What brings us joy in life? What brings vitality out of us? What brings us health?
One way to understand the basic process that brings us health is called ‘integration’.
Integration is how you take separate things and then bring them together.
It’s really a way of creating harmony in life. And when we have harmony we can be more flexible. We’re adaptive, we have an inner sense of coherence, we’re energized, we’re stable. It’s the essence of wellbeing. What can we do in our lives to create integration?
Well, one of the things we can do is participate in playful, creative, spontaneous activities- like spontaneous song. Song is a really interesting process because it links a number of parts of our nervous system to each other. So it’s a source of creating integration.
(Daniel Siegel, M.D., clinical psychologist)
The need to express one’s feelings may be universal, but finding satisfying ways for expressing them may not always be obvious or forthcoming.
A wide variety of possible avenues of expression may pass unnoticed beneath the flurry of daily activities. Yet when life takes a turn towards less outward activity and more alone time, discovering new ways for expression can take on new importance and relevance.
Thirty years ago I developed a method for accessing and expressing one’s inner thoughts and feelings in a very simple way through spontaneous song. I call it ‘SongSourcing’, now enjoyed by thousands of people of all ages around the world.
I invite you to experience it for yourself. If you are shy about your vocal expression, I advise beginning by yourself, in private. Inhibitions can quickly shut down a relaxed, flowing process of creative discovery. The practice can be done with a partner or friend present, but only if you feel absolutely relaxed and comfortable revealing yourself in their presence.
First ask yourself a question, like, “What am I feeling right now?” or “What do I know is true?” or “What am I aware of in my surroundings?”
You may wish to write down your response, so that words which are meaningful to you are in front of you, easy to read. Write in any language you feel most at home with. If your words are written more as a poem, or in a lyrical and evocative way, that’s wonderful- but don’t hesitate by thinking you can’t write well. And if you like, select a poem by a poet you really love.
Next, play a track of instrumental music to serve as background to the process. Let this music without words also have:
- a consistent rhythm
- a simple, repetitive harmonic structure
- no discernible melody
If you don’t already have music which fits this description, you may download a free soundtrack here. You may also download a collection of 30 tracks of various tempos and styles.
As the music plays, relax into it. Close your eyes if you like. Maybe begin by humming along. Then, as you feel, open your eyes and look at the words you wrote. Pick out a few of these words and speak them, repeating them in rhythm with the music.
Next, using that same rhythm, begin ‘chanting’ your words. This refers to speaking them on a single note, a common tone. Adjust the tone until it feels good and fitting with the music background. If you feel to, change your note according to the changes in the chord pattern.
The last step- and only if you feel like it- leave behind the ‘safe harbor’ of the one tone, and allow your words to shift into melody. Like a bird taking wing. Totally natural.
You may be thinking- “Wait, that’s too easy! Anyone could do that!” And that’s true. Anyone can do that. It doesn’t matter if you don’t see yourself as creative or as a singer.
All around the world, little children are spontaneously creating song- combining melody and words which they feel in the moment, sometimes what adults would call ‘nonsense’. The capacity for ‘nonsense’ is actually a gateway into a more flowing left-right brain state, not held rigid by the linear mind.
The Natural Art of Songmaking from Michael Stillwater on Vimeo.
SongSourcing can be rewarding on your own, giving expression to your thoughts and feelings through your voice with music track playing.
If you are with others at home, this is a marvelous practice to share together.
Or, if you are connecting with people online, you may use SongSourcing as a way of sharing with friends across the world. (Suggestion- have the music play on just one of your computers, but both take turns making up new lyrics and melody with the music).
I close this article with words from others who have experienced for themselves the joyful benefits of this practice.
I worked with a group of Tamil children learning German- and we used SongSourcing as a playful way to express feelings with each other in both languages. The time we spent in this activity was the most fun of our whole time together.
(Doris Laesser Stillwater, psychologist, Helsinki, Finland)
As the creativity Director of Alternatives Inc for over 30 years I dedicate my work to creative expression. In using SongSourcing I found young people easily responded to the format. It inspires their inherent creativity through a unique music based method for cultivating empathy for self and others while generating enthusiasm for self expression. It offers support for themselves and a deeper acceptance of others, allowing the young people to accept their voice exactly as it is. I found they responded to the method with enthusiasm and playfulness as they explored their voices to create meaning in their lives. Creativity is always a risk and takes our courage to share our deepest selves. Now is a perfect time to let this part of our spirits embrace each other. I have witnessed time and again how this process of creativity brings us together.
(Linda Hansen, Hampton, Virgina, USA)
We used your SongSource tracks for choir online last week in the midst of the quarantine, and it was BIG hit. So beautiful to see people ‘on mute’ singing their experiences and their prayers from home...
People loved it and were surprised to see what they could do. One person noted we were all psychically connected in song via the prompt we were all singing about, and that it felt the most like being in our live, in-person choir, heart-wise, of anything we’d tried so far. One choir member said “it’s like the choir equivalent of journaling.
People sang in their first languages which they don’t often get to do, including Portuguese and Turkish, and people said they discovered what they were thinking and feeling - things they hadn’t been aware of.
The exercise really opened me to a possibility of improvisation that felt SAFE. I’ve always been terrified to improvise, especially in front of others. Your method leads us into it so gently it was like wading into deeper water- not scary. First singing to ourselves, and then to each other, with so much permission for it to go in any sort of way. It was really revealing that I can improvise - and journal. Beautiful, surprising things can surface - without my being afraid on some level at the same time. It’s a really strong container.
(Kaitie Ty Warren, songleader/educator, Berkeley, California)