Music has a great power to change the world because it can change people. In today’s episode, host Jennifer Whitacre sits down and talks with musician and founder of Music Care Inc., Bill Protzmann. With a mission to raise awareness of the power of music as self-care, Bill takes a deep dive into his own inspirational and real-life experiences on how he opened his heart and mind to music and allowed his emotional richness to change his life. He speaks with gentle conviction about music and self-care, going deep into healing traumas and dealing with big emotions. Join Bill Protzmann as he imparts his knowledge and life experiences for you to be able to change your life through music.
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Change Your Music, Change Your Life With Bill Protzmann
Our guest is Bill Protzmann. Bill is a musician and a successful IT entrepreneur. He holds a Magna Cum Laude degree in Piano Performance and Creative Writing. He has concertized and performed for many years with a focus on bringing music to audiences in non-traditional ways. In 2011, Bill launched Music Care Inc., which is a corporation dedicated to teaching practical ways that music can be used for self-care. His work is recognized by the National Council for Behavioral Health with an Award of Excellence given to him in 2014, which is the behavioral health equivalent to winning an Oscar. Bill, congratulations on that. He’s here to talk about music and self-care. He speaks with gentle conviction and from real experience. Bill, welcome. It’s an honor to have you here.
Thank you, Jennifer. It’s an honor to be here.
You’re a musician. This is a big part of your life to the point that you have been given an Award of Excellence from the National Council for Behavioral Health. How did you start to combine music with behavioral health? Those are two things that the average person doesn’t associate together.
As you’re saying that, I’m thinking how crazy that must sound because music is obviously powerful, but what’s the National Association of Behavioral Health doing recognizing me? My lane in music is enlivened by how fascinating it is to watch an audience respond. Being in the room with an audience that’s responding to music is a rare gift. Not many people get to do that. If you’re one of the four or five people who is playing classical piano on the stages of the world, maybe that’s something you feel. There are many more of us who offer what we do musically and creatively in live performance. Becoming more than curious about why people respond has been something that’s been part of my life ever since I started playing, from the very first time that I played in a piano recital and saw my teacher crying and laughing at the same time.
How does that work? What’s going on there? We have research now fortunately, but musicians have been doing this for thousands of years. They’ve been in rooms with people and people have responded and the musicians have interacted with them in a way. There’s something going on there. What is that something? How does it work for us? What is the power of music? How can we use that? Do we ever need help these days? Look at the crazy in the world. If there’s something we could do to give ourselves some sense of relief from depression, distress and anxiety or something we could do that would help us jump to the next level where we want to go, get out of the stuckness that we’re in and get in the next place. I’m convinced there’s got to be a bigger application of music, whether that’s musicians taking responsibility for it and saying, “This is what’s happening in the room.”
Some people do that. Lizzo does that. She’s amazing but a lot of musicians still have that wall between them and the audience. If we can bust that wall by inviting the audience into our space, talk about what we as musicians experience with music, it turns out that’s something people can use individually. It’s not just, “That was a great song,” but “That song did this, this and this for me. Every time I need those three things, I’ve got the song that I can use for that.” That’s where we need to go with this. It’s free and music is incredibly accessible now. It’s almost all of it, which is an amazing, overwhelming thing without too much of a gateway. Let’s do this. That’s been the overriding little spark that keeps me in the game. It makes me want to know what we can do more and how can we use this stuff?
I’m a trauma specialist, so I do see the world through the lens of trauma, what causes it and what can help it. From what I know, whenever it comes to music therapy, it’s best when it’s participatory. You mentioned breaking down that barrier between the performer and the audience. In the Western culture, not just America, music has become a spectator sport where we come together in these big venues and arenas where we sit, watch or listen. With the work I do with clients, I’m having them put together their own playlists for the reasons you mentioned like, “The song did A, B and C for me, let’s put this on the resource playlist.” I even have several playlists that lift me up when I’m in a funk or playlists that helped me work through my anger, for whatever reason that is. Music does vibrate at the cellular level. It’s incredibly healing. Can you talk a little bit more of how do you go about breaking down that barrier between what you do, the performance, the audience and the person that you’re working with?
This first got started for me of when I was still working on the stage with an audience. I found that it was interesting for the audience to reveal my process of making the music. I would explain something about the music that I was going to play and how it feels to perform that music. I would explain how that’s a challenge in many ways to get that emotional content to come to the place where I can put it in my fingertips and reach out with an authentic communication of the emotions that are there. People got interested. I began to do more and more of that and bring in stories around the music that I was playing and how that music minded me in my life. I have one particular show where I talk about my experience with suicide and use the music that kept me alive that evening as part of the performance. That kind of story works well.
