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#2003 - Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - Editor: Jerry  




Just back from Wales - with some haiku!  


~ ~ ~  

Exclusive to The Highlights:

A Welsh Gunsaku (haiku sequence)


by Gabriel Rosenstock


grave inscription …

          nothing but lichen

                   a curlew calls




sheep answering sheep

          the mist





Eglwys Llanfaglan

          with nowhere to go

                   grave-slabs endure the rain



a cow looks over

          Caernarfon Bay

                   without knowing why



a lone daisy in November

                                      lights appearing

                                                among the hills



night falls

          on grave slabs –

                   fresh voice of the plover




the year on the gravestone

          fainter still

                   after today’s wind





misty valley

          trees sprouting

                   one at a time



the moaning of cows

          darkens the waters

                   of Caernarfon Bay



chewing the universe

                                      mountain sheep

                                                in mist



so still

          growing out of a crag

                   a sheep



out of the fog

          more fog








offering their dew

          to a winter sun

a hundred reeds or more



sheep disappearing

                                      stars coming out

                                                the voice of a waterfall



the blue stillness

          of morning

                   unbroken by birdsong



a low sun …

          shadows flee

                   across battlefields






                   a wood in Anglesea





a tree that fell

          and didn’t fall

                   another supporting it




a raven comes out of the woods

                             to look at the world

                                      and returns




the universe expands

          wild geese honking



Excerpt from a new book:

Awakening to the Natural State

by John Wheeler

Chapter 31: Is This for Real?

Questioner: You must understand that I cannot help but ask you, “Is this for real?” My spiritual search has only intensified over the years, though I keep it mostly very private these days. I spend the majority of my free time alone reading: Ramesh Balsekar, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Wei Wu Wei, Wayne Liquorman, Tony Parsons, etc., etc. I am deeply immersed in this teaching pretty much constantly, though I’d say probably not a single person in my life is aware of this consuming passion of mine. I have read several of the pages on your website and the words you speak/write seem legitimate and in keeping with what I have come to recognize as true advaita, but I am also cynical beyond all description by now. Is it so? Have “you” reached this understanding? If it is, what have I missed? What is the piece I am overlooking? Can you tell me? It is quite clear to me that there is nothing more I need to understand, but it is also clear to me that I have missed the thing entirely.

If this understanding has indeed occurred for you, I am happy for you beyond my ability to express. And in any case, I wish you well and thank you for your website.

John: The articles on my website are about the best I can communicate in words my experiences. Most of that stuff was written in sharing with people via e-mail.

The best way to share this, though, is through talking and meeting in person. Even talking on the phone seems to be better. But e-mail and written words are at a least an attempt to provide some hints and pointers.

It sounds like you have been moving in some pretty august company, as far the as the teachings you have gravitated towards. This reminds me a lot of where I was prior to my meeting with Bob Adamson. I eventually sought out Bob Adamson because I had a strong resonance with Nisargadatta and was hoping to meet someone who had been with him. 

I had a strong desire to meet someone who I felt could talk from direct experience about this. I saw many contemporary teachers, but most, if not all, did not really seem to be living in the full experience of freedom. There were elements of clarity and freedom, but also other non-essentials mixed in, which was confusing. I knew intuitively that if anyone had truly realized their true nature beyond all doubt, Nisargadatta had done so. So meeting one of Nisargadatta’s living students and talking about all this was an incredible experience. 

In meeting Bob, there was a dramatic shift, and it seemed to be just what I was looking for to bring me across the “final mile,” so to speak. You eventually see that there is literally nowhere to go, since your true nature is here and now, nor is there anyone who needs get “there.”  Bob was able to make the understanding very immediate and accessible for me. In a few conversations, things that I had read and thought about were suddenly clarified in a direct way. Literally, there was more understanding and growth through a single conversation with him, than several years of reading and meditating on my own seemed to be able to generate.  Much to my amazement, I found that different aspects of the non-dual teachings were unfolding in my own experience and first-hand understanding. And it was much simpler than I had imagined.

