Category Archives: Music therapy

Come Dance with Me

“You’ve got to move to change the state you’re in.”- The Levins

“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”

~ Rumi

Dance Sweet Hafiz

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul”

~ Martha Graham

“Life is the dancer and you are the dance.”

~ Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Calvin and Hobbes

This past Sunday, Julia and I joined some friends at The Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County where Stephanie Miner-Berger of another group called Peace Forest Sanctuary led a guided dance celebration for a multi-generational community with the help of DJ K.  She picked very specific songs that would appeal to the range of folks there.  It was done with such a purity of intention, it engaged people without having them feel self-conscious or instilling a need to demonstrate ego or prowess. It brought me back to all the weekly parties my friends and I would throw during high school and college. We were able to almost fuse our hearts together as a group because our love for one another was able to dance freely.  There is a freedom in dancing that takes you out of your intellectual grasp of reality and opens you up in ways you are not even aware of.

During the cool down yesterday, we were asked to make eye contact and sing “Lean on Me” to various people in the circle. My friend Michelle was next to me and there was such a generous earnestness in her connection with me that even before we got to the line, “no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show,” I was so chocked up that I could no longer sing or look at anyone. I have certainly sung “Lean on Me” hundreds of times but there was something about the intention of this community dance combined with the direct contact with an honest friendship that broke me open.  It made me realize that we hold on to so much. We may not be a stiff-upper lip society but even if we do express ourselves and have people to talk to, we are taking on what is being broadcast all around us as well as our mind’s minute to minute updates.  We are inundated with information and suffering that we have no way of fully processing or understanding. Even with the desire to heal and be healed, there is no way to do that intellectually.  This is of course one of the best reasons to take up meditation but there is also something about dancing that puts you in the seat of Being where the internal meets the external.

Shiva dancing

Someone reminded us after the dance of the Hindu myth where Shiva dances the universe into creation. Buckminster Fuller said that “God is a verb, not a noun.” When we are dancing, even if we were not able to physically move a muscle, we open ourselves to being a part of that same verb.  This of course reminds me of Daniel Ladinsky’s rendition of Hafiz’s poem “The God Who Only Knows Four Words” and The Levins’ lyrical take on it called “Every Child”:

Every Child– Hafiz/Ladinsky/Levin © 2013

Every child has known God. 

That’s quite a claim.

For they don’t know God

as a ‘God of Names’,  

as a ‘God of Don’ts’,  

a ‘God of Shame’,

of stormy moods or any strange behavior. 

Not a king or a queen, a giant, tyrant or savior.

But every child knows God.  Not as someone you can see,

But the God who only knows four words:

Come Dance with me!  Come Dance with me!

Come Dance!  Come Dance!  Come Dance!      

 —with me.  Oh, Come Dance with me!

(Listen here)

Come Dance with Me

May your stillness give way to a peace that cannot help but trip the light fantastic.

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


Tiff Gravel- Weird enough for a healing warrior

“Oh, for the love of pink monkeys!”- Leslie Carrara- Rudolph as Lolly Lardpop

Tiff Gravel Tiff Gravel

Julia and I got to hang out with our friend Tiff Gravel again this week before she heads back to Uganda for the third time since 2006.  The first time Tiff went, she was filming the genocide that was taking place. The footage she and her crew took actually helped to facilitate the release of the decimated populace that had been imprisoned in internment camps for twenty years.  When we asked her how she had been so brave, she shrugged and humbly suggested that she wasn’t brave but naïve. We believe she was just embracing her path whole heartedly. (Tiff recently thought it would be fun to photograph people sky diving so she started getting her certification. After being amongst people whose huts were being burned down and running out with them while they were being shot at, sky diving really is a lark.)

The last time Tiff was in Uganda, she came to document Nodding Syndrome, a disease that effects children with seizures.  This mysterious affliction is believed to be a direct result of the genocide and the years in the camps. Tiff commented that this is a whole generation that is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This time Tiff is going to make sure the interviews she took are correctly translated into English, so she can finish her film. Instead of making an angry documentary highlighting the pain and anguish, she will focus on the people’s ability to move past it, the healing process in motion.

Tiff’s interview re: Uganda:

At 13:45 in this video you can see Betty, a music therapist working with the children in one village suffering from Nodding Syndrome. Betty lost all her friends because of their belief that she will give them the disease. “No one wants to come to my house, no one wants to eat my food, no one wants to share anything with me. With the students I feel like I have no problem, I’m just smiling.  Most of the parents don’t care about these kids. They call them all sorts of names when they go home. But one day I invited over 100 people here, because if I dance and you clap for me, then I’ve made you happy. Then you must respect me. … I take every child to be my child.

What keeps me moving is that I see the children are healing. When they are dancing, the smile is just natural. They don’t force the smile. The energy they give me when I’m dancing with them, it keeps me moving.”

“Music therapy works… music heals.”

Screenshot 2016-08-04 11.48.18 Screenshot 2016-08-04 11.45.12

Betty works in a care center that is scheduled to be shut down in December.  Part of what motivates Tiff is not only to finish her film but to somehow help keep the center open.

Tiff also told us about her time working with the Muppets and with Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, who was Abby Cadabby on Sesame Street.  She helped Leslie film 52 video podcasts of                “Wake Up Your Weird”, which they also presented Off Broadway.  The purpose of that show was to celebrate the weird in you, to feel good about yourself and be able to not be cowed by bullying.

The work Tiff does is right in line with that.  She is seriously leaving her comfort zone, risking Malaria and worse because she is not cowed by the many forces that have tried to wipe out the people of Uganda.

When Tiff talked about what they are going through, I was overwhelmed but the people are carrying on, they are strong and some, like Betty, are making sure that the children are upholding the most dignified and joyful aspect of their culture.  The part that sustains and augments life.

May your weird and your warrior be woken up to embrace your path whole heartedly.

Love you, Ira