Category Archives: Writing

Flow

This quote reminded of the term “flow”, described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (How do we even pronounce that) as:

“A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

And these are the 8 characteristics of flow:

  1. Complete concentration on the task
  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback
  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down of time)
  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding
  5. Effortlessness and ease
  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills
  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination
  8. There is a feeling of control over the task

Source

 

This prompted me to reflect and examine the frequency with which I currently experience this state of flow in my job (because that’s important to me!).

Yes, when I conduct sessions, I can see how being “in the zone”, having my skills and the challenge at hand being equally matched, seeing the natural and connected engagement with the children, creates the circumstances for flow to take place, which contributes to my perception of meaning and joy.

I suppose it is when we are unable to experience this state of flow in what we do, that the tasks and job may become more tedious and arduous. How do you feel flow in a session with the little boy who is screaming his head off, or with the one who is scratching his peers and everyone is just trying to stop him but making things worse, or with the little girl who is crying because she wants her favourite snack and the teacher is refusing to give in to her?

I think that’s when being able to be in the moment and taking the stance of an observer can really help a lot. Thinking “Wow, this is a difficult situation” instead of “I AM in a difficult situation” can really make a lot of difference in how we react and/or respond to the challenges. It certainly takes practice, and I’m still working on it 🙂

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Sydney 2018 – What I Learnt

An important lesson I learnt in Sydney was this:
You can travel to the ends of the earth, but you cannot run away from the things inside you. The trip was wonderful and relaxing and all, and I met my aim of revisiting old memories and creating new ones.

Yet…

The body will have its way of telling you that something is wrong, be it the constant pains and aches in the chest, the feeling that something is stuck in your throat, or the unpredictable tearfulness.

I realise I have always thought of my adult self as someone who is “with it”, “steady”, “in-control”… And when those images of myself began to fall apart… it was scary, naturally.

When I look back, it was probably only my spiritual practices and divine grace that continued to keep me grounded during those days when I couldn’t explain what was happening to me and with my emotions.

 

Something to remember when I feel the inertia to wake up that 30-45minutes earlier in the morning! 😉

Thank you Sydney, for the memories and lessons. Till next time!

 

 

“Are You Making Progress?”

Reasons why you should probably not tell your mother you’re seeing a therapist:

  • “Is it like hypnosis?” (“Mum, no.”)
  • “What do you guys talk about?” (This is tricky because we actually sometimes talk about her, heh)
  • “Are you making progress?” (Well if progress can be measured by the amount of tissue paper used… Maybe >.<)
  • “Maybe I should see a therapist too.” (….)
  • “I hope you’ll become positive and happy again.” (“Mum I AM still positive and happy.” “…Ok good.”)
  • “You’re also a therapist, couldn’t you just do therapy for yourself?” (“Ehhh…It doesn’t quite work that way…”)
  • “Do you have to finish the entire course?” (It’s not a course, Mum, and its not like Antibiotics…)

 

But amusing stuff aside, I’m quite glad to say that some of the intense and confusing emotions which emerged from this experience are finally beginning to clear (after almost 3 months!), and I can better understand what has been happening in my mind and body.

This is the short and not-too-much-info explanation:
So I learnt that our bodies store pockets of emotions which can lie dormant for years. These can include emotions from childhood and past experiences. And we never know what might trigger them. In my case, it seems that the impact of grief, as I witnessed a mother watching her child die, triggered my own stored emotions from earlier years, which have apparently been suppressed and unprocessed – Until now.

This insight has been very helpful in explaining certain things, such as why I was still feeling the intense sensations in the body long after the images and vivid memories of the session had faded.

It has also made me realise that everyone probably has their own internal battles. If I have been holding such intensity inside me for close to 3 months, yet still behave (almost) normally, getting up to go to work every morning, fulfilling all my duties at work, and meeting all my social obligations … It certainly has not been easy and I foresee that this journey could continue for a while more. It really is a reminder to be kind to everyone I meet, because we wouldn’t know what kind of storm a person could be holding inside themselves.

And yes… Even though I consider myself a rebel against the results-oriented nature of our society, I have to say… There has been progress ;p

It’s Only Temporary

Does transience render all things meaningless?

I sometimes ask myself that.

But that would be the fatalist way to live, and I’m not inclined to think that way either.

So I make a choice.

I choose to see change and impermanence as pre-requisites for growth, for discovery, for connection. For meaning. Far from meaningless.

And because there are days and moments when it may be harder to remember this choice, to remember that impermanence is not cruel but can be beautiful, that change is not overwhelming but can be growth-inducing –  that’s when writing posts like these help.

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.

A Solitary Day

Just one of many much needed ones.

 

 

 

A friend and I were talking the other day about how, as introverts and sensitives, we really need our quiet and alone time, but even then we have a threshold. Try going a week or more without meetups with close friends or without any meaningful human interaction, and even the most introverted person I know would start looking through their whatsapp chats to see which friend they can ask out.

So as I post this and think about how much I need and love the solitude in my life, I am also fully appreciative and thankful for the people who make my life this much more meaningful.