music therapy

The One Thing Music Therapists Must Stop Doing IMMEDIATELY!

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

This. Must. Stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wine therapy, retail therapy, drum therapy...

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

Does not happen.

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

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

"Learn to document everything extremely 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.

The Road Will Teach You How To Love and Let Go

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

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

Yes, you can gain intellectual knowledge about the grieving process and 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.

Regrets on a Thursday Afternoon

Just now, I was sitting in my car, after work, texting my beloved wife. As my car was warming up on this winter day, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, someone approach and get into the car next to me. This was especially noticeable, because I had pulled into my spot front first and this person had backed in, so the person was right by my door as they unlocked their car.

A few minutes later, as I was ready to leave, I noticed the car next to me was still there. I glanced over, and saw a man, wearing sunglasses, with his head leaning on the head rest. I also noticed a single tear trailing down below the sunglasses.

I paused for a moment, put my car in reverse, and backed out.

Immediately, the thoughts started pouring into my consciousness:

I don't know this guy.

I just spent the whole day helping others put their broken pieces back together!

He'll be alright.

I've got things to do...I can't save everyone.

But then another voice came through. The voice of my spirit guides:

What's the matter with you?

You could see he was in 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.

Music Therapists as Emotional Shamans

Fresh in my mind is a quote from Ethan Hawke that I shared in a recent blog post:

It doesn't come for free

To me, that means those of us who work in the creative arts, give of ourselves for the benefit of others. Sometimes we give so much that we forget to save anything for ourselves and our loved ones.

Now let me speak to part of the title of this post: shaman.

A word that is sometimes overused, much confused and a word that stirs passion in some about who is a shaman, who is not and the right to be called one. 

The term means different things to different people, but in simple terms, a shaman is one who has one foot in ordinary reality and one foot in non-ordinary reality. Spirit world, Afterlife, "The Other Side"...

The life of a shaman is one of service. Service to community. The shaman takes on the responsibility of going where most cannot in order to guide and serve the community...often at great personal cost.

Now consider the role of the music therapist. At times, we may offer our clients a compassionate ear, a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board for buried emotions. We laugh, and cry with those we serve. We co-create an emotional legacy for friends and families of our patients facing death. We help the combat veteran process anger, grief and survivor's guilt. We bear witness to the joy a parent feels as their autistic child emerges from their shell.

It seems to me that in the Information Age, we have access to an overwhelming amount of images and data from anywhere on this planet and beyond. People are losing their ability to effectively deal with their own emotions. So many turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food...anything to try to deal with the overload. People stuff their emotions, afraid to see what is really there. And why not? 

Things are scary as hell out there. Let me keep my tunnel vision on my Facebook status and my Candy Crush level and my Instagram followers and please, please don't make me look! 

We, as music therapists can act as emotional shamans for our patients/clients/communities. 

We can ride our sacred drums into that mysterious and scary world of emotions, with courage, and bring back the wisdom that lies there for those we serve. Music opens the door to some potentially uncomfortable things for our clients. But it opens the door gently. It offers a warm hand and says, "It's okay. You're not alone anymore."

I can't count the number of times I played one song for someone, and then the person started to talk. They would tell me their stories. They would tell me about their fears around their current health challenges. They would share their concern for their grandsons and granddaughters in the military. They would speak fondly of their recently passed life partner and how they used to go to all the dances. They began to process their emotions because music opened the door for them.

We are the facilitators of those experiences. You'd better be damn sure you are bringing your "A" game every day. That means taking care of your mind/body/spirit. Yes, the responsibility is THAT important.

We walk where others have forgotten how to. We offer a non-threatening way to peek around the corner at the emotions that lay unattended to. In a sense, the non-ordinary reality we walk in is simply the landscape of emotions. Fear has taken over the thinking of so many these days and the skills to deal with emotions are being replaced by mind numbing entertainment and poor quality food, that we gorge ourselves on in hopes of receiving adequate nutrition and medicating those emotions we've forgotten how to process.

The landscape of music therapy is changing my friends. This is not the profession E. Thayer Gaston wrote about. We need to become more. The world needs us to become more. We need to be healers, and peacemakers and revealers of core truths and...emotional shamans.

I wonder if the Holy Grail of masters level entry will even be sufficient as the landscape continues to change?

Work very hard. Your clients/patients/communities deserve no less.

But remember that it doesn't come for free. 

Take care of yourself, or you won't be taking care of anyone else.

It Didn't Come for Free

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

It didn't come for free.

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

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

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

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

It doesn't come for free.

Take care of yourself, on every level.

Keep A Little Something For Yourself

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

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

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

#therapyforthetherapist

Happy Saturday!

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

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

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

I'll explain.

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

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

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

I realized how much wisdom there is in that statement!

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

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

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

Today for 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.

Follow Up: Response to a Disheartened Music Therapist

I wanted to write a quick follow up to Response to a Disheartened Music Therapist. People are talking about it.

The original post struck a nerve with a lot of music therapists. I think that post expressed what is on the mind of a lot of us...is this worth it? Can I make this work as a living? Is it supposed to be this difficult?

Some of the comments I've received illustrate just how resilient the "lifers" in this profession are. One person talked about being a lone music therapist in a rural area, and the obstacles she's had to get where she is today. She's made some enemies because of the high standards of service she was unwilling to compromise on. Networking,education, hard work...rinse, repeat. She's looking to the future, hiring people to continue the work she's been doing so it doesn't all just fade away when she's ready to retire. But she wonders, how she will convince someone to "sweat and suffer" (her words) for a couple of years in order to keep things going.

I wonder too.

This fast paced world, full of instant gratification does not seem well suited to the kind of patience and persistence it takes to develop a life as a private practice music therapist. My MT prof used to say "Music therapists are the happiest poor people on the world, because we love what we do, but we are not well paid for it."

Many other life paths offer a lot more money in lot less time.

I think, as do others, that the old paradigm needs to change...but that is a discussion for another time.

Advice another commenter had was to find another discipline that can complement music therapy skills and develop that quickly. It's not uncommon these days for MT's to pick up credentials for counseling, transpersonal psychology, social work...the list goes on.

This MT found it works better for her to not emphasize the music aspect of the therapeutic work that she does. Let's face it...many people hear "music therapy" and expect to sit around a campfire with a bunch of hippies, holding hands and singing Kum Ba Yah.

Just last week when I introduced myself to a group as a music therapist, one patient said, "Oh, I'm not here to be entertained."

Without pause I said, "Good. I'm not here to entertain you."

I am discovering that music therapy is much easier to understand in an experiential vein than in a philosophical one. If I try to explain a drum circle or song lyric analysis before we try it, eyes glaze over and attention wanders.

If instead I say, "we're going to play some drums...you already know what you need to know to do it" and then start playing, I start to see the smiles and hear the laughter. Later, I might explain how a group listened to each other and supported each other in a process, but the group already knows this on some level.

This is not an easy life, but it is a good life.

Music therapists get very excited over seemingly small things. I still delight in the memory of somebody I worked with who, after working with them for over a year, one day in session, they spontaneously said my name. Before that, I was always referred to as "music." These things are very exciting for us! Those breakthrough moments that remind us of why we (sometimes) sweat and suffer.

It is a hard sell..."come join our profession! You'll probably never make much money, you'll always have to justify everything you do, you'll constantly have to educate others, you may forever be underpaid, undervalued and underappreciated...but if this is in your soul...you'll never find happiness anywhere else."

All the hard work and frustration and tears (mostly with our clients) and challenges...the gut wrenching, joyful, emotional roller coaster...is it worth it?

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

But, yeah. It's worth it.

Response to a Disheartened Music Therapist

I just read a Facebook post from a fellow music therapist who expressed a lot of frustration about how tough it is to make it as a music therapist these days. She asked for some words of encouragement, some small bit of hope in these times that can feel increasingly desperate. I began writing a response and it developed into something quite lengthy, as I have a tendency to do.

When I hit "Post" to upload the response to Facebook, it failed...several times. Maybe it was just too damn long.

At any rate, I will post my response here and link back to the original post. Maybe this will give others of you out there an idea of challenges a lot of music therapists face.

Since 2011, I have been unemployed almost 23 months. When I was employed, often I was over 1000 miles away from my family. I was married for two months before I took a teaching job 1200 miles away. Yes, I am a teacher too...so the jobs that took me away weren't even MT jobs. Finally, in April, I started my first MT job since 2011...and I am still a four hour drive away from my wife and children...including our three month old son. Wonder why there's been almost zero growth in this profession in the past fifteen years? It can be a tough gig. Since I graduated in 2003, out of eight of us in the program, right now I think one other person besides me is doing MT. Often,we have to fight tooth and nail for scraps...scraps! Piecing together a living of a part time gig, or full time gig that doesn't pay a living wage, teaching music lessons, maybe playing with a local symphony...all that, and sometimes we don't break even. Buying our own equipment...I go back to my favorite examples...is a surgeon expected to bring their own scalpel? Is the OT supplying the set of Graston tools? Ludicrous! Yet we put ourselves out there to schools, facilities, organizations that are interested in music therapy and in effect we say, "Sure, no problem! I'll provide the expertise and all of the equipment and materials, you pay me peanuts, then argue about whether you'll even salt them or not, and we'll get along just fine!"

This is a problem.

I interviewed for a position, in one of the most expensive cities to live in here in the States, and this facility said that considering I have a masters degree and over ten years experience, the could offer me $31,000 a year...that's not even a livable wage in the Midwest where I grew up!

Somewhere along the way we, as music therapists, have taught the world it is okay to treat us this way. We accept the bones we get thrown, because we have the passion for the work, and even if I can't sustain a living, really, at least I am living my passion!

I think it has something to do with how music therapy came into existence. Around 70 years ago, a few people brought into consciousness the idea of using music to help people get better. From this divine inspiration, a few of them began to mold and shape the foundations of our profession. They created something out of nothing! They figured out they needed academic training, standards of educating future therapists, research to show the validity of the work.

Somewhere along the path of this amazing process that birthed music therapy, we settled for the idea that we are using the musical gifts we have to help people...gifts. Now, that concept seems deeply rooted in the collective consciousness, and we struggle to advocate for our own life needs financially.

Talking with a group of MT's and the subject of masters level entry came up. A very insightful MT said, "you can talk about masters level entry all you want, but the first thing that needs to be done before we address that is as a profession, we need to fix the pay scale."

I'm working in a very large health care system now. Lots of therapists of all sorts being hired all the time. A physical therapist starts out making two to three times what I'm making, as a point of reference.

So here's the deal...at some point you will have to decide if you're a lifer or not. Sometimes I am still surprised at how people move on to other professions from MT. I just found out today that a MT who did a lot of work in relaxation techniques and worked in MT for many years is now a reverse mortgage expert. I guess at least now she could afford a mortgage...

Me? I'm a lifer. I've got so many research ideas...more than I can accomplish in this lifetime. I'm one of those people Steve Jobs talked about...a dreamer, just crazy enough to think I can change the world.

I will say from my own experience, that any time I have NOT been working as a music therapist have felt very empty to me. Right now I am blessed to be able to help people every day, doing something I a desperately passionate about. Can't put a price tag on that.

But, we live in the real world. There are basic life needs to be met, families to help support...

I'm afraid I have no clear answers to offer. I've been blessed that I have a supportive family and that I've never felt so beaten down by circumstances that I've decided pursuing this career isn't worth it anymore, even though I've come close a few times.

