Singing Bowl

Each summer, I escape the flatlands of south Louisiana for some time in Tennessee.  It’s never long enough, but always fulfilling and downright fun, as the time is spent visiting friends, playing a few gigs, and attending the NAMM show in Nashville.

NAMM stands for the National Association of Music Merchants, and they have a huge trade show in Anaheim, California each January to introduce new instruments, new technology, and just about everything new (as well as old and faithful) in the world of musical manufacture.  I’ve been to the Anaheim show a few times, and it is busy, crowded and crazy.  The Nashville show in the summer is smaller, with fewer booths, but has the advantage of being within driving distance.  It’s also in an area of the country that I love.

NAMM 2016

A quiet moment at the Summer 2016 NAMM show

I’ve found several instruments and fun things over the years at NAMM, and the show always brings wonderful synchronicity for music partner Bubba and me.  A summer NAMM show was where I discovered and fell in love with Luna guitars.

That same show was where Bubba and I met mastering engineer extraordinaire Roger Nichols (think: Steely Dan) and where he offered to master our Blue Merlot CD.  We have found instruments, equipment, and made new connections and friends over the years.  Bubba, who is a Grammy-winning engineer and producer, goes with a list of manufacturers and new software / gear that he wants to learn about.  I go with an open mind, looking for inspiration (as well as a wish list of items, such as an easy midi controller for our pipe organ at Epiphany).  Last summer I found a wonderful harp (Harpsicle) that has given me relaxation and another inspirational sound to play with.  (www.harpsicle-harps.com)

My harp

My Harpsicle…pluck away in Dorian mode for lovely, relaxing (and easy) music!

As we walked from the car to the Music City Center, Bubba asked “are you looking for anything in particular?”

“Nah, not really” I replied.  I was more focused on the gigs we had lined up, and was content just to see what was new, though heaven knows we need some new mic stands.

“But…” I said, “I would love to find a Tibetan singing bowl.”

This isn’t the type of thing that we usually see at the show, but you never know.

We arrived, got our badges, and I put in my earplugs to buffer the onslaught of noise that is typical for NAMM.  Every guitar slinger, drummer, etc. wants to try out the goods.  I keep thinking that it would be nice if NAMM posted the “key of the day” so at least there would be some continuity in the cacaphony, but that hasn’t happened. We entered the huge showroom, with aisle after aisle of everything from acoustic guitars to zithers.  The first booth we saw had tubas in purple and other bright colors.

purple tuba

A very bright tuba!

 

BUT – right next to that was a booth with Tibetan singing bowls!  A whole booth of singing bowls,  crystal bowls, tingshas, drums and more.

Now at NAMM, there is a background melee of every kind of musical instrument, soundtrack, synth and drum that mashes together in a mess that doesn’t even resemble music but rather what I imagine a barrel of wet, angry cats would sound like.  Anyone with “soft” instruments is at a disadvantage, especially if they are anywhere near the drums (this is a “hands on” kind of show). This particular booth, Serenity Tibet, was an aisle over from the drums.  Yikes, how was I going to hear them?

In spite of everything, there was a sense of centeredness in the booth. Bowls like this are used in meditation.  A quick lesson from Ruby Shrestha taught me how to elicit tones from the bowls – that I could hear, in spite of the screaming cats chorus all around me.

No one had to show me how to feel them.  These bowls vibrated like crazy.  At the Serenity Tibet boot, I learned that Sureen Shrestha uses bowls like these in healing and teaches healing at his school in Colorado. I’ve been drawn to sound healing for a long time, and these bowls seemed to be an affirmation that this is an interest begging for more exploration. I purchased Sureen’s book, How to Heal with Singing Bowls, and resolved to purchase a bowl the next day.

I began reading the book that night, and felt a click of agreement when I noticed that Sureen referred to quantum theory in his book.  We feel and interact with sounds and vibrations. As a singer, I feel the songs that I sing.  (Yes, some feel much better than others, and it’s not necessarily linked to the lyrics.) On the very smallest level, we are – and everything in creation is – energy.  Like sound, we are made of vibrating particles / waves, in a marvelous swirling sea of cosmic energy.

I could go off on a quantum tangent here, but I’ll save that for another day.  Let’s just say that the tones and vibrations of the bowls are very centering and grounding.  The give you an aural sigh of relief felt throughout the body.

I selected a bowl the next day, or perhaps it chose me.  Through the rest of our trip, it came with me everywhere. It stayed in the car only when we were going to a different place – I brought it out to ring wherever we were, experiencing calm when I did so. What a great way to re-energize hotel rooms!  A visit with friends Deacon Diane, Vickie and Sister Madeleine Mary saw (and heard) the bowl passed around, and sparked a conversation on sound and spirituality. The bowl began inviting synchronicity and happy accidents immediately (more on that in another post).

singing bowl 2

The bowl that asked to be mine.

The bowl that I selected is handmade, formed and hammered from 7 different metals that Ruby explained correlate to the 7 chakras, or energy centers of the body.  Most are made in Nepal, and they are infused with prayer and intent as they are crafted.  You can learn more about these specific bowls at  www.atmabuti.org.  Other bowls were machine made, inscribed with the beauty of images, symbols and Sanskrit prayers and words.  I saw and heard an incredible frosted crystal bowl, inscribed with Om. Even in the noise bath of NAMM, we could hear the voices and feel the spirits of these bowls, bells and drums.

I am often amused at how new things – especially musical things – pop into my life.  This little bowl was an immediate and complete response to my thought “I’d love to find this….” It doesn’t always happen that way, but it’s fun when it does.  We resonate.

Filling in the Gaps

Our church has a small but dedicated choir, but we often  compliments such as “it sounds like the loft is FULL! It sounds like there’s a lot more people singing up there than there is!” It’s a lovely comment, especially as we’re often more of a quartet than a choir.

My friend (and fellow chorister) Margaret recently observed: “I think that God comes in and fills in the empty spaces for us.”

hymnals

We do sing with intention. We want to give our best to God, to our church family, and to Leon (our choir director who brings out the best in us).  I think Margaret got it just right: God does fill in the spaces and magnifies our efforts. God can enlarge what we do if we allow it. Here’s an example from my own musical life:

On December 27, 2011, I lost my hearing in my left ear.  Unable to find any other explanation for this sudden change (I’m meticulous about hearing protection when performing), my doctors figured it was the result of “a virus.”  Over the next year I went through multiple tests, consultations, and listening to well-meaning folks telling me that it might just be wax in my ears, and why didn’t I just have surgery? I clung to hope of a spontaneous return of hearing (it might happen, my doctor said, we have to give it a year).  I resisted the idea of a hearing aid for a while, and then began to look forward to the one year mark when I could begin the process of being fitted for a hearing aid.

That was not to be.  The sensorineural hearing loss I have does not respond to a hearing aid.  Welcome to life in monaural. I cried a river.

I’ve had to adapt.  In the case of Epiphany’s choir, small is a blessing for me.  I’m able to hear and enjoy the other parts without being distracted or confused.  You can’t sing harmony without listening to what else is going on. While that’s not a problem with two working ears, it’s very tricky with only one. Unison singing can be challenging if we’re not all completely unison.  My fellow choir members have become used to my moving around to find just the right spot to stand in the loft so that I can hear. At least solos are easy.

Recording vocal parts requires adjustment, too.  My music partner Joshua and I recently remixed and re-recorded some demos from our Women at the Well program and released a short CD.  A main objective was to re-record vocals and add vocal harmonies on several of the tracks, and there’s where God filled in the blanks.

