Friday, February 26, 2016

The Healing Power of Music

The year was 2007 and for an evening at least, I was beaten.

I was working as an intern as a therapist at the time, and had a series of bosses who I didn't exactly care for. I was constantly hearing, ‘settle down’, ‘tone it down’, and other pieces of advice that ran contrary to my instincts. I was demoralized. Had I taken a wrong turn somewhere? Chosen the wrong career field?

I decided to drown my sorrows. After my 5th Jack and coke I started the long walk home. For a night at least, I felt like a failed therapist and a failed man, unable to fight the system and unable to access my own creative freedom.

And then....Something caught my ear. I heard a song. It was Dylan. The last time I heard this particular song was 1992 and it was my first year working in the national parks. I was young, adventurous, and venturing into the great unknown for the first time. I was traveling west with a friend and we had stopped at his father's bar, which was literally in the middle of nowhere in a small Montana town. I was young, scared, excited, brash, and brave and on the cusp of a great adventure.

I always remembered a line from the movie Field of Dreams, that we don't realize the most significant moments of our lives while they are happening. So, at that moment, when I heard Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" when we walked into the bar, I didn't know the effect on me it would eventually have. I wandered over to the jukebox, trying to look cool as a cherub-faced kid in a room full of tough guys in cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats. I registered the name of the song that was playing and etched it into my memory. Lay Lady Lay

And so.. Cut to 2007. I heard this song again and I was completely back in this moment again. Mesmerized, amazed, confused, and hopeful. Something about the song had called me back to another time and place. But why? What was it?

In that moment I took a crumbled piece of paper I carried around with me at the time with a line from Albert Camus. "In the midst of winter, I finally found there was within me an invincible summer.”

An invisible summer. It sounded so promising!

I stepped into the bar and took a look. There was a kid singing "Lay Lady Lay.” He was passionate and enthusiastic. I looked up at him and smiled, nodding slowly and looking back. Over the next several years he would become a great friend of mine.

It took me some time to examine what had transpired that night, but eventually it started to crystalize. I had, for that one night, been saved by music.

And I can think of a thousand other times music healed by troubled soul like this.


Driving my old Volkswagen Bus up from California back home to Washington. I’d just lost all of my money in Lake Tahoe and given Plasma for some gas money. I popped in David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

Hearing ‘Ground control to Major Tom’ made me laugh hysterically. It strangely reflected that SOS moment in my life.

Driving across Idaho after the death of Jerry Garcia. I was unsure what to do with my life and feeling old and rudderless. I heard ‘Touch of Grey’ by the Grateful Dead and had a wonderful moment.

‘Every silver lining’s got a, touch of grey’

Just lost my girlfriend and my job and stuck in a little town in Indiana. I put ‘Fernando’ on by Abba on the jukebox and sat, cried in my beer, and contemplated the absurdity of listening to Abba in a hick town in the middle of nowhere. Laughing at myself and signing along to that song was strangely therapeutic.

It’s not just me that’s been healed by music either. I worked in nursing homes for a few years and saw some of the most remarkable things I’d ever seen with the help of music. Take a look at this video. Look at his eyes!! This is the effect music has on a brain that’s been dormant for years!

 Oliver Sacks has done some wonderful research on this topic, and his book 'Musicophilia' is a wonderful read. In talking with my patients now, I almost always ask them what role music plays in their lives. It's one of the most diagnostic questions you can ask actually.

Music soothes, heals, inspires, motivates, energizes, ignites, and remembers.

Nietzsche said, ‘Without music life would be a mistake.’

Nietzsche was right.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The stories that we tell ourselves

“At the end of the day, your life is just a story. If you don't like the direction it's going, change it. Rewrite it. When you rewrite a sentence, you erase it and start over until you get it right. Yes, it's a little more complicated with a life, but the principle is the same. And remember, don't let anyone ever tell you that your revisions are not the truth.” 
Tyler Jones

“Before you can live a part of you has to die. You have to let go of what could have been, how you should have acted and what you wish you would have said differently. You have to accept that you can’t change the past experiences, opinions of others at that moment in time or outcomes from their choices or yours. When you finally recognize that truth then you will understand the true meaning of forgiveness of yourself and others. From this point you will finally be free.” 
Shannon Adler

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” 
― Maya AngelouI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

(Warning, this story begins with a math problem.)

The other day I was adding up my expense report, and screwed it up like 3 times. A co-worker came by and laughed, (it was like 3rd grade math. I’m definitely not smarter than a 5th grader).

“I’m no good at math,” I told her with a self deprecating laugh.

But really that’s just a story.

Beause I used to be pretty awesome at math actually. I totally dominated those math contests back in the day. Up to like 3rd grade anyway. After that the wheels came off.

Later, in High School and beyond, I started telling myself that story. “I’m no good at math.” Lots of people can sympathize with that one. But really it was just a story. And a pretty common one at that.

Here are some other others I hear a lot. 

“I’ll always be a fat girl. Everyone in my family is fat. It’s just the way things are.”

“People in my family don’t go to college.”

“I’m too old to go back to school. That moment has passed for me.”

You get the idea.

Lets take a moment to explore the difference between facts and stories.

You know that little voice in your head? The one that sounds so convincing when it reminds you of all those things you can’t do? That’s a storyteller. And a biased one at that. And yet we take that voice for a fact all the time.

We wouldn’t let someone speak to our loved ones like that. Hell we probably wouldn’t let someone speak to a stranger like that. But we let that little voice speak to us like that whenever it pleases.

So where does that voice come from exactly?

In part it comes from the way people spoke to us as a child. It’s a critical thing for a parent to remember. The way you speak to a child becomes the voice in their heads later on. 

Other things contribute as well. Maybe we were bullied as a child and never got those taunts out of our heads. Maybe it’s a message we got from TV or advertising or a million other messages we are bombarded with every day that there’s something wrong with us that needs to be improved. Lots of things can contribute to this voice.

But those stories seems to stick. They’re very stubborn like that.

I challenge you to think about the stories that exist in YOUR head today. Maybe they’re seemingly silly things like “I’m a bad cook” or “I’m a terrible dancer.” But really examine those things. Who told you that? How do you know?

One thing research tells us is “talent,” or our belief that we have inherent traits we are born with that makes us good at things is wayyyy overrated. Take a read here and see for yourself. You would be amazed what people can learn when they put in the time. Even in the most unlikely of circumstances.

Somewhere along the way these stories become self-fulfilling prophecies, and we start to believe them though.

So what’s your story?
(Single women send me their response. Guys, just think about it. )

It’s never too late to create a new narrative, a new story, a new chapter.

So get writing!!!