The original blog was posted on September 27, 2018
Creativity is sometimes a very fragile thing. I experienced that fragility mere moments ago.
I rarely remember dreams, but I remember what just happened to me in the dream space.
I was in a busy train station, sitting. I was singing into my phone, using the Music Memos app, and the app was not only recording my voice, and guessing the chord structure of the melody I was singing, but it was also transcribing the words I was singing (Apple developers, can you work on that for me please?).
A family that I knew growing up, a younger version of the children, walked by me on their way to their platform, and took great notice of me singing into my phone.
When I was done dictating into the app, I realized that I was not only dictating a new song idea, but that a verse from a song that originated years ago had also come through.
I was thrilled!
This song first came though (in the waking world) a few years ago, and often times my efforts to finish the song yield no results.
Yet here, in the dream, the final piece of this lyrical and melodic puzzle had been revealed!
Then, I hear, faintly my wife and preschooler in sleepy conversation. I begin to rouse slightly and realize the lyrics for the unfinished song are slipping, and the new song is all but lost to conscious memory.
Then, the coup de grâce...
My wife’s alarms go off.
My wife has an ingenious series of alarms set on her phone. Each one is a different song, designed to give her a series on sonic cues about how much time she has to get ready and get out the door with the children to be on time for school.
Unfortunately for me, on this day each additional melody, juxtaposed against my fleeting dream world recall, quickly eroded the last vestiges of the songs I brought through from the Collective Consciousness.
As I began to rouse further, I mourned not the loss of the tune, and the words, but instead my attention deficit challenged brain immediately implemented preservation strategies, honed over years of struggle to capture inspirations.
I began repeating the recently realized lyrics, over and over again. Repeating them until I could capture them.
They were escaping before I could even say them (still half asleep).
Working on pure groggy instinct, I realized that my only chance of salvage was the story itself. This story that I’m writing now. Maybe, if I could anchor the images, and the melodies, and the lyrics to the story of how I lost them, there may be some hope that they will return to me.
I begin writing the story, still not fully awake. The title for this blog post. The opening words. I start planning how to remember the story and begin capturing it when I fully awaken.
The blog app on my phone!
Where is my phone? Can I reach it and at least begin to get this story down before anyone notices?
I realize at this point that even the story is in a tenuous place that could slip away forever with even hearing a simple “good morning” or “I love you” before I’ve started to write it.
I am awake enough now to hear my wife is in the bathroom. I reach for my phone. Wrist splints still on, I fumble with the phone. The abrasive sound of velcro will certainly draw my wife’s attention, and I will lose the last vestiges of what I’ve retained from the dream space.
The title begins to flow, and the first paragraph.
”Good morning my love!” I hear my wife say.
”Good mor...” I mumble, half articulated. It is only then that I realize sleep has not fully released me.
But I’ve done it.
I carried back a small piece of the dream space into the waking world.
I have a chance to remember those songs, those lyrics that it was time for me to bring through.
And just like that, this story has been told.
And I think I need a nap.
So a couple of nights ago, I was cooking dinner for my live-in family like I often do. I love being in the kitchen, and I love listening to music while I cook. “Rock Me Amadeus” came on, and I began to reminisce a bit. I told my wife that I had searched for 30 years for this particular version of the song. Today, it's known as the “Salieri Mix”, but in 1985, on that cassette tape I had in upper elementary, it was just “Rock me Amadeus."
When I bought a CD of the Falco 3 album several years ago, I was disappointed. The version of Rock Me Amadeus was not the version I loved so well. This began an exhaustive search for my beloved version of the song. Year after year I was unsuccessful.
I recently discovered that in 2016, a 30th anniversary album of Rock Me Amadeus was produced. At last! There it was! Track 2: Rock Me Amadeus (Salieri Mix)!
As I was relating the story of this journey to my wife, it hit me… I've had similar relationships with several songs over the years.
The stories of how those songs came to me are for another time.
I learned about the concept of carrying songs by participating in song circles for the past few years. I realized I had been carrying these songs for years.
It was at that moment, standing there in our tiny kitchen, cooking an amazing cabbage dish, I was overcome with chills. I've heard some people called them "truth tingles." The idea is that in those rare times when we stumble across a concept that resonates so completely with universal truth, our bodies and minds are overwhelmed with physical sensation. Usually for me, this type of sensation send chills down the back of my neck, and maybe makes the hairs on my arm stand up.