The books and teachings can tend to obscure the immediacy and simplicity of this. The mind, even in its most noble attempts, tends to make things more complicated. That is why it is so valuable to be sitting face-to-face with someone who really knows what they are talking about. It cuts through all the irrelevant stuff and brings you back to the immediacy and availability of understanding your true nature fully in the present moment FOR YOURSELF.

After about a week and half with Bob, I discovered the spiritual quest was over, that knowledge of my real nature was clear and solid, that there was not a possibility of losing this understanding. Also Bob’s teaching definitively exposed the roots of ignorance, bondage and limitation in a profoundly clear way. Once the mechanism is exposed and is seen through, it is over, and you can’t really go back to the old state. It is all about direct, first-hand experience. Once you see all this for yourself, the search is done. The need for books, retreats and teachers is over. They are all pointing to this understanding of who we are. Once that is your experience, you don’t need the pointers anymore.

I myself had come to a point where I almost didn’t believe it was really possible to reach this understanding. Fortunately, I was wrong!

Bob said that Nisargadatta put him beyond the need for further help. Bob did the same for me. And so it continues. Bob mentioned to me later that if what I had discovered through his teaching was meaningful, that I might consider talking about this with others. That has resulted in my attempts to share this.

I just want to emphasize that this is all MUCH, MUCH simpler than we ever imagined. You can definitely and conclusively know your true nature and realize your natural state of freedom. It is not a matter of time or effort or waiting around for it to “drop out of the sky.” It just takes a little bit of clear seeing. It is really a combination of the clarity of the pointing and your desire to be free.

Some key points to consider, by way of review:

Your own sense of existence-awareness is immediately known and available at all times. It is not an attainment. There is no technique or process involved. You cannot gain it or lose it. It is here now. Knowing this fully is all the enlightenment there is. You just need to see it clearly.

Thoughts and experiences NEVER obscure your true nature. It is always completely free and available. We just didn’t see it because we were looking in the wrong direction. Once it is clearly pointed out by someone with the understanding, we can see this quickly and with no effort.  Once you see that who you are is constantly with you, you don’t have an experience of moving in and out of peace or clarity.  It is only due to contrary concepts that we seem to lose it; in fact, the thoughts are mistaken. Once we see this, the thoughts lose their grip.

The belief that you are a separate person is the cause of all ignorance, suffering, anxiety, doubt, fear, etc. — that is, all self-centered activity.  Have a direct look to see if you can find the person you have imagined yourself to be. Ask yourself questions such as, “Am I really separate from my nature as presence-awareness?” and “Does the assumed separate person that I imagine myself to be really exist?”  This is not a practice or technique. You just have to look directly and clearly. Once you see that there never has been a person, all problems are resolved conclusively. All problems are for the person, not for your real nature. You just get clear on what you really are and that is the end of the game. This does not take time really. It is more a matter of clear seeing.

As long as there is a remnant of belief in separation, the separation seems to continue. But it is all imagination based on a lack of questioning. A few well-placed questions dismantle the whole fašade and you find yourself — easily and naturally — in your natural state of clarity, presence and freedom. And it does not leave you. You cannot lose what you are.

Talking directly about this helps to make it clear. Your own doubts and questions get undermined and the living experience becomes your own. That seems to be how it works for most people.



submitted by Mary Bianco to Nonduality Salon News Service:  

Gifts of rhythm
Percussionists feel spiritual link to"The Little Drummer Boy"

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: December 12, 2004) story photo
Her eyes on the teacher, Jessica Martinson, 9, is visible through the clear head of the tenor drum she is playing in a percussion class at the University of Alaska Anchor-age. Elementary and middle schools "pay attention to the melodic instruments and ignore the drummers," says percussionist John Damberg, who teaches the class. (Photo by Erik Hill / Anchorage Daily News) story photo
Hector Ortiz of El Combo Tropical Latino says rock, blues, jazz and pop bands could all benefit from the rhythms and sounds that hand drummers can provide. (Photo by Jim Lavrakas / Anchorage Daily News) story photo
"We the People" marchers gather at the Park Strip for drumming in 2002. "A wise elder told me that it reminds us of being in our mother's womb, where it's safe and warm and secure, -- the heartbeat," says Anchorage drum maker Beckie Etukeok. (Photo by Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News archive 2002)

Click on photo to enlarge

Come they told me, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum ...