Adding the harmonies required overdubbing – me singing different lines over myself.  You can’t do that without hearing everything, and hearing everything with only one ear means the brain is  processing some signals differently.  I can’t exactly describe it, but I do know I had to completely re-learn how to manage this.

Since the only budget for this project was earmarked for CD replication, we were recording at Joshua’s house.  The bathroom was the vocal booth.  Contrary to what you may think, that’s not because of “bathroom acoustics” but rather because it was the quietest room in the house. Since a vocal booth needs to be “dead,” we had a lot of blankets and towels draped everywhere!

It’s a pretty funny picture.  I was standing in a tiny bathroom, blankets draped over the shower curtain rod and piled in the bathtub, a big stuffed teddy bear crammed into the closet-without-a-door, scribbled notation taped to the wall in front of me so I’d remember exactly what to sing (what line am I singing now?) and I’m holding one headphone a couple of inches away from my ear so I can hear where to come in – but not so much as to be confusing….In the middle of all of this, a daddy longlegs spider appeared in the corner to watch.

Our budget also doesn’t allow for autotune, so it had to be perfect.

When I heard the final product, I cried with joy and relief.  I’d feared I’d never be able to do this again, yet there it was, beautiful harmonies and all.

One of the first people to hear the final product was our friend Danny, who plays keyboards and sings backup in a world-touring zydeco band.  Danny knows of my hearing loss, and also understands what’s necessary in overdubbing harmony lines.  How did you do that with just one ear?  he asked.  That’s a miracle.

God stepped in to fill in the blanks inside of my head and ears.  A next-to-nothing budget, Joshua’s considerable production skills and a whole lot of Divine assistance gave us a CD we could be proud of, that we could offer to those who heard our Women at the Well program and wanted to revisit the music again and again.

God fills in the empty spaces wherever we allow God to do so.  My hearing loss makes me realize that if I’m going to keep doing what I love, I need God to fill in those empty spaces.

This morning I was fixing my tea and thinking about Margaret’s comment, our “heavenly choir” and how God fills things out for us.  My eyes fell on a mail order catalog that my husband had left open on the kitchen table.  There was a teeshirt that simply said:

God greater than

God is greater than. Can I get an AMEN? God is greater than anything and will fill in the blank spaces when we allow it.

To learn more about the Women at the Well program, visit www.women-at-the-well.com. For information about the Living Water CD, visit www.cdbaby.com/cd/bbontherock The CD page has the latest recordings.

Mindful Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving, and I am thankful for so many things: Love, health, family, home, safety, freedom, peace.  I am fortunate because I will join loved ones for a good meal. I am blessed, and I am grateful.

Let’s be honest, though – the holidays are also high-stress.  Stretched finances, overtaxed schedules, family members who make us wonder if there wasn’t some mixup at the hospital, and finding the right gift all take their toll.  No wonder our habit of overeating gets cranked up a notch while our belts are loosened the same way!

pumpkinpie

Author, spiritual teacher and friend Lynn Woodland points out an alternative way of approaching the holiday table(s): Make your eating a spiritual activity.  Not only will you slow down your eating (enabling your brain to trigger the “I’m full!” signal at a time when you can stop eating before misery kicks in), you’ll enjoy your food more.

Give thanks (you can do this silently if you wish) before diving in.  Notice the beauty of your food as well as the taste.  When I cook, I pay attention to colors and textures as well as flavors.  Be grateful for the bounty of our Creator and the creativity of chefs! I’m grateful for the hands that harvested, the hands that cooked (and, of course, the hands that clean). I’m grateful for the nourishment.  When was the last time you really sat and chewed and noticed how good that food is, and how good it is for your body?  And if it isn’t all that good, why are you even eating it?

