You could hear the pounding from the street. A hundred and fifty drummers, most of them unschooled amateurs, were gathered in the round beneath the domed ceiling of a community hall, blissfully giving themselves over to the rhythm, adding their own unique variations as the spirit moved, the whole cacophonous assembly playing not at odds with one another but, remarkably, together, as one.
Some shook tiny eggshell shakers close to their ears. Some beat with wooden mallets on the taut skins of frame drums, providing the core beat. Some chose loud and exotic hand drums, like the colourful Egyptian darbuka, designed to cut through the din, for soloing. I took along my djembe, an African drum you play with your fingers and the palms of your hands. My friend shook an ocean drum, filled with tiny pellets that swoosh like waves on the beach.
Each of us had our part to play, our contribution to make to the whole. But all of us together were achieving something that would be unthinkable elsewhere--in the corridors of power, up and down the aisles of commerce, or even in the temples of the faithful--unity. And without a word spoken. Something more primal than thought was guiding us, and something more wondrous than imagination was manifesting in our midst. We were swept up joyfully, deliriously, without inhibition, in being ... human.
It's odd that we need to be reminded of our common bonds from time to time. But we do. So much of our daily lives we manage as if from above, a talking head cut off from our bodies, with eyes set well back in their sockets surveying people and possibilities as from a great distance, and a calculating brain measuring responses and plotting strategies. All of these are human qualities. They are, in fact, what distinguish us from other animals, creating that unique sense of the "self," alone and aloof from the world.
But that human remove is what permits us to do unspeakable things to one another, to other species, and to the Earth itself. We can be smug in our presumed dominion over Creation, as if Creation really was made for us, not us for Creation. With our cutting edge sophistication we replace fossil fuel with lithium batteries and call it progress, and turn physical fitness into an expensive lifestyle choice rather than, simply, being healthy. In such ways we keep outsmarting ourselves, discovering in the process that we are growing further and further from the Earth that nurtures us, from our bodies that delight us, and from one another, whom we need more than we know.
Drumming won't take us back to where we once belonged. But it will awaken within us the memory, however distant, of a fuller, more embodied, way of being in the world, a way that leads with our bodies rather than our heads, and places the bonds of community above the needs of our individual egos. It asks that we give ourselves, body and soul, to something larger than us, something that, at the same time, flows through us. It connects us to one another and, in doing so, reconnects us to ourselves.
This is the world of Circles of Rhythm, a not-for-profit organization that offers public drumming circles, corporate drumming events, and specialized drumming retreats. This is Julien Lepage's world, the owner and operator of Circles of Rhythm, who runs their Friday evening drum fests. It is Judy Atkinson's world as well, who founded Circles of Rhythm twenty-five years ago. It's the world of literally hundreds of drummers of all ages and stages who come and go week after week, outdoors in the summer months, indoors in winter, with drums large and small, to remember what it means to be in community with one another, with our bodies, and with the Earth.
Julien is my guest on this episode of The Mystic Cave. When he speaks of the soulful resonation of over a hundred percussion instruments beating at once, I know what he means; I've experienced it. When he describes the therapeutic benefits of communal drumming, I can believe it; I felt it myself. And when he considers the hope that drumming offers to our hurting world, I'm almost there; I want to know that beneath what separates us there still beats a rhythm that unites us all--the rhythm of the human heart.
To listen to our conversation, just press the Play button below. For the show notes, with more information about Circles of Rhythm, hit the Information button in the same window.