I don’t want to work, I want to bang on the drum all day. I don’t want to play, I just want to bang on the drum all day. – Todd Rundgren
The last two weeks have been quite busy. I hate that word, as we use it to describe so much. Like the word love it can lose all meaning. I try to take guidance from a familiar name to the paleo community, James Clear, who focus on spending our time on what is important, rather than just that which is urgent. Making that distinction is itself, a task. I am in a calling where those are often the same thing. In the last 10 days, I’ve performed two funerals, and attended a third. The two I performed were with large families who lost an elderly matriarch with a long term illness. Both had lost their father several years ago (which I attended to as well). For all of the children and grandchildren, the grieving process was, and is, a different experience. It is a privilege to be in my position, invited to be with people in the midst of this vulnerability and difficulty. It’s not easy, but it’s the holiest work I do. And I believe that to do it well, I cannot be disaffected. It has been said by many wise trainers of pastors that to do this, you must have a high tolerance for others’ pain. I struggle with that every time.
In between these events, I hiked the Hyner Challenge. I tended to other responsibilities, including producing a youth Sunday service, which begins with a career in dentistry (as in, pulling teeth) and develops into stage management and band directing, In other words, I had to get very bossy. And it went well. I was exhausted after Sunday, but pleased.
Throw one more element into the mix, I attended a third funeral. I sometimes feel like a professional mourner. I try to attend funerals I don’t conduct, when they are family of my parishioners. I tend to their grief, and they are my people. But because I am not far from my hometown, and my roots run deep through Central PA, I end up going to funerals as a mourner myself. This past Saturday, I attended the funeral of someone I knew long ago, before facebook, even before email. We went to summer camp together, in the place where I met my best friends for life, as well as my wife. But this friend was one who didn’t stay in the area, and we lost touch. As I see what paths he took, I know we would have still gotten along famously. His DIY spirit, his academic pursuits, his general attitude toward life: he was exactly the kind of person I choose to keep company with. .
But in a tragedy that I have come to know all too often, he took his own life. He was only 39. And while it’s hard enough to bury an 85 year old person with gathered generations of descendants weeping as the circle of life continues, it is much harder to reconcile to suicide of a peer. And the truth is, some things just cannot be reconciled intellectually.
With all this on my mind and heart, the timing of this event I write of today could not have been better. At the Integrated Yoga Center in New Berlin, I was part of an evening workshop on drumming and chanting.
The evening was organized by Drew Hubbell, of the Susquehanna University English department. I didn’t know he had arranged this, but I know who Drew is. He’s a fellow triathlete, and I cross paths with him in the swimming pool at lap time, at the runs in Selinsgrove, and cultural events on the campus. When I pulled in to park and saw a red pickup with a TRI sticker, I told myself “any local triathlete who is at a drum circle event is either someone I already know, or someone I NEED TO know.”
The leader of the workshop was Jim Donovan. Jim was a founding member of the band Rusted Root that was based in Pittsburgh, and gained national attention through the 90s. They still tour, but he left in 2005. Here’s the fanboy geek-out part. I used to see this band a lot. I was a huge fan. I saw them in a small club in State College, on festival stages, in college gyms, and theaters. I loved that band so much, I used to have a recurring dream that I was in the band. I was playing drums of course. Not that I was an experienced or talented percussionist, but a band like that brings out the drummer in all of us.
I came to the event knowing I needed it. I’ve played a few drum circles before, mostly poorly-executed parking lot mashups at concerts. But even though I have a djembe, I haven’t taken the time for gathering with “organized” drum circles. There are some in my area, and I intend to attend the one Drew hosts. It is the last Friday of the month at the New Berlin yoga center.
Drumming is whatever you want it to be. To drum together is a communal experience, and facilitates meditation and prayer. You don’t have to subscribe to any religious or philosophical dogma to participate. I can usually remember the references precisely, but right now it escapes me: there is a John Hughes movie line where someone is skeptical about participating in something outside their comfort zone and asks “I don’t know, will I still be Presbyterian?” I feel like it was 16 candles, anyone? Bueller? anyone?
After burying an old friend you lost touch with, (not the first time I’ve done that, and not the first time it was self-inflicted) nothing beats clearing your head like a drum and chant workshop. The sound has a physical aspect to it that is medicinal. I used to sit and play my guitar to get rid of headaches. Just holding a box of vibrating wood works wonders at a cellular level. One drummer that night said her headache was gone after some playing. That might surprise a neighbor who heard a lot of noise coming from the building, but it makes sense to anyone in the room.
When the event was over, I spoke to Jim for a minute about how I have discovered a need to get more comfortable in my body, especially since dealing with the fear and balance issues that were so starkly revealed to me on the path of the Hyner challenge. I know that yoga, maybe even ballet or a movement class would help. But I’m still not even there yet. Drumming was more physical than I had realized before. I said this was probably the way into a new change for me, becoming more comfortable in my skin.
He smiled and said “it’s called sound yoga.”
Sometimes I need to just run. Sometimes I need to just swim. But when those don’t clear my mind and bring the empty mind that I need to find, I think I shall pick up my drum.
If you’re a paleo or primal thinker, or an endurance athlete who takes to the miles to find something, consider drumming. You don’t need to have musical experience, you don’t need to have great rhythm. Whether you’re religious, prayerful, or not particularly spiritual, the practice of clearing the mind and connecting your physical space with your mental space can serve you in many ways,
Being who I am, of course I am immediately trying to think of a crossover here. As my endurance life goes more into the trail running scene, I can see myself a few years down the road, organizing drum circles before races as a way to prepare and de-stress. I’m going to assume it;’s already happening out there, and I just haven’t found it yet. That’s one of my greatest joys in life thinking I came up with something new but then seeing there’s already a vibrant community with the same idea. That might be disappointing to some who want to get “credit” for innovation, but as an extrovert, my energy comes from others, and when I ask a question “hey, does anybody else like ________ ” and the answer comes back “yeah, we’ve been here all along! Welcome aboard!” Then I get psyched.
So whether I have to find the already existing tribe of drummer-runners, or if I have to be the guy who creates it, I’m in.