It began by storytelling about these things and then as evidence built around it, we have fortunately the American Music Therapy Association and other immense research efforts going into music right now. It’s used in neuroscience as a trigger. There are lots of this evidence coming up that supports what musicians have felt all the time. As you offer that evidence especially with Western audiences, they seem to relate to the fact that there is support for what the musician is doing and saying that comes from another part of the medical community. We’re still fascinated with evidence and that’s great that we have it. Once the evidence and the performer saying it are in the room, then the wall goes away because people go, “Do you mean I don’t have to play music to be able to use this? I can listen to it and it’ll change me this way?” Those are fascinating things.
As a musician, they’re obvious to me but they’re not often obvious to people who are used to music as entertainment. Once it starts to come home, like if you’re doing trauma therapy and you’re organizing a playlist around a response to depression or something. That’s powerful stuff, but it might be new for the first time experiencing that, “Do you mean I need to feel depression and music can help me feel that and let it go without any harm? That’s something.” Being able to say from the stage, “I’m going to play this piece of music and it’s been measured to have these kinds of effects. Let’s see how it works for you.” People are all of a sudden engaged.
“Do you mean this music is going to make me do X, Y, Z?” You’re like, “Of course it is.” We play dance music because it makes us dance. We play happy music because we like to be happy. Why not use sad or depressing music to help us release sadness? Let’s talk about the others. What about angry music? What about music that makes you scared? There are many ways in on this. Where it gets so beautiful for me is while music is a great intervention and it lets us release depression, distress, anxiety and other things safely and effectively, at the same time, it’s also doing things for us physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. If connectivity, oneness, consciousness, God, whatever you call it, if spiritual growth is on your radar, that’s the same music that’s giving you the release. It’s also inviting you to that higher level of self-actualization and transcendence or whatever it is that you long for that’s bigger than the problem of the day.
I love how you’re explaining this because you made this statement, something to the effect of you have to feel the depression before you can let go of the depression. That’s true for any emotion. We are pretty much in the business in Western society across the board, it’s not just in our mainstream medical. Any uncomfortable emotion or sensation that we feel, you go to your psychologist or your psychiatrist or if you have physical pain in your body and you go to your doctor. Those are problems we need to eradicate and get rid of. That’s not working. If it were working, we wouldn’t be in the epidemic levels of depression, anxiety, overwhelm, mental health disorders, PTSD, suicidal ideation, addiction. You name it, it’s across the board.
There’s a disconnect with our self. That’s where I’m a lot counter-intuitive in the work I do is helping people understand that it’s not running from these feelings. It’s not pushing them down. It’s not something to be eradicated or to let go of. It’s finding the message beneath it. Why is it coming up in the first place? What’s pushing it up? There’s something underneath it that’s causing it to surface in the first place. Music is a fantastic way to get in. You mentioned that music helped you when you were feeling suicidal. Do you mind sharing some of your personal story? Suicidal ideation and people completing suicide is at disturbing levels right now. I think a lot of people can relate to that.
I’m happy to share the story. I agree with you. We’re at epidemic levels for behavioral healthcare right now because whatever it is that we do isn’t enough. There’s nothing wrong with that. It simply says that it’s time for something more and to expand our toolkit to be able to do a better job. If you have the privilege of being able to reach out to Jennifer and work directly like that. They used to say trauma-informed therapy. I think it’s more like trauma coaching because trauma is necessary. That’s part of how we grow. We can’t run away from it. When you get to the place of feeling suicidal, that’s a symptom of something that you haven’t dealt with. The something you haven’t dealt with, like it was in my case, was stuffing those big emotions and trying to keep them under control. I’d like to think we can control our emotions but over time, that chronic attempt to stop things builds up. If it builds up too big, it can have symptoms. It will leak out as anger, suicide or self-harm.
That’s simply an indication that there’s an opportunity to go and feel something that you may have not wanted to feel, but that’s very safe. If music can give you that safe experience of that big emotion, then let’s do that. My safe experience of the big emotion of wanting to take my life started after I had done quite a bit of things. I’d had to go through bankruptcy to get the marriage done. My kids were moving off to college. My daughter had come out to me, which is a beautiful thing. All of these amazing things that happened. I had reached this point where I felt like I’d done it all. I’d done everything I came here to do and I didn’t have a purpose, a spark, something that would keep me engaged. Even though I’d been doing music care for a long time and I had a concert or two coming up, I didn’t feel like there was any purpose to it. I recognized those feelings as something that I needed to be with. I needed to experience that. I needed to be allowed that stuff to be fully present.
