That which comes and goes, rises and sets, is born and dies is the ego. That which always abides, never changes, and is devoid of qualities is the Self.
A joy of my life is showing people how to meditate, how to fall into that place of ego-less consciousness that is at the base of ourselves. During the one-hour calls, we find that open awareness that exists underneath our thoughts, emotions and personality, and we watch what comes up. We see what it’s like to be pulled away into the past and future by thought. We see what it’s like to observe our emotions devoid of story. We see pain rise and fall. We find the field of our true being, our truth. To live from this place is bliss.
To live from this place in every moment, that is still a state I have yet to find. Meditation helps, but it is not the way: I can’t say, if I meditate more I will find that awakened state. It is a paradox to our binary mind, to achieve without trying, to find without seeking. The awakened state is always here, it is my true self. I can find it with just a deep breath and a fall into my heart, yet remaining there is so dire to the ego that it endlessly finds some worry or drama to pull me away.
Ramana Maharshi and his path of self-inquiry speaks clearest to me as I go. Asking, “Who Am I” as I move through my day, as I bring myself present into every moment, keeps me connected to that awakened state. Yet still I follow thoughts, still I get dragged away by storms of emotion that flash and overwhelm, and still I come back, into that open awareness, that field of consciousness that lies neutral and quiet at the bottom. “Who Am I?” This field of compassion, field of bliss. Over and over I do this, through my day.
The key is to just keep going, patiently, joyfully, with humor and with sweetness. Kind to this ego, who thinks it’s everything, who thinks it’s the most important form in all reality, deserving all attention.
I watch my reactions to interactions, to my thoughts. I feel the heaviness and clutching misery of these reactions. I love this video of Vernon Howard, whom I laughingly see as a spiritually awakened Karl Malden. https://youtu.be/41qA91w9QFo :
Think of the phrase ‘a wave of pain.’ You’ve had them, huh? How many today? 500? They’re uncountable. Because you’re not aware of what’s going on inside of you down at the office, at the home, driving your car. One day alone, you’ve had hundreds… You’re home, you’re washing the dishes or cooking dinner. All of the sudden a great dreadful feeling comes over you. You remember something from the past, or you think of something that you have to face next week. While cooking that dinner, peeling those carrots, right in the middle of that, that wave of anguish comes over you, gives you a heavy spirit and a very sober, sad face, and you’re all alone in the house let’s say, and no one knows that that feeling overcame you, that that wave went through you. Not even you know that it’s happened. There is no way I can overestimate, over-judge the importance of you knowing what is going on inside of you every second… Moment by moment awareness of a wave of pain is the first type of recognition that is essential if you’re ever going to change anything. You can not change anything before you first see it.
After I watched this, I closed my eyes and observed. Sure enough, undulating waves of sensation responded to every thought that came up. Once I focused in, they became so apparent I started to feel a kind of empathy for myself. Poor Clem, walking around with this rolling agony rippling through her body for so many years. Even after all these years of meditation, these years of mindfulness, the number of these twinges was astonishing. Even sound triggered them: I guess my ego thinks it shouldn’t have to be subjected to construction noise.
Once I got over marveling at these waves, I sat and further observed. I realized that I could use each one as a tool. Falling under a physical sensation into that field of neutral awareness seems to be easier than falling under a thought. Thoughts grow so exponentially that it can be difficult to let go of them, to let go of the habit of believing our thoughts to be who we are. But a slight wave a nausea, or a clutching heaviness in my chest, recognizing these is much easier. I don’t attach to explanation; I ignore the story the ego tries to tell, and I just deal with the sensation of it. I just fall below the wave into expansive peace.
What happens is: I fall into the heart. A thought comes. I observe the wave of uncomfortable physical sensation in the body. I find the place underneath sensation, and I fall more deeply into that ocean of neutrality at the base of everything. The thoughts now are the welcome impetus that lets rise the physical sensation which pushes me into neutrality. And now, Peace.
I love this game.
I had written the previous paragraphs on Wednesday morning, before it was time for me to head to the airport for a weekend of shows in the Midwest. I figured, I would finish this piece on the plane and then post it from my hotel room in Chicago when I woke.
On the way to the airport, I had a lovely conversation with the Lyft driver, who was describing her difficulties with a friend as he went through struggles with addiction. She told me that falling into the field of neutral consciousness she found in her meditation practice was giving her clarity about how to help her friend.
I checked in and sat at a bar near my gate. A young man sat next to me and on his forearm was a tattoo that said “Be Here Now.” We had a lovely conversation about his trip to New Zealand and the enlightenment of travel. I let him know about Ram Dass, and the book Be Here Now, which funnily he didn’t know about. He was happy to get that information. I got happy thinking of him reading Be Here Now for the first time.
He left and I received a phone call from my singer. She was being taken to the emergency room with a serious illness.
For a moment, I got lost in dread and stress. Worried for my dear friend and her health. Worried about having to cancel the shows, and the dread of inflicting stress on the venues and promoters. Anxious then about the reputation of my band and business, and then the pain of having to tell my dear booking agent about all her work lost. Heartbroken for the people who had been looking forward to our rare visit in these areas. The ego panicked for a short time and my brain spun around and prevented any coherent thought.
Then, I took a breath and remembered. Be Here Now. My whole day, my whole life, has been pointing to this moment. Here, a wave of pain. Here, underneath, awareness.
I called my tour manager husband who reminded me, It’s Only Rock and Roll, and helped me to decide to cancel the weekend. I saw my guitarist come walking across the white tile floor of the airport and just the sight of her made me feel better. I felt all those waves of pain, those waves of anxiety and stress just wash out of me as I looked at her and I fell into peace. Peace where the 15 years connecting us through all the ups and downs of a music career lives. Peace where the words “It’s Only Rock and Roll” live. Peace where my belief that these situations are always lessons lives.
Peace. I can fall into this space and be with my beloved singer as she goes through illness and then heals. Here is where true compassion lies.
I made phone calls, we cancelled flights, miraculously retrieved our bags, sat together in a quiet part of baggage claim and just made sure all the ends were tied up. Then, we rolled the guitar and pedal board and cymbals and merchandise and suitcases upstairs, and stood a little dazed in the busy sidewalk waiting for our cars to take us to an unheard-of weekend in which we had nothing whatsoever planned.
I sat in the 6PM rush hour traffic and just fell into Now. Happily, my driver was Brazilian, and I got to speak my crappy Portuguese with him and we spoke of feijoada and caipirinhas and I showed him the photos of my epic visit to Brazil a few years ago, and we had a lovely drive.
I got a text from my singer when I got home and she was resting comfortably. My pug Henry was ecstatic I was back, and attached himself to me as I got on the couch. My sweet husband had dinner waiting and found a fun documentary for us to watch. I fell into the open, spacious awareness at the base of it all.