zen and the art of buying snowpants. (and a question for you.)
(public post, because)
hello my loves.
while the states gears up to listen to our president give his widely anticipated state of the union address (suggested drinking game: take a shot every time he says “FAKE”, “WALL” or “YUGE”), i’d like to address some other states and unions.
it’s funny. i feel like i’m playing hooky by writing this blog, because there’s so much admin work and email to catch up on…and i’m behind on work on the stage show, and the to-do lists beckon and burn. but i also have to remind myself sometimes that i’m a professional writer (even though i still cringe a little when i write that) and blogger and that it’s fucking fine for me to take 45 minutes out of my life now and again to write about something that’s on my mind that has nothing to do with tour tickets and webchats.
i just spent the weekend offline at a long-planned retreat at a place in western massachusetts called kripalu…some of you may know it. it’s a sort of epic-yoga-hotel, and i’ve gone there several times over the past ten years to do yoga or meditation retreats…sometime (like these past two christmasses) i’ve made a routine of going there to get away from it all: i just check in for a night or two with no agenda, take yoga classes, look at the mountains, swim in the frozen lake, eat all the free vegan soup i can in the huge communal dining room, stare at the fucking wall (literally), and use their epic sauna that fits 12 people (if there’s anything amanda palmer loves, it’s being hot and unclothed around a bunch of strangers talking about their feelings).
it’s on a mountaintop and only about an hour drive from our house, it’s a beautiful upstate new york/western mass resource for recharging if you’re into that kind of thing, and they have dorm rooms with shared bathrooms if you’re traveling on the cheap.
it looks like this – in summer, that is…..
the history of the place is winding…it used to be a jesuit monastery, then it was a legit hippie ashram in the 70s, and then when that fell apart (for the same reason that many of those joints in the 70s did: because one of the main dudes in charge was boinking everybody, hashtag go figure #communes #metoo), it became a basic all-encompassing spiritual retreat center with a lean towards buddhist/eastern philosophy.
anyway, this weekend i spent the weekend with a great writer i’ve been reading for years, stephen cope. he’s been teaching and writing about yoga and buddhism in the area for decades (i’m pretty sure it was anthony who first gave me one of his books in my 30s, called “the wisdom of yoga” – recommended, not flakey/woo, very practical and readable.)
i didn’t know what to expect of the weekend, i just knew he was teaching a workshop so i signed up, and the content of the sessions that we (about 50 of us) pondered couldn’t have been more relevant to what i’m working on right now: the stage show, and trying to figure out how to be the most authentic version of me i can possibly be when i get on that fucking stage in a few weeks.
stephen is an accomplished pianist – you get the sense that he still struggles a little bit with the fact that his calling drew him away from the piano and towards writing and teaching – and he’s taught a lot of classical folk, because tanglewood (the world-famous country/summer home of the boston symphony orchestra) is right across the street from kripalu.
we talked a lot about music, and how musicians get into a state of flow. how you practice and prepare, and practice and prepare, and practice, practice, practice….but when your ass is on the seat on stage – you must let go: something else takes over. if it doesn’t, and you stay in the mode that’s attached to perfection, you fail.
the main thing that trips up a musician is any focus on the OUTCOME.
(this is, by the way, a metaphor for all of life).
i’ve been thinking about that a lot with this particular tour, and this particular record.
to be honest with you, i’ve never, in my career, been less interested in the “outcome” of a record release. the outcome has already happened. the record is the record i wanted to make. the stage show is the stage show i want to share, and then…things will happen that are beyond my control, but that’s exactly what they are: beyond my control. all i can do is bring the fire to the stage and then close my eyes and jump. the net will either appear or it won’t, but i’ll be absolutely fine either way: i’m never harmed anymore, by critics, by anger, by shows not selling out, by people leaving the show and telling me i am Going to Hell….all of this stuff is beside the point.
the point is that i’m doing it.
the patreon has helped me with this lesson in ways that i feel i’m only just starting to understand. there’s something so SECURE about having this audience here, this tribe, this crowd. there’s something so safe, and known, like my future is already written – and therefore ignorable – because i don’t have to spend my art-time and art-consideration fretting about WHO WILL CARE, and WHO WILL SHOW UP and WHO WILL SUPPORT ME. you are. you do. YOU ARE ALREADY HERE. it’s like the security of having a marriage that’s lasted forever, or a family who you know will always bail you out if the shit hits the fan and you lose your job, your savings, and your health all at once. it’s the feeling of unconditional love and security.
