Music Therapy

The One Thing Music Therapists Must Stop Doing IMMEDIATELY!

There I was, enjoying the lunch buffet at a great Mediterranean place, when I saw it...another article claiming a music therapy program, and a music therapist posting the article, asking if local MT's could verify if a music therapist was running the program. Part of a comment I could read on the post said something like "Maybe if enough of us contact..."

This. Must. Stop.

Let me first say that the title of this post annoys me.

It's a teaser, meant to draw you in...raise your curiosity...get you hooked.

I dislike resorting to such tactics, but I need your complete and undivided attention.

Let me be crystal clear about this: policing non music therapists claiming to provide music therapy must stop right now. Not later...NOW!

Unless AMTA is going to trademark the term "music therapy", set up a huge legal division to destroy anyone who uses the trademark without proper credentialing, (which will never happen for multiple reasons)  then we need to stop policing the world.

Listen up people...each of us gets 86,400 seconds in any one 24 hour period. How do you want to spend yours? Whining about everyone who improperly uses the term "music therapy?" How about ignoring all of that stuff, giving it your all everyday and educating as you go?

Think about it! "Therapy" is a buzz word right now. People play with the word ALL THE TIME.

Wine therapy, retail therapy, drum therapy...

When was the last time you heard of a vintner going off on someone for saying "wine therapy?"

Does not happen.

Now here's the tender and compassionate part of this post: it's not your fault.

When I was a student music therapist, it was drilled into us:

"Learn to document everything extremely could be the difference between you keeping your job or losing it."

"You constantly have to justify what you do, because most people won't understand."

That along with the phrase "Music therapists are the happiest poor people in the world, because we love what we do, but we're not well paid."

Take a moment, and check in with yourself after reading those phrases.

How do you feel?

Insecure? Scared? Like there won't be enough pie for dessert?


I mean, I remember wanting to curl up with my blankie and some hot chocolate after hearing these things!

We learned to be crusaders for our beloved profession, and let's be clear that no one stays long in music therapy unless they love it. We learned to fight for truth, justice and music therapy provided by qualified music therapists who have completed an approved course of study and six month internship at an approved...

Can we stop using that wordy explanation please? Eyes glaze over about three words into, and no one understands what we're talking about anyway. Keep it simple! "Yes, I had to go to school for this, no it's not new...established in 1950, yeah, it is a really cool job."

We see all of these people, well intentioned people, who I believe truly want to help others, kind of crowding our turf. Therapeutic musicians, healing musicians, volunteer musicians...they love music, and they want to help people, just like we do. We offer things they can't. It doesn't mean that there won't be pie for us.

If you feel like you have to fight for a position that ends up hiring one of these other music types, then it wasn't the position for you anyway. Trust the process. The general public is going to figure it out sooner or later, without us calling out every bozo saying they are doing music therapy. They're going to figure it!

So let me put it to you this way: all those sayings that we're familiar with, like, "what goes around, comes around" and "you get out of it what you put into it" and "your focus determines your reality"...

All of those phrases have something in common: the law of attraction.

Unless you've been off the grid since the 1980's, you've heard about the law of attraction. Abraham Hicks teaches about it all the time, the 2006 movie "The Secret" describes it...countless books, articles, blog posts, YouTube videos...

In simple terms, the law of attraction states that what we put out into the Universe, emotionally, and thus energetically, we draw to us. And in my experience, the Universe is like a small child...neither hears any form of the word "no." We've all seen a parent chasing a toddler saying "Don't run!"

What happens? The toddler runs FASTER!

Small children and the Universe can't comprehend "no."

When we are ever vigilant for those cretins who capitalize on our hard work and defile the name of our profession, what energy does that put out? When we live in fear that jobs might be taken away from us, we embrace an air of there's not going to be enough to go around.

What do we get from that? We have contracts renegotiated, undercutting anything resembling a livable wage, let alone something that allows us to thrive. What have hours cut, or we simply have positions cut.

How often do we say amongst ourselves and to others, "It seems like no one knows what music therapy is!"

What do we gain by that? More and more people seem to be surprised that such a thing exists!

MT is not THAT much younger than PT, OT and Speech, and everyone has at least a cursory knowledge of those professions. Okay, I still get a lot of questions about OT...

In "The Secret" someone mentions Mother Teresa's understanding of the law of attraction. She was quoted as saying, "I'm not interested in joining your anti-war protest, but if you ever have a peace rally, I'll be there."

This is a simple reframing of thoughts and emotions and yet quite powerful. Focusing on the "wanted" in life as opposed to the "unwanted."

Think about it: War on Poverty, War on Drugs, War on we still have these things?

I'd say, in general, we're poorer, higher and more scared than ever!

Point being, we reap what we sow. If we keep sowing seeds of lack and scarcity and fear that I may not have my job next week if I don't justify my profession, then we will continue to draw those things we resist toward us.