It came up for me in a very unusual way because I had plenty of people I could call, reach out to and say, “I’m feeling like I’m done here.” I had friends that have taken their own lives and suicide was like one of those options on the table. The night that I confronted that option, I don’t know why but I decided to sit in the chair and put on some music that had minded me, that had been there for me throughout my life. Maybe to hear it one more time. I can take care of this tomorrow but right now, I’m going to be with this music. I knew enough about what I’d been doing to give myself permission to feel that stuff. I put on the music, put on the headphones, put on repeat and sat in the chair. As I sat there, it was a little surprising at first, but then it made sense. This overwhelming sadness came up inside me. The music that I was listening to is a pretty sad music. I didn’t think of it as that sad.
What I found was that I had all of this grief that I needed to let go and experience. You can’t let it go without experiencing it. You say, “I let go of my grief,” but have you felt it fully? I began to weep. I don’t know how long I sat there crying and listening. I’d sat down at the chair on sunset and at some point the next thing I remember, I woke up and the music was still playing. I was sitting in the chair, still alive. I felt something different. I felt awake in a way that something has changed. I don’t know what but something has changed. I was wrung out, so I went to bed and slept. In the process of that time, I was assembling a new show and I knew that I wanted to tell something important in that show. I wanted to be able to bring people through on an emotional journey that went down and then went up. It was like, “We’re going to go to the depths and we’re going to come back up to normal.” I’d gotten stuck because I knew I wanted to play this piece of music that I’d been listening to.
I love it and it’s a great piece of music to play, but I’d run the show program into a hole where it was too deep and too dark. I didn’t know how to turn it around. Even the thing I love to do the most, I was stuck that night. The next day when I woke up, there were words in my head. That’s not too uncommon. I often have a dialogue or a monologue going on up there, but this time I recognized that the words had some form. They were lyrics. I grabbed a pencil and I started writing down the lyrics. It was four verses and a bridge. I’m like, “This is great. This is fantastic lyrics. This is something.” The music came and I started transcribing the music. It was like I could hear it in my head as I was writing it down to match the lyrics. By noon, this whole song was done. I said to the universe, “I don’t sing, who’s going to perform this? Who can I find is perform this crazy song?” I swear I hear the words as clearly as you’re hearing me now, “Bill, you are,” then it hit. This song was the thing I needed to turn the corner in the show to take it out of that deep place and to put it in the context of, “You need to do this before you do that.” Big emotion, deep feeling, the stuff that I don’t like to feel but can followed by the opposite or the reverse of it.Anger has this component of beauty behind it and can open you up to that experience of something beyond anger. Click To Tweet
It’s the way out, the way home, there it was. I don’t sing, but I’ve played that thing. I’ve done that show a couple of times. I call it The Suicide Show and I’ve used that crazy music and done my best to make it effective. It works so well. The experience of giving that show is amazing because you feel the depths and then you feel the contrast and the way that the show moves forward from there. It solved everything. More importantly, when I woke up that morning, I felt I had that purpose back. That was the spark of what’s kept me going ever since. That was 2007. Here we are many years later, we’re still doing this with a deeper sense of what it’s like to feel suicide at a deeper level and to know what that’s like. Of course, you can’t know what it’s like after you’ve killed yourself, but to know that you can go that deep safely, that’s powerful.
In all of the trauma classes that I do, we talk about trauma physiology. I don’t know 100% across the board, but we are if not the only one of the only species on the planet that has the ability to sidestep our emotions. We have the ability to not experience them, not feel them, not let them surface and be our GPS to guide us through. When we suppress our emotions, our tissue memory get stuck in our physiology. That’s what makes us reactive. That’s what causes our thought processes to go off the rails that are often diagnosed as mental health disorders or mental health illnesses. Suppressed emotions are often underlying a lot of physiological diagnoses like autoimmune disorders across the board are suppressed emotions of some sort or another like cardiovascular disease, asthma, I could go on and on.
We are so masterful at avoiding our emotions because that whole experience you talked about was finally letting yourself delve into the feeling and the experience of it and how quickly it dissipates. That is a true experience across the board for who have gone through authentic feeling. Prior to this, I’m assuming you were good at suppressing your emotions. What were some of your favorite ways to avoid, suppress and not pay attention to what was trying to surface? How did you sidestep and bypass it all that time?
