(In Her Image Photography)
I was having a long week, and knew that there was a cure for that: get the girlfriends together for a dinner somewhere on Friday. Then there’s something to look forward to all week.
My friend Melanie agreed to meet up with me at our favorite little vegan macrobiotic place (Shagri-La in Oakland, California), but her email contained one extra note: “At 7:30 I’m going to a drumming circle. You’re welcome to come, if you want.”
My mind flashed to the parties I’d been to where someone had started a drumming circle. While everyone else was having a good time with the music at those parties, I was the person plastering a smile on my face while my inner critic went overtime: This music is TOO LOUD. It’s driving me CRAZY. But everyone else is having SO MUCH FUN. I’m the ONLY ONE who’s not loving this. My energy feels splintered. It’s TOO LOUD in here. It’s driving me CRAZY. Why do I have to be the ONLY ONE who…
But just before I was responding to her email with a “no,” I backtracked. Why not just say I’d see if I felt up to it when we met for dinner?
So we met for dinner, and somewhere between the macrobiotic plate, running into an acquaintance of mine at random, and the wheat-free (but utterly delicious) chocolate cake, I decided I’d stop by the drumming circle to check out the scene, and that I’d take my car so that I could leave if it didn’t feel like my kind of vibe.
We arrived at the Oakland Attitudinal Healing Center and went in. In a large room were chairs in a circle and a djembe drum poised in front of each chair. Aisha greeted me, followed by Kokoman. I hesitated, checked things out, decided to take off my coat. Then I stepped to the side to ask Aisha: “I might need to leave partway through. Should I sit near the door?”
Aisha hesitated. “Well, this is a drumming meditation. It runs for a full hour. We ask people not to leave because it’s disruptive to the circle.”
Oy. Now I was pegged. I needed to either be in or out. If I was in, I might run up against loud music and wanting desperately to get out. If I was out, I wouldn’t know what was going to happen in that room that night. Kokoman came over to us. “We’re ready to begin. Are you ready?”
In a moment, I decided I’d stay. “You can tolerate anything for an hour,” I thought. I sat down in front of my drum.
Kokoman gave us our instructions: “This is a healing drum meditation. We watch each other, how their hands are moving, and we match their hands.”
My first thought? “I’m going to do this wrong.”
Kokoman continued: “The meditation lasts for one hour, and if you need to rest, please place your hands in the center of the drum. Just please, don’t do this for a whole hour. Try to get back in with the group if you can.”
My first thought? “I’m not going to be able to do this for an hour, and then everyone will be upset that my hands are still on my drum.”
Aisha added: “There’s no need to hit the djembe hard. There’s a saying—don’t hit the djembe hard, or the djembe will hit you. Your hands will hurt.”
My first thought? “My hands are going to hurt. Should I do this?”
But then we began. Kokoman hit his drum and we followed, two hands in the center of the drum. The djembe is an African drum. It’s carved from wood (usually sacred, blessed wood) and shaped like a goblet with the cupped part of the drum between your knees held at an angle. The drum top is made from the skin of an animal such as a goat, dried, stretched and cured. Each djembe has a unique sound. I knew all of this only because years ago, I had a friend who had played the djembe and I’d been inspired to research it after taking photographs of her hands in motion over the drum. I’d always wanted to play it myself, but never made the time.
Thrum. Thrum. Thrum. Thrum. This was the simple beat—two hands at the center of the drum, flat palms, thrum, thrum, thrum.
As I realized that in fact, I could do this, and that in fact, the beats weren’t that hard, and that in fact, the rising hum vibration of the drums were completely different from the loud party music I’d experienced before… It hit me—I’d just been afraid. That was all.
Fear, once again, had not shown up as straight out fear, but instead it had shown up as a series of boundaries I’d wanted to place around an experience. Maybe I’d go, maybe I’d just stop in, maybe I’d stop in and stay for a little while, maybe I’d stay, maybe I’d play the drum, maybe…
The beat changed as we went, but there I was, in this experience, in this room, drumming with others, forgetting myself and swaying my body to the call and response of the drum beats.
It was, in fact, a meditation. I was present to my experience and to the communal experience shared among the participants in the room.
I will remember this call to practice courage and to notice how fear shows up in so many forms. I want to remember the next time I hesitate before a new experience, that I did not regret trying a new experience this time… So why not add more new experiences to my life all the time, ever expanding? I will remember that this is why I’m here, why all of us are here. I will remember this connection between practicing courage, and living 100% fully alive.
What do you need to say Yes to?