On Banging Gongs & Basses

les claypool

So, I recently took up the bass guitar.  I quit Facebook so as to have more time with family and farm,which also freed up some time to pursue some creative aspirations.  Yeah, I was on Facebook way too much. Now,  I’ve always loved the bass, and I have some good friends who are bassists.  Even some that have managed to make both a name and a living at it.  And, of course, who *isn’t* a fan of God Himself, Les Claypool, shown above.  (If you don’t know who Mr. Claypool is, please stop reading this and go away.  We simply can’t be friends anymore.)

I originally thought I’d tackle the guitar first, then the bass.  Well, that was stupid.  I bought myself a really nice ESP guitar and tried to get busy, only to be thwarted every time I picked it up.  Those damn strings were just so thin and, well, stringy.  I was constantly in fear of slicing my precious little digits.   I needed something with some girth, some meat (alright, settle down over there in the gutter).  So, I picked up a wickedly wonderful Dean Edge 5 string.  Because, you know, I’d be a pro right after picking it up and would need a 5 string. Right?  Right.  

Anyway, I was so immediately happy with this new bass, that I was knocking out some tunes pretty quickly:  Every Breath You Take, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, and a couple of others. I had forgotten how much of a pleasure it is to play something. In school, I played the alto sax and every now and then I sit down to our piano.  Our 12 year old is far superior to me at that.  She’s got a real ear for the piano.  So, anyway,  to pick up this bass and start taking off right away has felt wonderful.  

I’ve been trying to practice at least an hour per day.  During that time, I’ve noticed something.  One is that the best sound out of those thick strings often comes from a softer, more delicate touch.  Trying to hammer out a note with force is often counter productive.  So it is in conversations, isn’t it?  I know that’s the case for me.  When I don’t feel heard or understood or respected, I’m far too quick to raise my voice.  To exert more force.  To become more stern and aggressive.  As if speaking in such ways would hammer out understanding and respect.  What is that saying about hammers?  When it’s all you carry, everything starts to look like a nail.  The opposite is really so much more successful:  A soft voice, a kind word, a peaceful countenance, is so much more likely to bring about mutually beneficial communication.  And it sounds so much better than banging gongs, dissonant notes, raised voices, and the like.

Of course, I’m a slow learner but I’m remembering this a bit more frequently these days.  About every time I hit a string too hard, but even more so, every time I hit it just right.


Anger, Part II (or, why I sold my guns)

ImageThis post is going to be a bit difficult to write.  It’s about guns.  And it’s going to be difficult to write because this topic can so easily be divisive, polarizing, political.  But what I want to say applies just to me.  That’s one thing I really dig about Buddhism:  It seems to me that Buddhism is an accepting and nonjudgmental system of belief.  Evaluate what works for you.  Try it on.  Test it out.  If it doesn’t work, move on.  No biggie.  Don’t accept things blindly just because some smiling chubster said it was so.

Anyway, I’ve always been a gun lover.  My father was a cop.  I grew up in the military.  Guns were always a part of my “culture.”  And, following an event years ago when I was a therapist, involving a deranged patient, guns became a very intimate part of my everyday life. I convinced myself that they *needed* to be part of me for my intrinsic well-being and for that of my family.  They became a large part of my identity.

The only problem is that I as I started to delve further into Buddhism, I noticed two things:  First, I have a huge anger problem.  Second, one of the aspects of “Right Action,” as one of the core teachings of the Noble Eight Fold Path is to abstain from killing.  Regarding the first issue, it’s not like I was having a hard time refraining from shooting people.  It wasn’t like that at all.  However, I did notice that there was a connection between being around guns and not being at peace.  Between packing heat and being able to respond to other humans with unconditional positive regard and without suspicion.  I felt like I always had to have my guard up, I always had to be alert.  I’m not saying that this is a bad thing *in general.*  It’s wise to be aware of one’s surroundings, to be sure.  I’m just saying that for me, it was starting to cause problems.  It was keeping me from being settled.

