Category Archives: Work

Control and Stuff…

Variables like…

The weather.

The colour of different leaves.

Frequency of waves.

Perspectives of others.

Whether colleagues understand your work (or think that music therapy is about teaching kids how to play instruments *roll eyes*).

Whether a kid will suddenly decide to hit you in the face because he was prevented from licking lotion (haha yes happened yesterday).

 

We probably could take measures to address or pre-empt some things, but still, it would be a lot less painful if we truly accepted that there is an infinity of variables we could not control or address even if we wanted to.

And in a way, living life with that kind of surrender can be quite liberating.

It means I can still do my best, without worrying about what the outcomes say about my abilities or skills, because we cannot control all the variables.
It means I can still strive to improve myself, but be gentle with my own pace and progress, because we cannot control all the variables.
It means I can meet whatever problems I may face head on, without necessarily blaming myself (or others) for their occurrence, because we cannot control all the variables.

 

“The secret of life is… Everything is out of control.”

-Ajahn Brahm

 

Ok.

 

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Selection

Meet up with 3 other ex-colleagues on the eve of a public holiday, preparing a cake to celebrate one of their birthdays, and chatting in the living room till 9.30PM – Perfectly fine and enjoyable.

Staying back for an hour to have lunch in the office to welcome new staff, watch them do initiation forfeits, and make small talk – Escapes immediately after workshop session ends.

Meeting up with a friend I have not seen in 2 years, in a foreign country, and spending an entire day together catching up along the beautiful coastline of her country – I can’t wait.

Going on a company-sponsored trip to an offshore island to spend 3 days 2 nights with a planned itinerary, large group outings and games and activities – all in the name of “bonding” – I’d take unpaid leave if I could or had to.

I’m not anti-social.

Just …. selectively social.

A Little Thing

It’s a usual music therapy practice to greet each person in the group individually at the start of the session, and to say goodbye to each individual. It is a way to invite each individual into the group setting, and at the end, to thank them for their contribution to the group.

Well yesterday, I forgot to say bye to each individual kid after a session.

After the group goodbye song, the boys were transited to go toileting, then to go for their outdoor activity.

But one of the little boys decided otherwise – he apparently pulled his teacher back to the classroom, where I was still packing and clearing the area after their session.

I had turned around and there he stood, looking at me, somewhat bashfully.

Unaware of his agenda, I asked “A, what is it?” Not that he could verbalise a reply, but I knew he was capable of communicating through gestures and vocalisations.

When a few more moments had passed without him initiating anything, I looked at the teacher standing at the entrance of the classroom.

“Do you know what he wants?” I asked.

“He wants to say bye.”

BOOM.

It hit me then. Of course. I had forgotten to give each kid their individual goodbye after the session, perhaps unconsciously assuming that the goodbye song was good enough and that it wouldn’t make a difference to them anyway… Apparently it does!

Squatting to his eye level, I said “Bye bye A!” and held out my palm for a high-5. He returned the high-5 immediately, smiled and turned to walk back to his teacher.

Heart melts.

The little things do matter. A lot.

July 2018

So. It has been an eventful month, to say the least.

When I applied for this Friday off from work (about a week ago), I was feeling emotionally drained, fatigued and slightly jaded (even if I did not always show it). It made sense to take some time off, to regather my thoughts and feelings, and to perhaps reconfigure the WHY of what I’m doing.

It all started from 3 Sundays ago, when I received a call from a colleague tearfully telling me that one of our kids was in intensive care and not expected to make it through the next day. The social worker had asked if I would be able to have one more music therapy session with him?

Yes, I said. Of course. We made plans to go down first thing next morning.

I don’t think I had much time to prepare myself for it. I texted a trusted peer and shared my worries about doing the session. My worries about not being able to separate my personal emotions from my role as the therapist in the room. She reassured me that it was ok to show our emotions and that I could try taking deep breadths if it got too much to handle. I wrote about my emotions in my journal. Had some alone time in the morning before work, to ground and steady myself. That was about all the preparation I could do, I think.

The session itself started on an emotional high. Little D, not even 3 years of age, was in a comatose state, kidneys failed, his face swollen and puffed up, with machines and tubes all around him (But then this wasn’t something new, even when he was coming to school he was already surrounded by tubes and machines). It became quite apparent that the music was more for mum than for D. She started crying the moment the strings of the guitar filled the room.

Same chords. Just repeat. Hold the space, I told myself. C – G – F – G – C. Repeat. Mum took a call. Came back. Continued crying.

“We are here… Here with D…” A song to establish our being there. Our presence. Our being together. Humming. A space for comfort. And also because I didn’t trust myself to sing words continuously without breaking down or cracking with emotion.

“Is there anything you’d like to say to him?” I chocked out to mum, after some time of just playing instrumentally. A floodgate of emotions opened as mum verbalised what she seemed to have been keeping in. “You can go and do all the things you couldn’t do here…”, “Mummy has already tried her best, sorry…”, “If you want to go you can go, it’s really ok”… It felt like she needed that space, and perhaps even the presence of people who allowed her to say those things.

Keep playing, keep playing. Don’t stop the music. Hold the space. She needs to let this out. Even though my tears were salty, my nose was dripping grossly, even though my shoulders and fingers were tensed and tired from the continuous plucking.

When she seemed to have finished all she wanted to say… or at least reached a suitable pause… I let the song take over again. To gather. To validate. To comfort.

“Mummy loves you… Loves D…”. “Thank you mummy… for taking care of me.”

A voice for D, perhaps, who has never uttered a word in his life.

Hesitantly, I ask. “Are there… any songs he liked in particular?”

“Not really…” A pause. “Maybe… Can you sing You are my Sunshine?”

And we did.

