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What is alive in you?

Singing and music have been a big part of my life ever since I was little. Through music, I have had many beautiful and healing moments, but one of them stands out a little from the others, maybe because I got to meet myself in such a profound way. Quite a few years ago now, I took part in a workshop called "Song of the Soul". Over the course of a weekend, I and about ten other participants got to spend time with each other and our voices in different ways. The only thing we were asked to do beforehand was to choose and prepare a couple of songs that we were going to work with along with our workshop facilitator, Lena.

With great skill and a sensitive ear, she guided us through different ways of expressing ourselves in song. We got to sing high and low notes, powerfully and vulnerably, in joy and in pain. She asked us to sing beautifully and strongly but also ugly and forced. "Regardless of how you choose to perform your songs, the audience will intuitively know if you've been inside all the emotions and expressions," said Lena, "or if you're singing the way you do because everything else feels too scary."

Then came the exercise that had the biggest impact on me. One by one we would select the one song that meant the most to us and sing it solo and unaccompanied in front of the group. I think we all felt a little tingly but I knew my song well and was prepared. When it was my turn, I sang the song from the beginning to the end. It went rather well, I thought to myself. No major errors.

But the exercise had only just begun. Much like last time, I was asked to sing it in different ways, and what had earlier felt quite safe to do in a group setting suddenly came very close. Singing it nicely and flute-like wasn't that difficult, but strained and roaring? I couldn't do it. Lena heard my resistance. "What does this song mean to you, Karolina?" she asked after a while. "Why did you choose this particular one?"

I lowered my shoulders and looked at her. And began to tell about a person who was very dear to me but who had passed away just a few months earlier. “This was our song.” I said with tears running. "Now!" said Lena and looked me straight in the eye. “Sing your song again now.” And I sang. The voice cracked and I sniffled my way through the words, but I sang. It was all there: the vulnerability, the unfairness, the pain, the gratitude, the acceptance. And as the song came to an end, I felt an inner strength and a calm I had never experienced before.

In my life, I have sometimes found myself in places where I felt that the all of who I was didn't really fit into the room. Where my gut feeling told me that I would need to hold back parts of myself, nuance what I had to say or refrain from showing certain emotions so that other people would feel at ease. But I've also been in places like the one above, where everything in me - the beautiful and the ugly, the robust and the fragile, what I'm proud of and what I feel ashamed of - has been invited and welcomed. How healing it can be.

What I learned that weekend was that this often doesn't have to be very complicated and difficult, and that it's something we can do for each other. I don't think it's good advice or wise words we need the most when we're carrying something that's painful (or joyful for that matter!), but to be heard in what is. That what we bring is allowed to be there, is heard and held and that it is not something that needs to stay outside the door so that no one will be uncomfortable.

In NVC (NonViolent Communication), which is a way of relating to and communicating with others and where focus is on contact and needs, there is an expression that reads "What is alive in you?". I believe that when we can ask that question (however we want to phrase it: "How are you?", "How's it going?", "What's up?") to another person and receive the answer without judgment, maybe just nod or validate, we meet several basic needs at once. For the other person, it is feeling understood and listened to, and for ourselves, it is receiving trust and feeling that we can contribute something that enriches someone else's life.

Because it is enriching when we are allowed to come as we are.



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