"Life is about rhythm. We vibrate, our hearts are pumping blood.
We are a rhythm machine, that is what we are."
"Only when the heart is pure are we in harmony with the real, in tune with reality,
able to hear its voice, detect its dynamism, and truly 'speak' its truth,
having become adequate to the movement of Being...
the Rhythm of Being."
“Mama, I found the beat!”
My son Søren, age 6, has really gotten into drumming lately. He’s always been into rhythm, but during our week in Maine he took to drumming like a fish to water and now everywhere we go he picks up the patterns of bird chirps, machinery, or music. It’s become a bit of a game between us, and his face lights up as he keeps time on his thigh with the rhythm of whatever he’s hearing. Watching his little hand move up and down I see how naturally his up-stroke keeps time with the down-stroke.
Rhythm is the pattern of relationship between the beat and the spaces between them.
The down beat only exists in relationship to the "up-beat" or rest between hits. My friend and chant-composer Darlene has often said: “the quality of your out breath is determined by the quality of your in-breath!” But how often do we consider the “rest” or the “in-breath” as equal in value and space as our productivity, work, or "out-breath"?
Lately, I’ve been realizing that my “rest” space is off balance with the down stroke pace of my work and projects. So I’ve taken the last few days to really slow down, and mind my “in-breath” in the rhythm of my life. Restraining my productivity and work, however, took enough effort for me to begin to be alerted to one aspect of where I had been “leaking” energy.
One of the most critical ways we get identified (that concept we’ve been exploring of the internal attachments to self-image) is in our work.
It’s so easy, isn’t it?
I mean, many of us love what we do…we care deeply about it, and feel a deep sense of responsibility to show up and do the best of our ability with it. This is especially the case for those of us who work for nonprofits , churches, or other organizations that are seeking to make a difference in our world. The pay is not why most of us signed up for this type of work, and the work feels important…critical…urgent, often in very real and tangible ways.
Culturally we slip into identification with what we do as unconsciously as breathing: our first question when meeting new people is often, “What do you do?”, and we ask our children “what do you want to be when you grow up?” planting the early seeds for identifying with the vocational role they might one day take on.
Our western ambition-oriented society trains us to be “off balance," especially here in the U.S: we are obsessed with productivity and in identifying with what we do .
While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with being productive, it is when our ego identifies with it that our life-rhythm gets thrown out of whack: dominated by this personality-asserting need to perform and prove a false sense of self, we get stressed out and soon burn out. Our vision becomes myopic and we lose our capacity to zoom out and get the perspective that we need to keep the day to day in check. Not only do we lose perspective, we lose the ability to see the whole web of relationships that sustain our "being" altogether.
When we identify, we stop seeing the bigger picture and cut ourselves off from the reciprocal flow of energy that is always available to us in the present moment.
The most illuminating opportunities to notice identification in my life have been at Cynthia Bourgeult's Wisdom Schools during the daily work periods of “conscious labor”: every day groups are set about the property to do simple tasks (cleaning windows, raking leaves, kitchen work, etc) all the while remembering an interior task to help us develop our inner observer ( “Find your feet”, “use your tool in the other hand”, etc). This inner task observation is reinforced by what is known in Gurdjieff Work as the Dragon: one person is given the task to call “Stop” to encourage remembrance during regular intervals of the work and to call the end of the work period.
You’ll be working along, likely having forgotten your inner task and lost in some reverie when suddenly you hear “STOP”. In mid window swipe, weed pull, or with armfuls of leaves you stop in place and freeze, invited to remember the inner task, notice how you might have gotten identified or fallen "asleep" and come back to full presence attention.
Once when I was in a music group, the Dragon called a freeze stop when I was leaning forward, taking notes trying to catch everything the chant leader was saying, one hand in mid-raise about to ask what I'm sure I thought was a very insightful question. There, as I sat frozen in my awkward position my body gave away how I had unknowingly slipped into one of my most familiar identifications: "See what a good star-student I am?" my eager posture was saying, "Don't you notice how bright and curious I am? Aren't I special?" Our gestures reveal identification right away: a tense jaw, inner constriction, an overly eager or assertive posture...when we stop and pay attention to our body-language we will learn a great deal about how and when we're getting hooked on needing to assert a false sense of self.
The most challenging of all “Stops," however, is called the final stop: when you are told to put your tools down whether the job is finished or not. It almost always happens that the final stop is called when someone in the group is just about to finish tying up a bag of leaves, or clean that last little window pane.
You would be amazed at the amount of internal frustration that emerges when we are told to put our tools down:
there in that moment of being asked to walk away from our work, our obsession with productivity and perfectionism comes out in full force. Whether in our inner exasperation at leaving a job unfinished, or the sudden swelling of interior pride because we did "so well", our compulsion to identify is completely exposed for the tyrant it is as we're reminded that we are more than what we are doing or how “perfectly” we do it.
How do you respect the "rest" spaces between the down strokes of your life?
I don’t mean a vacation to the Bahamas…I mean: how often do you really “put the tool down”? Whether that tool is your computer, your important position at work, your weights, or your musical instrument...how often do you remember that what you do isn't your true identity?
Whether you're a religious-none or not....how could “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy" be a helpful concept to practice? Not as a day that simply signifies religious ritual, but perhaps as a day designed to be a “STOP” exercise meant to restore a balanced rhythm in our addiction to productivity and our identification with it?
Let’s try to remember today that our value and worth doesn’t come from what we do and how we perform…and see if we can’t begin to taste that deeper self that is deeply interconnected with all reality, capable of drawing deeply from the inspiration and reciprocal energy that is always available to us and all around us.
Set your phone timer to be your "Dragon" today with a few reminders to "Stop" as a reminder that your identity is not found in what you do for a living or how productive you are. Remember: Life is rhythm, the out-breath requires the in-breath…and you can’t keep the beat if you don’t respect the rest.