Art of The Pause

May 4, 2017. The day I left my dream job.

I am not longer the music therapy program director at Harvard Vanguard Hematology and Oncology, and I am not longer a clinical training supervisor for Berklee College of Music at the site.


How did it happen? Why? When did it start? What could possibly go wrong?
But here I am. Burnt out to the ground, to my very roots. Packing my belongings. Leaving.


And it is good. For it is important to recognize your very own limits and to step out (step down? step up?). To see the whole picture.
I am incredibly lucky to be given this opportunity to take a break, to take a breath, to pause. To be gently, but powerfully supported on both sides – and beyond.


And I am grateful. For every moment of it. For every patient. For every student. For my valiant colleagues – nurses, doctors, pharmacists, social workers, receptionists, patient navigators, administrators, security. For my incredible, whole souled boss. For my music therapy family at Berklee. For my kin who stand by me no matter what.


It has been an exciting, glorious adventure, and I  learned a lot from it. Starting the program three years ago, entering the unorthodox, challenging realm of an outpatient medical setting, exploring options, managing expectations, always balancing – between art and science, academics and medicine, admiration and criticism, body and soul, pain and pleasure, living and dying, laughter and silence… Earning trust – of the patients, of the staff, of the students, of my own self (and that was the hardest!). Getting stuck. Moving forward. Dumping ideas. Coming up with decisions. Letting go of an agenda. Embracing imperfections.


338 patients.
537 individual sessions.
407 hours of environmental music.
26 students.
3 1.5 inch thick binders of clinical documentation.


Patients dancing during their chemo treatment.


People singing about their lost hair.


Nurses playing drums amidst the treatment.


Doctors slowing down for several seconds to listen and to breathe.


Caregivers saying they are looking forward to the next week.


So, what happened? Why do I have to leave?


I can not exactly tell when it started. In the fall? During that colourless, excruciating winter?


As much as I tried, I could not find the balance. Homeschooling my two young children (no nannies, no extended family); house hunting on a limited budget and finally making the decision about moving to suburbs; cramming the supervision of six students, with all the paperwork and organization, into the 12 hours of music therapy work at site; ongoing, emotionally draining at times, music therapy advocacy in Russia. Isolation. The worst of all, yes, was isolation.


Long hours, no break, commute. Never ceasing professional need to initiate new relationships – patients, caregivers, students – and to bring myself wholly and authentically into those. Homeschooling crowd, church crowd, extracurricular activities for kids, driving, nagging – no time and space for silence, for thoughts, for the inner music, no privacy, and at the same time – no one to fully relate to, no one to talk with. Isolation.


I managed by detaching and disengaging myself, by functioning in energy saving mode.


I’d become a better teacher than I am a music therapist. I’d become a disciplinarian in place of a mom.


I managed by traveling internationally for brief amounts of time, for only this intense, aggressive motion in space allowed me to, actually, feel myself.


Whenever I had a chance, but rarely, I came to the shore and stared at the snow flocking into the ocean.


Sometimes it felt as if I was dying. I got too sick too often, I was physically falling apart. I dragged myself from one day into another, many weeks in a row. And today it stops.


What do I take with me?


Discoveries. A lot of “needs”.


I need my time.
I need my music.
I need myself.
I need to be nourished in order to nourish others.




I can only relate deeply and authentically to a few people at any given stretch of time (or, at least, I, hopefully, will, soon).
My family is my priority.
I am a project thinker, a strategist. Routine does not work well for me. I am a gypsy.




For every single person who touched my life during the time I have been sensing my way through the transparent, fragile reality of an outpatient oncology unit.



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