Secondly, the admonition to not kill was causing me a moral dilemma.  I was looking to people like Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama who have been two very powerful forces for peace specifically *through* their nonviolent stance.  I began to wonder if my attachment to guns  (as well as my saturation in the gun culture) was prohibiting me from fostering peace within myself, within my family, and within the world around me.  The image of a would-be Buddhist, sitting on the cushion to meditate, while having a .45 strapped to his hip just seemed terribly incongruent.  “I want to be at peace with every living thing, but I also want the ability to blast the shit out of something that is a threat to me.”  Those two thoughts, at least in my current evolution of thought, don’t seem to be able to live together.  Maybe they can, and I’m just myopic.  I don’t know.

Now, before anyone decides to start a debate about this, let me again say this:  These are just *my* thoughts about this matter as they pertain to *me.”  I am not making any judgement at all about anyone else’s beliefs.  In fact, I’m still not completely settled about the matter, especially in terms of self-defense:  I live out in the middle of no where, and law enforcement are slow to respond.  What if my wife or children were in danger?  What is my obligation to protect them?  What is the best way to protect them?   On our farm we occasionally have coyotes that can threaten our animals.  Wouldn’t it be prudent to have a firearm to protect again them?  These are questions I still struggle with.

Whatever the answers, I know what I want.  And that is to live a life that is at peace with myself, with my loved ones and with the world in which I live.  And at this point in my life, I’m willing to do anything to accomplish these goals.  I know that, since I’ve gotten rid of the arsenal (well, everything except the 12 gauge anyway – coyotes and other predators really piss me off), I’m a lot more peaceful.



First, let me say that I mean no disrespect to the Dalai Lama or anyone who reveres him by posting this meme.  For me, it illustrates a very important belief that I’ve always carried around about anger, which is that if you make me angry (and underneath that anger, at least for me, is usually hurt of some kind, often based in fear), I have to retaliate.  I have to defend.  I have to strike back.  And I usually did.

But why?   I’ve had such a problem with anger.  And I’ve had it for a very, very long time. As I started to explore Buddhism, I found a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, simply titled “Anger.”  In it, he wrote this simple piece:

When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we suffer. We tend to say or do something back to make the other suffer, with the hope that we will suffer less. We think, “I want to punish you, I want to make you suffer because you have made me suffer. And when I see you suffer a lot, I will feel better.”  Many of us are inclined to believe in such a childish practice. The fact is that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides.  Both of you need compassion and help. Neither of you needs punishment.

When you get angry, go back to yourself, and take very good care of your anger. And when someone makes you suffer, go back and take care of your suffering, your anger. Do not say or do anything. whatever you say or do in a state of anger may cause more damage in your relationship.

Most of us don’t do that.  We don’t want to go back to ourselves. We want to follow the other person in order to punish him or her.  If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist.  If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire.  So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.

It’s that bit about the “house on fire” that really got me.  I’d much rather run after the arsonist and beat the shit out of him instead of tending to the house of my person – my mind, my emotions, my body – and getting that fire under control, so as to minimize the damage being caused.

As soon as I started to meditate on this, an interesting thing happened.  I stopped getting so angry at everything.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Some people can still push my buttons and get me in a fit of rage.  However, it’s not nearly as bad as it was.  For example, it used to be that whenever some slow schmuck wouldn’t get out of the left lane so I could speed by, I’d ride his tail aggressively, and when he finally did pull over, I’d glare hard at him.  Now, not only do I not do that, but I find that I don’t even speed as much.  Well, most of the time, anyway.  What I discovered, and this probably isn’t any big surprise to anyone but me, is that the only reason my house was burning is that I had been dousing it with gasoline.  So, whenever any spark came close to it, it practically exploded.  My house was burning because of me.  It wasn’t on fire because of an arsonist.

Now, my house is covered in flame retardant material.  Now, if someone lights a match near my house, either intentionally or while just being careless, it’s far less likely to burst into flames.  That material is created by mindfulness and meditation.  By taking care of myself like I never have done before.

It’s nice to not be governed by anger all of the time.