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I endeavor to live a spiritual life. Sometimes I do better at that than others.

Actually, for quite a while now, I’ve been straying from my spiritual path. It’s pretty easy to do. Straying from a spiritual path, I mean. Let’s face it…it’s a lot of hard work most of the time! Living from the heart instead of the head, remembering that there’s more to life than just me, devotionals in various forms, prayer…

Much easier to run on autopilot, mindlessly coasting through this physical experience.

Speaking of which, how does that work anyway? As enlightened individuals (hopefully), we’re supposed to stay mindful, yet we should also live heart centered lives, and stay out of our heads. 

Guess I’ll have to sit with that one for a while.

I’ve been very much stuck in my head for quite a long time now. I’m quite good at it, really. I tend to stay in a very intellectual place most of the time. It can be a strength, but I also use it as a defense mechanism, because if I’m speaking from an intellectual place, then I can avoid engaging with actual emotions! I can even speak about emotions intellectually, and most of the time, people think I am talking about my emotions, emotionally. I’ve fooled some very emotionally attuned people with this technique.

Of course, for most of my life I didn’t realize I was doing this. Sometimes, I’m so good at this intellectualizing emotions, that I can fool myself into thinking I am being open and honest about emotions, all the while keeping a safe distance.

Before I take this tangent too far afield, recently when I was stuck in my head, a memory from college peeked out and made me reflect on the course my life has taken.

I remembered a conversation I had with one of my roommates as we were driving around town one summer afternoon. He was a big country music fan…I was not. This roommate and I grew up just a few miles from each other in the rural Midwest and went to different schools. Country music, in general, was quite popular at both of our schools. That’s probably why I actively rejected it for so long. I tend to avoid things that seem TOO popular.

Anyway, my roommate, who was driving us around in his car, was playing country music, when all of a sudden, he said, “Hey, I want to play this song for you. But you have to listen to the words” (that’s what EVERYONE said where I grew up. “You may not like country music,  it you have to listen to the words!”).

He played “Standing Outside The Fire” by Garth Brooks.

Life is not tried, it is merely survived

If you’re standing outside the fire

“That song reminds me of you, because you’re not afraid to go out there and try things, and I wish I was more like that” he told me.

I thought back to a time not long before that conversation when I went with all of my roommates to a country bar (hey, it was hanging out with the guys!).

We were at a table, talking amongst ourselves, when an attractive woman approached us.

“Alright guys,” she began. “One of you is going to dance with me. Now, who’s it going to be?”

All of my roommates were even more introverted than I am, so they unanimously volunteered me.

I warned this friendly woman that I did not know anything about this style of dancing, and she assured me she would teach me.

So we danced, and talked, and had a lovely time.

THAT was trying life, not merely surviving it.

Remembering those days, that conversation brought me to a disturbing realization: that song, that admiration my roommate had for me, no longer applied.

Not only have I been standing outside the fire for longer than I can remember, I don’t think I could even SEE the fire from where I’ve been living from.

What happened??

How did I go from one of “those who dance within the flames” to one of those that has distant memories of the fire, and has nearly forgotten it was ever there?

I knew I strayed from my spiritual path, but my life path too? (is there a difference?).

Both of my parents died when I was in my 20’s, and since their loss, I have been haunted by the feeling that I have wasted so much time in life. Their deaths taught me that we never know how much time we are allotted in this life. Carpe diem! Momento mori! (Seize the day! You, too shall die!).

Part of my highly intellectual way of being, is mulling over things for a while. The shift to standing outside the fire, as a way of being, has been mulled for several weeks now.

Tonight, I read something that resonated so strongly with me, that it tied everything together in a brilliant little package.

These words are attributed to the late Layne Redmond:

I now know in every cell of my body that death is real, it is final, it is irrevocable and that I will die. Whatever time I have left must be used for manifesting the most profound purpose that brought me to life to begin with. I must be satisfied with every interaction I have with any person, as if it is my final action, my final thought.

If you’re not familiar with Layne, she was a frame drummer, a teacher, an author, and a beautiful soul.

I did not have the opportunity to study with her, or even meet her in person, but we exchanged several messages through social media.

Do I want to be stuck in my head? Do I want to stay strayed from my spiritual path? Do I want to stand outside the fire?


I want to live from my heart. I want to walk my path with courage. I want to dance within the flames.

I want to manifest my most profound purpose! 

As a spiritual person, I believe that we are being guided. We are being guided what to do with our lives, and how to do it. The signs are all around us, if we can only see them with an open heart.

Layne’s words really spoke to me tonight. I must be satisfied with every interaction I have with any person, as if it is my final action, my final thought.

So, when that beautiful woman asks me to dance, I will smile, and lead her to the center of the flames, as if is my final action.

How else am I going to manifest my most profound purpose otherwise?


Mitakuye Oyasin

When I woke up this morning, I learned that Donald Trump was indeed elected President of the United States. 

A lot of people are having a lot of big feelings about this fact.

But here’s the thing that’s really got me…some people are using Trump’s win as an excuse to express overtly racist ideas. 

I’m trying very hard to be tactful. I have several choice words that I would like to use to describe what I am hearing, but in the interest of making this easy to share with your children and your grandparents, I’ll keep those words to myself.

I’m not on social media much these days, but in the little exposure I’ve had today, I read about someone who was trying to reassure a co-worker about her immigration status, I read about a high school girl, a non-white natural born citizen of this country, who has been bullied all day with phrases like, “I can’t wait until you get deported!” I read about a woman who was taunted in her car and approached by one man holding lighter fluid and another holding a lit cigarette and yelling “Go Trump!” at her, and I just read that a friend’s husband got called a “f*cking Mexican” while getting coffee this morning (he has Native blood).

I could go on for days about how heavy my heart feels when I read these things, these awful things, happening to human beings.

Instead, I want to introduce you to a beautiful Lakota phrase: mitakuye oyasin.

Mitakuye oyasin means “all my relations.”

The idea is that we are all related. ALL related. Every person, every animal, every tree, every stone…we are all related.

The biggest lie we have been sold is the lie of separation. There is no separation between men, women, gender fluid, white, black, Native. Hispanic, poor, rich, Christian, Muslim…we’re all in this together my friends! It’s about humanity living in harmony with itself and every living being on this earth. There is no “us” and “them”…it’s only “us!”

Now, one may think I share this beautiful phrase as support for all of those recipients of hateful language today. But today, I go further.

You see, it’s quite easy to have compassion for the victims. They certainly deserve compassion…but so do the perpetrators.

We have to remember that mitakuye oyasin is about victims and perpetrators alike. All my relations means that everyone gets to come to the party, no special invitation needed. The moment you took breath in this life, you were invited.

Remember that compassion when you hear about or witness such awful things. I cannot abide such horrible acts, and I will call people out when I do witness them. When I do, I shall try to do so with compassion in my heart.

If today is foreshadowing things to come, then the road ahead will not be easy. But each of us must do our very best to stay rooted in love and peace. That is the path forward in these uncertain times.

Mitakuye oyasin 

West Music, Coralville, Iowa

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 14:38


A group of giggling teenage girls, and one boy, hanging out in the acoustic guitar room. With all of them there, the already cramped, very humid room (winter in Iowa after all) seems even smaller.

I quickly survey the selections…I’m looking for a nylon string electric acoustic, and don’t see anything that grabs my attention immediately, but I do see several guitars from a brand I’m not very familiar with. I gravitate towards the one with the signs attached “Please ask before handling me.” Price ranges between $3000 and $6000.

I decide to wait out the teenagers somewhere else. Guess I’ll browse the other parts of the store.

The price of the American made Fender Strat Standard has almost doubled since I bought my first Strat Plus back in the early 90’s. What do you know?

Not a whole lot in the way of recording equipment here…some nice ukes to look at. One guy jamming on the electronic kits in the drum room…

Accessories are fun to look at…wait…

I was going to ask someone about that brand of guitars but I realize…no one’s said a word to me since I entered the store.

Two guys working in this part of the store. One is at a computer with studio headphones on, the other is doing various things, including ducking around a blind corner from his colleague to make a call on his cell phone.

No one has given any indication that they see I am even there…and physically speaking, I’m pretty hard to miss.

When I first came to this store, West Music’s flagship store, in 1991, I met a man named Merril Birchmeier. A kind and soft spoken man, it was his knowledge and guidance that led me to buy my first guitar, less than a month before my 17th birthday.

Over the next few years, we got to know each other a bit, and for a long time, I wouldn’t buy my guitars from anyone but Merril. He once let me play a special edition Martin that was selling for $10,000. Amazing instrument! In the early 90’s, in the middle of Iowa, playing a $10,000 was a pretty big deal.

He showed me a $20,000 Martin special edition. He said he couldn’t let me play it, because it had already been sold, but he played it a little so I could hear it…and a divine presence washed over me. The warm, rich sound just oozed out of that instrument. That day, I truly understood the value of being able to command an instrument of that quality. That’s why I chuckle now when someone says, “But I got this guitar for $80 online!”

There is a difference.

Over those few years, I spent a lot of money in that store. I always asked for Merril, and was always welcomed warmly and taken care of.

I realized today, that those days are gone.

The people working in this particular West Music, this flagship store, on this day, don’t even say “hello.”

This sounds like some sort of entitlement rant. It’s not.

This is not one of those “Do you know who I am? I’ve spent a lot of money here and I deserve to be treated as such!”

That’s not my style.

