Sing and get healed
The sea is wide but we can swim over. The valley is deep but we will prevail. The storms they will rage like a tempest before us. But we willarise and we shall overcome.
In one of my darkest hours, my friend Sara Groves sent me a song from her new album for me to learn and sing back-up vocals on. In my right mind I would have said no because I could barely hold my own sanity together, let-alone contribute creatively to someone else's work, but I knew the act of saying yes was what I must do, to continue contributing, to continue affirming the creation of something beautiful, and to continue saying a fighting yes to life - in the face of what seemed an over-whelming affliction.
So in those darkest of hours, when I felt the most alone, the closest to death, and the furthest from my sanity, my family and any semblance of a loving numinous presence, it became my job to listen and inhabit the words of this song. And so inhabit I did, crying myself to sleep as I listened on repeat.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, abide with me.
I had to lie there, and harmonize with Sara singing the words. And as I let the music seep through me, the delicate surprise, in saying yes, even when it felt almost impossible, was receiving the most immense comfort and presence. A holy presence, the everlasting arms that hold, sustain and continue to create the foundations of the universe sang to me through the song. "Even in your darkest, most helpless, most abandoned hour, when you can barely, barely feel it, you are not alone. Abide with me. I am with you."
As I reflect upon it, I remember there were many many times in my journey through illness when I was asked to do something, where I was invited to sing or play for some engagement. And I thought, no, it’s impossible, I’ve got so little to give, I am so depleted, I’m so messed up. I have to say no. But deeper in me I was saying, you’ve got to say yes. You’ve got to keep giving the little you have to give.
I barely went out in public. I stopped going to church. And then there was one morning when I knew I had to go, and as I was sitting there in the pew with next to nothing left, the minister began telling the story of the boy with a few loaves and fishes that fed five thousand people and the widow who had just a few coins, but whose offering was considered greater than the richest of the rich. Both of these had barely anything to offer, but they gave the little that they had, and those gifts turned out to be magnificent.
That resonated deeply in me when not much else was resonating. Keep on giving the little you have to give. And so I resolved to. And every time I would go and sing.... I would get healed.
And so I’m still singing. And still, I am being healed. And that's one of the reasons we're going to Spain and Belfast - As well as to swim in the Mediteranean Sea!
For this much is true my friends, giving is receiving.
Be well. Truly,
April 28, 2019
Yours in healing
“Stay home tonight, don’t do what you’re supposed to do. Give your heart a shelter, wait until the words are true “
“What do we have, that we have not been given? / What do we have, that we can hold on to? / All of this life, is gift that we’re living / All of this love, was given to you”
When I wrote these words 3 years ago I had no idea I was about to lose so much. My home, my studio, my work place, the ability to be present to my family and friends, the ability to have thoughts (quite literally). The neurological and immune implications of a 3 year battle with what turned out to be (most significantly) Lyme disease, compiled to the point where I felt completely exiled from normal life. I couldn’t even touch my phone or my laptop (where all my work and music is) without my hands and arms getting painfully sore. I couldn’t instagram, facebook, or respond to emails from family and friends. My neuro-immune system was so sensitized I couldn’t walk into any building that didn’t have pristine air quality without my head going completely blank. My body ached from the inside out. I had no energy. My thoughts would stop and then jump around as though my brain were in short-circuit. I lost the ability to calculate numbers, to imagine, to create, and many times even the ability to think at all. I couldn’t be present in any situation or conversation. There was a permanent static in my brain, pressing in and dragging down on my biology and attention. Many times I felt like I was on the edge of insanity, and in the darkest hours I would lay in bed trying to remember how many children I had and what their names were. It was the deepest darkest valley I have ever walked.
In the face of such agony it’s hard to know the why and the what for? And how and why do we keep going? How do we press through? There are no simple answers. Only in living do we become. Only in experience do we know. My dear father-in-law sent me these words of Rilke in the midst of my journey.
What we triumph over is so small, and the victory makes us small too.
The eternal and uncommon refuse to be bent by us.
Like the angel who appeared to the wrestler in the Old Testament:
When his opponent’s sinews grow hard as metal in the struggle,
They feel to his fingers like strings on which to play a depthless melody.
Whoever is conquered by this angel walks away erect and enobled,
Strengthened by that fierce hand that, like a sculptor’s, shaped him.
His growth is this: to be defeated by ever greater forces.
I don’t know the why and the what for of all of this, but I do know I have been defeated by ever greater forces and I do know I will be played upon like a depthless melody. I do know I have been shaped by the eternal and uncommon and I am being strengthened still - by that fierce hand.
I don’t know why I have lost nearly everything, but I do know that in the very same transaction, I have received so much.
