How Do We Learn a Lifestyle of Rhythm?

As I write this I have the sound of birds singing, a gentle water fall and a trickling stream. There is a rhythm to this.

Every 15 seconds it stops and repeats, stops and repeats, stops and repeats. I am not sitting in the middle of some leafy grove, but I am actually at my desk and I have an app on my phone that is generating these sounds.

I am in charge, and I can control what sound I listen to, the volume, and how long this will be repeated for.

Control is good, but too much can lead to tedium.


Would you rather have a robot playing your favourite piece of music or an artist.

The robot playing in perfect precision, every note and beat exactly the same every time. It would be kind of sterile wouldn’t it.

Or, would you rather have an artist play the music live in front of you. They take that original piece of artwork and they add their own character, soul and life to it. They bring themselves and all they are to the music. You can see their heart and soul, sweat and tears, as they immerse themselves in the performance.

You see there is no rigidity in the flow of beautiful music. True artists follow the score with their soul not a tick box.

It’s the rigidity in some people’s lives that scares me.

I read quite a lot. I also listen to many podcasts often by people bringing the next latest thing. ‘This book which will transform your life in 5 easy steps’.  You buy the book with steps outlined and examples given of how people ‘just like you’ solved all their problems. Well it seems that way.

In the real world, where you and I hang out, there are no easy quick fix solutions.

I have been brought up in the Evangelical Christian Tradition.

To make it here there are generally a set of expectations to follow. Some said but mostly unsaid they are unsaid.

  • Attend Church every Sunday
  • Give financially to the church (some churches even teach a certain %)
  • Follow the 10 commandments
  • Read the Bible everyday
  • Study the Bible
  • Volunteer

The list could go on and on.

As I look at this list I remember the feelings of alienation by those who had Major Mental Illnesses and who wanted to be part of a church community. The message heard is the message received.

Essentially, Church life can give you a list of expectations that if you follow them, then you will know that you ok supposedly with God and with your fellow church goer. This list can grow into a rigidity that can cripple and the growth of relationships of any meaningful depth and transformation. It’s all about the keeping up of the appearance of doing the right rather than the transformation of the heart.

Dr David Benner says this about rigidity.

Discipline, spiritual or otherwise, is a good servant but a bad master. It is not the summum bonum-the supreme good. When it is valued in and of itself, the disciplined life easily leads to rigidity and pride.

The blade of grass that is supple and flexible is alive. The one that is brittle and stiff is either dead or dying. So it is in all of nature-humans included. Rigidity is a dynamic of death. And it is a blight that easily infects the vine of a highly disciplined life.

The danger of self-control is that it easily generalizes to control of one’s total life space including those who enter that space. I think of how easily I can feel uncomfortable around people who are much more spontaneous and free than I. Such people are hard to predict and hard to control. Consequently, they threaten the arbitrary controls I place on myself the brittle barriers I erect around my naked self in an attempt to hide my vulnerability and make me feel safe.

Unchecked self-control sucks the vitality not only out of the individual who practices it but also out of others. In its most advanced stages it produces a rigidity that looks like premature rigor mortis. You can smell the presence of death when you are with someone who is in the embrace of the soul-damaging rigidity associated with self-control that has been made into the supreme virtue.

So how do we learn a life of rhythm?

1. Accept you’re never going to get it perfectly right.
Perfection is a fallacy and an impossible ‘to please’ task master. We want to live that life where everything fits perfectly, toes aren’t trodden on, and ego’s (especially our own) don’t get bruised.

We tell ourselves that we are not striving for perfection, but do we have an expectation that things line up in a certain way? That things have to be just so if we are going to get through the day?

One of my all time favorite sermons is from Rob Bell called ‘Sacred Waste’ where he talks about a time in his life where he had to give up this quest of control. He came to these conclusions.

Control is an illusion.
Guarantees are a deception.
All you have preacher is the gift and you give it with joy,
you give it with liberation, you throw yourself into it.
Then you step back and celebrate that it’s the sacrifice that makes it sacred.
You don’t get to control how it will be received or understood. Rob Bell

2. Learn to listen to the ambient movement of life around you.

The word ambience is an interesting word and describes the environment around you. Setting the thermostat on your heater or air-conditioner will provide an ambient air temperature to your liking.

Much of our life however is spent in situations where we have little control or influence over the ambient environment around us.

It is spring as I write this and in a few months it will be summer. The ambient environment of springtime places calls on me to do certain garden activities that I would not do any other time of the year and if I don’t do them now then I have lost the opportunity for a whole year.

I am not in control of springtime, it marches on regardless of my choices, but it is to this rhythm I must bend the knee.

So bringing this into focus around your life, what is the ambient environment like for you around Christmas time? Is it chaotic, busy traffic, long ques at the supermarket?All of these affect your life and how you do things.

So for this moment, day, week, what is the ambient external environment that is having an effect on your life?

Listen to this ambience and adjust.

3. See the 5 rhythms as invitations not demands.
These are not one more thing to do. They aren’t a ‘tick the box’ to do list activity. They are an invitation to participate in something bigger than yourself.

The 5 rhythms of rest, creativity, nourishment, connection and alignment are dance partners quietly waiting to be chosen from a line of noisy deputantes. They sit waiting patiently for your eye to fall on them and for you to move across the floor and ask ‘May I have the pleasure of this dance’.

4. Observe, not compare, how you practice the 5 rhythms.
Don’t compare yourself to others and how they live. They have their own style in living life that will be different to yours. They also have their own complexity of issues.
You are special, unique and crafted for expression in your own natural way.

Dr. Dan Allender in a podcast said this

One will never have joy if you are only looking at what you are meant to be able to do. I don’t have to compare to anyone. Comparisons are cruel. They critique. They leave you empty and or envious or both and therefore it ruins. Dr. Dan Allender

As we learn to observe our own natural style of practicing the rhythms we learn to appreciate how we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made‘ in such a way that God would not just be pleased but be very pleased, even excited!
So please finish playing the comparison game that starves you of joy. Learn to dance your rhythm your way.

5. Embrace the 5 rhythms into your daily/ weekly life.

Find times to rest, align, connect, nourish, create.
I know it’s not easy, but as you practice the listening, the invites will come. In the next hour which rhythm would you like to step across the room and ask to dance?

As I finish this writing I am listening to a birdsong. Not from a computer generated looping program, but the real thing. That little thrush is singing its morning song out for all the world to hear. A Tui joins into the background and creative joyful music, never heard before, explodes into the world.

Rhythm or rigidity, which do you choose?

Dancing in the rhythm brings joy.

Are you willing and ready to invite them to step onto the floor?

Barry Pearman