Sandy’s Distraction *
I don’t usually use music in my practice but I want to tell you about a client who had a strange musical experience in our session. Sandy, a 46 year-old receptionist, told me that she’d been depressed ever since her divorce a year earlier, and despite doing her best to get on with life she couldn’t seem to break out of her sadness. I asked her to describe her feelings in detail and she said, “I feel lost and sad and empty but I try not to focus on it. It’s such a struggle.”
I suggested she focus directly on these feelings but she shook her head. “Aren’t you going to help me get rid of this? I don’t want to focus on it.”
“I understand, it’s painful, but by exploring it we may learn something,” I replied. “Let’s go further into it and see where it goes. In fact, feel it even more. Get even more lost, sad, and empty.”
She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “This doesn’t makes sense to me but I’ll try anything at this point.”
She closed her eyes and I encouraged her to feel lost, sad, and empty, and even exaggerate the feelings. After a while she opened her eyes and said, “Sorry, I’m having trouble because I’m hearing a song in my head. As soon as I go all the way into my sadness and really feel it this song comes in and distracts me.”
I tried to find out how the song had opened this up in her but she wasn’t sure. “I don’t know. It’s just the sound of it, and of course, the word, ‘heaven.’ I’m not religious, but it gives me a feeling of life beyond my dramas.”
After this session Sandy’s grief lifted, and her life took on a whole new direction. Until we processed her experience of Knocking on Heaven’s Door, she’d been trying to avoid her sadness. She didn’t view it as a meaningful process, but rather as something wrong. In addition, as I mentioned, everyone in her environment had echoed this sentiment by encouraging her to get out of the grief and get on with life.
However, this wasn’t what she needed. She needed to get in touch with something deeper, something beyond the personal, even beyond the rational, and connect with a spiritual awareness that could embrace and support her experiences instead of rejecting them.
The Problem Is The Solution
The standard view of her problem was that there was a malfunction in her mind—an illness called “depression,” manifesting as being in too long of a grieving period (as if there’s a “normal” amount of time). The solution was thought to be to repair the malfunction by finding a new relationship, or by covering over her sadness with medication. But this wasn’t what her mind and heart were seeking.
Her chronic grief was a meaningful and purposeful process that lead not only to the solution for her lost relationship, but to a whole new way of being, as well. The divorce had pushed her into a depression which, when intentionally focussed on and amplified, sparked a song that gave her a new way of relating to life. She discovered the hidden music within her grief (both literally and figurtively) by consciously going into the painful feelings instead of trying to get rid of them.