Rhythm Mind is a method of focusing attention by intently listening to the rhythms of music and engaging with them using drum sticks and a silent rubber pad. It requires no musical experience or desire to become a musician. The practice can be a daily meditation or an occasional fun diversion. It can be done in a small area; it doesn’t require the purchase of an expensive instrument; and it will not disturb the neighbors.
Rhythm Mind inhabits the space of “flow,” where one is pleasurably challenged and invited to lose track of time in a creative, absorbing activity. Paradoxically, one loses track of time by becoming deeply focused on patterned movements in time. Rhythm Mind offers the joy of drumming to people who are not, or don’t want to be, “drummers.” It is therefore different from “learning an instrument.” As a side-effect, though, one will learn how to drum with sticks, and any of the techniques learned from Rhythm Mind are transferable to a drum set, or any drum played with sticks.
Rhythm Mind begins in an upright, seated posture with a rubber pad on an adjustable stand raised to a height appropriate for the player’s physical size. One sits on an height-adjustable round stool (drum throne) so that the legs and feet can create a relaxed, grounded base from which to move the limbs. The optimal posture is dynamically centered and balanced, with the hands free to play stick patterns and the feet free to tap along in time. Maintaining this balanced posture invites awareness and control of core muscles. An awareness of the breath and of one’s thoughts (or lack of thought) while playing is also encouraged.
The goal of finding physical and mental balance is echoed in the balancing of the drum sticks and the control of their return bounce (rebound) from the pad’s springy surface. Propelling the sticks and responding to their rebound is a physical collaboration between the player, the sticks, and the pad. The upright posture of Rhythm Mind intentionally parallels the practice of sitting meditation, from Soto Zen Buddhism, one of the inspirations for Rhythm Mind. A non-theistic, experience-based philosophy–not a religion requiring faith–Zen offers an opportunity to observe and control conscious awareness.
In addition to the physical awareness of sitting and breathing, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers learn to make the sticks dance in patterns around the surface of the pad. One practices the simple movements required for each successful stroke until “effortless mastery” is achieved. One learns to play single and double-strokes with each hand and to intertwine them at various speeds and volumes. The variations are infinite and endlessly entrancing. The technical details required to do Rhythm Mind are minimal and uncomplicated. From simple elements one builds a practice that benefits the mind, emotions, and body.
Consciousness becomes focused on the articulation of the small movements needed to control the sticks. This hyperawareness of the body links up with the aural awareness and rhythmic feeling of the music one plays along with. At the same time, imagination and creativity make improvisational decisions about what patterns to play and what aspects of the practice on which to concentrate attention. These aspects include body feeling, focused listening to different aspects of the music, the movement of the breath, the creation of repeating beats and interlocking patterns, and so on. Each practice session, like each stroke, is unique and unrepeatable.
From a position of strength and focused awareness, one makes rhythms and sounds by playing the sticks on the surface of the pad. Entrainment and synchronization align the player with something beyond the self, a felt pulse, like the heartbeat, breathing, or waves. We become aware of the rhythms that surround us and that inhere in subjective and objective existence.