This time, my entire body was overcome by the tingling sensation.
I realized, I am a carrier!
While at Music Medicine training with Christine Stevens, I learned the concept of carrying drums.
A friend at that training brought a powerful, and unique drum with her. The voice of this drum inspires community, and togetherness. We discussed the fact that my friend does not own this drum, but rather carries it. She has been entrusted with the responsibility of caring for and sharing the beauty of this drum. Eventually, she will pass on this responsibility to another.
In that one moment, while cooking cabbage, I realized that I have been carrying many things for many years.
I am a song carrier, I am a drum carrier, and I am a story carrier.
While working as a music therapist in long-term care, and hospitals, I learned about the responsibility of carrying stories. People would often share their stories, or part of their story with me. With honor, I was able to bear witness, and when appropriate, share their stories with others.
Of course, with this new realization, comes a greater sense of responsibility.
I have known for years my life was to be a life of service. I realized quickly that the songs, drums, stories, and medicine I carry are not for myself. I carry them to serve others.
Maybe that is why I often end prayers with something I've read is a favorite of the Dalai Lama: guide me, and heal me, so that I may be of greater service to others.
What do you carry?
What gifts are you meant to share with this world?
To quote Manifesto by Nahko and Medicine for the People, find your medicine and use it.
Carry on my friends.
It’s happened to most of us: we read, or hear something that resonates so deeply with us, that every cell in our body begins to tingle. That this ultimate truth before us can barely be contained.
That’s what happened to me when I read the above quote. “That’s it! That’s me!”, I thought. Reading Yvon Chouinard’s words in “let my people go surfing,’ (part of the Patagonia Business Library) normalized for me something that has plagued me for years: a seeming lack of discipline and stick-to-it-tiveness.
You see, for a long time, I thought I just had trouble staying with things. I just chalked it up to the Attention Deficit Disorder diagnosis I received as an adult.
“Ah, that must be it! That’s why I move from thing to thing! Too many shiny objects!”
It actually took me years to see the pattern in myself. The first time someone referred to me as a “jack of all trades; master of none” I was taken aback.
“Wait! I’m good at this thing, and that thing…” I thought.
But the concept of mastery is a whole different level, isn’t it? What have I really mastered in my life?
Speaking of classical guitar, I remember something Christopher Parkening said during a master class I audited. He was recounting stories of being in master classes with Andrés Segovia. After one of those master classes, Segovia gave Parkening some simply, yet profound advice: “Christopher, work very hard.”
That sagely, Yoda-esque advice is some deep once it sets in.
And Segovia lived that advice. I read that he was practicing five hours a day up until the end of his 94 years on this planet.
Work. Very. Hard.
I used to joke that I didn’t want to work that hard. But what I figured out, is that it’s not that I don’t want to work hard. Most of us musicians (except for a rare few) have to put in countless hours of work to do what we do, if we want to do it well.
That’s exactly what I’ve done, time, and time again. I get completely consumed by something, and it’s all I talk about or think about. It happens with music constantly. For me it’s like the old saying, “a kid in a candy store.” There are SO many interesting things in this world! I want to try them all!
In the past few years, I have thrown my intense focus into learning to play Native flute, folk flute, ocarina, doumbek, riq, pandeiro, bones, kalimba, ukulele…the list goes on. Ah…can’t forget learning how to overtone sing in the bathtub…good acoustics there…
This brief, yet intense focus happens in the kitchen too. One of my wife’s favorite comfort foods are grilled cheese sandwiches. She was reminiscing one day about one of her favorite hang out spots in grad school where she always ordered the grilled cheese with pickles on it. When she asked me to make her a grilled cheese, as she did frequently for a while, I delighted in experimenting. I would present her with different combinations of cheese, heating up the pickles before putting them on the sandwich so they weren’t so drippy, did she prefer the sandwich sliced pickles, the hamburger dills, or did she like it better when I minced the pickles so they would incorporate into the melted cheese more? Butter and grill one side of the bread, or both? Caramelized cheese on the outside of the sandwich? One side, or both sides?
I get obsessive…down to the most minute of details…for a while.
Then I get bored. At least I think I do.
Yvon’s 80 percenter concept makes perfect sense to me.
I reach a certain level of proficiency, and then I’m ready to move on to something else. New challenges, new things to learn.