Eat mindfully, and mindfulness will start to spread throughout your holidays.  Here’s something new to experience: Allow yourself to eat whatever you want – but ask yourself first if you really want it.  If you must follow a special diet for health reasons, you’ll need to modify this.  However, you can still look at that “forbidden” food in a new way: Does it serve me?  Does it strengthen my body, enhance my health and well-being?  You may be surprised to find that the fat-and-sugar laden former “treat” starts to lose its appeal. If you still want it (and it’s safe to eat it for health reasons), go ahead and enjoy it! Enjoy every single bite.  Slowly. Imagine yourself a judge on Chopped and chew slowly, exploring all the nuances of flavors and textures.  If you’re full before you finish the serving, you can always ask for a to-go box!

pecans

I’ve found this to be a very beneficial practice for body and spirit.  With our recent change to a mostly-vegan lifestyle, I find myself seeking out different foods, and exploring them this way.  Beans are a staple of our diet, and I often experiment with “new” beans.  My husband says “a bean’s a bean!” but is beginning to discern subtle differences between them – and that’s just with the humble members of the legume family.

Food is sustenance and comfort.  It is an excuse to celebrate, an event to bring people together. It is an expression of joy, sorrow, or support.  We’re so used to that rush of deliciousness with the first few bites that we tend to plow through the rest of the dish without even giving our taste buds time to register their bliss.  I’ve joked about pecan pie – the first bite is heaven, the second bite is great, and the third bite – well, it’s so rich, I’ve had enough!  But really, what’s wrong with that?  Take a smaller serving.  If you fear the cook will be offended (a common occurrence in south Louisiana – “what, you don’t like it?”), fear not.  Your slow and thorough enjoyment will be obvious, and you may start commenting on flavor nuances that you’ve never noticed before!

Take your time today and throughout the holidays.  Savor time with loved ones as you savor each bite, and give thanks. When we focus on how truly special everything in life is, we slow down our rush to find more.  We realize that maybe we really don’t need more of anything.  We have plenty, and we are blessed.

Plants & Prayers

It’s been an upside down couple of months.

You see, someone very close to me has been diagnosed with several coronary arterial blockages (with one being of particular concern).  Wanting to avoid coronary bypass surgery if at all possible, the question was asked “do I have any other options?”

Surprisingly, the response was a (very guarded) “well…yes.  There is a dietary option.  It’s not easy, but it has been shown to have dramatic results.”

After much research and prayer, my “impatient patient” opted for the dietary change.  For someone living in south Louisiana who is used to cooking with (and eating) meat, seafood, dairy, nuts and oils, a sudden transition to a totally plant-based diet required a very steep learning curve for everyone involved.

So I dug into my vegetarian past, started studying more current research and food availability, and fired up the crock pot and the pressure cooker. I won’t go into the emotional rollercoaster part of all of this; that’s a whole ‘nuther story.

We’re used to “dietary changes” taking a long time to show results, and we always wonder if they’re doing any good because there’s a lot of seemingly conflicting information out there when it comes to diets and nutrition. When I worked in the oncology field, I saw patients changing their diets in many ways, hoping that eating more fresh foods would tip the scales in the favor of health. Anyone who has struggled with weight issues knows that it takes time to see the results of a dietary change. That kind of slow, invisible and unknown progress is what we all expect.

Imagine our shock when our Impatient Patient, under doctor’s supervision, discontinued all medication for high blood pressure because the IP’s blood pressure was, for the first time in decades (did you hear that? DECADES), controlled without medication. This happened within a month.  In fact, within a week, the blood pressure stabilization had begun.

Let me pause in my narrative to say that I’ve always been a bit skeptical of “fad diets.”  There’s always a new diet (usually with a book and guru attached) that’s touted as being a cure-all. I’ve always felt that a sensible, balanced diet was the way to go.  That, and regular exercise, have served me well for several decades. It takes a lot for me to say “wow, this diet is life-changing.”  In fact, I’ve never, EVER said that, until now – because I’ve never seen it happen until now.
mango mandarin slaw
So, my latest creative output has been in the kitchen.  Luckily, I love to cook, and would have stayed vegetarian had I not married Mr. Meat-and-Potatoes years ago.  My goal was to make this nutrition plan NOT an “I’ll never be able to eat ____ again,” but rather “ohhhh, this is DELICIOUS!!”

