Here in my refuge, staying with good friends, things are as they should be.
My wife recorded MSNBC's coverage of the March for Our Lives. Though our little one is sleeping (since it's just after midnight as I write this) our live-in family is watching the coverage together.
There have been so many impressive young people speaking during this event. Inspirational, impassioned, stirring, focused, connected, and intense.
The speakers on this stage are sharing their personal stories. They are vowing to bring change through their voices, and their votes. A young man named Cameron Kasky had a message for politicians: "Stand for us, or beware...the voters are coming."
The nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King, Jr spoke, and she spoke with the passion and the charisma of her grandfather.
This generation is motivated in a way no generation since the baby boomers has been.
If the energy of today's march in Washington D.C. is any indication, this generation will affect more change than the baby boomers ever dreamt of.
These young people are pointing out our failures, and they are not going quietly into the night.
They are organized.
They are mobilized.
They are calling BS.
They are bringing change.
Creativity is sometimes a very fragile thing. I experienced that fragility mere moments ago.
I rarely remember dreams, but I remember what just happened to me in the dream space.
I was in a busy train station, sitting. I was singing into my phone, using the Music Memos app, and the app was not only recording my voice, and guessing the chord structure of the melody I was singing, but it was also transcribing the words I was singing (Apple developers, can you work on that for me please?).
A family that I knew growing up, a younger version of the children, walked by me on their way to their platform, and took great notice of me singing into my phone.
When I was done dictating into the app, I realized that I was not only dictating a new song idea, but that a verse from a song that originated years ago had also come through.
I was thrilled!
This song first came though (in the waking world) a few years ago, and often times my efforts to finish the song yield no results.
Yet here, in the dream, the final piece of this lyrical and melodic puzzle had been revealed!
Then, I hear, faintly my wife and preschooler in sleepy conversation. I begin to rouse slightly and realize the lyrics for the unfinished song are slipping, and the new song is all but lost to conscious memory.
Then, the coup de grâce...
My wife’s alarms go off.
My wife has an ingenious series of alarms set on her phone. Each one is a different song, designed to give her a series on sonic cues about how much time she has to get ready and get out the door with the children to be on time for school.
Unfortunately for me, on this day each additional melody, juxtaposed against my fleeting dream world recall, quickly eroded the last vestiges of the songs I brought through from the Collective Consciousness.
As I began to rouse further, I mourned not the loss of the tune, and the words, but instead my attention deficit challenged brain immediately implemented preservation strategies, honed over years of struggle to capture inspirations.
I began repeating the recently realized lyrics, over and over again. Repeating them until I could capture them.
They were escaping before I could even say them (still half asleep).
Working on pure groggy instinct, I realized that my only chance of salvage was the story itself. This story that I’m writing now. Maybe, if I could anchor the images, and the melodies, and the lyrics to the story of how I lost them, there may be some hope that they will return to me.
I begin writing the story, still not fully awake. The title for this blog post. The opening words. I start planning how to remember the story and begin capturing it when I fully awaken.
The blog app on my phone!
Where is my phone? Can I reach it and at least begin to get this story down before anyone notices?
I realize at this point that even the story is in a tenuous place that could slip away forever with even hearing a simple “good morning” or “I love you” before I’ve started to write it.
I am awake enough now to hear my wife is in the bathroom. I reach for my phone. Wrist splints still on, I fumble with the phone. The abrasive sound of velcro will certainly draw my wife’s attention, and I will lose the last vestiges of what I’ve retained from the dream space.
The title begins to flow, and the first paragraph.
”Good morning my love!” I hear my wife say.
”Good mor...” I mumble, half articulated. It is only then that I realize sleep has not fully released me.
But I’ve done it.
I carried back a small piece of the dream space into the waking world.
I have a chance to remember those songs, those lyrics that it was time for me to bring through.
And just like that, this story has been told.
And I think I need a nap.
So a couple of nights ago, I was cooking dinner for my live-in family like I often do. I love being in the kitchen, and I love listening to music while I cook. “Rock Me Amadeus” came on, and I began to reminisce a bit. I told my wife that I had searched for 30 years for this particular version of the song. Today, it's known as the “Salieri Mix”, but in 1985, on that cassette tape I had in upper elementary, it was just “Rock me Amadeus."
