Tomato cage

Driving rules keep us from crashing into each other. When we are at a four way stop, driving rules let us know who gets to go first. If we didn’t have that we would all enter the intersection and crash into each other. Social rules let us know the same thing. When we crash into each other we all get into a big mess.

I know a lady who didn’t like the Reno Healthrhythms protocol. She felt it wasn’t organic. She wanted people to just flow around and enjoy making noise together.

Consider a map. If you are going to go to a new city you need a map to tell you how to get there. You don’t just get in your car and drive around following your feelings until you happen to end up where you need to be. You are very likely to get very lost doing it that way.

With this protocol we have a specific place we are trying to get to. We are trying to get to disclosure and honesty. We are trying to get real. It isn’t about drumming at all. It is about getting people to use drums as a way to communicate and connect. Not only do they learn how connect with each other, but they also learn how to connect with themselves.

It is like a tomato cage. The tomato cage doesn’t force the tomatoes to grow into an unnatural shape. It actually gives them a structure upon which to grow and get strong. Tomatoes that don’t have a tomato cage end up sprawling all over the ground and getting eaten by bugs. Slugs will grow fat feeding on them. The tomatoes will get mushy and gross from being on the ground. So you have to have a tomato cage to keep the tomatoes standing upright. The protocol does the same thing. It provides a skeleton or a form to shape the desired result.

It doesn’t constrict. It actually strengthens. It is the map. It is the driving instructions. It is the thing that gets us from here to there. Otherwise we are likely to end up nowhere.

Sometimes nowhere is a good place. Sometimes we think too much and we have too much structure. Sometimes it is important to do things that don’t involve thinking. Mindlessness is sometimes useful. But sometimes it just becomes an absence of anything and we end up nowhere.

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Bus driver.

One time during the drum circle I was given the task of playing the bass drum. The bass drum holds the rhythm. The bass drum is the backbone of the whole thing. It sets the time and the tone. It has to be a consistent steady beat. It is what everybody else relies on.

Midway through something really amazing happened and a lot of people were in the center and they were singing and drumming together. It was really beautiful and I wanted to look at it, but I realized if I did then I would lose track of where I was.

I realized then that I was the bus driver. They were all enjoying the scenery. My responsibility was to driving the bus and keeping us all on track.

There was another person who was keeping the rhythm with me. Every now and then I’d lose track of where I was and I look over at him. The problem was that often he was holding his drum up so I couldn’t see his mallet hit. I couldn’t use his rhythm to find my own.

At that point I had to find the rhythm within the song that was already going on and just jump back in. The group had based itself on me but then I was basing myself on it. They didn’t really need me to keep it going but I felt the responsibility.

At another point, the facilitator came over and started to talk with me during the song. I got really frustrated and told her that I couldn’t talk to her and keep the rhythm going at the same time. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I didn’t have to worry so much. I got the group started, but by then there was no way that they were relying on me. They couldn’t hear me at that point. They were doing it all very well on their own.

Which then leads to the next thought – why do I feel such a responsibility to keep things going? Why do I think that I’m in charge and have to control it? It is good to notice this and meditate on it. Some of it is rooted in my dysfunctional home life, then and now. I feel like I have to be the responsible one. I feel like if I don’t take care of things, they will all fall apart. Bills won’t get paid. There won’t be food in the house. No money left for retirement. Lifetime goals won’t be achieved.

Slowly, I’m learning to let go and trust that God is really the one driving the bus. I have my own duties that I’m called to do, but I’m not in charge. I don’t want to slack off and assume that there will be another day to do what I’m called to do – but I also don’t need to fret so much that I don’t enjoy today.

Communication connection

I’m starting to see a connection with all the classes I’ve been taking on my own, the art I’ve been making, and the tutoring I’m doing. It is all about communication – in as many different ways as possible. It is about giving other people permission, as well as different ways, to express themselves.

Pastoral care, the Circle Process, Dialogue in Diversity training, the Remo Healthrhythms Facilitator training – they are all classes I’ve paid for. Tutoring and the classes I’ve taught in prayer bracelets – that has been without pay (mostly) and taken my free time. This is all in addition to working a full-time job.

Something has driven me to take these classes, but I didn’t know what the unifying theme was until now. At the heart of it, all conversation is about communion – our connection with each other, with our own selves, with the Divine. If that sounds too out there, I can say it is about connection to yourself and others.

