I love sharing what I do with people. It is so much fun to have a conversationwhere I describe a group drumming session to someone who has never experienced one. We discuss lots of benefits like stress relief, camaraderie building, improvements to overall wellness, and of course, fun. These are all great topics, but even after sharing this information someone will eventually ask, “Why do you do this?” In reality, this is a really good question…one that has multiple answers. I’d like to share one of those answers with you today.
At one of my regularly scheduled sessions at a retirement community there is a sweet lady; we’ll call her Emma. Emma is wheel-chair bound, very quiet, and somewhat timid. She comes to the session and while we are getting started and chatting about the weather, grandkids, or whatever, she is very attentive and engaged. When I pass instruments out, she always suggests that I give her instrument to someone else. I assure her that I have plenty of drums and encourage her to hang onto the instrument, for now. When we start playing she will typically play a little bit and then take long breaks, usually with a confused look on her face. She seems to be enjoying herself (just being there), but lacks confidence while we are playing.
A couple of months ago, Emma waited for me after our drumming session to tell me that she finally figured it out. She finally understood why she struggles with playing the drums in this setting. She told me that she has a very hard time with activities that are not meticulously planned. She struggles with letting go and just being in the moment. She is uncomfortable not knowing what is coming up next and how she will deal with it. As we discussed her comments, she shared that she doesn’t really like this part of herself. She WANTS to be able to just enjoy herself without having to feel in control. We then discussed how she could address this issue. Now, I am not a therapist or expert of any kind, but I do know that if you want to get more comfortable with something or get better at something it is best to keep doing it. We can’t expect to advance if we give up when we are uncomfortable. She agreed. I told her that if she would come back to drum, I would bring the drums and always have a place for her. She seemed relieved. She thanked me for the conversation and I packed my gear. I left feeling like I had helped her to discover something about herself. I was happy and proud of what had just happened…maybe too proud.
One month later…same facility…Emma comes back. She, like always, is engaged, but obviously uncomfortable when we are playing. After the session she waits for me again. This time she tells me she is not coming back to our monthly drumming group. In her mind, it is just too hard and she feels worthless during the session. She doesn’t believe it is fair to the other participants, etc., etc. My heart sank. I tried to encourage her, but she was having none of it. She shared with me her feelings of worthlessness. While the feelings were real, we explored if they were rooted in reality. As our conversation progressed, I eventually asked her if she had fun at the drumming sessions. She responded emphatically that she LOVED them. I then told her that we all (me, the other residents, and the staff) loved having her at the drumming session. Even if she chooses to play a little or not to play at all we, the group, would not be the same without her. The conversation continued and as we were wrapping up, I asked her, “Can I give you a…” and before I could say “hug” her arms were outstretched toward me. I leaned down and gave her a hug . She hugged me back and gave me a huge kiss on the cheek and said she would definitely be back.
I shared this experience with the Activities Director at this facility and she told me that Emma had been struggling lately. She had recently fallen and now needed more help than ever. She feels helpless and worthless because she can’t do the things she used to do and needs substantial help for seemingly simple things. And there you have it.
My conversation with Emma was not about her feeling worthless because she struggled playing the drums. It was about her feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, worthlessness, etc. that she is dealing with as she ages. Now, I don’t know if our conversation or our drumming sessions will have a lasting effect on Emma as she deals with the uncertainties of aging (there is no one thing that can), but I do know that for a few minutes she realized her worth is not rooted in what she can or can’t do. Her worth as a human is innate regardless of age or ability. She brings something special, something only she can bring, to our drumming group and our lives. This is what we try to bring to every drumming session. I, and every drum circle facilitator I know, want more than anything to use our drumming as a tool to improve the lives of others. What that will look like we don’t know. That is the exciting thing about what we do. We get to discover everyday, with every person, how to use our passion to help others.
This is why we do what we do!!!