Now that I think about, I have to laugh at something a college girlfriend said when she was breaking up with me. She said, “We’re just too different…you always have to be learning something, and I…don’t.”
Yet that thought, even as a joke, persisted: “I don’t want to work that hard.”
It’s not that. It’s also not about attention deficit. It’s about learning, and growing, and the desire to never be complacent.
All these things I mentioned? I don’t forget about them. After my grilled cheese phase, I still make grilled cheese. I still experiment, but the level of intensity has shifted. I just learned how to make arepas, and my mind is abuzz with what I could do with them. My mind is also abuzz with kalimba, pandeiro, and ocarina. My interest waxes and wanes, and Yvon Chouinard helped me realize why this is okay for me.
Here in the United States, we are culturally imprinted with the drive to succeed.
#1 or none!
Climb, strive, achieve!
Of course, our poor millennials grew up with conflicting messages. The cultural imperative to be the best, but everybody gets a trophy just for showing up. That’s a whole can of worms I’m going to leave on the shelf for now.
So am I settling at an 80% level?
To me, it is far more important to live with an ever renewing zeal, and passion than it is to achieve 100% mastery. Don’t get me wrong…we need the Jimis, and the Anas, and the Christophers in this world. We need those people to define the very highest level of human achievement.
For myself, there are so many wonders in this world, that I would rather spending my time learning about (and doing) a lot of them rather than reach 100% mastery at one, or a few of them.
I’m an 80 percenter, and that’s just great for me.
We all tell them. Some of them have more truth to them than others. Sometimes the most horrible stories are the ones we tell ourselves.
But there is no doubt that stories are an integral part of human civilization.
I learned long ago, for whatever reason, people tell me their stories. I’ve written before about stories, and if you like, you can also read Everyone Has a Story and The Stories We Tell and the Stories We Don’t.
Yesterday, I met a man who shared part of his story with me. It was a polite, casual conversation, but the significance of it was not lost on me. Stories are life. Stories are recollections of where we have been, and guidance for where we are going.
So, I met this man at the grocery store. He is an older gentleman, and he skillfully, and mindfully places my groceries into my reusable Chico bags. Then he surprises me when the transaction is complete. He takes the cart that he’s placed my bags in, and heads for the door.
He’s going to take my groceries to the car for me!
I should mention that I am currently in Florida, and this man works for a chain of grocery stores called Publix.
If you have not had the pleasure of shopping at Publix, I highly recommend it.
I said to the man, “I haven’t had someone take my groceries to the car since I lived in the Midwest!”
He replied that it was one thing that sets them (Publix) apart from other stores.
At that, I chuckled as I said, “Well, that and the best Key Lime Pie I’ve ever had!”
The conversation then progressed to how lemon meringue was his favorite and Publix’s version is not quite as good as a chain restaurant he frequents.
He then told me about his time as a cook in the Royal Navy, and how very fresh ingredients make all the different in cooking, as well as in pie,
This man shared part of himself with me, and spoke of how proud he was to have spent 16 years (so far) working for this company because of what they give back to people.
I got so much more than just groceries delivered to my car. I got a reminder of the goodness of humanity. I received, just a glimpse into the heart of a man who loves lemon meringue, and being of service to others with grace, respect, and kindness.
I think I would have enjoyed a much longer conversation with this man. I have a feeling he has an abundance of interesting stories. Yet I am truly grateful for the experience, and for the small reminder that goodness abounds in this world, simple pleasures, like a favorite pie, can brighten any day, and that when we are brave enough to share just a little bit of ourselves, authentically, we are often rewarded beyond measure.
And, I should have picked up one of those key lime pies while I was there…
I’ve been fascinated with the idea of minimalism for years...ironic, because as my wife reminded me today, I have a tendency to be anally expulsive in every environment I inhabit.
The fact is, I’m a musician who plays a lot of different instruments (and I firmly believe you can NEVER have too many drums) and I like gadgets, and books, and kitchen gear...you get the point.
Part of this fascination with minimalism stems from the experience I had preparing my parents’ house for an estate auction. In 33 years of marriage (before my Mom passed) they accumulated a lot of stuff. As I learned, eventually someone has to deal with all that stuff.
I’m fascinated too with what Thanh from asianefficiency.com calls “the luxury minimalist lifestyle.”