Stop wasting time defending what we do. Instead, go do it!

Each and every one of you is responsible for this. Continue with confidence and courage. Let go of scarcity and fear. This profession has evolved beyond the days of music therapists being "happy poor people." Our profession is fluid and dynamic. Each of us is responsible for focusing on where we want our profession to go.

Look up Abraham Hicks, listen and learn. Stop's outside of our scope of practice anyway!

Let the charlatans do what they will. We remain, calm and confident in our chosen path, which is ever moving forward to greater things.

Do what you do, and do it extremely well.

That will be enough.

The Road Will Teach You How To Love and Let Go

I've seen stories from music therapists recently about losing people they have worked with, for many years in some cases.

For those music therapists among you who have never lost a client/ patient, it will happen. It happens to all of us...and there is absolutely nothing that can fully prepare you for when it happens to you.

Yes, you can gain intellectual knowledge about the grieving process and may have helped countless people work through their own grieving process.

It's different when it happens to you.

I was explaining to a patient recently what it's like from a provider standpoint. He was wondering, since he's had several inpatient stays for addiction, if people dread the sight of him being admitted for treatment again. 

I told him for some of us, we do hate to see people that we know are struggling, have such a hard time. Sometimes the path of addiction ends in an early grave, and that hurts, as a provider, because we want the best for our clients/ patients. Otherwise, we would be doing something else.

What I didn't share with him, was a bit of solace I found in the lyrics for "Wash it Away" by Nahko and Medicine for the People:

The road will teach you how to love and let go, it can be lonely, but it's the only thing that we've ever known.

All providers, especially music therapists must find the wisdom in these words. We do what we do because we care. Yes, we have to maintain professional boundaries, but music itself fosters intimacy with those we serve. It's an art for expressing emotions...we get attached to our clients/ patients.

Our professional and our life journey, the road, will teach us how to be invested in the highest good for our clients/ patients, and when our paths part ways due to death, we experience our grief process, and gently, with love and light, we let them go.

We let them go and we move on to the next client/ patient who also needs our unique skills to help them along the road of their life.

When a client/ patient leaves you in this manner, draw from your support community and from the experience of others who've walked the path before.

This is how the road teaches us to love and let go.

Regrets on a Thursday Afternoon

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 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.

Music Therapists as Emotional Shamans

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.

It Didn't Come for Free

I just watched this video of Ethan Hawke talking about depression in the creative arts. He speaks about the work of Robin Williams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and River Phoenix. The phrase that Ethan says that really caught my attention is

It didn't come for free.

This phrase reminds me that as music therapists, we need to take care of ourselves. Another phrase I learned early in my career reminds us

If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else.

This rings true for anyone in a service profession. We choose this work because we want to help people. We can't do that if we're a mess on the inside. Eckhart Tolle says we need to take care of our inner space. We must pay attention to what is going on inside of us so things don't get out of control.

What we do as music therapists, it doesn't come for free. As I read once, "there is a price for greatness."

It doesn't come for free.

Take care of yourself, on every level.

Keep A Little Something For Yourself

This blog post began with something I posted on Facebook today:

I've discovered that one of the things I like about working Saturdays is that there are less people around. My office is connected to the rec hall, which is often a busy place during the week.

For the last couple of weeks, on Saturday, I've shut the door to my office, gotten out a guitar, and I sing songs that I want to sing. I don't practice, I don't prep songs for patient use...I sing like no one is listening! I try things vocally that I wouldn't dare try otherwise...and I'm finding confidence I didn't know I had! But most importantly, I am doing something musically for myself. This is especially important for those of us that provide music for others.


Happy Saturday!

One of my MT friends thought I should post that in a MT group on Facebook. As usual, I have more to say!

Let's face it...burnout is a very real possibility for music therapists. I don't know how many posts I've seen in forums requesting suggestions for avoiding burnout.

The simple answer is, keep a little something for yourself.

I'll explain.

Stay with me for a moment while I take what may seem like an odd turn...this is relevant, trust me.

I read, or heard an interview with an adult film star. The question was asked, "How do you keep your personal relationships special, considering the work you do?"

The film star replied, "I always keep one thing special that is just for me and my relationship partner. I keep that sacred and will not bring that to work."

I realized how much wisdom there is in that statement!

Others have talked about this concept when music therapists have asked about avoiding burnout. It's oft repeated advice, and I am reiterating it here. Keep something special about your musical self...keep something sacred to you, something that reminds you of why you are passionate about music.

Honestly, for me, it doesn't even have to be something that I keep just to myself.

The important thing is that I am creating the music for the sheer joy of doing it and because it's the music I want to make.

Today for of the songs I was jamming out to was "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" by Meatloaf.

