“My Life is a mess” she said with a big shrug as she hit the downbeat

“My Life is a mess” she said with a big shrug as she hit the downbeat.

excerpt; “History of the Groove, drummer’s tale” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved

1997. She appeared to be a successful, good looking, middle aged career woman like so many others on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. She spoke to me in the coffee shop one day.

“That drumming thing seems to be going pretty well for you.”

That to me was more than a remark. It was a call for help. I offered to show her but she was reticent. This is indicative of highly functioning people; they don’t want to appear foolish. Eventually she strolled across the alley from Seattle’s Best Coffee and came into the shop. Up to this point I had been doing only relaxing drumming; slowing the tempo to get people to reduce their anxiety levels. This was the alpha A type personality capitol of the world. Most people dared not slow down for fear of losing their place in the cappaccino que of life. When she finally sat down I advised her like everyone else.

“Just hit the downbeat in the middle of the drumhead. Pull the tone up. Come up quick and get a good tone, alternate your hands if you can, relax, don’t speed up….”

She settled in reluctantly but willing and got a good easy beat going. When this happened with people I was noticing they would relax after the first few downbeats, and it would show up with “The Shrug”. That was when they would begin to trust their beat. They take a big breath, let it out releasing a big breath of air along with their shoulders rising and dropping in a releasing shrug. I had been noticing it on a regular basis and it interested me. It was a physical indicator of what they were going through in their minds. Suddenly this woman, dressed in expensive jeans, a white shirt, modest gold jewelry, gave off a deep sigh and shrugged.

That’s when she uttered the fateful words, “My life is a mess.”

“Just keep the beat going.” I advised gently as I massaged the groove to stay just behind the metronome in my head; making the deep toned downbeat just a little bit late.

This was an art form on the ‘chitlin’ circuit down below the Mason Dixon line; if the drummer could keep the groove just laid back enough, the girls would dance. And if the girls danced, the guys bought the beer, and the band got paid….

At this moment a lightbulb went off in the clinical partition of my mind. She did the shrug like so many others. This was a physical reaction to the rhythm. It was predictable. It was teachable. “The Shrug” meant that this could be taught as a protocol. That was a big relief for me. I was hoping that the healing drums was a teachable practice; not something that I was doing because I was a shaman. I did not want to be a shaman. It didn’t feel like a psychologically healthy goal for me after coming out of the music and film business. I wanted to teach it to other drummers. The culture needed this. So the shrug was very exciting to me. It was what I called, a ‘Rhythmic Indicator’. It was the first of many indicators that I became aware of. Our bodies are constantly giving off rhythmic signals.  It is comparable to reflexology, where the clinician requires the patient to extend their arm parallel to the ground while they hold a supplement in their other hand against their chest. The clinician will then gently press down on the extended arm. If the supplement is good for the patient, the arm will stay strong and resist the attempt to push it down. If the supplement is not good for the patient, the arm will exhibit weakness and will be easily pushed down by the clinician. This is a method to listen to what the body needs and wants. If the clinician is skillful with questioning, they can locate illness and diagnose to an incredibly accurate degree. My friend and brilliant clinician in Largo, Florida, Virginia Dassler, literally saved my life on more than one occasion with the muscle resistance method. My body found a way to communicate it’s needs to the healer through simple ‘yes or no’ questions using muscle testing.

So now, I was seeing the body of the drum patients exhibiting similar reactions to rhythm. They were unconsciously giving off indicators of what they were going through. The first indicator, the shrug, was telling me that they were feeling safe. That was an important place to begin the drum healing. After we settled into a laid back groove, and I slowed the beat a little bit more; down to about forty beats a minute, with her downbeat hitting on every other beat, so she was actually hitting at about twenty beats a minute. This was slow enough for her to process subconscious thought and stay out of the way by actively playing. She opened up and began to talk while hitting the drum. She had never hit a drum before, but now, the miracle of the groove was giving her subconscious a voice.

“I have been through four marriages. I can’t hold a job. I was sexually abused as a child; repeatedly abused by my parents, relatives and friends of the family. It affected my body. I have no children….”

“Just keep hitting the drum.” I said as simply as I could. The beat was holding her together, as she passed through her recollections. But now, the beat was giving her some protection. She wasn’t caving in, she kept moving. She pushed on; talking some more, hitting the single note repeatedly. I kept it steady and laid back so as to keep a feeling of safeness. I did not even know her name, but I witnessed the courage of this woman and supported her in this amazing act of self healing. We stayed on the groove, slowing it down until she felt a sense of completion. I didn’t know what to say, so I just let her assimilate whatever she was going through.

The session ended ironically when a psychotherapist friend entered with her nervous energy and broke the trance. This women got up and discreetly left the store. It was a week before I saw her again in the coffee shop talking with a group of people. As I walked out, she called out to me,

“That drumming thing we did was very powerful.” she said, unafraid to speak across the room to me.

I was very glad she had said something. “Good. If there is something I should know about, please come over and tell me. Otherwise, I am just a drum teacher, which is OK, but …..”

She nodded, “I will.” I left and I didn’t hear from her for a while. I was out in front of the store, hanging the beaded curtains as is the usual daily zen meditation. My days were not all rock n roll party any more or film biz hype. I was wondering if happiness was a thing of the past in my life. She came up and spoke to me quietly.

“You look like you need some cheering up.” She said. Who doesn’t…

“I just wanted to explain to you what happened after our drumming session. I went in for my other therapy sessions; ‘sexual addicts anonymous’, ‘survivors of incest’. While I was talking about my past I remembered the beat. That steady beat…it made me feel safe. I could stay with the issue. I got something out of it. Some closure…It worked. Thank you.”

I was very relieved to hear this. “You are going to help a lot of people with that information.” I told her. She slipped off and I did not see her again.

I saw her almost a year later in the park. She stopped a safe distance from me. I asked her how she was doing. She told me that she was doing well. She had a job where she was not having an affair with her boss. She had her own place and was enjoying living quietly and safely. I tried to tell her how much her courage had already helped so many people. But she seemed to just want to put it behind her and move on. I never saw her again. But her legacy pointed me in the right direction. Hundreds of people, both men and women, who have the heroic history of surviving abuse and trauma have her to thank for her singular articulation of what happens with the groove. This healing drum method is a detective story and that was the clue that I needed. There were many more clues to guide me but her courage was one of the first clues to show me what is possible using the groove as a healing tool.

excerpt; “History of the Groove, drummer’s tale” Russell Buddy Helm ©2013 all rights reserved

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