The original blog was posted on September 27, 2018
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Parents... YOU are frakking up your kids.
Almost every day.
Whether you know it or not.
It's not your fault, it's simply the way of things.
Your parents frakked you up, you're frakking your kids up, and they will frak your grandchildren up.
My parents, the sweet and loving people that they were, frakked me up. I am frakking my children up, biological and step. When my wife and I have a baby, we'll frak that beautiful child up too.
Welcome to life!
But there's hope...there's always hope. In this case, the hope comes from the work of a man named Bob Hoffman. Over 40 years ago, he created something called The Hoffman Quadrinity Process. It's an intense transpersonal psychology...workshop, for lack of a better term.
I won't go into too much detail, but the goal of the Process is to identify patterns of your own behavior developed through something called the Negative Love Syndrome. As children, we either embrace patterns of behavior our parents exhibit, or we rebel against them, creating new patterns. We enter these patterns of behavior over and over again and this is how we relate to people in our lives.
As well as identifying these patterns, one learns to break the patterns, and learns how to break new patterns that arise.
My wife wanted me to go through the Process, as she had, before we got married. In fact, she required it. It was the most emotionally challenging, draining and uplifting experience of my life. Intense bonds are formed with the people you go through the Process with. Those people know more about me than almost anyone on this Earth.
The Process helps one strip away the layers built up around each of us and helps one live authentically. One might think that to live authentically might break the patterns of the Negative Love Syndrome and allow us to stop frakking up our children.
Remember when I said that my wife and I would frak up children we have together?
But I also said that we have both been through the Process...in theory, if we can live an whole, integrated, authentic human beings, we should be able to raise our child without imparting our patterns.
When I made this point to my very wise wife, she said, "Ah, but we still have patterns. We have the tools to deal with them more effectively, but we still have them."
The Hoffman Quadrinity Process may not create utopian parents, but I think everyone can benefit from this sort of grueling personal work.
I know a lot of great parents. I'm blessed to see the love and compassion they share with their children...and I don't often think "Doesn't matter how good of a parent you are...you're still frakking you kids up!"
At least with the Process, we can understand how we're frakking them up...and maybe we do it just a little less.
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.
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 ourselves...safety 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 back...as 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 me...it'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.
I have been given a rare opportunity: I have been working with my replacement at work for the last couple of weeks. This sort of thing of thing does happen of course, but I was pleasantly surprised when I learned this was to be the case for me. Yesterday I realized that I was being given precious gifts in this transition to a new job, new living situation and new state to explore. I was being given lessons in how to let go of things.
Historically I have had the mindset "Never forget what they did to you" (whoever they are). Eckhart Tolle says "All things are small things because all things are transient." Everything changes...this is the nature of the Universe. When we choose to hold on to things, we hold ourselves back.
Eckhart relates a story of two monks walking on a long journey. It had been raining and the road was very muddy. The walking by a young woman who was trying to cross the road, but the mud would have ruined her beautiful silk kimono. One of the monks immediately picked up the young woman and carried her to the other side. Five hours later, the other monk couldn't stand it anymore. He said to the first monk, "Why did you pick her up and carry her across the road? You know we monks aren't supposed to do things like that!"
The first monk said, "I put the girl down hours ago. Are you still carrying her?"
When I first found out that the school district I am working for was ending my contract, I was told they hired someone within the district. The full implications did not sink in for me right away. After all, if there was someone in the district with credentials to do my job, why hire me through a staffing agency?
As I got to know my replacement, it quickly became clear that not only was she not already employed by the district, but she had been living in another state.
A few days ago, when I was talking to my recruiter at the staffing agency and I asked her if midyear transitions like this were unusual. She told me that every once in a while a district will hire somebody from within for a staffed position. I confirmed that the agency had been told this new hire was from within district and then corrected what my recruiter had been told. I said, "I don't know how the contract with the district works, under what circumstances they can break the contract, or what, if anything you want to do with this information, but the person taking over my position was definitely not already in the district."
My recruiter sounded thoughtful, and thanked me for the information...and then I let it go.
It is not my responsibility to police the circumstances under which my move is occurring, so I let it go.
