Purposeful PR’s Mindy Mizell visit with a Native American trauma therapist in Oklahoma to explore his life’s purpose helping people heal through drumming.
Written by: Mindy Mizell
“Are you sure this thing starts at 6pm?” I asked my Mom as we slowed our car and peered through the side windows to review the addresses on the neighborhood homes. The sun had not yet set, but we were struggling to figure out where we were and Mom didn’t seem to remember the full details of the event invite.
“No, I’m not sure,” Mom giggled, clearly not bothered that we could be about to show up at a stranger’s house totally uninvited.
I was already nervous to be here. Mom had asked me if I had wanted to attend a “healing drumming circle” with her when I visited her in Oklahoma, and I’d initially been quick to agree because the experience sounded fascinating. Mom had heard about it from a group of friends that she had started meeting with to help her heal from a traumatic divorce. After 44 years of marriage, my family had imploded. The shock of what had transpired had rocked me to my core. My mom was still trying to heal as well, particularly as the finalization of the divorce was now just weeks away. Plus, the year had been particularly traumatic for me personally and professionally so I knew I was in need of anything soothing. The idea of a healing drumming circle sounded odd, but I was up for anything that may help. Mom had already been once before, but she couldn’t quite remember which house it had been. And now I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through with it at all if it could mean showing up unexpected.
“Maybe we should forget about it,” I suggested. Mom had stopped in front of a home that she said looked similar to the one she had been to before, but she still wasn’t positive. Nor was she sure that she had the correct date and time.
Our host, Jim, was to be a Native American trauma counselor who monthly opened up his home to friends and strangers interested in participating in a “healing drumming circle”. For the past nine years, he had apparently been using his experience and training helping people overcome trauma to facilitate a healing drumming circle in his living room. I wasn’t quite sure what a healing drumming circle was, but Mom had assured me it was nothing weird. “It’s just drumming,” she’d said. Still, I’d never drummed before, and I wasn’t quite clear on the whole point. Plus, I wasn’t really in the habit of showing up at unfamiliar addresses to hang out with strangers who were there to “heal”.
“Mom, seriously…..” I urged hoping we would give up our search, but she didn’t seem deterred by the awkwardness.
Then Mom recognized another driver approaching the same house and rolled her window down. After a few seconds of chatting with him and his son, she was now convinced we were at the correct address, although we concluded we could be a half hour early. So we decided to go for it. We parked and went up to the front door to knock.
Jim greeted us at the door and welcomed us inside. We were ushered into his large living room where an arrangement of small to mid-sized drums were positioned in front of chairs and couches. Mom and I chose comfortable chairs near the front and sat down.
“I had that drum last time,” Mom smiled as I positioned myself behind a drum seated on the floor. It appeared to be some sort of log that had been turned into a drum, but I’d preferred its size and shape compared to the other drum options throughout the room.
For the next forty-five minutes, guests of all ages, cultures and backgrounds began arriving at Jim’s home until the room was full of dozens of strangers. I was fascinated with how popular the event seemed to be. No one seemed to think this was weird, yet I wasn’t quite sure I felt comfortable myself.
At some point, Jim went to the back patio and his guests started forming a line to get “smudged”. Okay. Now I was officially weirded out! Just the sound of the word “smudging” sounded foreign and unnerving, yet I watched from my chair as through the window I could see Jim conducting some sort of Native American smoke ritual. As each guest approached, Jim seemed to wave smoke over their bodies and heads. I watched in mesmerization until I realized I should probably go stand in line for a turn too.
When I got to the front of the line, Jim quietly asked me when I had last been smudged. I tried not to giggle, but I couldn’t help but think of how odd his question sounded. Jim seemed to talk about smudging as naturally as I would about jogging.
“Um, never,” I answered with a smile as Jim waved smoke over my body.
“This is an ancient ritual,” Jim started to explain. He continued to share how he was performing a Native American ceremony that used dried herbs and smoke to clear any negative energy before we started.
