Monday, March 4, 2013

Four Directions for Healing

Sinking my energy down, down, through my bed, the floor beams, the walls, down into the earth. The earth supports me completely. I am supported.
East: Healing of air. Clear wind blows away the viruses. Clear mind notices, notices, experiments, observes, creates.
South: Healing of fire. Warm flames at my back, warmth glowing through my body. My energy flows into mending, mending, nurturing, growing, waiting.
West: Healing of water. Immersed in the warm ocean, I am suspended. All pain and tiredness is dissolved. Calmness soothes inflammation, waves lull me to peace.
North: Healing of earth. I crawl into the warm burrow. Safe in the earth, soft animal fur purring licking, cradled in darkness and silence.
East-West: Air and water: Healing of rain. The cool rush washes away the viruses, the pain, the fatigue, leaving me fresh and open.
North-South: Fire and earth: Healing of volcano. The burning energy waiting underground, ready to burst out into the world when I am well.
Northeast: Earth and air: Healing of drum. Tingling skin vibrations, rhythm tunes my body. Thrum. Thrum.
Southeast: Air and fire: Healing of lightning. Sudden flash of insight, splitting open the dull illness, changing everything.
Southwest: Fire and water: Healing of hot soup. Bubbling, fragrant, salty steam in my chest.
Northwest: Water and earth: Healing of cenote. The deep water sinks cool into the limestone. Dark rich silent world below the busy life surface.
In the center, I curl on warm sand in the sun, safe in the web of healing.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Judges and the Storyteller

My early life was full of singing. Rounds in the car with my mom and sisters, Christmas carols learning the alto from my mom, The Fireside Book of Folksongs with my sister on the piano, guitar songs around the campfire, high school choir. I always thought I had a pretty good voice.

But I was carrying some judges around with me.


I sang in the chorus at my high school. One day they announced auditions for the lead roles in Oklahoma. Wow, I thought, I’m going to try for this. Maybe I’m good enough. At least I can find out.

They didn’t really say what an audition entailed. I think they assumed we’d done it before. The choir director mentioned where to find the sheet music in the music office, but I didn’t know why he was talking about that. I knew how to prepare.

I spent the week zealously protecting my voice, not going out in the snow to keep from getting a cold.

I thought I was going to be evaluated on how good my voice was. How good? How pure, how exactly on pitch, how pretty. I was going to find out if my voice was good or bad.

Audition day, and the others had all learned a song from the musical. I had no idea you were supposed to do that. I was embarrassed, but the nice music teacher helped me sight-read my way through “People Will Say We’re in Love.” Whew.

The judges

Fast forward to my first voice lessons. I’ve been singing in various contexts all my life. Now I’m starting to perform as a duo with my friend Paul, and I want to bring my singing to a new level. My teacher, Linda Leanne, is the perfect coach for me. She believes in supporting the whole self as you sing: body, emotions, fears, joys, power.

So here I am, in the safe warm studio with Linda smiling at me, trying to sing “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” And my heart is in my throat.

Because before I can work on breathing techniques or jazzy style, I have to face those judges.

Who are they? They’re dressed in black. They’re men with stern faces. They’re sitting in a row at a table, ready to mark an X if I’m not good enough. It will either be good or bad—there’s no middle ground.

I sing the song, but I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I’m scared.

And the storyteller

And a revelation: Linda doesn’t tell me if it was good or bad. She asks me, “What do you want people to feel as they listen to you sing this song?”

People? Feel?


Well. I want them to feel wistful. I want them to remember the joy of a past relationship. I want them to laugh a little.

“Try it again.”

And the song that comes out next is completely different. The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea…

Why am I singing? I’m singing to help people feel something. To draw them into my world and take them along with me. To tell a story.

So how is it different?

When I’m standing in front of the judges, even though this mode is named after them, my focus is all on me. I stand stock-still. It’s all about the sound I’m making, this isolated sound. I funnel in on myself, tightening my throat in a desperate attempt to control my voice and make it sound good. When it cracks a bit because I have allergy gunk in my throat, I want to cry. At the end, I barely remember what I was singing.

