Changing things up and simplifying – lessons from a drum

Learning to PlayThis week’s Crystal Writing Tips focused on making changes

My writing tip this week was “Don’t be afraid to change things up if you need to.”  It’s a particularly relevant tip for me right now, and one that can sometimes be an issue for several reasons:

  • I suffer from “if it ain’t (too badly) broke, don’t try to fix it”-itis: I’m pretty adaptable (which is a good thing), but that adaptability often turns into a tendency to tolerate things I don’t need to (which isn’t)
  • I don’t always have the energy: it takes time and effort to figure out what needs to change and how.  And I don’t always have that energy to spare.
  • I worry what folks will think: Will I look like a complete flake who can’t make up her mind for changing things around every five minutes?  What if people actually like whatever-it-is the way it is now?

So when I realised I needed to make changes to both this blog and my newsletter?  I had no idea where to start, and the “Arrggghhhh… TOO HARD!” gremlins came out in force.

When that happens, it’s often better to just focus on simplifying

Sometimes, when I know something needs to change but I’m not sure how, simplicity makes an awesome end-goal.  One of my favourite quotes attributed to Einstein is that “Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler”. 

Unfortunately, left to my own devices, I have a habit of unnecessarily complicating things.  So when I start getting that “Mehhh… I really need to change something up here!” feeling? One of the best questions to ask myself is often “OK, how I can I make this simpler?”

It‘s a lesson I learned from a drum.

Once upon a time, see, I did this drumming workshop

Earlier this year, I went on a 3-day singing retreat. It was… awesome. In so many ways.  And it didn’t just involve singing.

There was also a drumming workshop – something I was deeply ambivalent about.  Previous experience had taught me that I had a crappy sense of rhythm.  I could keep a very, very simple beat, but that was all. I knew this. So I wondered if there was even any point in trying to take part. 

I expressed my concerns beforehand to the workshop leader, who pretty much pooh-poohed them. EVERYONE had a natural sense of rhythm, he told me.  I had a heartbeat, didn’t I? Proof positive, then, that I had a sense of rhythm.

So… bolstered by his certainty, I took my place in the workshop circle…

I was OK to start with… but once the rhythm grew more complex, guess what happened?

For the first 2-3 minutes, while we drummed out a  simple 1-2 beat, I was fine.  Enjoying myself, even. But the moment he started adding in half-beats or double-taps with one hand or the other?  I got immediately, utterly and teeth-grittingly lost.

I could feel myself growing more and more frustrated as the sound swelled around me. Tears were building and threatening to spill, and my throat was tight.  I just wanted to slink out to find somewhere to let the dam break in private. I would have too, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I’d be so hideously obvious if I tried to leave.

So instead, I just sat there, feeling stupid and incompetent and rhythm-less. Like I didn’t belong, and couldn’t be part of the fantastic wave of communal sound everyone was creating around me.  Despite my seat in the circle, I was outside it, looking in.

And I longed with all my might for the damn workshop to be over.

Then I noticed what lay underneath the complex rhythm

I’m not sure when exactly I recognised it.  I know I’d given up on even trying to follow what the rest of the class seemed to be managing effortlessly. I sat. Miserably. Trying to keep back the tears.  Focusing on how thoroughly the workshop sucked, and how I wished I hadn’t gone on the retreat (O HAI there, inner melodrama queen!)

At some point, though, I realised that my hand was unconsciously tapping away at the drumskin.  It wasn’t creating the complicated rhythmic pirouettes everyone else was dancing. But it was tapping out the key beats that lay underneath the complex rhythm.

Once I noticed it, I realised I could easily hold that simple beat. I could do my own, much simpler thing, and still feel as though I was part of the whole.  I could still contribute something to the communal chorus of drumbeats.

I wasn’t on the outside any more.

That realisation has turned into a guiding principle

On the surface, this is just a story about drumbeats and workshops.  Interesting, but not that relevant outside of a drumming circle.

Go deeper though, and it feels like one of those life lessons that’s relevant on so many levels.  So now, when I notice that something feels wrong – that I’m not keeping up, or I’m getting overwhelmed – I go back to the guiding question.

Where can I simplify this?  What’s the “base beat” underneath why I’m trying to do here?  How can I connect with that, and let the rest – the unnecessary frills and complexity – go?

Incidentally, I’m using that principle to change up my blogging timetable

You might have noticed I’ve been posting a lot less here since I launched my Conscious Introvert Success site.  That’s partly because I’ve had less time, but it’s also because I’ve noticed I have a lot less to say right now.

So rather than trying to force myself to post when I don’t actually have anything I want to talk about, I figured I’d go with my guiding principle.  How can I simplify this?

Right now,  I’m pretty sure it’s going to involve dropping the frequency back.  Probably to 1-2 times monthly – at least initially – and then we’ll see where it goes from there.

How about you?  What could you simplify?

I’m curious – I can’t be the only one with a ridiculous tendency to overcomplicate things if I don’t actively curb it.

What is there in your life right now that’s more difficult than it needs to be because it’s more complex than it needs to be?  How could you make it simpler?

If you’re willing, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

photo by: Rachel Strohm
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