Birthdays are a reminder that each of us have gifts to share with the world, those gifts make a difference, and if we don't share them, the whole of human history will miss out.
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.
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 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?
Just now, I was sitting in my car, after work, texting my beloved wife. As my car was warming up on this winter day, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, someone approach and get into the car next to me. This was especially noticeable, because I had pulled into my spot front first and this person had backed in, so the person was right by my door as they unlocked their car.
A few minutes later, as I was ready to leave, I noticed the car next to me was still there. I glanced over, and saw a man, wearing sunglasses, with his head leaning on the head rest. I also noticed a single tear trailing down below the sunglasses.
I paused for a moment, put my car in reverse, and backed out.
Immediately, the thoughts started pouring into my consciousness:
I don't know this guy.
I just spent the whole day helping others put their broken pieces back together!
He'll be alright.
I've got things to do...I can't save everyone.
But then another voice came through. The voice of my spirit guides:
What's the matter with you?
You could see he was in pain...help him!
You are a healer! You don't get to punch out at the end of the day!
That voice of truth reminded me...Always on call. Always ready to bring peace. That is the life that chose me. It's the life I have chosen.
I turned around and headed back for the parking lot, but the car, the man, and his pain were gone.
I said a prayer for him. I pray that his pain passes quickly and that whatever caused the single tear I saw resolves harmoniously.
We are creatures of habit when it comes to parking, so maybe I'll see that man again. Maybe I'll have the chance to ask, "Is there anything I can do?"
Asking if everything is okay is stupid...clearly when tears fall, things are not okay.
I know that I've been the one crying in my car at the end of the day. Maybe there's nothing I could do for that man directly. It doesn't matter what causes the pain. Sometimes it's enough to say, "Hey, I get it! Life can be scary and frustrating and confusing and sometimes things just suck. I get it. You're going to be okay. You'll get through this."
If I don't get the chance to say these things to that man, I can at least be grateful for the lesson he unknowingly taught me:
It doesn't take some grand therapeutic or healing gesture to say "I see your pain, and I get it."
It just takes choosing to roll down the window, instead of backing out of the parking space.
Fresh in my mind is a quote from Ethan Hawke that I shared in a recent blog post:
It doesn't come for free
To me, that means those of us who work in the creative arts, give of ourselves for the benefit of others. Sometimes we give so much that we forget to save anything for ourselves and our loved ones.
Now let me speak to part of the title of this post: shaman.
A word that is sometimes overused, much confused and a word that stirs passion in some about who is a shaman, who is not and the right to be called one.
The term means different things to different people, but in simple terms, a shaman is one who has one foot in ordinary reality and one foot in non-ordinary reality. Spirit world, Afterlife, "The Other Side"...
The life of a shaman is one of service. Service to community. The shaman takes on the responsibility of going where most cannot in order to guide and serve the community...often at great personal cost.
Now consider the role of the music therapist. At times, we may offer our clients a compassionate ear, a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board for buried emotions. We laugh, and cry with those we serve. We co-create an emotional legacy for friends and families of our patients facing death. We help the combat veteran process anger, grief and survivor's guilt. We bear witness to the joy a parent feels as their autistic child emerges from their shell.
It seems to me that in the Information Age, we have access to an overwhelming amount of images and data from anywhere on this planet and beyond. People are losing their ability to effectively deal with their own emotions. So many turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food...anything to try to deal with the overload. People stuff their emotions, afraid to see what is really there. And why not?
Things are scary as hell out there. Let me keep my tunnel vision on my Facebook status and my Candy Crush level and my Instagram followers and please, please don't make me look!
We, as music therapists can act as emotional shamans for our patients/clients/communities.
We can ride our sacred drums into that mysterious and scary world of emotions, with courage, and bring back the wisdom that lies there for those we serve. Music opens the door to some potentially uncomfortable things for our clients. But it opens the door gently. It offers a warm hand and says, "It's okay. You're not alone anymore."
I can't count the number of times I played one song for someone, and then the person started to talk. They would tell me their stories. They would tell me about their fears around their current health challenges. They would share their concern for their grandsons and granddaughters in the military. They would speak fondly of their recently passed life partner and how they used to go to all the dances. They began to process their emotions because music opened the door for them.
We are the facilitators of those experiences. You'd better be damn sure you are bringing your "A" game every day. That means taking care of your mind/body/spirit. Yes, the responsibility is THAT important.
We walk where others have forgotten how to. We offer a non-threatening way to peek around the corner at the emotions that lay unattended to. In a sense, the non-ordinary reality we walk in is simply the landscape of emotions. Fear has taken over the thinking of so many these days and the skills to deal with emotions are being replaced by mind numbing entertainment and poor quality food, that we gorge ourselves on in hopes of receiving adequate nutrition and medicating those emotions we've forgotten how to process.
The landscape of music therapy is changing my friends. This is not the profession E. Thayer Gaston wrote about. We need to become more. The world needs us to become more. We need to be healers, and peacemakers and revealers of core truths and...emotional shamans.
I wonder if the Holy Grail of masters level entry will even be sufficient as the landscape continues to change?
Work very hard. Your clients/patients/communities deserve no less.
But remember that it doesn't come for free.
Take care of yourself, or you won't be taking care of anyone else.
I wanted to write a quick follow up to Response to a Disheartened Music Therapist. People are talking about it.
The original post struck a nerve with a lot of music therapists. I think that post expressed what is on the mind of a lot of us...is this worth it? Can I make this work as a living? Is it supposed to be this difficult?
Some of the comments I've received illustrate just how resilient the "lifers" in this profession are. One person talked about being a lone music therapist in a rural area, and the obstacles she's had to get where she is today. She's made some enemies because of the high standards of service she was unwilling to compromise on. Networking,education, hard work...rinse, repeat. She's looking to the future, hiring people to continue the work she's been doing so it doesn't all just fade away when she's ready to retire. But she wonders, how she will convince someone to "sweat and suffer" (her words) for a couple of years in order to keep things going.
I wonder too.
This fast paced world, full of instant gratification does not seem well suited to the kind of patience and persistence it takes to develop a life as a private practice music therapist. My MT prof used to say "Music therapists are the happiest poor people on the world, because we love what we do, but we are not well paid for it."
Many other life paths offer a lot more money in lot less time.
I think, as do others, that the old paradigm needs to change...but that is a discussion for another time.
Advice another commenter had was to find another discipline that can complement music therapy skills and develop that quickly. It's not uncommon these days for MT's to pick up credentials for counseling, transpersonal psychology, social work...the list goes on.
