I love this story about a certain African tribe. Some stories are good for whatever ails us. This is one of those.
When a woman in the tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness to pray and listen until she hears the song of the child she bears. This tribe recognizes that every soul has its own vibration, expressing its unique flavor and purpose. Then the mother to be teaches the song to the other members of the tribe.
The tribe sings the song to the child at birth.
They sing when the child becomes an adolescent, when the adult is married, and at the time of parting and death.
But there is one other occasion when the villagers sing this song. If at any time during his (or her) life, the person causes suffering to another member of the tribe, they gather in a circle and set him in the center. They sing the song, to remind him not of the wrong done, but of his own beauty and potential. When a child loses the way, it is love and not punishment that brings the lost one home.
I cannot tell you your song. But I can tell you this: you have one. Count on it.
And if you sit still, you may hear it.
It is the song that reminds us we are beautiful, when we feel ugly.
It is the song that tells us we are whole, when we feel broken.
It is the song that gives us the power to dance, even when we feel shattered.
It is the song that reminds us of the story that keeps our hope alive.
There are times when we lose our song. Or it gets buried. Or we get numbed.
I had one of those weeks. It’s not easy to admit because we don’t want to appear weak. We don’t want to let on that we have forgotten our song.
But I can tell you that it is easy to be undone.
It is easy to feel deficient or inept.
It is easy to want to be rescued.
It is so easy to feel overwhelmed.
Or if all else fails, it is easy to want someone to tell me what to believe or what to pray.
I just know that inside, I haven’t been myself. And I don’t like it. So I say, the hell with it, and do my best to shut down.
Alive Inside is an epiphanic film. I always wanted to use the word epiphanic.
Dan Cohen, a social worker in an East Coast nursing home, plays personally tailored music via iPod headsets for older residents diagnosed with dementia and other “imprisoning” disorders. The results are simple and striking. The residents awaken and come alive. They move, sing, and dance. They have episodic memory for events associated with the music. They smile and weep with joy. They seem in touch with themselves. Quite literally, they appear to be different people. I emphasize these two words because they stand in stark contrast to the sameness and depersonalization often imposed upon them, blinded by culture-driven presumptions of their dementia.
In the film we meet Henry Dreher. Henry, 94 at the time, had been spending his days sitting in his wheelchair with his head hanging down.
Dan puts headphones on Henry. The iPod plays one of Henry’s old favorites, Cab Calloway.
Dreher’s eyes open, his face lights up and he starts singing along with the music. He says, “It gives me the feeling of love, romance, because right now the world needs to come into music, singing. You’ve got beautiful music here. Beautiful, oh, lovely.”
Watching this scene in my den, I stand and clap and grin from ear to ear.
The philosopher Kant reminded us that music is the quickening art. In other words, it brings something to life.
Yes. And that something may be our self.
Like the child in the tribe story, we know what it’s like to lose our way. And there are times we have no idea how or why.
But somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves to equate our missteps with our very identity. This is the work of shame.
Charlotte Kasl reminds us that “Shame is essentially the degree to which you mistake your labels for your identity. If you draw your labels into the core of yourself, you can no longer see the center.”
We buy the label. We buy the script. Internalize. And we forget our song.
So I think of it this way. Music unlocks the heart and we are restored to our self.
In the desert of New Mexico, in a beautiful home with huge doors open to the outside, Native American musician Ronald Roybal talks with a gathered group of pastors. As he talks, he plays hauntingly beautiful music. He tells them about how missionaries came to his people and how his people received the story of Jesus, absorbing the story into their understanding. He tells the group that Native Americans believe that God gives every creature a dance. The eagle has an eagle dance, the bear a bear dance, the scorpion a scorpion dance, and so forth. However, over the years, we human beings had forgotten our dance. So, we dance the dance of other animals, because we do not know our own. Jesus, however, knew our “human” dance and came to teach us the dance again.
I cannot tell you your song. But I can tell you this: you have one. Count on it. And if you sit still, you may hear it.
I spent Saturday night with a spirited group at the Amazing Grace Spiritual Center in Ballard, where my friend Larry Murante launched his new CD, Patch of Sky. One of my favorite Murante songs is on that CD, Hungry Ghost.
A few of the lines make my heart come alive…
Everybody is who they are, because somebody loves them…
Everybody’s gotta live their truth, but they need someone who knows it…
Everybody’s got a forgotten song…
You wanta get back your forgotten song.
Speaking of the gift of needing someone who knows it. My friend Mary Tuel writes a wonderful column in the Vashon Loop. She talks about her former husband Rick, being clear eyed about the marriage of grief and a realistic understanding that Life is hard. Relationships are hard. And it is easy to feel undone. Mary says, “But we always ended up giving each other enough grace… So today, Give yourself grace.” Amen Mary.
Today. Listen for your song. If you don’t hear it, no worries, it’s still there. In the meantime, scroll down and listen to Carrie Newcomer sing about Sanctuary. That’s a good start.
The sun is lower in the sky today. Autumn is here. But the garden still bursting, with tomatoes and pumpkins and squash. The fig tree is laden. So that means fig jam is just around the corner.
Quote for our week…
We have this odd assumption that we will fall in love with ourselves only when we have become totally efficient organized beings, and left all our bumbling ineptness behind. Yet, the opposite is true; in our vulnerability, our awkwardness of not knowing, of not being in charge. In vulnerability we are open to the world. David Whyte
Note: Much of the Alive Inside story borrowed from RJ Scheidt
POEMS AND PRAYERS
When Someone Deeply Listens to You
When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup
you’ve had since childhood
and watching it fill up with
cold, fresh water.
When it balances on top of the brim,
you are understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin,
you are loved.
When someone deeply listens to you
the room where you stay
starts a new life
and the place where you wrote
your first poem
begins to glow in your mind’s eye.
It is as if gold has been discovered!
When someone deeply listens to you
your barefeet are on the earth
and a beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.
As the light of dawn awakens earth’s creatures
and stirs into song the birds of the morning
so may I be brought to life this day.
Rising to see the light
to hear the wind
to smell the fragrance of what grows from the ground
to taste its fruit
and touch its textures
so may my inner senses be awakened to you
so may my senses be awakened to you, O God.