This is the first post of a bunch about my adventures in Europe.
I had the privilege to be the drummer for the Blue Man Group aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s EPIC ship, where we cruised through the Mediterranean for four months. The EPIC is basically a huge floating city, complete with enough cabins for 5,000 guests, 1,700 crew, 22 restaurants, a pool deck, water slides, a sports deck, rock wall, outdoor mega-screen club/bar/sundeck, a spa with wet and dry saunas and hydrotherapy pool, passenger and crew gyms, outdoor jogging track, comedy club, Cirque tent, casino, many bars, bowling, art gallery, Crew Bar, and of course, the EPIC theater, where Legends in Concert would perform Tuesday thru Thursday, and the Blue Man Group would perform Friday thru Monday. There was no shortage of fun to be had on the ship….
But this post is about what we did in port. We sailed the same route each week: Sunday was Barcelona, Spain; Monday was at sea the entire day; Tuesday was Naples, Italy; Wednesday was Civitaveccia, Italy: the port nearest to Rome; Thursday was Livorno, close to Florence, Italy; Friday was Cannes, France; and Saturday was Palma, Majorca, an island just off of Spain. Then it was back to Barcelona on Sunday to do it all over again. Barcelona was where the whole adventure began for our cast. We were all flown from our respective home cities to Barcelona where we had one night, followed by a 6am call the next morning to catch the bus into port, where we would first board the EPIC.
I spoke to my friend Riad- the only tabla player I know of in Orlando- and after I told him about my 40 Days of Drumming, he said, “Oh! You’re doing a chilla.” Now I knew the word- so, some quick research, and I found this definition:
“In Hindustani classical music, chilla or chilla katna is a stage of training or ritual where the student is fully isolated from the outside world and lives for music only. Some musicians spend long periods of their training in varying degrees of isolation and describe these as their chilla; for others, it’s a shorter, more extreme retreat, traditionally lasting 40 days. In either form, it is thought to have the power of transforming not only the student’s music, but his whole life. Chilla is widely used in the Punjab gharānā (school) of tabla playing.
Abdul Karim Khan, a singer of the Kirana gharana, described chilla as “lighting a fire under your life. You either cook or you burn. If you cook, everyone can enjoy your flavour – otherwise, you’ll be a mass of cinders, a heap of ash.”  -excerpt from Mickey Hart’s book, “Drumming at the Edge of Magic”
…so I’m just hoping that I don’t end up “a heap of ash”… Wish me luck!!
It’s time for me to make the Big change. In myself, in my life, in my drumming.
This year, I just turned 40. The Big 4-0. To celebrate, and to help invite that change into my life, I’m going to undergo 40 Days of Drumming. I will eat, sleep, and drum. That’s it. I will not be logging on to Facebook, I won’t be texting anyone, I won’t utter a word to another human being. I will be in isolation from the rest of the world, alone with me and my drums. My mom and dad have graciously offered up their home, and to help out with my food during this time. We still have to work out the details, but in a sense, they will be providing room and board. So I can simply go to the fridge and grab something to eat, then get back to drumming.
I want to re-invent myself as a drummer, re-invent HOW I approach the drums. I want to learn to play the drums in such a way that I can still play when I’m 80.
When this whole thing started, I kept thinking of it as Zombie Meditation Camp. Everyone wakes quietly at 4am, while it’s still basically night out, and gets ready in their own way. Some shower, some stay in bed till the last second, some brush teeth, but the wake up call is obviously not easy for most of us. Then the hooded zombies silently, and in single file, shuffle our way to the meditation hall. In this darkened hall, we all have 24″ square cloth-covered foam meditation cushions arranged neatly in about 12 rows front to back with 3 per row on the left for the men, and 4 on the right for the women. Our names are printed on pieces of paper where our assigned position will be for the next 10 days. We receive recorded instructions through a speaker system by the creator of this particular course, S.N. Goenka. Most meditation sessions begin with a recording of Goenka chanting the words of Buddha in the old language of India. He has a very low, resonant voice, and again, it’s more chanting than it is singing, so at times the sounds are unfamiliar, (“aaaaahhh, at the back of the throat”), and some of them almost very guttural. I begin to hear words that sound like english words pop out of the chanting…. “naked,” “Johnny say a hey hey,” some Japanese words, “manko (vagina),” “ato wa (next),” “anata (you)”, and a couple of things sound like Ewok speak: “Gu Du Gu Du,” “wally wally, jup jup”.
Here I am, on the other side…
It’s 2:21, in the Philadelphia Airport. My flight leaves at 6pm for Boise, Idaho, where I’ll spend the next 6 days with my parents.
The better part of 2 weeks ago, I sat in a different airport, a different man. I’ve now experienced things that have changed how I view the world, and my relationship to it, and it’s all good.
It’s as if I can feel all my fears coming to the surface…
I’m sitting in the Savannah, GA airport. The time is 5:11am. I haven’t slept. Stories of child murders, Boston bombings, and other stories in today’s horrific news resonate through the nearly empty terminal. Last night I sent one suitcase, and my trusty ‘tour’ bike home with Wes Day- one of the blue men here on tour, who was driving back to Orlando, and in fact is probably already there. I’m headed somewhere different…
You’re quite a lot to deal with. So persistent, and non-yeilding, yet your lessons remain true, again and again.
You see, the world has gotten to a place now where so many people have forgotten you. Our world, our media, our smart phones, our TV ads for “EVERYTHING YOU WANT- RIGHT NOW!” can cause us to forget about you, Patience.
I’ve been doing yoga almost everyday now for about 6 months… why am I not a sculpted Adonis yet? Why hasn’t this load of dedicated time brought my energy levels back to kindergarten levels? Why do I still feel tired some days? I thought it would all be better by now…
But, alas, Patience, you are here patiently waiting until I calm down to quietly remind me that “this is not an overnight process. Everything good is happening, and it’s all coming. Just be patient.”
It’s amazing to me that at 39 years old, this is still such a hard lesson for me to learn. But Thank you Patience once again for your lessons.