This MT found it works better for her to not emphasize the music aspect of the therapeutic work that she does. Let's face it...many people hear "music therapy" and expect to sit around a campfire with a bunch of hippies, holding hands and singing Kum Ba Yah.
Just last week when I introduced myself to a group as a music therapist, one patient said, "Oh, I'm not here to be entertained."
Without pause I said, "Good. I'm not here to entertain you."
I am discovering that music therapy is much easier to understand in an experiential vein than in a philosophical one. If I try to explain a drum circle or song lyric analysis before we try it, eyes glaze over and attention wanders.
If instead I say, "we're going to play some drums...you already know what you need to know to do it" and then start playing, I start to see the smiles and hear the laughter. Later, I might explain how a group listened to each other and supported each other in a process, but the group already knows this on some level.
This is not an easy life, but it is a good life.
Music therapists get very excited over seemingly small things. I still delight in the memory of somebody I worked with who, after working with them for over a year, one day in session, they spontaneously said my name. Before that, I was always referred to as "music." These things are very exciting for us! Those breakthrough moments that remind us of why we (sometimes) sweat and suffer.
It is a hard sell..."come join our profession! You'll probably never make much money, you'll always have to justify everything you do, you'll constantly have to educate others, you may forever be underpaid, undervalued and underappreciated...but if this is in your soul...you'll never find happiness anywhere else."
All the hard work and frustration and tears (mostly with our clients) and challenges...the gut wrenching, joyful, emotional roller coaster...is it worth it?
It's certainly not a way of life for everyone.
But, yeah. It's worth it.
I just read a Facebook post from a fellow music therapist who expressed a lot of frustration about how tough it is to make it as a music therapist these days. She asked for some words of encouragement, some small bit of hope in these times that can feel increasingly desperate. I began writing a response and it developed into something quite lengthy, as I have a tendency to do.
When I hit "Post" to upload the response to Facebook, it failed...several times. Maybe it was just too damn long.
At any rate, I will post my response here and link back to the original post. Maybe this will give others of you out there an idea of challenges a lot of music therapists face.
Since 2011, I have been unemployed almost 23 months. When I was employed, often I was over 1000 miles away from my family. I was married for two months before I took a teaching job 1200 miles away. Yes, I am a teacher too...so the jobs that took me away weren't even MT jobs. Finally, in April, I started my first MT job since 2011...and I am still a four hour drive away from my wife and children...including our three month old son. Wonder why there's been almost zero growth in this profession in the past fifteen years? It can be a tough gig. Since I graduated in 2003, out of eight of us in the program, right now I think one other person besides me is doing MT. Often,we have to fight tooth and nail for scraps...scraps! Piecing together a living of a part time gig, or full time gig that doesn't pay a living wage, teaching music lessons, maybe playing with a local symphony...all that, and sometimes we don't break even. Buying our own equipment...I go back to my favorite examples...is a surgeon expected to bring their own scalpel? Is the OT supplying the set of Graston tools? Ludicrous! Yet we put ourselves out there to schools, facilities, organizations that are interested in music therapy and in effect we say, "Sure, no problem! I'll provide the expertise and all of the equipment and materials, you pay me peanuts, then argue about whether you'll even salt them or not, and we'll get along just fine!"
This is a problem.
I interviewed for a position, in one of the most expensive cities to live in here in the States, and this facility said that considering I have a masters degree and over ten years experience, the could offer me $31,000 a year...that's not even a livable wage in the Midwest where I grew up!
Somewhere along the way we, as music therapists, have taught the world it is okay to treat us this way. We accept the bones we get thrown, because we have the passion for the work, and even if I can't sustain a living, really, at least I am living my passion!
I think it has something to do with how music therapy came into existence. Around 70 years ago, a few people brought into consciousness the idea of using music to help people get better. From this divine inspiration, a few of them began to mold and shape the foundations of our profession. They created something out of nothing! They figured out they needed academic training, standards of educating future therapists, research to show the validity of the work.
Somewhere along the path of this amazing process that birthed music therapy, we settled for the idea that we are using the musical gifts we have to help people...gifts. Now, that concept seems deeply rooted in the collective consciousness, and we struggle to advocate for our own life needs financially.
Talking with a group of MT's and the subject of masters level entry came up. A very insightful MT said, "you can talk about masters level entry all you want, but the first thing that needs to be done before we address that is as a profession, we need to fix the pay scale."
I'm working in a very large health care system now. Lots of therapists of all sorts being hired all the time. A physical therapist starts out making two to three times what I'm making, as a point of reference.
So here's the deal...at some point you will have to decide if you're a lifer or not. Sometimes I am still surprised at how people move on to other professions from MT. I just found out today that a MT who did a lot of work in relaxation techniques and worked in MT for many years is now a reverse mortgage expert. I guess at least now she could afford a mortgage...
Me? I'm a lifer. I've got so many research ideas...more than I can accomplish in this lifetime. I'm one of those people Steve Jobs talked about...a dreamer, just crazy enough to think I can change the world.
I will say from my own experience, that any time I have NOT been working as a music therapist have felt very empty to me. Right now I am blessed to be able to help people every day, doing something I a desperately passionate about. Can't put a price tag on that.
But, we live in the real world. There are basic life needs to be met, families to help support...
I'm afraid I have no clear answers to offer. I've been blessed that I have a supportive family and that I've never felt so beaten down by circumstances that I've decided pursuing this career isn't worth it anymore, even though I've come close a few times.
Hang in there and good luck in getting things to work out for you. If you decide you're a lifer and you can tough out the bumpy patches along the path, I think we'll all benefit. I know without a doubt that this world needs more good music therapists...even if the rest if the world doesn't know it yet.
I am blessed that my professional work and my spiritual work are so intertwined right now. Every day, I get hundreds of years of combined life experience and wisdom, shared freely with me. I have learned more about the human condition in the last few weeks than I ever have in a classroom. I also get to witness hope, determination and perseverance through sometimes incredible odds. As with all things in this world, balance must be maintained. There is a price to be paid for this extraordinary gift I receive.
I also bear witness, daily, to the depths of human suffering. Substance abuse, shattered lives, broken relationships, self loathing...suicidal ideation...
Somedays, it can be overwhelming. Somedays I end up in my office, or in my car at the end of the day, and I cry.
I cry, not for myself, but for those I work with every day. I cry because bad things happen to good people. I cry because sometimes, good people make bad choices, again and again. I cry because all I can offer is the wisdom I have been entrusting with, the knowledge I have gained and a compassionate heart, open to the joys and suffering of those I serve...and I cry because sometimes that is not enough.
So many of us in service to others start our journey with an enthusiastic and fearless, "I can save the world!" attitude. We tell ourselves that yes, others have tried to save the world, but I am different! I am special! I can actually do it!