The premise is that you reduce the number of items you own, but the items that you do own are the best you can afford and bring you joy. This cuts out duplicate items of poor quality. Headphones is an example. A luxery minimalist might choose a pair of high quality noise cancelling headphones over multiple sets of cheap, almost disposable headphones.
So with this fascination for me, and me starting to scale down some of my lifestyle with minimalist philosophy in mind, I decided to join some Facebook groups focused on minimalism.
This is where my frustration began...
Yes, I found posts that I expected...soliciting advice about specific methods for scaling down, suggestions about personal challenges of only buying 20 new items (except household needs, food, toiletries, etc.) and getting rid of one item for each new item purchased.
Today I saw a couple of posts that may be the last straw for me. One person was asking opinions about whether or not they should buy a wall clock, or should that be on their “do not buy” list.
Personally, if you can’t decide on your own to buy a clock or not, I think you may have bigger issues than how good you are at minimalism.
The one that really got me was this post:
“What’s more minimalist? Getting a Christmas tree from a lot, or going to a farm and cutting one down?”
Seems to me this question has less to do with minimalism, and more to do with the absolute absurdity that exists in the world today.
I guess my philosophy on things like this echo the words of a chef I once saw at the New Orleans School of Cooking. As he was cooking a meal for a large group of us, he added some piña colada syrup to the bread pudding he was making. He explained that the recipe called for one cup of the syrup, which he poured into the mix without measuring.
Someone in the group interrupted, asking, “How do you know that was one cup?” The chef started pouring the syrup and asked the questioner when to stop at what they thought a cup was. After the questioner said, “stop”, someone else said, “There’s no way that was one cup!”
The chef began to pour again, and the second questioner had the opportunity to decide what one cup was.
By the end of the exchange, with perfect timing, the chef said, “When it comes to cooking, the exact amounts don’t matter. If you like something, put more of it in” as he emptied the entire bottle of syrup into the bread pudding.
So when it comes to clocks or lot Christmas trees vs. farm Christmas trees, I think that wisdom holds true as well...if you want a wall clock, get a wall clock. If you don’t want a wall clock, don’t get one.
Same with the trees. If you want to cut down your own tree, do it. If that’s not an important part of the experience for you, get it from the lot.
When we rigidly adhere to a philosophy, for the sake of the philosophy, and don’t use our own critical thinking skills, we end up with clockless houses, indecisive tree shoppers, and boring bread pudding (not to mention religious extremists, angry vegans, and people walking around with their pants hanging down to their knees).
My advice to those who ridiculously adhere to a philosophy for the sake of the philosophy? Remember that philosophy is a product of the mind. We must balance the mind with the heart. If your philosophical adherence makes you miserable, it’s time to examine your motives.
Remember Polonius in Hamlet...this above all else: to thine own self be true.
Buy the clock, cut down the tree...as long as it is true to yourself and your values.
And put a whole bottle of syrup in your bread pudding if you feel like it.
I endeavor to live a spiritual life. Sometimes I do better at that than others. Actually, for quite a while now, I've been straying from my spiritual path. It's pretty easy to do. Straying from a spiritual path, I mean. Let's face it...it's a lot of hard work most of the time! Living from the heart instead of the head, remembering that there's more to life than just me, devotionals in various forms, prayer...
Much easier to run on autopilot, mindlessly coasting through this physical experience.
Speaking of which, how does that work anyway? As enlightened individuals (hopefully), we're supposed to stay mindful, yet we should also live heart centered lives, and stay out of our heads.
Guess I'll have to sit with that one for a while.
I've been very much stuck in my head for quite a long time now. I'm quite good at it, really. I tend to stay in a very intellectual place most of the time. It can be a strength, but I also use it as a defense mechanism, because if I'm speaking from an intellectual place, then I can avoid engaging with actual emotions! I can even speak about emotions intellectually, and most of the time, people think I am talking about my emotions, emotionally. I've fooled some very emotionally attuned people with this technique.
Of course, for most of my life I didn't realize I was doing this. Sometimes, I'm so good at this intellectualizing emotions, that I can fool myself into thinking I am being open and honest about emotions, all the while keeping a safe distance.
Before I take this tangent too far afield, recently when I was stuck in my head, a memory from college peeked out and made me reflect on the course my life has taken.
