djembe-drum-circle-heads The moon is a circle,

the sun is a circle,

the Earth is a circle,

the drum is a circle,

and we are a circle.”

With sweaty palms, a kick step in my pulse, and an intensely focused mind, I fully commit to my place in the circle.  We all face each other—each one of us has a part to play.  Our creation depends on one another.  There’s no place to hide.  There is no time but this moment, this beat.

I listen.

I feel.

I connect to myself. My body.  My own two hands.  I stare deeply into a candle lit in the center of our circle.  A candle set inside a small figure of four women dancing together.  I listen for my own sounds amidst the others.  It’s hard to do this.  But it feels good. Because I am new, I think.  In each moment, I am focused intently on exactly what that moment calls for.  Two bass and two tones.  Big Fat Ap-ple.  Four quick tones and a bass.  Left, right, left, right. L E F T.  I am in beginner’s mind—what Buddhists call Shoshin or Zen mind—boundless, eager, deeply humbled.

I am drumming.

This is my first time, really.  I’ve been to one or two local drumming events but I’ve never participated in a drum circle with such intimacy.  There are just four of us women, playing drums in the basement of an industrial arts building on a Wednesday morning after the first snow fall of the season.

We begin by opening the circle, calling forth the four directions, a ritual element common in native and shamanic practices.  A ritual I experienced profoundly at my own wedding ceremony two years ago in Mexico.  A ritual I’ve been studying as I prepare to offer blessingways, rite-of-passage ceremonies into birth and motherhood, for the pregnant women I serve as a doula and friend.

A deep place within me longs for more ritual to punctuate this mundane life where domesticity and materialism often loom heavy.  I crave more frequent conscious connection to the sacred pulse that beats beneath the surface of all our seekings.

I’m delighted to discover that the sacred thrives in the center of a drum circle.  Here, I am alive.  I am vibrant.

I am also nervous as hell.  My well-oiled thinking machine, that dear old ego, is having a heck of a time getting quiet while my spirit finds a drum rhythm.  It’s scared.  It says drumming is for hippies and my Native American ancestors.  It says I don’t have rhythm.  It says these women are going to be disappointed if I don’t play well enough.  It says I don’t know what I am doing.  It says I am going to fail.

I take a deep breath.

Thing is, when I am drumming, my mind doesn’t get to be in charge. It’s my heart and spirit that call the shots.

They say to be brave.

To be patient with myself.

To accept the beginner’s place.

To accept myself.

To heal and soothe that tired ego by playing through the fear.

To connect to myself, these women, all drummers before and after me, and the Source of us all.

To discover what I really sound like underneath all that internal dialogue that mutes the still, small voice within.

I’ve only played with these women for an hour and I already unearth some spiritual gems.

The practice of keeping my own unique rhythm going amidst the sounds of others, who are doing and playing something different.

The practice of resisting the inclination to fall into another’s rhythm and lose my own.

The practice of creating something cooperatively with others.

The practice of quieting self-judgment and coming into the present with a joyful heart.

Practicing that which quiets self-judgment is so paramount—not only to our own well being but to all around us.  As Judith Lasater says “there is no way to be harsh toward oneself and, at the same time, be compassionate to others.”  Quieting that inner critic, or better still, practicing kindness toward oneself, letting the heart and spirit—the true self—shine, and cultivating present awareness whenever possible, are key steps in our collective healing.  All healing first begins within.

What do you do that calms your critic, lets your light shine and brings you into the present?  What in your life is like a drum circle—sacred, safe, and deeply connecting?