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So that was different.

I spent a good chunk of time trying to force the spiritual experience I had last time to happen again. That, predictably, did not work. It was like trying to force an orgasm. Trying to light the same fire twice. A bad chunk of time, really.

Some of this was external: the first day (and night) was a downpour, a mud-to-the-ankles monsoon that kept a lot of people separated and huddled in their tents during the day, and moved that night's fire circle to a covered pavilion usually used just for yoga and dance workshops. It was a little surprising how much the change in setting altered the energy of the event: it didn't come close to running until daylight; we were eventually down to four drummers and no dancers at all, just doing a quiet, not-at-all-ritual music jam for a while. Which was nice, in its way, but by three o'clock it was over and I was back in my tent.

Some of it was familiarity. Everything about that first experience was a complete surprise; I showed up with no knowledge and no expectations -- as a result everyone there seemed like magical beings performing these mysterious acts. This time I could see the people as people, some familiar friendly faces (though I remain embarrassingly inept at remembering most of the names). And knew at least the basic outline of events, which made them more comfortable, but less magical.

And some of it, a lot of it of course, was me.

If I were writing this in outline form, this bullet point would subdivided into 3.a) Me, skill at drumming, and 3.b) Me, issues regarding introversion and age.

3A, then: The first time I came here I thought I knew how to drum, and had it amply demonstrated to me (in the nicest way possible) just how far I had yet to go. This time around I've had two more years of fairly systematic study and practice, and I've definitely graduated out of the beginner level, where you sit around the back benches and go tapetatapetatapetatap and nobody really cares because you're mostly inaudible anyway, into a place where the real drummers are starting to notice me. My whole approach to the fire has been completely changed by this; on the one hand there were a lot of wonderful moments when I looked out there and saw dancers responding directly to something I was playing, or where one of the other drummers and I would toss a rhythm back and forth for a while -- there was some awesome three-way call-and-response the first night, very satisfying -- and times where I knew that if I were to stop doing what I was doing, the whole circle would grind to a halt. (Including at least one, deep in the slow pre-dawn shift, when I slipped and did exactly that. Oops.) But at the same time I'm so much more aware of when I should not be playing, whether because the other instruments at the time are quieter sorts that shouldn't be overridden by a big djembe sound, or just because there are already enough people making noise... I'm used to classroom drumming or small-group jamming, where I need to step up and fill in as much space as possible; here I needed to sit back, play simpler rhythms with lots more space in between for others to play with. (One of the doundoun players said he also does a lot of improv comedy, and drew some useful parallels between that and circle drumming: you can't just stomp in and say HERE IS A PUNCHLINE; it's much better to quietly set up good opportunities for them to happen.) More listening than playing, more responding to than building up.

Aaaanyway. That's a lot of detail that may not be all that interesting; the point is that it all added up to a much more conscious, front-brain experience: I wasn't trancing out and looking inward this time; it wasn't until the final hour of the last fire, when everyone piles in and just plays their hearts out because this is it, there's no more, that I finally set myself aside and threw myself deep into it (grinning like a fool the whole time).

So in a spiritual sense the fires were, perhaps, less than they were before, for me. The daytimes were more, though. (Here we move to step 3B. Nice segue, eh?) I'm not sure I can be as articulate about this part yet, but it boils down to being more comfortable with conversations, more comfortable with my position in the community, more aware that that position is chosen by my actions, nobody's placing it on me. I have a lot more work to do here, but I'm starting to see the way.

And there's the age thing. I am finally, finally starting to let go of that nagging out-of-place feeling that I want to be hanging out with the cool kids. Because, frankly, the cool grownups are a lot more interesting. Duh. I don't know why that one took me so long to figure out, but it's a really recent discovery for me.

For example: my twentieth high school reunion was this year, the exact same weekend as Spiritfire. (How's that for a symbolic choice to have to make? Past or present? GO!) When I went to my tenth reunion, everyone looked pretty much the same as they had in high school, but thicker, looser, flabbier, worn down. People have started posting photos from this time around, and this time they don't look anything like they did in high school; you have to squint to even see the resemblance sometimes. They look better than they did. All of them. They look like real people now, not like aging versions of their childhood faces. I know that's because of a change in my perception, not their actual appearance -- but that's a threshold I'm totally relieved to have finally crossed.


Okay, this turned long. And as usual I lack a concluding paragraph. So it goes. Time to post.
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