Playing Taiko and Pearson College

From 1989-1991, I attended Lester B. Pearson College in British Columbia, Canada. The purpose of this school is to connect young people from across the globe so we can work together for a better planet. And it surely does this. My feelings for my fellow students run very deep in my heart, similar to how I feel about my family, but with their own flavor because we became adults together and had so many extraordinary experiences together. Attending Pearson College was like an earthquake of a life experience, and the tremors continue forever. 

Today, I am a mom and an innovation consultant and a creative reuse artist. And I also play taiko, or Japanese drums, with another extraordinary group of people called Nen Daiko, a taiko performance group in Fairfax Station, Virginia. We were created by the Ekoji Buddhist Temple and we practice Buddhist taiko, meaning we are always aware of our inter-dependency – for our energy and for our drums.

This week, we performed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, and a photographer named Bruce Guthrie (deepest thanks Bruce!) took this photo while we performed the song Buchiawase. That’s me catching some air.

When I saw this photo, do you know what I thought? I thought, “That photo is the best embodiment of how I feel inside every day. It is now visible for the world.” What I mean is that I feel like I am constantly bursting out with energy and ideas, and my body and our culture makes it look small most of the time, but my heart is like a firework – or in this case, a taiko player so filled with the vibrations of the drum and the momentum of the song, that they are lifted off the earth.

And the very next thought I had was, “This is how I felt when I was at Pearson College.”

Now when I attended Pearson, there were so many moments that took my breath away – from waking up at sunrise while sleeping on a berm to the bio-luminescence of plankton on a night-time kayak, to my roommates making me laugh until I hurt while we composed poems half in English and half in Thai. It goes on and on. But one thing I did not do was dance with the Ukrainian dance group. I auditioned, but they could only take so many dancers, and I was not one of them.

When I play taiko, I feel like the Ukrainian dancers. Now that’s a convoluted cross-culture connection, but what I mean is – I wanted to leap up like those dancers and make a big noise. I thought that was just not going to be my path. But then I found taiko and Nen Daiko, and they have a never-ending patience with my total lack of experience. I get to leap!

When I am with Nen Daiko, I am 16 years old again with my Pearson friends. The world is abundant. We are endlessly laughing. We make big noise and we also have wonderful conversations about why we are on this planet.

The other day on our way to a performance, we talked about being our most authentic selves. I had grown to believe that authenticity meant continuous improvement. I was so sure this was the right answer. But Maya talked about non-attachment, and I felt the hour glass of my mind do a flip flop just like used to happen at Pearson.

The first times I performed with Nen Daiko, I would feel physically ill getting on stage. I implored them, “Does it get better?” and they said, “No, we always feel very nervous when we perform,” and I had a moment of “why am I doing this then?” But now it is my second year, and I have learned the feeling is still nervousness, but actually it is not the same. I used to be afraid of embarrassing my fellow drummers, of letting them down. Now I feel the performance is just a moment in time. If I drop my bachi, if I fall off the stage or knock over a drum, I was giving my full self, and the performance is just a moment in time. It will be memorable! I will learn! But we will still be Nen Daiko and we will perform again.

Last year, one of my fellow drummers Brig used to make me very nervous because he would throw his bachi up in the air during his solos. I would play right beside him and feel terrified every time. Right before a particularly huge performance, I said, “Brig, do you have to throw your bachi in the air at this performance? What will you do if it drops?” And he said, “I will drop the other one.” And you know, he would not, but it was such an answer. He is right. What is important here?

I am grateful to Pearson College for setting a dial in my heart so I would recognize what it means to be in discomfort in order to live greatly.

And I am grateful to Nen Daiko for bringing my 16-year-old self back into my daily life, expanding what I think is possible in my thinking and physical performance, so I can keep growing (and letting go) along my path.



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