When I bought a CD of the Falco 3 album several years ago, I was disappointed. The version of Rock Me Amadeus was not the version I loved so well. This began an exhaustive search for my beloved version of the song. Year after year I was unsuccessful.
I recently discovered that in 2016, a 30th anniversary album of Rock Me Amadeus was produced. At last! There it was! Track 2: Rock Me Amadeus (Salieri Mix)!
As I was relating the story of this journey to my wife, it hit me… I've had similar relationships with several songs over the years.
The stories of how those songs came to me are for another time.
I learned about the concept of carrying songs by participating in song circles for the past few years. I realized I had been carrying these songs for years.
It was at that moment, standing there in our tiny kitchen, cooking an amazing cabbage dish, I was overcome with chills. I've heard some people called them "truth tingles." The idea is that in those rare times when we stumble across a concept that resonates so completely with universal truth, our bodies and minds are overwhelmed with physical sensation. Usually for me, this type of sensation send chills down the back of my neck, and maybe makes the hairs on my arm stand up.
This time, my entire body was overcome by the tingling sensation.
I realized, I am a carrier!
While at Music Medicine training with Christine Stevens, I learned the concept of carrying drums.
A friend at that training brought a powerful, and unique drum with her. The voice of this drum inspires community, and togetherness. We discussed the fact that my friend does not own this drum, but rather carries it. She has been entrusted with the responsibility of caring for and sharing the beauty of this drum. Eventually, she will pass on this responsibility to another.
In that one moment, while cooking cabbage, I realized that I have been carrying many things for many years.
I am a song carrier, I am a drum carrier, and I am a story carrier.
While working as a music therapist in long-term care, and hospitals, I learned about the responsibility of carrying stories. People would often share their stories, or part of their story with me. With honor, I was able to bear witness, and when appropriate, share their stories with others.
Of course, with this new realization, comes a greater sense of responsibility.
I have known for years my life was to be a life of service. I realized quickly that the songs, drums, stories, and medicine I carry are not for myself. I carry them to serve others.
Maybe that is why I often end prayers with something I've read is a favorite of the Dalai Lama: guide me, and heal me, so that I may be of greater service to others.
What do you carry?
What gifts are you meant to share with this world?
To quote Manifesto by Nahko and Medicine for the People, find your medicine and use it.
Carry on my friends.
It’s happened to most of us: we read, or hear something that resonates so deeply with us, that every cell in our body begins to tingle. That this ultimate truth before us can barely be contained.
That’s what happened to me when I read the above quote. “That’s it! That’s me!”, I thought. Reading Yvon Chouinard’s words in “let my people go surfing,’ (part of the Patagonia Business Library) normalized for me something that has plagued me for years: a seeming lack of discipline and stick-to-it-tiveness.
You see, for a long time, I thought I just had trouble staying with things. I just chalked it up to the Attention Deficit Disorder diagnosis I received as an adult.
“Ah, that must be it! That’s why I move from thing to thing! Too many shiny objects!”
It actually took me years to see the pattern in myself. The first time someone referred to me as a “jack of all trades; master of none” I was taken aback.
“Wait! I’m good at this thing, and that thing…” I thought.
But the concept of mastery is a whole different level, isn’t it? What have I really mastered in my life?
Speaking of classical guitar, I remember something Christopher Parkening said during a master class I audited. He was recounting stories of being in master classes with Andrés Segovia. After one of those master classes, Segovia gave Parkening some simply, yet profound advice: “Christopher, work very hard.”
That sagely, Yoda-esque advice is some deep once it sets in.
And Segovia lived that advice. I read that he was practicing five hours a day up until the end of his 94 years on this planet.
Work. Very. Hard.
I used to joke that I didn’t want to work that hard. But what I figured out, is that it’s not that I don’t want to work hard. Most of us musicians (except for a rare few) have to put in countless hours of work to do what we do, if we want to do it well.
That’s exactly what I’ve done, time, and time again. I get completely consumed by something, and it’s all I talk about or think about. It happens with music constantly. For me it’s like the old saying, “a kid in a candy store.” There are SO many interesting things in this world! I want to try them all!
