Stamina Is My Strong Suit: Two Shows, One Night

Seattle, Washington. Here we always do two shows in one night. We play around 7:45 for 90 minutes, and then we play at 11:45 for another 90. This time, Angeline and I also played three Hendrix songs with the opener, the amazing Daniele Gottardo, in front of the second set.

That’s a lot of drumming in one night. I love it and also sort of dread the physical exertion. Usually, I just keep thinking of the amazing audience and want to give them my all. I take on the challenge. The challenge isn’t the drumming, as I feel as though I could play drums into infinity, much the way I feel about driving or swimming. Stamina is my strong suit. The real challenge is in being focused and connected for that long. I want to give it all on stage through two sets, to give the audience in the first show the best of me, while saving enough to give the audience in the second show the best of me too.

When we play Seattle, we’ve usually played in Portland the night before. So if I have gotten six hours of sleep then the gods have been with me. Often it’s less, since Portland is a late night and it is notoriously hard for me to sleep after I’ve performed. It’s as if drumming just winds me up. This time, I think I made it to about six hours, so I was happy when I woke. I immediately felt the anticipation of what was coming, the strenuous night ahead.

I sat in meditation for a while. I saw that my breath was uneven, my heart a little faster. On a three-day weekend of shows this is natural. I am driving and loading the van and having fun with the girls and soaking up all their amazing and sparkling energy, meeting people and seeing friends, and in meditation I see the way it all energizes me. As usual, I just observed it, and worked on falling into the stillness below it all.

I see how delicate we are as human creatures. I see how this busy weekend, with the extra physical exertion, the additional human contact, the lack of sleep, how it all creates a little chaos in the physical body. My breathing is shallow, as if I’m panting. My muscles are held tense. Deep down there is a clenching and tightness that must be so fatiguing. I must get so tired during the day making such an effort to just hold myself together.

In meditation, as I observe my muscles holding themselves so diligently, I see them release. I feel my blood seem to wash through my body easier with the relaxation. My breathing deepens. My thoughts, running non-stop about all of the things to come in the future of my day, keep running, but I don’t hear them as clearly anymore. I see them up there, on the surface, as I sink below as if I am sinking to the bottom of the sea. It’s a wide sea of consciousness, peaceful, still, and quiet. I play a game, in which I hear sounds in my environment: the slam of hotel door, some voices of the cleaning crew, the hum of the building, and I sink below those sounds. Beneath sound is another sound, a kind of white noise that lies quietly beneath. As I find that sound I fall deeper into the still consciousness, and rest.

How delicate the human being. Our minds keep us moving, thinking of the future, caught up in the past, so we don’t even notice how are bodies are reacting to all the stimuli. We don’t even notice that we are tightening up, stress that keeps us strung like a big rubber band. There is social pressure, economic pressure, stress from the news, the big picture, the small annoyances of moving through the world. Our delicate systems get wound up, our minds race faster and faster, our bodies absorb and twist and contain it all until we break.

I want to remember this. I will be empathetic to every person I meet. What a battle they might be fighting.

There is no stillness built in to our modern lives. This is the value of meditation. This is the value of prayer. The value of one day a week in which we turn off all the screens and just be with one another. The value of one night a week of quiet, of reading our way through dinner instead of watching the television. The value of a hike in nature. The value of finding quiet however you can find it. We are more delicate than we know.

Anyway, I got up from my short meditation and moved through the day. I drove us back in to Portland and we ate at our favorite restaurant there, Prasad. Then, three hours to Seattle, through rain and great conversation. Then, loading in, setting up the drums. I got a chance to walk through Ballard a little and saw all of the gorgeous restaurants that have sprung up there. It looks like Paris now, with small, elegant, beautifully lit places that smelled so good. I saw people happy and connecting and felt good about the world. I longed to stay and try each one.

I’m not sure how to chart the way I deal with playing these two sets. I have played them with a focus on expending all my energy and the second half of the second set I am holding the sticks like a cavewoman, and just bashing the drums with absolutely no finesse. Flinging my arms at the drums as the muscles scream.

This time, it was not like that at all. When I found myself feeling fatigue, or seeing that I was pushing myself too hard, I just sank down. I listened to the music and I found a place where I fell deep underneath the sound of the bass guitar, a place where the music enveloped me in a stillness. I felt the pulse of the guitar and saw where I was tense in holding the time steady. I just let go and let the music play me. I kept scanning my body, looking for tension and finding ways to release it. I thought about dynamics, about holding back and then exploding into passages for emphasis. At times, I heard my mind but let my thoughts roll through without reacting to them. I guess the extra energy I was spending on holding myself tense let go a little, and I now had even more energy to spare for these two sets.

When I finished the second show, I felt calm, happy, strong and energized. It did feel different than it ever has. Of course, the audience and their energy was like a warm bath. My love for the people I play with buoyed me up. I felt the stillness at the center of it all and how it is at the center of each of us. I marveled in how deep our connection, and as always, how music carries us to our common heart.