And that is part of it too. I want to include as many people at once. All races, all cultures, all levels of understanding and ability. This involves learning about different ways of learning, different cultural norms, different myths and legends that shape us. This involves leveling the playing field for everybody – nobody is higher. We are all working together.

I also want people to be able to express themselves not only so they will feel understood, but so that they will understand themselves. Just because English is your native language doesn’t mean that you feel comfortable communicating in it. You may write well, but don’t like speaking out loud. You may speak well, but are embarrassed about your handwriting. Or you can’t spell because you are dyslexic.

I want to remove all of these barriers between people. I want to learn as many tools as possible to get people not only talking with each other but also listening to themselves. Dance, singing, drumming, fingerpainting, puppetry, beading – whatever. I want to learn as many ways to communicate as possible.

It is critical to get out feelings. I believe that unexpressed feelings are the source of all addiction and many diseases. I believe that giving people different ways to communicate is as important as providing equal access to buildings by making them handicap accessible.

We are all handicapped in one way or another. Written and spoken language is artificial. We aren’t born speaking or writing our “native” language. It is an arbitrary system of sounds and shapes assigned to the things around us. It is symbolic, and often difficult to use.

Rings and drumming

If you are going to play drums it is important to not wear rings. Wearing rings can damage your hands but can also damage the drum. Repeated exposure of the ring to the side or the head of the drum can slowly weaken it to the point of breaking. Or if they hit very hard it can damage it very fast.

If you were lucky enough to have replaceable drumheads this isn’t horrible. They are expensive and it will slow down your ability to teach drum classes, sure. You’ll be slowed down because you have to go get a new drumhead or order one. Or you may have to wait to raise the money to be able to buy the drumhead. If you weren’t lucky, you’ll have to buy a whole new drum.

While you can ask people to take off their rings, this can cause other problems. Some people may never have taken their rings off. From the time that they got married to today that ring has been on their finger. Sometimes they have gained so much weight in that time that they can’t get their ring off. Or they have arthritis and it is equally difficult. They also may feel uncomfortable about taking a ring off for fear that they will lose it.

One way around this is to bring Band-Aids. You can offer Band-Aids so that they can put one around the ring. This will soften the impact. Put the cushion side towards the bottom. Or you can bring ball chains. That way, people can take the rings off and wear them around their necks. They are inexpensive and will help people feel comfortable that their ring isn’t going to slide out of their pocket or get lost on the floor.

Drum class notes.

These are ideas I had after the Remo Healthrhythms drumming class, and thoughts on creating circles of people in general. This is a work in progress.

Create a safe space. Comfortable chairs, temperature is moderate. Have choices for chairs so different bodies can fit. Flat cushions, zabuton, rugs. Chairs. Or all the same? Do you want people all at the same eye level, or options?

Ask about any issues, sensitivity. Loud sounds, noise, crowds.

Be considerate of food and water needs. Supply choices.

Remind people that they can take care of their needs – bathroom, water, snack. They don’t have to wait for the group to take a break.

Plan for a variety of breaks so people can stretch, talk, decompress. Have a venue with a lot of different spaces for people to go to, including outside.

Vegas rules – what happens here stays here. Get all to agree. Confidentiality. Don’t talk about what someone says or does – good or bad.

A couple of questions to start – What is your favorite kind of ice cream? How do you fold a towel? These are ways to show that we all have individual ideas, and just because they are different doesn’t make them wrong.

Ground rules – have the group create the list. Discuss. Ask – Does anyone have a problem with anything? Is everyone able to abide by these rules? Don’t proceed until you get an agreement. The discussion during this part alone is part of the experience. How do we work through conflict?

Ask everyone to turn off cell phones so we can be fully present with each other.

Tell people to ask questions – if you are thinking it, there is probably someone else who is thinking it too. You may answer someone else’s question or fix someone else’s issue.

Don’t say “beat” the drum. It reminds people of abuse.

Don’t make it like musical chairs where somebody will be left out. Always have extra instruments so everybody has a choice.

Before the event – send out info to participants about needing to wear comfortable clothes – especially pants. It is difficult to play some drums wearing a skirt. If they are going to use their hands to play a drum (not a mallet) they need to not wear any rings because it can hurt your hand and hurt the drum head.

Assure people that there is no right way to play. Mistakes are where the magic happens.

Ask for what you need.

In the shaker pass icebreaker game, say it is ok to drop the shaker. If you drop it, let it stay. Model this in the first round.