Day 7&8. Yesterday started out so good. I felt connected, albeit a bit tired in the morning – “dialed in”, so to speak. Did a bunch of work, which felt good, identified moments where I started to feel anxious or stressed, and took breaks when I needed to. I didn’t feel like I was overdoing it. I cancelled a zoom call with a friend because other things were popping up that seemed more urgent. I was quite pleased with how well I was dealing, and adapting, and not snacking even though I REALLY wanted to. I even did an interview in the evening, which was really lovely.
And then I slipped. Right back into those old patterns – I could watch myself do it. Could see myself hit “next” and “next” and “next”, watching mindlessly, eating endlessly. I saw it, and all my work of the days prior seemed for nothing. Even though in the morning, I even found a new pathway for my mind to walk on when it went to that place where all it wanted was to numb itself: “When my mind and body are resting within each other, I am at peace, I am free.” Pretty good path, I thought.
And still think. And I think I’m beginning to realize that this is where the true magic lies: In understanding that slipping doesn’t mean stopping – or it doesn’t have to, anyway. So even though when I woke up this morning, I was feeling pretty horrible, beating myself up on top of feeling physically a bit wrecked (there is such a thing as snack-hangovers, believe it or not), it didn’t take much to bring me back to a place of acceptance and compassion, and of thinking: Yep, that happened. And it will likely happen again. So let’s do it all again, today, tomorrow, the day after.
To be fair, I have a pretty favourable situation going on here: All I have to do is step out the door, and I’m in the woods. By the lake. Looking at the mountains. The creek. Eagles up above. Cougar poop down below. Sweet tree scent all around. Regardless, me being okay with myself within a matter of a 45 minute walk is pretty huge. And this, too, might change again – it might take me a couple of days, or a week, or two. But I’m learning that, although it sometimes feels like I didn’t learn anything, and am going right back to the start when I fall into these dark places, that’s not actually the case. I make a little headway every time I get back up, think, reflect, feel, love myself a little harder, give myself a little more credit. Sometimes the steps feel huge, and sometimes they feel reversed, but they’re always happening. And to be honest, that’s all I could ever ask for. It feels like movement in the right direction.
Day 4. I think. I’m a little surprised how well I’m doing with this seclusion. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying that – maybe I jinxed it now. Anyway. As with everything in the world right now, day by day seems the way to go.
Today. What was today like. Creative, I’d say. I was able to get a little work done, but mostly I was reading, resting, and writing. And listening to music. It still baffles me at times how little of that I do, considering my background. But with this virus situation happening, music and how artists express themselves is changing, too. A friend from the good old Vancouver open mic days offered a house concert through Facebook live. How lovely that was. Saturday, one of my favourite artists of all time is doing the same thing through Side Door Access – said artist is Dan Mangan, who is also a cofounder of this pretty sweet project that usually connects artists with people who want to host house concerts with them, and is now facilitating online shows for little money. Which made me marvel once again at the opportunities we have with this amazing medium, the internet. Such potential.
I’m tired now, but it’s the good kind of tired: The tired after a day of nourishing productivity. I want to capture that, so I can come back to it later, and remember it, when I fall back into the kind of tired that makes me want to disconnect and numb myself, rather than truly rest and relax. Because I will. But the good news is: I know I will also keep trying to change. So there. That’s pretty good.
Day 5. Surrender was the first word I wrote down today, and it suits. I was supposed to get my work computer brought up to my „quarantine quarters“, but somehow – miraculously – something got lost in translation and I didn’t.
Two things happened: I panicked (a little). And then I gave in. Not on my own accord, not at first. But eventually, I got it. And then something marvellous took place: I went from not knowing what to do with myself („What does that even mean – resting?!“) and guilt („Everybody else is working their butt off, and I’m supposed to just do nothing??!!“) to literally doing just that. I was just sitting there, with my tea, looking out the window. And even though this has been a practice of mine pre-quarantine, it never has been as effective as it was today. Except for maybe the first couple of days. Probably because my tendency can be to let my practices turn into something mechanical, automated, pretty quickly.
The amazing thing was, just sitting there allowed me to realize that I am, indeed, quite tired. Throughout the day, there were a few moments like that where I was doing something – working, reading, writing – and noticed that I wasn’t really “in it”. The same thing, I found out, happens when I mindlessly stare at social media, or Netflix – which also ties in with that good old binge-eating habit I recently discovered. And I know this isn’t breaking news for anyone, but today for the first time it hit home for me that doing nothing is not something that we’re taught, or that’s in any way encouraged in our society. We’d rather have a phone in our face, or on our ear, or a freckin fidget spinner in our hand than to just be for a minute. And I understood: THAT’S why I’m so damn tired all the time. Because it keeps my mind busy without me even noticing, which keeps my body tense, or my hand reaching into that nut jar over and over and over and over.
Of course there are also other aspects to this – like the urge to keep comparing myself to how much others are doing, and feeling like I’m not doing (but really: being) enough, or my anxiety around what others (but really: me) are expecting of me and how I’m being a disappointment, and the need to feel needed and useful (but really: loved) – and those are all true and valid and so in need to be looked at. But my biggest win of the day is to have made the experience of truly. Just. Doing. Nothing. And how invigorating that can be. And that maybe what’s being asked of me at this point in time is not to exert myself to the point of exhaustion, and to find ways to expand my energy so I can “do more”, but rather to really pay attention to what it is that I need to be healthy, happy, and whole – to surrender to my body’s wisdom, and to be grateful for the circumstances that allow me the space and time to do just that. I’d say that’s pretty good for a Wednesday.
Day 6. I felt like today was a bit of a test run. I got set up with my work computer, and the urge to just delve right back in was definitely strong. Thankfully, though, and not least thanks to many wise people around me, I managed to “stay with it”, as they say around here, for the bigger part of the day. I worked, in good measure, I took breaks, I ate, I went for my first walk in 6 days, I read, I talked to friends and my Grandpa. I listened to some live music and marvelled once again at the potential of our technology. And that’s where it got a bit hectic, too, because I also really wanted to work on my book reflection… alas. Babysteps. I am immensely grateful that I still have a few days to keep practicing, to keep discovering and building and fortifying these new pathways for my mind to walk on instead of the old ones that don’t really work all that well anymore. And I recognize how privileged I am to be able to do that, held by this wonderful community and the beautiful land around us. So I’m ending this day feeling blessed, and with a full heart. Thank you, Universe.
So here’s how this works. Usually. I meet up with people, we have a beverage of sorts, most of the time coffee and or/tea these days (I do live at an ashram now, so, you know) and we talk. I record. Then I go home, and an undefined and very variable amount of time later, I sit down, transcribe the interview (and those of you who know me likely have an idea of how meticulous I can get with those kinds of things – I’m talking pages and pages of notes) and then, after reading the transcript over and over and over because in the meantime, life is happening and so much time has passed that the beginning of it all has been buried under day-to-day happenings and, you know, Netflix, or whatever, I hopefully have a moment of inspiration and sit and finally write the article (probably using about a quarter of my notes). That’s the gist of it. Usually.
With Sam’s article, part of this happened. The undefined amount of time between our chat and me finally getting to sit down and work on the recording was a timespan of about three months. And a bit. That is – while by no means my ideal – not unusual these days. Thankfully, my interview partners are very kind and gracious people, and very patient with me. As I’m starting to listen to past-me and past-Samuel , sitting at the surprisingly non-generic JJ Bean on Commercial Drive, Vancouver in November 2019, I’m realizing: Usually doesn’t work with this one. I’m only eight minutes in, and already veering off into research heaven, listening to this artist and looking at that project, following this link and then the other… for whatever reason, talking to Samuel – and now listening back to that conversation – opened up a whole string of intuitive thinking and, hence, writing. So there ya go. Bye bye transcript. Who needs usually, anyway.
Samuel has recently become a Dad, which is the first thing we talk about, and this major event, just as it is in Samuel’s life, becomes the thread of our chat. Bear is now a year old – at the time we sat down to talk, he was getting ready to crawl, super curious about the world, “smiling a lot and babbling”, and trying different foods that his parents would offer, but really his favourite was still Mama’s milk. Bear has very much become one of Samuel’s main sources of inspiration – he doesn’t have to tell me that (although he does), it’s so apparent in the way Samuel talks about his son. The love and connection are palpable. So it comes as no surprise that, after having recently released his latest album Know by Heart, his next project is dedicated to his child. Inspired by Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, Samuel is writing a concept album, to convey the passage of a human life from birth and infancy to maturity, touching on topics like “death, the afterlife, eternity and transcendence”, the idea being that his son will one day listen to this album and understand who his father was during this period of his life, and how he thought and felt about the becoming of a person, a human being.