I like the song...I can reminisce about the times I would listen to it in high school. My wife likes Meatloaf's music and she likes when I sing his music to her (although this song is not high on her favorites list due to the lyrics) so it reminds me of good times spent with my wife...especially important now because we are living apart due to work...and it's a song I can just lay into up and pour all kinds of emotion into...let go and sing the hell out of it!

Would I use this song with patients? Of course I would! Keeping a little something for myself doesn't mean that I never share it with anyone else. This is not about hard boundaries… this is about nurturing my own musicality. That means keeping myself invested in my own musical expression so that facilitating musical experiences for others remains a passion and not simply a job.

I remember an experience one evening when I was taking neurologic music therapy training. To this day, it's one of the strangest things I've ever heard anyone say. A group of us had decided to get some dinner and then find a karaoke place. I don't normally do karaoke, but with a group of music therapists, I thought it would be fun!

So someone in our group asked another MT, a young woman, if she'd like to join us. She almost sneered and said, "That sounds like work, and I don't DO work outside of work."

I was shocked.

I mean, I thought it was a strange (almost hostile) response to a friendly invitation, but it didn't hit me until later how strange that sentiment was.

If that woman is still practicing music therapy, and she hasn't undergone a MAJOR attitude shift, then I fear for her clients.

We have a responsibility to those we serve to bring our absolute best every single day. Every day we use music to bring about meaningful change in the lives of our clients. We can't do that in an effective way if we hold bitterness or resentment within us. That young woman, somewhere on her journey, lost the point...completely.

Am I the happy music man every single day? I'll admit, that sometimes I need a break too. Some days I get home and realize I need a break from music, and that's okay. We all need time away. But I think about the energy behind that woman's makes me feel sad. The passion was gone...the fire was almost out.

Maybe no one told that woman the advice I was given when I started working in medical music therapy.

People start working in the medical field because they want to help others. Always remember: you must take care of yourself, or else you won't be taking care of anyone else.

Maybe she didn't know.

She forgot that using music to heal is a sacred gift, not an occupational obligation. She lost touch with her music. She forgot to keep a little something for herself.

Music has power that science is just beginning explain. We've known since before recorded history that music has almost limitless power to affect us. Don't we, as harmonizers of the soul, deserve to tap into that power?

Every once in a while, find that little part of the sonorous realms that resonates with your spirit. Find that place that brings a smile to your face, joy and passion to your heart and peace to your mind.

When you find that space my friends, that's what you keep for yourself.

Follow Up: Response to a Disheartened Music Therapist

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 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 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'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 it worth it?

It's certainly not a way of life for everyone.

But, yeah. It's worth it.

Response to a Disheartened Music Therapist

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 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 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 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 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.

Responsibility on My Spiritual Path

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.


Blessings and Curses

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, 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."

Spiritual Truth is Universal

Not long ago, I began an new job. The job placed me somewhere I NEVER thought I'd live...Florida. My Midwestern friends might think that statement is crazy, especially considering the very bizarre weather this year, but I figure sunny and warm, every single day will get old eventually.

Anyway, I've met some great people working for a very large school district here in Florida. I am an itinerant teacher for the visually impaired, and I'm getting to know seventeen kids at 8 different schools, plus school faculty and staff.

Recently, I went to one of my new schools to meet a couple of my students who were absent the day I received a tour. I found the appropriate portable building and knocked on the door. Classroom doors are always locked after Sandy Hook.

I was met at the door by a robust black woman. I introduced myself and told her the name of the student I was looking for. She told me everyone was at recess and that she would help me find who I was looking for.

As we began to walk, she said in a dramatic voice, "Lord have mercy it's gettin' hot!" She then launched into a soliloquy the like I have rarely heard. Though I cannot remember her exact words she began with an admission that so many times she will notice the heat, but she should be giving thanks to God for the grass and the flowers and all the beautiful things. She should acknowledge her healthy and healthy children and good food to eat and a breeze to cool her on these hot days.

My entire being started to tingle.

I knew that this woman was tapped in to universal truth. I was hearing spiritual woman from the mouth of a spiritual being...and it was amazing!

I was so stunned at the blessing I was receiving, all I could do was acknowledge her words with a "mmm hmm" here and a "yes m'am" there, like I was bearing witness during a Southern Baptist worship service.

The kicker?

I am most DEFINITELY not Christian.

I am not Christian, and yet I was blessed with a spiritual experience in the words of this Christian woman.

The sure fire way I know, is the tingles. Long ago, someone shared the idea with me that when you feel tingles all over your body in such a manner, that you are experience truth guided by the spiritual realm. I call them "truth tingles." This is not to be confused with the tingles one feels at times when listening to music.

People ask me if I'm religious. I tell them I am spiritual, not religious.

I've experienced truth tingles in different settings with people of different beliefs. I experienced them when talking with a Navajo herbalist, I experienced them when listening to someone describing a past life we lived together with magic and faeries and Atlantis, and I experienced them listening to this humble Christian woman's message of gratitude.

