Raised in an anxiety-ridden home, it was stressful to live in the “now.” Far better to prepare for “what’s next,” I thought, even with its own undercurrent of anxiety.
A friend recently invited me to a year-long meditation but the voluminous information and instant marketing hype quickly drove me away. Unsettling. Like when I attempted meditation years ago in the standard seated position. Arduous. As soaking in a tub. Has this happened to you? Meditation offers many benefits but feeling stressed is not the goal.
Far more agreeable to me, are movement meditations such as hand drumming, walking, or being in the moment with Mother Nature. Fixed on berry picking, the smell of sun-ripening tomatoes and basil brushing my arm, or the infinite colors and textures of nature are far more relaxing and in-the-moment experiences for me.
One size doesn’t fit all. In many things, but meditation too. Giving myself permission to discover what works for me is key. Don’t know where to begin? Try leaving the cell phone behind and taking a walk outside. You may be pleasantly surprised by the calm in connecting with Mother Nature.
I communicate in many languages. But my lexicon doesn’t contain words per se. No, I’m not talking about texting but of a communication so beautiful no words are necessary.
In seasonal poetry gatherings each of us brings a random poem to read aloud. The words we share are not our own but the understanding we glean from the words of others. While some may be serious, others witty, or thought provoking — and on any topic of choosing, a common thread soon appears. Ah, no doubt the Universe is at play here we chuckle each time we recognize the unintentional theme that connects us together.
The languages I convey do not use technology, social media, or heaven forbid a cell phone. A verbal silence in hand drumming makes room for magic. When words do not appear, the voice of the drums speaks profoundly through our creative energy. Rhythms intertwine, calling, responding, supporting, expressing, wandering, somewhere…but together.
Standing in my kitchen, I cook. My focus is lovingly preparing a tasty meal, and setting a table that honors the food and the ones it nourishes. Sitting together then and savoring this offering of utilitarian sensory art reveals the unseen ingredient.
Sharing the bounty of my garden, holding the door open for someone, offering a smile, anyone can understand. I do not need to say one word to communicate with anyoneanywhere. All of us can speak the same language when we do not use words.
You hear a lot about the benefits of meditation these days but that incessant mental chatter is reluctant to give up center stage. Foregoing a lobotomy, what is one to do?
Sitting cross-legged on a cushion to meditate was as agonizing for me as soaking in a hot bath. (I can’t wait ’til it’s over.) Same for sitting straight with hands on my thighs — even if it’s my favorite chair. Someone gave me a book on transcendental meditation but I got through maybe a third of it (at best). The standard practice of focusing on the breath doesn’t hold my focus.
A spiritual guide who entered my life like an angel, eased my anxiety over not being able to meditate. (Counterproductive like rushing to yoga class.) “You know, you don’t have to sit in a lotus pose or chant to meditate,” he said. “Anytime you’re solely focused in the moment, it’s meditation. Like when you’re gardening or acutely aware of those bluest of blue skies.” He was talking about mindful meditation.
Somewhere in all of this I discovered hand drumming and before I knew it, I became a regular at the twice-monthly sessions at the health food store. Drumming for 3 hours straight felt like only minutes passed. (Talk about transcendental!) I experienced drumming’s healing effects by osmosis and later learned it’s gaining popularity for treating various health conditions (high blood pressure, cancer, stress, Parkinson’s, depression, etc. For me, it was chronic fatigue). See drumming for mindfulness.
One of the drummers showed me a movement meditation. Focusing solely on the fluid movements resonated with me like when I practice morning Qigong. I don’t drum in the morning for obvious reasons and prefer the energy of a diverse drum circle anyway.
Can you feel the calming energy in her sweeping movements? You can feel this way too. Go ahead. Try it. No one’s watching.
Still, there are days when my to-do list wins out and sets me in high gear before I’ve practiced self-care. More recently, I’ve heard that beginning the day with even one minute of meditation is beneficial. One minute? Really? I can do that.
So, when I came across this post on sound meditation from a blogger who also has difficulty quieting her mind, I thought I’d try it. I simply focused solely on the sounds around me as they appeared: a cardinal flitting from the feeder to my window screen, another bird chirping in the distance, a whooshing car…rain on the roof, on the glass, through the gutter…the hum of the refrigerator…a creaking board. This worked beautifully to ward off my noisy taskmaster. And as my thoughts attempted to wander in wonder of what type of bird I heard, it was easier to gently pull back and simply — focus — on the sound — simply — as sound.