Another opportunity for this lesson came last week. I had a parent call me, informing me she had not received information from an ophthalmologist's office regarding an appointment I had made for her daughter. She asked if I told the office to mail the information to the town I live in, to an address I was unfamiliar with. I informed this parent that I had given the office the address that was listed in the school records, an address in another town.
"Oh, we don't get mail there" she told me plainly.
Frustration arose in me quickly. I called the ophthalmologist's office and asked them to send the same information to the new address I had been given. The office is three hours away, so this was not a simple case of running to the office to pick up the paperwork.
A few days later, I got a call from a teacher who was meeting with the parent. The parent was concerned because she has still not received the information, and she did not know any of the details of the appointment. I informed the teacher that I sent the parent a letter detailing the appointment...I sent it to the address that does NOT receive mail.
I had gotten myself pretty worked up by this time. I worked very are to make arrangements for the appointment and ensured clear and concise information was communicated, and things were falling apart!
What good does it do me to hold onto this frustration? I have done my best to make this situation easy for this parent, and I need to rest assured I have given my best effort, and let go of the outcome.
Don't let myself be held fast by a situation I cannot control...let it go.
Yesterday I noticed I was very anxious most of the day. There is still a lot of things that I need to show my replacement how to do, and make sure she is as prepared as possible when I leave.
Most of the day, I was edgy and irritable, because things weren't happening fast enough, and as of today, I have two days left to impart the whole of my knowledge about this district and this caseload.
Then, like a lightning bolt, it hit me!
I didn't have anyone to guide me when I started in this position. One might think some basic training in the software used by the district would be in order, policies, etc... I had none of it. I had to figure it out on my own. I have been laying a solid foundation for my replacement to jump in and work with the kids. Why, when I am moving across the country, would I hold on to these feelings like I will never show her everything I want her to know before I go?
She will be just fine. She will do a good job with the kids, and she will figure things out.
I need to let go.
I am often surprised with the ways I am blessed with the lessons I learn. With all the opportunities to learn this lesson recently, it seems to be a pretty important one for me.
I worry that I may have missed other lessons recently that are just important because I wasn't paying attention, but I need to let go of that too.
How many of you out there remember when MTV still had M? Martha Quinn, Headbangers Ball, Top 20 Video Countdown...the good old days.
Personally I think the downturn happened when The Real World ushered in the age of "reality" television.
I remember back in those glory days of music television, one commercial that had a profound effect on me. So profound that I memorized the monologue spoken during the commercial. Picture a young man with a basketball looking pensive...I'll lay it out for you:
You know, you try to figure it out... Either you're exactly the same as everyone else Which is really boring Or you're so totally out there that you've got nothing in common with anyone Which is scary as hell. But there ought to be at least some way to find out the rules
(insert dramatic pause here)
Screw the rules.
(cue MTV guitar vamp)
This really spoke to me in my youth.
(still does, although I believe my perspective has matured)
I grew up in a small town...I was a bit of a loner. I liked sci-fi, I had the only Tony Hawk skateboard in town. I was one of the "weird" kids in my class of 46. I was one of the two kids in my senior class voted "class revolutionary."
In junior high, for a writing assignment, we had to choose a life motto, and discuss why we chose it...mine was "Create a disturbance." Even back then, I was of the mindset that people should unapologetically make their mark on this world. Of course that has gotten me into trouble occasionally...I figured out that I tend to be a boat rocker...with authority issues.
I am learning slowly that I can stay true to my disturbance creating nature without jeopardizing steady employment.
I remember the realization in college that in some cases, I truly feel that the rules don't apply to me. Whether this is leftover energy from the "screw the rules" mentality or something else, I don't know.
I also remember the professor of my first class as a music major. He was a funny little man who was a bassoon player. After a class where we had been talking about musical form and compositional techniques, I told him, "When I write music, I want to break the rules!"
He very simply said, "You have to learn the rules before you can break them."
It would be many years before I understood the wisdom in his words.
But I think the MTV commercial meaning of "screw the rules" is not simply a call to general defiance and disorderly conduct. I believe there is a deeper meaning to be found when one delves into the essence of the statement.
Part of it has come from the spiritual and societal awakenings that began in the 1960's. During that time, social constructs were questioned and many experiments began...remnants of those experiments can still be found today...commune anyone?
