Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Heartlands: Notes Before a Premiere

As we approach the premiere(s) of "Heartlands," now less than a month away, I find myself struggling with tension, anxiety and worry. The premiere of a major piece of music which I wrote is bringing out anxiety caused by inherited latent perfectionism (thanks, Mom) and worry about my future. I want this to be the beginning of a new musical, not the end of one. So, pre-concert jitters, nerves, and worries.

Just to be clear, not all this tension and stress is negative. I'm also excited, breathless with anticipation, and hope. It's all mixed together. There is joy and gratitude in the mix as well.

Thus I must remind myself to let go, relax, breathe. This has been a very stressful period of life—not just because the mixed tension/anticipation regarding these concert premieres, but because of everything else going in life, as well. It's worth remembering that I wrote "Heartlands" in and around an episode of a chronic illness reaching its climax, followed by major surgery, then recovery, and gradual, slow return to something like normative health. It's worth remembering that all of this happened at the same time, all intertwined, and that none of these journeys are ended. Gratitude and fear are part of that mix as well.

My anxiety is partly because of the upcoming concert premieres—it's excitement and anticipation as much as it is worry or anxiety, as I said—and partly because I still am making no progress on moving forward with my medical journey. That's been stuck and causing me suffering for many months now, with no end to it in sight. I have been ignoring it recently, to some extent, focusing instead on the music and the arts-related career, doing marketing and website building and other tasks related to building this future. A lot of the time, as a result, emotionally I've been living in the future or the past, not the present moment. I've been coping with all this by making art, making things, making photographs, video, writing music, and more. It's a way to stay in my body most days, and not be lost to worry and anxiety. Sometimes temporary distraction is the correct response to an unsolvable problem.

I've been having many nightmares lately, and remembering them when I wake—anxiety dreams, really, stress dreams which I wake from already feeling tense and anxious. Starting off your day already tense is not wise.



Last night, though, in the last dream before waking, I encountered a Native American elder at a musical instrument store, who blessed me with tobacco smoke from his pipe. This musical instrument store, which I wandered into as it was adjacent to another store where I was friends with the owner, had several vintage Chapman Sticks for sale, and I was enjoying talking to owner as a player with inside knowledge about the history of the instrument. Then I asked to use the bathroom, and when I emerged I met a talkative Native man who seemed aware of that normally-hidden side of my self that is bound up with shamanism and spirituality; he took me over to another part of the store, or a place connected by the same space, where a quiet Native American elder was seated with his wife under a canopy, a square of tanned leather held aloft at the corners by wooden poles, decorated with feathers and beads. This elder took his medicine pipe and blew smoke over my body and aura, blessing me. This morning I woke from that dream, still aware of the anxiety I have been feeling lately, but aware too of feeling "talked to" by the spirits. Shut up and accept the blessings you've been given; shut up and be smoked; have faith that despite all your trials that you are indeed on the right path, the sacred way, the proper road for your life's purpose. When dreams are this lucid, this clear in their message, you'd best pay attention.



Part of me would love to run away, right now, spend time by the ocean, in the Florida Keys, in California, or spend time alone in the deserts and mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona. Time in the desert, time by the water, are good for clearing out the mind, for ridding oneself of mental clutter, for recharging those inner batteries, storing up serenity inside oneself that can last for awhile. I need a nature break. I could use a short camping trip, maybe nearby, since I'm too busy before the concerts to spare much time or energy. I have to remind myself to seek out peaceful places, near to home as well as far away, to find rest and solace of spirit. I have to remind myself to take time away from Everything to just be. Be still. Meditate. Rest. Recharge.

I find partial escape by looking at and preparing for printing those photographs that I have made in the Southwest, and by the Pacific. The images can take me back in memory, at least somewhat, and I can hear a little of that desert silence that I find so healing and refreshing, whenever I travel there. Some of the most healing moments, out in the desert, miles from anywhere, have been when I pull over, turn off the engine, get out of the truck, and just stand and listen to the silence for awhile. More than once, I've found that stillness, that silence, to be so refreshing, so penetrating into my mental clutter, so relieving of the stresses of the day, that ten minutes of desert silence are worth about a month of talk therapy. The outdoors is my refuge.

"In wildness is the preservation of the world," said Thoreau. Also the preservation of my psychological well-being.



Yesterday towards late afternoon I went and spent an hour in the Japanese garden a few miles from home. It was a windy day, full of fitful clouds and changing light. The beach at the manmade lake nearby was full of people, all ages cooling off from the high afternoon heat of the day, screaming kids, a volleyball game or two, and elders sitting peacefully in the shade offered by the thick trees. I went along the water's edge till I reached the Japanese part of the gardens, and spent the rest of my time there. People came through occasionally, but I had it mostly to myself for long stretches of time. Just the sounds of wind in the trees, and the water splashing in the waterfall and creek next to the open-sided meditation hall. Rustic, designed like an tea-room, with a latticed round window to the east, two walls open, two walls with benches for sitting.

I spent a long time at the meditation hall, just letting tension fall away. As I always do when in the japanese garden, I made some photographs—but photography for me is a form of meditation as much as it is art-making. And this time I shot several video elements which I will later assemble into a garden meditation video. I already have an idea for the music track: a shakuhachi solo with meditation bells, that I recorded a few months ago for a meditation CD, Darshan. Or maybe something newly recorded, but in that style. Music that is almost motionless, in contrast to the high winds recorded in my video shots.



I will go to the meditation hall in the garden again soon, if I need a break in the late afternoon. I don't have time to take a long roadtrip right now, not with my musical commitments reaching a peak level. But I can take short nature breaks, meditate out in the woods and gardens. I have to remind myself to do this, to cope, to maintain a level of serenity that enhances everything I do. Just keep breathing. Just keep swimming. Just be.

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