Pain and the Constitutional Requirements of a Music Career

When we think about meditation, pain isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. We think of a relaxed body settling deep in the parts of the brain where dreams live. Most people from my genetic background of Viking have some discomfort when sitting for long periods of time on a floor. During a 10-day meditation retreat, there are three one-hour sits of ‘strong determination’ each day, hours in which we do our best to not move a muscle, to just observe sensation and not react to any pain. Speaking to meditators on the last day, I find that everyone experiences pain, no matter age or fitness level.

During these one-hour sits, the very true connection between mind and body illuminates like a light bulb. When the mind is restless, so the body. At the end of the 10 days, I am mostly free from pain, and my mind is still and quiet. Soft vibrations of awareness course through my skin, and peace is a warm bucket of water pouring over my body. On day six however, when I am tired of being at the retreat and frustrated with my progress and homesick for my people and regretting every single decision in my life, my body is in agony. I can’t sit without moving for more than a few minutes, and I obsess about the tiny sound that will signal the end of the hour. Mind unsteady, body in pain.

A very rainy afternoon in the meditation hall. I put my attention at the top of my head, and as my awareness slowly travels down, my skin dissolves away until I am a mass of small vibrating balls. When awareness reaches my toes I sit in a delight of vibration, the sensation devoid of emotion. I am the embodiment of bliss. The Me who is the Observer, awareness, is flying around, observing this mass of molecules, and when the rain falls harder I see the sound vibrate through this mass with a sweet shudder. I see a small cluster of molecules where I know my hip to live, and I recognize it as pain without any sensation of such. I fly around the cluster and as I observe, it loosens up and the balls separate and let go of each other. I am completely neutral as I watch.

I’m observing pain without the connection to the physical sensation of it. What a benefit of meditation. I see that pain comes when we wish something to be different. When I sit and obsess about the close of the hour, when I count the seconds and my entire attention focuses on the sounds that I hear signaling the end of the sit, I can watch the pain in my legs get sharper and more pronounced. When I don’t get enough sleep the night before and spend the whole day thinking: Underslept, Underslept, Underslept! my day is misery.

I think about sleep. If I get four hours of sleep because I had to work late on something with a difficult deadline, and then I wake up and have to head to work to complete this distasteful task, my eyes burn, my head aches, the world is gray and painful. I regret my job; I regret my life.

If I get four hours of sleep because I was thrown a birthday party the night before by my favorite people, and then I wake early because my dearest friends are in town and we’re going to be spending the day laughing and having fun, then I don’t even think of the lack of sleep except as a sort of altered state that puts a carnival light on the day.

How is it that my experience can change so drastically with only a change of context? My experience is being created in the mind. And if so, then I can change my mind and therefore my day.

I have endless driving stamina. All day, 12 hours to a gig. Then we load into the venue, and play two hours of heavy rock. I have drinks after the show, load the van, get everyone to the hotel, and am often the last man standing as everyone shuffles off to sleep. I guess I can thank meditation for my party stamina too. I love to be on stage. Something about that love fuels all of it, and erases any pain.

Sometimes I think pain comes from avoidance. Dr. Sorno says that avoidance of feeling deep emotions, shame, fear, anger, causes most back pain. Emotional pain needs to be experienced to be released. Invite it in, fully feel it, and it seems to let go and evaporate. It is as if pain just wants to be acknowledged, and then it can float away.

When I was in a scooter accident and crushed my left shoulder, I went immediately to my body worker, a Buddhist monk, who scoffed at the sling the hospital had given me. Your body is holding on to this pain and is bunched up around the injury site. We need to show it it’s okay to relax. He put his hands right into the shoulder, and shockingly it didn’t hurt as bad as it did to just hold it in a sling. It’s as if by manipulating it, the blood was able to get to the parts that needed recovery. He was showing my shoulder it was okay to release. I thought of my bunched up molecules when I was flying around my blissful meditating body. What rises passes away. Tension will release, eventually. I played a show six days after the accident, when the hospital had told me it would be six weeks. Granted, I kept my shoulder glued to my side and limited the movement severely, but I wanted to show it, look, I know you were hurt but this is what we’re going to be doing, so you’ll have to find a way to make it happen. My body worker went right in and showed me where the pain lived. I experienced it fully, and in doing so it went away.

People who work for bands as sound engineers, techs, lighting people, they are a different species who know these observations well. When you work for a big tour, you learn to go with the flow in an intense way. The overseas flight was delayed, so when you land after traveling for 16 hours, you are going to go right to the festival site and spend the day setting up for the show, working the show, and breaking down again before you get to even see your hotel room. There is no other option. The show must go on and all needs of body and mind get pushed aside with that truth. The people who choose this way of life are people who don’t get wrapped up in the frustration of fatigue or hunger. Constitutionally, they are able to sink into a quiet, peaceful center and just ride out the day with focus and patience. When you have no control over your time, you find the small ways to care for yourself within the schedule, within the difficulties of physical exertion, of travel, of the discomfort of vans and busses and backstage rooms.

A bad mood is just a waste of energy. Obsession with lack of sleep, crazy timetables, jet lag, all a waste. You roll with the flow, live in the moment. I have seen each of the women in Zepparella overcome illness, pain and misery to get on stage when I thought for sure the show was done for. They are warriors. No wonder I love these people.

I love that the show must go on. I love that things happen, out of the blue, that threaten the show. Electrical issues, travel problems, the flight was cancelled, the van broke down, the tom stand broke and how can we cobble together a new one. I love that the common phrase is: it’s not IF something goes wrong, it’s WHEN. I love putting my head down and figuring out the solution. I love meeting the pain and feeling it fully, and seeing it dissolve. I love looking at my band mates at the end of the night and knowing we made it all happen. It’s yet another reason I love playing music, and why when I’m finally on stage after overcoming all the challenges to get there, it feels like home.

5 thoughts on “Pain and the Constitutional Requirements of a Music Career

  1. What a great post! I dig all the examples, especially the sleep one, that make make so clear the subjectivity and malleability of pain. I remember after a meditation retreat sitting happily with bare legs on pointy grass in a soaking, sunny rain that and thinking, wow, our minds somehow get out of control and turn all kinds of nice things into discomforts.

  2. Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
    I know what you mean though, sometimes pain means you need to change something and sometimes it just means you need to change the way you look at it.
    And I like your approach to touring, you’ve hit on the secret to success – – to not know that something can’t be done!

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