We see other throwbacks to those days as well...communities of free thinkers, co-ops of all sorts...hey, tie dye has become mainstream!
Here's the thing about the human mind...it LOVES to sort and order things. This was an evolutionary necessity. Imagine yourself as a hunter/gatherer...human consciousness is just developing and the world is a tough place to survive in. The evolving mind learns to identify and categorize things quickly: food, water, danger, predator, prey. This was necessary for the survival of our species.
Fast forward tens of thousands of years...now, the mind categorizes things, but the ego has gotten involved. Now, most of us categorize and judge things.
To say that an apple-tini is a beverage, or to further categorize, an alcoholic beverage is a mind function. Apple-tini is in the category of beverage, sub-category alcohol. THAT is the mind at work.
The ego comes along and says "Apple-tinis are girly drinks." (Thank you Dr. John Dorian!) The ego judges what the mind has categorized.
So when the youth in the 60's started examining the capitalist driven social structures of their parents and rejected those structures...the structures were judged "bad."
The adults of the era, used to conformity and established structure saw the long hair, free love, mind altering drug using counter culture as "bad."
The term "hippy" could have a good or bad connotation depending on which circles you were in.
Let me be clear that my perspective on this is speculation and interpretation. I was born in the early 1970's, so this hindsight extends beyond my own life time.
But by creating new standards of behavior, new rules were established while throwing out the old rules. A paradox was created.
Subcultures sprang up in multitudes after the 60's; each with their own rules.
One character we can look at for an example of transcending these rule governed subcultures is Ferris Bueller.
The 1986 film Ferris Bueller's Day Off is the story of a unique high school student who decides to take a day off from school and the comedic efforts of the principal to catch him.
The charisma of Ferris Bueller was not bound by any one subculture. Grace, the school secretary, puts the subculture transcendence of Ferris like this:
Oh, he's very popular Ed. The sportos, the motor heads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads...they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude.
Ferris is a singularity in that he is not bound by the rules or definitions of any one subculture.
Then we consider one of my refrigerator magnets...it says "You non-conformists are all the same."
As we raise the banner of non-conformity with "Screw the Rules!" as our call to action, we look around and see that everyone is doing the non-conformist thing. Similarly to the person who says "I'm crazy", isn't, the person who identifies as "non-conformist", isn't.
I had an epiphany in the early 90's when "Alternative" music was all the rage. I thought, "If alternative music has become popular and mainstream...then what music truly is alternative?
A few weeks ago, as I was contemplating my own journey, and the efforts of someone to categorize me, I came up with a quote:
I am not confined by anyone's definitions. Your limitations do not apply to me.
That's my mature perspective on "screw the rules."
I will still love that MTV commercial though.
I think what we are experiencing in the midst of The Shift, post end of the Mayan calendar, is not a paradigm shift, but the end of the paradigm itself.
Part of that is thanks to the ease with which information can be shared globally. But as a human culture, we are growing in ways never before seen on the planet. In the music therapy profession, there are some names that in my opinion have reached legendary status: Alicia Clair, Deforia Lane, Barry Bernstein and Connie Tomaino to name a few. They were pioneering research and developing best practice when music therapy was starting to take shape as a profession. They are still out there doing it! (Barry is no longer with us).
Now we have music therapists who are redefining the profession.
They are using social media and technology to reach a wider audience to support each other, educate and even provide services.
This group is not confined by the old definitions, not confined by limitations.
Technology is providing many of us the means to express our own unique perspective on the world, whether that is through app development, blogging, Skype music therapy sessions...the list is endless.
Our planet wide spiritual awakening is bringing us to a time where modern technology and ancient wisdom are learning to co-exist in ways never dreamed of before.
My advice to you my friends?
Remember that the paradigms no longer exist...create your own path.
While you're at it, create a disturbance.
Be undefinable...be limitless, and of course,
Screw the rules.
I remember where I was and what I was doing exactly twelve years ago to the hour as I write this. I thought I was going to die...and I was scared.
Not easy for a warrior musician to admit, but it's true.
The short version of the story is that a failed intubation during a routine surgery left me with an infection that was reducing my ability to breathe. Exactly twelve years ago, I was losing my ability to speak.
