This Summer has had me traveling, for work and to see family. When I am home I savor it, soak up the San Francisco fog and my beloved routines made more precious because I know I’ll be leaving again soon. I love my home.
I also love to bop around, and to play drums, and I love my family, so it’s been worth pulling myself away from the ocean air and the cool nights to get a little adventure in.
Last week, I was in Colorado, the new home of my sister and her family, and I got to spend a couple of days with my hysterical nephews and lovely brother-in-law and my sister, all of whom I love beyond words. Then, I headed to a music festival in the mountains above Denver to play a show and hang with my musical sisters for a couple of days.
We were at 9,700 feet, and I think I’ve written about the challenges of playing drums at altitude here before. I had been both looking forward to this show and dreading it for months. I was happy to acclimate a little while visiting my sister mile-high, but when we arrived at the resort where the festival was taking place I felt the familiar headache, dizziness and dread.
I woke in the morning and set about preparing for the athletic event I was going to have to participate in later in the day. Chlorophyll tablets, canned oxygen, a humidifier, green juice. I laid in bed and in the bath most of the day. I took supplements my singer delivered. I warmed up my hands with drumsticks and the muscles in my hands and arms felt heavy and unyielding. I sat in meditation and just breathed deeply and watched as thoughts of failure rose and fell.
It’s not just a physical ineptitude I worry about at altitude, but a mental one. I have had moments behind the drumkit in the mountains when my mind wanders far down a different road than what is happening in the song, and suddenly I wake up and have no idea where I am or what is coming next. My brain feels very fluffy, I guess that is how I would describe it, and I just drift away like a little cloud that has no idea it is on stage, performing. These have been some of the most humiliating moments for me on stage. I guess this is the real fear, above that of passing out from exertion.
When I got on stage, it was a funny thing. After a week as Clementine, family member, I had a sensation of meeting Clementine, drummer. Something about all of the stress had separated me from that drummer Clem, and I was so happy to find her, powerful and intrepid and ready to play drums. She let go of all the worry, took a deep breath and opened to the task at hand.
People were setting up an oxygen tank behind the guitar cabinet, so it was near the drums. Suddenly, that didn’t feel right. I asked for it to be put inside the sound tent, out of sight of the audience. I couldn’t imagine wanting to go over there and stick that mask on my face during a show, and have the audience see it. I couldn’t imagine letting go of the Clementine, powerful and huge behind the drums, to become Clementine, the weakling having a hard time breathing.
“Drummers have passed out, and we’ve had to carry them out of here,” I was told. “You’re going to want the tank next to you.”
Out of all that dizziness, that worry, that stressing out I had been doing all day, rose this strong feeling from Clementine the drummer I met at the back of the stage. The feeling was No. I’ll decide if I’m going to pass out during the show. I will decide if I can’t take it. I’ll decide that I can be fine. I could feel the heaviness of that idea, that big idea hanging in the air, that drumming may be too exertive for the mountain. I don’t accept your concept. If I’m going to pass out, I’m going to pass out. I’m not going to get up from the drumkit and strap that oxygen mask on me mid-set. I’m not going to let that idea of limitation win. Just, No.
Rupert Sheldrake is a scientist who writes about what he calls morphic resonance fields, fields of thought that humanity creates and which mold our reality. Thoughts are waves of energy, and these waves connect us and there are all kinds of big meta concepts that we buy into because we attach ourselves to these resonant thought fields. It happens on a big scale, for instance, believing that life is misery, or that humanity has to create war, or that humans need competition to survive, or that people are basically bad or evil. It also happens on a small scale, when someone puts the weight of their belief of what you can accomplish on you, and you not only have to fight your own battle, but also the one they are trying to pin you to.
You can tell me that it isn’t a concept that I may have trouble playing drums at altitude, that it is a fact: people have been carried out on stretchers doing so. However, I think, there are people who live about 12,000 feet who do just fine. There are people I can see, just past the stage, hurtling down man-made snow on skis and throwing themselves off ramps. Maybe they have been here long enough to adapt, or maybe they are just kids, so excited and on vacation and overcome with the joy of the sport that it doesn’t even occur to them to feel taxed. They haven’t attached themselves to that information that says they should feel compromised at altitude. So then, what are the facts? Aren’t they subject to our perception?
For this show, as is my temperament, I stayed in the middle. I committed to playing drums with as little physical compromise as possible, but then between each song I took a big gulp of water and a hopefully unnoticed drag on the small canister of oxygen I bought at the market. I breathed deeply, found the places to push and the places to catch up, and played an adequate show.
If we are all more empty space than matter, and our matter is created by the resistance to the energy all around us, then it really is about mind over matter. It really is about connecting to all the information that exists all around us, the information that gives us the strength to let go of fear and just make manifest our power.
The next day, I went up the gondola. Most people would laugh if they could see how terrified I am of any conveyance that involves a worn leather seat and my feet hanging over a treacherous height. I held on to the back of the seat and under the seat, and I darted my eyes side to side because I couldn’t move my head… no motion at all was the only way I could handle it. I could see it was gorgeous though, and I was glad I made the trip happen. I saw people going up on other gondolas, and they didn’t put down the safety bar, they sat nonchalantly, taking pictures and laughing with their friends. I couldn’t quite connect with their freedom, but I rode the damn thing to 12,000 feet.
I am going to choose to believe that life is magnificent. That’s the information field I’m going to attach to. Whenever I caught a glimpse of the outside world last week the news was dire and disturbing, irritating and terrifying, and yet, I just kept thinking of those big fields of information that our thoughts create, and that are creating this reality. I just kept thinking: I’m going believe in the power of love. I’m going to believe that along with the pockets of information fields of hate and fear there are other, ever-widening oceans of thought connecting us to the true beauty of life. Believing in those will bring us through these troubled times.
With all the small, vocal fields of rage and unrest, a bigger field, a deeper knowing is being created at every moment. It is connecting us to a life lived in strength, without fear, discarding old concepts of separateness that humanity has no use for. Each time a person stands up to injustice, speaks out, sacrifices themself in the name of peace, this field gets bigger. Every small act of triumph over fear builds up this field of strength and of love. Every time we refuse to let another attach us to concepts of limitation, we win. We get stronger every moment as long as in every moment, we, you and I, hold fast to the knowledge that peace is our birthright, beauty our reality, and love the energy on which reality rests.
When I was on that ski lift, with my whole body stiff and my blood running cold every time I bumped by the cable tower, I just looked straight ahead, though the fear and past the terror, and outside of the gondola reality was beauty, wide, green, sparkling, spectacular beauty, and I connected right to it.