When I’m the storyteller, even though the mode is named after me, my focus is much wider. Part of me is inside the story: the memory of that dance, the way you changed my life… Part of me is paying attention to my body, to my feet moving on the ground, to my belly holding my power, to my breath moving through my throat. Part of me is meeting eyes in the audience, expressing the feelings to them. It’s all about the energy swirling back and forth, connecting me to my listeners.

And if my voice cracks, it’s very likely to help the mood. To help it. This is unbelievable to me.

Is it good?

That’s not the question. The questions are, “How expressive was I?” “How much did I stay in the story?” What physical and emotional tools can I use to help myself do that? It’s a continuum. There’s always more to learn.

That first lesson was almost three years ago. I continue to joyfully work with Linda Leanne. I’m still playing in that flow of energy between me and my listeners. I’m playing with each word. I’m playing with melody. I’m playing with my face. I’m playing with my body stance.

I’m playing with the stories.

Here’s a story (with my wonderful singing partner Paul accompanying and supporting me). It’s not perfect, though I like it fine. The important thing is that I didn’t sing it for the judges. I sang it for you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Jumping Off a Cliff

Have you ever felt as if you were about to jump off a cliff?
Photo courtesy of Mr. Mystery on Flickr

Adopting a child. Moving to a new town. Diving into a new relationship. Leaving your job to start a new business.

This is very scary stuff. You’re looking out into an expanse of emptiness. You’re preparing as well as you can, but you don’t really know what to prepare for.

You might fail. You might fall.

When I’m in one of these situations, I try to think back to when I used to jump off of cliffs all the time—literally.


As a teenager I did a lot of rock-climbing. It’s been many years, but I can still remember it in my body.

Climbing up tall cliffs also involves getting down. And the way to get down is to jump off the cliff. It’s called rappelling, and it’s one of my favorite things.

Here’s how it goes:

You’re at the top of a tall cliff. The view is amazing—tops of trees, rock formations, distant rivers. If you peek over the edge, it’s straight down. A long way.

You get all strapped into your gear: harness, carabiners, belay rope, helmet. You feel nice and protected, but you start to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into.
Photo courtesy of Laurel Fan on Flickr

You plant your feet on the very edge of the cliff. With your heels hanging off.

You go through a lovely ritual with the person who’s going to pay out your rope as you go down the cliff. She has a good hold on your rope, and you’re gripping it front and back. You can let it feed, or you can pull sideways to let the carabiner stop it. You have a lot of control.

“On belay.” “Belay on.”

It’s all very well to say you have control, but the next step is to lean back. Back, back, back, until you’re horizontal. Out over the emptiness.

“Ready to rappell.” “Rappell!” “Rappelling.”

And you jump. Out into the air, off the cliff.


The first time I did this, I expected to fall. To fall through the air, or maybe to feel like I was flying. Isn’t that what happens when you jump off a cliff?

Well, no.

Photo courtesy of Madmolecule on Flickr
What happens is that you pay out a little rope and land a few feet down. And what you see is not a vast expanse of frightening sky. You see your feet in their climbing boots, planted reassuringly on the cliff face. There’s an interesting crack in the rock, and some moss growing along its top. The moss has tiny flowers in it.

You take that in, take a deep breath, and then you pay out a little more rope and jump a few more feet down. The jumping feels fun. You and your carabiner are in complete control.
Photo courtesy of Schoop Digital on Flickr

It’s not even slightly scary.

And other cliffs

So…are you facing a metaphorical cliff? Let’s say you’re quitting your day job to start a new business. Risky, exciting, possibility of large failure or larger success. You could use all your savings, disappoint your spouse, embarrass yourself, have to run back to the job you’re hating.

Deep breath. You have your technical gear strapped on: your internet is up and running, your Twitter page is customized, your Wordpress theme is installed. You've done your research. Your support group is ready to belay you. But there’s still a whole lot of sky out there.

And then you jump.

And it’s only a little jump. Just far enough to see, next to your boots on the cliff face, one email to answer. One color to choose for the menu on your website. One piece of free software to download.

One person to help.

You can do this. And the treasures on the way down will be beautiful.