The day was much like today as my friends back in Iowa post weather updates about the blizzard happening at this moment. They wanted to fly me to the University of Iowa hospitals for emergency surgery, but it was not safe to fly.
When I went in for surgery, they told my wife, my first wife, five months pregnant with our oldest daughter, to call family and call life insurance...they did not expect me to survive.
By nightfall I was awake and breathing through a tube in my neck, unable to speak.
A lot has happened since that day.
I've been blessed with three beautiful children and I buried my father
I developed type 2 diabetes and became a martial arts master
I finished my bachelor's degree, I'm finishing my master's and preparing to apply for a doctoral program (if only my high school counselor could see me now!)
I went through a painful divorce and I married the perfect balance to my soul
I've known the depths of darkness and the pinnacle of ecstasy
I have loved and I have grown and I have lived
On this eve of the winter solstice where the promise of life is renewed and of the Galactic Alignment that harbors a powerful yet subtle shift in human consciousness, I have this message for you:
The Ancient Wisdom is true...there is life, there is death and there is rebirth.
I've been there.
As my Facebook friends know, I've been spending a lot of time at Starbucks lately. I wasn't a Starbucks person until a few weeks ago when I started the final push on my master's degree and needed reliable wi fi for hours at a time. Today, while taking a break, I decided to re-watch a video of Tony Robbins giving a TED talk. I found within it, not only some wisdom for my own life, but for recent and upcoming events.
Here's the video that inspired me today:
1.What am I going to focus on? 2.What does it mean? 3. What am I going to do?
I won't discuss the nuance of each of these decisions. Instead I encourage you to watch the video for your own take on the decisions.
Instead, I think it is worth considering how we as individuals can use these decisions in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and in anticipation of the great shift on 12-21-12.
Someone close to me once called me a social observer. She remembers me doing a lot of listening in group settings, then interjecting comments that would either make people laugh, take the conversation in a new direction, or both.
Since the news about Sandy Hook broke, I have been observing reactions people have had through social media. I have reposted the ideas of others if I found them to be in alignment with my own and today I have shared my views in some limited fashion.
I have witnessed people saying "don't blame the guns" and people calling for increased access to mental health care. Some are suggesting that increased access to guns would have stopped the shootings...claims that arming teachers is a viable solution. I even read a statement pleading for society to not condemn folks with autism (rightly so).
We are hurting.
Emotions are high. No matter where you stand on issues of gun control/gun rights, mental health access, ask yourself:
1.What am I going to focus on? 2.What does it mean? 3. What am I going to do?
Sharing your ideas through social media can be valuable, but don't let it be empty rhetoric. Talk without action is worthless.
Decide what you're going to do, and make it happen.
It also seems appropriate to comment on all the speculation regarding 12-21-12.
There are the doomsday sayers who believe the world will end. Personally, that's the day I travel to be with my family for the holidays...I sure hope the doomsdayers are wrong.
Jokes abound about the Mayans running out of space on the calendar and that nothing will happen. I read Facebook comments about all of the "idiots who believe the world will end" and what lame excuses they will come up with when they wake up on December 22.
A local car dealer is running radio ads for a sale and they guarantee that if the world ends, you'll never have to make a payment on your new car.
Without going to far into my own beliefs, I again encourage you to examine:
1.What am I going to focus on? 2.What does it mean? 3. What am I going to do?
I think in general, whether we are discussing things like Sandy Hook or the end of the Mayan calendar, it's a good idea to tell the people you love that you love them, every day and to live your life like every day may be your last.
I really identify with ideas that were popular during the Middle Ages when death, mostly from disease, was a regular part of the human experience. It was common to inscribe a Latin phrase meaning "perhaps the last" on clocks. The phrase "memento mori" was common as well: remember that you too shall die.
I've found that in today's world, many people are uncomfortable with these macabre notions. One place I worked I had "memento mori" and the translation as part of my email signature. I had a co-worker write an impassioned email stating that SHE did not need to be reminded she was going to die one day.
The truth is, we never know how much time we have.
Make yours count.
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."
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 passionate...it'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?
