What is the sound of freedom?

Last Thursday was the first meeting of Sounding for Self-Care Circles. This is a group that started out as a weekly practice circle for several of us who are about to finish our certificate program in Sound Voice & Music Healing at California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco. We began meeting weekly as a way to keep our skills active and to integrate our learning and transformation during a break in our classwork.

A Place to Practice

As our training program comes to a close and we each set out to offer our learnings in the world in unique ways that resonate with us, I realized that we needed to keep cultivating our community of practice, and to plant the seeds for a circle of practitioners to grow on the Peninsula.

So, I thought, why not open up our weekly practice to the public, and see who comes? You may not realize it, but every time you are admitted as a patient to a teaching hospital, you are entering a community of practice. The purpose of these institutions is to train doctors and other health care professionals in their art. Yes, true caring and healing work is an art form, no matter how far we've strayed from that in our health care system. The medical model at least recognizes that becoming a skilled practitioner (in anything) is a process of practicing. Many medical residents spend years chomping at the bit, waiting to get "out there" and start practicing on their own, and to have a "real job" with some autonomy.

What I now appreciate is the value of having a place to practice.

Effective practice requires repetition with awareness and consistent effort toward a conscious goal, as well as specific feedback along the way. The problem is, it's impossible to practice something and get better at it without taking the risk of doing something that doesn't work. We knew this when we were toddlers learning to walk. We fell down thousands of time, cheerfully getting back up again, training our muscles, building strength, until finally one day, we took our first step. After which, we promptly fell down again.

How many of us are willing to fall down in front of others? To risk "looking bad", or appearing silly?

When we were learning to walk, almost everything we did was entertaining to our parents. When we tried, they laughed. When we fell, they laughed. When we finally walked, they also laughed.

Some time between the age of 3 and being a teenager, we manage to lose our sense of sheer delight at the process of learning and practicing. We somehow forget our cheerful attitude toward failures as part of the process. It seems that "some time" is getting closer to age 3, as parents focus earlier and earlier on getting their kids into the right schools, needing to optimize test scores and performance evaluations even to get into kindergarten. It also seems that there are fewer places in our society that enable us to practice something in front of others - to be witnessed in our process of trying, failing, and trying again. There are plenty of performance spaces - in fact, many of our work and even family environments are probably best described as places where we put on a costume, play a role, memorize our lines, and hope for the applause at the end of our show.

But where do we go when we want to really LEARN? Where do we go when we need to really practice something, and try things out, and know that we don't have to look good, and trust that by being willing to NOT look good, we actually enable ourselves to get BETTER?

My vision for Sounding for Self-Care Circles is to create a safe space not only for students but for us as leaders and facilitators to play, practice, learn, and grow.

There were some beautiful moments of sharing and discovery last Thursday. The one that touched me the most was 21-year-old Elizabeth's comment that she never used to sing at all, but by the end of the class realized that she actually does enjoy the sound of her own voice, and wants to start practicing at home.

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I'm currently exploring my inexplicable fascination with what happens when you put a bunch of colorful children's bells in the hands of adults and say, "Play!"

In every class, I look at these bells and think, "Maybe we won't do it this time." But every time, I end up learning something new when we DO play with them. This Thursday was no exception.

Improvisation: Freeing the group's wisdom

The first time around, everyone chose their favorite color bell. Among the five of us, there were all the notes in the C major scale. This would be like having available only the white keys on the piano from middle C to the next C, 7 keys away. Try this at home on the piano. Give yourself those 8 notes to work with, and those 8 notes only. See what you can create.

Here's what five of us created, with our eyes closed and no one standing in front of the group to lead. I love the space between the notes and the unexpected harmonies that emerged.

Freely improvised bells (no conductor):

[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Improvised-Bells-4.22.10.mp3|titles=Improvised Bells 4.22.10]

Then, at one participant's request, I handed my bells to someone else and took a turn standing in front of the group, as if it were an orchestra and I were the conductor. In my efforts to find melodies and harmonies by directing the others, I felt the group energy as being a bit stiffer and more distracted by this way of interacting.

Same group of people, different leadership dynamic, different result. Fascinating! Maybe as the conductor I was trying too hard, but in any case, you can listen to the clip below and hear for yourself.

Conducted bells:

[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Conducting-Bells-4.22.10.mp3|titles=Conducting Bells 4.22.10]

Freeing the voice

Right now I am loving the freedom of using my voice to create a safe space for all of us to explore. I hold in my mind the image of all the teachers who had come to CIIS to share  their art with us. The common theme that ran through these experiences was total authenticity. Each of these teachers had done the work of transformation, and continued to practice creativity as a way of life. Each was completely unique and beautiful. Each was willing to be with us and stand before us as exactly who they are right now.

And I, even at this beginning stage of a new journey for me, must remember that my willingness to share myself in process is one of the greatest gifts I can offer.

"Yemaya" came to me on the morning of the class last Thursday, as I was re-reading a chapter of Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. It was just one word on a page, mentioned in passing. It's the name of a piece she choreographed years ago. It leaped off the page as inspiration and I created a simple medicine melody to go along with it.


[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Yemaya-4.22.10.mp3|titles=Yemaya 4.22.10]

We closed with the breath-like sounds of the shruti box (courtesy of my friend Monique) and the Purification Mantra.

Purification Mantra:

[audio:http://www.themusicwithinus.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Purification-Mantra-with-Shruti-4.22.10.mp3|titles=Purification Mantra with Shruti 4.22.10]

So what IS the sound of freedom? It's a practice I am just beginning to savor and enjoy.