Last week, I was browsing through the used books for sale in the atrium of the Salt Lake Library. My eyes wandered over several until I found one by Deepak Chopra that looked interesting to me titled, “Seven Laws for Spiritual Success.” As I flipped through the pages of the slim book, I read about something he called the “Law of Dharma”.
According to Chopra, “Everyone has a purpose in life…a unique or special talent to give to others. And when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal of all goals.”
I’m not sure why it works this way. I just know that he’s right. There are few things in life that make me as happy as using my talents to give to someone else. It’s an amazing feeling.
I had a lot of ideas about what I wanted to do with my service goal this week. There are so many fun and interesting things to get involved with out there. I brainstormed a few of my own ideas, but ultimately, I found the perfect project through an amazing Utah United Way website: www.211ut.org.
Through a link on the site, I got in touch with Maria Ponce, the Volunteer Services Coordinator at The Division of Juvenile Justice Services. Maria deals with the Observation and Assessment (O&A) program there, where court-ordered adolescent girls are placed in lockdown custody for 45 days in order to evaluate them and plan future treatment.
I met with Maria and told her that I’d love to talk with the girls about music. I’ve worked in residential treatment for three years, and I’ve noticed how powerful it can be with that population. Luckily, music is also something that’s pretty easy for me to talk about, since I’m passionate about it, I have my degree in it, and do a lot of writing and performing.
Maria was so easy to work with, and I would highly recommend volunteering with her to anyone. She asked me when I wanted to come in and they arranged the girls’ daily schedule around my visit. We decided to approach my presentation through songwriting, because of its cathartic, therapeutic value. Maria gave me full creative license to put together a demonstration and allowed me to bring anyone with me that I chose.
The person I chose was Marty Lyman, a great friend, a phenominal guitarist, and an aspiring social worker. In fact, Marty had already been to O&A with his dad years before to play guitar for the kids there. Because he is such a great musician, he is in high demand. Luckily, he could spare an hour that day between gigs and was able to come.
The girls were really lovable. Only one of them had tried to write a song before, but they all seemed willing to be open-minded. Marty and I talked with them about some songwriting basics, and gave them some exercises to help them start their own songs. Marty did an amazing job of reading charts for my original tunes and we performed a couple of them together for the girls. It was fun to see them get excited about Marty’s playing, and he did a great job at encouraging them to try out their talents.
After giving them some basic tips, we went back to a title-writing exercise they had done. Each girl read titles they had come up with, and they all chose one of them to work on as a group. They decided on “Why Didn’t I Stop?” so they could write about their steps that led them to O&A.
Marty recorded a blues progression on my mac’s Garage Band software, complete with a solo and choruses. Like a champ, he even stayed a little past his time limit so he could finish it for them. Then the girls brainstormed ideas that went along with the title they selected. We started by writing lyrics to the chorus, and for girls that had never written before, they did an amazing job:
“It started with a sip, then led to a problem- I was taken from my town, now I’m sittin’ in lockdown. Just kickin’ it at O&A on a rainy day- I thought my family’s warning was all talk… Why didn’t I stop?”
When they had come up with the chorus, I played Marty’s minus track and sang the words over it, recording my vocals (since none of the girls felt comfortable doing that part). They got really excited to see how quickly their song was coming together, and were begging the staff to let me stay longer, since we had run out of time. They asked me if I would come back, and talked about how they planned to use their free time to work on the verses and how they wanted their parents to hear the song.
Afterwards, I emailed Maria the mp3 of our recording. I would love to go back another day and finish it with the girls, if that works out. It was such a rewarding and fun experience for everyone involved.
I don’t know if Marty and I were engaged in the Law of Dharma today or not, but either way, I think we got the results Chopra was talking about. And those results rocked… literally.