“Sometimes it feels as if I live on my own planet. Do you feel that way?”
I posed that question to the ladies and gentlemen who I drummed with at some homeless shelters this week.
I received nods of agreement, from both residents and staff. Yup. It certainly can feel that way, a lot of the time, for a lot of people.
So… What to do?
In reality, we live on this planet together, all of us. And yet we seem to feel like we’re different, totally unique, the only one.
In a circle, with instruments in hand, it is easy to play with this notion; it is safe. We don’t use too many words, or labels, or make accusations. I don’t ask, “why do you feel like you live on your own planet, what’s wrong with everyone else?” And if I hear feedback on specific instances where other people have acted against someone, I try to generalize the feeling that instance brought up, rather than addressing the instance specifically.
The real thing I want to get to is what people want for their own planet, what they want to be and, more importantly, how they want to feel. With music, we can feel things. Rather than using reason, we can play from our heart and, ideally from there, we can find our own comfortable rhythm, a beat that works for us.
“Rhythm begins in the womb,” I say often, in my workshops. “It’s natural. And re-discovering it is important.”
I asked the ladies and gentlemen to please play for the group what their planet sounded like, and told them that we would try to follow along, to support them on that planet.
It seems slightly far-fetched, right? Playing out the rhythm of your desired planet. And yet…everyone nodded, and palmed out a beat, or shook their maracas, or jangled their tambourines. They played as if it was important to reach for that rhythm that worked for them and to hear others play in support of that rhythm, joining them there, in that place.
After each person finished playing, and the rhythm came to a close, I asked them how they felt. Responses ranged from “good,” and “better,” to “that felt like such a relief.”
It occurred to me that we all — every single one of us, regardless of race, class, gender, religion or age — want to feel in charge of our own rhythm. In fact, we need to feel somehow listened to and really heard. We need to feel not only acknowledged, but supported. At some point, each and every one of us wants to be the center of attention and take the lead.
I am amazed at the patience of the people I work with as we make our way around the circle and give everyone the chance to set the beat. Even the 3-year-olds I work with seem to have a great natural patience for waiting their turn if they know that eventually they will be picked, and be able to play.
Sure, you hear the odd drum-beat, or shake of an instrument. But for the most part, in my circles, everyone is respectful. It is a safe space, and they can rest assured that their time will come, that they will be the ones in charge, and that everyone will have to listen to them.
I am excited to start bringing this drum workshop to companies, both because it will help me build revenue to go into more schools and shelters, but also because I think that it will be incredibly beneficial to teams of people in the workplace to have this practice taking the lead, and listening, closely, to others.
At the end, we come together, we play out what our planet sounds like and, at the same time, we try to keep our ears open to listen for what other people’s planets sound like, and we can shift a bit accordingly. Ideally, we can find a common rhythm.
“We can keep doing our own thing, whatever feels good,” I assure people. “But we can listen too, and just make slight adjustments so we sound good together, right?”
I see nods of agreement, and I continue.
“Sometimes we can shift and change a little, for harmony.”
Stephanie Thompson is founder and executive director of Inspi