It takes effort to acknowledge rhythm: both our need for it, and how it already is at work in our lives. We rise, we eat and shower, we speak and are silent, we work and play, we retire for the evening. Finding rhythm is not so much about creating rhythm as it is about recognizing that which is already present and knowing it for the first time. As drummers we seek to bring out the inherent rhythm of a song, not to impose our own patterns upon it. There is already something at work here, behind the scenes, which calls us to attention.
I think the first step is in realizing what is directly before us. I found a reflection by the Monks of New Skete, an Eastern Orthodox monastic community in Cambridge, New York, which I think really relates to this idea:
Planting yourself squarely in the present moment is a condition for being truly alive and happy. . . .Take time to notice. A freshly brewed cup of coffee that we savor in silence, an invigorating shower that rinses away the past night’s sleep – these are but two examples of daily rites that have the power to lift our spirits and carry us forward through the day. What counts in these routines is our awareness of them. We can go through such moments on automatic, or we can discipline ourselves to pay attention to them with a spirit of openness and gratitude. Keep track of yourself today and see if this is not true: Life feels so different to the one who takes time to notice it. (Rise Up, 55)
Noticing. Paying attention. Being present. This will take some getting used to!
Far too often when we hear the words ‘daily rhythm’ or ‘habits’ our minds automatically think of strict adherence to a system of rules, like a boarding school which regulates every spare moment of its students’ lives. Unfortunately, that image is sometimes the reality. We can overdo finding rhythms in such a way that we forget the purpose behind having such rhythms in the first place. And what is that purpose? To cultivate an inner life which is regularly watered and fed, like a garden, where routine care and work is necessary to keep its world alive. If our inner lives still feel like a cacophonous zoo in our blustering to achieve a regularly paced routine then perhaps the routine is itself too rigorous or overly detailed. If finding rhythm is just another check box on a to-do list, we’ve already missed the point. This is not another thing we do: this is an attitude that we live out of.
We need to start small. Baby steps.
In his reflections on the Psalms, Eugene Peterson draws our attention to the rhythm of language: words and silence. What we learn from the poetry of the Psalms has much to say about our prayers and our lives. We need to slow down:
You cannot speed-read a poem. Poetry cannot be hurried. We must slow our minds (and, in prayer, our lives) to the pace of the poet’s breathing, phrases separated by pauses. . . . Poetry requires equal time be given to sounds and silences. In all language silence is as important as sound. But more often than not we are merely impatient with the silence. Mobs of words run out of our mouths, non-stop, trampling the grassy and sacred silence. We stop only when breathless. Why do we talk so much? Why do we talk so fast? Hurry is a form of violence practised on time. But time is sacred. The purpose of language is not to murder to the silence but to enter it, cautiously and reverently. (Answering God, 60-61)
One of my first lessons in drumming with a band—finding the rhythm within the music—was not to fill space haphazardly. I can still hear the instruction, “Less is more.” We need to give room to the pockets of silence between sound. Likewise, we need to be attentive to the moments of rhythm and renewal in our lives, instead of always rushing and seeking to fill our days pell-mell.
Less is more. In drumming less (less hurried, less busy and less sporadic) I found that the beats that are played have greater resonance. There is space for the skin to reverberate the sound. The parallels to life are abundant: by learning to slow down and take the time we can discover great purpose in the opportunities before us—even the seemingly menial ones. The daily routine, so easily dismissed, now come alive with meaning. This is far from legalistic rule-setting. This is life!
Whatever the specific regularities demanded upon us by our lives or work schedules there are still the general or universal rhythms which nearly all of us find ourselves in. The basics of life: sleeping, waking, rising, eating, bathing, clothing, working, playing, praying.
By choosing to observe these ordinary rites we better prepare ourselves to live: to engage one another, ourselves and our God. As we slow down and attune ourselves to those daily routines we move from finding rhythm to knowing it.
Be well this weekend,