For many years now, I've believed that spiritual beliefs matter less than what a person holds within them.

When I was leaving my first music therapy job, one of the residents of the retirement community I was working at met me in the hall. She often played piano at the weekly hymn sings that was popular with some of the residents. She said to me, "We're going to miss you around here. You're a good Christian."

I thanked her graciously for the kind words, and we parted.

I chuckled to myself later. She assumed that because of the kindness, caring and respect I came to work with every day, I must be like her...I must be Christian.

Let's face it...humans are natural sorters. We like to classify things, and sort them and know where we fit in. Often we try to find others like in numbers...and it's nice to have friends on this journey.

This comes up now with a post a fellow music therapist made recently. She explored the concept of being a Christian music therapist, or a music therapist who practices music therapy.

I read the post, and read some of the comments about the post. I've had a lot of strong opinions about various aspects of her post, but I guess it all boils down to "who cares?"

Yes, music therapy is a healing art. It is an allied health profession. Keyword being: profession. Does that mean I don't bring my own life experience as a human and spiritual being to my music therapy practice? Of course not! Do I go looking for people like me as part of my practice? Yes! They're called human beings!

In a therapeutic relationship, it is very important to be authentic. When a client inquires about my spiritual beliefs, as some are inclined to do, I will be honest, but not in depth. I will honestly answer questions without being forward with my beliefs.

My last full time MT gig was in a small rural hospital...lots and lots of sweet elderly Christians were patients there. I'll admit something...I got street cred with some of them when they asked me of I go to church and I said that I do. If they asked where, I would tell them it is a Unitarian Universalist church. If they asked me more, I would explain that it's a church where people of many beliefs attend: Christian, Pagan, Buddhist, Atheist, Humanist etc.

I've shared sacred and secular music with clients, from different religions or from the pop charts. I've sung "Jesus Loves Me" and "Amazing Grace" at the bedside of people nearing the end of life, with tears in my eyes, as well as the eyes of their loved ones.

The point is that my spiritual beliefs, or even lack thereof are irrelevant in the therapeutic relationship. I can bring healing work to my clients without bringing doctrine. I speak I universal truth, as opposed to religion specific truth. In a hospital, when people have lived a long time, and have become sick, sometimes these big questions of life and death come up. It doesn't mean I can't address those things. It means my approach is different. I might share with someone a specific belief from Native American or Hindu wisdom, and let the client make their own connections. I may share that belief and I may not, but it doesn't make the sharing of the wisdom any less sincere.

We find common ground in the "namaste" concept. "The light in me, salutes the light in you." I have always taken this to mean when we strip away all the external, all the impermanent things, we're all manifestations of the universal truth...whether we call that truth God, Jesus, Great Spirit, Goddess, Buddha, Allah...whatever.

Let's meet in that place...where we can REALLY be ourselves.

I don't go to businesses that have a Jesus fish next to their business name. I don't solicit businesses that say "American Owned" either. When I am seeking professional services, I am more concerned with the quality of the services and the ethics in the business practice. Never has the thought occurred to me to walk into a place and say "Hey, do you practice Santeria? You do? Great! I'm getting my oil changed HERE!"

I don't literally or figuratively knock on anyone's door wanting to talk about my beliefs, and I expect the same courtesy from other professionals. I don't care if the massage therapist is tracing Sanskrit on my long as that sore spot near my shoulder gets addressed.

A very wise music therapist said, "You start where people are, and go from there."

When the client is leading the session, sometimes universal truth is shared and sometimes it is not. I learned long ago that when I am the therapist, it's not about's about the client.

If we pay attention to the universal wisdom around us, we will see that it is indeed manifesting everywhere...even during recess in a hot day in Florida.

Screw The Rules

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 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, 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 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 limitless, and of course,

Screw the rules.

Here Comes The Boom!

A few months ago, at the suggestion of my wife, I went to see the movie Here Comes The Boom. It stars Kevin James, Salma Hayek and Henry Winkler. It's the story of a high school biology teacher who enters the world of mixed martial arts in an effort to save his school's music program (yay music!). Before the fights, each fighter chooses a song to play as they enter the arena. When Kevin James's character starts out his MMA career, the song he enters to is "Boom" by P.O.D. and that is the inspiration for this post.

Immediately after the movie, I downloaded "Boom." After listening to it a couple of times, I looked up the lyrics. I soon realized the power some of those lyrics have on my psychology. I found resonance in those words with an image of myself I work to maintain. I'll explain that shortly.

Like most humans, I have intense periods of self doubt and fits of little to no self confidence. The reasons are not uncommon...relationship with my parents, early life experiences, highly capable yet classic underachiever...

I've been immersing myself in the writings of Eckhart Tolle and working with a great therapist to get that all sorted.