A young boy heard from his grandmother, a lover of music, who wanted to buy him an instrument. Pick anything, she wrote, but don't ask for a set of real drums, because practicing them "is a no-no for everyone except hermits who live in a cave and want to entertain visiting beasts."

Anchorage percussionist John Damberg laughed when he heard it, but then he told a joke of his own: What do you call people who hang out with musicians?


You might say drummers get no respect. They sit behind the rest of the band, overlooked and overworked, yet they play as steady as pistons, relentless as a Barrow gale. Imagine a military march without them. Imagine the world without Beethoven, dance or rhythm and blues.

Remarkable as it seems, that simple, humble song about a boy who raps his drum as a gift of faith tells a larger story of spiritual and emotional rhythm, a passion shared by drummers everywhere.

The human desire to bang a drum begins when babies pound chopsticks against pots and pans and realize the amazing sound created by their own hands. It continues in rituals, ceremonies, gatherings and parties. The drum inspires the feet and stirs the heart.

Even a symphony concert sags without it. On the rare occasion of a performance with little percussion, ticket sales wither, said Robert Arms, principal percussionist for the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and the band instructor at Bartlett High School.

"A lot of people won't even go because they know (the concert) will be conservative," he said. "Without percussion, it just won't have the spark to keep them awake."

Call it spark or groove or rhythm -- however you say it, the drum speaks to the body, said Hector Ortiz, one of the drummers in El Combo Tropical Latino. Like many percussionists, he handles dozens, perhaps hundreds of instruments from bongos to cowbells, moving effortlessly from one to the next.

"The drum gets into your spirit and makes you dance," he said, "and when you dance, you're playing the drum with your body."


People with a hunger for drumming approach it as if fulfilling an essential need, speaking a fundamental language. They see it as a calling, a way of life.

Jessie Wright, who performs and teaches African hand drumming, scrapes out a living by playing, teaching and repairing drums.

"I just always loved (drumming) and heard it and had to do it," he said. "I do a lot of things well, but this is something I'm exceptional at."

The Yoruba people of Africa, his forebears, believe that drummers come to the instrument in one of three ways: in a family trade, through formal instruction or, like Wright, as if chosen by the drum itself.

The chosen ones, he said, "probably have a really good drummer in the family, and it speaks to them through their ancestral blood."

Beckie Etukeok felt the call of the drum even as a child. She began making them at age 23 and has steamed wood and prepared hide for 25 years, building, teaching and selling Yup'ik, Aleut and Inupiaq drum styles. She received her art degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and taught high school in Fairbanks for five years before taking a job as high school art coordinator for the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

"A wise elder told me that it reminds us of being in our mother's womb, where it's safe and warm and secure," she said. "The heartbeat."


I am a poor boy too, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum ...

Four-piece bar bands and middle-school concert groups rule the musical landscape in Alaska and many other places, which means drummers get the short end of the stick, said Damberg, a professional percussionist with a cave's worth of snare drums, hand drums, vibes, marimbas, cymbals and so much more.

"The level of engagement in elementary and middle schools is very low compared to melodic instruments like the flute," he said. "The schools pay attention to the melodic instruments and ignore the drummers."

Damberg teaches percussion at the University of Alaska Anchorage and does private lessons at his studio. He also started a middle school ensemble to help young drummers make the leap from loose, informal elementary experiences to concert performances with multiple instruments.

He knows a thing or two about drummers after 35 years of studying and teaching percussion and performing as percussionist in symphonies and Broadway shows, rock bands and jazz concerts.

Drummers learn better aurally, he said, and don't like reading music, which often is written by people who know nothing about drumming. In concert bands, percussionists often sit out for long periods of time. That also goes against a drummer's grain, he said. They want to bang their drum, not watch.

"Percussion is very physical, very much from the groin," he continued. "It's very sexual and sensual. It's somewhat intellectual, but it's more about sweating and movement."

They take up a lot of space and need physical movement. They also tend to live in the here and now. "They're the kind of people you have to keep busy or they'll start to smoke a cigarette," he said.

