I have a complicated relationship with Buddhism and Taoism. I find some of their teachings to be the most important things I have ever come across, but I find their practice to be tedious. I am unable to meditate for any length of time without falling asleep. I understand that in Buddhist monasteries, one monk is assigned the job of patrolling the meditating monks with a stick. If somebody falls asleep, he or she gets whacked! This has kept me away from any Buddhist retreat! If I attended, my spiritual awakening would be abrupt indeed, and colored black and blue!
I enjoy just sitting alone and watching, however, especially outside in nature. I’ve always enjoyed being by myself, and I especially enjoy working on my music. I’ve never found music or practicing to be boring. Tedious, maybe; but boring, no. Though I don’t meditate, I find my musical experience has taught me a number of the same concepts explicit in Buddhist practice. I especially have found improvisation to be instructive because it is absolutely imperative that the improviser focus intently on the present moment without judgment, and without expectation or looking ahead.
I have found solace in the work of other artists who have been influenced by Buddhism but were too committed to their art to pursue an ascetic life. The Japanese poet, Basho, continues to be an inspiration. His poetry and especially his travel journals are a source of wonder and joy. I also have been influenced by the writing of Jack Kerouac, and have read his Dharma Bums several times. I enjoy the work of Gary Snyder, and find his environmental poetry especially moving, instructive, and personally challenging.
When the Covid pandemic broke in earnest, in early 2020, my wife Leslie and I spent most of our time in our home south of Ash Fork, AZ for the first time. We were both retired, and the house is on 22 acres so we figured it was a good place to “isolate”. In fact, as our neighbors say, isolating is the point! When we settled in, it was probably the closest thing to an ascetic lifestyle I had ever experienced. I was putting together this album at the time and found myself imagining what it would be like leading a monastic life. Any meditating I tried ended up in la-la land, but I enjoyed the solitude, the quiet, and being close to nature.
The MORNING BELL calls me to spiritual practice. The next two movements center around two of the common hindrances to contemplation. The DRONE OF INNER DISTRACTION are flitting thoughts which bound around and through our mind and distract our concentration. We are taught to allow them to pass, unhindered. The DRONE OF SENSATION refers to the constant bombardment of sensual data - sights, sounds, itching, discomfort, cramping and aching legs, sweating, etc. All of which we are taught to examine and allow to fade. Easier said than done. The AFTERNOON BELLl signals lunchtime!
Quiet contemplation allows for the attention to be given to things not normally given much focus. SOLAR DRONE refers to how the sun’s path across the sky gives a different sensation to each part of the day. The WATER DRONE refers to the contemplation of water’s path on its way to and from the ocean, and also how it provides nourishment to all that it touches along the way. Here in Arizona, where streams are a “sometime thing,” the typical water cycle involves the trickling of water through an evaporative cooler, returning the water to the air and sending it through the house. The EVENING BELLl announces the end of the day. Time to wake up.
Glenn Stallcop is a composer, pianist, and a long-time double bassist with the Phoenix Symphony. He has recorded many
albums of piano improvisation over the last 20 years. He is a well-established composer with over 100 published works for orchestra, chamber music and vocal works, solo piano and double bass....more