So I have figured out over the years that when I listen to songs that contain lyrics that support this image I emulate, I get, as we used to say, "psyched up."

Those of you that have seen Rocky will know what I mean. It's hard to listen to "Gonna Fly Now" without picturing Rocky running through the streets of Philadelphia with a crowd of people running after him, cheering him on and at the climax of the song (thinking about the high trumpet line makes my cheeks hurt!) he reaches the top of the stairs and jumps up and down in celebration.

That is the kind of imagery that gets me going!

To be fair, sometimes my psychology shifts to a sort of feigned narcissism. My psychologist wife assures me that I am not truly narcissistic, but at times I do a pretty good impression.

This is evident in my resonance with songs like "Gimme The Prize" from the movie Highlander.

Here I am, I am the master of your destiny, I am the one, the only one, I am the god of kingdom come, Gimme the prize! Just gimme the prize!"

Do I REALLY think I am the master of someone's destiny? Do I view myself as the one, the only one?

Of course not!

But...these lyrics evoke feelings of power, strength and control. That is what resonates with me...that is what I feel like I am lacking at times.

Some of the other songs that have supported my emulated image are songs like "Bounce" by Bon Jovi:

This ain't no game, I play it hard, Kicked around, cut, stitched and scarred. I'll take the hit, but not the fall, I know no fear, still standing tall

"Good Suspicion" by Pacemaker Jane shares:

It's a wide wonder that you don't see All the stored up, saved up potential me I got a right mind to let myself go Show you what I can do, make sure you know...

There is a particularly moving spoken part in Steve Vai's "The Audienece is Listening":

I am fearless in my heart They will always see that in my eyes I am the Passion; I am the Warfare I will never stop Always constant, accurate and intense

Which brings me to "Boom"...

...say they know me though 'Cause I be puttin' in work Commit my life to rebirth Well respected 'cause that's my word...

Later in the song:

...and when it's time to handle business then we know what to do Me and my crew we stay true, old school or new Many were called but the chosen are few...

This has been the rally cry for my masters writing.

You see, I've never had to work for much in my life. As I said earlier, for a long time, I was a classic underachiever. I was happy to just get by in school. I usually pick up on things fairly quickly without much effort.

There are three things I can think of that I have truly had to put effort into in my life so guitar recitals for my undergrad, the courtship of my wife and my masters writing.

With my masters, I must admit I have surprised myself. This underachiever has put hours and hours of work into this project every week for the past few months. That may sound like basic procedure for graduate work, but for me, it's a big deal.

The line "...'Cause I be puttin' in work, commit my life to rebirth, well respected 'cause that's my word..." describes my feelings about this process so well. I HAVE been putting in work, and remember, that's a pleasant surprise for this procrastinating underachiever. I have committed my life to rebirth...refusing to be bound by the past and the ways I used to do things. Well respected 'cause that's my word...I surprised my therapist three short weeks ago with barely an outline of my paper, I committed to having a rough draft of my paper submitted to my adviser by February 1.

I finished that draft four days early.

Finally, after close to four decades in this lifetime, I feel like I am coming into my power. I feel like I can accomplish the goals I set for myself, instead of staying small and fading away.

My experience as a music therapist teaches me the power music has in changing mood and psychology. I am grateful for the knowledge of how to affect this change in my own life.

Next time you find yourself using music in a similar way, ask yourself what emotions does the music bring up for you? What do you identify with? I feel like I am ready to be unleashed on the be a powerful agent of positive change.

"Boom! Here comes the boom! Ready or not, how you like me now?"

Skills versus Passion

When I first introduced this blog, my intention was to write mostly about music therapy, the daily joys and challenges of being a music therapist and to offer tips, tricks and insights to help other music therapists. I figured that occasionally I would throw in some other life lessons I was learning, about relationships, or parenting. A few short months after I started blogging, I lost my music therapy job. I lost the primary motivation for wanting to blog. I lost my material and experiences to blog about. I took a long break to regroup...regroup my life and rethink blogging.

Eventually, I considered the description I had written when I started the blog... "This blog is about the life and times of a neurologic music therapist."

Turns out, that the neurologic music therapist was going through a time in his life where he was not employed as a music therapist. But I remember a man who came to talk to at a career day when I was an undergrad music student the first time around. He had been a music major in school and then went into educational leadership. Looking back at that time, I remember rolling my eyes at the whole career day concept and only attending the required presentations...I was young, what can I say?

This man, at the time a school superintendent, said something very simple and I will never forget it: "No matter what you end up choosing to do with your life, you are a musician, and I think that will show in everything you do."

As some are so fond of saying, mind blown.

Currently I am working as a teacher of the visually impaired...a certification I picked up in grad school...and you know what? I am very musician-like in my approach to this work, specifically, music therapist-like.

