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. After giving up an early interest in percussion 50 years ago when a school music teacher told me “girls don’t play drums, ” I discovered this in a World Rhythms hand drumming class at a local music conservatory. The other 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 sense intuitively 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.
Carolyn Lee Boyd is a human services administrator, herb gardener, and writer whose work focuses on the sacred in the everyday lives of women. Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews and more have been published in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work at her blog, www.goddessinateapot.com.
11 thoughts on “Drumming to the Universal Pulse in an Out of Sync World by Carolyn Lee Boyd”
I first felt the universal rhythm while swimming in the sea or walking in nature as a child. Then I felt it in the free-style dancing of the late 60s and early 70s and now in Greek dancing. I am right-left dislexic but the steps (which I have learned and practiced) come most easily to me when I lose myself in the dance. Any activities that connect us in this way can be healing and conducive to health. And they are not about words.
This brings me to a dilemma. One of my friends who has suffered deeply for being criticized for her work with the refugees refused to come to the town celebration of Apokreas a few days ago, because so many of those who would be there had been cruel to her and to those she was helping. And yet, coming together could have been a step towards healing. I find myself wondering what is the right choice for me in similar situations. How do we affirm our common human rhythms when actions and words have torn us apart?
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I’m so sorry your friend is experiencing such suffering. I think you’ve hit on one of the most important dilemmas of this moment in history, when so many issues are tearing families, communities, nations and the world apart. Where my mind goes is to the small interactions that reweave personal, individual relationships that can then turn into larger healing – the conversations among people who disagree, the circles or neighborhood meetings to discuss difficult situations, the community dances and other activities that bring out the universal rhythms among smaller groups that heal and make us ready to bring together larger groups to solve problems and find common ground. Facilitating these kinds of interactions is a form of activism that is not always recognized but is, I think, essential.
So much wisdom here. I love the idea of stopping to listen when you lose the beat and waiting till your own intuition catches the rhythm again. In order to sustain any kind of commitment to activism, we need to know its ok to pause, even stop, not know. I wonder if Carol’s friend needs some time out before she jumps back in after giving and suffering so much. Thank you for this post, Carolyn.
Thanks so much for your kind words!
“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.” Thank you for this post. I will forward it to my Biblical drummers group.
You’re very welcome! I would love to hear more about the Biblical drummers and how they play!
We meet once a week to play frame drums in Layne Redmond style. The leader is a retired United Church minister. We have played in Christian and Jewish services. Everyone loved your blog.
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I once belonged to a huge drumming group that met in a metaphysical bookstore. Alas, the store went out of business and the drummers scattered. The drumming was sublime fun, and you’re right–if you lose the beat, stop and listen. The beat comes back into your hands. Thanks for reminding me about the drumming.
You’re welcome! Your huge drumming group sounds wonderful. I love your phrase “the beat comes back into your hands.” I sometimes feel like learning to drum is as much about remembering what we all once knew about being rhythmic as it is about gaining a new skill.
I love this thought of yours, thanks Carolyn Lee, where you mention in the same breath — “the world that reveres human rights and environmental sanity.”
I just learned today, March 3, is WORLD WILDLIFE DAY, so a good time to love, help, or save a creature, or contribute to an environmental group. I read recently that the Sierra Club now has about 750,000 members — wow, that’s so good — hooray.
Wow! 750,000 members! World Wildlife Day is truly a day to celebrate – thanks for letting us know about it!