In a street level apartment in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a small group of women with various disabilities gathered in June of 2015. Faith Schwartz, a name fitting her mission, dedicated her life to helping Jewish women with disabilities experience support and joy in their life. I was hired by Faith to facilitate a healing drum circle for these adults. One of the participants, Chanie Chein, walked into the room with a huge presence, a great big smile and an uneven gait as she walked with her crutches. She had Spinal Arteriovenous Malformation, which caused her to have a weakness in the lower limbs.
My workshop, “The Healing Power of the Drum,” based on my book of the same name uses exercises to help participants experience some degree of fun, play, and self-empowerment.
After moving through various exercises using the body to create rhythms, I handed out Remo Soundshape drums which are small circular drums played with a mallet, to each adult.
After a call and respond drumming exercise in which each adult created their own rhythms and then had it echoed by everyone else, I asked everyone to put their mallets to the ground and hold the drum with the skin facing upward. We were about to create a human drum set in which each adult holds their drum as if it their drum was part of a drum set. Essentially, it allows a person to play the number of drums based on the participants in the room. With a room of fourteen participants, it became a 14 person drum set.
After demonstrating the concept, I asked for any volunteers. For a moment, no one raised their hand. As I scanned the room looking for any volunteers, what occurred next delighted me. Chanie Chein, the woman who walked into the room holding her crutches wanted to create her drum set. My mind wandered as I wondered how she would hold her mallets while holding the handles of her crutches.
Without hesitation and with supreme confidence, Chanie confidently placed her crutches on the ground. Aware of the risk, she walked to the center of the circle with her two mallets preparing to play her drums and without the helpful encumbrances that often accompany her. As I looked around the room at the other women who had their own challenges, I witnessed a quiet sense of acknowledgement and hope, that a leader emerged willing to take a stand for herself, in this moment of affirmation and release.
As she took each step without her crutches, I took a deep breath in, hoping that she would be safe, yet watching Faith smiling, I felt assured she would be okay. As she walked from person to person, hitting the drum, her face beaming with pride, it was clear that this represented something important to Chanie, a statement of freedom.
She moved from person to person, creating her own rhythms and beats. In every beat of the drum she made, there was a feeling of relief, of excitement, and of joy. The risk of falling offset by a newfound sense of pride and aliveness as she allowed herself to take a risk that enabled her to play her 15 person drum set. Whether this moment was a metaphor of letting go of the crutches in her life, it was clear that Chanie felt her own power and the power of the drum merge on this extraordinary day in Brooklyn, New York, in which her drumming and her decision to own her power, gave her a moment of exquisite balance.
Trust is one the most important elements in the workshops I teach. Usually that trust is me learning to trust myself and my process. In this case, my learning extended to trusting that the participants know what is best for themselves, and for me, to practice getting out of the way and allowing them to open to their next steps, in this case, literally.