Playing Live

Being a very integration-oriented spiritual tradition, Buddhism often invites you to discover opportunities for practice and insight in ordinary, daily things. Like – for example – the passing of clouds which might inspire a reflection of impermanence, or on the temporarily obscuring aspect of disturbing emotions.

I’ve always found it most inspiring to look at life and the world in this way. It sort of guarantees that nothing goes to waste; that everything I do reflects where I am and what I am and that practice is not a matter of locking yourself up and excluding yourself from the distractions of the outside world, but just the opposite: going out there and discovering what is essentially true and real by looking into the things you experience.

A nice example of integration of practice and daily life is playing live on stage with my band. You might even better call it an example of something normal that turns out to be the same as practice.

When you are about to go on stage to perform in front of a crowd, most people get nervous. Even if people say they do not, they probably are, but they just enjoy it – which is a very good thing. I hear a lot of really famous artists telling in interviews that even if they are used to performing in front of immense crowds in huge venues every night, they will still get a bit nervous (that’s the adrenaline kicking in to save you from the impending live threatening experience). This feeling get’s you on the edge and enables you to perform. But strangely enough, this is not the only feeling that rises up.

Out of this tingling, nervous experience described above, it seems like your perception, your headspace is clearing up and becomes larger and more spacious. You could compare it to being in some sort of ‘zone’, which is I believe also a term frequented by surfers. It just feels like your mind empties itself, just like that. There is (almost) no effort or conscious, decisive thinking involved: things seem to flow, just automatically. You are almost not aware of what is going on while you are in fact very much and very actively part of it.

Being in the spacious state is of course very pleasant and comfortable (although you are actually so spacious that you will not even realize that it’s comfortable or anything like that, you might be able to understand that it generates a happy mood, a clear state of being) and that such a state could very well be perceived as ‘nice’. But as soon as you start actively thinking about stuff like: “how does the beginning of that song go?” or: “what comes after the following riff?” or: “oh my god, I can see my parents standing there!” everything falls apart.

Does this remind you of something? It did with me it reminded me strongly of meditation. The sometimes exalted state before you start to meditate; the empty, blissful state during meditation; and the confusion that occurs as soon as you start actively thinking about what you are doing.

Other people I spoke to, in order to check, experience the same. I even checked with my band mates – who aren’t all practicing meditation, but what they described was exactly the same as what we are talking about here. The empty state on stage enables you to play while being completely open. It also allows you to connect with the audience, to feel the atmosphere and (hopefully!) the enthusiasm.

That is why it is so important to be on stage completely, in your totality as a human being. Otherwise it’s impossible to connect really with the people in the audience. Maybe you could call it a form of compassion, feeling what people need, but also recognizing what they give, and letting this interplay feed your performance.

The funny thing is that when you gain a little experience, just as with meditation, you can use your practice to change the environment. You can actually change the atmosphere in the venue, you can grip the audience and take them to where you are, bring them up with you. In meditation you can experience this when you are practicing in a group. You inspire and elevate one another. And, just as in meditation, when you pay too much attention to petty little details surrounding you (strange noises, people sneezing, or the examples of thoughts you might have on stage as given above), you lose it and your practice (or for that matter your performance) might fall apart.

But, more and more you practice, more and more you learn, and my wonderful teacher Sogyal Rinpoche always quotes: “meditation is getting used to”. By just sitting down on your cusions and not getting disharted by negative experiences or no experiences at all, you gain stability, you get used to unexpected things happening. The same goes for playing live on stage. Slowly, by doing it again and again, you get used to the lights, the people, the unexpected things that happen, and the stability you gain enables you to enjoy the experiences even fuller, to be more creative, and to grow.

Its funny how some things can look so different, but turn out to be very much the same. Ah well, Metal, Buddhism, playing live and life in general: it’s all simply practice.

By Melle Kramer

[Origineel artikel op preciousmetal.wordpress.com]