Hang in there and good luck in getting things to work out for you. If you decide you're a lifer and you can tough out the bumpy patches along the path, I think we'll all benefit. I know without a doubt that this world needs more good music therapists...even if the rest if the world doesn't know it yet.

Responsibility on My Spiritual Path

I am blessed that my professional work and my spiritual work are so intertwined right now. Every day, I get hundreds of years of combined life experience and wisdom, shared freely with me. I have learned more about the human condition in the last few weeks than I ever have in a classroom. I also get to witness hope, determination and perseverance through sometimes incredible odds. As with all things in this world, balance must be maintained. There is a price to be paid for this extraordinary gift I receive.

I also bear witness, daily, to the depths of human suffering. Substance abuse, shattered lives, broken relationships, self loathing...suicidal ideation...

Somedays, it can be overwhelming. Somedays I end up in my office, or in my car at the end of the day, and I cry.

I cry, not for myself, but for those I work with every day. I cry because bad things happen to good people. I cry because sometimes, good people make bad choices, again and again. I cry because all I can offer is the wisdom I have been entrusting with, the knowledge I have gained and a compassionate heart, open to the joys and suffering of those I serve...and I cry because sometimes that is not enough.

So many of us in service to others start our journey with an enthusiastic and fearless, "I can save the world!" attitude. We tell ourselves that yes, others have tried to save the world, but I am different! I am special! I can actually do it!

Sooner or later, we realize there is only so much each of us can do. We realize that our good, heart centered intentions can only stretch so far. We realize, that no matter how enthusiastic and compassionate and service oriented we are, some days we end up in the car crying.

But do not let yourself be disheartened my friends.

We can create positive change within our communities. That may mean our community of residence, our spiritual community, our social or peer community. Each act of kindness, each act of compassion, each time we smile at a stranger, counts.

Put your passion, and your compassion and your humble servitude into each day, and most days you will notice the subtle shift. Energy becomes lighter, people frown a bit less, moods improve.

Some days you will cry. Most days, you will say to yourself, "Today, I lived in a good way."

For me, I chose my profession. I chose to be a music therapist and a teacher. I did not, however, choose my spiritual path. It chose me long ago, but it was with the speed of a giant sequoia, or a mountain, that I answered the call. Though I did not choose the path, I accept the responsibility of what it means to walk that path. At times, that means taking on the suffering of individuals, or my community (in all its forms), so the suffering is shared. The goal is to transmute the suffering into some measure of peace. The burden is shared and thus lessened.

I am learning just how difficult this can be, but I am also learning how to take care of myself so I can better serve others. This is my responsibility, and I will humbly serve with each breath in this lifetime.

Some days I cry, but as a valued teacher once said, this is long, long, long work that we do.

So I try to live each day in a good way, and try to remember that this is not about me...this is about service to others.

Aho.

Blessings and Curses

I'm back working as a music therapist. In the past month, I have been reminded that nothing I have done professionally has ever been so fulfilling to me as being a music therapist. There is routine in my day, and yet there is so much unpredictability in how things will play out from moment to moment, that things never get stagnant, never get dull.

Working with the population I do, as a music therapist, is quite clearly (to me) an expression of my soul's purpose in this lifetime. What could be better than that?

There are life defining moments that come along every once in a while. "These are the times that try men's (and women's) souls." There are days that we look upon long after and realize, "Then. It was that day, that moment that changed me forever."

Today, I had one of those days.

My day was almost over when it happened...isn't it so often like that? Someone stopped by my office for a casual conversation. The person heard from someone else that I am a classical guitarist and I was asked for a bit of music. We discussed music, and the power it has. We discussed how it can make us cry sometimes. The conversation shifted and we started talking about more personal things...family, that sort of thing. The person admitted they had some ongoing challenges...acute challenges as it turned out. I assured the person that I was not there to judge and that I wanted to make sure they have the support and help they need...not just because this falls under my job description. Here is a beautiful spirit, a human being, who shared this burden with me. As a healer, a spiritual being and a human being, I am honored to do what I can to make this burden a bit easier. That's part of why I am here in this lifetime.

After the conversation, I sought counsel from a co-worker. I explained I had had challenging situations before, but nothing quite like this, and never in this setting. My co-worker listened compassionately, offered some good, practical advice, and gently said, "This happens a lot, and you need to be prepared for it."

I was able to go find the person and offer the suggestions my co-worker mentioned...all were declined. The person assured me everything would be alright. I know I'll still worry. I'll worry, because sometimes, things are not alright. I'll worry because no matter how much I want to lead that horse to water, no matter how long I stay with the horse while it decides to drink or not, I cannot make that horse drink the water. That horse might die if it doesn't drink the water, but all I can do is lead the horse to the water and hope like hell it chooses to drink it.

That's my curse...and my blessing.

During an orientation recently, my supervisor was emphasizing the importance of good boundaries in the therapeutic process. While I haven't violated my personal or professional code of ethics, I don't know as I qualify for the "good boundaries" club.

I posted this on Facebook this evening:

It may not be professional, but sometimes I care so damn much about the people I work with (patients) that it tears me up inside.

I feel things very deeply. I have a very open way of connecting with people. These are blessings. The curse comes from holding on too much at times. I may never develop the professional detachment that is recommended in similar lines of work.

I am also blessed with the wisdom that comes from experience. I realized today that I have slipped away from my own spiritual practices. It is vital that I step back into those practices immediately. If I don't, I am not going to last long. I must also heavily invest in my martial arts training...a physical way for me to process complex emotions.

For those of you that are "people" people...working with people that you might strongly identify with, I want to leave you with three thoughts:

First, find out what you need to do to process and deal with the energy you bring home from your work (for me it's spiritual practice and martial arts) and then do it faithfully.