In the past few years, I have thrown my intense focus into learning to play Native flute, folk flute, ocarina, doumbek, riq, pandeiro, bones, kalimba, ukulele…the list goes on. Ah…can’t forget learning how to overtone sing in the bathtub…good acoustics there…
This brief, yet intense focus happens in the kitchen too. One of my wife’s favorite comfort foods are grilled cheese sandwiches. She was reminiscing one day about one of her favorite hang out spots in grad school where she always ordered the grilled cheese with pickles on it. When she asked me to make her a grilled cheese, as she did frequently for a while, I delighted in experimenting. I would present her with different combinations of cheese, heating up the pickles before putting them on the sandwich so they weren’t so drippy, did she prefer the sandwich sliced pickles, the hamburger dills, or did she like it better when I minced the pickles so they would incorporate into the melted cheese more? Butter and grill one side of the bread, or both? Caramelized cheese on the outside of the sandwich? One side, or both sides?
I get obsessive…down to the most minute of details…for a while.
Then I get bored. At least I think I do.
Yvon’s 80 percenter concept makes perfect sense to me.
I reach a certain level of proficiency, and then I’m ready to move on to something else. New challenges, new things to learn.
Now that I think about, I have to laugh at something a college girlfriend said when she was breaking up with me. She said, “We’re just too different…you always have to be learning something, and I…don’t.”
Yet that thought, even as a joke, persisted: “I don’t want to work that hard.”
It’s not that. It’s also not about attention deficit. It’s about learning, and growing, and the desire to never be complacent.
All these things I mentioned? I don’t forget about them. After my grilled cheese phase, I still make grilled cheese. I still experiment, but the level of intensity has shifted. I just learned how to make arepas, and my mind is abuzz with what I could do with them. My mind is also abuzz with kalimba, pandeiro, and ocarina. My interest waxes and wanes, and Yvon Chouinard helped me realize why this is okay for me.
Here in the United States, we are culturally imprinted with the drive to succeed.
#1 or none!
Climb, strive, achieve!
Of course, our poor millennials grew up with conflicting messages. The cultural imperative to be the best, but everybody gets a trophy just for showing up. That’s a whole can of worms I’m going to leave on the shelf for now.
So am I settling at an 80% level?
To me, it is far more important to live with an ever renewing zeal, and passion than it is to achieve 100% mastery. Don’t get me wrong…we need the Jimis, and the Anas, and the Christophers in this world. We need those people to define the very highest level of human achievement.
For myself, there are so many wonders in this world, that I would rather spending my time learning about (and doing) a lot of them rather than reach 100% mastery at one, or a few of them.
I’m an 80 percenter, and that’s just great for me.
We all tell them. Some of them have more truth to them than others. Sometimes the most horrible stories are the ones we tell ourselves.
But there is no doubt that stories are an integral part of human civilization.
I learned long ago, for whatever reason, people tell me their stories. I’ve written before about stories, and if you like, you can also read Everyone Has a Story and The Stories We Tell and the Stories We Don’t.
Yesterday, I met a man who shared part of his story with me. It was a polite, casual conversation, but the significance of it was not lost on me. Stories are life. Stories are recollections of where we have been, and guidance for where we are going.
So, I met this man at the grocery store. He is an older gentleman, and he skillfully, and mindfully places my groceries into my reusable Chico bags. Then he surprises me when the transaction is complete. He takes the cart that he’s placed my bags in, and heads for the door.
He’s going to take my groceries to the car for me!
I should mention that I am currently in Florida, and this man works for a chain of grocery stores called Publix.
If you have not had the pleasure of shopping at Publix, I highly recommend it.
I said to the man, “I haven’t had someone take my groceries to the car since I lived in the Midwest!”
He replied that it was one thing that sets them (Publix) apart from other stores.
At that, I chuckled as I said, “Well, that and the best Key Lime Pie I’ve ever had!”
The conversation then progressed to how lemon meringue was his favorite and Publix’s version is not quite as good as a chain restaurant he frequents.
He then told me about his time as a cook in the Royal Navy, and how very fresh ingredients make all the different in cooking, as well as in pie,
This man shared part of himself with me, and spoke of how proud he was to have spent 16 years (so far) working for this company because of what they give back to people.
