There’s been a little shakeup here at headquarters, so I thought I’d challenge myself to fit a big journey onto a small page.
Some of you might wonder why a musician seems to only blog about movement and silence. Like maybe I was hacked by some new-age cult. I assure you this isn’t some woo woo, crystal-smooching seance blog.
Sometime around October 2016, I found that I had grown quite edgy and irritable with the torrents of unwanted information I allowed into my personal and work space. When I’m not on the road, I work largely from home.
The omnipresence of social media, its version of “the news”—and my reactions to it—began to morph into an unbearable stench of dung. And you need a mighty big shovel if you want to get ride of that elephant in the room. So I began to delete my primary social media accounts and embark on a mission: 60 straight days of yoga classes followed directly by my first 10-day silent meditation retreat.
Rascal philosopher Alan Watts once said something like: Yoga is not for self-improvement. It is the one thing we do for its own sake. I love this. And it’s a big joke. Of course we want to improve. And we try too hard. Then we try not to try so hard. Then hopefully we realize that we can’t force something that is meant to evolve slowly and naturally with steady pressure.
And damn, it does take time. I should be way the f*ck better at handstands by now. And my Corpse Pose is not nearly “corpsie” enough. But I needed a solid daily practice that at least softened my craving for the quick fix of useless distractions. It just feels so good to have a regular practice.
After a while, returning to the mat just felt like the right thing to do. I see it as a pragmatic and sane response to an insane world. After completing the challenge, my very first thought was not so much one of vindication or victory, but far more sobering: “Okay, I guess I just keep going to class now.”
Then I packed up and left for 10 days of quiet.
Silence is golden. Perhaps. But if sitting meditation were all rainbows and unicorns, a lot more people would be doing it. It seems all light and airy until you really sit at length with all those sticky, gritty details of your inside noise. I’m no ascetic or monkish renunciate. I just wanted to treat it all plainly. Like doing errands.
Or like taking a shower. You’d never think: ”Gee, I didn’t feel very spiritual today in the shower.” It’s a shower. It’s practical and good for hygiene. And yes, sometimes it feels sublime. Other times, there’s no hot water. Or sh*tty pressure and you leave soap behind your ears. But you show up anyway. Viewing moments of pleasure and discomfort with equanimity sounds really cute in a blog, but holy hell…it ain’t easy.
Looking back, it was undoubtedly peaceful. And edgy. And challenging. The women were separated by a narrow aisle from the men—prompting me to spend at least three hours recalling my years at summer camp and the massive lake that divided us by gender. All the sitting was intense. My legs nearly fell off. And one evening there was a huge, wide halo around the moon. Mount St. Helens wore a flamboyant hat of pink and blue. And it snowed. Twice. I went for a ton of slow, quiet walks in the frozen lower meadow. And felt an uncanny sense of friendship with myself. Oh yeah. Just being alive. Right…there’s that.
The practice for me has ultimately been about carving out the time to hone the quality, tone, and rhythm of transitions. And to be more present with every interaction I have with others. Full stop. Be it from one chord, breath, conversation, dance, or deadline to the next.
In the end, it was such an oddly comforting feeling to settle into that to-be-continued, false-summit, no-finish-line quality of it all. Just keep practicing. Because we change and we don’t. But there is indeed more openheartedness. And less selfishness. And yes, more of a subtle gap or space around thoughts, judgements, and emotions. Oh, and the pleasure of keeping a slow-burning curiosity amidst a very fast, troubled, and complex world.
See you in class.
Author: Zak Borden
Image: Penelope Dullaghan Illustration, with permission
Editor: Travis May