I’m almost ashamed to say this, but I didn’t start therapy until my early 30s. I was carrying around all this unrealized emotion from birth until 30-something. For me, it was depression and it would leak out as anger. When my first therapist on the first session said to me, “Bill, you’re an angry man.” I said, “No I’m not,” because I didn’t feel myself. I felt more of a depressed person. The idea there that you could stuff emotions and eventually that practice would be harmful and get to a place where you need therapy to unpack that and figure out what’s going on, that’s an important thing to know. I can know that in hindsight but at the moment it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel good. If somebody had said, “Bill, you’re angry. Listen to angry music.” That wouldn’t have resonated for me.
My job is to find big emotions and express them. This process has been one of taking the emotional content that I can freely experience and express at the piano and bringing it home to a place where me, the human being, without the music around, can feel and express those emotions authentically. In many ways, without fear of them, because oftentimes we’re told, “Don’t show your anger. That’s going to be bad.” There’s truth to that. Allowing that anger to come up and release in the moment when it happens is way more powerful than trying to drag around a big old tank of anger behind you all the time, which is what I’d been doing.
I’d like to point out that there is a difference between experiencing anger when it comes up and letting that anger control your words, your behaviors and your actions.
What we’re talking about here is the safe experience. We’re not saying be angry and then throw axes or something to release that anger. You haven’t got that time. When the anger comes up, it’s there for reason and often it’s like those guardrails you were talking about. It’s like, “If I go to the right too far, it’s going to make me angry, so I should stay in the lane.” You need to bump up against it sometimes to feel that. When you feel it, the magic happens and you’ve got all this energy because anger is full of energy. You can choose to use that energy for good instead of having to act out on it and do something that breaks things and hurts people. It’s a great guard rail to have. It’s odd for me to say to people, “Do you know you can experience your anger safely and effectively without any medication? It helps you feel more authentic.” People look at me funnily. I was like, “Let’s try this and here’s the music.”
There’s way more to it because one of my favorite anger composers is Frédéric Chopin. He lived in a time when Poland was under attack. Is there ever been a time where Poland is not under attack? There’s always somebody after Poland for something, it seems. As a Polish national, he was feeling this anger about the fact that his country was under threat all the time. It came out on his music and he wrote music that definitely is angry. It’s also transcendental because in addition to that big anger, the monstrous piano music that he was able to write, there’s something about it that opens you to the sublime. Even in the midst of a huge angry piece of music, some beautiful melody will come in and remind you that this isn’t all there is. This anger also has this component of beauty behind it and can open you up to that experience of something beyond anger.
After the anger, what’s next? Like you say, “Yes, and.” “Yes, I’m angry and what’s the next thing?” It’s the same with music. Even though we’re great at this, human beings don’t have selective resonance for emotions. We make ourselves think we do. We can choose not to feel them but that’s terrible. It’s like, “Bill, only be angry. Nothing else, just anger. If somebody comes along and taps you on the shoulders and says, “Bill, I love you,” don’t listen, just be angry.” Our systems do this. It’s like having a guitar that only resonated for happy. If you played anything other than happy, the guitar wouldn’t resonate. You wouldn’t hear it. You can’t have a guitar like that. Human beings are like that too. We resonate for it all provided we allowed ourselves to feel it. It’s powerful and healing for us to do that.
I see a lot of harm in the spiritual New Age community, just by labeling anger, fear, sadness, grief depression as negative emotions. It’s not negative or it’s not positive, those are labels. Put them into little boxes because negative has the connotation that it’s wrong or that it’s bad. People are always trying to say, “Let it go.” They don’t show you how. In the process of trying to let it go, we end up suppressing and pushing those emotions further away. Going back to the lens of trauma, many of us in childhood weren’t allowed to express our emotions. If we expressed anger as a child, we got in trouble.
Many of us were told if we were sad or upset or crying, “If you want something to cry about, I’ll give you something to cry about,” because our parents didn’t understand. There’s a disconnect. There’s a misunderstanding between what the parent is experiencing and what the child is experiencing. Kids learn very early that emotions are not okay. We’re not taught skills early on how to manage our emotions. We’re not taught what they mean and how to process them. We come into adulthood with all these compensatory behaviors, all these dysfunctional behaviors. They ended up being our saboteurs in adulthood because they make us incredibly reactive to the situations and life around us.
You mentioned music for depression and we’ve talked about that. It’s very important to have specific music that helps you in each of your triggering emotions, whatever they might be. The big ones are depression, distress and anxiety. It’s great to have what I call a silver bullet playlist for depression that takes you through it in an organized way, that you can practice listening to. If we practice, here’s a great thing about us. One of our superpowers is that we remember music. It’s amazing but we do. Once you’ve practiced that four-song silver bullet playlist for depression and you’ve got that locked-in so that when depression comes to you, you have a way of being able to allow it to process and move through.