I got so much more than just groceries delivered to my car. I got a reminder of the goodness of humanity. I received, just a glimpse into the heart of a man who loves lemon meringue, and being of service to others with grace, respect, and kindness.
I think I would have enjoyed a much longer conversation with this man. I have a feeling he has an abundance of interesting stories. Yet I am truly grateful for the experience, and for the small reminder that goodness abounds in this world, simple pleasures, like a favorite pie, can brighten any day, and that when we are brave enough to share just a little bit of ourselves, authentically, we are often rewarded beyond measure.
And, I should have picked up one of those key lime pies while I was there…
The Super Shuttle picked me up 10 minutes early. A pleasant, stress-free ride to the airport.
Got through security in good time.
Several people smile and say how much they like the flashing Christmas light necklace...one woman even said that I made her day!
Found some good vegetarian food to take on the plane...oh! Time to board!
Almost get to my seat when they make the announcement:
“We need two people to get off the plane...we have another flight in six hours. You’ll be compensated.”
I get off the plane, crew members thanking me profusely.
“Your gate checked bag will be at your final destination.”
Processing the new boarding pass. Processing the gift card compensation.
Staff on the phone: “No, the door is still open. We had a couple going to Brazil that weren’t checked in for some reason. No, they’re on the flight now. Two people volunteered to take the next flight.”
“Thank you so much sir for helping us out! You’ll get an email by this afternoon about the gift card. Here’s your new boarding pass. You know what? I’m going to buy you lunch too!”
The staff is so grateful.
A couple continues their international travel.
The plane leaves the gate a mere five minutes after scheduled departure time.
I’ll see family later than expected, but now there can be some after Christmas gifts too.
I text my wife: “I’m taking a later flight. Almost midnight before I get in.”
She responds: “You’ll be our Christmas gift!”
I find an outlet to charge my phone, and open my podcast app, content.
May you find all the peace and love you deserve (and you deserve bunches, and bunches!) this holiday season!
I’ve been fascinated with the idea of minimalism for years...ironic, because as my wife reminded me today, I have a tendency to be anally expulsive in every environment I inhabit.
The fact is, I’m a musician who plays a lot of different instruments (and I firmly believe you can NEVER have too many drums) and I like gadgets, and books, and kitchen gear...you get the point.
Part of this fascination with minimalism stems from the experience I had preparing my parents’ house for an estate auction. In 33 years of marriage (before my Mom passed) they accumulated a lot of stuff. As I learned, eventually someone has to deal with all that stuff.
I’m fascinated too with what Thanh from asianefficiency.com calls “the luxury minimalist lifestyle.”
The premise is that you reduce the number of items you own, but the items that you do own are the best you can afford and bring you joy. This cuts out duplicate items of poor quality. Headphones is an example. A luxery minimalist might choose a pair of high quality noise cancelling headphones over multiple sets of cheap, almost disposable headphones.
So with this fascination for me, and me starting to scale down some of my lifestyle with minimalist philosophy in mind, I decided to join some Facebook groups focused on minimalism.
This is where my frustration began...
Yes, I found posts that I expected...soliciting advice about specific methods for scaling down, suggestions about personal challenges of only buying 20 new items (except household needs, food, toiletries, etc.) and getting rid of one item for each new item purchased.
Today I saw a couple of posts that may be the last straw for me. One person was asking opinions about whether or not they should buy a wall clock, or should that be on their “do not buy” list.
Personally, if you can’t decide on your own to buy a clock or not, I think you may have bigger issues than how good you are at minimalism.
The one that really got me was this post:
“What’s more minimalist? Getting a Christmas tree from a lot, or going to a farm and cutting one down?”
Seems to me this question has less to do with minimalism, and more to do with the absolute absurdity that exists in the world today.
I guess my philosophy on things like this echo the words of a chef I once saw at the New Orleans School of Cooking. As he was cooking a meal for a large group of us, he added some piña colada syrup to the bread pudding he was making. He explained that the recipe called for one cup of the syrup, which he poured into the mix without measuring.