Second, a short prayer that is rumored to be a favorite of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama: "Guide me and heal me, so that I may be of greater service to others."

Finally, a phrase I learned working in medical music therapy: "Take care of yourself, or you won't be taking care of anyone else."

Here Comes The Boom!

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is the kind of imagery that gets me going!

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

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

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

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

Of course not!

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

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

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

"Good Suspicion" by Pacemaker Jane shares:

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

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

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

Which brings me to "Boom"...

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

Later in the song:

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

This has been the rally cry for my masters writing.

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

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

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

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

I finished that draft four days early.

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

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

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

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

Sometimes It's Okay To Fall Apart

Do you ever have one of those days where you feel sick enough to be lethargic and feel yucky, but not really sick enough to stay in bed all day? Just enough parts of your body are scratchy, irritated and sore that you want to curl up with your blankie and have someone sing you to sleep while tenderly rubbing your back? Days where you feel whiney, but you don't care how undignified it is and one little thing makes you start crying and you just can't seem to stop? That's my day today.

All of this melodrama I've just described has helped me realize one thing: I have had it!

I think getting sick just pushed me over the edge of tolerance I have been teetering on since I moved to New Mexico. The energy I am putting out is drawing some strange things to me. Today I noticed for the first time there are some really bad drivers in New Mexico. Of course there are bad drivers everywhere, but today a lot of the ones here seemed to cross my path. Means I need to examine what kind of vibe I am putting out there. The phrase "I'd better check myself, before I wreck myself" comes to mind.

Granted, there's a lot on my mind...new culture, first time really living in my own, newlywed and 1200 miles away from my wife and my kids...as a matter of fact, that's what set of an evening worth of sobbing.

I went to the store after work to get some chicken noodle soup and saltine crackers...comfort food of the slightly sick for generations. The only reusable bag I had in the car was one I discovered when I unpacked a few weeks ago. It was a bag that my son had carried some toys in, maybe going to the Unitarian Universalist Society back home, I don't remember. I was a bit sad when I first found them, realizing I had packed the car right over the bag of toys, but today something different struck me. As I pulled the toys out of the bag, I found a partially consumed bottle of Sprite...and I lost it. For whatever reason, seeing that mostly full bottle of soda instantly drove home all the sadness, all the guilt and all the grief I have been consumed with since the night I said goodbye to my children.

Going through the Hoffman Quadrinity Process was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, then saying goodbye to my children that night was the most painful. We clung to each other, crying. I don't know if they understood my reasons for going. I tried to make it a teachable moment for them. I explained that there were some kids in New Mexico that don't see the same way a lot of people do, and they need a special kind of teacher who can help them learn...that's why Daddy was moving far away...to help those kids.

Maybe when they are older, I can explain the other reasons I had to go. Maybe I can tell them that after being it of work for over a year, I needed a job. I needed to feel like I could make a difference in people's lives. I've long taught the message of service to my children, but it had been a while since I felt like I was truly of service. That, and I needed to get myself right...emotionally, financially and spiritually. This is a vision quest for me. I am trying to find how I fit into this world, as a dad, husband, step dad, teacher, healer, music therapist, maybe even as a shaman. How do I best serve this world? I co-created a job in one of the most spiritually rich parts of this country to figure it all out.

Now all of this might be enough to make most of us want to fall apart from time to time...but there's more.

I just found out last week that I got an extension to finish my masters degree...good news, but a lot of work to do. One of my dear friends has been dealing with significant life issues of her own which I would fully support her with, but for the last few months we'll talk or text briefly, then she will say she will call me the next day, and doesn't. Have to admit I wouldn't mind some support from her either.

Another dear friend is dealing with the terminal diagnosis of the man she's been with for years. I feel helpless to do anything, and her pain resonates strongly with me.

A financial situation that will be resolved in the next few weeks may make it very difficult...to do a lot of things.

There is the visit of my wife and stepdaughter at the end of this week that I eagerly anticipate. I hope they're practiced up on their hugs.

With this deluge of emotions, it may be difficult for some of you to see strength in me at all. It's no secret that I am a sensitive guy. Sometimes I have a tough time keeping everything together. I think most of us do, but I think that sometimes it's okay to fall apart. The key is to not stay apart.

One of the many ways music touches us is through lyrics. Every nice in a while, if we are lucky, we find some lyrics that let us know that someone else up there understands what we're going through.

One of my favorite songs for picking myself up after falling apart is "Bounce" by Bon Jovi:

I've been knocked down so many times Counted out, 6, 7, 8, 9 Written off like some bad deal If you're breathin', you know how it feels...

Listen to the song while following the lyrics...it will help you feel like you can keep going after a meltdown.

As for me, my ears and nose are plugged, my throat is scratchy, my glands are swollen and I have a headache.

I'm going to whine until I get my blankie and a backrub.

The Stories We Tell and The Stories We Don't

Since my post "Everyone Has A Story" the concept of life stories has been at the forefront of my thoughts. I've been thinking about this part (the part I'm living through right now) of my story because, honestly, I have a lot of time to think right now. Before I go into my story in the present, I want to share how I became aware of the stories each of us have. A couple of years ago I started working as a music therapist at a rural hospital...25 beds. It was the first hospital gig I had, and I was the first staff music therapist they had. I had some ideas about what a hospital MT should do, but there was a lot of feeling my way through things on the beginning.

Within the first week or two, I figured something out that shaped the way I have lived as a healer and a music therapist ever since. It was at this time that I realized that yes, everyone has a story to tell but, most of the people I served were willing to tell me their story.

I have been told for years that I am easy to talk to. One of my co-workers told me I have "listening eyes." I found is person to be quite intelligent and quite insightful, so I trust her judgment.

Regardless, I soon figured out that music was the gateway for many of those patients to share their stories with me. A familiar song provided a sense of comfort, or perhaps triggered reminiscence. Often these people would discuss their concerns about their state of health, talk about the good old days going to dances with their spouse. Their children, grandchildren...the grandson who just shipped out to Iraq, the young mother who was on the cusp of spiritual enlightenment, but the reality of her unenlightened family and husband was overpowering...

People would share their very personal stories with me and I listened with respect and a caring ear. I offered insight when I could and commiserated at times. Sometimes I cried with them.

I realized the gift each of these people gave me, entrusting me with their stories. I also realized the responsibility that came with those gifts. Sometimes, those people just needed someone to hear them. They needed someone to listen. When I would try to explain this to others, they were often confused. I said, "Sometimes I would see a patient, sing one song, and we'd start talking. I would leave the room 45 minutes to an hour later, and it was a good music therapy session. One song, and it was a good session."

Now my music therapy friends will appreciate this idea. We try to meet the client where they are and take them where they need to go. Sometimes we make music for them. Sometimes we make music with them. Sometimes we cry with them or laugh with them and sometimes we just listen.

If you pay attention to people, they share parts of their stories all the time. There are people that always seem mad at the world, or happier than could be expected of even the most optimistic person. There are varying degrees in between, but I think the point is made. We have to realize that the stories people are willing to share with most of the world is only part of their story. Most of us walk around behind a facade, a mask. It's human nature...a defense mechanism, at least in the Western world. Let's face it, most of us would feel too vulnerable to put out there our real stories all the time. It would be open season on our emotional selves! Who needs that?

I have learned in my experience as a music therapist and healer that my openness can encourage others to be open too. Often that openness helps facilitate the healing process. Yet I keep parts of my story to myself.

This became evident to me at the chiropractor's office the other day.

When one of the ladies that works in the office was doing electro stim therapy on my neck, I shared with her that my wife and step daughter were going to visit me the following weekend and how much I was looking forward to it because it had been a month since I'd seen them.

One of the other girls who works in the office walked by and was teasing me in a good natured way about something that had happened soon after I started seeing this chiro. One day when I came in for an adjustment, this girl asked me if I wanted to do the stim therapy before the adjustment. I became slightly panicked, and stuttered a bit before saying no, I wanted to do the therapy after the adjustment. As it turned out, I was having an especially hard time dealing with feelings of loneliness and missing my family. That one small change to the routine seemed very upsetting.

The other day, this sassy blonde girl was teasing me about not liking change. She was doing so in a good natured way. Anyone who knows my wife, knows I like sassy. And she was just saying those things in fun, but today I decided to share part of my story I hadn't shared with the office staff. In mock exasperation I said, "You know, I've only been here a month and I've never lived anywhere but Iowa and I just got married for the second time in June and now I'm 1200 miles away from my wife and kids, so if sometimes I come in here and I'm a little neurotic, there's a reason for it."

I tired to keep my tone light even though my words weren't. I didn't want her to feel bad, but I felt it was important for her to understand where I was coming from. I'm careful who I tell this part of my story to and how I tell it. I don't want to be one of those people. You know the ones...the people who unpack their drama for anyone within earshot. It's a form of energy vampirism really. "Feel sorry for me so I can get your attention and thus your energy."

I don't want to be one of those.

Sometimes though, I feel it's important to let select people know that I am dealing with some personal challenges and that sometimes I might need some extra gentleness or just some understanding.

This seems to be the time for me to deal with some of these things in a very direct way.

Two different times this week I found myself in conversations where people were asking about my emotional adjustment to my job, my living situation and such.

The first was someone who will be mentoring me in my job. I admitted that around the second week I was here, I was talking to my wife, in tears. I said, "I don't want to be do this anymore. I miss you, I miss my kids. I want to come home."

I nearly broke into tears recounting that conversation.

My mentor's face grew sincere, intense. She asked me, "Can you do this?"

I assured her that even though I had tough days, that I could. I told her, "Besides, I'm a martial artist...I don't give up."

The second was my supervisor asking how I was settling in. He asked informed questions about if I had found a nice place to live and if I was developing a social network. Good questions to ask someone in my situation.

For every story that a person shares with someone else, there are many they keep to themselves. What would it be like if everyone wore their heart on their sleeves? I will guarantee you this: no matter how open and honest someone is, even if they say they are telling you their whole story, there are stories they keep to themselves. Sometimes they realize they are doing it and sometimes it is pure defense mechanism and the stories are buried deep. That's okay though...that's how a lot of us keep our sanity.

My friends, the stories you have collected in your own lives need to be given a voice. Not just the stories you share, but also the stories you don't share. That voice can still be safe, still remain protected. For me, my journal sees most of the stories I don't give voice to anywhere else. Even so, there are some things I keep to myself. But maybe, just maybe we can coax a small bit of one of those untold stories out to share with someone...even if it's only on paper.

You might be surprised though...sometimes the things that you think will shock and horrify people actually encourage them to be a little more open.

"Hey, I have to tell you, I'm kind of a freak."

"What a relief! So am I!"

Who knows?

But I've got a strong intuition that if, as a global culture, we could all share a little more of our inner selves, there would be a lot less conflict in the world. Maybe we could all relate to each other a little better.

More relating to each other and more understanding; yeah, I think that would be good.

Everyone Has A Story

During my last MT gig, I learned a universal and undeniable truth: everyone has a story. In a follow up post, I'll explore how I learned those lessons. For now, a few thoughts about those stories we all have.

The idea for this post came to me at a restaurant.

I was sitting perpendicular to a table with a large indigenous family...at least twenty people celebrating a child's birthday.

After the cake was served, a couple of the younger kids, three years old or so, started chasing each other...crawling.

I kept glancing at the kids and smiling. A couple of the moms saw me looking and got up and put a stop to the chase.