I remembered a conversation I had with one of my roommates as we were driving around town one summer afternoon. He was a big country music fan...I was not. This roommate and I grew up just a few miles from each other in the rural Midwest and went to different schools. Country music, in general, was quite popular at both of our schools. That's probably why I actively rejected it for so long. I tend to avoid things that seem TOO popular.
Anyway, my roommate, who was driving us around in his car, was playing country music, when all of a sudden, he said, "Hey, I want to play this song for you. But you have to listen to the words" (that's what EVERYONE said where I grew up. "You may not like country music, it you have to listen to the words!").
He played "Standing Outside The Fire" by Garth Brooks.
Life is not tried, it is merely survived
If you're standing outside the fire
"That song reminds me of you, because you're not afraid to go out there and try things, and I wish I was more like that" he told me.
I thought back to a time not long before that conversation when I went with all of my roommates to a country bar (hey, it was hanging out with the guys!).
We were at a table, talking amongst ourselves, when an attractive woman approached us.
"Alright guys," she began. "One of you is going to dance with me. Now, who's it going to be?"
All of my roommates were even more introverted than I am, so they unanimously volunteered me.
I warned this friendly woman that I did not know anything about this style of dancing, and she assured me she would teach me.
So we danced, and talked, and had a lovely time.
THAT was trying life, not merely surviving it.
Remembering those days, that conversation brought me to a disturbing realization: that song, that admiration my roommate had for me, no longer applied.
Not only have I been standing outside the fire for longer than I can remember, I don't think I could even SEE the fire from where I've been living from.
How did I go from one of "those who dance within the flames" to one of those that has distant memories of the fire, and has nearly forgotten it was ever there?
I knew I strayed from my spiritual path, but my life path too? (is there a difference?).
Both of my parents died when I was in my 20's, and since their loss, I have been haunted by the feeling that I have wasted so much time in life. Their deaths taught me that we never know how much time we are allotted in this life. Carpe diem! Momento mori! (Seize the day! You, too shall die!).
Part of my highly intellectual way of being, is mulling over things for a while. The shift to standing outside the fire, as a way of being, has been mulled for several weeks now.
Tonight, I read something that resonated so strongly with me, that it tied everything together in a brilliant little package.
These words are attributed to the late Layne Redmond:
I now know in every cell of my body that death is real, it is final, it is irrevocable and that I will die. Whatever time I have left must be used for manifesting the most profound purpose that brought me to life to begin with. I must be satisfied with every interaction I have with any person, as if it is my final action, my final thought.
If you're not familiar with Layne, she was a frame drummer, a teacher, an author, and a beautiful soul.
I did not have the opportunity to study with her, or even meet her in person, but we exchanged several messages through social media.
Do I want to be stuck in my head? Do I want to stay strayed from my spiritual path? Do I want to stand outside the fire?
I want to live from my heart. I want to walk my path with courage. I want to dance within the flames.
I want to manifest my most profound purpose!
As a spiritual person, I believe that we are being guided. We are being guided what to do with our lives, and how to do it. The signs are all around us, if we can only see them with an open heart.
Layne's words really spoke to me tonight. I must be satisfied with every interaction I have with any person, as if it is my final action, my final thought.
So, when that beautiful woman asks me to dance, I will smile, and lead her to the center of the flames, as if it is my final action.
How else am I going to manifest my most profound purpose otherwise?
We've all had it happen...the perfect song comes to you at the perfect moment. These days, that song could come from the radio, overhead speakers at the mall or your own playlist set to shuffle.
A powerful example of this for me came after the death of my best friend. On the way to a memorial service for her, I decided to drive to the place described to me where her car accident was. My thoughts were very much on my friend, and I had not been paying attention to the radio. When I found the place described to me, It's Alright by Huey Lewis and The News filled the car stereo speakers. A smile came across my face, and I laughed to myself. She was there, letting me know...
I realized tonight I was having a very different experience with the spiritual synchronicity of song.
Yesterday, out of the blue, I decided to look "Wagon Wheel" (a song sketched by Bob Dylan) up on Apple Music. I listened to the Old Crow Medicine Show version, and I listened to the Darius Rucker version. I listened over and over...mostly to the OCMS version, because I think the harmonies are amazing!
One lyric kept sticking in my mind:
But I ain't going back to living that old life no more
These words of determination and hope found meaning with a lot of veterans I worked with. I'd pull that line out, most often for my vets struggling with addiction. For me, and hopefully for them, it was a promise of moving forward and leaving behind that old life that no longer served good purpose.
