A Lonely Gong Bath and A Wrinkle in Time

The band had three shows last weekend, ending in Olympia, Washington. On Sunday, I drove the gear back to San Francisco with a friend who flew into Portland. We dropped the van at 9PM, I caught a cab to SFO, and landed in Albany at 9:30AM Monday morning. Another cab ride to a little outpost of a Budget Rent-A-Car in a Sears lobby, another 45-minute drive, and I arrived to a workshop my mentor was giving in a 100-year old house filled with plants and stones and artwork from the Far East.

While I was sitting in this small group of women, tired but happy, I remembered A Wrinkle in Time, the book I loved as a child, and how much I loved the trio of the three witches: Mrs Who, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Which. I loved that book. The misfit outsider narrator. The magic of uncovering secret knowledge. The idea of traveling through space and time. Saving all reality from darkness through the power of love. I loved that group of women.

I seem to always be searching for my pack. I guess it’s from years of band life, of being a part of a small group with a secret language – music – that connects us in a profound way. The group sometimes comes closest together when attacked by the outside world, as a family does. We can struggle internally until something happens to the whole, and then we bind together, forgetting all pettiness. Buzz Osborne from the Melvins, when asked how to keep a band together for so long, said: Find a common enemy. It makes sense.

It works for a band. The soundman is condescending, the promoter weasels out of his promises, an offensive email hurts someone’s feelings, or a 9-hour drive puts everyone on edge; whatever it is that we fight, we fight together. When we get on stage, that musical communication rarely fails to smooth it all over. I hear the band vent its frustration in song, and come together yet again. The performance proclaims the unity.

In regular life, it’s harder to find those connections. Families have them, yet often everyone is wrapped up in their own bands, their work, their children, and time and attention separates everyone. Elsewhere, it feels rare to find that deep connection.

In San Francisco, it seems pretty impossible to find a tribe, at least for me. In any city of high rents and limited space, it is difficult to find people who can take the time to make new connections. I have always said San Francisco is the most unfriendly place I’ve ever been. Now, I see this is a bias of my own ego. Who is it who needs to be connected anyway?

Recently, I went to a Meditation Sound Bath, a new phenomenon in which folks play gongs and other instruments while you lie on the floor and let the intense sounds carry you to a deep meditation. In the room were 350 people. We lay our mats on the floor, 6 inches away from other folks on all sides.

The meditation was okay. I didn’t find the sounds particularly beautiful or powerful, but I could see that it must be nice for new meditators. The rather shocking thing of the experience for me was that at no time, in line waiting to enter, then as I set my mat down and sat for 20 minutes waiting for the event to take place, at no time did one single person look me in the eye, nod, smile, acknowledge me in any way. It became rather funny to me, and as I left and was waiting in a group of folks for a cab to take me away again, I still couldn’t catch anyone’s eye, could not get any acknowledgment that I existed. Was I a ghost, insubstantial? What was I doing wrong?

At one point on the mat I put a big smile on my face and looked around, but each person was involved in the person or people they came with and I felt them pointedly avoiding me. I laughed that the most “spiritual” gatherings I participated in in the Bay Area seemed always to end this way, with me feeling like I was completely outside, too uncool for spiritual connection. The oxymoron of that phrase is hysterical.

Later, when relating this story to my mentor, she asked, “Who was it who needed to be noticed?” I could see this Clementine, sitting there with a goofy look on her face, her eyes looking around expectantly, like a little girl, the little girl who would get in trouble in class for giggling with her friends, the one who loved being in a chorus, raising one voice from many. The uncool Clementine born in Junior High School who seems to love to reemerge in any big gathering. The Clementine searching for the place of one heart. The Clementine who loves the band, the posse, the family. Why did she feel that she deserved to find that everywhere she went?

When I walked into the workshop on Monday, in Catskill, New York, with the big trees waving outside and the overcast day creating a kind of shimmer to the air in the center of the old room, it was like stepping into a spaciousness that let go of all the experience of disconnection. The people in the room let go of their own stories and we sat, working to fully open to the Now.

I looked at my life and what I have been given, and it shined. A nurturing, loving, happy family. Good health. Ability and strong mind. Magical friends. And still, I saw how often I feel separate, alone, detached, without connection.

When I step outside myself I realize loss of even one of these gifts would make my world so much darker. I fill with compassion for others, for those without the same connections and support. When I walk through my day and encounter the angry and difficult person, I understand them even more when I have this perspective. How heavy loneliness is. How dark it must be to feel truly without connection.

Who is the Clementine who gets sad and lonely? Just a fabrication, a ball of DNA and energy and an ever-changing mass of molecules that rearranges millisecond to millisecond. Somehow, I have woken in this plane of existence in which I believe this body is a solid thing when really it is 99% space and energy. Who is there to be lonely? Who is there to be sad? What is there but the energy of love that keeps it all together? How can pure, infinite awareness get lonely?

Today in Upstate New York it is rainy, and the trees drink their fill. The group of women have scattered and their influence and comfort stays in my cells and I carry it forward.

Meg knew all at once that Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which must be near, because all through her she felt a flooding of joy and of love that was even greater and deeper than the joy and love which were already there.
~A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle.

My mentor and I made delicious Greek cocktails on the porch last night and reveled in the knowledge that we are unlimited consciousness. We felt our connection in this knowledge. Baba the cat agreed, and set his eternal awareness on the small sounds of a kitchen mouse that he is clocking. The sun set and the shadows from the overgrown garden shape-shifted on the porch screen until the screen went dark, and from inside our cocoon we heard the outside noise of a nocturnal bird and a heavy rustling of wings.

All I know and all I have known come together here in my heart. All of my tribes are there, all of the friendship and support and every moment of these experiences only reminds me of this profound comfort that guides me to the reality of truth. Clementine has her history and illusions and emotions, and they call her into this reality and cause happiness or pain or she revels in the joy of the brain and its activity, but here in the heart it is always still and silent and full to the brim. There is no enemy who can live there, no struggle. There is enough and everything there, love once again conquering all.


You can hear me read this on Soundcloud HERE, or in iTunes, HERE.

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