Category Archives: Songs

Music for Whiling Away the Miles

Finally  a rainy morning where I can lounge a bit in my version of the universal writer’s uniform, my pajamas. The past ten days have been relentlessly busy with mostly all good things, but going the speed of the body means at this point, some stationary down time. In the past ten days I’ve driven to Youngstown to Perform the Book with guest artist, Soyinka Rahim and Atlanta InterPlay leader Jennifer Denning at her family’s home church. I’ve driven to Racine Wisconsin for the Body Wisdom National Board Meeting and Leaders’ Gathering, capped off by performing a solo drive home to Pittsburgh. Last night I headed to WV with two members of the Wing and A Prayer Pittsburgh Players and was especially grateful to friend Amy for her willingness to drive us home.


Driving in my especially comfortable car is, for the most part, a delight. A sing-a- along with InterPlay musician James Schattauer kept me alert through miles and miles of monotonous turnpike terrain. James’s simple rhythmic tunes inspired me to try my hand at composing my own verses, and a likely theme that emerged was finding suitable food to eat at the roadside oasis. Here are the words to the song I came up with – “My body likes spinach, my body likes greens, My body likes spinach, my body likes greens, Like Popeye the Sailor Man, I too am a fan, But I must admit, I don’t like them out of a can.”

In defense of my “poetry” the purposes of this exercise, which I accomplished, were to amuse myself and to keep myself alert through a long day of driving. To get the full effect, you really have to hear the tune.

A Healing Ritual at Serpent Mound

It was a trek, as all spiritual journeys are, with five of us traveling six hours from Pittsburgh in my SUV. The Serpent Mound is in southern Ohio, not far from Cincinnati and my friend Vikki Hanchin’s recent book, The Seer and the Sayer told of her experiences there. So twenty or so of us set out to see for ourselves this jewel of Midwestern archeology. A world-class expert on the 5 to 6 thousand year-old effigy mound, Ross Hamilton, would be meeting us there.Serpent-Mound-pano–historic-sites-by-name/serpent-mound

After the final hour’s roller coaster-like approach over hill and dale, on serpentine curves through fields and farms, Vikki’s stomach was talking to her, but not in a good way. Once we arrived, another passenger, a Reiki practitioner, began working on Vikki but each time she relaxed into the process she began to cry. It became clear she was tuning in to a sorrow beyond her own skin. When she told Mr. Hamilton of this, he shared that a few minutes before, he and his wife had learned of a dear friend’s daughter having been killed the previous night, crossing the highway near the Mound. A few minutes later when we began preparing for our Serpent Mound ceremony Vikki suggested, “We can help this family with our prayers,” and this death of a child shaped the ritual we were to do at the site.

imagestwowomengrief One of the participants, a Mohawk grandmother and friend of the family, taught us the chant her people sing to assist someone in their crossing. We began chanting to the young girl whose life had ended, suddenly and prematurely, the previous night.  As the ritual progressed, I began thinking of the girl’s mother and grandmother, and, having lost two of my own adult children, I felt called to do something for them. I brought to the group my need to call the names of these women, now in the midst of their unbearable loss.

I thought of what had helped me to heal and I taught the group a dance and chant developed by my Texas women’s spirituality group.  The movements begin as a spiraling of the hips, rocking back and forth as women do when comforting a child on their hips. “We are women, we grow out of the earth; beautiful, powerful and wise.”  The movements in the second verse repeat but the words change, as they did when I accompanied my friend Rose at her crossing. “We are women, we go back to the earth; beautiful, powerful and wise.”

After completing the chant and dance I felt a strong reassurance in my body that my book, currently in press, Warrior Mother, Fierce Love, Unbearable Loss and Rituals That Heal would be helpful to other families dealing with grief and loss.    

Desert Song

We’re in the desert again, this time to attend a baby blessing for our granddaughter who lives here. There’s something about deserts that call to the spiritual side of people. I remember visiting Barry Stevens in Moab Utah, in 1973, and our family vacation in Sedona, Arizona in 1997; the red rock formations, evening light shows against the mountains, dry creek beds and sand everywhere. Maybe it’s the sand. There’s so much of it, and all those tiny grains help remind us of where we fit in to it all.

My son invited some monks to bless his baby daughter, a day and a month after she arrived. Friends and family gathered for the occasion – actually the grandparents gathered ahead of everyone else because mom and dad hadn’t had much sleep and gotten behind on house and yard maintenance. So we cleaned and swept and raked the sand, inside and outside, getting the house ready to welcome the monks and the baby’s new community.

We knew that the monks wouldn’t eat anything because they would have already had their one meal for the day. They’d take water, (seems a necessity in the desert) whatever your spiritual practice, but apparently they said yes to some iced green tea. My son told me they needed one more tea and glass of ice so I brought them and placed the items down in front of the monk who didn’t have anything in front of him. Just after I did that, the head monk picked up each of the three glasses and bottles of teas and placed them down again, in the same spot as before. It seemed odd to me, but later, when I learned that my daughter-in-law had been the person who placed the other glasses of ice and tea in front of the first two monks, I realize that this action was necessary because the monks cannot eat or drink anything presented to them by a woman.