Over and over I listened. Over and over I sang "but I ain't going back to living that old life no more..."
So today, I happened upon an old journal. For the last couple of weeks, my therapist has been curious about recurring life themes and not-so-subtlely suggest I look back at writings from my past and highlight familiar thought patterns. Seeing the journal reminded me of her curiosity, so I picked it up and took it with me.
A few hours later, I decided to crack it open. Checking the dates, this journal began in 2002 and ended in 2011. I started to read, and was shocked. In a text message to my wife, who's traveling currently, I said:
I am living much the way I did ten years ago...the financial worries, depression, anxiety, irritation, negative self talk, lack of confidence...
My ever brilliant wife's response was, "Why are you living that life? You can let go..."
Letting go...sounds like something I've heard a lot recently from someone very dear to me.
I responded to my wife:
The irony is that the past couple of days have foreshadowed the much needed change that will come from this realization tonight. The foreshadowing came through my resonance with Wagon Wheel lyrics...but I ain't going back to living that old life no more.
For the first time in my life, the spiritual synchronicity of song foretold what was to come, instead of capturing my attention in the moment.
I have to wonder how many times that happens to all of us, when we aren't truly listening. How many messages are we missing because we are not paying attention?
In a recent conversation, I made the point that so many times, we throw our hands up and look skyward while screaming "Give me a sign!"
In that conversation, I shared the joke about the man whose house was surrounded by flood water. A neighbor came by in a big truck and offered to take the man to safety. The man said, "God will take care of me!"
As the water reached the second story of the house, a boat came by and the people in the boat offered to evacuate the man, but he said, "God will take care of me!"
By the time the water was almost completely covering the roof, a rescue helicopter flew by. The crew offered to rescue the man, and once again, he said, "God will take care of me!"
The man drowned.
He goes up to talk to God. He says, "God! I trusted you! Why didn't you save me??
God said: "I sent a truck, a boat, and a helicopter for you. What more do you want?
The point I made during the conversation is that it is not adequate for us to ask for signs (guidance) but rather, we must ask for signs that we understand!
If I had paid close attention to how that one line from a song was resonating with me, I would not have been so surprised to see big life issues that have waned, in the pages of my journal.
Pay heed to those niggling lyrics that get stuck in your head. You may be getting some hints as to your path forward.
For me, I'm trusting the spiritual synchronicity of song to bring me the hints, to bring me the clues just when I need them. Even if when I need them is sooner than I expect.
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 well...it 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?
OF COURSE YOU DO!
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 scarcity...like 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 Terror...do 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 policing...it'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.
Sure, there's been a lot of talk about inadequate mental health care in this country. This happens most often when a tragic event, involving too easily obtained firearms, occurs. That's not what this post is about.
What about the every day, run of the mill, mental health issues that many of us deal with?
Let's face it...if I've learned one thing, working in mental health, it's that EVERYBODY is dealing with something.
I'm not here to talk about everyone else...I'm here to talk about me.
I've had a long history of mental health system interactions. When I was 16, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Hell, what teenager isn't?
Later on, along with regular counseling, I was introduced to mood altering medications...prescription ones that is. Let me tell you...I've done my share:
I'm sure there are some I've forgotten over the years, but that's a decent list to consider.
Today, I take none of them.
Over the years, I've have been diagnosed with clinical depression (as stated earlier), acute stress disorder, anxiety disorder, bipolar II and attention deficit disorder.
After dating and marrying a psychologist, I now believe that I was never properly diagnosed and that cyclothymic disorder probably most accurately describes my baseline. More on that in a bit.
I've never shied away from talking about my challenges with mental health. I talked about taking medication for depression, or anxiety or bipolar, or whatever the current thing was, whether it was "the thing to do" or not. I remember early on, people often looked shocked when I very casually mentioned being on such medication.
It's a little less "out there" these days to have those conversations, but still there's a stigma around mental illness. I hear it everyday from the people I work with: "It took me a long time to ask for help, because my family and friends thought I should just be able to get over it."
But I think we need to start thinking of things in different terms. So many attitudes about mental health are black and white...you're either "sick" or you're "well."
I live in a very gray world when it comes to these matters.
We need to have a conversation normalizing things that are normal again!
As stated earlier, I'm not on any medications for mental health. I haven't been for years. For me, I would stall out. I'd max out on a dose or combination of things, and I would still have the extreme behaviors. I would still have suicidal ideation, rage issues or I would be so far up that I would pace incessantly, be hyper verbal, and get cramps in my hand from writing down the ideas that were flying through my mind at warp speed.
That didn't work for me.
I remember when I got the ADD diagnosis. My psychiatrist said, "I'm going to prescribe this medication. It's a stimulant. The way the ADD works is that if you take this, and you get wound up, it's not ADD...something else is going on. If however, it calms you and you can focus easier, then biochemically, it's ADD."
I had a 45 minute commute to work in those days, through farmland...not much traffic, wide open spaces...
I remember the first day I took the med. I don't know how I made that drive...it knocked me out. ADD confirmed.
For a while, I suppose it helped me focus, but quickly, that became ineffective too.
Eventually, I stopped taking everything. It wasn't really working for me anyway. And I did it my own stubborn way. I quit cold turkey.
There's a reason the psychs recommend a taper for meds like this. I'm not suggesting anyone else follow my example. I'm just being open about how I did things.
At first, I thought that I just wanted to learn how to deal with everything on my own. Again, I can't recommend this for anyone else...it's just what I did.
Then I started to think, "What if 'what's wrong with me' isn't really something that's wrong with me? What if my way of being was fit into some DSM classification, but it's just part of me?"
Changing directions for just a moment, I've been listening to the Audible book "Alan Turing: The Enigma." While I was disappointed that "The Imitation Game" took great liberties with how Alan's life played out during and after World War II, I have been fascinated by the look at someone who was considered inadequate for a long time in school. It got me to thinking about all the school dropouts, Einstein for example. All the people that didn't fit into the confines of "normal" by societal standards. I remembered the quote from the Apple ad:
“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
What if, sometimes the "crazy ones" and the "misfits" just have a different way of being in the world? Look at all the transformers in the world that had "mental illnesses!"
Now don't send the hate mail saying that I'm downplaying mental illness. I know it exists. I've worked with some people who are truly ill and need serious help.
But what about the people like me?
I didn't quite fit into many of the categories that my providers suggested. And yes, I still struggle with depression on a regular basis...and I have hypomanic episodes. To be honest, I relish those times. I get so many ideas, my thoughts flow so quickly, I have less tolerance for...a lot of things.
I actually told my therapist tonight, as I was leaving her office, "I think I'm more effective when I'm hypomanic."
She said, "I hear that from a lot of people."
I've learned, for the most part, to ride the waves. Whether I could truly be diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder, or something else, I may never know.
For me, the meds didn't work. I've developed my own ways to cope. I keep my iPhone, or pen and paper close by, to capture those flying thoughts...Bach cranked up on my headphones helps me focus through rapid thinking, when I need to focus. Aromatherapy, exercise and music help when my give a damn's busted (thank you JoDee Messina).
I'll be straight with people too...mostly about the hypomania. I'll call it what it is, and sometimes people are startled at the openness, or my awareness of what's going on, or something.
I'll be straight with you...I'm coming down from a hypomanic episode as I write this. Apologies if things don't make sense. I don't have much tolerance for proofreading right now. You'll have to deal with it. I do.
For now, I'm going to embrace my inner misfit. I'm going to deal with the sideways looks when I'm really up...I won't notice when I'm really down anyway. Maybe I can use my square peg in a round hole personality to make a difference in this world.
Stigma or no stigma...I am just crazy enough to believe I can change the world.
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 loss...you 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.
Just now, I was sitting in my car, after work, texting my beloved wife. As my car was warming up on this winter day, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, someone approach and get into the car next to me. This was especially noticeable, because I had pulled into my spot front first and this person had backed in, so the person was right by my door as they unlocked their car.
A few minutes later, as I was ready to leave, I noticed the car next to me was still there. I glanced over, and saw a man, wearing sunglasses, with his head leaning on the head rest. I also noticed a single tear trailing down below the sunglasses.
I paused for a moment, put my car in reverse, and backed out.
Immediately, the thoughts started pouring into my consciousness:
I don't know this guy.
I just spent the whole day helping others put their broken pieces back together!
He'll be alright.
I've got things to do...I can't save everyone.
But then another voice came through. The voice of my spirit guides:
What's the matter with you?
You could see he was in pain...help him!
You are a healer! You don't get to punch out at the end of the day!