“Thank you?” I offered as he finished. I wasn’t sure what to say, but a polite thank you seemed to be the most appropriate thing I could come up with on the spot. “Maybe I should be saying, Namaste?” I briefly thought to myself. I wasn’t sure. But the moment had passed so I quietly went back to my chair to wait.
While Jim continued to smudge the remaining guests, his wife (introduced as Jim’s “Chosen”) began slowly drumming at the front of the room. One by one, those seated in the living room also began drumming with her. Even Mom started to drum beside me. I realized that we seemed to be starting already, so I listened for a rhythm and joined in with my drum as well.
The next few hours felt like I’d joined an ancient symphony of sorts. Jim eventually joined and our group got into full swing with its collective drumming. While there seemed to be an underlining rhythm or beat, I realized each individual was playing a little differently. Some were doing two or three beats while others were just doing one. Some drummers played louder and others softer. At some point, the music filling the room seemed to take on a life of its own, and I listened in amazement at the beauty. I was in awe as the experience seemed so natural and yet foreign to me.
About half way through our evening, the drumming slowly dwindled down and eventually stopped. Jim later described our experience like a heartbeat that was becoming calmer and slower until it finally stops altogether.
Jim then introduced himself, welcomed us to his home and proceeded to explain some of the drumming process.
“You’ll notice there is a flag here too,” Jim shared as he pointed to an individual seated on the floor who he’d draped a large yellow flag over their shoulders at some point during our drumming time. He shared how the flag was a symbol of healing too and that the flag bearer he’d selected was now responsible for choosing another member of our group to receive the flag once our drumming resumed. Jim said that being a recipient of the flag was an opportunity to heal even more and that we should see it as a symbol of safety within our group. Anyone who received it was welcome to keep the flag as long as they felt it was needed, and then it was up to the recipient to select another drummer in our group to receive it next.
After a short intermission to enjoy a potluck dinner with the other guests, the drumming eventually started up yet again and the room filled with the loud music created by our drums. This round, I felt more comfortable now that I realized that this strange evening was actually feeling more natural than I’d expected and drumming seemed to help me relax and express a part of me that seemed to be getting stirred up from deep within. Plus, the music we seemed to be creating just sounded beautiful and I was enjoying listening while participating.
At some point, our flag bearer rose up from his position on the floor and approached me. He gently draped the large flag over my shoulders as I continued to drum. I could feel my emotions welling up inside me. I felt grateful. I felt sad. I felt happy. I felt honored. I felt curious. I felt loved.
After ten minutes or so of basking in my mixed well of emotions and reprocessing many of the traumatic events I’d experienced over the past year, I finally realized I felt just grateful and privileged to be in this moment. Some how, life had landed me in a stranger’s home where I was now pounding on a drum. This wasn’t on my original travel plans nor was it something I could have planned if I’d tried. Yet, I was now experiencing a powerful moment that was both beautiful and safe … and even inspiring. No matter what I’d experienced and endured over the past year or more, it no longer mattered. I was starting to understand that my life and this drumming circle were somehow all connected to something bigger. I knew I didn’t need to worry. I didn’t need to stress. I could slowly let go and simply enjoy just being.
As the evening progressed, I knew I was ready to hand off the healing flag and quietly rose to drape another drummer’s shoulders. I’d selected a young participant who seemed to be troubled by whatever life had brought her way as well, and I prayed for her to heal as I offered the flag to her.
Our drumming eventually dwindled down a second time, and the room became peacefully still as Jim concluded our evening with a few more Native American rituals and songs.
“What WAS that?” I quietly asked myself as the room slowly started to empty. I wasn’t sure how to describe our healing drumming circle. I’d experienced so many emotions throughout. I had also gained an appreciation for my own unique drumming rhythm while recognizing it was part of a collective symphony of sorts.
Yet, could I put into words what a healing drumming circle actually was? Not really. I just knew I felt good. I felt better. I felt stronger. And I felt grateful.
“You ready to go?” Mom asked. I felt a bit dazed as I rose from my drum to leave for the evening.
“That was awesome,” I smiled as we left Jim’s house. I knew someday, I’d want to come back.
Listen to my follow up podcast interview with Jim to learn more about healing drumming circles.
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