There comes a time where you don’t have to listen to the music anymore because your memory remembers the music. When you remember music and it comes to you that way without hearing it, the research is you get the same physiological response to music that you remember as the music that you hear, get the vibrations in your ears. Isn’t that amazing? We have a system that 80% of the brain we don’t use. Now you’re learning how to use some of it. It’s in there. If you can bring that back up when you need it, then you’ve got the release. Our bodies will respond to that automatically. You don’t have to think about it even. You go, “There’s my depression music. There’s my suicide song.”
That’s implicit memory. It’s not memory recall, it just happens. It becomes part of your cellular memory.
It’s a built-in skill. I laugh about this. We think our way into appreciation emotions. That’s the reverse because the lizard brain that gets the emotions going for us is doing that and then 100 times later, in milliseconds, but it takes 100 times longer for us to think about the emotional response. It’s already in the system by the time we recognize it. That’s so cool. I did trauma work. I was thinking about this. There was a point in my life where for whatever reason, I decided to go back into therapy and unwind some of those childhood traumas and whatever was on my list. We made a top ten list of traumas and worked through that. I was there one day and we were doing EMDR.
You can do that with eye movement, starting the bilateral stimulation, moving your eyes left and right. We’re using music that orbited between left and right that day or tap on your shoulders or whatever. My therapist was taking me through processing of traumatic memory and we were doing EMDR. I don’t even remember what the memory was right now. I’m listening and the music is orbiting and all of a sudden, the lights went on and I had to take off the headphones. My jaw dropped. I’m like, “You won’t believe the insight I’ve had.” She said, “What?” As I’m doing this left-right bilateral stimulation thing is happening, I realized that the first song I ever learned at the piano is a left-right song. Starting at the lower end of the piano and playing the two black notes from the bottom all the way to the top, left-right, all the way to the top of the piano. It’s left-right. It’s like bilateral stimulation. I started to think about every other thing that I’ve done at the piano. It’s all bilateral stimulation and drummers do bilateral stimulation the whole time. This is something we know.
EMDR was invented by someone who was walking around and realized that the left-right of walking was a bilateral stimulation. If you could spark that up, then you could let go of traumatic memory. All the energy of the trauma would dissipate. Science is still trying to explain that, but it has to do with the corpus callosum and a bunch of other stuff. That’s fine but it works. As I was saying this to my therapist, her jaw dropped. When you start to think about what we do all the time, that creates bilateral stimulation, whether that’s binaural beats, playing an instrument, drumming, walking around, sitting in and tapping on your shoulders or tapping your knees. We do this a lot. This is a human thing. We’re bipedal. We have left and right. This is what we do. Yet we’re spending a lot of effort trying to stuff our trauma deep down like we don’t want it. All you’ve got to do is connect with that emotion.
If you’ve got a modality that’s releasing the negative charge, all of a sudden, emotions lose their negative and positive and they become emotions. They’re there. They’re chemicals in our brain telling our body with hormones. There was no judgment in that. Emotion doesn’t care. Here you’ve got a way of being able to release the traumatic memory from it. My behavioral healthcare, which was non-existent from age three when I started playing until age 30-something when I got therapy, was there. The whole time at the piano, it’s my job to experience big emotions and perform them. There I am doing that, left-right happening, bilateral stimulation happening and the traumatic memory is processing. It’s like releasing. I can’t imagine where I’d be if I didn’t have that built-in skill that I’d practice for 30 years by the time I got a therapy.Human beings experience emotion and it's all about what we actually do with that emotion that can be harmful or can be amazing. Click To Tweet
I want to take a moment to talk about traumatic memories. In very different scenarios, I’ve had similar experiences. What I’d like to say, especially to our readers about traumatic memories, is any time you release the trauma, I see trauma is what happens inside of us. It’s not just the memory. The traumatic memory is the story you tell yourself. The traumatic memory is the, “I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy. I’m not lovable. Nobody cares about me. I think I’ll go eat worms.” That’s the traumatic memory. “Somebody is always betraying me. Somebody is always rejecting me. Somebody’s always abandoning me.” That’s the story you tell yourself.
There’s always an emotion or a felt sense in the body that underlies that story. Once you can get to the emotion beneath it going, “This abandonment goes back to childhood where I was in this situation.” My narrator, that story that I created in my head over my lifetime was I was being abandoned. What I was experiencing was the terror of being alone in that moment and not having anybody to turn to. As a little kid that was terrifying, the grief that came up from getting yelled at because I was angry and not understanding why I got in trouble because I had a normal emotion.