No longer am I stressed that I can’t meditate in the usually depicted forms. Different strokes for different folks you know. The key is finding what resonates for you. If you have trouble quieting mental chatter, you might want to try sound or movement meditation. I’d love to hear your experience — we’re all in this together.
“Meditation: when the space between your thoughts becomes greater than the thoughts between your spaces.” — Alan Cohen
Driving home on this rainy Saturday evening, the windshield wipers are paragraphs separating my thoughts. I’ve been hand-drumming for 3 hours in a drum circle at the local health food store. Some of the participants I’ve known for decades, others I met today.
The face of my friend flashes through my mind. We lunched earlier at a neighborhood deli whose house-made bread is better than anything in Manhattan for sure. I met Meg through hand drumming a decade ago. We smile, laugh, talk serious. We are not looking down at our phones because we intentionally have unsophisticated, un-smart phones. Just practical little devices for emergency. That makes sense to us. Neither of us wants to be tethered to technology. We talk dogs, travel, gardening. The wonder of a kindergartener seeing a real robin or eating a nasturtium.
“What does it taste like?” I am curious to know.
“A little peppery,” she says, and especially to a five-year old.
“I’ve always wanted to grow asparagus,” I tell her. “I put it in with rhubarb last year.” She nods, confirming my assumption that they are good companions. My friend teaches biology. I hope she can teach me about growing asparagus. “I didn’t know what to do with it at the end of last season…now I’ve got a 12” stalk like you see in the grocery store but next to it is a 4-5’ high, tree-like stalk but much thinner…” I show her with my hands. “It’s actually got several thin branches that also look like asparagus…”
“My friend Margaret grew asparagus. I can ask her,” she offers.
“Great! I’ll send you a photo to show her.”
“She doesn’t do e-mail so she would have to come to my house and look at my phone.”
If anyone can easily explain how to properly grow asparagus please contact me!
Hmmm. This is interesting I think. There are more people than the handful in my Social Media workshop and me who are intentionally not wired, or loosely.
My friend and I agree how much we love getting together for lunch or dinner, being in nature, the warmth of human communication. Her eyes twinkle when I share a bit of synchronicity with her. “Good thing you were aware, and paying attention to notice all those things,” she says. Good thing you weren’t looking down at your phone and I could see your smile I think.
“I notice and appreciate nature more and more each year. I’ve never considered myself very religious, but a spiritual person,” I tell her. “I’ve been reading more of the Tao and it speaks truth to me. Everywhere.” Her smile confirms we are on the same page. I like making eye contact and our welcome and parting hugs.
Swish-swish. Swish-swish. The parting conversation with another friend at the drum circle pops into my head. “I’m addicted to my phone,” he confesses then shows me a photo another drumming friend posted 17 minutes ago. I confide that I’ve signed-up for a Social Media workshop, that I’m hoping to find a balance so I can still function in a technological society but not become an addict.
“Did you see the 60 Minutessegment on technology intending to make you addicted to your phone?” I ask, feeling fear and audacity rising within me.
“Well, I don’t think they want you to be addicted,” he says. “Just use it a lot.”
I can’t imagine having to ask others to like me I think. It just sounds so, so unnatural. Either you like me or you don’t, but do you have to announce it to the world? Is privacy passé? Social media is the antithesis of my values. I’ve never wanted 1,000 friends. That sounds too exhausting. I like the quality ones I have and they know it. Solid, true friends sharing quality time together… Does the world need to know that? Swish-swish. Swish-swish. The wipers clear away the thoughts that have kept me true to my values but from going with the crowd and against my own grain.
Faces of people I’ve hand-drummed with over the years are a slide show in my mind. The deep connection we’ve developed through hand drumming is like the comfort of a best friend yet I may not know the person, their last name, career, education, socio-economic status, ethnicity, where they live, or any other defining label, and it doesn’t matter. We speak a universal language that has no words but is expressed from hands to hearts, through conga drums, djembes, doumbeks, bongos, or any other piece of percussion (we are not prejudice). Hand drumming is yin-yang conversing — talking and listening at the same time.
I’ve often described hand drumming as cooking a large vat of soup where everyone adds a little something different be it a vegetable, herb, color or spice, and soon the flavor deepens, the aroma permeates the air and it’s evolved into something so darn good that I wonder why people do recreational drugs when they can hand drum.
Swish-swish. Slowing rain reveals the lush green mountainside. Rounding the corner, I’m home now, welcomed by dogwoods brilliant as the full moon, and bursting pinks. I’m breathless from the splendor of spring. Can social media really do that for me?