You can’t beat silence

Last night I was talking with a few friends about what kind of contemplative activities we’d like to see offered in the Atlanta area. We talked about classes on prayer, the history of mysticism, studies of specific mystics, and then we talked about how neat it would be to have some of those classes in venues other than churches — like art centers, for example.

That reminded me of an idea I had years ago, and never really pursued. I thought it would be fascinating to explore the nexus between contemplative prayer and meditation on the one hand, and drumming on the other. On the surface this may seem counterintuitive: drumming is loud, percussive, energy-intensive, whereas contemplation is silent, relaxed, gently focussed. But while they may not be identical states of consciousness, they are both altered states – and that in itself makes for an interesting question for me. Would it be possible for people to gather together, do some drumming (whether slow/meditative/shamanic, or more energetic/trancey), and then follow the drumming with a time of silence? Or maybe it would work better the other way around: sit in silence for 20 – 30 minutes, and come out of the silence not into the ringing of a Tibetan gong, but rather the steady heartbeat of a frame drum… and each person joins in, wordlessly, until the drumming gains traction, growing steadily in intensity until it explodes in a riot of joyful sound?

Drumming and contemplation. Drumming and breathing. The entire day becomes a steady drumbeat, alternating periods of silence with periods of drumming.

Anyone interested in making this happen?

Catholic Meditation and Contemplative Prayer: What's the Difference?
Five Things Christian Contemplatives can learn from Buddhists
Emptiness and Non-Attachment
Happy St. Hildegard's Day!
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • phil foster

    Well, as you know these are two important elements in my life. Sure – let’s set a time. It rather reminds me of the early work of Angeles Arrien who did work with drumming the I Ching. I don’t know but my suspicion would be that both modify brain function in some similar way. That comment isn’t meant to be reductionism.

  • Carl McColman

    Are the good folks at First Christian ready to host something like this?

  • TS
  • phil foster

    Well, it’s a possibility. It would have to be after the first of the year. Might be needed time to rally the contemplative drummers (or is that drumming contemplatives?). The project for this month and next month is a storytelling workshop in two weeks, hosted by me and led by Rev. Dr. Lynn White who is President of the Network of Biblical Storytellers (NOBS). FCCA will be hosting the Atl Guild of NOBS in Nov. Ipso facto, it would have to be after the first of the year.
    FCCA is a committed learning congregation. Part of our calling from God is to be a resource for leadership development and progressive, Spirit filled opportunities. So I think this here contemplative drumming fits. We do operate by consensus (not democracy) led by the Holy Spirit. So, I need to present this call and get the congregation’s consensual affirmation of it. It’s the New Testament Way.

  • Carl McColman

    That’s funny, I thought consensus was the Quaker way. :-)

    Please send (or post here) dates and times for the storytelling workshop (assuming it’s open to the public). Two weeks from tomorrow I leave for a weekend in Virginia, so I might not be able to participate. But it sounds like something this old Celtic yarn-spinner would love.

  • phil foster

    The storytelling workshop in 2 weeks is closed. I’m not sure about the Atl Guild of Biblical Storytellers meeting in Nov, but I will check and let you know. Peace.