Drumming

"There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body."

Buddha
Satipatthana Sutta
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Playing the Djembe is at heart a spiritual practice. The spiritual element is in the intention one has while practicing or performing. My first and primary teacher Barbara Borden (www.bbbeat.com),taught the mechanics of drumming and infused that instruction with constant reminders about breathing and how the core of any rhythm is the heartbeat or how any drumming is a community event. She taught her students how to stay open while drumming and to be aware if contractions (muscular, emotional or cognitive) set in. Like any practice, playing the djembe takes disciple and time. The results of that discipline produce an ever evolving and more skillful drummer. The spiritual element is the experience that the time spent is an expression of devotion. Devotion is the recognition of the value of a relationship.

In both drumming and counseling presence is of primary importance. (For what I mean by presence see the article titled, "On Presence".) As a drummer one can get lost in thinking, or insecurity or trying to sound a certain way. I have found that trying to be more than I am in the moment results in a self betrayal (as a number of my solos unfortunately, but clearly, demonstrate). Trying to be clever while counseling or trying to sound good as a drummer inhibits listening. When playing with six other musicians, listening to what we are creating generates an expansive, ecstatic moment. When we do not listen we are alone and that is when we start to miss notes. A drumming friend once said that his best drumming happened when he got out of the way. The same can be said about counseling. I explore this thought in greater detail in the article Empathic Surrender. Playing in Tandamanzi was an ongoing practice of how important listening is.

Before each show we would gather together in a circle with our arms around each other to focus our intention to give our rhythms to the audience as an expression of how much we love to play. We would end each circle with the reminder that drumming is not about perfection, it is about joy. And that is why we played.

The spirituality of drumming is quite distinct from any religion that may endorse a mortification of the flesh. Drumming celebrates the body right down to the heart beat. In West Africa it is said that the drummers drum for the dancers and the dancers dance for the drummers. It is a mutual relationship. There is no performance, only giving and receiving.


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