Low Strings

I learned to drum in Ubaka Hill’s DrumSong Orchestra at MichFest. I’m sure she wouldn’t even recognize me as a two-time participant (that’s peanuts — although I did have the honor once of doing vocal improv on stage with her and several other women at a concert she did at a church in St. Paul), but from her I learned how to play some basic, passable, serviceable rhythms on the djembe, rhythms which have given me much joy and have helped me to express many songs and chants. It was in those sessions in the tent on those hot August days that I began to understand myself as a drummer, and eventually to claim and own that part of myself.

I also enjoyed Ubaka’s talks on social issues and philosophies of music and sound and drumming. In one of these, she discussed the tendencies of men and women to choose higher or lower drums. Women, she proposed, often liked to play big, low-toned drums to compensate for, or balance out, a high vocal range. Through the drums they could express those parts of themselves that vibrated with deep notes, and men often sought the same balancing with smaller, higher-pitched drums. She drew the connection between the tones of the drums and the chakras, and suggested that women would benefit from playing the smaller drums too, because their sounds resonated more with the higher chakras. … A theory, and reasonable enough, in my opinion.

At the time, though, I remember thinking that I was more drawn (or at least equally so) to the higher-pitched drums and other instruments. I hypothesized that I feel the urge to fill in the high notes because of my low alto singing voice. I’ve always felt self conscious about my upper cut-off, and sometimes, while singing along with a fearless soprano, I feel a blankness where no sound comes out, and wish that I had some way to externalize that feeling, to express it in a vibration that can be heard. When I play high notes on my guitar, or uke, or on a sharp, tight doumbek (which I only wish I could play), it gives me such a feeling of satisfaction, like that pent up sound is finally being let out. The feeling in my chest is as the excess air hissing out of an overinflated tire.

The other night after I was playing the guitar for a while and leading a dance, someone who’s a good guitar player told me she noticed I play only my high strings, never the low ones. I told her my theory about the high notes and the low voice. She didn’t dismiss it, but said that in her opinion, the way I was playing did not make me sound commanding. I said I didn’t want to sound wishy-washy … ! She said it wasn’t that exactly, but she noticed the absence of low notes when I was playing.

I’m a guitar student without a teacher who takes advice and feedback and instruction wherever she can get it. I take it to heart and try to use it to improve myself and my playing as much as I am able. I consider this information. To me it feels like maybe a lack of foundation in my playing, maybe the instability of my fundamental insecurity about whether I will be allowed to play at all, and if I am, whether I will just embarrass myself. Maybe I need to just get over it.

I want to be able to play all the notes. I want to embrace and love every part of myself. I want to shake off that dang insecurity that keeps me down as a musician! So I’ll keep working on it — get knocked down and get up again (in the words of Chumbawamba — I really love that song, not even kidding). My ego gets some message that it interprets as a need for shame. I lose confidence in myself, I think I’m a total loser idiot, I sulk … and eventually I just put it out of my mind, lalalalalalala, and go back to doing the thing I love doing and being goofily grateful that people let me do it. Hm, yeah, I think a little more confidence would soften up that cycle a lot.


I had just finished the hands-on portion of an interview to do fill-in work as a massage therapist at a local spa. The manager was telling me …

“You have very good techniques and you obviously know where the muscles and attachments are. But I can’t hire you, because there’s something crucial missing — the intuition about how a massage should flow, when you can touch a body and instantly know what it needs. I suggest you set up a table in a coffee shop and work on as many bodies as you can, and it will come. It has to come from deep in your heart.”

I was shocked at first to hear her say this. I’m not inexperienced; I’ve done massage in a city clinic and a super swanky resort spa and various places in between. I’ve often been complimented on how I can touch a body and know exactly what it needs. How was this woman not picking up on that??? But by the time she came to that last bit, about it coming from deep in the heart — I was actually smiling. Because I knew what she was talking about. Although she didn’t quite get the reason, she did sense the truth: it wasn’t coming from deep in my heart, and if I was honest, I already knew that.

Of course, it was still a blow to my ego. Part of me just wanted to give her the finger. And then go home and cry. That same part wanted to say (maybe in a follow up email), “Look, lady, you’re on crack. I’ve worked at way fancier, way more reputable spas than this old joint, and everyone loved my massages and loved ME. And PS, your advertising is racist. If you didn’t feel my heart, it’s because I don’t want to work here anyway!” Etc.

But that wouldn’t be true — at least not the part about how I’m awesome and she was just too much on crack to realize it. She was totally right that I was, on some level, checked out, and it wasn’t just because of my ambivalence about this spa. I wanted the job for various reasons, mainly that it was close to my home and I need the money. But in my heart, I don’t really want to do massage as a job anymore. For a few people whom I care about, yes, but I think I am done pursuing it actively, at least at this time. Writing it publicly like this makes me go “eek!” inside, and brings up a ton of fear and shame and self doubt. But as I shared in Sam’s Phoenix Rising group in December, my heart and soul are yearning for consolidation. I don’t want to split my attention between two totally separate careers anymore. I want to teach full time. I want it with a passion.