This is about simple customer service. This is about a large, quiet man, browsing every section of a store for no less than 15 minutes…and no one even acknowledges his presence.

To clarify, besides the teenage jam and giggles session in the closed door acoustic room, there were no other customers.

Now when I go to the West Music in my home town, I know people there. Even when I don’t know anyone working there, the staff is helpful and engaging.

Sure, most of us enjoy a Cheers-like atmosphere when we go into a favorite store. At my hometown West Music, when one of my college friends worked there, every time I walked in, she would yell out (in a dignified and professional way) my nickname.

I didn’t expect that today. These people don’t know me. They don’t know the financial contributions I’ve made to their employer for the last couple of decades.

But in this day of high tech, social media life where we’re forgetting how to write intelligibly and carry on face to face conversations, customer service is even more important. It’s paramount.

There was a time when I would look forward to coming to this particular store. I doubt I’ll be back.

I’ll head on over to Guitar Center…they say “hi” there.

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.

Tonight I’m missing Layne Redmond and wishing I had a Lotus tambourine to play right now. 
Nahko’s “Great Spirit” brought me to tears…for reasons every human can relate to but only the music therapists and music teachers truly understand…that je ne sais quoi that every musician strives to evoke in others…beyond words, beyond emotion…something that touches the soul…divine energy reaching out and saying “it’s okay. I get it.”
And though I have an amazing wife and beautiful (in every way) children, life is damn frustrating right now. I’m trying to stay out of my own way and all the muck that builds up when we’re holding on too tightly to something we want desperately to happen, but my breath is bated.
C’mon coach! I’m ready! 
I’ve been trying to work really hard on all the things you said, and I’ve cleaned up my game lots. Just give me a chance to show you what I can do!
Holding on to hope seems to be all that’s left. I’ve been patient, I’ve been proactive. I faced the music, and even started adding a few new harmonies. “Surrender to what is” they say. Surrender the holding on and what’s left?
No, really, what’s left?
Because I don’t know any more.
I do know my passion continues unabated. If I don’t find the right pressure valve for it, I think I’ll explode! It’s good! It’s really good!
Just give me that chance.
I am forever changed and forever changing. Clarity increases, and yet I miss Layne Redmond.
And coyote can be reasonable when you’re on the edge.
And life can be simple, if we don’t grow screwing it up with all of our humanness.
We’re not always as smart as we think we are.
Coyote, the trees, the water…they know.
Insane. That’s what we are.
I do love a well played tambourine though.

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?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happens? The toddler runs FASTER!

Small children and the Universe can’t comprehend “no.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look up Abraham Hicks, listen and learn. Stop policing…it’s outside of our scope of practice anyway!

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

Do what you do, and do it extremely well.

That will be enough.

Sure, there’s been a lot of talk about inadequate mental health care in this country. This happens most often when a tragic event, involving too easily obtained firearms, occurs.

That’s not what this post is about.

What about the every day, run of the mill, mental health issues that many of us deal with?

Let’s face it…if I’ve learned one thing, working in mental health, it’s that EVERYBODY is dealing with something.

I’m not here to talk about everyone else…I’m here to talk about me.

I’ve had a long history of mental health system interactions. When I was 16, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Hell, what teenager isn’t?

Later on, along with regular counseling, I was introduced to mood altering medications…prescription ones that is. Let me tell you…I’ve done my share:










I’m sure there are some I’ve forgotten over the years, but that’s a decent list to consider.

Today, I take none of them.

Over the years, I’ve have been diagnosed with clinical depression (as stated earlier), acute stress disorder, anxiety disorder, bipolar II and attention deficit disorder.

After dating and marrying a psychologist, I now believe that I was never properly diagnosed and that cyclothymic disorder probably most accurately describes my baseline. More on that in a bit.

I’ve never shied away from talking about my challenges with mental health. I talked about taking medication for depression, or anxiety or bipolar, or whatever the current thing was, whether it was “the thing to do” or not. I remember early on, people often looked shocked when I very casually mentioned being on such medication.

It’s a little less “out there” these days to have those conversations, but still there’s a stigma around mental illness. I hear it everyday from the people I work with: “It took me a long time to ask for help, because my family and friends thought I should just be able to get over it.”

But I think we need to start thinking of things in different terms. So many attitudes about mental health are black and white…you’re either “sick” or you’re “well.”

I live in a very gray world when it comes to these matters.

We need to have a conversation normalizing things that are normal again!

As stated earlier, I’m not on any medications for mental health. I haven’t been for years. For me, I would stall out. I’d max out on a dose or combination of things, and I would still have the extreme behaviors. I would still have suicidal ideation, rage issues or I would be so far up that I would pace incessantly, be hyper verbal, and get cramps in my hand from writing down the ideas that were flying through my mind at warp speed.

That didn’t work for me.