I plan to keep this gig for this academic year only...I have to find something closer to my wife and family. As I look ahead to my next gig, I consider another TVI job, or music education job, both of which I am well qualified to do, but is that what I'm passionate about? Should I do work that I have the skills to do, just because it's good money, or a good location, or is that settling?

I'm a big fan of the Dos Equis commercials that feature "The Most Interesting Man in the World." There is a series of brief clips where he shares his thoughts on things like the two party system, rollerblading and, careers. In the subject of careers, he says, "Find that thing in life you don't do well, and then don't do that thing."

Sage advice.

I was reminded of those words when considering where I go from here. Do I want another job as a TVI? I could do that, and I enjoy working with the kids, and it is kind of cool being someone who has the inside knowledge in a highly specialized area, but it's not my passion. I owe a lot to Dr. Matthew Armstrong. He was composer in residence, director of the men's choir and taught Elementary Music Methods during my second round of undergrad. I was one of those dual program people: music therapy and music education. I remember sitting in his class and hearing him talk about the time he spent as an elementary music teacher. During that class, in his words, I learned something about passion for life's work. I realized in that class that I had no business being a teacher. If I didn't have Arnstrong's passion for teaching kids about music, then it would not be fair to the kids. Kids deserve to have inspired and passionate teachers.

I thanked him for it. His example helped me get clear on where my passions lie, and it also helped me develop a professional code of conduct.

No, my passion is using music as a healing modality.

At this point, some of you might be thinking, "Didn't he just talk about a professional code of conduct and say he didn't go into teaching because it wasn't his passion?"

I've learned a few things over the years. First, I learned that I do love to teach. What really soured me in the beginning was school politics. A bit of irony that was not wasted on me occurred when I took Dr. Alaina Love's Passion Profile. My wife collaborates with her on some research and she suggested I complete the profile in order to receive some guidance about where my passions are. Here comes the irony: the section that I scored highest in...Teacher.

I 've also learned that I can perform a job, and perform it well, even if it is not my primary area of passion. I have a passion for helping people and my first choice for expressing that is helping people using music, however, with my current job situation, by taking an interest in doing what is best for the students on my caseload, I can use the skills I have developed to help them succeed. I've learned I can do this without feeling like I am doing a disservice to the kids.

So the question is, do you do the job you're good at, even if it's not your passion?

I share office space with two people, and they share the same job title. Listening to them talk the last few months, I can tell that they are good at what they do, but so much of their office time is spent ranting about the administration and policies that I wonder if they are just close enough to retirement that they are easily annoyed, or if they took these jobs because of skills they posess instead of feeling the fire of passion.

I have been fortunate to develop a unique skill set. I am a better teacher because I am a therapist and I am a better therapist because I am a teacher.

Think about your current employment situation...are you doing the job you do because you have skills, or because you have passion?

For my music therapist friends, are you working with populations that inspire you and feed your fire of passion? Have you found your niche?

I am fascinated by the trends developing in music therapy. People are combining music therapy with other disciplines, or expanding their work to create resources for other MT's. Transpersonal psychology and music therapy, creative arts therapy and music therapy, continuing education for music therapists and music therapy...these are exciting times we music therapists are living in...ripe with opportunity to create a positive impact. These pairings are using skill sets from complementary disciplines to create new and exciting combinations! And people who remain in the music therapy profession are's just not something that can be sustained without the fire of passion.

What's that saying? "Whatever you decide to be, be a great one!"

So I leave you with these questions:

Are you currently doing something with your life simply because youcan do it or does the fire of passion burn brightly, shining your light out into the world?

If you're working from your skills but not your passion, what would it look like to shift and engage your passions?

Sometimes It's Okay To Fall Apart

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 culture, first time really living in my own, newlywed and 1200 miles away from my wife and my 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 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 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 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.

Waiting For My Real Life To Begin: Colin Hay's Music and the Dichotomy that is me

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 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.

Rant About Music Therapist Job Postings

Sometimes I just get really worked up at the complete and total lack of information potential employers have about music therapists and what we do. This (to be brutally honest) complete ignorance is most evident when employers list the requirements and preferences for their ideal candidate. In that last year, I've witnessed some heinous requirements sections of job postings including postings listing educational requirements as "degree in music therapy or related field." Guess what can't PROVIDE music therapy without a degree in music therapy! This one I found tonight...and maybe I'm just a bit cranky because it's after one in the morning and I need to go to bed, but this one has got to be one of the BEST examples of the ignorance potential employers have regarding our profession. I copied this directly from the job description:

  • Bachelor's degree in music therapy
  • Must be able to play an instrument
  • Must be certified by the American Music Therapy Association or achieve such status within one year of hire.
  • ACMT, CMT, or RMT a plus.
  • Must possess at least 1-2 years working with children of all age

Now, let's break this down:

Bachelor's degree in music therapy

Okay, this makes sense. They aren't necessarily looking for someone with a masters.