Talking about the new album Samuel’s working on also means talking about the Acoustic Guitar Project that he participated in last year. Originated in the States, the series is curated in Vancouver by no other than our friend Michael Averill, and basically entails an acoustic guitar (Duh!) being given to a bunch of amazing artists, one week at a time, in which said artists write a song, record it, and then perform it at the end of the season. In 2019, the final show took shape as a very engaged, very intimate house concert with all the participating musicians and an audience of about 20 people.
When Michael handed the guitar to Samuel, who took it with him on his bus ride home to Dunbar Village in South Kits, a line came to him:
“Back into the river – I’m destined for the ocean”
This was the beginning of Ancient Current, a song talking about the concept of death, which is going to be part of that “one story” of the forthcoming album, a puzzle piece within the overarching narrative based on, among other concepts, Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with A Thousand Faces” – or, for short, the Hero’s Journey, which, coincidentally, I had spoken to Waya Aeon about a couple of months before (another one of those shamefully delayed interviews you’ll be reading here soon! For real!). Another is that of the Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail, representing the never-ending circle of life and death. The idea of the Bodhisattva, based on the assumption that everyone is an enlightened being, living this particular life to learn whatever lessons there are to learn from it, to then take it forward into the next life, is another aspect Samuel wants to bring into his album.
All these symbolisms, ideas and myths have been with Samuel for some time, ever since he ventured away from his inherited background of Christianity around the age of 14, exploring ideas first around time travel, then moving on to philosophy, which he ended up taking quite a few courses on in college, and eventually picking up on Buddhism, which is now his main spiritual practice.
Samuel’s family moved to Canada from El Salvador when he was five, and he grew up in Port Moody, where most of his closer family and many friends still live, and where the young family just moved back to.. Both Samuel’s parents love music, and so it comes as no surprise that he would pick up some sort of musical activity at some point. He started out learning the piano, mostly following his parents’ suggestion, and someone the family knew from church kindly donated an old electric organ that he could practice with at home.
It’s interesting how church played a pretty central role in Samuel’s formative years, despite the fact that he lost touch with the Christian religion in his teens: “It just didn’t land with me, the bible”, he remembers. Yet when he finally picked up the guitar (after a waiting period imposed by his Dad who, sensibly, wanted to be sure this was the “real deal” before plunging into another potentially expensive musical endeavour that might become uninteresting a couple of years later, as eventually happened with the piano), he did so because he was inspired, among others, by a Christian Nu Metal band called P.O.D, and his first guitar teacher was also someone the family knew from church. “So I guess church has been more influential than I realized”, he muses.
To learn to not just play, but also about the guitar as an instrument, as well as other guitar players like Santana and Facundo Cabral (we will come back to that guy in a minute) – their ideas behind music, and to realize that they were asking the same questions he was, was what inspired Samuel to seek meaning in other places than the bible. “As human beings we seek meaning”, he says, and Samuel’s journey certainly speaks of this. So ultimately, his proclaimed Guru and entrance into spirituality really is music.
“Music is life, is my teacher, is IT for me. Buddhism has now become the distillation of it, and is my practice – but it’s music that really fuels my life.”
From getting his first guitar – an electric, much to my surprise – Samuel pretty much went straight into playing in bands and writing his own music. Which was – surprise again – Psychedelic Rock. His band, formed under the name Free City Collective, which eventually merged into No Century, while currently on hiatus is something he still misses a lot and hopes to eventually get back to. For now, however, he’s focusing more on his solo work, and switched over to the acoustic guitar for that purpose. He doesn’t feel like his style is completely changed due to this, though. “My electric, psychedelic stuff is the electric and delayed and loud version of the questions that I would ask with an acoustic guitar, so it’s the same spectrum for me.”
When it comes to writing, Samuel is following his heart – and with that comes whatever is happening in his life whenever he’s working on a project. Earth Heart Hum, his solo debut that came out in 2015, reflects back on a time when he was expanding his understanding of reality, and spirituality – “the non-dualistic fabric that I live in”, the relationship to the metaphysical “that we’re completely unaware of, yet we’re completely immersed in”. Know by Heart, the latest project and released in 2019, is true to its name and talks about Samuel’s “heart in this world, love and service – and gratitude”. Bear’s birth has a lot to do with this: “Him being birthed into life, into this earth, into this world, was the greatest example of life happening before my eyes.
But as that occurred, it also struck me: Whoa. My life is now very limited. Before Bear, it was like: ‘If I die tomorrow, I die. It’s just what it is.’ But now that he’s here, it’s like: ‘I don’t wanna die just yet.’ I have a lot to teach him, a lot to give him – hence the music and this message of this album. I just wanna do things for him before it’s too late. Cause you never know when you’re gonna go.” Part of that is to teach Bear about his heritage, and that’s where we’re coming back to Facundo Cabral. (I’m not gonna lecture you on what I read on Wikipedia, you can go there yourself, lazybum).
