Even spoken-word poet Buddy Wakefield gets tired of talking
Many Santa Cruzans are at least peripherally familiar with the technique of Vipassana meditation. Those who haven’t been to the popular (and free) 10-day silent retreats surely know somebody who went to one and came back changed—and likely hasn’t shut up about it since.
Spoken word poet Buddy Wakefield is basically that friend. It’s working for him, though. The two-time Individual World Poetry Slam Champion appeared at Santa Cruz Music Festival last year, based in large part on his ability to “make crowds of grown men cry,” as SCMF organizer and GT digital marketing specialist Thomas Dawson put it. Now he’s coming back to town for a show at the Tannery’s Institute of Contemporary Art, in which he’ll likely shake everyone up by beautifully expounding on his favorite topic du jour—staying present through diligent focus on the breath.
So take a big one—in through your nose and out through your mouth—and read on.
GT: So I know a Vipassana meditation course is a 10-day retreat where you meditate all day in silence for all 10 days, right? That seems like such a big commitment. What got you to the point where you decided, ‘I’m doing this. This is for me?’
BUDDY WAKEFIELD: Just the compounding stress of being human. Nobody’s immune to it. People have different starting points and experience this life to varying degrees, but nobody’s immune to the threat of agitation and misery that runs through all of us. I was in a place where I needed to address mine. I wanted to go somewhere where I didn’t have to hear myself talk. It was 11 hours of meditation a day for 10 days. No reading, no writing no exercising. No eye contact. No thing. Basically the life of a monk. Also, no rites or rituals or idol worship. Just scientific observation of breath. For the first time, it was just this pure noble silence that I was getting to experience, with no BS. From there the rest was history. It’s the one thing I’ve found in this world that really works to break habit patterns.
Wow, that’s amazing. I’ve heard that every evening you watch a video dialogue from the guy who started Vipassana. How were those? I’ve heard mixed reviews about them.
They’re fantastic. They’re wholesome They’re on point. They’re honest. Saying “mixed reviews” is kind of like people who make fun of Oprah. Why has Oprah become a target to make fun of when she’s just trying to do something to help the world? A bunch of cynical skeptical people can sit around on their do-nothing asses and make fun of her. It just baffles me. When something’s 100 percent, it’s 100 percent. Still, there’s always going to be somebody making it look less than 100 percent, as their own reflection. If I’m telling you that the law of nature is change and that’s the truth, but you’re not able to wrap your head around the truth that the law of nature is change, then you’re going say that I don’t understand this world. That’s where I think you’re probably coming from with that question.
Damn, sorry. OK. Well, it seems like Vipassana is a lot about letting go of the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. How would you describe yourself to yourself?
Well, while I’m giving this answer, I’m peeing on a bush in Black Canyon, Arizona and I view myself as honest, as striving toward honesty. I view myself as hit or miss, trying to be more hit than miss. I view myself as approaching my ideal self. Certainly a ways from it. I view myself as having clean teeth, because I had dental work done yesterday.
Cool. So are you afraid of dying?
Absolutely not. I actually welcome the event. Of course, I don’t want my head to get crushed in a train accident. I don’t want ridiculous volumes of pain. But the reality is being born isn’t a tragedy, and neither is death, and neither is anything in between.
Buddy Wakefield performs Saturday, May 3, at 5:30 p.m. at the Santa Cruz Contemporary Institute of Art, 1050 River St. in Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10.