Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You know that rhythm thing I do?

I just got back from a blissfully rejuvenating trip all by my lonesome. No kids, no husband, just me and my little carry-on-size suitcase. I ate my fill of all of the things that are harder to come by in suburban Maryland: Indian, Ethiopian, stunningly good sushi, a burrito the size of my head, a Whole Foods smorgasbord, and two “It’s It” ice cream sandwiches. When people asked where I was going, the answer always started with the same question: “You know that rhythm thing I do?”

TaKeTiNa, a.k.a. that rhythm thing I do.

Most people haven’t heard of TaKeTiNa yet, and I haven’t talked about it here before. For me, it was the first thing that helped me to silence my chattering mind, the first thing that opened my door to one-ness with the universe, the first thing that really transformed how I AM in the world. So what is it? For the official word on that, check out the official page, but here’s what I have to say about it. TaKeTiNa is a way to make music and rhythm using your body. It’s a way to bring anyone, even people with no musical background at all, into a complex rhythmic musical experience in a group. So you get deep connection with a group and the magic of being part of creating multi-layered music. There’s something about music and rhythm in a group that is already transcendent for many people. People who do drum circles or chanting are tapping into that same something. If you want music in a group, there are a lot of ways to find that.

But for me, the crucial and perhaps unique element of TaKeTiNa is that you can’t do it with your brain. It all sounds simple. You step in one pattern, clap in another pattern, and do call-and-response singing with your voice. But in my experience, even highly trained percussionists who think that they can hold any polyrhythm with their bodies can’t brain-power their way through TaKeTiNa. The pathway to finding these rhythms is letting go of trying to “get it right.” In order to bring in the claps, your footsteps fade into the background. You forget that you’re stepping, but your body keeps the pulse going. Like new moms, who find that they are rocking a baby even when they are not holding one, your body has the power to hold a rhythm without your conscious direction. And then as the leader’s voice calls evoke a third layer of rhythm, the claps too can fade from your awareness.

I don’t understand why this happens, but giving my body all of that stuff to do, while letting my brain take a break from being in charge, opens a door. I have epiphanies and see myself very clearly. I feel bliss and love and connection to the universe. And I change. All of the places where I am stuck are lit up like beacons. Or maybe they are the only things not lit up. My whole self is filled with love and light, EXCEPT for those places where I am stuck, so it makes them very easy to see.

This is all getting pretty esoteric. Let me be more concrete for a moment. I credit TaKeTiNa with my ability to manage my depression without antidepressants.

I have struggled with my mood since adolescence. Depression was a heavy water-filled blanket that covered me from time to time and made it impossible for me to see, or breathe, or be. The first time I tried Zoloft, it was a revelation. You mean, I could be a little bit sad and not have that feeling take over my entire nervous system? Wow! I felt like I finally understood how “normal” people felt. I thought I would be a lifer. But over time, I found that I couldn’t cry at beautiful poignancy. I became less interested in art and music and… just life. I was fine, and not depressed, and OK, and just fine. It wasn’t good enough. Going off the meds was scary, because I remembered what it was like not to be fine. I remembered how dark things could get, dark enough to make “fine” seem like bliss. But fine wasn’t bliss. I wanted bliss. So (with my doctor’s supervision), I tapered and eventually stopped my happy pills.

The sun was brighter. The grass was greener. I was alive again! I could cry when things were heartbreakingly beautiful. Then the depression wave came again, like I knew it would. But I had new tools. My experiences in TaKeTiNa had opened a door to show me how to be present with negative emotions, to acknowledge and see those emotions without letting them take over completely. How does stepping, clapping, and singing in a circle do that? I have no idea, but it did.

I spent three years in a training learning to lead TaKeTiNa workshops. Twice each year, I spent 2-3 weeks at a retreat center outside of Portland, Oregon learning to play the instruments needed to lead this work, learning the nuts and bolts of how to do it, and by far the most challenging component, learning to get my ego and my dysfunctional patterns out of the way so I could be there for a group and allow the kinds of transformations to happen for them that had happened for me. In the middle of the training, I popped out a couple of kids, and they were quite… distracting. But for three years, I did deep soul work with the same 20 or so people. We examined the patterns in our lives that kept us from being authentic. We looked at the scariest of old wounds and started working to heal them so that we wouldn’t be triggered by people who came to our workshops (or if we were triggered, at least we would know it, rather than reacting unconsciously). We laughed and cried and made music and hugged and drank wine and had deep true talks and became a family.

All of this was to answer the question of where I went last week. Many of the people in my TaKeTiNa family went on to the next level of training, to learn more about how to lead people deeper into rhythm and transformation and bliss. And last week they had their “final exams.” These beautiful people, my family, are scattered around the globe, including several from Australia. And many of them were going to be in one place for a week, stepping and clapping and singing and learning and changing. We don’t have the money for me to be flying around and renting cars and stuff, but some things are important enough to ignore that reality, and this was one of them. So I went.

I stepped and clapped and sang. As I lay on the floor after one journey, looking up at the reclaimed wood beams, I had a deep epiphany about the beauty of imperfection. That it is the things about ourselves that we struggle with the most that make us the most beautiful. That the places inside that are not perfect are what bring depth and meaning to our lives. Simone Siva, beautiful grounded soul, thank you for that. In another journey, a wave came over me, a pocket of sadness and grieving that had been put off and needed to be expressed. It spilled out my eyes in that safe space and a piece of my heart moved towards healing. Grady, wild vulnerable powerhouse, thank you for that. In yet another journey, my steps became a dance and I was suffused with such joy I thought I would burst open and become a being made of pure light and love. Robert, deep authentic trickster, thank you for that.

So that’s where I was last week.

(Well, that, plus seeing a few other old friends, and eating my weight in ethnic food.)

If you’re thinking, “Where do I sign up?” Here are some events coming up:

September 16th-19th in Alameda, CA

Or, the same weekend on the east coast, September 16th-18th near Atlanta, GA

There are teachers all over the country (and all over the world) doing this work. Right now, the North American teachers are not compiled in a handy dandy list, because we JUST (I mean, within weeks) formed an official entity and are in the process of getting a new website up and running. I’ll post that link here when it exists. San Francisco Bay Area teachers have a meetup group for their events.  [Edited to add the link.  Here is the website for TaKeTiNa in North America!!]

Until the North American website is set up, if you are looking for a TaKeTiNa teacher in your area, you can leave a comment here with your general geographic location and I will try to point you in the right direction. You can also join the TaKeTiNa facebook group for event announcements, or to ask about teachers in your area or teachers willing to travel to your area.


  1. Hmmm - I'll have to think about this. I agree on the "Happy Pills" - that's what I started to call them - but now, I think of them as the "Numbing Pills". I didn't get as sad or stressed out, but I sure lost enthusiasm for everything else!

  2. Hi Pam! That was beautiful. Thanks for writing about your authentic experience, too. I also remember suffering with bouts of depression, which continued until I started doing taketina on a regular basis. There is something about it that seriously stabilizes and grounds me. It's been so long now, I almost forgot that it used to be an issue... but it once was, and it is amazing that it's gone. I also really miss our training group. It was great to see you and everyone. Your blog is really sweet, authentic, and poignant. You have a real knack for speaking the truth. Looking forward to more.

  3. i'm a first time visitor here and i have to say, i admire your honesty.

  4. Utterly fascinating. You've written a beautiful picture that makes me want to learn more. Does this exist in Nova Scotia, Canada?

  5. Stephanie, I don't think we have any teachers there yet, but I don't know everyone in the current training group. I'll ask and get back to you if I find anyone close by.

  6. Very interesting, glad you have found this very important "way" for you.

  7. Thank you for this Pam- and for sending info about TaKeTiNa out to the world.! It is my path for wholeness, music and joy!