Must be able to play an instrument

Wait a they have any idea what goes into a music therapy degree? Even vocalists getting a music therapy degree have to demonstrate proficiency on guitar and every music therapist can play at least TWO instruments and more times than not, MANY instruments. I think this falls into the "goes without saying" category.

Must be certified by the American Music Therapy Association or achieve such status within one year of hire.

Absolutely EVERY music therapist working in the United States has just been excluded from this position. The American Music Therapy Association does not certify anyone. Our certifying body is an independent organization called the Certification Board for Music Therapists. So this potential employer has done enough research to know that AMTA exists, but not enough to understand that AMTA does not certify music therapists...CBMT does. By the time I read this, I was pretty frustrated at the lack of attention in writing these job requirements.

ACMT, CMT, or RMT a plus.

I nearly had a full blown hissy fit when I saw this. Apparently this organization prefers to hire music therapists that were certified prior to 1998. The credentials ACMT, CMT and RMT actually came from two different music therapy organizations that no longer exist. In 1998, the National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT) and the American Association for Music Therapy (AAMT) merged to form the American Association for Music Therapy (AMTA). At that time, the credentials ACMT, CMT and RMT were no longer awarded. The new credential Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) was introduced. Professionals who held the credentials from the original two music therapy organizations were invited to keep those credentials or start using the new MT-BC credential. For an employer to state that credentials that have not been available for over a decade are a plus...

Must possess at least 1-2 years working with children of all ages

Again, this part of the requirements makes sense and is not inflammatory.

Try this out...type "music therapy" into Google. What's the first website that pops up? Forget the ads...the first website listed is AMTA's website. This horrific blunder of a job position posting could have been remedied by a simple Google search and some copying and pasting. For some reason, the person posting this description didn't care to take the time to verify whether or not the posting even makes sense to professionals in the field. Does this reflect the lax attitude of some HR person somewhere? Maybe there's a broader implication here. As music therapists, from the moment we enter our undergrad programs, we are taught to advocate for ourselves and our profession. We learn to document everything we do in clear and concise terms so we can justify the wonders we work every day. Even those of us who are not in dual major programs as music therapists and music educators (or equivalency programs) are taught to be teachers. Teach others what it is that we do...teach them about the benefits we can provide for people.

Are we not doing a good enough job teaching the general public about what we do and the educational requirements we have to meet? Or should job description writers get with it and stop being lazy?

I'll be honest about something...I've been out of work for over a year. In a situation like that, a person can get pretty desperate when it comes to finding a job in a chosen field. For most music therapists, it's not just a's a passion.

Even with that...I'll say it, obsession, to find a music therapy job, when I see completely inane job descriptions like that, I have to wonder if it's even worth my time to apply...this employer CLEARLY will not fully appreciate the awesomeness I can bring to their organization if they can't even write a semi-intelligent job description. I posted a much shorter rant about this subject on Facebook several months was something to the effect of "Don't expect me to take seriously your desire to hire someone in my profession if you can't even write a position posting that makes sense."

I've spent a good amount of time this evening applying for jobs, but I'm not going to lose any more sleep by wasting my time applying with an organization so out of touch. I've got more important things to ranting in the middle of the night.

The Warrior's Journey/Hero's Quest Part 3

As this logistics and planning trip to establish our neurologic music therapy practice draws to a close, my thoughts are turning to the journey ahead. In a couple of days I will go back to Iowa for about a month. In that time I need to organize the pragmatic areas of my life, spend as much quality time as I can with my wife and my children, then pack as much of my life as will fit into my Subaru Outback and head off for the Pacific Northwest and my future. This is one part of the Warrior's Journey...the physical, or outer journey.

The outer journey will consist of over 1900 miles of driving, several rest and fuel stops, truck stop food, motel stays, lots of scenery and lots of podcasts. That journey will also include a stop to meet, in person, fellow music therapist and social media friend Faith Halverson-Ramos. All of these things are sure to be an adventure, but they are all secondary to the most important journey...the inner journey.

All examples of warriors' journeys and heroes' quests we find include the physical/ outer journey. What we find though is that the truly important part of the process is the inner journey the warrior takes. I believe this to be true with my own journey.

There are many places I could say this journey started, but I will begin the tale with losing my last job. Almost three weeks earlier, to the day, I proposed to L. I was elated! I was ready to be in a lifelong relationship again. I was designing and teaching Reiki classes at work, and starting to realize my vision of a staff wellness program through rhythm. Things couldn't be better! Okay, I constantly dealt with anxiety for a reason I couldn't figure out. But I was dealing with it.

Then everything changed. No job, no insurance. The reasons for the position ending are unimportant. In my word against their word situations, I like to remember that each viewpoint is skewed and that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Right away I applied for a couple of luck. I kept looking and applying, but days turned to weeks, then months.

