Just over one hundred years ago, Albert Einstein and Carl Jung sat down together for tea. The physicist and the psychologist met a number of times over the next few years to talk of their work; Einstein’s discovery of quantum mechanics, Jung’s ideas of psyche, of soul. Both of them, young people in their respective fields, were developing concepts that would help loosen the grip of linearity that held tight on the Western mind. Jung later wrote that it was hearing of the wonders of non-locality and relative time that seeded thoughts of synchronicity.
Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection: “…synchronicity is a phenomenon that seems to be primarily connected with psychic conditions, that is to say with processes in the unconscious”.
There are two meanings of the word psychic. The one commonly used, ‘relating to or denoting faculties or phenomena that are apparently inexplicable by natural laws, especially involving telepathy or clairvoyance’ is not the one Jung is referring to. His use of psychic is the older usage, and means ‘relating to the soul or mind’. The word comes to English from the Greek psukhē ‘breath, life, soul’. It is interesting to speculate on the nature of this change. What once meant soul, deriving from something as fundamental as breath, has become shrouded in different connotations. Depending upon one’s predilections, the term psychic conjures up either profound and magical knowing, or charlatans and shysters.
I wonder if our culture will change with enhanced body awareness, subtle sense perception, increased emotional awareness? Perhaps we only need notions of telepathy when we are divorced from subtle sense perception and emotional nuance? I’ve seen magical thinking used to explain experiences unaccountable to people who are out of touch with their bodies and the natural world. Such as ‘traditional Aboriginal people are psychic because they know when people are coming before they arrive.’ This type of thinking demonstrates a lack of lived experience of ecological complexity’s communicative capacities: they may, instead, have observed the behaviour of birds on the horizon.
I didn’t expect too much. A friend who had an uncommon number of passions in common with me had highly recommended it, but how good could it really be, a rhythm and flow training workshop? I’d played flutes in a band for ten years in the past, I treasured those moments when the group was exquisitely in sync and all of us, audience too, were carried by the music into wildness and joy. That level of flow had taken us years of practice to develop. What could happen in just three days?
We stood in a ring encircling the leaders; a tall dark woman with a surdo, a large Brazilian drum, strapped to her waist, and an older man, fair, elegant in black. She looked rather serious, he, however, looked positively bouncy. In his warm Austrian voice he introduced his companion Tanya, and himself, Reinhard, the founder of Taketina.
‘Today, we are going straight into the music. Ga ma la ga ma la ga ma la ga ma la.’ He indicated that we follow his chant, a simple three syllable phrase, slow and unceasing. It was immediately hypnotic, strangely beautiful.
‘You’re speeding up, have you noticed?’ Reinhard brought us back to the beat.
‘Very good!’ He beamed at us. It was impossible not to smile back. He joined our ring. ‘Now, we will step. On the ga. Not this ga. Not this ga. Here!’ Once every twelve syllables we all stamped our left foot. ‘Now we will add another step. Not yet. Not yet. Wait. On this next la. Ready? Here.’ Down came our feet.
Just as we were getting the hang of that, Reinhard asked us to join hands, then squeezed the hand next to him; ‘send it around!’ he directed. The squeeze-pulse raced around the circle, then suddenly another pulse came from the other direction, then another, another…thrown into confusion, there were snorts of laughter, exasperated smiles. Delight and bafflement got acquainted in each of us, and as the pulses faded, we found our lost steps and voices again, we came back into accord. He left the circle to enter the middle, he paced around the inside, his feet in between beats of our feet, and while he stepped, he began instructing us in the next stage. Over the top of our chants and steps Reinhard spoke, a strange lilting tone, the accents of his voice landing in odd ways amid the beats already laid down. He was instructing us to clap, some beats coinciding with the steps, others landing on different syllables. Oh this was tricky.
‘No rush.’ He smiled and span in the middle of the circle, a master of complexity, in obvious delight at the thing that was building between us. After a spate of random claps, embarrassment and guffaws, we found we could follow. Reinhard then picked up a tall, one-stringed instrument, the berimbau, also from Brazil. When struck a twanging drone began, simultaneously trance-inducing and invigorating. Then, amid our chanting, our clapping, our stepping, the bright drone, he started to sing. Again, no words. It was a call, to which we responded; we dropped our chant and replaced it with this. At first it was simple, we matched it easily. But over time it grew in rhythmic complexity, until the singing sat only between the beats of feet and hands. It was impossible, impossible, to think music like this. But if I didn’t, and let my body follow, I found, to my body’s enormous joy, that for the odd sweet stretch, I could. My clapping became louder and sharper, a slapping of my own skin, I was delighting in the sting of my palms. I closed my eyes to feel it more, and when I did so, I realised the steps and claps created a swaying dance, complex yet flowing. I’d been so busy with everything else that this, the most beautiful thing of all, I’d not even noticed. As if a wildness within me was held in loving balance by the discipline of the rhythm, a freedom and power made of order, underlying symmetries, ancient patterns.
