I have a friend who is an exceptional drummer. She told me a story once of being in a drumming competition and advancing until it was just her and one other drummer remaining. During the break before the final round, she went to a cafe to get a cup of coffee and try to figure out what she could do to wow the judges that she hadn’t already done.
As she reached for a packet of sugar she thought, “That’s it!!”
She was called up for her final performance and when she walked out on stage she had nothing in her hands. No djembe, no conga, no trap set. Nothing. She stepped up to the microphone, reached into her pocket, took out two packets of sugar and with them began creating subtle, complex rhythms that blew the judges away.
You might have already guessed the outcome: she won the competition.
I often think of that story because it has so many lessons to teach me, one of which has to do with risk-taking. I admire my friend’s courage, even when so much was at stake, to do something so original that it could have been seen as completely outlandish.
Her story also reminds me how much we crave the novel — something, anything, that will shake up our expectations. How refreshing it must have been for those judges to see someone dare to take such a creative risk!
What I think about most, though, when that story floats through my mind is what it teaches about the gift of quietness. We live in such a loud culture; we’re constantly bombarded with messages shouting for our attention, messages that keep getting louder and flashier in an effort to stand out from all the others.
The end result of this is what many of us experience as a kind of fatigue, where all we really want is a refreshing dose of quiet honesty and simple authenticity.
But it’s senseless to point the finger at the culture, as if it were to blame for our distractedness, because if we’ve done our inner work we know where all the culture’s bombastic insecurities come from. A culture, after all, is simply a mirror of what’s going on inside all of us, and those of us who have taken the time to really examine our own minds have no doubt felt like we landed smack in the middle of Times Square.
It seems like the spiritual life is always asking us to become mindful of our ego and to recognize its clamor for what it is. Its frenzied messages about our need to have more and be more are nothing but the reflections of the ego’s imaginary fear.
Only when we begin to recognize those loud voices for what they are can we begin to sense the sweet taste of freedom that is ours when we let them go. As we learn to disengage from the clamor, dismissing it for the flashy, groundless fear that it is, we begin to tune into something quite different: the quiet, beautiful, sweet rhythm of our own soul.