Sooner or later, we realize there is only so much each of us can do. We realize that our good, heart centered intentions can only stretch so far. We realize, that no matter how enthusiastic and compassionate and service oriented we are, some days we end up in the car crying.
But do not let yourself be disheartened my friends.
We can create positive change within our communities. That may mean our community of residence, our spiritual community, our social or peer community. Each act of kindness, each act of compassion, each time we smile at a stranger, counts.
Put your passion, and your compassion and your humble servitude into each day, and most days you will notice the subtle shift. Energy becomes lighter, people frown a bit less, moods improve.
Some days you will cry. Most days, you will say to yourself, "Today, I lived in a good way."
For me, I chose my profession. I chose to be a music therapist and a teacher. I did not, however, choose my spiritual path. It chose me long ago, but it was with the speed of a giant sequoia, or a mountain, that I answered the call. Though I did not choose the path, I accept the responsibility of what it means to walk that path. At times, that means taking on the suffering of individuals, or my community (in all its forms), so the suffering is shared. The goal is to transmute the suffering into some measure of peace. The burden is shared and thus lessened.
I am learning just how difficult this can be, but I am also learning how to take care of myself so I can better serve others. This is my responsibility, and I will humbly serve with each breath in this lifetime.
Some days I cry, but as a valued teacher once said, this is long, long, long work that we do.
So I try to live each day in a good way, and try to remember that this is not about me...this is about service to others.
I'm back working as a music therapist. In the past month, I have been reminded that nothing I have done professionally has ever been so fulfilling to me as being a music therapist. There is routine in my day, and yet there is so much unpredictability in how things will play out from moment to moment, that things never get stagnant, never get dull.
Working with the population I do, as a music therapist, is quite clearly (to me) an expression of my soul's purpose in this lifetime. What could be better than that?
There are life defining moments that come along every once in a while. "These are the times that try men's (and women's) souls." There are days that we look upon long after and realize, "Then. It was that day, that moment that changed me forever."
Today, I had one of those days.
My day was almost over when it happened...isn't it so often like that? Someone stopped by my office for a casual conversation. The person heard from someone else that I am a classical guitarist and I was asked for a bit of music. We discussed music, and the power it has. We discussed how it can make us cry sometimes. The conversation shifted and we started talking about more personal things...family, that sort of thing. The person admitted they had some ongoing challenges...acute challenges as it turned out. I assured the person that I was not there to judge and that I wanted to make sure they have the support and help they need...not just because this falls under my job description. Here is a beautiful spirit, a human being, who shared this burden with me. As a healer, a spiritual being and a human being, I am honored to do what I can to make this burden a bit easier. That's part of why I am here in this lifetime.
After the conversation, I sought counsel from a co-worker. I explained I had had challenging situations before, but nothing quite like this, and never in this setting. My co-worker listened compassionately, offered some good, practical advice, and gently said, "This happens a lot, and you need to be prepared for it."
I was able to go find the person and offer the suggestions my co-worker mentioned...all were declined. The person assured me everything would be alright. I know I'll still worry. I'll worry, because sometimes, things are not alright. I'll worry because no matter how much I want to lead that horse to water, no matter how long I stay with the horse while it decides to drink or not, I cannot make that horse drink the water. That horse might die if it doesn't drink the water, but all I can do is lead the horse to the water and hope like hell it chooses to drink it.
That's my curse...and my blessing.
During an orientation recently, my supervisor was emphasizing the importance of good boundaries in the therapeutic process. While I haven't violated my personal or professional code of ethics, I don't know as I qualify for the "good boundaries" club.
I posted this on Facebook this evening:
It may not be professional, but sometimes I care so damn much about the people I work with (patients) that it tears me up inside.
I feel things very deeply. I have a very open way of connecting with people. These are blessings. The curse comes from holding on too much at times. I may never develop the professional detachment that is recommended in similar lines of work.
I am also blessed with the wisdom that comes from experience. I realized today that I have slipped away from my own spiritual practices. It is vital that I step back into those practices immediately. If I don't, I am not going to last long. I must also heavily invest in my martial arts training...a physical way for me to process complex emotions.
For those of you that are "people" people...working with people that you might strongly identify with, I want to leave you with three thoughts:
First, find out what you need to do to process and deal with the energy you bring home from your work (for me it's spiritual practice and martial arts) and then do it faithfully.
Second, a short prayer that is rumored to be a favorite of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama: "Guide me and heal me, so that I may be of greater service to others."
Finally, a phrase I learned working in medical music therapy: "Take care of yourself, or you won't be taking care of anyone else."
Twenty minutes before my alarm went off this morning, I stopped struggling...I was awake for the day. I did not sleep well. I suppose I have a lot on my mind.
In a few days, I will leave the Four Corners area of New Mexico, and move to Jacksonville, Florida.
A strange twist of fate, though not so strange if I really think about it, inspired the school district I am working for to hire someone directly and end my contract through the staffing agency I work for...at the end of February.
Although the timing is quite odd, I don't question too closely the motivations of school administrators. My wish was for continuity of the program I developed so the kids on my caseload would continue to receive service...I got that. I also have the opportunity to familiarize my successor with the district, the caseload and the challenges I have run in to...a rare opportunity indeed. As a bonus, I will be moving to a place where the low temps are currently similar to the high temps in this part of New Mexico. I was concerned that I was getting "old" because I am looking forward to the warmer weather. I grew up in Iowa...we're used to a wide range of weather. Then I realized that here in New Mexico, I have been living in a place with unreliable and inadequate hot water, and no central heat. The thought of not needing a space heater, multiple layers of blankets, including an electric blanket (thanks Sis!) and multiple layers of clothes, including a hoodie, with the hood up, just to survive the nights, sounds pretty good.
So I leave behind mesas and canyons and streets without names that confuse my GPS, and I will embrace the ocean, and palm trees and gated communities.
I am painfully aware of some of the "lasts" I am experiencing.
I mindfully engaged in my last Friday night ritual of visiting the natural grocery store after my chiropractic appointment, and lingered one last time near the essential oils and soaps. I went to pray at the base of Shiprock Peak one last time to give thanks for the many lessons I have learned while in New Mexico, and to ask for more lessons and a safe journey to Florida. I have a last meal at my favorite restaurants and try one here or there that I may never see again. I am figuring out when I can bid my friends at Starbucks farewell, as I rush to pack and prepare to leave in a few days...and did I mention I am still working of my masters through this transition?
I have three days left. Three days working I this place that I have hated, and I have loved. A place I couldn't wait to get out of, yet now I feel slight resistance to leave.
