Drumming at the Edge of Chaos (part 1)

Among the other facets of my life - unschooling mom, employee at a non-profit helping folks find affordable housing, reiki master, cat servant - I facilitate drum circles, and I have taught West African drumming. The first time I picked up a drum... which, OK, was also the first time I dropped acid on a mountain with a bunch of hippies... I felt connected. The hallucinogens have fallen away, but drumming has stayed with me. I first heard drum circles at Grateful Dead shows, and sometimes, the drum circle was the highlight of the show for me. I mean, the rest of the show was always great, always transportive (is that a word? It is now!)... but the drum circle? Magic! I loved how the rhythm would weave in and out of itself, changing, changing again, then sometimes returning to the first rhythm, and somehow everyone in the circle was right there with it, following along. I would sit in the center of the circles, and until I dropped acid on that misty mountaintop during a magical night, I never dared strike one. What if I did it wrong? What if I made a goofy sound? What if... what if I didn't fit in? And there I'd be, banging a drum, with everyone looking at me like I was an alien. But the acid allowed me to bypass all those (false!) voices, and when my hand finally struck that skin, I felt part of my soul come alive.

You should try it if you haven't. Really! Drumming, I mean. You don't really need the acid, I've found.

So, fast forward a few years. More than a few... I hadn't even seen drums in that time. Didn't seek them out - I didn't think I could *do* it, then I just forgot. When Evan was young, I belonged to La Leche League, and a playgroup that sprang up from that. A couple of the moms in the playgroup had drums, and would play them every so often. I never dared to hit them! I remember one retreat, where they talked me into it... I tentatively hit the drum, then BAM! A big noise. And I handed the drum right back! I'm an introvert! I can't have all that attention on me!

Fast forward a few more years... A friend invited me to a women's drum circle, that took place at the UU Church. There weren't *quite* enough instruments for everyone, which was fine with me. I was OK with listening... until the leader said, You're a part of the circle. We need to hear your voice! And I was coaxed into playing a drum, a frame drum that you hit with a soft mallet. And I did it! And no one laughed. And I was again transformed, woken up.

But because there was, of course, still a voice telling me I couldn't do it; I wouldn't do it right; I might mess up, I didn't seek out a drum for myself. I didn't follow that prompting.

I talked about the drum circle at a support group I went to... about a year later, my husband, who had been at that meeting before he was my husband, bought a drum for me, a djembe, which is what I had played on the mountain, and had seen at Dead shows. A drum you hit with your hand. He *heard* me, saw how it moved me, and remembered. I haven't looked back. I sought out a drum circle. The woman that had led that women's drum circle wasn't doing those any more, but she was learning West African drumming, and it was a group that was open to anyone. I went to that group, and my heart was opened. They were very supportive of new folks, very understanding, and I learned. And learned. And grew.

I had drummed with them for about six years when my heart was opened even further, and my soul was again set on fire. It happened at a drumming class. My life hasn't been the same since. And I can't wait to tell you about it... in my next entry.

(Sorry - I want to go to church today. I need to shower, walk the dog, worship feed the kitties. Must... walk away... from computer.... )


carri said...

Wow...I can't wait for part 2.

Linda said...

Thanks for writing about this. I love drum circles, and for so long have wanted to drum. I don't know drum technique, but I have great rhythm. But I have those same fears you spoke of.

Chrome Toaster said...

Just thought I'd pop in and say Hi.. I followed you here from Jason Bitner's cassetefrommyex.com, and this blog caught my eye because I LOVE Mickey Hart. I never participated in the drumming, but I was always one of those on the edge, marvelling at you guys drumming at the Dead Shows. (with or without mind altering fungi.) I lived in Missoula MT, and there was always a Full Moon Drum circle that I lurked around, too- so powerful, but I always felt kind of.. intimidated or unworthy of drumming, myself.. (make sense? nope, not a bit)

Anyway, I just wanted to say Hi and thanks.