What’s striking for me is how Samuel finds his way from his socialized-into religion to Buddhism back to his ancestral, Latin-American roots. He feels like part of his journey will be to carry Cabral’s inspiration forward into contemporary music, and to keep this art form alive that is based off of oral teachings, of passing on traditions, myths, stories that have been around for eons – not only in the mystic traditions leading to Enlightenment in the East, or through the cognitive, psychological illumination of the West, but from the South: Africa, Australasia and South America all have extremely rich cultures and traditions based on storytelling – artistic Enlightenment, Samuel calls it – and that’s what he is trying to accomplish – and quite successfully so, I think – with his music, and this new album project for his son. To “write an album that’s my own journey, but that’s universal enough that (…), when I’m gone one day, (…) he can turn to it and really feel any message that I could give to him.
“It’s the distillation of any wisdom that I could ever give my son. Through art. That’s what this album is. It’s my hand reaching back through the physical reality to tell him that I’m always here.”
I could keep writing this story and not be done in weeks, but I also don’t wanna take away your fun of digging into all the amazing things this guy does – and there’s a lot out there. Did you know Samuel is also a visual artist, as well as an art therapist? No? See? So. I’ll leave you to it. I, for one, am listening to Samuel’s music – again – and I’m still finding new nuances, new words, new things to think about. Usually, I don’t linger on the same songs over and over and reading into meaning of lyrics from different perspectives. But like I said: Usually doesn’t seem to apply to Samuel, or his art. A word of advice: Use this time – and I have a feeling many of you might have some extra on your hands right now – amp up your headphones and lay back on your favourite chair/couch/yoga mat/forest floor, and let Samuel’s music take you on a journey. And see where it takes you.
Day 3. Today, I’m mostly grateful. To be in the place I’m in, surrounded by the people here, held by their support and loving kindness. I feel privileged, and humbled by the fact that life goes on without me. And I actually mean that. Part of my stress level, I realize, is created by the idea that if I don’t do, like, all the time, things fall apart. Wherever that came from. It’s not a very attractive attitude to have, if I’m being honest.
I mean, of course there is that whole thing about wanting, or rather: needing to be needed. Because on some level, I believe that if I’m not needed, I’m not worthy of love. I wonder: Is me thinking that I’m indispensable a symptom of that pattern? It seems like a strange coherence. Or maybe not. If my modus operandi has been to make myself irreplaceable – which has definitely been my go-to when it comes to work, and extra-curricular activities before that – to guarantee I would always be needed somewhere, then I guess that feeling of having to do it all is kind of an inevitable result of that. Plus, having a bit of a thing around wanting to be in control plays into that, of course. But that’s a different story.
There I go again, one might think, beating myself up. But it really doesn’t feel that way – it’s more like looking at a case study about someone else, a research object, something neutral. It’s quite fascinating, actually. Anyway. What I come away with is, hopefully, a little more uplifting:
The sheer fact that, despite my being “useless” to the world at the moment, people still support me, send me messages, bring me food, thank me for being safe. Nobody’s told me that I’m a fraud, or lazy, or a burden – quite the contrary. I have people around me who, while going through similar experiences, encourage me to keep working with these patterns, and are present with me on this path. I have friends whose love and support I can physically feel holding me, making me warm and fuzzy inside. And I have myself – my beautiful, strong body, and my crazy, but pretty amazing mind. Who, while still very much a wild child in a lot of ways, has also been opening up to me and is becoming more of a friend rather than something I’m scared of, or weary about, or just plain angry with (because it felt like something completely out of my control) a little bit every day. Or at least every other day.
So there you go. Life is happening. And if I manage to watch it, rather than just immerse myself in the business of “doing”, I can see its beauty. That’s pretty good, I think.
So here I am, quarantined for the next 10+ days. The thing I thought couldn’t happen happened, and although I can’t know if it’s actually the Corona virus that’s caused my being unwell, or just exhaustion, or allergies that I didn’t know I had, or a cold – it really doesn’t matter. The fact is, I’m out for a while. Somewhat, anyway. Pretty amazing what’s possible in terms of being productive while really one shouldn’t be. Or being actively unproductive, and just “keeping busy” so I don’t have to deal with whatever is really going on.