Some days I wake up with so much pain in my heart that I think surely it will break. When I think of the words of Kahlil Gibran, "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain," I think that I am being prepared for oceans and oceans of joy. Other days, I wake up and realize what a wondrous place I am in! A place where my spirit is being guided to the right people and the right places for me to move forward boldly and with love on my journey.
Last night I was lamenting the fact that I feel lonely so often and sometimes wished I could be back home with everyone else. My beloved C quickly pointed out, "You were miserable here. It was time for you to go. You just need to learn the lessons you're supposed to learn there so we can move on with our lives."
She's right of course.
So many times in life, we waste time wishing for what could be, or what was instead of focusing on what is. This is how we miss the lessons we are meant to learn.
As the weather cools off, even here in New Mexico, I find myself thinking about Fall back home...my favorite season. Fresh apple cider, hayrides through the pumpkin patch...trick or treating. But I realize if I spend too much time thinking about what was and what could be, if I spend too much time thinking about the fact that this will be the first time I have not been there to take my kids trick or treating...if I do that, then I get stuck.
I get stuck living not fully here and not fully there, but in that place in my mind where so many of us live. I live in either the past or the future and I miss opportunities right here, right now.
You know, C said to me, "You sound much more grounded, much more centered, I hear more joy in your voice than I did for a long time when you were living here when you were so depressed after losing your job. You sound like the person I fell in love with."
I learned just before I went to the Hoffman Quadrinity Process that the hardest battle I would ever face in this lifetime is with my own mind. The mind is a wonderful tool as long as you use it and don't let it use you.
That's what I'm thinking about today.
We all have a piece of the puzzle folks, and this piece comes from Chief Dan George (1899-1981) of the Tsleil-Waututh tribe: "Love is something you and I must have. We must have it because our spirit feeds upon it. We must have it because without it, we become weak and faint. Without love, our self-esteem weakens. Without it, our courage fails. Without love, we can no longer look out confidently at the world. We turn inward and begin to feed upon our own personalities, And little by little we destroy ourselves."
Give your love freely and without condition...accept love humbly and graciously.
Move past the fear in your life and move forward in love.
Love is the most important piece to the puzzle.
Love and be loved...what more needs to be said?
Years ago (I realize now I sound JUST like my father when I start sentences with those words) I remember hearing a phrase that has once again become important in my life. The vague memories make me wonder if it was a less enlightened self that remembers the phrase, or if it comes from another lifetime. Whichever it is, that phrase is here and now in my life and I have realized that these four simple words could have HUGE effects on the entire world.
The phrase is "in a good way."
The first time this phrase came back to me was at the Totah Festival in Farmington not long after I moved to New Mexico. I remember that Sunday well. I was disgusted with the fact the I am white. I was hearing the singing and the drumming from the pow wow while I was sitting in the local Unitarian Fellowship, and was thinking I should have been at the pow wow.
After church, I went to the pow wow and listened to the singing, watched the dancing and delighted in the various drum crews competing.
The emcee talked about the generosity of the indigenous people, about how it was part of their culture. A few times he talked about doing things in a good way. That phrase soaked into my consciousness and was filed away for later use.
A week or two later was the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Arizona.
At the pow wow there, the emcee talked about the man who invited the emcee to perform those duties at the fair. He said, "He offered me tobacco in a good way to be here tonight."
THAT is when things fell into place for me!
"In a good way" is not simply a turn of phrase...it is a philosophy, a spiritual practice and a way of life!
Tobacco is one of the sacred medicines in many indigenous cultures. To offer tobacco as a gift is to show respect to someone and honor them.
In the case of the emcee, I envision the process of offering tobacco in a good way to have gone like this: The person went to the emcee and said "I would like to offer you tobacco to come emcee the pow wow at the fair. I do this with an open heart, without expectation or coercion. I come before you as a sacred being who honors the sacredness in you and I humbly ask you to share your gifts with us."
Of course, the nature of this conversation is pure speculation on my part, but doesn't that make sense?
I see the in a good way philosophy as part of the ancient wisdom that all indigenous people hold. Be honest and truthful in your words and thoughts. Ask with an open heart and respect the free will of others. Take only what you need and preserve our precious resources for the seventh generation. Be pure in your thoughts and actions. Help those in need and be gracious when others offer to help you. Show kindness to yourself and others. When darkness enters your heart, do not let it linger. Honor yourself and others and live in joy.