I remember when I got the ADD diagnosis. My psychiatrist said, “I’m going to prescribe this medication. It’s a stimulant. The way the ADD works is that if you take this, and you get wound up, it’s not ADD…something else is going on. If however, it calms you and you can focus easier, then biochemically, it’s ADD.”

I had a 45 minute commute to work in those days, through farmland…not much traffic, wide open spaces…

I remember the first day I took the med. I don’t know how I made that drive…it knocked me out. ADD confirmed.

For a while, I suppose it helped me focus, but quickly, that became ineffective too.

Eventually, I stopped taking everything. It wasn’t really working for me anyway. And I did it my own stubborn way. I quit cold turkey.

There’s a reason the psychs recommend a taper for meds like this. I’m not suggesting anyone else follow my example. I’m just being open about how I did things.

At first, I thought that I just wanted to learn how to deal with everything on my own. Again, I can’t recommend this for anyone else…it’s just what I did.

Then I started to think, “What if ‘what’s wrong with me’ isn’t really something that’s wrong with me? What if my way of being was fit into some DSM classification, but it’s just part of me?”

Changing directions for just a moment, I’ve been listening to the Audible book “Alan Turing: The Enigma.” While I was disappointed that “The Imitation Game” took great liberties with how Alan’s life played out during and after World War II, I have been fascinated by the look at someone who was considered inadequate for a long time in school. It got me to thinking about all the school dropouts, Einstein for example. All the people that didn’t fit into the confines of “normal” by societal standards. I remembered the quote from the Apple ad:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

What if, sometimes the “crazy ones” and the “misfits” just have a different way of being in the world? Look at all the transformers in the world that had “mental illnesses!”

Now don’t send the hate mail saying that I’m downplaying mental illness. I know it exists. I’ve worked with some people who are truly ill and need serious help.

But what about the people like me?

I didn’t quite fit into many of the categories that my providers suggested. And yes, I still struggle with depression on a regular basis…and I have hypomanic episodes. To be honest, I relish those times. I get so many ideas, my thoughts flow so quickly, I have less tolerance for…a lot of things.

I actually told my therapist tonight, as I was leaving her office, “I think I’m more effective when I’m hypomanic.”

She said, “I hear that from a lot of people.”

I’ve learned, for the most part, to ride the waves. Whether I could truly be diagnosed with cyclothymic disorder, or something else, I may never know.

For me, the meds didn’t work. I’ve developed my own ways to cope. I keep my iPhone, or pen and paper close by, to capture those flying thoughts…Bach cranked up on my headphones helps me focus through rapid thinking, when I need to focus. Aromatherapy, exercise and music help when my give a damn’s busted (thank you JoDee Messina).

I’ll be straight with people too…mostly about the hypomania. I’ll call it what it is, and sometimes people are startled at the openness, or my awareness of what’s going on, or something.

I’ll be straight with you…I’m coming down from a hypomanic episode as I write this. Apologies if things don’t make sense. I don’t have much tolerance for proofreading right now. You’ll have to deal with it. I do.

For now, I’m going to embrace my inner misfit. I’m going to deal with the sideways looks when I’m really up…I won’t notice when I’m really down anyway. Maybe I can use my square peg in a round hole personality to make a difference in this world.

Stigma or no stigma…I am just crazy enough to believe I can change the world.

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

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

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

It’s different when it happens to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immediately, the thoughts started pouring into my consciousness:

I don’t know this guy.

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

He’ll be alright.

I’ve got things to do…I can’t save everyone.

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

What’s the matter with you?

You could see he was in pain…help him!

You are a healer! You don’t get to punch out at the end of the day!

That voice of truth reminded me…Always on call. Always ready to bring peace. That is the life that chose me. It’s the life I have chosen.

I turned around and headed back for the parking lot, but the car, the man, and his pain were gone.

I said a prayer for him. I pray that his pain passes quickly and that whatever caused the single tear I saw resolves harmoniously.

We are creatures of habit when it comes to parking, so maybe I’ll see that man again. Maybe I’ll have the chance to ask, “Is there anything I can do?”

Asking if everything is okay is stupid…clearly when tears fall, things are not okay.

I know that I’ve been the one crying in my car at the end of the day. Maybe there’s nothing I could do for that man directly. It doesn’t matter what causes the pain. Sometimes it’s enough to say, “Hey, I get it! Life can be scary and frustrating and confusing and sometimes things just suck. I get it. You’re going to be okay. You’ll get through this.”

If I don’t get the chance to say these things to that man, I can at least be grateful for the lesson he unknowingly taught me:

It doesn’t take some grand therapeutic or healing gesture to say “I see your pain, and I get it.”

It just takes choosing to roll down the window, instead of backing out of the parking space.

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

It doesn’t come for free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But remember that it doesn’t come for free. 

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