Next week, I begin three short months to do whatever I can to serve the kids on my new caseload. This week, I cram my New Mexican life into my Outback, and hope I can make it all fit...without the benefit of my wife's keen spatial abilities.
I know my life here won't fit in the hatchback. It can't be lashed to the roof rack either. I've grown too much since I came here.
People are surprised that I seem so calm about this change mid school year. I tell them, "I believe I was led to New Mexico as part of my spiritual journey. It seems I have learned what I was supposed to learn here...now it's time to learn somewhere else."
I embrace that I am meant to leave this place and begin again in another place.
I just hope I get some good sleep before driving across the country...I'm really tired.
The funny thing about spiritual journeys is that sometimes you don't realize you' re in the midst of them. Other times, if you pay attention, you are acutely aware of the spiritual significance of your path. I knew almost immediately when I was hired for a job in New Mexico, that is was because a significant spiritual journey was in the works for me. It was almost like Great Spirit looked upon me and thought, "He's stuck...he's just not getting it...he needs to be somewhere else."
They say that when something is meant to be, the steps to get there will seem nearly effortless. Things will fall into place as the Universe rises to support the endeavor before you. The path to that point may be full of challenges, but when it's time, you will be amazed how easy everything seems!
The time between my application with a staffing agency until I accepted the position in New Mexico was no more than 3 or 4 days...I had been out of work for fourteen months.
"Pay attention!" my mind said..."Something big is about to happen!"
Now, I'll let you in on a little secret...I have spirit guides that speak to me, when I am tapped in enough to listen.
I was hesitant to share this detail with the world...once when a psychiatrist asked me if I heard voices that no one else hears, I truthfully said that I did...I was placed on anti-psychotics.
I learned that it is important to add, in similar situations, that the voices are consistent with the patient's spiritual beliefs.
My spirit guides have a collective nickname, and I think it's amusing how the nickname came about. While driving with C one day, we were having a conversation heavily influenced by our spirit guides. It seems my guides have a rather snarky sense of humor on the whole. I was communicating exactly what I was experiencing, and a lot of good natured teasing was coming through. At one point, C made a comment about my guides being like my own personal peanut gallery. What popped into my head immediately was, "Cashew. Cashew Gallery."
I immediately started laughing for two reasons: 1. I was eating cashews at the time (one of my favorite snacks) and 2. That is exactly the type of comment I would make.
From that moment on, my spirit guides have been referred to as "The Cashews."
Almost two years ago, I had a powerful experience during a workshop with a shaman at a holistic learning conference. After the session, I spoke with the shaman and I told him I was strongly drawn to follow a shaman's path. He smiled, hugged me and said, "Welcome home."
I was told if I was meant to travel the path of a shaman, I would find a teacher when the time was right.
When I learned I was moving to New Mexico, the Cashews kept telling me, "You're on the right path. You will find a teacher."
A few short weeks after moving to the Southwest, I went to the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Arizona. On the way, I was wandering in the general direction of Window Rock and the road took me over a beautiful mountain. As I descended the other side, I happened upon a tiny waterfall. I stopped to enjoy the cold, fresh water and offer a prayer of thanks for the beautiful day, and to ask to be guided to a teacher. The message again resonated in my soul: "You will find a teacher."
As I started walking around the vendor booths at the fair, I noticed that several vendors were selling similar things. I saw bags of corn kernels, yellow and white, occasionally blue, as well as bags of corn meal. I was confused by the bags of what appeared to be evergreen needles at the booths. A few vendors were selling carved lengths of wood, not quite as big around as the business end of a Louisville Slugger.
I was feeling quite out of place, convinced I was the only white guy at the fair (which I later discovered was not true) but finally I asked a man who was examining the carved shafts of wood what they were used for. He told me the end was lit on fire and then used to keep burning whatever was being smoked during a ceremony, tobacco, marijuana, whatever.
Feeling thankful for his thorough explanation, I decided to ask what the evergreen needles, which I now noticed were labelled "cedar" and "flat leaf cedar" were used for. The man kindly explained that they are used for prayer. The needles are burned and the pleasing aroma is used to clear away negative energy. I thanked the man and continued to browse.
At another booth, I decided to buy a small medicine bag. I asked the woman at the booth what the bags of corn I saw everywhere were used for. "Prayer"she replied. White corn for men and yellow corn for women. She directed me to the man at the next booth who was selling bags of corn. As I was paying for the corn, I asked the man what the corn meal was used for. His answer was...prayer. I bought some corn meal as well.
I had landed in a highly spiritual part of the country...everything was sacred!
As I continued to browse, I came upon a Navajo woman who was selling herbs, her husband, the best medicine bags I had ever seen.
She had many jars of Navajo herbs and as I read their uses, I saw one that claimed to lower blood sugar. As a loosely controlled diabetic, I decided to buy some. I talked with the woman for a while and eventually asked her if she ever taught what she knows about herbs. She said her sister taught sometimes but she didn't really. I thanked her and went on my way. (I later discovered the herb she sold me was very powerful and immediately improved my blood sugar levels).
I was somewhat disappointed, because I thought for sure that this woman was the teacher the Cashews assured me I would find. All of a sudden, a thought struck me and I laughed out loud (not LOLed). I had been blessed with MANY teachers that day!
My instincts told me to go back and talk to the herbalist again.
Something had been weighing heavily on my mind...I asked her what she had to help anxiety. What do you think her answer was?
That sparked the beginning of a friendship that was mutually beneficial. I found out that the herbalist and her husband vended regularly at a market in Gallup, NM, two hours from where I was living, though they lived near Flagstaff, AZ.
I told them I would see them soon, and I did.
Over the next few months, I spent hours talking with them about herbs, healing, white culture and indigenous culture. I learned a lot from them and they learned a lot from me. She told me they really enjoyed having my perspective on life, the history between our people and the current state of spirituality in the world.
The last time I saw them, her husband agreed to teach me how he makes his medicine bags.
I fear I may never learn.
Today may be my last chance to ever see my friends, and they have not been vending during the winter months.
You see, my spiritual journey in New Mexico is nearly complete.
It seems I have learned what I came here to learn, and now it is time for me to learn elsewhere.
Through an unexpected turn of events, the school district I have been working for hired someone directly for my position and ended their contract with my staffing agency. In less than a week, I will move to Jacksonville, Florida to finish the school year.
I have learned so much during my time in New Mexico. I have complete faith that I am being led to the place I need to go to continue this spiritual journey.
I will be away from C and my children for a while longer, but it seems I am meant to continue this journey on my own for now.