Trial and error, experimentation, and some great guidebooks and cookbooks have paved the way. I also happen to love whole grains, and I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like (with the possible exception of beets).  I’ve discovered that there are even people I know who are following this plan as well, and we’ve shared ideas and resources.  Mr. Meat-and-Potatoes has even started enjoying a plant-based diet – and he LIKES it!

If you want to learn more about Dr. Caswell Esselstyn’s plan for reversing heart disease, check out his book Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease.  Other resources include Dr. Colin Campbell’s The China Study.  There are more resources out there – I’ll include more in this space over time.

The power of plants and prayer is what is getting us all through.  I’m amazed that in spite of the extra time spent on grocery shopping (label reading!) and cooking, I have more energy.  Right now I’m about to sit down to mango-mandarin slaw, take some whole grain bread out of the oven, and enjoy lunch!

Mango Mandarin Slaw

1/2 – 1 mango, cubed

2 oranges, peeled and diced

1 can mandarin oranges, drained

juice of 1 lime

about 1 tablespoon pineapple/orange juice concentrate (or substitute orange juice)

1 tablespoon of honey or agave syrup

Mix the above together, then pour over:

cole slaw mix (shredded cabbage and carrots, 1 bag)

Toss, and enjoy.  I served over baby spinach with some ground flax and chia seed.

Be the Match

I type the word “Match” as a working title for this post and the dating website comes to mind.  Finding the right match can change your life! Today, I received a phone call that, if a particular match is right, could indeed change someone’s life. And no, it has nothing to do with dating.

A few years ago, I had registered with the National Marrow Donor Registry.  I have some knowledge of bone marrow transplants, and knew quite a few transplant recipients when I was working in the field of oncological social work.  I also knew some patients who needed (but never received) a transplant because no suitable donor could be found.

I finally got more information and contacted the Registry at www.BeTheMatch.org.  Even though I knew the basics of the transplant process, I read up on the procedure.  I knew that I would always have the chance to remove myself from the Registry if I so wished, and if I were contacted as a potential donor, I could still opt out.  Yes, it’s more involved than donating blood, but the process of getting on the Registry is easy.

BTM_Badge_SP4_180x180_R1

I knew when I signed up that I might be contacted, and today I received a call informing me that I had been identified as a possible donor match for a lady with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.  (I’ve read that about half of one percent of people who register are identified as a possible match; even fewer of those become donors.)  One can be a possible match and still not be a donor because of a number of reasons, so I don’t know where this journey will lead.  What’s important is the best possible outcome for the 70-ish year old lady for whom I am a potential match, and if that’s me, then I’m in. Early 70’s? She’s young, and has a lot left to do in life! I don’t know her, but I want to help her.  I’m betting there are people who love her, and that she loves and wants to stick around for.

So, the next step for me is a repeat cheek swab test, and if her doctor determines I’m still a possible match, we follow up with blood tests, physical exam, etc. for further screening.  I also know that my own journey, even if I do wind up being a donor, will be nothing compared to hers.

I see the time commitment and discomfort as a small price to pay for someone else to gain life.  I feel very, very humbled. In spite of the small percentage of matches found among those who register, I wasn’t too surprised to get the call.  Maybe it’s because so many of my ancestors had very large families, I know I share DNA with a lot of people! (And who knows, I may share no DNA at all with the possible recipient.)

Or perhaps it’s because each year, when the Registry contacts me to confirm or update my contact information, I prayerfully consider and renew my commitment.  I say yes.  Yes to God, yes to whatever is in store, knowing that whether I ever serve as a donor or not, my being available brings more hope to people who will be searching for a match.

Find out more about being on the National Marrow Donor Registry at www.BeTheMatch.org.