Opening Our Hearts with Drumbeats -
by Pauline Lomas

Pauline Lomas, an accomplished actress and author, serves as narrator for the Shumei Taiko Ensemble when they appear internationally. She accompanied the Ensemble on their Millennium Peace Tour - East Coast 2000, with New York City appearances at the United Nations, Columbia University, the Interfaith Center of New York, and the Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, the Catskill Mountain Foundation's Performing Arts Center in the Village of Hunter, New York, and Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

When Koji Nakamura, leader of the Shumei Taiko Ensemble, asked me to introduce and narrate their performances at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Cape Town, South Africa, I immediately agreed. I had narrated for them at the Interfaith Center of New York's gathering a year ago and heard spirit whispering, "Africa". However, as an independent artist, Christmas is my best season and two weeks before my departure fear began to haunt me - my lack of finances casting shadows on my optimism. Since I was familiar with this type of purification, I knew there was to be no backing out, and I knew that "faith is to be trusted".

So on Thanksgiving Day, as most people were enjoying their turkey, I was once more taking a giant leap of faith through the skies to Africa. The last time I was airborne was during the solar eclipse on August 11, 1999, when at 11:11 a.m. I found myself flying over Cornwall during a Grand Cross Solar Configuration of Leo. Touching down now on the soil of Africa, I felt like I was completing a circle of sorts. I had lived in West Africa as an infant and even though I could not remember actual events, there was a deeper remembering in my soul. The sun is different in South Africa - the light is brighter, the skies vaster. There is a vivid color and an endless rhythm, and there is a feeling of indomitable hope.

Driving from the airport past the shanty towns, where the poorest of the poor have created a community from which to dream of a better life, I began to release my own fears of lack - and suddenly the $50 dollars I had in my pocket seemed like a million. After a few hours' sleep I awoke to witness a brilliant red sun from my hotel window and a giant statue of an Angel reaching up from down below. Mr. Nakamura came to my room for what was to be an everyday ritual of chanting and exchanging Jyorei. The energy was very strong within him and I witnessed a strong flash of purple light around his head. I was in the presence of a master spirit. I have known Koji and his wife Tomoko for 15 years, from the time I lived at Misono. It was the sound of the drum that marked specific moments of awakening for me, and I can remember the exact details as if they were yesterday. I remember the beginnings of the Shumei Taiko Ensemble, their hours of diligent practice, and some of the older members, specifically Tetsuo Shimizu, Akira Oshima, and Atsushi Hasebe. That year I lived on the mountain, we would all talk fervently about going out into the world to be of service - and now here we were all these long, hard years later.

Having taken two months to be shipped to Cape Town, the Taiko drums were housed in a warehouse near the airport. I learned that it was friends, family, and fellow members that had raised the enormous funds required and the drummers wanted people to know that the spirits of many, many people accompanied their playing. Day after day, I witnessed their diligence, their love and respect of their instruments, and their caring for each other's welfare. Day after day, I watched their skin burn in the hot afternoon sun, branded by fire. And from the moment I heard that first drumbeat, I began to feel my own body adjusting to the rhythm and my spirit seek to find its place somewhere within this finely tuned organism. I wanted to be an invisible presence, to let the words come through from a higher source, and so I needed to remove the "self". It would not be easy as my whole being was electrified every time I heard the sound, awakening Kundalini and making the connection between Heaven and Earth. Tribal peoples all over the world rely upon the drum to connect the energy of each person participating in ritual or ceremonial use for healing: Shamans use chanting, animal sounds or drumbeat or flute to make a map to the outer realms of the underworld. Drumbeat allows us to access the patterns of life force inside and outside of ourselves so that we may come to the understanding that all exist simultaneously. The drum is recognized as the symbol of female, and the drumstick that of male. I slowly began to perceive the significance of this union, this alchemic marriage, as it sought to renew respect and instill balance in a country where a female is raped every 26 seconds and 22% of the population has AIDS.