I find comfort in the knowledge that I will be close to a childhood friend I have not seen much in recent years and close to my mother in law...many lessons to learn from her :)
Pay attention to the lessons in front of you. Not everyone needs to traipse around the country to engage their spiritual journey. Every journey is a spiritual journey. Think of the wisdom contained in taking care of a sick child, showing kindness to a stray animal or stepping forward as an agent of positive change in your community. One moment of fully conscious awareness will do more for the evolution of your spiritual journey than you can imagine.
Whether your path leads you into the depths of your soul, or to Jacksonville, Florida, stay alert to the power of each moment.
Be. Here. Now.
I had rare gift this past weekend...time alone with my wife. We do get to have date nights occasionally, although those are few and far between when we are living in different states, and most often we have some combination of our children with us. In fact, we haven't had this much time, just the two of us, since our honeymoon last June.
My cunning wife made an amazing opportunity happen for us. The Unitarian Universalist church we belong to in Iowa holds a Treats and Talents auction every year as a fundraiser. Last fall, my wife won a stay at a couple's home in Santa Fe, bed and breakfast style.
Esther and Bob are a spry and active couple in their early eighties, married over 60 years now. They belonged to the UU church many years ago in Iowa and offer a stay at their beautiful home every year for the auction. My wife spotted the potential for the two of us to have a weekend together, and she made it happen. Neither of us had ever been to Santa Fe and we were excited to discover the city together.
My beloved was scheduled to arrive just before 1300 on Friday after Valentine's Day. We discussed me leaving around noon that day from work to pick her up. From my office, it would take me at least three and a half hours to drive to the airport. She was content to have a leisurely lunch, maybe catch a shuttle or cab into town and explore until I got there.
What I didn't tell her was that I was working extra hours so I could take the entire day off on Friday and meet her when the flight landed. Surprise honey!
Neither one of us realized how small the Santa Fe airport is. My first clue was Thursday night when I put the address for the airport into my Garmin and the listing read Santa Fe Municipal Airport.
I arrived at the terminal about 45 minutes before my wife's plane was scheduled to land. I noticed signs stating that parking in all areas of the airport was $3.00 per day. When I parked and walked up to the terminal, I saw a sign that said "Did you remember to pay your parking? Cash or Check, No Credit or Debit Cards...Use Drop Box. I started to wonder if I had passed the hitching posts for the horses in the parking lot...
When I finally found the drop box inside the terminal, I realized my checkbook was not with me, and I didn't have exact cash. I opted for staying in my car until the arrival time, then moving my car to the 15 minute spaces for loading and unloading.
The airport was small enough that I was able to see her get off of the plane, then conceal myself just a bit to add to the surprise of me waiting there for her. After a brief and joyous reunion, we set out to find our hosts for the weekend. A quick meet and greet and dropping off our gear, and we were checking out the city.
There are so many great local restaurants in Santa Fe, we were glad to get recommendations from Esther and Bob. One of our favorites was Jambo Cafe...African and Carribean fare. The place was super busy when we arrived, but we got a table pretty quickly. After ordering, we were waiting for our food and enjoying each other's company. Soon, the owner/chef was delivering food to another table and took a long look at our empty table. A moment later, he stopped by and asked if we had eaten already. We told him we had not, and he looked frustrated, made some comment of acknowledgement, and disappeared into the kitchen. A couple of minutes later, our server came to our table with two bowls of soup, the daily specials. He told us the soup was on the house and apologized, but someone had closed out our table, and our orders had to be put in again. After he confirmed our orders, we dipped into the soups...and they were amazing! Coconut, lime, lentil (my favorite) and black bean, sweet potato (C's favorite).
We didn't actually wait long for our food, but I was impressed with the owner's pride and commitment to service. Jambo Cafe is a definite must when you visit Santa Fe!
We spent most of our time together exploring shops, art galleries, restaurants and doing one of our favorite things...talking.
C and I talk...it's our thing. When she was making travel arrangements for our honeymoon, she asked me if I would rather fly from Wisconsin to Florida, or drive. Without hesitation, I answered "drive!" All that time together, talking? No doubt...drive!
This weekend we had a lot to talk about. Our own spiritual journeys, our life journey together...planning for life when we are living in the same place again, planning for life until we are.
What we realized is that by the end of our time together, we had rediscovered "us" as a couple and remembered the reasons we fell in love. The intimacy we share was renewed and strengthened, and we could be just us...life partners. Not mom or dad, or any other role we have...just us.
When I was driving her to the airport this morning, before the sunrise, we were talking about the beginning of our relationship. She realized that I must have had strong ideas about where I wanted our relationship to go long before she did. We reflected on when each of us knew we were falling in love...it happened at different times for each of us, and much faster than either of us expected.
It's good to reflect on those moments from time to time. This weekend was so important for us. We had been married for a little over two months before our marriage became a long distance one. This time to reconnect as a couple was priceless.
Now, as C returns to the Midwest, I linger in Santa Fe, realizing the city has lost some of its luster now that my beloved is not here enjoying it with me.
Tomorrow, we both return to our respective jobs, so grateful for this time together, hopeful for our path forward together, and more in love than ever.
How many of you out there remember when MTV still had M? Martha Quinn, Headbangers Ball, Top 20 Video Countdown...the good old days.
Personally I think the downturn happened when The Real World ushered in the age of "reality" television.
I remember back in those glory days of music television, one commercial that had a profound effect on me. So profound that I memorized the monologue spoken during the commercial. Picture a young man with a basketball looking pensive...I'll lay it out for you:
You know, you try to figure it out... Either you're exactly the same as everyone else Which is really boring Or you're so totally out there that you've got nothing in common with anyone Which is scary as hell. But there ought to be at least some way to find out the rules
(insert dramatic pause here)
Screw the rules.
(cue MTV guitar vamp)
This really spoke to me in my youth.
(still does, although I believe my perspective has matured)
I grew up in a small town...I was a bit of a loner. I liked sci-fi, I had the only Tony Hawk skateboard in town. I was one of the "weird" kids in my class of 46. I was one of the two kids in my senior class voted "class revolutionary."
In junior high, for a writing assignment, we had to choose a life motto, and discuss why we chose it...mine was "Create a disturbance." Even back then, I was of the mindset that people should unapologetically make their mark on this world. Of course that has gotten me into trouble occasionally...I figured out that I tend to be a boat rocker...with authority issues.
I am learning slowly that I can stay true to my disturbance creating nature without jeopardizing steady employment.
I remember the realization in college that in some cases, I truly feel that the rules don't apply to me. Whether this is leftover energy from the "screw the rules" mentality or something else, I don't know.
I also remember the professor of my first class as a music major. He was a funny little man who was a bassoon player. After a class where we had been talking about musical form and compositional techniques, I told him, "When I write music, I want to break the rules!"
