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Monday, 12 May 2014

Bang the Drum: On Being the Best Which is Yet to Be

                           "Ginger Baker is/was the best drummer in the world."

Depending upon your perspective, your response to that statement will be one of several things:
Beware of Mr. Baker (2012) Poster
Image from

  • "That's so true!"
  • "She's full of shit!"
  • "Why would she say that?"
  • "Who is Ginger Baker?"
For the record, Ginger Baker is generally thought of as one of the most brilliant drummers of the 1960's. If you've heard of him, you will likely think of his time with bands like Cream, and Blind Faith, as well as his work with Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce.  Baker was the first person to draw my attention to the art and craft of drumming. Until I heard him, I thought drums were what you played when you couldn't play another instrument, rather like playing tambourine or cowbell. (In my defense, before any drummers' heads explode, I was really, really, gosh-darn young when I thought this. The tambourine and cowbell players will have to fend for themselves.)  Little did I know.  A friend's older sister introduced Baker's work to me through the Cream and Blind Faith albums.  That was that-much as I loved groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, from then on, it was the more driven music of Baker and Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Pink Floyd, and later, Johnny Rotten, The Sex Pistols and The Clash who called to me.

Even way back then, I can remember fierce, heated arguments with friends as to what group or musician was "The Best."  We'd rant for hours, making the case for this one and that and, of course, never coming to resolution. How could we?  "The Best" of anything is always subjective, affected by your experiences, knowledge and interests.  If you grew up listening to different music, if you're not part of the Western World, of a different culture, time or age, "The Best" drummer in the world will be someone else. More likely, you don't care about the matter at all.  If you don't, does that detract from the drummer's talent?  I doubt that anyone would argue that it did.

We are continually caught up in defining "The Best" and in attempts to be "The Best." Most of the time, when asked what being "The Best" means, we have little understanding that the best of things are always just out of reach.  When we want to be "The Best of It All," whatever It is, or worse yet, we think we already are, we are simply caught in striving, chasing a goal that can never be attained, setting ourselves up for frustration and suffering. 

Does being Best make you a better person?  I assure you it does not. If you doubt me, there is a documentary on Netflix, Beware of Mr. Baker, in which Ginger Baker repeatedly proves that this is not the case. Baker is still alive (much to my astonishment), but most of his drumming ability is gone, which is why I began by making the statement that he is/was the best drummer.  Do his current limits diminish his past achievements?  I don't think so.  

Making the claim that you are Best or striving to be so is not the same as Doing your Best. Being the Best means you are defining yourself around your current or past abilities, placing yourself in an adversarial, comparative position against others. If you believe you must be or are Best, you will never be satisfied with what you are right now, for there will always be a better drummer, a better spinner, knitter, or yoga practitioner than you. In the meantime, the people who are Doing their Best, working to practice to the highest standards they are able to achieve for themselves right now will be progressing in leaps and bounds, enjoying the moment and cherishing their small (but many) victories when they appear. Ginger Baker understands that-his most violent reactions to anything in Beware of Mr. Baker (and there are many) come when people try to define him or music: "Don't put music in boxes!" he shouts. "Especially not my music!"  For Baker, drumming was what he had to do, what he was, but not because he set out to be Best.  

I had a lesson in the difference between Being Best and Doing Best in Colin's Level 1/2 yoga class this morning, when Colin asked us to use our sensory organs rather than our muscles to feel our way into the pose Parighasana. For my own safety, I had to turn inward and focus only on what I could do this morning, relaxing into the pose as we moved through each challenge and coming out of it when the process went a little too far. As a result, I was the Best Student in the Room, hands down, absolutely and completely.  I truly was.

The thing is, so was everyone else.  There wasn't one student in the class who didn't challenge herself, test her limits and feel her way as deeply into Parighasana as she could. What we achieved was remarkable, not because of how any one of us could move physically, but because we were all focused on doing our personal best.  I didn't feel an atom of competition in the class, which in itself can be a rare thing, because although it's not encouraged, yoga classes can become competitive when striving enters the practice. That didn't happen.  We moved as our best selves, into our bodies and united as a class full of people doing their best.

Doing Our Best was wonderful, uplifting and expansive.  It was a good morning, spent simply, exploring, working mindfully, with effort and non-effort. I am grateful for that.




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