one the main themes of the weekend was DOUBT. a lot of peopke in the workshop were currently on the horns of some kind of dilemma: a job, a divorce, a life change, a death….
and the opposite of doubt. i’ll get to that in a sec.
stephen used the bhagavad gita (the yogic epic-story equivalent of the bible, written around 200 BCE), and a bunch of quotes and thoughts from famous poets and authors (robert frost, annie dillard, goethe, emily dickinson) as a jumping off point to talk about what religious folk in all traditions have called “sacred duty” for millenia.
or, put another way: what your “true calling” is. how you find it. how you KNOW. the buddhists call it “dharma”, which could be loosely explained as…well, not “fate” really, but more the essential PERSON that you are, which leads onto what you should be doing WITH that person you are. this goes beyond “i was born to be a painter”. it could be what you’re supposed to do as “work”, but sometimes your “job” isn’t the main focus of your life and path. a lot of people i know enjoy their jobs, but their “calling” – the thing that gives them a passionate fucking zest for life – sort of lies outside their paid-work realm.
the opposite of doubt:
flow. mastery. certitude.
getting back to the musicians, and the state of flow…we talked about how charismatic, how attractive it is, how enthralling it is, when we SEE people who are fully living out their “dharma”, their “scared duty”, their CALLING. you know it when you see it. it has nothing to do with “greatness” or celebrity, although you could point at RBG or martin luther king or michael jackson or glenn gould or anthony bourdain or serena williams and say: they are fucking IN IT, they found it, they HAVE it….they are following their calling. it could be the person next to you in class, it could be a teacher, a plumber, the IT person at the mac store…you just know it when you see it. when a person is flowing in life, embraced and embracing. not fighting their spot, doing their thing, FULLY ALIVE.
we talked about that wonderful combination of knowing what you’re meant to “generally” do colliding with the call of the times….the context in which your particular weirdo personality and idiosyncrasies fit in with the current shape of the world, the tetris-board snapshot, the politics of the times. how we live in context, and nowhere else.
i don’t know how many times i’ve said, in interviews with magazines over the past month, that “this isn’t really the record i wanted to make or write. my life happened and the times demanded it.”
which, now, to me, seems like a really chicken-shit answer, and totally not true.
was there some “other” record i wanted to make, and this one swooped in an usurped me? no: there wasn’t even really a plan A. i’ve just been doubting myself. enough. this is the record i made because this is the record that WANTED to be made, here, now, in my life as it stands, in trump’s america, in the context of the here, and now, the 2019-ness of it all.
stephen noted people: leonard bernstein (who he was lucky enough to see conduct his final concert before dying, and apparently he was wheeled towards stage with a cigarette in one hand and an oxygen tannk in another, GO LEN….). harriet tubman.
susan b. anthony.
this actually stopped me dead in my tracks and led me to start thinking of some of the rare times in my life, starting at childhood, that i have seen people and felt this.
and it delighted me, that at age 42, i’d never really stopped to make a list like this before.
so i slowed down yesterday and started making a little list in my head for myself, and was going to write it down in my journal…but i decided what the hell and i’m going to just write it out here for you.
in no particular order.
as a child…
my choir-master, jerry. he was IN it.
prince. or so i thought. i really wonder about that. but it appeared to me, at age ten, that he was fully enlightened.
brother blue, the traveling storyteller who came to our schools.
mister rogers. seriously.
while we’re at it: most of the muppets.
they all have their extreme “them-ness”, and uniqueness…and they ARE THAT THING. THEY DO THAT THING FULL-HILT. they’re all fully magnetic and unapologetic. rolf is just so rolf-like, and embraces it so fully. so does miss piggy. they all do. they are just THEM, yas queen.
as a teenager…
anthony (who i write about a lot in my book). he moved next door and was clearly hammering out the essence of who he was, and learning to embrace it.
in high school: my latin teacher, doctor fiveash, and my french teacher, madame girondel. both totally embraced and embracing life. and steve bogart, my drama teacher.