He very simply said, "You have to learn the rules before you can break them."
It would be many years before I understood the wisdom in his words.
But I think the MTV commercial meaning of "screw the rules" is not simply a call to general defiance and disorderly conduct. I believe there is a deeper meaning to be found when one delves into the essence of the statement.
Part of it has come from the spiritual and societal awakenings that began in the 1960's. During that time, social constructs were questioned and many experiments began...remnants of those experiments can still be found today...commune anyone?
We see other throwbacks to those days as well...communities of free thinkers, co-ops of all sorts...hey, tie dye has become mainstream!
Here's the thing about the human mind...it LOVES to sort and order things. This was an evolutionary necessity. Imagine yourself as a hunter/gatherer...human consciousness is just developing and the world is a tough place to survive in. The evolving mind learns to identify and categorize things quickly: food, water, danger, predator, prey. This was necessary for the survival of our species.
Fast forward tens of thousands of years...now, the mind categorizes things, but the ego has gotten involved. Now, most of us categorize and judge things.
To say that an apple-tini is a beverage, or to further categorize, an alcoholic beverage is a mind function. Apple-tini is in the category of beverage, sub-category alcohol. THAT is the mind at work.
The ego comes along and says "Apple-tinis are girly drinks." (Thank you Dr. John Dorian!) The ego judges what the mind has categorized.
So when the youth in the 60's started examining the capitalist driven social structures of their parents and rejected those structures...the structures were judged "bad."
The adults of the era, used to conformity and established structure saw the long hair, free love, mind altering drug using counter culture as "bad."
The term "hippy" could have a good or bad connotation depending on which circles you were in.
Let me be clear that my perspective on this is speculation and interpretation. I was born in the early 1970's, so this hindsight extends beyond my own life time.
But by creating new standards of behavior, new rules were established while throwing out the old rules. A paradox was created.
Subcultures sprang up in multitudes after the 60's; each with their own rules.
One character we can look at for an example of transcending these rule governed subcultures is Ferris Bueller.
The 1986 film Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the story of a unique high school student who decides to take a day off from school and the comedic efforts of the principal to catch him.
The charisma of Ferris Bueller was not bound by any one subculture. Grace, the school secretary, puts the subculture transcendence of Ferris like this:
Oh, he's very popular Ed. The sportos, the motor heads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads...they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude.
Ferris is a singularity in that he is not bound by the rules or definitions of any one subculture.
Then we consider one of my refrigerator magnets...it says "You non-conformists are all the same."
As we raise the banner of non-conformity with "Screw the Rules!" as our call to action, we look around and see that everyone is doing the non-conformist thing. Similarly to the person who says "I'm crazy", isn't, the person who identifies as "non-conformist", isn't.
I had an epiphany in the early 90's when "Alternative" music was all the rage. I thought, "If alternative music has become popular and mainstream...then what music truly is alternative?
A few weeks ago, as I was contemplating my own journey, and the efforts of someone to categorize me, I came up with a quote:
I am not confined by anyone's definitions. Your limitations do not apply to me.
That's my mature perspective on "screw the rules."
I will still love that MTV commercial though.
I think what we are experiencing in the midst of The Shift, post end of the Mayan calendar, is not a paradigm shift, but the end of the paradigm itself.
Part of that is thanks to the ease with which information can be shared globally. But as a human culture, we are growing in ways never before seen on the planet. In the music therapy profession, there are some names that in my opinion have reached legendary status: Alicia Clair, Deforia Lane, Barry Bernstein and Connie Tomaino to name a few. They were pioneering research and developing best practice when music therapy was starting to take shape as a profession. They are still out there doing it! (Barry is no longer with us).
Now we have music therapists who are redefining the profession.
They are using social media and technology to reach a wider audience to support each other, educate and even provide services.
This group is not confined by the old definitions, not confined by limitations.
Technology is providing many of us the means to express our own unique perspective on the world, whether that is through app development, blogging, Skype music therapy sessions...the list is endless.
Our planet wide spiritual awakening is bringing us to a time where modern technology and ancient wisdom are learning to co-exist in ways never dreamed of before.
My advice to you my friends?
Remember that the paradigms no longer exist...create your own path.
While you're at it, create a disturbance.
Be undefinable...be limitless, and of course,
Screw the rules.
I remember where I was and what I was doing exactly twelve years ago to the hour as I write this. I thought I was going to die...and I was scared.
Not easy for a warrior musician to admit, but it's true.
The short version of the story is that a failed intubation during a routine surgery left me with an infection that was reducing my ability to breathe. Exactly twelve years ago, I was losing my ability to speak.
The day was much like today as my friends back in Iowa post weather updates about the blizzard happening at this moment. They wanted to fly me to the University of Iowa hospitals for emergency surgery, but it was not safe to fly.
When I went in for surgery, they told my wife, my first wife, five months pregnant with our oldest daughter, to call family and call life insurance...they did not expect me to survive.
By nightfall I was awake and breathing through a tube in my neck, unable to speak.
A lot has happened since that day.
I've been blessed with three beautiful children and I buried my father
I developed type 2 diabetes and became a martial arts master
I finished my bachelor's degree, I'm finishing my master's and preparing to apply for a doctoral program (if only my high school counselor could see me now!)
I went through a painful divorce and I married the perfect balance to my soul
I've known the depths of darkness and the pinnacle of ecstasy
I have loved and I have grown and I have lived
On this eve of the winter solstice where the promise of life is renewed and of the Galactic Alignment that harbors a powerful yet subtle shift in human consciousness, I have this message for you:
The Ancient Wisdom is true...there is life, there is death and there is rebirth.
I've been there.
As my Facebook friends know, I've been spending a lot of time at Starbucks lately. I wasn't a Starbucks person until a few weeks ago when I started the final push on my master's degree and needed reliable wi fi for hours at a time. Today, while taking a break, I decided to re-watch a video of Tony Robbins giving a TED talk. I found within it, not only some wisdom for my own life, but for recent and upcoming events.
Here's the video that inspired me today:
1.What am I going to focus on? 2.What does it mean? 3. What am I going to do?
I won't discuss the nuance of each of these decisions. Instead I encourage you to watch the video for your own take on the decisions.
Instead, I think it is worth considering how we as individuals can use these decisions in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and in anticipation of the great shift on 12-21-12.
Someone close to me once called me a social observer. She remembers me doing a lot of listening in group settings, then interjecting comments that would either make people laugh, take the conversation in a new direction, or both.
Since the news about Sandy Hook broke, I have been observing reactions people have had through social media. I have reposted the ideas of others if I found them to be in alignment with my own and today I have shared my views in some limited fashion.
I have witnessed people saying "don't blame the guns" and people calling for increased access to mental health care. Some are suggesting that increased access to guns would have stopped the shootings...claims that arming teachers is a viable solution. I even read a statement pleading for society to not condemn folks with autism (rightly so).
We are hurting.
Emotions are high. No matter where you stand on issues of gun control/gun rights, mental health access, ask yourself:
1.What am I going to focus on? 2.What does it mean? 3. What am I going to do?
Sharing your ideas through social media can be valuable, but don't let it be empty rhetoric. Talk without action is worthless.
Decide what you're going to do, and make it happen.
It also seems appropriate to comment on all the speculation regarding 12-21-12.
There are the doomsday sayers who believe the world will end. Personally, that's the day I travel to be with my family for the holidays...I sure hope the doomsdayers are wrong.
Jokes abound about the Mayans running out of space on the calendar and that nothing will happen. I read Facebook comments about all of the "idiots who believe the world will end" and what lame excuses they will come up with when they wake up on December 22.
A local car dealer is running radio ads for a sale and they guarantee that if the world ends, you'll never have to make a payment on your new car.
Without going to far into my own beliefs, I again encourage you to examine:
1.What am I going to focus on? 2.What does it mean? 3. What am I going to do?
I think in general, whether we are discussing things like Sandy Hook or the end of the Mayan calendar, it's a good idea to tell the people you love that you love them, every day and to live your life like every day may be your last.
I really identify with ideas that were popular during the Middle Ages when death, mostly from disease, was a regular part of the human experience. It was common to inscribe a Latin phrase meaning "perhaps the last" on clocks. The phrase "memento mori" was common as well: remember that you too shall die.
I've found that in today's world, many people are uncomfortable with these macabre notions. One place I worked I had "memento mori" and the translation as part of my email signature. I had a co-worker write an impassioned email stating that SHE did not need to be reminded she was going to die one day.
The truth is, we never know how much time we have.
Make yours count.
Do you ever have one of those days where you feel sick enough to be lethargic and feel yucky, but not really sick enough to stay in bed all day? Just enough parts of your body are scratchy, irritated and sore that you want to curl up with your blankie and have someone sing you to sleep while tenderly rubbing your back? Days where you feel whiney, but you don't care how undignified it is and one little thing makes you start crying and you just can't seem to stop? That's my day today.
All of this melodrama I've just described has helped me realize one thing: I have had it!
I think getting sick just pushed me over the edge of tolerance I have been teetering on since I moved to New Mexico. The energy I am putting out is drawing some strange things to me. Today I noticed for the first time there are some really bad drivers in New Mexico. Of course there are bad drivers everywhere, but today a lot of the ones here seemed to cross my path. Means I need to examine what kind of vibe I am putting out there. The phrase "I'd better check myself, before I wreck myself" comes to mind.
Granted, there's a lot on my mind...new culture, first time really living in my own, newlywed and 1200 miles away from my wife and my kids...as a matter of fact, that's what set of an evening worth of sobbing.
I went to the store after work to get some chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers...comfort food of the slightly sick for generations. The only reusable bag I had in the car was one I discovered when I unpacked a few weeks ago. It was a bag that my son had carried some toys in, maybe going to the Unitarian Universalist Society back home, I don't remember. I was a bit sad when I first found them, realizing I had packed the car right over the bag of toys, but today something different struck me. As I pulled the toys out of the bag, I found a partially consumed bottle of Sprite...and I lost it. For whatever reason, seeing that mostly full bottle of soda instantly drove home all the sadness, all the guilt and all the grief I have been consumed with since the night I said goodbye to my children.
Going through the Hoffman Quadrinity Process was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, then saying goodbye to my children that night was the most painful. We clung to each other, crying. I don't know if they understood my reasons for going. I tried to make it a teachable moment for them. I explained that there were some kids in New Mexico that don't see the same way a lot of people do, and they need a special kind of teacher who can help them learn...that's why Daddy was moving far away...to help those kids.
Maybe when they are older, I can explain the other reasons I had to go. Maybe I can tell them that after being it of work for over a year, I needed a job. I needed to feel like I could make a difference in people's lives. I've long taught the message of service to my children, but it had been a while since I felt like I was truly of service. That, and I needed to get myself right...emotionally, financially and spiritually. This is a vision quest for me. I am trying to find how I fit into this world, as a dad, husband, step dad, teacher, healer, music therapist, maybe even as a shaman. How do I best serve this world? I co-created a job in one of the most spiritually rich parts of this country to figure it all out.
Now all of this might be enough to make most of us want to fall apart from time to time...but there's more.
I just found out last week that I got an extension to finish my masters degree...good news, but a lot of work to do. One of my dear friends has been dealing with significant life issues of her own which I would fully support her with, but for the last few months we'll talk or text briefly, then she will say she will call me the next day, and doesn't. Have to admit I wouldn't mind some support from her either.
Another dear friend is dealing with the terminal diagnosis of the man she's been with for years. I feel helpless to do anything, and her pain resonates strongly with me.
A financial situation that will be resolved in the next few weeks may make it very difficult...to do a lot of things.
There is the visit of my wife and stepdaughter at the end of this week that I eagerly anticipate. I hope they're practiced up on their hugs.
With this deluge of emotions, it may be difficult for some of you to see strength in me at all. It's no secret that I am a sensitive guy. Sometimes I have a tough time keeping everything together. I think most of us do, but I think that sometimes it's okay to fall apart. The key is to not stay apart.
One of the many ways music touches us is through lyrics. Every nice in a while, if we are lucky, we find some lyrics that let us know that someone else up there understands what we're going through.
One of my favorite songs for picking myself up after falling apart is "Bounce" by Bon Jovi:
I've been knocked down so many times Counted out, 6, 7, 8, 9 Written off like some bad deal If you're breathin', you know how it feels...
Listen to the song while following the lyrics...it will help you feel like you can keep going after a meltdown.
As for me, my ears and nose are plugged, my throat is scratchy, my glands are swollen and I have a headache.
I'm going to whine until I get my blankie and a backrub.
During my last MT gig, I learned a universal and undeniable truth: everyone has a story. In a follow up post, I'll explore how I learned those lessons. For now, a few thoughts about those stories we all have.
The idea for this post came to me at a restaurant.
I was sitting perpendicular to a table with a large indigenous family...at least twenty people celebrating a child's birthday.
After the cake was served, a couple of the younger kids, three years old or so, started chasing each other...crawling.
I kept glancing at the kids and smiling. A couple of the moms saw me looking and got up and put a stop to the chase.
I don't know if the parents were embarrassed by the behavior or if they didn't appreciate the guy sitting alone in the restaurant looking at their kids.