This is whatin a good way means to me.
How different would the world be if more people chose to live in a good way?
No more manipulation, no more deceit, no more acts of violence. The lost souls could find their way again. All people would be paid fairly for their work and business dealings could be conducted with consideration and respect. Conflicts could be resolved peacefully. Those in need would get the help they require.
People would be measured by their character, not the color of their skin or their beliefs. There would be no need for random and senseless acts of violence because those souls that have given in to the darkness and the fear and the anger would have support and guidance before they give themselves over completely to the darkness.
When we choose to live in a good way, we see that the differences between us are the unification of humanity that we have been seeking for millennia, not the divisions that have kept us apart for so long.
We feel free to share our hearts openly with others so that we can all benefit from the experience and wisdom of those we encounter. Without fear, we share ourselves and silently state, "Yes, I have had trouble, I have had pain and I have been hurt, but now I offer myself to you openly so that we may learn from each other."
Living in a good way starts with small things: smiling at people on the street, holding a door, helping the person whose bag just spilled onto the floor, making friends with the dog that has been mistreated, waving at children on buses.
All we have to do is let go of some of the hardness our hearts have picked up along our journeys. Be open, be kind and help each other along the way.
How different would the world look if we all made small changes? How far could humanity go?
To me, that is the power of living and doing things in a good way.
In a good way
Let me be absolutely clear about something: I believe we all live multiple lifetimes. I believe that we are born into this lifetime with the condition of death and the promise of rebirth. I believe we are born into lifetime after lifetime to bring our gifts to the world and to learn the lessons we need to learn. Face it...there is a LOT to learn, so how can we expect to learn them all in one lifetime? These lessons are sort of a pass/fail deal. If you don't fully learn the lessons you are supposed to, then you will receive many more opportunities to learn the lessons, and it may take several lifetimes. That is how I, at least partially, define karma. What goes around, comes around.
I realize that not everyone believes the things I've just described, and that's okay with me. I embrace all life affirming forms of belief and unbelief. For the purposes of this blog post, it's important for you to understand where I am coming from.
Any of you that have children in your lives or have observed children know that when they want attention, they can be very insistent...especially if they think they are being ignored. Imagine: a Dad is out with his children when they run into one of Dad's friends. Dad and the friend start talking when all of a sudden, one of the children has something very important to say, so the child tries to get Dad's attention: "Dad...um, Dad...excuse me please Dad..." Then the incessant tugging on the hand, or shirt, or tapping of the arm begins as well as a more exasperated tone of voice. You may also notice elongated consonants and vowels here: "Daad...Daaduh...Daddy...Daaddyyy."
If Dad continues to talk to the friend, the child, refusing to be ignored, will go to great lengths to get Dad's attention. This may include yelling, hitting or even screaming.
By the time things escalate to this level, Dad will most likely, bursting with frustration, snap back at the child, yelling "WHAT?!"
Now at least two people are agitated for no good reason. This could all of been avoided...by paying attention and not ignoring the child who quite clearly needs to be acknowledged.
Guess what? Karma is the same way.
Karma is that child who will not be ignored. Oh, you can ignore karma for a while, but you will give karma its due in time. There is no way around it. Fortunately you have the choice of whether things go the easy way or the hard way.
Karma is the spiritual student loan company...you can ignore it for a while, move, run, hide, but sooner or later you will be found.
That's why this post is entitled "When Karma Calls, You'd Damn Well Better Answer." Just like that child wanting your attention, the longer you put things off, the higher the cost.
Most of us know the cliché "When it rains, it pours." Murphy's Law states "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and at the worst possible moment." I am reminded of sayings like is when karma seems to catch up with me. I've also learned to keep things like, "it can't get much worse" and "I can only go up from here!" out of my thoughts and words as much as possible. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's learned that every once in a while when you think things can't get much worse, just to humble you, they do get worse...a LOT worse.
I've come to think of times like this as "karmic avalanches." If you are paying attention, sometimes you can sense when it's going to start, and if you're lucky, you can ride the wave and not get completely tossed by it.