A lot of times there’s grief underneath it. There’s always pain underneath anger. The angrier somebody is, the more pain they experience inside themselves. It’s not erasing the memory recall of the event. It’s getting beyond the story you tell yourself to think and to start to realize that, “I have been keeping myself stuck with this story of abandonment, rejection, betrayal or unworthiness.” I wanted to clarify that because I don’t want people to think that we forget what happened.
It’s like it gets reframed. All the richness in those traumatic moments, like when I was feeling suicidal that night, that richness is still with me. The thing that isn’t, but I still have to confront it is the choice to keep breathing. Sometimes that choice seems more difficult than others, but the richness of that moment and what is now the richness in that music for me is deeper than it ever was. That’s a great thing. I talk to people often and they say, “What about love songs? The unrequited love song or the love song that you had with someone who is special to you and then you broke up and now the song has that charge associated with it. It’s got that sadness.” It’s not sadness that has to run your life and your next love, but you can release that with things like EMDR. There are many practices to be able to separate the good stuff or the stuff that you want because that music is beautiful, and the stuff that has a traumatic memory associated with it. Being left behind is never a great thing, it never feels good.
We’re not saying that being left behind is okay. It’s just that in that beautiful song, being left behind is part of that experience for you now. It’s opened up that richness of love to say, “Love can be this and love can be that.” It’s okay to experience those things without having to blame somebody for being dumped or all the other stuff that you don’t want to have to process. You can separate those things naturally. Our bodies do that. We were set up to do that. If you’re lucky enough to be working with Jennifer, then she’ll help you through it because she gets this both on the non-musical side as well as the musical side and how that works.
Bill, you get it too. You have a coaching practice, correct?
I do. I help people with this very thing.
You absolutely get it too about what it takes to release the emotion that gets stuck in the body. It’s important. Playing with the example about being dumped or being left, it’s important to process this, so as we move forward, we’re not projecting at the next person that we might need or encounter that they’re treating us the same way. That is so common to assume that everybody out there is going to treat you the same way that people in your past did. There’s so much projection.
We’ve taught ourselves into that. There are certain conventions about how human beings work. Even this one that says it’s okay to experience big emotions we don’t like. I probably shouldn’t tell this story, but I’ll go ahead and do it anyway. I was on a podcast and the host was one of those power of positive thought people. There was nothing that was going to make this person do anything other than smile and laugh. That was the ethos. I’m coming from a very nonjudgmental place and saying, “It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to feel fear. Music can do that for us. There’s no judgment on it. That’s what we do. We have these emotions. That’s who we are.” There was this conflict. We were at loggerheads. I forget what it was but I told a story about something that our music had been a deep soulful experience for me.
I think it was related to my mom or something like that. All of a sudden, because we were on video, I looked over and there were tears in her eyes. I thought, “Whatever is taking place here, it’s the right thing.” Because not only do the people listening hear the change in tone that’s happening in the conversation. If you’re watching, you can see that there’s been an impact from talking about this musical thing in a way that opened up a safe place to feel. Who knows if that was even conscious? I don’t know. Because people who cry for no reason often think that they’re crying because they’re happy. They aren’t willing to admit that there’s other component to that and that may have information for them. It doesn’t matter. That’s fine, no judgment but there was an emotional response and I’m so grateful for that because it’s okay. It’s all right.
Happy oftentimes is the story we tell our self. I can’t speak for everybody. I’m not saying that every single person does this, but I see it a lot though where this Happy-Positivity Movement is the means by which we spiritually bypass or emotionally hijack ourselves. “I can’t feel angry right now. Let’s turn it around and be happy,” and then you get The Stepford Wives, but it’s not just women.
Men do it all the time. Men are taught, “Don’t be angry.” My mom was an amazing woman and taught piano right up almost until a couple of weeks before she passed away. She was a chronically happy person and that was her choice. She was going to be happy at all costs. She died of cancer. One of the symptoms of stuffing your emotions for too long is that you can get physically ill.
Cancer has a lot of repressed anger across the board.
You know my story, repressed anger. I wonder where I learned that. I’m not saying that with judgment. I’m saying that was the ethos in which I was raised. I have to do my work to be able to move beyond that.
