Category Archives: grief

Grieving, Singing and Shifting

“Even if the whole universe is nothing but a bunch of jerks doing all kinds of jerk-type things, there is still liberation in simply not being a jerk.” – Eihei Dogen (1200-1253 C.E.) as rendered by Brad Warner in his book Don’t be a Jerk

7 stages of grief

Yesterday, I watched part of Matt Khan’s latest talk, The End of the Old Paradigm. This was recorded after last week’s election. Matt postulates that the universe is actively helping us to evolve by moving us from the dormant state of divinity, which is the darkness of judgement to the active state of divinity, which is the light of gratitude. Even if we are getting down on ourselves because in this moment we cannot feel any gratitude, we can let go of our self judgement about that. Matt suggested that we all have to go through the seven stages of grief to let go of the old paradigm. Namely, an ego-dominated state where we are rooted in judgement, fear and greed. The new paradigm where we recognize one another as equal despite our differences, leads us into a heightened state of benevolence.  We cannot rush our natural process. So, wherever we are with our reactions, we can love and honor ourselves right where we are.

This talk was helpful to me as I was walking on a treadmill at the gym.  It minimized my viewing of the seven TV screens reporting news that usually provokes my judgement, anger and sadness.

Matt caught my attention when he asked how reality could get our technologically advanced culture, living in denial, to look up from our cell phones.  Putting the “TV host of The Apprentice” in charge of the free world has certainly made us look up and around. Hopefully, it will cause us to reconnect with one another directly. It is time to stay aware, even if we are in stages of confusion, anger and sadness. It is vital to stand up for one another’s human rights while working through until we can enter into the advanced grieving stages of acceptance and hope.

While wrestling with our ability to deal with current events in a loving way, Julia and I visited an out of town friend.  He is a fellow musician who told us about singing for another friend’s father in hospice.  He started singing and was amazed that his friend’s father, who had advanced Alzheimer’s, knew and sang every word. I recalled singing for my uncle Si, who had such advanced dementia he could no longer even remember his wife. The night I sang for him was their anniversary.  As we gathered around in celebration, my uncle Si became lucid and sang every word with conviction and a passionate connection.  Singing opened a window in his memory and for that one night, he remembered my aunt and who he was.

This past weekend Julia and I were at a Folk Alliance conference. When we arrived, everyone was somewhat distraught. By the end of the weekend, everyone remembered who they were and the significance of what we do individually and together. Singing has a power to reconnect and realign us to who we are. We may not be able to force, or negotiate our way through our process of collective grieving in order to let go of or die to the old paradigm but perhaps we can sing our way through.  Even if you don’t think you have a good voice, you can still hum a few bars.

During the weekend, my friend Kirk Siee, a grand stand-up bass player, gave me his copy of Brad Warner’s Don’t Be a Jerk. This is Brad’s radical but reverent paraphrasing of Dogen’s Treasury of the True Dharma Eye, which says, “We touch the deepest experience of all human beings throughout history when we allow ourselves to be truly quiet.”

Don't be a Jerk

So, perhaps be silent and sing, sing quietly, sing in the silence, but don’t silence the singing of your being!

Alzheimers disease and Music Therapy


Grief Literacy

When Death comes it will be a final opportunity for dignity. Will we clutch frantically “Can I have more?”  “What else can I take?” or will we be granted the serenity to know that we were granted an entire world, an entire life of free will.  Perfect your reaction now.
After a late night gig on Friday in CT and an early morning gig on Saturday in NJ, Julia and I spent our Saturday night off driving three hours to an 80’s party in North Hampton Mass.  We decided that while the allure of the couch and the tube would be delightful, that we would make the effort to go see sweet friends.
On the way we listened to Bill Bryson’s memoir about the 50’s.  He was discussing how society back then was indestructible.  It was a group held belief that all food was good for you, that smoking and drinking was good for you.  There were x-ray machines in the shoe stores to bathe you from head to toe to get your shoe size.  There were bombs tested in Nevada and families in Las Vegas had picnics to watch and would line up as the men with Geiger counters came around to see how radioactive they were. It was a lark.
One of our friends from The Boxcar Lilies was throwing the 80’s party and put on Talking Heads and B-52s for us to dance to.  The Lilies are three strong and in-depth women that sing and play instruments together.  Their men folk are all rugged, huge- hearted talented gents.  One of them,  Erik Hoffner is a photographer and writer.  He turned us on to Stephen Jenkinson and an interview he just published with Stephen in the latest Sun magazine.
 Stephen Jenkinson is an author, a spiritual teacher, farmer and activist.  His message is not that we are indestructible but are, especially in North America, suffering from “grief illiteracy.” We do not know how to acknowledge our own death or be faithful witnesses to each other’s dying.  We act as if things are normal, right up to the end, “Death doesn’t burden your life. It animates your life and gives you the chance to live, because it says, “Here’s the bad news: “It’s not going to last. Here’s the good news, “It’s not going to last.”
I had mentioned during our 80’s party how important as it was as an adult to pull back in the summer, stop working long enough to experience the stillness and expansive space summer can offer. Something that we knew as kids.
Stephen Jenkinson talks about the cultures that used initiation to create a mini-death between childhood and becoming adults to teach us, respectfully, to take responsibility and transition from being self-absorbed to becoming conscious of our lives and those around us.
Pema Chodron cites the problem with going up to the mountain to transcend is that there are those who are suffering left behind.  She suggests going into the heart of the earth and being able to be with the grief here.
Stephen Jenkinson also says, “There’s no withdrawing or running or transcending.  Stay here. Stay long enough that the grief can have its way with you, and you begin to realize that this grief is a wisdom, a recognition that human beings are maintained by the death of other living things…Your better self is born of grief… You can live your life as someone who has an enduring obligation to that which has kept you alive.” We can remember and be human.
Last night we went into the city to see a production of The 39 Steps and the four actors playing all the parts, bringing expertise physical comedy to the adventure of life, fraught with death, brought  the realization home.  While we are here, we can develop ourselves and our skills and share them to the best of our ability while we can. Acknowledging the finite, we can keep the story going, pass it down through the decades and centuries to prepare the decaying quilt for future generations to marvel at  and maintain.  May the patch we contribute engender wonder.
Stephen Jenkinson- The Meaning of Death: