Rivers Cuomo on Vipassana Meditation

9 Sep

I meditate for two hours every day– usually on a cushion on the floor–for one hour when I wake up and one hour in the evening.

I feel like meditation has made a big difference in my life. It makes me feel better and because I feel better, I’m more happy, calm, spontaneous, and creative and I treat people better. I think I make better decisions. For about 15 years, I pretty much was a shoe gazer on stage. I was very scared and would just look down. I wouldn’t connect with the audience at all–maybe it was a little boring for the audience. But recently I actually have been putting my guitar down, picking up a wireless microphone, running out into the crowd, looking people in the eyes, high-fiving them and really enjoying that connection. I don’t know if that would have happened if I wasn’t meditating, if I still had so much stage fright. I might still be in my shell.

The benefits come on two levels: First, I see the fear, as it arises in my body, as a physical sensation and when I recognize fear as just a physical sensation, I am less likely to let it run my life. I can say, okay there is the fear, and here is what I am going to do. And at the same time, the more I practice this detached observation, I find that the initial physical sensation of fear subsides and goes away, and then I’m just left feeling very pure, and I can do whatever I want. It’s very cool. It’s benefiting those around me too, I think. The band’s having more fun and the crowd is definitely having a lot more fun and yeah, I enjoy what I do now.

With this practice I now have a tool to calm myself back down and think more constructively and helpfully.

I discovered meditation in 2003 after Rick Rubin sent me some books on the subject. At first, I would not read them. I thought that meditation would rob me of the angst that I believed was essential for my connection to music. All the experiments I have tried in my life have always been an effort to improve, maintain, or recover that connection. Eventually, however, searching for answers, I read the first three chapters of one of the books, Ken Mcleod’s guide to meditation, “Wake Up to Your Life.” His words hit me like a lightning bolt. I realized that, in a sense, I had been wrong all these years in trying to connect to my creativity by violent means, for example, by mining my adolescent anger for “Say it Ain’t So”, crucifying my leg for Pinkerton, or consuming Tequila and Ritalin for “Hash Pipe”. Mcleod says:

These devices [such as the ones above] do not work in the long run because they draw on our system’s energy to generate a peak experience. Peak experiences cannot be maintained, and when they pass, the habituated patterns and the underlying sense of separation remain intact. (xi)

Mcleod, and other sources I began reading, showed me a new way to work. Instead of generating peak experiences for inspiration, I could strengthen my power of concentration through meditation so that I could get more and more inspiration from subtler and subtler experiences. Not only that, but the practice would make my life better, and make better the lives of those that live with me.

A friend gave me to the link to S.N. Goenka’s Vipassana courses (www.dhamma.org.) There are about two hundred centers around the world. I went to my first course in May of 2003 and I’ve been practicing steadily ever since. (The only daily sittings I missed were on the day of our tour bus crash in 2009.) I’ve attended 12 ten-day courses, 2 30-day courses and 3 45-day course. I’ve also served as a volunteer at about 7 courses. Since then, I have found that the areas of tension in my mind—the fear, the anger, the sadness, the craving—are slowly melting away. I am left with a more pristine mind, more sharp and sensitive than I previously imagined possible. I feel more calm and stable. My concentration and capacity to work have increased greatly. I feel like I am finally much closer to reaching my potential.

I also received training in conducting meditation courses for kids so I do that about once a year.

[adapted from the ABC interview and my letter for re-admission to Harvard.]