I don't know if the parents were embarrassed by the behavior or if they didn't appreciate the guy sitting alone in the restaurant looking at their kids.

Then I thought back to something another white teacher said to me. She got the impression that a lot of the indigenous families in the area are strict with their kids...maybe I was witnessing a cultural expression.

I wanted to say, "Your kids are cute! I'm far away from my family and seeing your kids happy gives me hope that maybe my kids are happy too!"

But it seemed out of place to intervene in their parenting...especially not knowing their stories.

It's for similar reasons that I try to make friends with every dog I see...so I don't miss the furry friends I left behind. Or the reason I smile when I see a couple holding hands or talking sweetly in hushed tones. I remember how good it is to be with the love of my life.

I think about the line from the Bon Jovi song Bed of Roses, "As I dream about movies they won't make of me when I'm dead."

He viewed his life as a story, just as I do. I can't count how many times I say something like, "I guess that's part of my story" or sometimes our story when talking with my wife.

I share bits of my story with people here...I'm newlywed, away from my wife and kids...I smile when kids are being joyful children...

Almost as an afterthought, I enjoy "The Most Interesting Man in the World." One of his thoughts seems appropriate here: "It's never too early to start beefing up your obituary."

What will your obituary say?

What's your story?

If you don't like it, change the plot,.change the characters, but YOU write it.

Live your story every day!

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

Recently, on the drive to work, I was listening to Colin Hay's "Man at Work" album. In recent months, since buying the album, I find that I really connect with a lot of the lyrics. I will admit that I became familiar with Colin Hay by watching Scrubs. I thought "Waiting" was a beautiful song, and "Overkill" was pretty cool too. I was not familiar with the Men at Work version of the song. I guess that goes back to something my mother said often about me...I have strange gaps in my knowledge.

As I was singing along with "Waiting" that morning, I got choked up. As a music therapist, I've learned that one reason music is so powerful is because of the personal connection people can form with it. Hearing a certain song can instantly transport someone to a different time and place.

I have lost a lot of people close to me and music connects me to each of those experiences. "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan came on the radio when we were driving to be with my Dad after my Mom died. "It's Alright" by Huey Lewis and The News was on the radio when we were driving to my best friend Merry's memorial service and I will always think of my Dad's passing when I hear the Adagietto from Mahler's Fourth (a story for another time).

A lot of songs make me think of my beloved wife and everything we have been through in our short time together. "Waiting For My Real Life To Begin" is one of them.

Three weeks after I proposed to my wife, I lost my job. I had unknowingly, and very incorrectly tied my sense of self and self worth to my job...again, a story for another time. When another job did not present itself readily, I slipped into a deep depression. On top of that, my then bride to be took it upon herself to be the primary financial support for me and my children. I kept saying, "I'll make things right by you." She expressed her trust that I would.

I'll throw in a bit a lyric analysis here and there:"Any minute now, my ship is coming in...I'll keep checking the horizon..."

This reflects my sentiment of "I'll make things right by you" and as with other lines of this song, it expresses an assuredness of the wonderful things to come...something I forgot at times.

"And you say, 'be still my love, open up your heart, let the light shine in.'"

This is the voice of my wife. She was my biggest supporter and my strength through this difficult time. More than that, she says things like that to me frequently...fully embody your spiritual self...let your light shine!

"Don't you understand? I've already have a plan, I'm waiting for my real life to begin."

Here is where the dichotomy in my thinking kicks in...but I'll get to that later.

When I woke today, suddenly, nothing happened, but in my dream I slew the dragon...

So many days, waiting for call backs, hoping for interviews, searching for more job leads...wondering why my life was turning out as it was. I was born to do important things! I was called to a life of service and helping people...making a difference. Were those dreams on hold? Had they vanished altogether?

Further into the song we find "Just be here now, forget about the past, your mask is wearing thin"

Something else very similar to the things my wife often says. She is so tapped in to the Universal Wisdom. This woman that I am sharing my life with is truly one of the strongest people I have ever met. She has to be to withstand the torrent of emotions I bring to the table at times. She is also the kindest, most gentle life partner I could have hoped for. She reminds me, "be here, now." She sees through all the masks I have ever worn, and she still loves me. I could not have dreamed of a better woman to spend the rest of this lifetime with.

...and I'll check my machine, there's sure to be that call. It's gonna happen soon, soon, oh very soon, it's just that times are lean.

I know my wife took a lot of flack from family and friends...asking when that next job was going to materialize. In her own sweet way, she didn't really give me a lot of details of those conversations.

Let me say again, she is one of the strongest people I have ever met.

In my moments of clarity and being tapped in myself, I kept saying, "Something BIG is about to happen! I can feel it!" Often she would say something like "That's wonderful! I'm so happy for you!"

The she'd would be right there to support me when I hit another rough patch.

Here's the dichotomy in thinking...and this reminds me so much of the concept of "doublethink" that George Orwell discusses in 1984...the idea of saying one thing, but believing the exact opposite.

It also reminds me of something the ordained minister/college professor said during a religion class I took: "I believe that the Bible is the absolute word of God. At the same time, it is FULL of contradictions and inconsistencies."

For purposes of this post, my version is: Waiting For My Real Life To Begin is a beautiful song that connects with me on a very deep level because I relate the lyrics so closely to my own life...and yet the very title of it goes against every belief about how to live life.

Do you read Eckhart Tolle?

The ideas he shares about present moment awareness...truly life changing. The ideas are not new as he admits, but his method of delivery resonate with me. You can find parts of talks he gives on YouTube too.

His book The Power of Now reminds us that ALL we ever have is the present moment. How many times have you said, "I'll be happy when I drive this kind of car" or "When I make this amount of money, I'll be set!" Maybe you think a house, or a baby or new clothes will make you happy...the list goes on.

I know I've done that...hung my happiness on material possessions, or money or relationships.