On November 30, it was arranged for the drummers to perform an impromptu concert in the township of Guguletu, one of the areas hardest hit by Apartheid. Driving through the neighborhood there, I felt a sense of community and survival. Open fires dotted the roadside where robust women with shiny faces roasted whole animals to sell to passers-by. Crowded homes consisting of a few planks of wood or a sheet of aluminum siding here or there gave way to makeshift signs here or there with the words, "Bakery" or "Beauty Shop" to let you know these people were survivors. They were resourceful. Staring out of our van window that afternoon, I was able to feel the spirit of freedom. I did not see poverty because, by the Grace of God, I did not come from excess.

We pulled up in a deserted, dusty field alongside a small school and as the drummers began to unload the drums, crowds of people, mostly children and all barefoot, began to gather with anticipation. Engaging in conversation with the children and capturing their image with my video camera, I was actually stunned by the incredible beauty that shone from their faces. The clear shining eyes, the perfect white teeth, and the kindliness of their spirit moved me to tears. As the drummers changed into their costumes the children climbed all over them, entranced by what they beheld. With the first moment of Mr. Nakamura's striking of the Oodaiko drum, they all gasped out loud from some primordial space in their hearts. And that gasp of excitement in turn flew into the caverns of my own heart, re-confirming that we are all one.

As the enormous thundering sound reverberated I witnessed their thrill, their passion, their own innate sense of rhythm come alive. During a break between pieces, I told them that the Oodaiko drum had begun its life as a tree in Africa. Quite unexpectedly, with my words came my own understanding, floating through a fine veil of mystery, almost like a simultaneous whispering that no amount of rehearsing or repetition can bring. Yes, indeed, all things are connected and all things possess spirit. Just as my Japanese friends had explained to me the significance of the drumbeat sixteen years ago, when I stood on their mountain in Misono transfixed by the magic of the drums and transfused with the spirit of a nation once lost. I now was able to be a bridge, a connecting link to the hearts of these children. The sound of the drum needs no words. This sound has the power to accompany our dreams and prayers to God, a human voice. With that sudden insight, I knew I must never in the future fear to speak the Truth, as it is the voice of the people.

As the last drumbeat sounded, the children rushed to the drums and began a beating frenzy. They needed no encouragement. It was absolutely amazing, and we were all swept up in the euphoria. The delight on the drummers' faces as the children climbed all over them with kisses and smiles was such a beautiful blessing after their long days of practice. We literally had to reluctantly pry the drums away as we began our departure. The children clung to us, not wanting us to leave. At this point, a small hand reached out to me and a young girl, wiser than her years, guided me to safety. Her English was impeccable and I perceived her to be a caretaker of her people. She had Mother spirit and, as we drove away that afternoon with the children still running after us, I knew that this township of Guguletu would rise through its ashes, for angels resided here. As much as we thought we might be bringing them a gift, it was their gift of love and kisses that renewed us. The feel of their skin on my lips and their eyes in my soul is with me forever. The Parliament would begin on the morrow but as we once again retreated into an accepted silence on our bus ride home, we knew that this day would be surely the most heartfelt on our journey.

The next morning Cape Town began to transform as the throngs of gaily adorned people from all faiths began to alight upon Company Gardens to kick off the event with a moving tribute to those fallen from AIDS. Segments of the AIDS quilt were displayed and people spoke through spirit. From there we moved into the streets with a parade led by the Universal Peace Flame which has journeyed throughout all corners of the world. The phenomenal force field created by such a gathering cannot be described in words, but standing in the midst of this energy one could feel equality. No one religion was above another. No one station in life elevated higher than another. We were simple people walking one foot in front of another. We were here in part to honor the struggle of the South African people, to honor the struggle of all people. We were marching for love and light. We were here to be used in service. We had no idea what would unfold in the days ahead but this moment spoke to us without words and our future asked only that we simply open our hearts. One of the highlights of that day was the group of young Zulu children singing and dancing though the streets. What electric power! It was their first time out of their village; the first time they would see the ocean. They took my breath away.