The baby blessing began with the monks inviting the entire group to mediate with them while they chanted. We were instructed to first send loving kindness to ourselves, because if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love anyone else. We were instructed to send loving kindness to all those that we love, our family and friends, then next to those suffering with ill health or recent losses. Finally, we should send loving kindness to the whole world, to those with whom we disagree, and to the ancestors on the other side. The chanting of the monks supported our meditation and I came to a place that I’ve come to many times – everything becomes easy when we love. That changes the world from the love of power to the power of love.

Especially since the baby we are celebrating is a girl, I prayed that everyone gets this message soon. The world I see for her is one where women and girls are respected and treated with dignity and respect. Where men accept with gracious gratitude, what women have to offer them. And where practices that do not reinforce these values, fall away; as the desert lets go of whatever doesn’t work in the environment, and where only what is essential survives.  

Higgs Boson and Me

As a senior person committed to life long learning, I’ve always been fascinated by physics. And though I usually feel my images of the subject are fuzzy figures a bit farther than my vision can decipher, the struggle seems worth it. Who doesn’t want to better understand the nature of our universe?

In trawling through the vast amounts of data in my own body/mind/spirit, I remember that adult’s learn something new by connecting it to something we already know. And through the years I’ve noted that new insights often emerge when someone from one academic discipline crosses fields to become a neophyte in another. So allow this dancing social worker to venture forth.

Higgs Boson Graphic
A Little God In each Part of Us

On July 4th, the physics world launched their own particular fireworks. The ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider announced that after a long search for the Higgs Boson particle, it has been found.  The particle only exists for a septillionth of a second, which gives new meaning to the expresson, “in the blink of an eye.” No wonder they had to trawl through enormous amounts of data to find it. (15 million gigabytes per year x many years)

Since the Higgs Boson process starts as a movement, it seems to me to be a kind of dance. A dance in which energy is only transferred, never created or destroyed. When the movement begins interacting with the Higgs field, the kinetic energy slows down and is converted to mass. (Remember Einstein’s E=MC2)                                                          Sonification Of Higgs BosonHiggs_Boson_Atlas

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I loved hearing that researchers in GEANT, a European Academic Communications Network turned the data points of Higgs Boson into a melody. And staying true to the intervals in the data, they created a piece of music.  The results of this “sonafication” process resemble a Habanera, like the well-known aria from Carmen. Makes me want to shout Ole!

Singing To Convince Yourself

There are many principles we would like to believe, many truths we would like to embody. And as lovers of African American spirituals, known as Sorrow Songs, can attest, the capacity of singing to facilitate change in one’s emotional state is enormous. And as in the blues, the progression is always from negative to positive. So as we wish for something better, singing can often make it become a reality, even if nothing has changed in our objective reality.

Identify something that you would like to hear and believe deep inside. The message could be a line from a song like, “You are so beautiful to me,” a saying, “All is well, all is well. All manner of things are well” or lines from a poem like John Neihardt’s, “There is more, there is more, there is always more.”

Experiment with singing the line, beginning with either a tune already familiar to you, or something that just seems to fit the rhythm of the words. Try this in the shower or your car or while walking in the early morning air.

Follow the song wherever it goes. Allow the tune to change and/or the words.

Notice how you feel once the song has come to its conclusion. P.S. You might discover a song you want to take with you in your regular life and repeat often.

A Song for Self-Care

Using a creative arts system called InterPlay, which includes dancing, storytelling, singing, and stillness, I’ve discovered that if speaking our truth is important, singing it can be an even more powerful self-caring vehicle. As Bernice Johnson Reagon, one of the founders of Sweet Honey and the Rock put it, “You can’t sing a song and not change your condition.” Here are several ways to play with this way of nourishing and nurturing yourself with song.

The Lullaby

Lie down on your back and cup your hands over your mouth. Begin humming softly into your hands as though singing a lullaby to a baby, only in this version; you are both singer and baby. Allow the tune to go in whatever direction it wants.

If it feels right, add words of support and encouragement, and
allow the words and the musical theme to repeat again and again
as in a chant.

Notice how your body feels as you take in to your body the
melody and words of the lullaby.

A Ranting Chant

Being grown up and mature can become too much sometimes. As listeners of the blues can attest, the power of singing to alter one’s emotional state is well documented. And the direction of the change is always from the negative mood to a more positive one.

Begin by creating a line that expresses something that aggravates or annoys you.

Begin to chant this line, with whatever energy, volume and
rhythm seems to belong to it. (for maximum privacy a good
place to practice this is in the shower.)  

Keep repeating the line as a chant and allow it to change.

Follow the song as it moves and transforms, clearing the energy from your body.