You can't wait for life to begin. It's happening, right now.

The job that I found took me 1200 miles away from my family, for at least an academic year. Yes, there are breaks, but it is certainly the longest I have been away from my children...my wife too. Sometimes this doesn't seem like my real life. I've thought, "I will be so much happier when I am closer to my family!" I realize of course the error in that thinking.

I believe happiness is the awareness of being connected to the whole of humanity. Realizing that we are all spiritual beings and we're here to help each other out. Joy, lightness, ease, all come from staying rooted in the present moment.

Just be here now, forget about the past...

I try to live in the present moment as Eckhart suggests...that is a work in progress for me. Being in this place, in this highly spiritual place that I have been led to has clarified things for me. Some of the things I used to think we're important, really aren't. Each day, I try to live a life of service; a spiritual life. I remember one of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama's favorite prayers: "Guide me and heal me, so that I may be of greater service to others."

On a clear day, I can see, see a very long way.

Rant About Music Therapist Job Postings

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

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

Now, let's break this down:

Bachelor's degree in music therapy

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

Must be able to play an instrument

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

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

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

ACMT, CMT, or RMT a plus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-medicating with music

Typically when we hear the term "self-medicating" we hear it in relation to food, or shopping or illicit drugs, alcohol...the list goes on and on. My oldest daughter taught me something today about self-medicating with music.

The typical scenario in our house on school days finds me choosing some sort of upbeat music to gently wake my children up with. I leave this playing in their bedroom until it's time to head out the door.

This morning was challenging. For whatever reason (perhaps for the simple fact it's Monday), my oldest was having a meltdown. She was upset I forgot to wash the clothes she wanted to wear, she was refusing to take her meds, refusing to get ready for school, refusing to listen...

After persuading her to take her meds, she was even more upset and stalked off into her bedroom. I was exasperated, but tried to continue my morning routine. I soon noticed that the music I had left playing had changed. I heard a cover version of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds."

The significance of this is not apparent for most of you, I'm sure, until you know that my daughter has been listening to this song over and over again lately. She often sings along with it as she listens over and over and over.

Part of the hook says, " 'Cause every little thing's gonna be alright."

It hit me...she was using the song to soothe herself.

My beautiful, intelligent, spirited daughter was self-medicating with music...and I couldn't have been prouder.

Allied Team Training for Parkinson's-Day 2...I'm NOT the Kum Bah Ya guy!

What an amazing and inspirational day! Connie Tomaino, the music therapist that's worked with Dr. Oliver Sacks for 30 years, is a phenomenal resource! This woman helped develop the study of the neurological effects of music and she gladly shares her wealth of experience. I felt so energized and excited to begin working with Parkinson's patients! There are SO many ways music therapy and neurologic music therapy can help!

She wowed the training group as she explained the vital role music therapists play in the treatment of Parkinson's. The unfortunate thing is that there are only two music therapists at this training. This team training is a wonderful experience and I wish more people could benefit from the training itself and specifically Connie's expertise.

I'm meeting people from all over the country and across disciplines and taking the opportunity to educate them about music therapy. But you know, Connie made an excellent point today: the number of music therapists in this country has plateaued. When I started in the profession 8 years ago, there were approximately 5000 music therapists. Today, there are approximately 5000 music therapists. Connie mentioned that number has remained steady for years. She wonders if it has something to do with the struggle and lack of reimbursement. I think that's a very plausible reason, unfortunately. She commented to me that we should have 100,000 MTs in this country.

Being a music therapist is somewhat like being a Jedi.

In Episode 1, Qui Gon tells Anakin that being a Jedi is a hard life. We know that being a Jedi means a life of service. That's typical of music therapists as well.

Music therapists are not in it for the money...my MT prof in college said, "Music therapists are the happiest poor people in the world, because we love what we do, but we're not well paid for it."

Music therapists, like Jedi, must have some natural talent for what they do and be willing to constantly hone their existing skills while developing new ones. I tell people that being a music therapist takes a very unique set of skills. Pete Meyer, who led the guitar skills workshop I attended a few weeks ago, said that music therapists are always the best musicians.

We might not always be the best performers, but we're the best musicians.

That's just part of the equation though.

I know some wonderful musicians, most of them music teachers, who would not cut it as a music therapist. They certainly have the music skills, but they don't have the rest of the puzzle. One of my friends is a great musician and is completely uncomfortable with people expressing raw emotion. Sorry buddy! No MT career in your future!

It's not about just having music and rhythm skills, but about people skills and being emotionally intelligent enough to help people process their emotions while protecting and processing your own. It's about using music skillfully to achieve goals that have nothing to do with music.

The life of a music therapist, like the life of a Jedi, is often not an easy one. So many times we have to fight to get ourselves a job, then after we get it, we have to fight to keep it.  Many states right now have MT task forces working at the state level to get music therapy recognized by the government. We continually battle to get our services reimbursed, recognized and valued by "official" entities. It's hard enough to stay afloat, let alone develop our skills to ever higher levels and work to advance the practice of our discipline. It's a hard life to be sure...but if I had to guess, I'd say 99.5% of us are lifers.

It's a hard life and yet one that inspires passion in each of us that do this vital work. The intrinsic rewards are beyond measure...

and we love it.

We were asked to tell other disciplines what we wish doctors knew about our profession...my first answer was "I'm not the Kum Bah Ya guy!"

Most people, even in my own hospital, think I'm there primarily to help people feel better. The psycho-social applications of music therapy are the most understood, most appreciated and yet is just a small fraction of what I can offer.

Take the part of our Parkinson's team here at ATTP: With our social worker I can help patients and families give voice to emotions that may be held back, voice to frustrations that otherwise might not be expressed. With our occupational therapist I can provide Patterned Sensory Enhancement to support range of motion exercises. With our speech therapist I can assist in teaching patients to project their voices. With our physical therapist I can facilitate Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation to improve how patients walk.