17 Responses to “Rivers Cuomo on Vipassana Meditation”

  1. Bobby M 2011-06-20 at 12:01 am #

    Reading this, I am honored to be the first to leave a comment here. (Unless somebody’s quicker than me!) You’ve really been a major influence on my life in recent years Rivers and I’ve always had a great desire to thank you for it. I’ve only been listening to Weezer since the end of my senior year of high school (2008) but since then I’ve been hooked. In the beginning I only got Blue and Pinkerton and I felt like I could relate to those albums so much. I was always blown away by that powerful dynamic drum sound on Pinkerton as it kinda reminded me of The Pixies. After awhile, going through some difficult times, those albums sorta helped me cope. More recently I started buying the other Weezer albums and Make Believe really stood out to me. As is usual with me, whenever I get a new favorite album I need to learn more about it. I stumbled upon an essay you wrote called “What I’ve Been Up To Since I Left School”. I thought that was the most inspiring thing and immediately (this was last October) I decided I wanted to give Vipassana a try. I found some videos on Youtube and bought some books and now I absolutely love it! It’s really changed my life and gotten rid of a lot of stress for me. I don’t know if you’ll ever read this comment but I wanted to thank you for helping me discover Vipassana and being so awesome. Keep the great jams coming! 🙂

  2. Lisa 2011-07-09 at 1:54 pm #

    I’m not a stage performer but I think I have a similar feeling at work, preferring to keep to myself. I’m actively trying to connect more with others, to look them in the eye and connect as humans. It is rewarding when I can do it. To stop fearing judgement or rejection is tough. Thanks for the helpful post!

  3. Reggie 2011-07-14 at 7:03 pm #

    Way to go on this essay, heelpd a ton.

    • jamie dockrill 2011-08-02 at 9:07 pm #

      Im not a performer, but have recently had self esteem and confidence problems which are affecting me but more importantly the people i love. I’m going to try this method as I’ve watched rivers grow and get on top of his confidence problems over the Years. Thank you in advance rivers

  4. pandarano 2011-09-20 at 6:00 am #

    He stares them down until he gets the information he wants

  5. Anthony 2011-09-26 at 6:33 pm #

    Hey Rivers!

    Im glad you conquered your fear. Being a guitar player too i can totally understand the stage fright issue! Im so glad you came out into the crowd during your show at jones beach this summer. I ran up to you (My hero in addition to buckethead) and you gave me a high five it was way cool and made my summer

    Im in college and your music has been there for me in the best and worst of times. I really connect with a lot of your songs and Im so grateful for what you have made.

    Thanks for the inspiration and please follow me on twitter!
    Im working on a major tech project that shows a lot of promise.

    Your Fellow Nerd
    Anthony \m/

  6. Rocco C 2011-09-28 at 4:01 pm #

    being a yoga and meditation enthusiast, myself, I have a question as I want to build my practice… what do you do about posture while sitting… sometimes after long periods I’ll start getting a back ache… any tips?

    • Mike Baas 2014-06-07 at 10:36 pm #

      Just observe the sensation of your back aching, calmly and objectively. Stay with the ache for some time and then proceed to observe other sensations within your body, scanning from head to feet and then from feet to head, encountering all the different sensations within. Don’t focus only on the pain in your back: observe it for sometime and then move past it. Continue doing this and develop your equanimity and your awareness with sensations as your meditation object.

      To learn the technique of Vipassana properly, attend a ten day course. Find a Vipassana meditation center in your area: http://dhamma.org

      You are bound to be successful!

  7. Michael 2012-01-16 at 3:59 pm #

    I am very excited to be going to the 10 day session in Kelseyville, CA. by June of this year. Making arrangements to take the time off of work and family and have been listening to The SN Goehke podcasts for the past 7 months. Glad to read your glowing endorsement.

  8. Ken Pattison 2012-02-21 at 11:12 pm #

    You never know what you don’t know. It’s an amazing thing that as I sit here in my late 40’s I find inspiration and insight where I least expect it. I’m a very happy husband and father of 12 year old twins who has loved music as long as I can remember. I’m an old punk rocker. My first concert was Alice Cooper and quickly after that Iggy Pop. Over the years I’ve been blessed to meet many of my idols. I consider myself an independant thinker but I am however influenced by those who make me think, make me smile and those who’s creativity I admire. My wife and I have been fans of your work since the begining and I stumbled upon this page getting prep’d for the cruise. Knowing what I’ve learned with the Ozma yogo onboard the cruise and reading this article you’ve been successful in making meditation cool to this old Ramones/Nirvana guy. My wife is making her way through the Pinkerton Diaries and then it will be my turn. Pinkerton was on heavy rotation back when we lived in Montreal. Meditation is Cool and so are you Mr. Cuomo !

