Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 2009 - Dark & Light

On my 18th Birthday my Mother lost her 2 year battle with cancer. She died that night at the young age of 38 years old. This left me relatively alone in my life (as far as immediate family) and also opened a huge door into what I call "the void", the birthplace of all creative potential. I lingered around New Jersey for another few months trying to come up with a plan. I couldn't bear the idea of staying in the town of my High School and my Mother's gradual decline. My Bavarian roots in the German & Austrian Alps birthed a curiosity into what the Colorado Rockies might hold for me. And songs from John Denver and Dan Fogelberg stirred my imagination as well.

In the middle of winter I set off on the road in my beat up old Buick La Sabre that I had bought 6 months earlier for $250. But it died in a blizzard over the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. I continued my journey, but I took the long route. I wound up hitch-hiking over 30,000 miles up and down and across the United States over the next year or so. I had no money, all my belongings (mostly music books and some clothes) fit in my backpack and I still had no "plan". Hitching west was tedious and lonely until after passing through Kansas City. Then suddenly the sky and my mind simultaneously burst open in a great panoramic expanse. There was nothing but nature to be seen from one end of the horizon to the other. And so began the next chapter of my journey. My sleeping bag and the roadside became my home, food became my only expense and luxury, and the road unraveled endlessly before me with a diverse and often dangerous cast of characters. What I did, experienced and learned on the road is a whole other story which I won't get into here. But I will say that it contained everything one might imagine, hope for and fear from a very long and spontaneous road trip.

At 19 years old I found myself in Boulder, Colorado. I was hired as the second pianist playing for a University of Colorado Theatre and Dance Department production. I was paid $50 for 10 weeks of rehearsals and performances. That's $5 per week. I guess that's why they call it a labor of love. It wasn't the money I was looking for anyway. I was looking for something to be a part of. I wanted to "belong". I slept in the foothills in the early fall in my sleeping bag, and as the weather got colder I slept in the bathrooms and dressing rooms of the Theater building until the Director found me out and invited me stay with him and his family at his mountain home for a period of time. After the production ended, so did my welcome at his home. I started to pick up a little extra money playing piano for dance classes and at some lounges and restaurants around town. Soon thereafter I felt very fortunate to rent a room in a basement apartment on "the hill" in Boulder with 4 other guys.

The entire apartment had dirt floors, a single small bathroom, kitchen, 4 small rooms and a boiler room (the dreaded 5th bedroom). We fondly called our apartment "The Pit" and it became known for it's unusual assemblage of musicians, spiritualists and transients. True Bohemia. We shared the $150 a month rent equally at $30 each and I considered myself fortunate to have my own back entrance and to not be sleeping in the boiler room. The guy who slept in there and would emerge every morning soaked in sweat, swearing off the night's heat. I, on the other hand, lived in relative luxury in comparison. I had my own hand made platform bed, sleeping bag, alter with candles, incense and fruit bowl and an old upright piano I was struggling to pay off. I had one tiny little window up on the top of my bed that looked up onto the alley and driveway that I covered in stained glass, creating my own private sanctuary. I loved my room in the Pit.

I spent a lot of my time reading spiritual books like Autobiography Of A Yogi, A Course In Miracles and the Bhagavad Gita. I regularly practiced Tai Chi, meditated, chanted, listened to Keith Jarrett, Paul Winter and Oregon albums and played the piano. Fasting was a good way to get thru those lean times plus it made meditating and chanting that much deeper of an experience. 10 day brown rice fasts were common for me in the cold months and 4 - 7 day water fasts in the warmer months where I would often meditate over 4 hours a day. I had no possessions other than my piano and didn't feel motivated to do much except to explore my present and my muse.

I would imagine that in reading this it would be easy to see this as a very simple and even esthetically pleasing lifestyle. I had no apparent responsibility or agenda. Even in writing this I'm amused at what a nice neat package it presents itself to be and how at this point in my life it sounds almost like a little retreat from the much more complex world I currently live in. But this recounting of my past wouldn't be accurate at all if I didn't interject at this point that I had an ever-present, urgent and intense inner longing to touch upon something that felt "real" and "essential" in my life. Something with content and permanence. I craved experiences and relations that were meaningful to me at the time and that could shed light on the deep feelings and sometimes unbearable aloneness that I experienced on a daily basis. This near anguishing and persistent inquisition into trying to understand not just my place in the world but also this culture and world's place in the universe, motivated everything I did or didn't do and in so many ways still does today.

One night during a longer fast I was sitting on the dirt floor of my room meditating when I noticed this high pitched ringing sound in my ear. I decided to "listen" to it. Then I noticed another lower sound and I decided to listen to it as well. As I continued to listen there gradually appeared more and more tones. I noticed that the more I listened, the more I heard. I also noticed that there were different sounds in different ears. I kept listening and kept expanding my sense of awareness and after a while I found myself immersed in a very deep experience of hearing the most amazingly beautiful atonal noise or sound that i could ever have imagined existed. It was everywhere. I was attentive and focused on it and consumed by it at the same time. It was a phenomenal opening experience that I returned to many times in my meditations for many years. I later found out that my experience was actually of something called the Celestial Harmonies or the Music of the Spheres. A mystical experience of a deeper dimension. The sound of the Universe. The "Word". Once again, another door into the void was opened within me. And this set the stage for the creative exploration which would drive me forward for a long time to come.

I learned that music, light, dark, life and all creation simply exist. That we are creation living within creation. I also learned that to truly witness or experience creation and ourselves within creation we need to slow down, unravel, stop and listen. We need to empty ourselves of our thoughts, beliefs, desires, pains AND triumphs. We need to let go of our concepts of duality, of light and dark; of expanded and contracted and just sit with that sometimes awkward and uncomfortable emptiness that we try and avoid, sometimes for our whole lives long. We, as a culture are always trying to fill ourselves with people and things. Sometimes it's obvious that we try and fill ourselves with anything just to distract ourselves from something else, like a deeper, less comfortable feeling. What if we stopped trying to "fill" all the time and started to "empty". What if we let go of whatever thought, idea or longing that we thought was so important? And then, what if we just allowed that space or void to be there? In my experience, in so doing we've created a void. We become in some ways an empty "container" that in so being sends out an invitation to the "divine" or "essence" to fill this intimate space within us. This is the raw potential or experience of Creation. This is the courtship and dance between the void (emptiness or darkness) with creation (energy or light). And through that experience of emptying and allowing ourselves to be filled, we are forever changed. And this, as human beings and artists, is what we have the opportunity to share and express.

There are many of us filled with this experience. Some are musicians or artists. Some are authors and speakers. And some are teachers by example and simply touch family and friends from this essential place. I've been fortunate enough to know many musicians, artists and humanitarians that travel within this precious experience. But what we often forget is that truly knowing and embracing ourselves is a process that involves light and dark, energy and emptiness, beginnings and endings, joy and sadness. There cannot be one without the other. And without both there cannot be wholeness. The affinity and dependency of darkness and light is true primordial love.  It is the passion from which we were conceived and the devotion through which we will dissolve.    All that exists is the consequence of this enchantment . . . this eternal balance of dark and light. www.peterkater.com