Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Very Good

Yesterday I sang at a group day care center where people with severe special needs spend the day.  When I say "special needs," I also mean they are special people.  For though it may appear they lack intellectual understanding, I think this allows them to come completely from their heart.

One of our favorite songs to sing together is, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." This is because they love to hear their names being sung to them and they love to pick the next person's name. After each verse I will ask, "who else?" and  Justine will say, "Daniel!" And after Daniel I will ask, "who else?" and Diane will say, "Susan!" and it goes on like this for a good long time until we have sung for everyone in the room and beyond.

There is one girl who cannot sing or speak but she makes up for this with the light in her eyes and the big smile on her face and how she dances in her wheelchair.  When she is especially excited, she shakes her head from side to side vigorously. To someone who does not know her, it may appear she is saying, "No." When in fact it is more like, "Yes! Yes! Yes!!"

As I was getting ready to leave,  I told her we could sing one last song. I went and sang with her, "This Little Light of Mine." and again the shaking head, the vigorous movement in her chair. When we finished singing she said clearly, "Very Good."   We were all surprised to hear her speak. In the 6 or so years I've known her, I've never heard her to so. It really made our day!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

If you're going to San Francisco

Last night I was singing for Ms. Valentino at one of the nursing homes I visit. As she is bedridden, I go into her room and sing for her. "Hi Darlin'!" she said, "Play me something!" I know she loves musicals, so I sang: "My Favorite Things." Afterward she was telling me about her son Joe Valentino (not his real name) who lives in San Francisco and plays the guitar too.  When she asked me to sing again, I started singing the old song "San Francisco" and it came to me to make up the words about her son:

"If you're going to San Francisco
be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
if you're going to San  Francisco
you're going to meet Joe Valentino there..."

She loved that and then said, "make up another song about Joe!" and so I sang:

"This land is your land
this land is Joe's land
from California
to the New York Island." 

"I love that" she said, "make up another one!" and so I sang:

"You are my Joseph, my only Joseph
you make me happy when skies are grey.."

...and on it went. I think I will propose on our next visit  that we make a songbook of songs all about her son Joe. We'll see what she says.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Everything and the kitchen sink

Check out that wilderness camping sink above! It is found at the Twin Oaks women's gathering space for the campers. It is a beautiful, rustic place in rural Virginia. Something I have noticed about myself is that when I go somewhere new, I take pictures of things and places around me--not of people. I am always fascinated by a given setting and how that makes you feel. Walking around yesterday in the woods  while waiting to give my Sacred Chants and Song Circle workshop, I felt renewed by the peace and beauty there.

It was the perfect setting to sing old Native American chants and I really enjoyed the group of women who came together to share.  The workshop began with my leading all of the songs but soon I invited others to share songs with the group.   We sang songs like, "Ancient Mother," "The River is Flowing," "I am One with the Infinite Sun," " The Earth is our Mother."   Songs that fill you up on a peaceful late summer day.  I always love how a group of people  from different places and of different ages and backgrounds come together and harmonize. It is a bonding that takes place that renews the spirit.

We sang for nearly 2 hrs and gradually we drifted into small groups to talk and get to know each other more until the dinner bell rang and it was time to eat. I enjoyed sharing a meal outside on the picnic tables--tofu and chicken BBQ and veggies and cookies for dessert.  The sun was going down as I drove home and I was filled with such a sense of happiness having shared today with new friends.  A restorative day!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sundown Serenade

I find the time of sunset to be an especially comforting time of day. Most people are home from work and the night begins and all is quieted. For patients with dementia though, the time of sundown is can be very confusing and it's probably their worst time of day. Some of them want to "go home", not realizing that the nursing home is their "home." Some of them become really agitated and cannot be calmed. This is where I come in. I have a few places where my job is to come and soothe those with dementia with music. In one place I sit in a big room where everyone is and play my guitar. That is what i did last night.

I have gone here now two years and have become another routine for them. When I arrived last night I saw one of the assistants helping Ms. Rachel and Ms. Clara into the elevator to take them to where i am playing. The night nurse told me Ms. Rachel was having a really bad day and just wanted to "go home" and kept trying to call on the phone (she was unable to call out without using a code she is not given).  Ms. Rachel is one of the nicest ladies of anyone there and so it was upsetting to the staff to see her so agitated.   Everything changed though when i set up my chair next to her and played my guitar. She sat quietly and listened to me thoughtfully. At times she leaned over to look at the music I had brought with me but kept quiet. By the time the hour was up, she was calmed.