while at college….almost nobody, really. which explains part of why i was so miserable there. and to add insult to injury, i was walking my annie dillards fucking classroom every day and had no idea who she was or that she was teaching at my university. fucking hell.
in my early twenties, i remember being with my boyfriend will, who was fully immersed in restoring and riding motorcycles. i remember riding on the back of his bike through cambridge, observing how incredibly conservatively he drove, how he took every turn and flipped every turn-signal with such incredibly mindful care. i was, meanwhile, crashing my car all over the place. i had that sense: that he was following his dharma, that he was totally in the zone, at peace, fused with his bike. i’ll never forget that thought. (zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, anybody?) i remember how deeply ATTRACTIVE it was, to be that close to someone so closely fulfilling their dharma.
also in my twenties: seeing marcel marceau perform mime live on stage at the ART in cambridge…
seeing blue, the puppeteer street-performer in harvard square….
meeting/seeing herbert brun, the experimental composer, shortly before he died…
and then there were the concerts i saw that really stuck out in my mind…nick cave, the cire, the legendary pink dots, michael gira of swans…all of those were expected, i was a fan….
but there were a few unexpected moments of “HOLY SHIT that person is totally and completely un-self-consiously CRUSHING IT….
one was seeing warren ellis front the dirty three on his violin…good LORD…
one was seeing shannon wright playing guitar somewhere in a tiny club in boston….i remember seeing her stomp stomp and scream with no shits to give. and i was like….jesus. how.
and one was seeing anohni (then antony) performing before she was famous, at another tiny club in boston….in like 1999. i was just in awe of the mastery she had over her presence.
and seeing baby dee, at a little club on the lower east side, a few years later…a musical experience that felt so spiritual that i even wrote a song about it (which i gotta make a patreon-funded video for one day…this song wound up sort of lost to history)
in all of these cases…it wasn’t even about the sounds coming out of their mouths or instruments. it was just about how COMPLETELY PRESENT and full of intention, mastery, conviction, authenticity and LIFE they were.
it wasn’t even that any of the above people were HAPPY – many of them didn’t necessarily appear happy.
but all of them appeared to be DOING WHAT THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING.
and a few last ones:
my cousin helen, who just turned 101 a few days ago. she survived the warsaw ghetto and lost most of her family to the gas chambers….and found her calling and sacred duty after coming to america and teaching holocaust studies. she lives it completely.
another recent one….
seeing BJ miller speak about losing him limbs and finding his dharma, his calling, as a doctor.…and as a hospice worker. i remember sitting there, watching him talking, and thinking: this is a person who has figured out who he truly is.
now that i’ve started, i think i could go on and on…..
the floodgates are opening…..
i wanted to turn it over to you.
reading this, and thinking….who are the people, the moments you’ve gotten to witness, where you’ve been with someone who’s fully living their life as it seems to make sense, in that moment?
anyone. a lover. a friend. a musician. a teacher.
someone who was fully in their life, in their dharma.
have you ever felt it yourself? what’s the closest you’ve ever felt to being this aligned with your true calling, your now-now-now-this-this-this-THIS sense of purpose?
i know i feel lately when i’m taking care of ash which actually gives me a really decent dose of full-life-living all the time. i felt it at the women’s march in sydney. i felt it when i played “voicemail for jill” for the audience in iceland. i felt it shopping at target the other day for snowpants.
i feel it, in short, way more often than i used to.
the mundane can be spiritual, mofos.
i’ll be excited to read these comments.
p.s. tour dates, reminder…portland show #1 is SOLD OUT. i added another night on june 9th, those tickets are going great. i’m focusing right now mostly on the first two weekends of tour: DETROIT, MONTREAL, TORONTO, D.C, and PHILLY, because i have a felling that once people SEE the show, they’ll get it – it’s hard to explain. and then we’ll be off and running. all dates here: http://amandapalmer.net/shows/
p.p.s. this is the book that stephen cope just published about this stuff, i think many of you would enjoy it. i also recommend his books “the wisdom of yoga” and “yoga & the quest for the true self”. all great reads, and highly accessible even if you’re never stepped onto a yoga mat. these aren’s books about stretching your body. they’re more about….the sort of stuff i wrote about above. life philosophies and wonderings.
——THE NEVER-ENDING AS ALWAYS———
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