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July 27, 2020

How Singing healed my Empath Soul & made me Whole Again.


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Notes from an Ironwood tree: Be tough as nails while maintaining your softness…

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“Sing again, with your dear voice revealing a tone of some world far from ours, where music and moonlight and feeling are one.” ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley


As a child, I grew up singing.

I sang Frank Sinatra songs with my dad. I sang pop songs by Michael Jackson. I even memorized the musical, “Annie.” With my curly auburn hair, I embodied the rough and tough character of Little Orphan Annie.

I remember the day I lost my voice—or more, my heart—to sing. I was dating my first true love. We were 17, and we would spend the next 19 years together.

Being 17 is tough enough with all the navigating we do through hormones and awkwardness. But add onto it the fact that I (unknown to myself at the time) was also a highly sensitive empath.

I remember standing in my boyfriend’s house singing the song “Close to Me” by The Cure at the top of my lungs, happily. Without realizing he was in the room, my boyfriend’s dad, as a joke, turned the volume completely down. It was just my lone, off-key, untrained voice singing in an empty room. He laughed at me.

I vowed then never to sing again in front of other people. That promise lasted for 15 years.

During those 15 years, my life shifted and changed in many challenging ways while I discovered who I was.

I gained new awareness about my childhood. What I had been labeled as—“too sensitive”—actually had a name: empath or highly sensitive person.

As I learned more about what being an empath meant, I began to want to open myself up more to the world, and to try to sing again. I realized that my boyfriend’s dad, all those years ago, had been teasing me. Because of my sensitivity, I had taken it personally. I wanted to change this belief from the past.

On an off chance, I met a man named Victor at the University of Arizona, who was speaking about his book. In the book, Victor writes about how some people use singing, or chanting, as an act of spiritual play.

He led a group locally called Global Chant, where like-minded people who wanted to bring love into the world could sing together. We sang chants from all different spiritual faiths and traditions in the circle. This included traditions such as Buddhist, Christian, Native American, Jewish, Hindu, Yoruban, and Celtic.

We played instruments as well, from guitars to frame drums to tambourines. I gave myself the freedom in this circle of 40 to 100 people to sing and lift my voice. I experimented with different tones and vocal ranges. I took the opportunity to freely express and sing without feeling awkward. My heart connected to the mantras that we sang, and I found joy in being able to sing again.

During this time of reconnection with my voice, I discovered a beautiful Buddhist garden being built in Arlee, Montana.

Volunteers could help on sight for short periods of time to help create a space called the Garden of 1,000 Buddhas.

I was nervous about going to a place I had never been before, and while I was at work one day, sat in meditation by a Mesquite tree to contemplate this decision. I was on a quick break.

When I got up to go back inside my office, a white coyote stood by the door. There was no question. I knew I was supposed to go volunteer, even though I was scared. The Garden of 1,000 Buddhas resides on White Coyote Lane.

One month later, I arrived in Missoula and was given a ride to the Garden in Arlee.

They were doing a three-day Green Tara meditation ceremony. Each person who was present signed up for a two-hour shift to hold the prayer space. I signed up for the 9 p.m. shift that night and learned my first Buddhist Mantra.

Om Tare Tuttare Ture Svaha

When sung, the intention of this mantra guides the mind to be liberated from fear, worry, and doubt, and instead be filled with kindness and compassion. For two hours I chanted this mantra in the temple by myself. Once again, I gave myself permission to sing, to use my voice as an act of prayer.

In 2012 I faced a series of difficult life events all at once.

I had a falling out with my spiritual community that broke my heart. My private practice in Green Valley was ending and the home I lived in was no longer supportive.

All of it was too much for me.

In a state of despair and overwhelm, I tried to take my own life. The pain of all the endings felt like too much for me to carry. I lay in a coma in the hospital for five days on a ventilator, all of my organs going into failure.

On the fifth day, which fell on the Summer Solstice, my mom had made the painful decision the night before to unplug the life-support system that was caring for my body.

When she came back at the hospital to say goodbye to me, I was awake—off of life support and my body completely healed. My mind was also healed and clear.

I found out afterward that during those five days, people whom I sang with, people whom I worked with, and people in my life who loved me, came to sit with me and sang to me day and night.

Music and love, connected by grace, brought me back to the world. With deep gratitude, I was ready to sing once more and to be part of life again.

Soon after getting out of the hospital, I sat with my spiritual director. We both knew that I needed a new spiritual place to call home. We knew that I needed a loving, open community that had an interfaith foundation. I needed a community that embodied Christ consciousness, Buddhism, the Angelic realm, and my Celitc roots working with the Fae.

I began attending St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church and felt safe and loved for who I was. I showed up just as I was, imperfections and all.

As I sang with the congregation, one of the choir members, Sara, approached me, smiled, and said,  “You should join choir.  We would love for you to sing with us.”

That was all the invitation I needed. Once again, my voice sang, opening up my heart and filling me with joy. And this time it was with a group of voices, all loving to sing together. I have been singing with this choir community for seven years now.

As my voice grew stronger and my confidence strengthened, I began to create guided meditations as a teacher. I created pieces that included the mantras I had learned and the songs that helped me for the last 10 years.

I knew my soul was healing when I experienced the following dream in December of 2019:

I was asleep in the dream and my kitty, Andee, who had recently passed away, woke me up (in the dream). While still dreaming, I got up and walked over to the window of my home.

Instead of my kitty, I discovered a beautiful young, white swan sitting on the ground. She had a piece of barbed wire wrapped around her throat. She looked up at me, frightened and unable to make any sound. I said to her, “Don’t worry. I will help you.”

I went to a drawer in my kitchen and found a pair of strong clippers to cut away the wire from her neck. As I prepared to cut the wire, a deep male voice standing somewhere behind me in the darkness said, “Stop. That won’t work. That wire is too strong. Leave it alone.”

I didn’t hesitate. I cut the wire and it fell away easily from the white swan’s neck.

As it did, the swan transformed into my 12-year-old self. She looked at me, smiled, and went over to my desk across the room. She grabbed colored pens and paper, sat on the floor, and began to draw pictures while humming happily.

When I woke up, I knew that I had undergone a significant shift inside myself. I began to believe in myself. I would not let that dark voice of judgment and doubt stop me from singing, creating, or speaking up for myself anymore.

Since this dream, I have gathered the courage to bring to life one of my own dreams that is close to my heart. I gathered the mantras that have helped me heal, joined them with my love of singing, and collaborated with a talented musician to record an album.

As a child, I never could have imagined such a beautiful possibility.

Even during the recording sessions, I still had to battle the voice of doubt inside myself. This voice lied, saying, “Who are you to do this?” But with each battle, I stood up to that voice, that shadow place inside, and sang. I knew it was a gift, not only for me, but a gift that might inspire others who suffer from fear and anxiety.

Singing continues to heal my heart and my mind.

It allows me to practice the act of expressing with hope. As I shine my light, my deepest wish is to inspire others to do the same. I have used my voice to guide that part of my of myself from eight years ago—that part who suffered so much—and teach her how to live from a place of love instead of fear.

My journey didn’t happen all at once. It was slow and sometimes difficult. But each time I gave myself permission to sing, I became stronger.

Singing opened, and continues to open, new doors inside of me. It helps me discover all the places inside myself that I never knew existed. I am grateful each day for my voice and sharing my soul song.

As I weave moonlight and song, I am made whole again.

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Shannon Sullivan  |  Contribution: 175

author: Shannon Sullivan

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