Then I thought back to something another white teacher said to me. She got the impression that a lot of the indigenous families in the area are strict with their kids...maybe I was witnessing a cultural expression.
I wanted to say, "Your kids are cute! I'm far away from my family and seeing your kids happy gives me hope that maybe my kids are happy too!"
But it seemed out of place to intervene in their parenting...especially not knowing their stories.
It's for similar reasons that I try to make friends with every dog I see...so I don't miss the furry friends I left behind. Or the reason I smile when I see a couple holding hands or talking sweetly in hushed tones. I remember how good it is to be with the love of my life.
I think about the line from the Bon Jovi song Bed of Roses, "As I dream about movies they won't make of me when I'm dead."
He viewed his life as a story, just as I do. I can't count how many times I say something like, "I guess that's part of my story" or sometimes our story when talking with my wife.
I share bits of my story with people here...I'm newlywed, away from my wife and kids...I smile when kids are being joyful children...
Almost as an afterthought, I enjoy "The Most Interesting Man in the World." One of his thoughts seems appropriate here: "It's never too early to start beefing up your obituary."
What will your obituary say?
What's your story?
If you don't like it, change the plot,.change the characters, but YOU write it.
Live your story every day!
Recently, on the drive to work, I was listening to Colin Hay's "Man at Work" album. In recent months, since buying the album, I find that I really connect with a lot of the lyrics. I will admit that I became familiar with Colin Hay by watching Scrubs. I thought "Waiting" was a beautiful song, and "Overkill" was pretty cool too. I was not familiar with the Men at Work version of the song. I guess that goes back to something my mother said often about me...I have strange gaps in my knowledge.
As I was singing along with "Waiting" that morning, I got choked up. As a music therapist, I've learned that one reason music is so powerful is because of the personal connection people can form with it. Hearing a certain song can instantly transport someone to a different time and place.
I have lost a lot of people close to me and music connects me to each of those experiences. "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan came on the radio when we were driving to be with my Dad after my Mom died. "It's Alright" by Huey Lewis and The News was on the radio when we were driving to my best friend Merry's memorial service and I will always think of my Dad's passing when I hear the Adagietto from Mahler's Fourth (a story for another time).
A lot of songs make me think of my beloved wife and everything we have been through in our short time together. "Waiting For My Real Life To Begin" is one of them.
Three weeks after I proposed to my wife, I lost my job. I had unknowingly, and very incorrectly tied my sense of self and self worth to my job...again, a story for another time. When another job did not present itself readily, I slipped into a deep depression. On top of that, my then bride to be took it upon herself to be the primary financial support for me and my children. I kept saying, "I'll make things right by you." She expressed her trust that I would.
I'll throw in a bit a lyric analysis here and there:"Any minute now, my ship is coming in...I'll keep checking the horizon..."
This reflects my sentiment of "I'll make things right by you" and as with other lines of this song, it expresses an assuredness of the wonderful things to come...something I forgot at times.
"And you say, 'be still my love, open up your heart, let the light shine in.'"
This is the voice of my wife. She was my biggest supporter and my strength through this difficult time. More than that, she says things like that to me frequently...fully embody your spiritual self...let your light shine!
"Don't you understand? I've already have a plan, I'm waiting for my real life to begin."
Here is where the dichotomy in my thinking kicks in...but I'll get to that later.
When I woke today, suddenly, nothing happened, but in my dream I slew the dragon...
So many days, waiting for call backs, hoping for interviews, searching for more job leads...wondering why my life was turning out as it was. I was born to do important things! I was called to a life of service and helping people...making a difference. Were those dreams on hold? Had they vanished altogether?
Further into the song we find "Just be here now, forget about the past, your mask is wearing thin"
Something else very similar to the things my wife often says. She is so tapped in to the Universal Wisdom. This woman that I am sharing my life with is truly one of the strongest people I have ever met. She has to be to withstand the torrent of emotions I bring to the table at times. She is also the kindest, most gentle life partner I could have hoped for. She reminds me, "be here, now." She sees through all the masks I have ever worn, and she still loves me. I could not have dreamed of a better woman to spend the rest of this lifetime with.
...and I'll check my machine, there's sure to be that call. It's gonna happen soon, soon, oh very soon, it's just that times are lean.
I know my wife took a lot of flack from family and friends...asking when that next job was going to materialize. In her own sweet way, she didn't really give me a lot of details of those conversations.
Let me say again, she is one of the strongest people I have ever met.
In my moments of clarity and being tapped in myself, I kept saying, "Something BIG is about to happen! I can feel it!" Often she would say something like "That's wonderful! I'm so happy for you!"
The she'd would be right there to support me when I hit another rough patch.
Here's the dichotomy in thinking...and this reminds me so much of the concept of "doublethink" that George Orwell discusses in 1984...the idea of saying one thing, but believing the exact opposite.
It also reminds me of something the ordained minister/college professor said during a religion class I took: "I believe that the Bible is the absolute word of God. At the same time, it is FULL of contradictions and inconsistencies."
For purposes of this post, my version is: Waiting For My Real Life To Begin is a beautiful song that connects with me on a very deep level because I relate the lyrics so closely to my own life...and yet the very title of it goes against every belief about how to live life.
Do you read Eckhart Tolle?
The ideas he shares about present moment awareness...truly life changing. The ideas are not new as he admits, but his method of delivery resonate with me. You can find parts of talks he gives on YouTube too.
His book The Power of Now reminds us that ALL we ever have is the present moment. How many times have you said, "I'll be happy when I drive this kind of car" or "When I make this amount of money, I'll be set!" Maybe you think a house, or a baby or new clothes will make you happy...the list goes on.
I know I've done that...hung my happiness on material possessions, or money or relationships.
You can't wait for life to begin. It's happening, right now.
The job that I found took me 1200 miles away from my family, for at least an academic year. Yes, there are breaks, but it is certainly the longest I have been away from my children...my wife too. Sometimes this doesn't seem like my real life. I've thought, "I will be so much happier when I am closer to my family!" I realize of course the error in that thinking.
I believe happiness is the awareness of being connected to the whole of humanity. Realizing that we are all spiritual beings and we're here to help each other out. Joy, lightness, ease, all come from staying rooted in the present moment.
Just be here now, forget about the past...
I try to live in the present moment as Eckhart suggests...that is a work in progress for me. Being in this place, in this highly spiritual place that I have been led to has clarified things for me. Some of the things I used to think we're important, really aren't. Each day, I try to live a life of service; a spiritual life. I remember one of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama's favorite prayers: "Guide me and heal me, so that I may be of greater service to others."
On a clear day, I can see, see a very long way.