this as I am comfortably snuggled into the couch, planning the hotels and advancing with venues. I notice panic rising, and close the computer to watch it. What rises first is blame, and that feels like a sick feeling in my stomach. I see my mind look around for blame: to my booking agent, to the promoter. When it can’t stick to them it comes back to me. I should have noticed this months ago, when Thursday was booked. I should pay more attention. I am a failure at band management.
Failure. This rises when I think of telling my bandmates about the schedule. Now, dread and panic rise. The weight of the women’s stress falls on me, and now my chest feels heavy and the sick feeling is in my throat.I watch my mind as it comes up with excuses, but I let those just pass through.There is one thing to be done, which is to tell the band about the grueling schedule, period. The simplicity of the action feels like a relief to me, and I begin to feel a sense of peace, the heaviness and sick feeling dispersing. It will be what it will be.
A moment of clarity settles on me. I am not stressed about causing myself a sleepless and difficult weekend. All of my dread revolves around putting my friends through it.
Nine-year old Clem floats through my awareness, that person who would try to will her friend’s illness into her own body to save the birthday party. Clem would still be able to be at the party even if she felt physically bad. Even then, there was a sense that I was able to handle difficulty more than those around me. This desire to take on others’ pain goes back a long way for me I guess. Why do I feel I am the only one who should suffer? Why do I feel like I’m the only one who can?
After a while, I let it go. There is an emotional content to that story that feels old and worn out, so I open my eyes, fall into still and open awareness, and begin finding hotels for the weekend. I figure that the night of the Seattle shows staying in a place with trees and quiet will feel good, so I book a random, trees-y looking hotel on the outskirts. Then I write the text that lets everyone know to prepare for a long drive.
On Thursday, we drive to Arcata and play with every intention of putting on the best show possible and then rolling out as quickly as possible. It is never as easy as that. The venue is a late night place, and even with a quick 40-minute pack of the equipment after the show, we don’t get to the hotel until 2AM. It’s a 6AM lobby call, and that, combined with the adrenaline from the 5-hour drive and the 2-hour show, makes the night a pretty sleepless one. I shower and wash the show out of my hair, a process with my tangled locks that always takes about an hour.
I lie and do the sleep meditation I have been doing all my life. I put my awareness at the top of my head, and then I circle that awareness around the head, and then down the body. I try to feel each part as my awareness circles by, and sometimes it feels like everything begins to sway,to relax, to open up, as my awareness flows by. I think I get nearly 3 hours of sleep, fitful but dreaming.
6AM comes and the band nestles in the back and I drive through the dark. The highway from the 101 to Interstate 5 is through some of the most beautiful landscape in the world: along the coast and then through the redwoods. It is a windy road, and for three hours I try my hardest to both hurry and to drive smoothly as we take the 15mph curves.
I know it’s worse for the person on the back bench, and any sudden brake will wake her. The van is a cradle I’m trying not to rock. As I drive I keep noticing when I get overly tense, and I feel my arms and hands clenched and heavy. When this happens, I take long deep breathes, into my belly, holding for a moment, and then breathing up and out the center channel of my body, up and out the top of my head. I rest in the heart energy when I feel agitated, and watch as worry and tension rises and falls.
Meanwhile, the trees are silent and watching. I love how the redwoods hug the road and I feel a wave of sadness come through when I see that one was damaged in an accident. The mist lies heavy in the forest, and the van moans and whines as we make our way. I take my stillness from the big trees, and am able to fall into a deep peace as I drive.
The sun finally rises when I stop for coffee and gas, and when I return to the car the sky is orange. When I reach the 5, the road goes through the mountains, but not nearly as windy, and I set cruise control and marvel in the mist lying low in the trees. Patches of landscape look strangely white, and I realize it is ash from the Summer’s terrible fires, crinkling up tree branches and lying on the grass like frost. How the trees must love the mist. What a relief to not have fire. Into expanded awareness the ache of beauty rises and falls.
I drive until we hit Seattle traffic at 3:30, about an hour away. My guitarist takes over, and I sit in the passenger seat and cover my eyes. I have a recording of a meditation created by neurologists to refresh the mind, the sound of rain and soft gongs. I listen for a half hour, and when I open my eyes I feel refreshed. We arrive to the venue, miraculously, right on time. We load in the equipment, set up and soundcheck. Set up the merchandise, make sure the guest list is delivered, write out the set lists.
The tricky thing about playing two sets in a night is managing energy. When I play a show, I want to leave it all on the stage, give the audience all of me. If I have to do that twice, it means keeping some for later. It’s about finding the places to hold back, and giving everything while not spending it all.
The way I do this is by being as relaxed as possible, breathing, exploding at times and then falling into peacefulness. For the first few songs of the first show, I feel the long drive in my body, stiff and heavy. I tune in to my inner dialogue and it is all thoughts of worry: I’m too tired.I drove too long. I can’t play two shows. There’s no way.
When I hear these thoughts, I realize my body feels fine, but my thoughts are impeding the playing. It isn’t the body at all. When I run my awareness from head to toe, I feel perfectly strong and able. The thoughts are causing me stress, summoning that heavy feeling as I play.
So I sink in, fall into open awareness, follow my breath to the bottom of the self and start listening to the music, getting inside of the songs and letting go of thought. Just letting the music play me. Where there is tension, I send breath, which opens and lubricates. Where there is dread, underneath is joy. I play well.
The last two songs of the second set, I acknowledge that my body is tired. I hold the sticks more like a caveman than a drummer, and I’m all hunched over the snare drum; it just feels good like that. I keep trying to sit up straight, but my body is tired of supporting my big head, I guess. We end and I am happy, a feeling of accomplishment. The band is joyful. I adore my band.
I have very little ability for conversation, but I get to say hello to several happy rockers and relax into the long end-of-the-night process: breaking down the drums, packing the equipment into the van, getting paid, rounding everyone up, driving to the hotel.
The hotel is in a part of Seattle I don’t know, and although we check in around 3:30AM the gentleman behind the desk is delightfully cheery,and tells me there are eagles and other wildlife who show up in the morning. It smells so good, dripping trees and a small lake. The band has a congratulatory drink and I get to sleep until 11AM, which is late for me, but which makes sense. I fall into stillness in the morning when I rise, check in with that part of me that watches. It is always there, infinite, open, receiving what is.
Today seems so easy: a three-hour drive to Portland and a normal, 2-hour rock show. I go drink coffee and summon eagles.
You can hear me read this as an iTunes podcast HERE or on Soundcloud HERE.
Please visit www.patreon.com/clemthegreat to support this writing. Thank you!