To begin I’d like to describe a few shamanic methodologies that led me to a conscious awareness of the interplay of hard and soft power. I’ve understood the nuance of both wild and gentle practice for some time – the appropriateness of one style or the other as expressed by spirits and tailored to the needs of a situation.
To help illustrate I’m going to describe various energizing practices. Our small drum group has lately gravitated toward a group energy drum to support all individuals in our circle and their responsibilities or concerns. The practice easily melds with shamanic Tonglen (breathing in pain and breathing out compassion with healing shamanic symbols) and holding the space (creating vigil for a problem — journey without a question to support a situation). In the energy drum we journey without questions (though we know each other well enough to understand our challenges and take time to discuss concerns before the drumming begins). As the name implies, we invoke Spirit and the aid of spirit helpers to energize our quests. We are free to hold space or gather images and information through shift into shamanic journey. We’re free to improvise “distant” or directed healing based on the will of compassionate spirits and years of personal practice. The energy drum is distinct from the wish journey or power drum (two names for the same practice) in which the circle drums intent and energy into the best possible outcome to a single question or situation. In the power drum, the beat begins slowly and accelerates until it builds into a final and loud send off of the energy in the direction of intent. The power drum would be considered “hard” practice – manifesting demonstrative power. The energy drum is softer, with less dynamic intent and more submission to the flow of spirits.
Originally I titled this essay “Manifesting Hard and Soft Practice,” because the energy feels either hard or soft based on the posture of practice. Power is power; it is our approach that flavors our interaction and how power feels to us in the moment. But our practice can appeal to aspects or attributes of power, in the same way that our spirit helpers have attributes and character.
In our group we usually begin, as do many groups, with a warm-up drum. A warm-up drum is the opportunity for communion with various aspects of power and an invitation for spirits to participate in the circle. A warm-up drum can be hard, soft, or both — but frequently will manifest as hard power: singing, dancing, and loud drumming. Now is a good time to describe what I mean by hard and soft power.
Hard is yang: metaphoric masculine. Hard is the mountain or a fierce wind. Hard is the growl of a large cat such as a jaguar or tiger. Hard is the growl or piercing howl of a wolf. Hard is an assertive drumbeat — proud, distinct, and loud. Hard is the energetic “raising the dust” with actual animal dance or shamanic-mind footfalls – energetic motion. Hard is lightening and a warrior’s spontaneous cry. Hard is extraction and the drawing of clear boundaries.
Soft is yin: metaphoric feminine. Soft is dappled light, feeling the shade and protection of Grandmother Tree, water in its many forms (clouds, rain, streams, lakes, mist…). Soft is the relaxed and confidant gaze of a large cat, Bear sniffing the wind or retiring to dream. Soft is Eagle flying over the top of a storm. Soft is silent communication, breath that enters the mind. Soft is a gentler drumbeat, power songs with more lilt than declaration – like wooing the night sky with waking lullaby. Soft is fluid motion, redirecting undesirables, and gathering power with love, light, and transformative compassion.
Perhaps because of my days as a practitioner of karate, my predilection is energetic hard. Through years of practice, I’ve come to equally appreciate soft. In my practice I often go back and forth between hard and soft manifestations of power within a single drumming. The two are clearly equal as pathways to power and as methods to engage communion and energetic outcomes. As a former practitioner of karate, perhaps it might be helpful to communicate Gichin Funikoshi’s view. Funikoshi is recognized as the ancestor of modern hard-styled Japanese karate. He praised soft styles such as Tai Chi as being equally energetic and efficacious as his own hard style.
Over the years, spirits have shown me a variety of methodologies for an energy drum. Most have involved either partnering up with another practitioner or, in a smaller group, circling around a single recipient. In either case, active practitioners send energy to the recipient with the aid of spirit helpers. Then the roles reverse and the exercise is repeated. Less experienced practitioners were given a specific set of methods (for example: visualize a bright light growing like a sun and shining warmth and light onto the recipient). More experienced practitioners were encouraged to freelance based on their medicine, training, and what they encountered or were informed by within the situation. Whether the drums were hard or soft depended on the predilection of the facilitator and the ways of practitioners and spirits.
It seems to me that our small drum group’s current incarnation of energy drums has tended toward a soft manifestation of power. Perhaps it is a reflection of the season, which I’m calling old Winter (here in the upper Midwest). There’s much strength and knowing in the season, but it is less blustery and understands that the rebirth of spring is approaching. White hair will yield to a new cycle. We often drum together in a single collective effort. Drumming has been gentler, like being bathed in moonlight. For me, the campfire becomes a spiral of light sending waves of vision and glowing Presence out into the circle.
Soft power carries vision as well as hard power. Silence and sound are round and fill the same circle. It may seem counterintuitive, but soft can be hard and hard can be soft. Our practice will become well rounded with our ability to either make a firm stand or to ply more gentle resolution. Circumstance will become informative and our way more flexible as we acknowledge the seasons of our growth and allow Spirit to inform the methods of our vision. It takes much strength to become powerfully soft.
Image from Facebook page Shaman Tube: Artist Francene Hart