Healing in Public

A pink lotus flower blossoming on a lake surrounded by lilypads
Photo by Jay Castor / Unsplash

"Music is the Healing Force of the Universe" is one of saxophonist Albert Ayler's transcendent contributions to the 1960s free jazz movement, with lyrics penned and sung by Mary Maria Parks. I found myself revisiting it as I prepared to write today's update, as I began to understand the discomfort I mentioned last month—that disquieting sense of change afoot—as a reminder that I am on a healing journey. This provocation has been with me for over a year now, since co-founding Catalyst Cooperative Healing alongside a pair of clinical social workers. Putting my bio on the website as a part of the effort really foregrounded my sense of what I do as healing work for the first time, thinking about organizational consulting as helping groups heal from the wounds of autocracy and coercion.

But music? It still feels almost embarrassing to describe my music with that word, healing. At this phase of the journey, anyway, it seems that if I'll ever be of any use in that capacity, I have a lot of healing to do myself. But, listening with Ayler and Parks, I am reminded that healing work is at the core of the debut album project that I am finally getting underway here in my late 30s. As Ayler and Parks put it, music is "always there: to feel, to let in, to become obsessed by, to be healed by. So open up your door and let it come in. Let it into the very interior of your soul." For years, despite a deep knowing of its inescapable supportive presence, I have been afraid to follow that invitation. For the first time in years, I am letting it come in again.

Spending last weekend in New York with Pablo and Reca was a huge boost in this direction. For me, asking for help has always been the biggest obstacle in moving towards healing. Our time together confirmed that I am sharing in this project with incredibly kind, generous, big-hearted vibration-makers. Their enthusiastic "yes" has meant the world to me.

I've also connected recently with a fascinating experiment in collective care called The Hologram, having set up my first session using the protocol last month. This is an exciting project that is re-imagining what care could look like if we center our human species' innate capacity for cooperation. To me, it sounds like the stirrings of what the late anthropologist David Graeber called "The Revolt of the Caring Classes."

(By the way, his talk on the subject is a must-see in my humble opinion!)

This piece from the talk seems especially relevant (about 41 minutes in):

If you think about care, what is the paradigm of a caring relationship? Its a mother and a child. A mother, or a parent, takes care of a child, so that the child can grow and be healthy and flourish, that's true, but on an immediate level, you take care of a child so that it can go and play, that's what children actually do when you're taking care of them. What is play? Play is action done for its own sake. It's in a way the very paradigm of freedom, because action done for its own sake is really what freedom consists of: play and freedom are ultimately the same thing.

Ever since I began to take music seriously as a teenager, I've been haunted by the idea that as a musician, I needed to "make" music. That I was a producer of something—music—for others to experience. But the alternative has always been with me, too—in English, after all, we also call musical activity "play." This has always felt closer to my experience, something much more akin to what Graeber describes in the passage above. The more permission I give myself to play—really play—the more healing feels like a real, embodied possibility. So instead of making music, this process feels like inviting conditions that can allow for me to listen and respond to what the music is asking for—to let it come in. Music as sound for its own sake. Music as the healing force of the universe.

So far, this allowing has been uncomfortable—there are challenges, anxieties, and painful memories that arise as I relate to it. Part of me would prefer not to feel those feelings, but here we are. Even still, I'm deeply grateful to everyone who has been a part of this process so far, even if it's just reading these words as I send them out onto into the world.

Next month, by the time this monthly update rolls around, I'll also have completed another trip around the sun. One thing I do miss a bit since quitting Facebook is the utterly random assortment of salutations and celebratory remarks that would come across my feed. So if you're up for it, I'd welcome an email in my inbox on the 2nd of November saying hello! I've also set a birthday goal to reach at least 10 supporters on my Ampled page, the threshold at which artists on the platform become artist-owners. I'm now over halfway there—if you know anyone who might be curious to follow along, please send them my way! It would be a wonderful birthday gift to celebrate that milestone.

Thanks again for following along. Now, if you have another nine minutes to spare, have a listen to Ayler and Parks's masterpiece: