RACHMONISS & RHYTHM--drumming & compassion

You may be wondering about the name of this post, RACHMONISS & RHYTHM.  “Rachmoniss“* is a Yiddish word.  It means compassion, but like a lot of foreign words, a plain translation doesn’t do it justice.  Yeah, it means compassion–also mercy, caring, empathy.  Feeling for someone else deep in your soul.  Taking someone else’s  troubles into yourself, so  you understand completely, without judgment.  I think true rachmoniss can change you forever.  Like a mushroom in the rain, each experience makes you bigger, with more rachmoniss to give.  I love this word.  Love the sound of it, the way it rolls around in my mouth.  Rach-mon-iss.  I aspire to rachmoniss, to grow, like a mushroom in the rain.

When I participated in my first drum circle about 14 years ago, I thought of rachmoniss, and also some sayings of Hillel, a rabbi from ancient times.  His sayings are popular these days, you might have heard them:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  
If I am for myself alone, what am I?  
And if not now, when?

I drummed in that first circle, and along with the sounds of the drums, Hillel’s words kept drumming in my head.  I heard them in every beat, every voice, of every drum.  I saw how each person needed to play fully, to their full capability, so that we, as a group, could soar.  And if not now, when?  The beat doesn’t wait for you.  It just keeps coming.  At first, we stumbled along, then–HAH!–we were together!  A magical force, driving forward, creating beautiful, amazing drum-songs none of us could have created on our own. 

My teacher and facilitator of that circle, Arthur Hull (grandfather of group drumming in the US), seemed to me to be a walking definition of rachmoniss.  He was open to everyone, open to the moment, empowering all of us to come together, be the most we could be as individuals, and as a group, a new entity, born of the moment, for that session.  He kept referring to “drum church,” a sacred, pure space for trading rhythm, trust, friendship, truest intentions.  Being Jewish, I translated this to “drum synagogue” or “drum schul”, while Hillel’s and Arthur’s words kept sounding in my ears.

In the years since that first circle, I’ve led hundreds of drum circles, for thousands of people, of all ages, in all venues.  And every time–drum schul.  People open up, the music soars.  The people with their drums teach me rachmoniss.  They bring home to me once again, the power of Hillel’s words.  I learn, I grow, and I am always grateful.

*Pronunciation aid: The “ch” in rachmoniss  represents the Hebrew letter chet”, which makes a sound that doesn’t occur in English.  The “ch” is like the sound someone makes in their throat when they’re about to spit, like, “Ch-tu-ey!”  Yeah, kinda gross, but what can I do?  That’s the sound.  If you can say the Yiddish word, “chutzpah,” you’re there.

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