Someone in the group interrupted, asking, “How do you know that was one cup?” The chef started pouring the syrup and asked the questioner when to stop at what they thought a cup was. After the questioner said, “stop”, someone else said, “There’s no way that was one cup!”
The chef began to pour again, and the second questioner had the opportunity to decide what one cup was.
By the end of the exchange, with perfect timing, the chef said, “When it comes to cooking, the exact amounts don’t matter. If you like something, put more of it in” as he emptied the entire bottle of syrup into the bread pudding.
So when it comes to clocks or lot Christmas trees vs. farm Christmas trees, I think that wisdom holds true as well...if you want a wall clock, get a wall clock. If you don’t want a wall clock, don’t get one.
Same with the trees. If you want to cut down your own tree, do it. If that’s not an important part of the experience for you, get it from the lot.
When we rigidly adhere to a philosophy, for the sake of the philosophy, and don’t use our own critical thinking skills, we end up with clockless houses, indecisive tree shoppers, and boring bread pudding (not to mention religious extremists, angry vegans, and people walking around with their pants hanging down to their knees).
My advice to those who ridiculously adhere to a philosophy for the sake of the philosophy? Remember that philosophy is a product of the mind. We must balance the mind with the heart. If your philosophical adherence makes you miserable, it’s time to examine your motives.
Remember Polonius in Hamlet...this above all else: to thine own self be true.
Buy the clock, cut down the tree...as long as it is true to yourself and your values.
And put a whole bottle of syrup in your bread pudding if you feel like it.
I endeavor to live a spiritual life. Sometimes I do better at that than others. Actually, for quite a while now, I've been straying from my spiritual path. It's pretty easy to do. Straying from a spiritual path, I mean. Let's face it...it's a lot of hard work most of the time! Living from the heart instead of the head, remembering that there's more to life than just me, devotionals in various forms, prayer...
Much easier to run on autopilot, mindlessly coasting through this physical experience.
Speaking of which, how does that work anyway? As enlightened individuals (hopefully), we're supposed to stay mindful, yet we should also live heart centered lives, and stay out of our heads.
Guess I'll have to sit with that one for a while.
I've been very much stuck in my head for quite a long time now. I'm quite good at it, really. I tend to stay in a very intellectual place most of the time. It can be a strength, but I also use it as a defense mechanism, because if I'm speaking from an intellectual place, then I can avoid engaging with actual emotions! I can even speak about emotions intellectually, and most of the time, people think I am talking about my emotions, emotionally. I've fooled some very emotionally attuned people with this technique.
Of course, for most of my life I didn't realize I was doing this. Sometimes, I'm so good at this intellectualizing emotions, that I can fool myself into thinking I am being open and honest about emotions, all the while keeping a safe distance.
Before I take this tangent too far afield, recently when I was stuck in my head, a memory from college peeked out and made me reflect on the course my life has taken.
I remembered a conversation I had with one of my roommates as we were driving around town one summer afternoon. He was a big country music fan...I was not. This roommate and I grew up just a few miles from each other in the rural Midwest and went to different schools. Country music, in general, was quite popular at both of our schools. That's probably why I actively rejected it for so long. I tend to avoid things that seem TOO popular.
Anyway, my roommate, who was driving us around in his car, was playing country music, when all of a sudden, he said, "Hey, I want to play this song for you. But you have to listen to the words" (that's what EVERYONE said where I grew up. "You may not like country music, it you have to listen to the words!").
He played "Standing Outside The Fire" by Garth Brooks.
Life is not tried, it is merely survived
If you're standing outside the fire
"That song reminds me of you, because you're not afraid to go out there and try things, and I wish I was more like that" he told me.
I thought back to a time not long before that conversation when I went with all of my roommates to a country bar (hey, it was hanging out with the guys!).
We were at a table, talking amongst ourselves, when an attractive woman approached us.
"Alright guys," she began. "One of you is going to dance with me. Now, who's it going to be?"
All of my roommates were even more introverted than I am, so they unanimously volunteered me.
I warned this friendly woman that I did not know anything about this style of dancing, and she assured me she would teach me.
So we danced, and talked, and had a lovely time.
THAT was trying life, not merely surviving it.
Remembering those days, that conversation brought me to a disturbing realization: that song, that admiration my roommate had for me, no longer applied.
