Joseph Drumn, with his wiry gray hair pulled back into a ponytail at the nape of his neck, beats on a large drum, bouncing to the beat with his mouth gaping open.
Drumn isn’t the only one lost in the rhythm. More than a dozen others are gathered around a pile of logs, not yet lit, preparing to celebrate Earthdance 2010. They pound on drums varying in shape and size. Each has a different part to play, but all contribute to the vibrations that fill the air, get caught in the throat and reverberate off the rocks.
“You have to play with other people in order to get a beat,” Drumn said. “What you do for a living, what your politics are, what your opinions are — we generally don’t care. We’re here to drum and for that brief moment of time none of that matters.”
As part of a larger international festival sponsored by Earthdance International, a global non-profit organization that promotes peace, hundreds of local residents gathered at 5 p.m. Saturday at a garden owned by event co-coordinator Sheela Kingsbury. Attendees participated in an interfaith prayer and communal dance for peace. Drumn and the One Heart Community Drummers, a local drumming circle, were the pulse of the ongoing celebration.
Chris Deckker, a producer and musican, founded the international organization in 2002. He envisioned a celebration of peace where people from around the world could connect through music and dance. The organization licenses gatherings under the Earthdance brand name and provides a set of guidelines for local organizers to follow.
Earthdance International sets a date for the global community that falls between Sept. 11 and the United Nations’ International Day of Peace on Sept. 21 every year. The cornerstone of the celebration, an international prayer for peace, is synchronized to compensate for time differences. This year the organization sponsored more than 200 gatherings in communities across the globe that participated in the prayer at the same time.
Michael Gosney, director of the Earthdance network, said communal prayer is more meaningful than prayer done alone.
“Prayer and synchronized meditation is a very powerful thing,” Gosney said. “I was drawn [to Earthdance] by the shared intention of the prayer for peace.”
Ithaca resident Patricia Haines, one of the coordinators of Ithaca’s Earthdance, said she wants to make the event an annual Ithaca tradition. Earthdance has happened in Ithaca three times in the past four years.
She and other organizers suggested a $10 donation per person, which helped raise $657. Most of the money will benefit the Namgyal Monastery, which is having trouble financing construction of a new complex.
Ngawang Dhondup, the monastery’s administrator, said the complex is being built close to Ithaca College, about 3 miles south of the monastery’s location on North Aurora Street downtown. The new location spans 28 acres, offer ample space for spiritual retreats and will accomodate a growing student body. With the support of Tenzin Gyasto, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, and a sizeable donation from a private donor, the monastery began construction in 2007, but the project was slowed in November 2008 when they ran out of money.
Dhondup said it was kind of the community to rally in support of the monastery. With many of the goals of the organization lining up with traditional Buddhist principals, he said they were also happy to participate in the ceremony.
“The world is becoming smaller and more interdependent,” Dhondup said. “It’s important that Earthdance delivers the message to people to work together and help one another.”
With the monastery in Ithaca serving as the Dalai Lama’s North American spiritual center, Haines said the Earthdance celebration exemplifies life in Central and Western New York and captures the aura of the area’s inhabitants.
“This is where spiritualism started in the 19th Century, where abolitionism started and, of course, the women’s rights movement,” Haines said. “We’re just carrying on that tradition.”
During the event, Tenzin Thutop, a monk at the monastery, delivered a statement from the Dalai Lama and led a chant for spiritual unity.
“We all have a common goal and common responsibility to make a common effort to achieve peace,” the Dalai
Lama’s statement read
At exactly 7 p.m., following Thutop’s presentation, Diane Olden of the Foundation of Light spiritual center led the group in a nondenominational prayer. The crowd, sprawled out on blankets across the lawn, joined hands and echoed her words.
“As we join all dance floors across the world, let us connect heart to heart,” she said. “Through our diversity we recognize unity.”
Several Ithaca College students took part in Earthdance, including sophomore Zack Turner, who said he heard about the event through the local fire spinning community. A fire spinner himself, Turner used his skills to entertain attendees. He said he enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere.
“I was really all about the prayer for peace,” Turner said. “It just seemed like a nice, small festival atmosphere.”
As far as Drumn is concerned, music is the only thing that has the power to unify a community, the nation or the world.
“It allows you to get through the layers of baggage and reach your heart and soul,” Drumn said. “We’re all atoms, the beautiful part is how we’re put together.”