Drumming to the Universal Pulse in an Out of Sync World

First appeared in Feminism and Religion, March 3, 2017

Beneath all being is a universal rhythm that is as deep as natural law and as easy to find as the beat of a drum.  I discovered it when, after giving up an early interest in percussion 50 years ago when a school music teacher told me “girls don’t play drums,” I recently began a World Rhythms  hand drumming class at a local music conservatory. My fellow drumming students, our uber-patient teacher, and I were pounding away, practicing rhythms and counter-rhythms,  when we were suddenly all embraced by the flow of a single central pulse and, freed from the constant task of trying to stay on beat, created, for that moment, an entity of sound that was unique, beautiful and complex, and living.

Later I learned that “entrainment” is a well-researched phenomenon that happens when two or more entities in proximity naturally synchronize their rhythms. Entrainment causes roommates to menstruate on the same schedule, or clock pendulums to begin to swing at the same pace when placed near one another, or drummers to play perfectly on the same beat seemingly effortlessly.

I have certainly and frequently also experienced being “out of sync” while drumming.  The class  will be merrily drumming away and suddenly I will lose the pulse.  The rhythm makes no sense to me now, as if I’ve been tossed into a cacophony of sound. I am disoriented and unable to function as a drummer at all. But, I’ve learned what to do.  I stop. I listen deeply. I wait until my intuitive rhythm shows me a doorway back into the pulse. I jump into the groove, and off I go. 

Just as we can be in or out of sync when drumming, we can be spiritually in or out of sync, too.  I am spiritually in sync when, for example, I’m looking up at the sky feeling as if it is a map of my soul’s freedom and a bird will go soaring across the horizon, or I am with other women singing and our voices perfectly express what is happening in my life at that moment. 

When I am spiritually out of sync, I am no longer connected to the basic rhythm of the world I live in or its people, as if I no longer have a foundational understanding of what is happening around me. I  cannot thrive healthfully or accomplish what I need to individually or as part of a community. My spirit no longer drinks from the sacred well we all share and I wander, I despair.

What if, at these times, I could use the same method to re-align myself with the underlying rhythm that connects me to other people and the world?  For example, sometimes I feel out of sync with a world that forces me to fight the same women’s rights and ecological battles over and over, in which it seems that the progress I have assumed all my life is inevitable will never happen.  Then, I make time to step away from constantly checking the news. I listen to people with lifetimes of experience and the determination to act with both realism and hope. I begin to senseintuitively that I am not out of sync with much of the world that reveres human rights and environmental sanity. I jump into the pulse in ways I might not have before, showing up at meetings and marches and interacting with people I might not have met otherwise. Eventually, I recover my footing and my voice.

But, being in sync with others is even more powerful than simply finding the strength to act by being in alignment with others. Consider polyrhythm, which is when many drummers play different rhythms to the same common beat, sometimes improvising in turn.  Everyone is grounded in and supported by the same pulse, and so is freed to truly let loose with her most innovative creativity to compose on the spot, creating a masterpiece together. What is created in that combined rhythmic flow is essentially greater than any one drummer could have composed alone.

If we can recognize that spiritual pulse and learn to stop, listen, feel the beat, and jump in when we need to accomplish goals, we can move forward in ways we could not have imagined. We all have so many shared elements of our lives — whether those are phases in our life cycles, or an energy and commitment to a particular goal or cause, or something else — that help us be in sync with one another so that we can express our individual talents more forcefully. I think of the many women’s circles I have attended when a deep resonance with something someone said inspired me to write an article or short story I never could have before or when our common sense of commitment gave us the impetus for a new joint project.  Truly being in sync means tapping into an underlying rhythm that connects and energizes our souls in ways that result in something truly new and transformational. What might we be able to do if we consciously called on that power when we need it most?

Perhaps in our gravely out of sync world – where people are divided, our choices continue to create an imbalanced environment, expressed “truth” may have little do with reality, and so much seems to make no sense – going freely and courageously into the wisdom of a common heartbeat, whatever that may be for you at this moment, can lead us into a better future. May your drumming, in all its forms, be loud and strong, bold and brave. 

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