Not only have I been standing outside the fire for longer than I can remember, I don't think I could even SEE the fire from where I've been living from.
How did I go from one of "those who dance within the flames" to one of those that has distant memories of the fire, and has nearly forgotten it was ever there?
I knew I strayed from my spiritual path, but my life path too? (is there a difference?).
Both of my parents died when I was in my 20's, and since their loss, I have been haunted by the feeling that I have wasted so much time in life. Their deaths taught me that we never know how much time we are allotted in this life. Carpe diem! Momento mori! (Seize the day! You, too shall die!).
Part of my highly intellectual way of being, is mulling over things for a while. The shift to standing outside the fire, as a way of being, has been mulled for several weeks now.
Tonight, I read something that resonated so strongly with me, that it tied everything together in a brilliant little package.
These words are attributed to the late Layne Redmond:
I now know in every cell of my body that death is real, it is final, it is irrevocable and that I will die. Whatever time I have left must be used for manifesting the most profound purpose that brought me to life to begin with. I must be satisfied with every interaction I have with any person, as if it is my final action, my final thought.
If you're not familiar with Layne, she was a frame drummer, a teacher, an author, and a beautiful soul.
I did not have the opportunity to study with her, or even meet her in person, but we exchanged several messages through social media.
Do I want to be stuck in my head? Do I want to stay strayed from my spiritual path? Do I want to stand outside the fire?
I want to live from my heart. I want to walk my path with courage. I want to dance within the flames.
I want to manifest my most profound purpose!
As a spiritual person, I believe that we are being guided. We are being guided what to do with our lives, and how to do it. The signs are all around us, if we can only see them with an open heart.
Layne's words really spoke to me tonight. I must be satisfied with every interaction I have with any person, as if it is my final action, my final thought.
So, when that beautiful woman asks me to dance, I will smile, and lead her to the center of the flames, as if it is my final action.
How else am I going to manifest my most profound purpose otherwise?
When I woke up this morning, I learned that Donald Trump was indeed elected President of the United States. A lot of people are having a lot of big feelings about this fact.
But here's the thing that's really got me...some people are using Trump's win as an excuse to express overtly racist ideas.
I'm trying very hard to be tactful. I have several choice words that I would like to use to describe what I am hearing, but in the interest of making this easy to share with your children and your grandparents, I'll keep those words to myself.
I'm not on social media much these days, but in the little exposure I've had today, I read about someone who was trying to reassure a co-worker about her immigration status, I read about a high school girl, a non-white natural born citizen of this country, who has been bullied all day with phrases like, "I can't wait until you get deported!" I read about a woman who was taunted in her car and approached by one man holding lighter fluid and another holding a lit cigarette and yelling "Go Trump!" at her, and I just read that a friend's husband got called a "f*cking Mexican" while getting coffee this morning (he has Native blood).
I could go on for days about how heavy my heart feels when I read these things, these awful things, happening to human beings.
Instead, I want to introduce you to a beautiful Lakota phrase: mitakuye oyasin.
Mitakuye oyasin means "all my relations."
The idea is that we are all related. ALL related. Every person, every animal, every tree, every stone...we are all related.
The biggest lie we have been sold is the lie of separation. There is no separation between men, women, gender fluid, white, black, Native. Hispanic, poor, rich, Christian, Muslim...we're all in this together my friends! It's about humanity living in harmony with itself and every living being on this earth. There is no "us" and "them"...it's only "us!"
Now, one may think I share this beautiful phrase as support for all of those recipients of hateful language today. But today, I go further.
You see, it's quite easy to have compassion for the victims. They certainly deserve compassion...but so do the perpetrators.
We have to remember that mitakuye oyasin is about victims and perpetrators alike. All my relations means that everyone gets to come to the party, no special invitation needed. The moment you took breath in this life, you were invited.
Remember that compassion when you hear about or witness such awful things. I cannot abide such horrible acts, and I will call people out when I do witness them. When I do, I shall try to do so with compassion in my heart.
If today is foreshadowing things to come, then the road ahead will not be easy. But each of us must do our very best to stay rooted in love and peace. That is the path forward in these uncertain times.