I have the opposite in my family. I have the parents that will hold it in and then explode into this rageful bursts. I learned that. I did learn unhealthy means to let my anger out. I don’t feel like I hold on to the anger for extended periods of time. I’ve spent a lot of time in adulthood learning healthy ways to manage my anger so it doesn’t come out in these outbursts. Sometimes it still does. I’d like to point that out. I imagine that you experienced this too in your practice as a coach. Sometimes we have all of these tools and we have all of these skills and we still lose our crap.
We’re still imperfect in many ways. As much as we know, things still bug me.
We have tools to bring our physiology, whether that’s our biology, emotions, mental state or spiritual state, back into that homeostatic balance more quickly. What’s important is how quickly we can get back to homeostasis.
Get back to feeling normal again or feeling energized. There’s a component to this that I don’t want to miss. We’ve talked about music for depression and managing the feelings we don’t like. One of the things that is out there a lot these days are practices that are talking about resilience, respect, kindness and those kinds of things. You can learn how to say thank you and mean it. It’s interesting to me that we’re not applying our superpower in that area. Do you know how good it feels to have somebody to say, “Thank you,” and mean it? That’s an amazing feeling. You get somebody on the phone at the call center and you’ve got a problem.Trauma is necessary. That's part of how we grow. Click To Tweet
They have this ability to make you feel like they care for you in some way and you feel it. You get it. They’re miles away and it’s a voice on the phone. How does that work? For me, I like to be able to practice ahead of time so that when I have to say thank you to somebody, I’m pretty clear on how I’m going to feel when I offer that appreciation. To do that, I soundtrack gratitude. I’ll pull together a little silver bullet list that’s got songs that help me engage with gratitude on a sensory level and emotional level. Otherwise, I’m just saying thank you. You can tell when people say thank you or have a nice day.
It’s like your mom standing there making you say it.
You can get to a place where if you connect your feeling, how you feel when you offer appreciation with the words, that’s powerful. When you offer your gratitude, people get it like that guy on the call center who was able to make me feel like he cared. I don’t know whether or not he did but I felt that. When voice is all you’ve got, you better make sure it’s clear because you’re going to offer that appreciation. We know we need that. That’s one of the building blocks of getting us out of the crazy way we’re in these things: respect, appreciation, gratitude, honor, whatever. If you soundtrack that and you know what it feels like to be grateful inside because you can feel that, that music has opened that up for you, you’re never going to be inauthentic about gratitude ever again. People said, “Be authentic.” How can I be more authentic? Kindness is a thing that you want to do. Let’s soundtrack kindness and figure out what the music is that lets you feel kindness. What’s it like when someone’s kind to you? It’s not something you think yourself into, but if you can give yourself the feeling, you’ll go there every time because your body will remember that.
Bill, you’re spot on about that. It’s not something you think yourself into. You feel yourself into it. If you overthink feelings, it’s counterintuitive.
If you think about it as colors and you’ve got the primary colors on your palette there and you decide today that you’re only going to paint in yellow, but your day is all red and you can’t paint in red that day. Why would you cut yourself off? Show up with all the colors and know what they’re going to do. Give yourself the practice of that like artists do. They practice with all the colors, so when it comes time, they can make the blend they want. Practice with those things using music to give yourself the emotional content that you need. This isn’t acting, this is genuine, this is authentic. You don’t have to dial-up an emotion like, “I have to feel sad now.” You just know it. Being fluent in your emotional language means that you have a range of feeling that you can bring to a situation. There are times where happy doesn’t cut it. It’s like when you’re playing and you skin your knee, the last thing you want is your mom going, “Be happy now.” You want a Band-Aid and somebody to show you a little love. It’s compassion. What’s your compassion music? What does it feel like to be compassionate?
I believe compassion is misunderstood. Compassion is the absence of judgment. A lot of times compassion gets twisted around into the Helpy Helperton as I call it. The Helpy Helperton is this tendency of especially women, men do it too but I see it a lot with women, where they’re like, “Let me help,” and then help becomes the sunny side of control, which isn’t helpful.
It misses the total emotional experience. I’ve had to learn this too. It’s harder for guys because we like to fix things. If something’s wrong, we’re going to find the answer. Sometimes things are wrong in a way that there is no answer. In that moment, the only thing you can do is we hold space or whatever. You can offer compassion.
That’s important to point out that sometimes things are wrong in the way that we can’t fix it. We can’t do anything about it other than to be with it. Brené Brown talks about this too, holding spaces with the “At least” comments, “At least this or at least that, that sucks, I’ve been there.” It’s being with somebody in the discomfort.
Imagine right now that you’re Mark Zuckerberg and that your product is responsible for all of the leaking anger in the world.
I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.