After an hour or so of living inside this song, ever so, ever so gradually, the musicians yielded to the music’s fading. Speaking low, our guides instructed us to fall away from the circle and lie down whenever we were ready. The music dropped further, into gentle whispers, light brushes of the drum. Yet I couldn’t break from being the music. With my eyes closed I felt the dance expressing itself through me in wide and sweeping gestures; when I opened them, I was shocked to see I was barely moving. Everything was happening inside, and I was there, deep within. I followed the music as it vanished into itself. I travelled all the way down with it, to where it lives, to where it has always lived, inside the silence. To the place where it sounds, unceasing, amid silence.
At the end of the piece we all lay quietly on the floor of the hall. I lay flat, face up, feet flopped to the sides, palms up. I lay open. All of the parts of me that, if I were curled into a ball, would be hidden; all of these unfurled. The insides of my legs, my belly and breasts, the undersides of my arms and the palms of my hands, the whole inner skin of my body lay open, and all this skin tingled, as if singing, as if it had been sung safe into this world at last.
‘Come, everybody, come sit together.’ We sat up dreamily, as if wondering what world we waked into. We shuffled forward on our bums to the front of the room. Reinhard knelt there, quiet and calm, almost unrecognisable. His work as a leader done, he had transformed. I was struck by his similarity to a zen teacher of mine, both with an elegant formality, dressed in black, and with a capacity to move between the wild, strong, cheeky trickster, to such gentle humility.
‘Taketina is both the knowing and not-knowing, the emptiness and the fullness, the chaos and the order. It is not about getting it right, it is about experiencing and accepting the flow between states.’
As a young man learning percussion, his curiosity about the power of rhythm had taken him to study with master drummers in Korea, Africa, India and South America. He learned from ancient rhythm traditions, he saw their roles in their cultures to create specific altered states to aid healing, to integrate body and mind, to foster connection. He then spent forty years refining his method. Taketina gradually, note by note, step by step, builds up layers of rhythm and melody, to create hypnotic, beautiful music that settled me into trance, before breaking the spell with a mind-bending level of musical complexity. Yet by surrendered conscious control, a new level of flow took over. There was a curious companioning of the unconscious. I felt my body as a friendship of organs, each with its pulsings and rhythms, and I was inside them, with their dark and secret musics. Sometimes when I closed my eyes, in the darkness geometrical patterns were taking shape, forming and reforming, vivid blue, riveting. The patterns stayed until I fell, inevitably, out of rhythm, but I found I didn’t mind; I opened my eyes, refreshed, laughing in delight at the ease and flow in my body. Later, when I described those patterns to my meditation teacher, she said she sees such patterns when she is in a state of deep meditation; for her it signals a brain refashioning itself, creating new neural pathways.
Universities are now researching Taketina’s potential to help those with chronic pain, where they’ve discovered that this work enhances the brain’s integration. The term neuroscientists use for this integration is synchronicity. Biological scientists use this term to mean two things happening at once; in the case of the brain, both sides.
When deep in the flow, my desire was to embody Taketina’s complexity as beautifully as possible. The music, it seemed, desired my movements to be deft, my singing clear. Somehow the music desired for me to be impeccable. Why impeccable, a word that originally meant not liable to sin? To sin was to go against god. I translate that to mean against life, against nature. I felt, in the ancient pattern of the work, that there was a way to do it perfectly, with complete integrity, and the pattern itself requested this intent. The rhythm, adapting itself to the imperfect vehicle that I am, lent me its perfection. Yet rhythm already belonged to me. I had those complex multi rhythms as my very basis; first, as embryo, my tiny heart nested beside my mother’s steady beat; her lungs, her breath, teaching me what I needed to know once I entered the outer world. From the inside out and the outside in: two things happening at once.
Synchronicity is the play of the world that asks us to join in. The world is always offering, but often I’m nursing hurts. Taketina soothes my hurts, invites me in to deep and loving listening. It feels something like life’s own song, and to sing with it is to join the play of the world. It is a method of courting synchronicity, through serenading, perhaps, our wholeness, our unconsciousness, our complex biological integrity. Pulse, breath, clap, step, flow. I open to music, I open to world.