On Tilling the Earth

When things get too crazy, stressful, or just plain tiring, it’s probably time to get back to the basics.

So many of my worldviews and beliefs flow from my time with the Grateful Dead, and here’s another one.

There’s a show called “Anthem to Beauty,” about the period of time when the Dead transformed from a completely tripped-out, acid-gobbling, experimental rock band that owed their record company money, was plagued with infighting and was basically losing its collective mind — around the time of their album “Anthem of the Sun” — to a time when they were recording two fantastic and successful albums filled with solid songs that became staples of their shows for the next 25 years: “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.”

I can’t find the exact clip on YouTube, but Mickey Hart, one of the drummers, basically said that their music, their lives, their whole scene was just getting too weird and was threatening to break itself apart, and they needed to get back to the basics of songwriting, crafting music, and as he said, “Tilling the Earth.”

I’ve thought about that line a lot lately: Tilling the Earth. Settling down, calming down, digging in, doing some work, and just maybe creating something that will last.

It was the same many years ago with me and drugs and alcohol. Youthful experimentation turned to adult abuse and eventually full-blown addiction, and I needed to get honest about it, get into meetings, and do the personal and spiritual work to address the root causes of all that.

Before drugs and alcohol, though, there was travel; I am, as I have written about before, a runner. And lately I went through a period of seriously overdoing the travel thing. It got tiring as hell and started to affect my mental, physical, and emotional health. It was also expensive. I wasn’t really about to lose my mind, but the combination of exhaustion, confusion and existential fogginess made me realize I need to calm the hell down, get off the road, and till the Earth for a bit.

What that meant specifically was, obviously, travel less — although my definition of “travel less” probably still looks like a lot of travel to most people. For me, four games in three cities in a week is a lot; spending a month in the same AirBnB isn’t. I needed more time feeling “at home” — waking up in the same place, cooking at home, learning my neighborhood, meeting people — so I could pull back from the edge of craziness I was dancing along.

Internally, it was the same. I needed to re-connect with my spiritual life, with my work life, with my physical self, with nature, and with my writing. All of those things were suffering while I was out there running around, looking for whatever I was looking for, turning perfectly good ideas like work research into cold, lonely two-night stays in French cities I didn’t have time to explore before moving on to the next one.

Ironically, I was doing so much travel that I was neglecting the official reason for the travel: I wasn’t writing any marketing content about those clubs and cities, because I was too busy running off to the next ones!

At work, it was the same. My company is thriving, based mainly on two things — providing helpful content and selling English soccer tickets. But I somehow got all wrapped up in adding European clubs, as well as tours, a guiding service, more staff, more consultants, more more more — until it occurred to me that, just like songs make a band, perhaps I should concentrate on the main things we do, on who we already are. Maybe I should dig in and get really good at that, and at running a company, before I try to add things and make work more complicated. Maybe I can build a company that will last.

So much of this has been about getting back to 12-step meetings, as well. I got sober because I brought my booze- and drug-infused craziness to meetings, where I got honest about it, received support and was flooded with suggestions. Well, when I found myself stressed out, exhausted, and confused with my literally tripped-out life, I took that to meetings, and I found the same support, understanding and suggestions that are always there — if I am willing to show up, settle in, and listen.

So today I am trying to concentrate on the basics; on maintaining my mental, physical, spiritual and emotional health; on running around less; on doing the work internally and externally; on being open to suggestions; and on just trying to keep life simple so I can be present for it, for myself, and for others.

I am trying to till the Earth, to get out of the crazy and into the beauty.