I always had a beat in my head, from sitting on the kitchen floor to playing my blue drum set. I would often times, just tap and pat out my beat using my hands.
I played with that drum set for many years, but as I got older things were piled on top of the drums, and my beat was buried along with it. I would find it every now and then like when I played the saxophone in junior high through high school. It wasn’t quite the same, but I was still exposed to the beat of my music. Later I would satisfy my love of the beat in college when I was took a gamelean class, and played with a group wherever my travels took me from Seattle to Indonesia. Many years later, at Unitarian Universalist women’s retreat there was a drumming circle. I had never experienced this before. What joy! What fun! It was like I had reawakened something inside of me that was buried so deep. I remember just dancing and dancing that night to the beat of the djembe. It was only me and maybe one or two other women dancing in front the large circle of women drummers. I didn’t care if I was alone with in front of a whole group. The beat carried me and I danced for joy.
When I turned 40 I knew exactly how I wanted to celebrate it – with a drum circle! I arranged for a friend and professional drum leader to bring all her equipment, and I was surrounded by the beat of family and friends as I welcomed a new decade of my life.
Soon after my birthday I attended by first dream workshop, and loh and behold, there was drumming! I I already knew I was a dreamer, but with the steady beat of a single drum I could access dream realms I had never thought imaginable. As I continued to pursue my passion of dreaming and sharing it with others, I bought my own frame drum. I now use it to meditate and lead others to help access their dream realms.
While I love drumming during workshops and classes, drumming alone to a single beat does not allow for the musical expression and dynamic interplay that you get in a drum group. So I occasionally attend drum groups to express that creative beat inside me.
A few weeks ago I attended a drumming group. I haven’t been to one in quite some time. I got there and was so very excited to see all the drums and percussion instruments (cow bells, rattles, sticks, things I couldn’t even name). I felt like a kid in a candy shop – so many awesome cool things to beat. Just like the pots and pans of my youth. I decided to start out with a djembe and its rich deep sound. The feel around my legs and the goat skin on my hands were amazing. Around and around my hands went as I rubbed the goat skin top preparing to drum and express my beat.
Once there were about 15 of us, we just started playing. Free for all. As we played I felt myself settling in, finding my beat. Boom chaka laka, boom chaka laka. You would think if you stick 15 people together with no direction chaos would ensure. But I’ve been to enough drum groups to know, the exact opposite happens. A group beat starts to form. It seems as humans we tend to sync up with those around us….and sometimes, even begin to play together and with each other. Some even started to do “call and response” type drumming. Cow bell (cling, cling, cling), base drum (boom, boom, boom), cow bell (cling, cling, cling), base drum (boom, boom, boom. They looked at each other, allowed for space for each other, then followed the pattern, back and forth, back and forth. No words. Only looks. Only sounds. All playing together.
As the night went on I started to notice several things. If I relaxed and just let myself flow I found a steady beat that came from the inside out. But I also noticed that I would sometimes get distracted. I would hear another beat and within a few seconds I would be playing that beat. I would match those around me and my own beat would blend in with that other beat. There were times I struggled to find my own beat. Sometimes a drum would be playing so loud I could not hear my own drum. My own beat was drowned out and over powered by the other sounds. As the night went on, and the instruments changed, beats came and went. I started to ponder “How do I learn to find my own beat when there are so many others going on around me? Once I have found it, how do I learn to maintain it amongst all the other, sometimes louder, beats among me?”
It felt like an analogy for life. How do we find ourselves? How do we maintain our identities among so many personalities and relationships?
During the drumming, it took consciousness and awareness on my part to realize when I had lost my beat and started following another. Once I was aware, I’d gently bring myself back to my beat. This happened several times. Find my beat, get distracted, start to sync with another one that caught my attention, conscious of the change, then settling in, relaxing, returning to my own beat.
And when the other drums were too loud and I couldn’t hear my own, I’d put my head as close to my drum as possible, slowly took some breaths, closed by eyes and concentrated on what wanted to come from me instead of concentrating on what was outside of me. With that I was able to bring myself back to my drum, my beat. This was not easy. The call of other beats was intense. It would have been so easy, to play “follow the leader”. But I had a beat and it wanted to be played. It wanted to come out and with awareness, concentration and allowing it to flow I was able to relax in to my own beat.
This is what I realized that night. It’s easy to play alone, and sometime, like when I was young on my mom’s kitchen floor with pots and pans, it can be amazingly fun. When we are alone, it’s easy to find our beat. But alone the complexities and richness that a group brings are absent. Groups allow us to try on different beats, ones we may not have thought of, but they also challenge us to remain true to our own beat when amongst so many others. And when all those original beats come together, what amazing rhythm, music and creative expression there is.
What an amazing gift drumming has been for me. I found my beat the other night at the drum circle and so much more. I found the memory of my “original beat”. I may just have to sit on the floor tonight with my wooden spoon surrounded by some pots and pans and play my beat once again.