Home. In losing our home of 7 years we find ourselves bereft of that closeness to community and family, but in the transitional space we find ourselves in, we look out on snowy woods and a frozen lake and Ivan, our 7 year old lover of animals, exulted yesterday, “It’s like we have our own wildlife reserve!” as we watched a family of deer face off with a red fox from our living room window.
Provision. In losing my studio, my writing ability and performing energy, my output has been significantly less, and yet somehow, in my weakness, I have traveled more and my music has been more fruitful in the last year than it has ever been. Figure that out. Have we ever really believed that less is more?
Attunement. I don’t know why I saw 15 doctors without much, if any, symptomatic improvement, but now I do know and understand what my body, mind and spirit need in each moment in a much deeper and clearer way than I ever thought was possible.
Presence, Peace, Trust. Perhaps the most beautiful gift I’ve received is an existential knowing of a true and tender presence of a sublime source and shepherd of life. With me, with me, with me. “Do not be afraid. Press on, press on, press on. I will be with you, wherever you go.” These are the words that I heard from the clouds, in a fishing boat with my 10 year old son, in the boundary waters canoe area wilderness of Minnesota in August 2016, and I have held onto them ever since, many times for dear life.
I don’t write to you from a place of wholeness. In fact, I struggle to write to you, even now, through an undermined and impaired cognition. There is a beautiful way to go. But O my God, have I found deep healing and the healing surely continues. And coming out on the other side of the worst of this most difficult journey I must tell you that I am so grateful for every thought and smile and song and child and peace and presence that has been given back to me. As I told Andrea Swenson at The Current: “It got to the point with the illness where I realized that I may not be able to play again. I may have to let everything go. It’s a really really hard place to be where you feel that life is just slipping away from you. But I think I got to the place where I was able to let go and say that’s ok. I let go. I surrender. And I receive everything that I’ve ever been given and everything that I will be given as a gift. And so now I feel like everything I have is something that’s really given back to me. It does feel like a resurrection.”
Another of these incredible gifts is my children. I have 5, and their names are Ana, Roy, Ivan, Isla and Asher. I can now be present with them - most of the time - and how beautiful that is - just to be present.
As I reflect on this deep dark valley and the sense of exile that I felt and sometimes continue to feel, I’ve found there is a gift in the path of the exile or the outlaw if that way can become a doorway to a deeper experience of reality. If we can somehow learn to see or feel more deeply or clearly from that ‘helpless’ point of view. Perhaps this is the gift in getting sick, really sick, before we get better. Almost dead, before we truly touch life. To lose nearly everything before it is all given back to you. Because when you’ve been this close to death, the smallest glimpse of life returning quickly becomes mind-blowingly magnificent. The simplest moment of real presence becomes the most wonderfully beautiful miracle. I hope you enjoy these songs in celebration of transformation.
Yours in healing,
April 22, 2018
Home at last
What joy. We have been settled in our new home for 3 months now and are truly delighted by this little treasure. We must have looked at 42 houses in the flesh and bone before this little gem popped on the market… and unbelievably, it's just 2 blocks from where our 4 eldest kids walk to school!
I sent the listing to Kim before realizing... “Wait a minute, I’ve been in this house!” It looked nothing like it does now... It was yellow then and completely gutted to the studs - just like my body felt at the time, completely gutted down to the studs - but I found myself there because our good friends Andrew and Janet Prest had been generously helping remediate our old home and I was bringing back a tool for Andrew as he was restoring this little gem. It was completely stripped, vacuous and void at the time... a heart wrenching echo of my own insides as I felt my way through that hollow space...to find my friend.
Andrew told me recently, “I kept telling Janet, I can’t stop thinking about Ben and Kim. I keep seeing them in this house. We’ve gotta reach out to them.” And of course they did, but we were in the throws of a murderous squall and in no place to consider anything of any permanence at the time.
Live forward nearly 3 years and the house that our friends restored appears back on the market (literally days before we’re going to give up our search), and funny enough (if I can speak with such lightness now), my body has also been massively restored in this time, and somehow we are able to say yes to this beautiful home in this perfect place for this family at this time. How profound is the agreement of the story? How beautiful, concrete and existential the metaphor!
My friends, many miracles moved in mystery to make this happen.
Just a week before we moved in, Ringo Starr came to Minnesota for an All-Starr Band show and invited me to sing with him on stage that night. There’s a video clip of us singing the Beatle’s "With a Little Help From My Friends" and my favorite part is when he turns around and yells “Ben!” and gives me a big hug. It feels good to be hugged by a Beatle. 😊
That very same day I was singing "I get by with a little help from my friends" with Ringo, a very dear friend sent us a check (for $5000) to help us “get by” with the move. I couldn't help but sing to myself...“Something is happening here and we don’t know what it is…or do we, Mr Jones?"
From the overflow of our hearts, we send much love to you and yours and deep peace and joy through this holiday season.
Be very well.
December 7, 2019