The Eternal Bliss of Birthday Cake

This birthday, there were four cakes.

The first was served Saturday before the actual date, in Tucson, with a friend who had the marvelous vegan delight specially made from lemons in his yard.

The second was the next day, in Southern California: a three-layer lemon perfection made by my sister, who understands the value of pudding as filling.

The third was on my actual birthday: a slice of magic sponge following a delicious paella at a sweet Spanish restaurant next to the cable car tracks.

The next day, on stage, the girls in the band presented me with a dense, princess-style berry-laden cake that I sampled at 4:30 in the morning when I finally got home.

I mention all these cakes because first, the gratitude I feel for the generous and loving people in my life overwhelms me, and to have a birthday celebration last a week is something I wish for every human. Second, it explains away my delinquency in writing a post for my blog last week. It was many days of delicious dinners, lots of laughing, lots of drinking and late nights and fun.

My life is so quiet much of the time. Unless I have shows with the band, it’s early mornings, quiet walks in the fog with the pug, lying on the couch or the window seat writing and reading. Tracking the bluejays and the hummingbirds in the back garden and watching the remarkable San Francisco sky. There are these little explosions of activity on the weekends, when I’m driving for hours and loading equipment and playing drums and getting little sleep, but the rest of the time, I’m still.

“Grace is always present. You imagine it is something somewhere high in the sky, far away, and has to descend. It is really inside you, in your Heart, and the moment you effect subsidence or merger of the mind into its Source, grace rushes forth, sprouting as from a spring within you”
Ramana Maharshi

For some time, I have seen these periods of activity and socializing as setbacks in the progress I make as I go about the quiet part of my life, meditating and connecting to the true self that I long to live in permanently. I follow a course toward awakening, with a firm resolution for self-enquiry and resting in stillness. It has been years of this kind of seeking, and during this week of fun and excess I was examining my concept behind this “setback” in practice. Examining this deep concept of “Good Clem” and “Naughty Clem,” and how I think that a week of partying can erase any progress I’ve made toward enlightenment.

When I fall into the true self, that infinite stillness that I find in the center of my being, it is just that, infinite. I don’t have to be in meditation to experience it, sitting on my little bench, wrapped up the corner of my room with a singing bowl in front of me and my Buddhist monk pug noisily meditating beside me. All it takes to find that place is to remember to find it, all day long, driving in the car, walking down the street, sitting backstage, in the middle of a song, when I become a part of the song and no longer merely a player. It is as simple as remembering, and falling my awareness to the center of my heart.

Then, suddenly, I fall out. There is an irritation with someone at the venue that needs to be smoothed over. There is an issue with the schedule for the night. Something is broken. Something is missing. Someone is there I haven’t seen in a long time. The van needs to be parked and the monitor is blown and there is my friend to whom I barely have time to say hello. I took the little metal piece off my kick drum pedal and I’m fighting with the way my foot moves during the triplets in The Ocean. There is cake and presents and beautiful cards and champagne and late night indulgences and two hours to drive home. I get to the practice space to drop off the van and see that my phone is dead. I forgot my charger, so now I’ll drive to the gas station at 4AM to buy a new one, and sit in the dark parking lot with the van running to get enough juice to call a cab. I’ll wake up in three hours because there is a friend in town and I promised to meet for breakfast…

Well, I forget. I forget that my true self IS spacious awareness. Two days later when I have relatively recovered the lack of sleep and caught up with band business and accounting, and my life gets back to some stillness, the thought comes: well, I guess I have to start all over. So much for awakening in this lifetime when I am called to live as a drummer in a Led Zeppelin band.

“Solitude is in the mind of man. One might be in the thick of the world and maintain serenity of mind; such a one is in solitude. Another may stay in a forest, but still be unable to control his mind. He cannot be said to be in solitude. Solitude is a function of the mind. A man attached to desire cannot get solitude wherever he may be; a detached man is always in solitude.”
― Ramana Maharshi

I had a dream in which I was across the table from an acquaintance who lives back East, and I was blathering on about these things: awakening, meditation, the true self. I was drinking and getting drunker and I was talking and talking faster and faster, and finally he got up and left and I could feel how ridiculous I was being. I could feel how talking about this stuff felt pleasurable in my body, like a drug, and I was embarrassed by it, but I couldn’t stop. I woke while I was sort of muttering to his fleeing form, “but it’s an unfolding, an unfolding…”

I think this is related to an insight I had some weeks ago, while sitting in meditation. I have always read about the great awakening moments of people, of the ego cracking in two and of falling thousands of miles into the true self. The flash of light in which the Oneness of all being becomes clear and changes reality forever. My insight, a few weeks ago, was that maybe that’s not how it will be for me. Maybe mine will be an endless unfolding, a slow peeling back of each flower petal of realization. Maybe for me, it will take lifetimes before I experience this awakening. Maybe every time I get caught up in this life, the flower grows more petals.

“Let what comes come.
Let what goes go.
Find out what remains.”
― Ramana Maharshi

The Clementine ego who talks too much and who has that whiskey shot and who gets annoyed and who says the wrong thing and who gets snarky and who forgets the charger and who screws up “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” because she’s thinking about her kick drum pedal and forgets to count; here, in this still morning, she gets swallowed up in the sea of compassion at the base of the true self. Here is the stillness, here the infinite. Nothing lost. Nothing changes and the idea of having to start over on the path seems like a funny concept of a hollow reality.

Starting, stopping, even these concepts blow away in the light of the eternal. When I fall into this expansive and expanding energy, I see how Clementine keeps inserting herself: fears, attachments, concepts. I witness those intrusions, little clouds that blow through. I watch them blow away as I open to this spacious awareness.

How hard she always is on herself. She thinks that a week of socializing can reduce the power of what she already knows. She thinks that she can possibly damage any progress made toward awakening. She thinks and judges and worries and regrets and feels defeated. Meanwhile, this still consciousness of all enlightened beings past, present and future, lies waiting beneath. Beneath what we think is you, and me. Beneath this turbulent reality we all rocket through.

The gratitude for this path overwhelms me. I find that love for my family and friends and music and laughter and feel the stillness and eternal peace beneath it all, and I fall.


You can hear me read this here:

4 thoughts on “The Eternal Bliss of Birthday Cake”

  1. I don’t think they’re setbacks at all, it’s more like they’re just one of the cobblestones on whatever your “path” is. Don’t skip a step!
    Besides, how can you trust the answer if you don’t ask all the questions?
    Also, I’m glad I got a chance to say Happy Birthday in person, even if I was a few hours late.

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