  9. Silvia Escorel 2012-11-05 at 9:44 am #

    Hey Rivers your words echo my experience in many ways, it is truly sensational how Vipassana can change our perspective and give us a whole new lease on life. That’s what happened to me and what still happens after each course I take. Thanks for your valuable input.

  10. Daisy 2013-06-04 at 7:40 am #

    Rivers, you’re my idol. Without you life would be hell. But I’m glad I can grab my phone, turn on weezer, and just jam out. Thank you for everything you have ever done. I know I’m just another fan, but this comment or message is just a thank you for everything. You rock, man.

  11. Andreas 2014-07-23 at 8:41 pm #

    Wow! I never thought I would read this. I will tell you something absurd, at least in my view, before I get to why this is so weird to read.

    When I was 17 or 18 (Im 31 now) I woke up to my radio alarm clock playing a song a knew Id heard before. I was half a sleep half awake. I had a feeling of familiarity but it was intense, as if I had been reminded of a mission.

    I made it my mission that day to find out what song it was. As I was humming I was continuing my dream like state of being awoken by the song. It was quite a nice feeling. But then I found the song and it was Buddy Holly. I remembered then that I had heard it some years before in my friend’s little sister’s room.

    So I started downloading all the weezer music I could find (don’t worry, I have bought all your music, there were just no other way to get hold of your music at that time) and listened to it constantly. I new then that I had found home.

    I believe I connected with the angst that you are talking about, and as you mentioned it, Say it aint so was my favorite song and it still is.

    Later, I was at a party at one of my class mates apartment. I had never really talked to the guy but I found a guitar in his apartment and picked it up to play. Then I heard my class mate announce “AH WOW. THE GOOD LIFE”. I looked at him thinking “You know this song?”. I thought I was the only one. I wasn’t the only one but I sure was one of two because there was no one else who listened to Weezer where I grew up at that time.

    From that point on for the rest of my time in school I spent almost every day with this guy and we soon after that party formed a band called “Pushing Cows”. He taught me some great things. He was the first intellectual person I had ever met which turned out to be a new direction for me. I can say now sincerely, but not seriously, that this was the goal of my mission that I felt waking up to Buddy Holly that morning.

    We started to write music and we must have written hundreds of songs in just a year. He was a poet and I had a natural talent for song writing so we just put it together and came up with a song after song. If we weren’t making music we listened to music and browsed weezer.com. I remember you had a diary at that point where you logged your tours and band equipment and such things. We found so much inspiration from that website I don’t think I’ve ever been to a website that great since then. It was narrated by someone not in the band but, unfortunately, I don’t remember his name.

    Two years later we went to university and ended up in different cities but we still met as often as we could and we continued to make music. At that point we had gotten more band members and we started to do some gigs. Because most audiences, where I came from at least, wanted something they had already heard we had to play cover songs. I always pushed the band to play weezer songs and so we did. My favorite to play and sing, naturally, was Say it ain’t so.

    After university I moved to Amsterdam in the Netherlands but still we continued to make music. We sent Cool Edit sessions over the internet and we even sent CD’s to each other with tracks we made and put it together to songs as it went along. Still we we’re listening to Weezer.

    Another turning point in my life came in Amsterdam when I looked through my room mate’s CD albums and found Grace by Jeff Buckley, but that’s another story.

    Now I live in Canada and, still, we make music and talk every week. I believe it will always be the case that we will always be this close and it is all thanks to that morning when I was woken up by the radio playing Buddy Holly.

    Now, why was it so weird for me to read your post on Vipassana? Because you reminded me in an instant of my whole life since that moment I heard Buddy Holly. Like I imagine a dying moment would be, a flash back of all things past.