I have so much to offer our patients and my team! Maybe I should say "I'm more than just the Kum Bah Ya guy."

I learn more about my team every day and they learn more about me. I think we will become a wonderful resource for information and treatment of Parkinson's disease. What an amazing opportunity to be here at the beginning!

I should also note that I had dinner with the Speech faculty member and the Coordinator of the training. What an awesome exchange of ideas and information! Plus, it sounds like I'll get a quick lesson to improve the resonance of my voice tomorrow!

As I am so fond of saying to another OT friend of mine, "It's not easy being us, but it's oh, so good!"

A final note...an amazing quote came from a panel member today who's had Parkinson's for 30 years. He was speaking of the uncontrollable movements that he deals with on a daily basis. In regards to the shaking he said, "Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't, but it's all me."

Allied Team Training for Parkinson's-Day 1

Here I am for my first trip to North Carolina. Chapel Hill is beautiful! I haven't seen much of it, but it definitely has a good vibe! I'm here with part of our newly formed Parkinson's Rehab team. We have an occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech language pathologist, social worker and me representing music therapy/neurologic music therapy.

There is only one other music therapist here, so our training with Connie Tomaino tomorrow will be VERY individualized! Woo hoo! It is a true rarity to be able to learn from such an innovator in a field, and in such an intimate setting!

I actually met her before dinner tonight...only long enough to introduce myself, shake hands and hear her say, "I was glad to hear there was going to be another music therapist here."

I'll take it!

I've been making notes to myself all day about how our team can be effective in delivering services and communicating information to other healthcare professionals and the general public. Inspiration that will lead to an amazing resource of information and care for patients with Parkinson's and their families. I have the best job ever!

Had a great dinner conversation in the hotel bar with my team and a PT from Montana. After our new friend from Montana excused himself to watch his alma mater's game on TV, we discussed as a team what our educational backgrounds are and how we came to be in our respective disciplines. It was a good bonding experience and helped lay the foundations for our team to develop trust in working as a group.

My beloveds often talk about my amazing networking skills...today I met a nurse from Ontario, got a lot of appreciation from the desk clerk for understanding her inability to answer questions about a shuttle service the National Parkinson's Foundation arranged for the hotel and chatted a bit with our Iranian born bartender who appreciated my live and let live attitude toward people that don't look just like me. One of the best part of my passion (some call it a job) is that I connect with people everyday. Humanizing our interactions with people is something most of us could benefit from.

As a species, we spend far too much dehumanizing others instead of humanizing them. We develop the classic "us" vs. "them" mentality. The "us" is always the more proper or correct way of thinking or doing and the "them" side is heinous and unthinkable in their actions.

What we fail to acknowledge is that there is no "us" and "them"...there's only "us."

We are building a global culture where finally it seems that the differences we have become our greatest strength...like the old Star Trek adage: infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

There is the potential for conflict between the American and Iranian governments currently. If I took the "us" vs. "them" stance, I would make some cultural slur about how all those Middle Easterners are the same...they just want to kill Americans and they should be grateful because we buy their oil...

Instead, I learned that Rasool came to American in 1982 and has lived different places in the country, which affected his accent when speaking English although he's never picked up a bit of a Southern accent. I have no issue with Rasool because he used to live in Iran. I have no issue because I choose to humanize people instead of dehumanizing them. To me, he's not a "towel head", he's a person. A person with hopes and dreams and fears and frustrations. He's also good at schmoozing with the bar patrons!

I think I will remember Rasool for a long time. The look of joy and acceptance he had on his face when we were talking had an impact on me. He seemed glad that someone understood that he was a person even though he and I had cultural and ethnic differences. We all want to be happy. We all want to be accepted.

My team was idly curious about where he was from originally because of his accent, so I asked. That simple question may have brought just a sliver more peace and acceptance into the world tonight.

So humanize your interactions with people you meet every day! Comment on their beautiful children. Express your appreciation for the outfit someone is wearing or the way they style their hair. Even brief conversations can affect how those people (and you) interact with others that day. Pay it forward with small bits of kindness and genuine interest!

Wow! What a first day! I'm eager to see what inspiration tomorrow brings!

Part of me really wants to get some riq practice in...but I'm so wiped out from a busy day that I'll probably read for a while before turning in. Not sure how far the sound of a riq would travel in a place like this and it's 2230 already. No need to wake the neighbors :)

Travel anxiety

Tomorrow, bright and early, I will board a plane for the first time in sixteen years. Long before 9/11 and TSA regulations.

Can I strap my riq bag to my backpack and carry that on? Will my carry on bag fit in the bin? Will they question the CPAP I plan to carry in the carry on? Will they think it's suspicious for me to be carrying a laptop, Droid, iPod Touch and iPod 160?

Can I get by with taking my environmentally friendly soap?

Did I mention I am going to Allied Team Training for Parkinson's? Did I also mention I will be learning from Concetta Tomaino? Legendary figure in music therapy with neurological disorders...and there is only one other music therapist signed up for the training...how amazing is this experience going to be?

Will my suitcase be too heavy? I will be gone for five nights...I've never packed for a flight where I will be gone for five nights. Will I be like my beloved, who a couple of months ago was detained for two hours because for some reason she kept setting off the explosive materials alarms? (She may be a bombshell with an explosive personality, but I assure you she never touches the stuff!)

I usually keep my anxiety in check about many things in life...this one is getting to me for some reason.

I will get to spend some good time with co-workers and getting to know them better...I'm looking forward to that part of it.

Everyone keeps telling me everything will be fine...as long as I can fit my stuff where it needs to go and I don't set off an airport lockdown, I should be fine.

Irrational fears, or sensible preparedness?