To have a look at that, and because it seems like all the rage to post stuff from self-isolation/quarantine these days, I thought I might as well use my time to share what’s happening with anyone who would care to read it. Make of it what you will. If it takes your mind off your own isolation for five minutes – even better.
Day 1. After my morning shift in the ashram kitchen, I felt pretty knackered, as I had been for a few days. Nothing out of the ordinary, considering I’d been running on high voltage for about a week, since the reality of this pandemic hit our little community in earnest. High levels of anxiety, stress and a will to “take care of it all” all taking their toll, I thought. And not enough exercise, since the gym was now off limits, and eating too many snacks to dampen the anxiety. So that pain in my chest was probably just a mixture of reflux and pack pain. Regardless, being the hypochondriac I am, I took my temperature, and sure enough, it was elevated. I got scared. Really scared – not so much for my own wellbeing, but mostly because about half of the population of the place I live in and have been making food for for the past weeks belongs to the high risk group – over 65, some with impaired immune systems. What will I do if one of them gets sick? Or worse?
I call our First Aid and Incident Response teams, and then I wait in line for about an hour with the BC HealthLink, only to be told that I won’t be able to get tested because I’m neither hospitalized nor a Healthcare worker. Which makes sense, I know, yet my impulse was to yell “don’t you know I may be responsible for someone’s death?!” at the poor guy on the other end of the line. Alas. I didn’t. That’s a start, I guess.
It was decided I should move into a self-contained (mostly) unit with its own bathroom, so I packed up half my things with the firm intention of making the most out of the next two weeks. By the end of that, I was close to a breakdown. I kept messaging people in my community – my friend Danni, who is ever my ray of sunlight, no matter how dark things get, Swami Padmananda who was my first responder, and Gauri, who brought me my most important things, gloves and a mask so I could move house safely. Thankfully, I didn’t have to go far, just to the building next door. I did run into one course student, wearing my mask, and panicked a little: Are they gonna get freaked? What happens if they have to end the course early because of this?
So now I’m here, unpacking, grateful for the beautiful view from my quarantine quarters. Next door I can hear Swami Sukhananda unpacking her dinner – she came back from Europe yesterday and is self-isolating for two weeks. I feel bad, but that’s mostly a mental constitution at this point: guilty for letting our chef down who just lost another cook due to this, and was counting on me. Guilty to let the finance team down, who is also self-isolating and was counting on me to be their eyes and ears and legs in the office. Guilty to be another person that needs to be fed every day, three times a day, without being able to contribute. Just useless, overall – and I was supposed to be the one “taking care of things”. Feeling sorry for myself, basically. All the while receiving all these lovely messages from my friends and community members, supporting me, telling me everything will be okay. I try to focus on that. And on the Robins chirping outside. Maybe tomorrow it’ll work.
Day 2. It doesn’t. I wake up feeling somewhat better physically, but ten times worse mentally – because I overreacted. Or at least that’s where my mind goes, immediately. I shouldn’t have said anything, I should have just calmed down and went back to work. What is our poor chef gonna do, I wonder, who was already overwhelmed and had no time to do any of the admin work he desperately needed to do? What will happen if he gets sick? Why did I have to do that?
It’s a bit harrowing, and the immediate response is to go to default and distract myself. Now the struggle will be to deal with THAT for the next two weeks. I’m terrified of it.
Much later, I look back on a day full of bingeing both food and distractions. There is no denying that I’m exhausted, and although I like to tell myself otherwise, I’m pretty sure I made the right decision in not ignoring my symptoms. If I hadn’t tapped out now, something else might have hit me that much harder eventually. As much as it sucks, this is my reality now.
When I finally came out of my bingey pit of despair sometime in the afternoon, I realized that all my guilt and shame and frustration really came back to the fact that I don’t have a terribly high opinion of myself. I can’t know whether other people think I’m lazy, or faking, or overreacting – but I know that I do. Concepts of value, worthiness and productivity are so intrinsically linked in my brain that it’s hard to feel anything but terrible about being sick. Even when I recognize that not tapping out could have had effects even worse than my “letting everyone down”.
And I know I’m not alone in this. I was speaking to my teacher today, who’s dealing with the exact same issues – and she’s around two generations my senior. Something she said stuck with me: “We’re all really dealing with the same things. There are only a few.” Not that this makes the struggle any less real, or painful. But it reminded me that I’m not alone, and that there are people I can ask for help, or advice, or just vent to and they’ll know what I’m talking about, because they have similar experiences. And that maybe sharing during this time may help other people, too. And that’s not all that bad of a feeling to have, at the end of the day.