I entered a very dark place. I found myself in a deep depression; a depression like I had never known before. My self confidence and self worth were non-existent. I truly felt worthless. If I couldn't be a music therapist, what good was I? I was a financial and emotional burden to my fiancée, I was no fun for my kids to be around...

I looked the very blackest part of my psyche in the eyes and it scared the hell out of me. I didn't know if I could come back from that place. I very nearly lost myself forever.

That amazing woman that I am proud to say is my wife now kept right on loving me, supporting me...even crying with me.

One day in February she said the words that truly became fateful: "I think you should do a national job search."

If you read Part 2 of this series, you know what happened next.

So what have I learned so far on this journey? I learned that it is foolish and dangerous to tie your sense of self to a job or even a career path...Eckhart Tolle reminds us that none of the external ways we identify ourselves have anything to do with who we reallyare.

I learned that anyone who supports you through your darkest times and loves you for who you are even when you are at your worst, deserves a lifetime of love and devotion...and to see you at your best.

I also learned a new way to look at human potential. It can be best expressed with a quote from Bruce Lee:

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus and you must not stay must go beyond them."

I decided not to accept limits anymore.

In this lifetime, the most powerful adversary I will face is my own dark side. My journey is far from over. This warrior musician lost faith and hope for a while, but there are many battles left to fight. There are neurologic impairments trying to steal quality of life from people in Oregon and I cannot let that go unchecked.

I now pledge my skills and expertise to this cause. I will not waver from my quest.

I embody these words from Steve Vai:

"I am fearless in my heart They will always see that in my eyes I am The Passion; I am The Warfare I will never stop Always constant, accurate and intense"

The Warrior's Journey/Hero's Quest Part 2

What exactly qualifies as a warrior's quest or hero's journey? For Frodo Baggins, it was a danger-fraught journey to destroy a ring. Luke Skywalker had to become a Jedi and bring peace to the galaxy. For Hiro Nakamura (et al) it was "save the cheerleader, save the world."

I have taken great pleasure in reading books that tell tales of journeys such as these. In one series, The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson, the characters, even the minor ones, struggle with coming into their own strength and power. At times they are reluctant to claim the roles they have been led into. They continue to grow and adapt, and ultimately succeed.

In The Saga of Recluse and The Spellsong Cycle by L. E. Modesitt Jr., the protagonists are reluctant heroes. They find themselves thrust into challenging situations and make the best of it. They are often praised by others while thinking very humbly about themselves.

So here's my story:

Right now I am in Portland, Oregon. I came here directly from my honeymoon to plan the next chapter of my life. Fellow neurologic music therapist Angie Kopshy and I are creating a clinic specializing in NMT. So many people I talk to are excited that I have this amazing opportunity. Trust me, I'm VERY excited for this opportunity...but this is where my story gets more complicated.

In a recent conversation with my beautiful new wife, she mentioned that most people explore the world a bit in their twenties...spread their wings. I'm 38 and I've lived in Iowa that whole time...born and raised. By 24, I was married to someone who was adamantly place bound. Three amazing children and a divorce later, I still felt place bound. Iowa was all I had ever children were there.

The day I met my wife on the playground as our children were playing, my life changed forever. She is a woman of the world, a traveller. She's lived in many different states, many different countries. She is notplace bound.

After several months of being unemployed, and being severely depressed as job after job seemed to pass me by, my then fiancée quietly said to me, "I think you should do a nationaljob search."

Immediately the questions started flooding in...what about the kids? What about us? Am I really ready to live on my own, that far away from everything I've ever known?

Yes, I said "live on my own." L is a university professor...there is a very established method for profs looking to change location...the process takes at leasta year.

So I started applying for positions in Connecticut, Boston, North Carolina, Minneapolis...places I never thought I would be. Then the fateful day in mid March came. It was late at night and I just found out I had been passed up for a position in Minnesota. I was catching up on Facebook when I saw Angie posted about a NMT clinic in Portland with the simple phrase "Let's get this clinic started."

Angie and I met when we got our NMT training. I thought she was a little bit crazy and she had a quirky sense of kind of person! We kept in touch through Facebook so when I saw her post, I had to know more.

Long story short, Angie told me of her plans to build this NMT clinic...I offered to help...she accepted.

So here I am in mid June, in Portland. Our first website is up, business cards are ordered and planning is in full swing.

The true journey will be revealed in Part 3.

The Warrior's Journey/Hero's Quest

In just a few minutes I will be boarding a flight that will land me in Portland, Oregon. This is the beginning of a larger journey for me which will result in me moving across the country, alone, (did I mention I just got married a week and a half ago?) and starting a project that could change the course of my professional and personal life. As the boarding call is sounding, I must put off more detail until later, but stay tuned...this warrior musician is just beginning an epic journey.