    However, there is a second weirdness to it. That is, that I am more or less in the same situation as you are in now, or have been since 2003, as you wrote, where I am very much into eastern philosophy and ways of living. The difference is though that I have entered it through Alan Watts and Krishnamurti who view meditation through a neutral perspective rather than a life improving practice. So, it feels really weird to read that by you leaving behind your angst you have become a happier person and even more creative (sorry if I paraphrase that wrongly). That angst which I always believed, and still believe, was vital to your song writing. I do believe, if I may expand on this topic, that meditation in some forms can make your life easier and can make you feel less resistance towards things, such as stage fright. But if there is one thing that I have learned from eastern philosophy, it is that all things are relative. The angst is only relevant in terms of its contrast to other emotions and likewise happiness is only relevant in contrast to other emotions. What I mean to say is that not having the undesired emotions and experiences will make you flat rather than happy because there is nothing to contrast the happiness with. But I am not the judge, just a commentator on your website.

    I am truly grateful for being woken up by your voice that morning and I am truly happy to hear that you are doing so well both professionally and personally. Oh, what a joy it has been to write this to you and I do hope you get to read it even though I’ve been too long.

    Thank you for everything.

  12. Julie 2014-08-06 at 11:39 am #

    Hi, I can relate to the “detached observation” of physical sensations. I have never been taught about meditation; its just part of me. I have been meditating since I can remember (before i even knew what meditation was). When my kids were born, i spent the time I was in labour in a meditative state. I really believe it helped me through sice i had chosen to not have any drugs to help with the pain. When the intense contractions came along, i felt like i was able to disconnect myself from it. There was the pain, and there was me. I was able to remain calm and get through it with relative ease. The doctors couldn’t understand how a I was able to sleep between contractions without drugs. My son was born at 11 lbs. Meditation lets me be in control of my body. it helps me understand how to control my physical reactions and not let emotions overwhelm me.

    I am happy you were able to use meditaion to find a way to control your body and mind in a way that is natural. It is so empowering to be able to do that. I don’t know what sort of energy you gave off at your earlier shows, but I have been to two of your shows in the past year (2014) and you really do seem to be enjoying yourself. This is important. It matters that you like what you do.

    Thank you for being such an interesting, genuine person.

  13. Elizabeth 2015-03-28 at 2:51 pm #

    I love how wise you are, Rivers! Your music is beautiful.


  14. Evan Follmar 2016-04-12 at 12:55 pm #

    Hi Rivers. I’ve been wanting to contact you for a long time but sometimes I second guess myself. I am a musician. I’ve been writing songs and playing the drums for about 15 years. I want you to know that I understand your songs on a very deep level. they are not just simple pop songs. There is a lot of pain behind it all. The pain of not being understood by the audience you love so much. Very similar to a romantic relationship if I may say so. I could be wrong but I think most of your fan base doesn’t appreciate the cynicism and sarcasm mixed with sincerity underlying the entire thing. I love Syd Barrett, Nirvana, the Shaggs, Jeff Buckley, many types of jazz, and of course, Weezer, although I think I love Weezer for different reasons than most people. When I read your thoughts on meditation I get scared and excited because I would love to be happy and free in my mind, but my mind is what gets in the way. I am reluctant in much the same way that you described. I sometimes use drugs because I feel that I can improve my music. It’s strange, but music and art is all I seem to care about anymore. The more I care the more I seem to push people away from me. (I feel very alone as I’m sure you do) People think I’m a big joke or crazy or something because I choose to listen to the first Pink Floyd album and make “strange” music. But I noticed I know something that others don’t see and I see something very great in your music. If you have some spare time I would love to talk to you. If not I understand. You probably get a million letters a day from people saying exactly what I just said. By the way, the white album scares me haha (in a good way).

  15. Doanya Ann Ghorbani 2016-09-09 at 9:50 pm #

    I think all of these comments are very old today is September 9, 2016, and I as well and trying to learn how to meditate but I can’t focus completely ,I look up to you as a musician and also the human being that is very wise and noble, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I am 40 years old and you guys keep me young!