13 July 2008

Dear Drummers,

I’m so looking forward to our gathering this Saturday! It’s been awhile, and that has given me some much needed rest, but I’m eager to be inside that earthy beat again.

To be spiritual is to actively dance your way into paradoxes and allow them to work on you. Here is the paradox I’m captured by right now. Since early humans began doing cave paintings, there have been about 1,500 generations, assuming a generation to be 25 years. (Read a cool article on cave paintings here). Since history began being written down about 3,500 years ago, there have been 200 generations of humans. In one way this all seems like a long stretch of time, but of course by earth standards, or cosmic standards it is barely a blink of an eye.

Time moves forward, technology changes the world again and again, whole cultures and their Gods are born, die and are forgotten, but the basic challenges of humanity seem to be unchanging. The need for love and the desire for power, the yearning to know Mystery and compulsion to kill others to gain resources, the fear of apocalypse and the blindness to how we are perpetrating it – on and on the list goes of things that don’t seem to change to for humans, regardless of the technology they are using at the moment or the language they are speaking or the god to whom they are chanting. The biblical phrase from Ecclesiastes 1:9 comes to mind:

What has been is what will be,and what has been done is what will be done,and there is nothing new under the sun.

Or as another passage says:
“Vanity of vanities! saith the Preacher,
Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”
(Ecclesiastes 1:2)

That word, vanity, is the moral-leaning King James translation from the Latin translation of the Greek translated from the original Hebrew which has, of course many meanings, one of which is “vapor” or “breath.” So in that context, the phrase might say:
“Vapor of Breaths! saith the Preacher,
Breath of breath! All is breath!”

When we speak of breath, we speak automatically of rhythm, for breath is not breath without both inhalation and exhalation. Breathing is a cycle of presence and absence, fullness and emptiness, creation and void. On it goes, on and on, generation after generation, in the human world and in the cosmic world in which humans are but a passing whim.

It’s not that I discount the possibility that I may indeed be all about vanity! But I love the phrase “All is breath” because I do indeed see everything as breath, and breath in everything – movement of fullness to emptiness and back to fullness, carrying with it the life force that swims inside for awhile, is released to the world, and taken in by someone else for awhile, and released, on and on, in and out, exchanging, transforming and exchanging the life force.

I think this is why the drum has been with us for so long – some say for 1200 generations – and continues to be our companion even in a culture like ours that has such an array of amazing toys that so easily replace the drum. The drum reminds us of this cycle of taking in and letting go, and it reminds us that this is the very definition of what it means to live. On the strictly biological level, we take in and let go without any effort: the lungs fill and empty, the heart contracts and expands, we are born and die, all without conscious effort. But we become spiritual beings by becoming more conscious about what we are taking in and what we are releasing, what we let live in us, and how we move the life force through us and into the world. The drum is a tool and teacher for moving the life force through us, for unblocking the life force and letting it flow as it is meant to do. In this way to drum is the simplest act there can be, because it brings us into alignment with fundamental process going on in everything in the universe. So the drum is a natural spiritual cleanser. And we can decide to put more or less thought (read: prayer) into what needs to flow into us, or through us, or what needs to become unstuck.

It’s the height of summer now, and we are firmly in the grasp of the direction South according to the Celtic wheel of the year: the direction of heat, light, music, dancing, joy, feasting, and Fruition – fruitiness, juiciness. The inhale that is the other side of the exhale of the winter solstice.

I look forward to gathering in delicious juiciness with you all this Saturday. If you would like to, please feel free to bring some kind of snacky food or cut flowers to help fill out our festivities.

1 comment:

  1. Breath of breath!
    All is breath!

    That is a beautiful phrase. There is a longer poem in there waiting to be written or perhaps Rumi already did.
    Only Breath

    Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu
    Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion

    or cultural system. I am not from the East
    or the West, not out of the ocean or up

    from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
    composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

    am not an entity in this world or in the next,
    did not descend from Adam and Eve or any

    origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
    of the traceless. Neither body or soul.

    I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
    worlds as one and that one call to and know,

    first, last, outer, inner, only that
    breath breathing human being.


    from The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne