By Jim Greiner
– Network Magazine, April 1995
Picture this: a group of early humans is gathered on a ledge outside their cave home thousands of years ago. They are busily engaged in individual tasks: some chipping flints to make tools, some scraping hides for clothing, some grinding wild nuts for food.
These are the same tasks they have done many times over. They are tedious, repetitive and physically demanding. They also require a high level of focus in order to do properly.
This day is different, though. Suddenly, by chance, the chipping, scraping and grinding sounds fall together into an interlocking rhythm. Time passes. One by one each person realizes they have been working together like this for a while now. More time passes. The rhythm gets stronger as the workers fall deeper and deeper into an effortless flow together.
Someone grunts in time with the effort of his or her task. “Unh!” Someone else answers with another sound, “Ha!” also in rhythm. Another grunt, and another.
More time passes, the finished work piles up. Someone laughs out loud at the feeling of pure joy and wonderment of the experience. More chipping, grunting, scraping, laughing and grinding.
At the end of the day the people are amazed at how much was finished, how energized they are and how good they feel. Drumming and singing have been discovered!
All over the earth people have used drumming and ceremonial gatherings to raise their spirits, release stress, energize their bodies, increase their sense of clarity and focus and develop cooperation and community. Recent clinical studies have documented the physical, mental and emotional benefits of drumming and rhythm.
The simple truth is: it works! Otherwise we would not have continued doing it as communities for so long and in so many places. Group drumming is, in fact, both a metaphor for, and a builder of, community. Rhythms are made up of interlocking patterns. Each drummer has a part to play and each part is essential for the whole rhythm to come alive. Just as in a thriving community where individuals contribute specific skills and ideas.
When strong individuals freely contribute to a group the group becomes strong. A strong group will then support it’s members who then contribute more to the group in a powerful, continuous cycle.
Drumming also requires, and nurtures, some specific physical and mental elements that are necessary, but often forgotten, in any group or individual task: relaxing, breathing properly with the diaphragm, releasing inhibitions, listening, persevering and honest self-evaluation.
The repetitive nature of drumming also helps us let go of the physical and mental distractions that often get in the way of just doing something. As the body becomes comfortable with a pattern that has been played for an extended time and the conscious mind relaxes through the “I’m bored, I want new information” stage, then worries, fears, tensions and inhibitions are released and we enter into the state of relaxed, effortless, energized clarity that athletes and martial artists also experience because of their own repetitive movements.
As people release their inhibitions and get deeper into their rhythms certain physiological changes occur in the brain and body and they experience feelings of accomplishment, fearlessness, strength and a connectedness to each other and to the natural world. These feelings are the same whether the group is a village, a corporation or a clan of cave dwellers. It is part of our nature.