Later, as we gathered in the Good Hope Center after a moving ceremony at District 6, we heard the Choir of Angels singing the beautiful South African National Anthem. Among other spirit-felt messages and blessings the Native American singer, Joan Shenandoah's soulful voice; our own Eugene Imai's sincerity rang out with his global embrace and the Amatsunorito; and the Oodaiko drum, the tree from Africa, as Koji Nakamura opened up our hearts with drumbeats. Since our days were filled with rehearsals for the concerts, there was little time to attend the multitude of workshops offered. Inevitably after every concert, people were moved to tears. They came to me struck by awe beyond their own understanding. They were receiving healing on a very core level and in this way I was able to meet many, many people who shared their own stories of struggle and spiritual growth. With each passing day, I felt my own spirit become lighter, as if I was back on the mountain communing with the Gods, with Nature. But in actual fact, here we were on the Earth. How easily the two connect.

Whilst the drummers continued with their rigorous training and long distance running I, too, would rise early and take brisk walks through the city, allowing the words that preceded each drum piece to find an organic pacing. Talking in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people meant that I, too, must focus. As with my painting, I needed to be both spontaneous and yet plugged into a cosmic consciousness. It could not be simply a performance-it needed ritual, and that only came through with permission from a higher source, that I knew. I learned so much from the discipline of the drummers and would awake in the early hours, my eyes filled with tears of joy and understanding. I knew that it was a combination of many, many candles gathered together to produce one light that was affecting me so, but I could not deny the way the drumbeat was quickening me, altering my breath so that I could breathe deeply and easily, and with that deeper remembering of who I am at soul level.

My mind took me back to that time sixteen years ago when I was sitting on a bus in Osaka, Japan with Eugene Sensei. I was returning home to Hollywood after my first miracle in Japan. My eyes were filled with tears as I told him that I had had a revelation on the mountain. I had told God to go ahead and use me in service to the world, but in my heart of hearts, I was an actress, and I could not let go of my dream. I felt that it was the most difficult thing for me to do. I felt like I was perched on the edge of a very high cliff and being told to jump. Even to this day, Eugene Sensei's words are still very clear to me. He said, "If you could do this, if you could continue with this journey of your spirit, one day your work as an actress would hold so much more meaning, it would be spiritual". That was many years ago now, and I have shed so many tears over the years wondering if I had sacrificed my dream in vain. But in retrospect, the word 'actress' cannot possibly begin to encompass all that my spirit has revealed. With this one week in Cape Town, I have finally come full circle and realize that the dream was never ever lost but transformed and offered back to me as a priceless treasure. It returned through humility without fanfare, without ego, but with a healthy self-esteem, for that is our birthright.

I must now invite you backstage where President Nelson Mandela has just delivered a heartfelt message. The sheer presence of this remarkable man showers gold dust on all our dreams. He is gentle; he is humble; he is mighty; he is free. I stand silently in the wings and watch as he reaches out to shake hands with the drummers, who have been preparing for their next piece, 'The Eagle', dedicated to him. He walks with small steps after years of prison chains, but his spirit flies high. And further still, through the magic, comes the precious His Holiness the Dalai Lama, surely a living Buddha in our presence. He reaches out to the drummers and, standing in their midst, he begins to beat imaginary drums as well. All giggle and brighten in his presence, more gold dust sprinkles on our dreams. The sheer humanity of these two great men and the effect of their compassion and work for the liberation of our souls is a gift that I have not yet fully absorbed, but we are all being reminded that our greatest work is still ahead of us. We have been infused by this experience and just as we inhaled of the love and light, we must now breathe out in magnetic waves of Love. This is the essential tool that must infuse all our efforts for love is, and always has been, the Light.

From SHUMEI MAGAZINE, VOL. 225, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2000