The Tempo of Life, Wisdom from the Elders

The Tempo of Life by Jim Greiner (with permission)


(Drum circles range the full spectrum of high energy rock and roll rhythms to calming wellness drumming. Why not have the “Golden Middle Path” as Buddha taught and have the best of both worlds? I try to look for that gold in my circles. Music is life and life is music! Let us encourage life to find a better middle ground.)

“Jim Greiner, one of the pioneers of the drum circle movement and a very prolific writer, shares his playful story of the merging of the ancient with the contemporary in his unique style.”

“Grandfather, what has changed about the drumming from the time you were a young man?

I asked this question many years ago when I had the great privilege to be invited to drum with a Native American elder of the Chumash people, from southern California, named Semu Haute – though everyone just called him Grandfather. Grandfather was in his 6o’s or 70’s, though it was hard to tell his age. His broad face was sundried and deeply cut with life-lines, and he carried himself with the inner calm of an elder, but he also exuded the vitality of a much younger person.

I joined Grandfather’s drummers around their large ceremonial drum near a fire whose glow barely penetrated the dark, moonless night. As we played, I had the feeling that his drummers, all guys in their early 20’s as I was, kept trying to push the tempo faster. They all respectfully supported Grandfather, and the drumming and singing was truly a profoundly moving experience. But it felt like he was constantly reining in a herd of wild mustangs that wanted to gallop faster and faster!

We played for several hours as we journeyed deeper and deeper into the rhythm. On Grandfather’s upspoken cue we stopped, sat together in silent contemplation for a few minutes, and finally returned to “normal” reality. We talked together briefly, then finally we drummers slapped backs in our youthful male exuberance, and said our “Good Nights” to each other.

I stayed behind after the other drummers had left, and asked Semu Haute that question, “Grandfather, what has changed about the drumming from the time you were a young man?”.  Grandfather looked deeply into my eyes and said, “That is a very good question young man … one that no one else asks me.”

His eyes then seemed to look far back into his memory… into his own youthful past.

A momentary thought flashed through my mind that I was about to be privileged to receive a teaching that he would draw deeply from a well of ancient wisdom. Grandfather then looked at me intently, and stated in his clear, no-nonsense way, “All my young drummers these days want to play the traditional songs much too fast.

Then, pausing, but still fixing me with his powerful gaze, the laugh lines around his mouth and eyes deepening, he exclaimed… “It’s that’s damned Rock and Roll!” Powerful belly-laughter exploded from both of us!

Later, I realized that this was indeed profound wisdom, contained in a very simple, down-to earth lesson: The rhythms of our lives today are much faster, and more complex, than at any other time in human history. And, they get faster and more complex from generation to generation.

Our intricately-woven, fast-paced Life Rhythms can affect us in profoundly negative ways if we allow them to become our masters: stress-related disorders, difficulty focusing, and a general unwellness of mind, body and spirit are often the results of out-of-control Life Rhythms.

We do have the innate ability to create a calm inner tempo, even when physically and mentally active, that allows us to focus on our core principles and intentions more effectively, and to playfully celebrate the blessing that is Life!

Friedman, Robert Lawrence. The Healing Power of the Drum, Book Two: a Journey of Rhythm and Stories. Gilsum, NH, White Cliffs Media, 2011.

“Divine Father, teach me to dive again and again into meditation, deeper and deeper, until I find Thine immortal pearls of wisdom and divine joy.”

Yogananda, Paramahansa. Metaphysical Meditations (Self-Realization Fellowship). New ed. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1967.

“The purpose of sound is silence.” —  Jill Purce

The waves of life gives us the energy, but if we never leave them, we will never discover the deeper wisdom that lies below in the infinite ocean of life and spirit.



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