Even when students thrive, they struggle to make a living when they get out of school, even with advanced degrees, Damberg said.


"Being a percussionist on a scene means everyone wants you to sit in, but they don't want to pay you," Ortiz said.

Someone with a drum kit can get steady work, but clubs often limit the number of musicians onstage, he said, and bands often limit the number of players to keep the group's paycheck from spreading thin.

He believes bongo and conga drums can spice up any style of music, but few rock, blues, jazz and pop bands employ hand drummers at all, let alone permanently. That's why Ortiz started a Caribbean band that relies on the beat.

Wright said he finds it hard to perform regularly, though he plays for bands such as Pamyua. He also fixes drums and teaches at schools and home, which allows him to focus solely on drums and drumming as a profession.

He hopes to see drumming circles and workshops catch fire the way they did in Seattle in the 1990s, but it took decades for the scene to get from the inner cities of the East Coast to the Northwest.

"It's kind of an underground thing in this town right now," he said.

Arms stays busy with the symphony, concert chorus, opera, a jazz band and Bartlett High, but "what I really want to play is the jazz vibraphone," he said. "There's just not a whole lot of clubs downtown."


When it comes right down to it, drummers out-power every other player in a band, said Arms, despite their status as second-class musicians.

"If you're not in groove with the drummers, then you might as well not exist," he said. "Everybody's got to lock into the groove. It's all got to come from that heartbeat."

Dancers and singers respond to that beat, and in the aboriginal cultures where the drum originated, movement, song and rhythm all worked together to tell stories, said Damberg, who studied ethnomusicology in college and has taken several workshops in world percussion styles including Cuban, Middle Eastern and Nigerian hand drumming.

An African talking drum called the dundun can relay messages across great expanses of land, Wright said. Because tone conveys meaning in the Yoruba language, those who master the dundun can speak through their drum.

Tone and vibration also communicate a person's character, said Etukeok of the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Sometimes people walk up to one of her drums and say to her, "This is mine," because it is, she said.

For her, making drums is not a vocation but a way of life. She has to be mindful and balanced. She has to respect the process.

"A lot of people see it as just an instrument or object," she said. "But the energy you used to make a drum will call the same energy from the spirit world."


I played my drum for him, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum ...

Using 21 repetitions of "pa-rum-pa-pum-pum," "The Little Drummer Boy" tells a spiritual story through the visceral language of the drum. The rhythm "drives the tune forward like Ravel's 'Bolero,'?" Damberg said. "Its repetition helps imprint the song on the listener's memory."

The song conjures even personal memories for Arms of the Anchorage Symphony.

"It was my first solo in fourth grade at Muldoon Elementary," he said. "It was a very, very, very important moment in my life -- the moment I got comfortable onstage."

But even Etukeok, who has no personal or even cultural link to "The Little Drummer Boy," feels spiritually connected, a principle function of the instrument itself.

"The vibration of the drum is what frees your spirit from your body," she explained. "The vibrations attract it to the spirit world."

Sometimes drummers achieve a trancelike state through repetition, Wright said. African drummers in a group each play a different rhythm until they create a polyrhythmic whole that defies intellectual understanding.

"The mind reaches a state called 'the release,' when it gives up trying to focus on all the individual rhythms," he said.

Yoruba drummers used to sit beside the king, not as servants but as intermediaries between the seen and unseen worlds, Wright added.

"If you use a traditional drum, you have an animal skin on wood, which comes from the plant world, and then the human being who gets his inspiration from the spiritual world," he continued. "The drums are the voice of the world beyond."

Drummers feel this connection and often treat their drums in kind, Wright said. He treats his like human beings. He named his favorite drum "Kisa" after a matriarch in his family. It's his favorite djembe because he can get both high and low tones even when playing alone.

Though Etukeok sells and gives away her drums, she feels a strong attachment to them.

"For me, all the drums are like kids," she said. "Each kid, even the bully, has its sweet spot."

Somehow, "The Little Drummer Boy" demonstrates this emotional attachment of drummer to drum and drum to the spiritual world. When the little drummer boy offers the gift of "me and my drum," he's talking about his heart.

Reporter Dawnell Smith can be reached at [email protected].

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