The funny thing was that right before I walked out the door for the interview, I drew a card from the angel box and the card I got was the Angel of Miracles. I certainly had an idea about what that meant when I left the house — and a very different idea when I got back. I thought, maybe the miracle is that my soul truth made itself known in a way that saved me from a job that would have drained my energy away from following my true dream. Or maybe the miracle is that I saw it that way.

I am humbled but grateful.



Tonight I had a very happy experience: I paid my dues and became a registered, active member of the Leader’s Guild for the Dances of Universal Peace!  😀  😀  😀  I confess that I have officially been in training since January of 2012 (yep pretty much exactly a year ago) when I asked Timothy Dobson to mentor me, but have not felt like I could afford the dues until now.  (My mom gave me the money as a Christmas present.  Thank you, Mom!!!)

I am super, super psyched.  The main reason is that I will be able to access the database of Dance write-ups … at last!  Up until now I have been gathering Dances here and there … sometimes quickly scribbling them down in the afterglow of a Dance evening, then figuring out the chords later; sometimes exchanging PDFs with other lovers of the Dances; sometimes pestering leaders to tell me the movements, or chords, or the rest of the words to Dances that spoke to me so deeply that I couldn’t go on without knowing how to play them and teach them and pass them on.  These methods have given me plenty to work with over the past years, and there are several Dances of the collection gathered in this way that I am still learning.  But I have been dreaming of being able to access the huge accumulated body of work that is the PeaceWorks database of Dances.  I can’t wait to be able to immediately follow up with learning all the Dances that I feel a connection with, and find new ones to suit specific occasions.  As I said: Really Excited!!!

This evening I was going through the folder of Dance write-ups and hand-written instructions (sometimes even hand-transcribed musical notation … though it was tedious, I actually had a beautiful time copying from the original Dance booklets at Hakim’s house in Florida … I felt a connection to the old Irish monks) in preparation for leading some singing tomorrow night.  The Sufi Order in Denver just started this new monthly gathering called Heart Song: Sufi Singing and they invited me to contribute.  I felt, and feel, incredibly honored and humbled to be called upon, but also deeply thrilled, because sharing this music is my passion.  I really just couldn’t believe that they would ask me to contribute to the community in this way.  I feel like … I want to do the utmost honor to my teachers by sharing music and leading singing in a way that creates an opportunity for the people participating to really connect with their hearts, to feel a sense of expansion and unity and the joy of praise.  I know those are just some of the things that I get out of this form of music, thanks to the incredible spiritual musicians and song leaders whom I have been very privileged to be around.  Part of me feels like it’s silly for me to think I could ever contribute anything worthwhile, and that my attempting to do so just shows my naivete, or perhaps my upstart-ness … I want to serve with respect for my teachers and with humility toward those I might lead, but of course I question the purity of my attitude.  I’d like to say I know what an idiot I am inside … but sometimes I still surprise myself with new levels of idiocy.  In the midst of this internal muddle about “how to be,” when I have a moment of consciousness I just try to get out of the way and let something come through me.

One of the songs I want to share tomorrow night is from the Dance called “Clouds” by Susan Sheely.  This was one of the first songs I learned to play, back when I did everything on ukulele.  I got to meet this amazing woman this summer, at “The Crestone Experience” Dance Camp.  (She actually led a Dance playing the ukulele!  !  !)  I went up to her and thanked her for composing or bringing through this Dance, and this chant, which have given me so much heart-felt ecstasy.  The best way I can put it is this: The mantra OM MANI PADME HUM is said to be untranslatable, though it uses actual words that gesture toward the concept of a jewel in the lotus heart; it is also said to contain and transmit the whole essence of the teachings of the Buddha.  I feel something similar, though more personal, with this song, with or without the Dance.  It is like the song carries the whole essence of Sufism for me.  It’s like the song is a doorway into another plane of felt knowledge, of understanding beyond mental doubts, beyond explanations.  The words are from a Rumi poem, one of Coleman Barks’ translations.  Each line is repeated twice:

This is how I would die, into the love I have for you,

As pieces of cloud dissolve in sunlight.

La illaha illa’llah, La illaha illa’llah,

Hu Allah Hu, Hu Allah Hu

I looked and looked for a video of this Dance online, but couldn’t find one.  I remember the first or possibly second time I experienced doing this Dance in Columbia with Hakim (going by Hakima then) leading — as I spun out singing “Hu Allah Hu,” I did feel myself dissolving into the light.  As I waltzed with the new acquaintances who would become such close friends, my heart expanded far beyond its previous borders, to include everyone in the room, and the world beyond.  That was one of the moments when I felt released from my usual mental background noise, and fully present with the Divine in myself and in everything and everyone else.  That was when we Danced in the Unity Church hall, which I loved, with its shiny concrete floor and beautiful, dramatic, glittering felt wall hangings.  For me, it was the beginning.

And I remember singing it again with Hakim this fall at Ozark Camp.  We were gathered in the Healing Temple, people sitting all around the room on chairs and bunk beds and floor pillows because it was too cold to sing on the porch.  It was late at night and everybody was finding their own harmonies.  The music filled the room like a golden shimmer; the energy was tangible to a sensitive hand.  My chest opened and my heart soared upward and I thought, This is where it’s at for me.  Everything I need is in this song.

So it’s with great gratitude and honor especially to my beloved teacher and original mentor Hakim, and to all the teachers that I have had, that I go forward on this path, knowing that I have been blessed to sing with and learn from some truly, truly great leaders, with the real gift for drawing out people’s heart songs.  I carry the imprints of these blissful and life-changing experiences within me and I hope that some of the energy of those times may come through what I offer.  I think maybe it’s part of my ministerial calling, to lead and share and join in worship music.  At least at this point in my life, it’s what I love doing most of all.

Okay, I will leave you with this video — it’s not the same as “Clouds” but this chant is another one that early on had the power to transport me out of my ordinary experience and into a more connected state — like maybe the song is the outlet that I plug my cord into … or is it the chord?  Clearly I’ve stayed up past my bedtime writing this, so.  Shakur Allah — the quality of Divine Gratitude — when we give thanks, we experience God within us.  Sweet dreams!

2012, 2013

I find it peculiar that in all the media references to the Mayan calendar business re: 12/21/12, the only aspect of the hype that any reporter or mainstream commentator (at least that I heard, which to be honest is not a very broad sample) mentioned was the supposed end of the world. I know there were folks out there who did interpret this 2012 stuff as an apocalypse prophecy, and also those who tried to scam the former group into buying doomsday condos in the remote Caucasus mountains or whatever it was. But this seemed like a fringe element to me. Far fewer people seemed to REALLY expect huge disasters than, say, at the time of the whole Y2K thing. That’s just my observation.

In my actual life, I know a lot of people who were and remain strongly invested in the concept of 2012, not as the end of the world, but as the end of an era. Or, as they might put it better, the beginning of something new. Most people I know who took the idea of something happening on 12/21/12 (and/or 12/12/12) seriously thought it would be something like an infusion of new energies into our spiritual bodies or the planet, or an evolutionary advance in the spiritual plane for some or all beings on Earth. Some also thought of it as a dramatic shift in the values or priorities of our culture(s). This shift might be a smooth and easy experience of raised energy leading to better choices, or civilizations might be forced to change their ways through difficult trials and suffering brought by the many errors of our previous ways. So in that sense some would say there could be some events that might actually seem “apocalyptic,” but they are really opportunities for humanity to realize the damage it’s doing. Imagine if the media actually reported on and discussed that! What a different tone that would be, and what possibilities for national self-examination that would bring!

Not that I have ever witnessed, at least, the US observing that the difficulties or tragedies it’s experiencing are the direct results of harm it’s done in the world and been moved to become different or better. That’s one reason I’m skeptical about all of these predictions. And I’m also skeptical of predictions that are very tied to specific dates. (Calendars change all the time. We’ve only had our since 1582. And not everyone in the world follows the same calendar.) And anything that gives an extremely specific description of something metaphysical, like the exact minutes during which the cosmic energies will be pouring in, or the precise language with which to address angels — it just feels uncompelling to me, like someone trying to insist their style is the only true aesthetic that everyone should follow. Faced with claims like these, I become a militant agnostic: you know, “I don’t know, and you don’t either.”

Still, I like the idea that maybe we have collectively reached a spiritual growth spurt, or that we are now receiving an extra potent dose of support from the Universe, or that enough humans have turned away from the dominant greed-based worldview to effect a change in outcomes. I would like to see the world at that place, and I also welcome the nudge toward personal growth and change for the better. In my more positive agnostic moments I say something more like, “I don’t know what it is, but it’s something.”

For myself, what I noticed on 12/21/12 was an immediate resurgence of personal issues (or as some would say, character defects) that I thought I had more or less licked!  First thing that morning, I dealt with an emotional meltdown, then had a few more in the next week.  I there are still rooms in my house that need to be cleaned out (which shouldn’t come as a surprise!).  I would think the message from the Universe will be different for everybody, but for me I get the sense that Spirit is letting me know what are the most pressing issues for me to work on, the biggest things currently separating me from a peaceful and harmonious existence.  I’ll be honest, this does not sound like a picnic to me — in fact it stirs a lot of fears about living without the old familiar (though harmful) coping mechanisms — but I feel willing to go there … hopefully without too much kicking and screaming.

Some things to let go of (again … and again):

  • Attachment
  • Jealousy
  • Control
  • Selfishness
  • Complaining

Some things to cultivate:

  • Generosity
  • Acceptance
  • Confidence
  • Appreciation
  • Lightheartedness
  • Friendship
  • Service

In 2013, I ask for guidance about how best to serve and help the world.  I want my life to add positive, tangible good to the balance of existence on this planet.  It is my intention to bring my life into greater alignment with the Highest Good.

Happy New Year everybody!  Love and blessings to you all!