I was treated to the lovely sunset of the countryside in the picture above. I love the drives to these places on country roads and love my work with them. Sundown is a special time for me.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Music prescriptions to help with insomnia

Most of you know I work at a hospital playing therapeutic music for ICU patients.  What this ends up meaning is that I help the patients relax and sleep by using music as a science. This means that the listener links up with the slow rhythms I play and falls asleep.

I'm aware that many people suffer from insomnia. Many report that they are able to fall asleep but wake up during the night and are unable to fall back to sleep. There are ways to help with this and below I will give you some ideas to try.

First I will say that getting a good night's sleep can be an effort. It may mean altering your current lifestyle somewhat in order to ensure you can create good sleep patterns in your life. For instance, I try to go lie down in bed one or more hours before I want to be asleep. So if i want to be asleep by 10, I go to bed at 9:00. Here are some other things:

Starting a new sleep routine:
  • Try cutting back on watching TV  before going to bed and instead try doing some light inspirational reading. TV can be very stimulating and I find it very hard to go lie down after watching the news or an TV show. Our brains are still working out the details. With a book, sometimes the quiet focus can relax and help us slow down.
  •  Begin your bedtime routine much earlier than you wish to be falling asleep. If you have had children or cared for children, you see that we can't suddenly announce, "ok it's time for bed" and expect them to go and fall asleep within 30 mins. We usually have to introduce the idea a long time beforehand by giving them a bath, getting them in their pajamas, reading to them, etc. It takes effort to help a child unwind. We are no different! We need time to unwind from the day. Give yourself that gift to slow down and unplug from the world.
  • You might like to purchase some nice, relaxing new music to listen to as you lie down for the night. I think it is a good idea to have new music that you have no past baggage with (that would get the mind thinking) and something that you associate with resting and sleep. I will list some recordings I like a lot at the end.
If/when you wake up during the night:
  •  Something you might try is to adopt a mantra you can say quietly in your mind. If you've ever taken a yoga class, then you are familiar with the chanting music that has short, repeated phrases with repetitious music. I prefer to say a sanskirt mantra of something simple like "Om Shanti,  Shanti, Shanti" which means peace.   The reason for the sanskrit is that in these mantras, the emphasis is on the vibration of the words, not the literal meaning of them. We want to bypass the thinking mind as much as possible. If you have something simple you can use for a mantra (you can google this topic and find many of them) it is helpful. 
  • The mind is like a border collie dog and it is wired to work and its job is to problem solve. One of the biggest hindrances is when we wake up and our brain kicks right in with things like, "did I send that email?" "will I be ready for the meeting tomorrow?" etc etc. These kinds of thoughts are like "hooks" that can get us all wound up and it is hard to shut down the endless chatter. So that is why I use the mantra to avoid that happening. It gives me something to focus on and the effort of the focus makes me fall back to sleep.
  • Don't look at the clock!   It really does not help us to know what time it is. In fact, it only creates more anxiety and more "hooks" to get us wound up. "Oh no! it's 3:00 am and I have to be up in two hours!!" This does not help.  Focus on the mantra or relaxing music.
  • You might try using a silk eye mask to ensure it is completely dark. I have light coming in my room and any kind of light tends to make me wake up or sleep lightly. The eye mask is so light you don't feel it and it helps to induce a deep sleep. 
  • Above all, try to be gentle with yourself about it. Treat yourself as you would a child who wakes up in the middle of the night. You would be kind and reassuring and maybe sing them to sleep or turn on a CD.

Here are some CDs I really like and use over and over. I recommend using one CD you like for at least a month at a time. This way, your body gets the message when you hear the music, "it's time to sleep now." I prefer music without words or words that are not in English so that my mind is not "hooked' into a storyline.

David Darling "Cello Blue" --beautiful, peaceful cello music 

Singh Kaur "Guru Ram Das" --healing chant with Kim Roberston accompanying on harp

Eckhart Tolle's Music to Quiet the Mind-- a nice compilation of relaxing music

Just about anything by Snatam Kaur--she has such a beautiful voice.  Here is her rendition on YouTube of a beautiful Irish song, " May the Long Time Sun"