I think every time I stop midway along the drive from Seattle to San Francisco after a weekend of shows, “Here Comes the Sun” plays in the hotel restaurant.
I drive about 7 or 8 hours, stay in Oregon. I always pick a hotel with a restaurant. I drop the girls off for their morning flights and drive until about 5PM. Today, I lucked out on a last-minute booking at a hotel that gave me a room with a hot tub. Badass. I have several germaphobic friends who eschew any hotel room bathing, but I choose to trust that people generally do their jobs well and thoughtfully and give these things a good scrubbing between travel-worn bodies. I don’t have a good bathtub in my apartment, so any opportunity, I’m in. After four shows this weekend, hot stages, lots of driving and goofy sleep, there was no way I wasn’t getting in that tub.
I used to drive straight through. People in my life now refuse to allow that anymore, so I stop midway. It’s a forced vacation that I’ve come to love. I get a night all to myself. I love these drives. I catch up with a few dear friends, listen to podcasts or audio books and drive through the gorgeous landscapes. Time goes too quickly.
I have known few people who enjoy driving as much as I do. My dad was a truck driver right before I was born, and I guess the love of the road sank in somehow. I can drive forever. I am prideful of nothing as much as of my driving. I have done legendary (in my own mind) drives: Dallas to San Francisco in less than a day, Boston to San Francisco in 3 days. My memory is that I decided to be a musician just so I would have an excuse to drive.
I think people dislike driving because they focus too much on the destination and not as much on the meditative journey. I love how my mind seems to swing wide open as the landscape rolls by. I love watching the birds, the hawks and the little spinning birds, and this time I saw an eagle, in a nest at the top of a telephone pole. I love how, in motion, your stable life is up for examination, and I love looking at it from a distance. I guess people focus too much on driving as a way to arrive. When the focus is purely on the destination, I can see how the stress of anticipation makes for no fun. I’ll save pointing out the parallels to the way we live our lives. In this day and age, most people are becoming aware of how quickly life goes when all you can do is to stress out about the way it will end.
The hot tub happened, for longer than I care to admit. I watched a documentary on my laptop. Then, a nap, then dinner. The restaurant was homey, and as it was Monday night of a holiday weekend, there were only a handful of tables occupied. A man played a guitar and sang and his voice sounded like James Taylor. “Here Comes the Sun” was playing as I walked in and I truly love that one. What is it like to capture sunlight and turn it into song? That shimmery guitar line kills me.
I sat at a table, ordered the vegetable pasta, wrote on the hotel room receipt. Maybe at one point in my life it felt strange to sit alone in a restaurant, snuggled into a corner writing on napkins and oblivious to the room. If so, it was a long time ago. I think I used to feel more conspicuous, but one of the marvelous things about aging is that you become invisible, and you realize that no one pays attention to anything you do. Were they ever paying attention?
After dinner, I wandered the grounds, looked at the little goats that live there, paused on the little patch of grass on a hill near the hotel and looked at the stars popping out, the mountain tucking away its color and texture, and really, for a while I was completely invisible.
I love this feeling. My body is a shadow and yet it is all I am aware of. I navigate it like a raft in the center of an empty ocean. An unknown person in a random hotel in the center of a mountain range on a planet drifting among dark and stars.
I remember being in an elevator with a woman I worked with. She entered the elevator obviously agitated, and it looked as though she was having a very stressful conversation with herself. She was a nice person, one of those secretaries who take care of their families and then go to work and do everything anyone asks, and prides herself on taking care of the men for whom she works as if she were their mothers. I asked if she was okay, and she told me that she was very stressed out, because she had to drive in to the city from the suburb in which she lived, and she was so worried about driving in the city. It was apparently the first time she had done it, as she usually took the train, and she was causing herself so much stress with the thought of it. Her dread and worry was palpable.
I don’t really understand this way of being, but I felt for her. I remembered when I lived in New York and I too had to drive for the first time there, or when I was in England and had to drive on the other side of the street and would wake in the middle of stressed-out driving dreams. I remembered those moments so I could empathize with her. I told her, when you’re driving, don’t think of the big picture, don’t think of the big city or the many cars or the lots of people or yourself lost in the maze of traffic. All you have to think about is your body, in your car, and about two feet all around. That’s it. Just bring your focus down to the car and just maneuver the car within two feet of anything you’re near, and you’ll be fine. Zero in. Let the rest go. Feel yourself in your body, not your mind.
As I was walking around the hotel grounds, I zoomed up into the solar system and saw myself from up there, a little human whose movements through the world had nothing to do with anything. A little light flashing on and off. A star, a shadow. Then I fell down, right into this body. My little vehicle, and the two feet around it, is right now all I am responsible for in the entire world. I am a ghost, with a universe created moment to moment inside my mind that I observe, or not. I have let go of the feeling of being observed, or needing to be observed. I drop into my heart, and fall into spaciousness. Anonymity is glorious.
Perspective is everything. I have come to realize how little people pay attention. When I stop to fill up the gas tank and step up to the counter to buy some pumpkin seeds and a coffee, I see that the young man with the hurried, distracted look who rings me up is not seeing me. He is looking into next week, or at the interaction with the previous customer, or he is finally sitting on the couch tonight at the end of his day. Again, I am a shadow, and still I smile, remember to look him in the face, merge for a moment with his true light and feel myself in his body for a moment. You are me. There is no separation. Our perspectives are so arbitrary and the moment is here to experience however we choose. When I remember this, life is bliss. Here is the sun. Why did I ever think anyone was paying attention to me?
The documentary I watched in the hot tub was about Thomas Keating, a Catholic monk who connected Eastern meditation and thought and Christian doctrine in his teachings. It was really a lovely little film. My favorite part was when he said this:
I was walking through the grove. It was dead quiet, with the lovely leaves in the Summertime. All of the sudden, this breeze came up and all these trees just burst into action, shaking madly like this, more than any charismatic group you have ever seen. I had the feeling: this is a standing ovation! It felt like I was being greeted by all these wonderful leaves, and it wasn’t just a few. The whole place was just exploding, leaves and branches, in glee. Then, fortunately, some degree of humility resurrected in me. I said, they’re not waving at me, they’re waving at God in me. So I waved back to the God in them.
We go from perspective to perspective. Younger, I thought everyone was watching, all the time, my movements narrowed and exacting lest they be judged. Older, I see I’m invisible, and my movement through the world a waveform, a fluttering moth in the span of time and space. Is there time and space? Or, are these just concepts created by this funny collective ego we share. Change perspective, question these concepts, and we let go of so much. Fear, frustration, the feeling that we are owed anything, or deserve anything, or are watched, or are different in any way than each person we encounter. Change perspective, and we are right here, right now, navigating our little ships through moments. The whole world applauds the God in us, and the God in us rides on.
You can hear me read this here: https://soundcloud.com/clemthegreat/capturing-sunlight-and-the-god-in-you