You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
when skies are grey
You’ll never know dear
How much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

“D, I’m sorry I did not dare sing this song to you because I was afraid I would cry. You will always be my sunshine ok…”

Needless to say we were all emotional wrecks by this time. Yet, it felt like the right moment to wrap up the session.

“Can we sing a goodbye song?” – This, I had not expected.

“You mean the one we always sing in class?”

“Yes that’s fine”

It’s time to say goodbye
Goodbye to D, goodbye
Thank you for your music
And now we say goodbye

 

After we left, we heard that mum had brought D home. And D passed on at home the next morning.

How do I even begin to describe what the journey was like after that experience?

I moved through the world feeling numb, drained and fatigued for the next week or so.

I could not sleep, and woke up early.

I continued sessions but could feel that my heart was nowhere there with the kids in front of me.

I don’t know if it was grief, or emotional exhaustion. Or maybe a combination of both. I didn’t understand how everyone around me, my colleagues – could continue as normal when inside I felt so hollow and empty. I felt isolated – no one else could understand what that space felt like, what it felt like to be holding the space with music and connecting in those moments through song and music. I tell people “It was an emotional session” but that did so little justice to the experience that it became a chore to even try to explain.

Doubts also crossed my mind. Was I being unprofessional by investing too much of my emotions? I should not have allowed myself to get so deep emotionally? Is it a sign of my incompetence as a therapist that I’m unable to handle the emotions when it gets this tough? How do people working in palliative settings do it? Does this mean I’m not suitable to work in palliative settings?

But.

It’s getting better. Even though there were times when I thought it would not.

And I am glad I can honestly say: I’m very thankful for the privilege. For the experience. It has deepened my practice so much. To have been there, with the music, as the music therapist. When I started working in this job, I never imagined that I would get to do a session like that. And now I can look back and see how it has helped me grow, helped me know myself better, helped me truly appreciate what music can do.

The feelings may be difficult, but they can teach us so so much.

And the journey continues.

Free From Ego

A recent read (this) led me to contemplate about how much I let my ego get in the way of the things I do .

“Over-investing your ego in your results is unproductive and unnecessary. If you think the failure of your ideas is a personal failure, you’ll take too few risks, risks that could ultimately pay off. But if you can learn to separate yourself from your ideas and your work and see them as something separate from yourself, you’ll feel you truly have the right to be wrong.” – Steve Pavlina

I thought this was really poignant because it very closely describes and articulates why I fear failure so much. Why I even fear responsibility to a certain extent, because with more responsibility it means that there is also a greater chance of… you guessed it, failing.

Recently, as a member of a local professional body, I was tasked to help out with editing of the association’s newsletter. It was a job I thought I’d be well-suited to do. I’m generally organized, communicate well with people through emails, and make sure everyone keeps to their deadlines to make sure the publication makes it out in and on time.

What I did not forsee was… when the time came for final rounds of edits to be made and a few colleagues kindly offered to help me look through the publication one more time, I was aghast to find that… there were MORE things to change. Things I had not noticed were inconsistent, things I had not thought of looking at until they were pointed out to me. The horror. It totally collided with my view of myself as an organised, on-top-of-everything, time-keeping freak.

Then I came across the podcast/article on OLD, and the quote above, in particular, struck a deep chord with me. I had been over-invested in my ego when I accepted the role, that was clear enough to see. And because of that, I linked discrepancies and perceived lapses in the job as personal failures, as personal flaws. When it does not have to be this way. It could be simply a job everyone is tackling together, for the ultimate goal of getting the publication out.

And when I think deeper, I see how much I have learnt from placing myself out there, from accepting that I have missed out these details, and from re-organizing my perspective so that I look out for such things better in future projects. Without being “wrong”, or flawed, I would not have had the valuable learning experience.

And now I have a beautiful, wonderful opportunity to work on something for self-improvement: To do my work wholeheartedly without necessarily seeing them as an all-encompassing part of who I am. The work may fail, we may stumble and trip and fall along the way, but it need not define who we are 🙂 Yay for that.

 

On a separate note, it’s off to Bali for the mother and me for the next 5 days. Perfect time for rest, reflection and recharge!

Happy Non-Teacher’s Day

This year, I celebrate my identity as a non-teacher.

On the Wednesday of the last week of August, as schools around the island closed for half a day to celebrate and honour their teachers, I reflected on my identity of not being one.

I looked at instagram posts by ex-colleagues and friends, sharing their proud moments, their pile of letters and gifts from students, being award titles like “Most Caring” or “Most Inspiring”. I looked at them and I felt a little tug. I could have been one of them. I WAS one of them.

What was that tug? Jealousy? Nostalgia? The longing for something you think you might like but know that you would not want it so much once you have got your hands on it?

Maybe a mixture of all of the above.

As I contemplated my mixed feelings on a day I had always had mixed feelings about (because I was never fully secure in my identity as a teacher), I also contemplated on the person I am now.

I thought about the decision I made to leave a particular system, though I realise now that leaving the system does not necessarily mean leaving the identity completely. So many aspects of who I am now and what I do as a music therapist still manifest from the teacher in me, just in a different context and in a different industry, with different goals and intentions.

And as I told a comrade, “the institution we left has its own system of rewards to get us to do what they want. Because we have opted out of that system, it means that we may not get those rewards, but it also means we are spared from the confines of that system.”

And that is certainly something to celebrate. Because freedom to be who you are and to relate to your authentic personality in what you do is something priceless. Certainly not something you can measure in gifts and awards and letters, no matter how heartfelt and touching and affirming they are.

That said, I was very touched by the call from 2 ex-students. It’s always nice to be remembered.

So… on a day when I would have celebrated (or tried to celebrate) my identity as a teacher, I instead contemplated on who I am, who I want to be. And relished in the freedom of being able to do so.