When these things happen in my own life, my wife, C, reminds me that I have some karmic debt to deal with. In fact, she believes, as do I, that part of my being drawn to New Mexico is to deal with some of my karmic debt. That thought was concerned by a Navajo herbalist I befriended. I was joking with her that I was thinking about getting a DNA test to determine if I have Native blood...I figure I must since I am so strongly drawn to Native healing and spiritual practices. She said, "Or maybe you were in another life. You probably have some karma to work out."
Karma is like a living hell. I don't buy into the concept of hell as described in the Christian bible...a place where sinners are sent after death to be punished for eternity. I resonate more with the way it is described in The Tenth Insight by James Redfield. He describes part of the Afterlife as a place where souls who completely miss the mark in life (side note: Eckhart Tolle mentions in The Power of Now that the original definition of "to sin" means "to miss the mark.") become trapped by their own grief and pain and repeat the same mistakes over and over again in the hell they create until they can remember enough of the life purpose they ignored to break free.
Karma can be like that in this life. If we ignore the lessons that are presented to us, they will be presented to us again and again until we remember. This concept of remembering is something I have read about over the years and something and something I discussed with my Navajo herbalist friend. She told me that is wasn't until recently that she remembered she is supposed to be an herbalist. Her father was a medicine man and she learned about the healing uses of traditional Navajo herbs her whole life, but she said it wasn't until recently that she remembered that she was meant to help the people through herbs. When I say "remembering", I am not talking about things like losing your car keys and then remembering where you left them. I am referring to remembering what our spiritual goals are in this lifetime; our life's purpose this time around. The transition from one life to the next is hard on a soul...so hard in fact that the things we accomplished spiritually in our previous life only show up in this lifetime as vague impressions, or interests that we develop. Part of our mission in every lifetime is to remember what it is we want to accomplish.
Karma has a role in this process. Karma is the ancient power of "what goes around, comes around." If we put bad energy into the Universe, bad energy will visit us. Of course when we put good energy into the Universe, we are blessed beyond belief. So how does this help us remember? Every day we are presented with situations in which we have choices. If we respond to a situation in a good way, then more good things happen. If we learn what we are supposed to from the situation, we can move on to something else. If we respond in a not so good way, we will end up being presented that lesson again so we have another opportunity to learn. The more we learn the lessons we are meant to, the more we remember. The more we remember, the closer we get to our spiritual goals in this lifetime.
What about the "when bad things happen to good people" idea?
We all know some really terrible things that have happened to good people. Have faith that there are lessons there too. Sometimes it doesn't seem fair or it doesn't seem right, but there is a purpose in it. If we pay attention, we might just figure it out one day.
When karma catches up to us, we would be wise to attend to it.
Twenty days after I got married the first time, my Mom died unexpectedly. The autopsy named cause of death heart disease secondary to obesity.
After years of reflection, I believe my Mom ignored karma one too many times.
I don't know at what point my Mom started gaining weight. I can only guess she turned to emotional eating because of her abusive father. I don't really know many of the details of their relationship, and whether or not that was the cause of her emotional eating, I am only speculating.
What I do know is what I observed during my lifetime. When I was quite young, Mom was diagnosed as borderline diabetic. The only thing I remember from that time is Mom stopped making cookies and cakes and started drinking Tab. Eventually she was placed on insulin injections. Years later, things shifted. She stopped taking insulin, and she never lost weight. Sometimes she would eat ice cream for breakfast. As she later reflected, one day she wore a pair of shoes that led to a diabetic ulcer. She ignored that ulcer until it developed gangrene and she had to have her big toe amputated. At 58 years old, she died in her sleep.
When one ignores karmic lessons, there are consequences.
This presented me with lessons in my own life. At age 33, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Even though I was aware of my family history, I chose to eat whatever I want and not exercise enough. Now I am faced with my own lessons...do I take the steps to reverse the disease and live as long and as healthy of a life as I can? Or do I ignore karma's call and die too young, full of disease?
Pay attention my friends. These lessons are presented to us gently unless we repeatedly ignore them. When karma calls and we don't answer, it will leave a message. Rest assured, it will call back. Unlike telemarketers, there are no laws governing when or how many times a day karma can call. It really is a gift to help us move forward if we graciously accept it. But know this: karma always calls collect, and sooner or later, you have to accept the charges.