Make a circle, choose a tone, take a breath as you need. Let’s hum together for a full minute and see what happens.
In a recent STAMINA Stories gathering we had a conversation about the number of times we are called upon to “stick with it” as we age and about what it takes to do this mindfully even if (or especially if) the unwelcome circumstances are non-negotiable. We spoke of ways we’ve been called upon to stick with it as care givers, or loyal family members of relations who are suffering. We talked about times we’ve needed to dissolve denial and fear in order to ride something through. At times we’ve been one-way lovers of people in our lives who may or may not ever realize or give thanks. New levels of strength discovered in the process were duly noted. We talked about how much we have found hope and resourceful renewal from others in those times.
Not long ago someone sent me an email suggesting we use an experience in choral singing to remind us how we can sustain our focus longer and stronger through collective effort. Consider the role of staggered breathing when a chorus is singing a long phrase without a rest so that the sound remains strong and clear for the listeners. If some singers take a breath on “the” while others breathe on “river” and still others on “flows” the beauty of the sound is sustained. The river flows smooth and strong when the voices are shared by means of what one of our STAMINA Storytellers called co-humming.
We decided to co-hum for one full and surprisingly long minute. We discovered how our beginning sounds and breaths were ragged but then began to blend and mellow as our sense of confidence in each other unfolded. Afterward, as we reflected, we noticed that this was actually a relaxing experience: self-absorption became less important than watching for a good time to breathe for the sake of the whole. We looked into what might be the co-humming muscles that can be developed and how we might practice more strength training of these co-humming muscles for those times when life serves up the non-negotiable moments, mundane or grand, when we find ourselves wanting to ride through those long hauls with generous grace and open hearts.
I love the saying “When things get tough, the tough do what they practice.” We are living in a time in in our nation and throughout the world that is calling us to practice co-humming. A silver lining in all the confusion and chaos is that we must turn to each other as we wake up to the thought of losing much of what we may have taken for granted.
As we walk in the grey zones of uncertain times we need to co-hum for dear life in hopes that a livable future can still be pulled from the fires of climate change, that new dimensions of technology can work for good rather than ultimately serving greed. But just hoping is no longer enough. Now we must keep the focus and sustain the energy necessary to stay awake and live with open hearts and courage and honesty. Human habitation of the earth, our democracy, our health care, our children, our safety from careless flirtation with war and annihilation—all these and more call us to bring sustained light into the grey zones. Perhaps we have been walking in these grey zones for quite some time and only now see this more clearly. We are waking up and cannot with integrity go back to sleep.
It takes a village to stay awake and stick with it. We need to see that each one gets to take a breath periodically in order to walk through the grey zones. With the help of our friends we can flex those co-humming muscles for all the non-negotiable moments, mundane and grand, that call us to sing strong with generous grace and open hearts.