That voice of truth reminded me...Always on call. Always ready to bring peace. That is the life that chose me. It's the life I have chosen.
I turned around and headed back for the parking lot, but the car, the man, and his pain were gone.
I said a prayer for him. I pray that his pain passes quickly and that whatever caused the single tear I saw resolves harmoniously.
We are creatures of habit when it comes to parking, so maybe I'll see that man again. Maybe I'll have the chance to ask, "Is there anything I can do?"
Asking if everything is okay is stupid...clearly when tears fall, things are not okay.
I know that I've been the one crying in my car at the end of the day. Maybe there's nothing I could do for that man directly. It doesn't matter what causes the pain. Sometimes it's enough to say, "Hey, I get it! Life can be scary and frustrating and confusing and sometimes things just suck. I get it. You're going to be okay. You'll get through this."
If I don't get the chance to say these things to that man, I can at least be grateful for the lesson he unknowingly taught me:
It doesn't take some grand therapeutic or healing gesture to say "I see your pain, and I get it."
It just takes choosing to roll down the window, instead of backing out of the parking space.
Fresh in my mind is a quote from Ethan Hawke that I shared in a recent blog post:
It doesn't come for free
To me, that means those of us who work in the creative arts, give of ourselves for the benefit of others. Sometimes we give so much that we forget to save anything for ourselves and our loved ones.
Now let me speak to part of the title of this post: shaman.
A word that is sometimes overused, much confused and a word that stirs passion in some about who is a shaman, who is not and the right to be called one.
The term means different things to different people, but in simple terms, a shaman is one who has one foot in ordinary reality and one foot in non-ordinary reality. Spirit world, Afterlife, "The Other Side"...
The life of a shaman is one of service. Service to community. The shaman takes on the responsibility of going where most cannot in order to guide and serve the community...often at great personal cost.
Now consider the role of the music therapist. At times, we may offer our clients a compassionate ear, a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board for buried emotions. We laugh, and cry with those we serve. We co-create an emotional legacy for friends and families of our patients facing death. We help the combat veteran process anger, grief and survivor's guilt. We bear witness to the joy a parent feels as their autistic child emerges from their shell.
It seems to me that in the Information Age, we have access to an overwhelming amount of images and data from anywhere on this planet and beyond. People are losing their ability to effectively deal with their own emotions. So many turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food...anything to try to deal with the overload. People stuff their emotions, afraid to see what is really there. And why not?
Things are scary as hell out there. Let me keep my tunnel vision on my Facebook status and my Candy Crush level and my Instagram followers and please, please don't make me look!
We, as music therapists can act as emotional shamans for our patients/clients/communities.
We can ride our sacred drums into that mysterious and scary world of emotions, with courage, and bring back the wisdom that lies there for those we serve. Music opens the door to some potentially uncomfortable things for our clients. But it opens the door gently. It offers a warm hand and says, "It's okay. You're not alone anymore."
I can't count the number of times I played one song for someone, and then the person started to talk. They would tell me their stories. They would tell me about their fears around their current health challenges. They would share their concern for their grandsons and granddaughters in the military. They would speak fondly of their recently passed life partner and how they used to go to all the dances. They began to process their emotions because music opened the door for them.
We are the facilitators of those experiences. You'd better be damn sure you are bringing your "A" game every day. That means taking care of your mind/body/spirit. Yes, the responsibility is THAT important.
We walk where others have forgotten how to. We offer a non-threatening way to peek around the corner at the emotions that lay unattended to. In a sense, the non-ordinary reality we walk in is simply the landscape of emotions. Fear has taken over the thinking of so many these days and the skills to deal with emotions are being replaced by mind numbing entertainment and poor quality food, that we gorge ourselves on in hopes of receiving adequate nutrition and medicating those emotions we've forgotten how to process.
The landscape of music therapy is changing my friends. This is not the profession E. Thayer Gaston wrote about. We need to become more. The world needs us to become more. We need to be healers, and peacemakers and revealers of core truths and...emotional shamans.
I wonder if the Holy Grail of masters level entry will even be sufficient as the landscape continues to change?
Work very hard. Your clients/patients/communities deserve no less.
But remember that it doesn't come for free.
Take care of yourself, or you won't be taking care of anyone else.
I 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.
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.
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.
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 example...one 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 vocally...open 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 words...it 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.