I wouldn’t either but what do you do? Hopefully, there will be things we can do. As the guy who made the platform, there’s very little that you can do except to say, “Look at this mirror that Facebook is giving us for what’s going on out there.” What do you do with that? You practice compassion. You find a way to figure out how to be compassionate so that you, the powerless person who runs Facebook, seriously can be okay with that. Mark, if you’re reading, I don’t know you but what a great opportunity to pay to practice compassion and to come to a place where emotions can be nonjudgmental. That’s what we do. Human beings experience emotion and it’s what we do with that emotion that can be harmful or can be amazing, depending upon your fluency and your safety and the way that you feel about your response to something that triggers you in a way you don’t want.
In this country, the United States, we are faced with infinite opportunities. I can’t even begin to talk about all the opportunities that we are faced with on a daily basis to learn to practice compassion.
That’s a hard one. You have to allow yourself to stand in the shoes of someone that you may very well hate, violently in some cases, to try to feel what it’s like. There’s no way we can, but to come to some level of emotional awareness of what it must be like to have to be that person, whether that’s your brother-in-law or one of your kids or somebody who’s responsible for some big thing in the world that’s happening. It’s hard because emotions are non-binary. They’re not right and wrong. They’re just there. That’s a huge way of allowing the crazy. It’s like, “There’s Bill. He’s being Bill.” That’s how much crazy it is to me right now. As long as it’s safe and he’s not breaking things and hurting people, you can come to that and say, “I can see how Bill can be feeling that way. It’s hard for me to stand in his shoes because I don’t agree with a lot of him. I don’t like other parts, but I do see that there’s a reason why he’s probably feeling the way he is.” That’s a start. Your playlist comes in and you go, “He has compassion music. It’s so easy to be compassionate for the Dalai Lama.” You start bit by bit. It’s a practice. Start to be able to build a bridge at the place where you can finally say, “There’s Trump being Trump.” Politics is a great mirror for how we’re doing in the world. We can pick on Trump.
It is a good mirror for what’s happening and how collectively, as a society, how we’re feeling not only about ourselves and also about each other. It’s so true that the world is a mirror for what we experience inside of us. When I was younger, I had a hard time stepping out of those toxic and judgmental personality traits. There was a period of time where I don’t think I was even capable of experiencing compassion. It wasn’t until I started to learn about trauma and how early childhood trauma truly affects us that I started to understand the deeper meaning behind sayings like, “Hurt people hurt people,” because it’s so true. If somebody wasn’t hurt or wounded somewhere in their life, they wouldn’t hurt or wound other people.
Let’s talk about how you can use music with your enemy because this could come up in business where you share a point of view with some people and don’t with another. You have to work together as a team anyhow and still move forward. It might be something that’s project-based where both of you have your separate ideas of how to achieve something and they’re both valid. It could be something as radical as red and blue. Whatever the enemy situation is, there’s a way forward. It’s often a way that you don’t know. It’s not an either/or situation. In chess, you can win, lose or draw, and often the strategy is to play for the draw. That’s a valid strategy. If you and your enemy are in a place where you’re locked up, one of the ways forward is to find a piece of music to discuss because what’s missing in that enemy standoff situation is the human connection. It’s the bridge.
If you can make the human connection, you can move forward. Oftentimes, we get to a place where we’re fighting. We dig trenches and shoot at each other instead of trying to find a way that allows us to move forward. In that kind of a place, I often like to get together on a piece of music. It’s like, “Jennifer, I heard this song the other day by Trumpasaurus. We’ve got to go to this concert. It goes live. What do you think? You’ve never heard this before. I’ve heard it once. Can we talk about this song for a moment?” You’re going to look at me funnily because it’s like, “Who’s got the time for that?” If you’re stuck and you have to keep moving, there’s no way you can move together until you agree on something.
Oftentimes getting into a song, the first thing will happen is, “I like that song or I don’t like that song.” Notice that I’m using the contrary expressions here, “I like that song or I don’t like that song.” For emphasis, that’s how disconnected it can be. You go, “Why don’t you like it? What does it make you feel like? What about Trumpasaurus is not giving you the warm fuzzy feeling that you want right now?” You begin to dig into that. As you both dig into a piece of music together, you find that the communication goes from opposition to understanding. You start to understand why it is that somebody has the feeling that they do about a song and they understand why you have a totally different feeling about the same song.
Both those feelings are okay because you’re both feeling things. There’s no way that you can be judgmental about that because suddenly you’re in a place where you’re like, “Bill feels this way. Jennifer feels that way. It’s the same music and I can listen to it. Maybe I’ll feel a third way or whatever.” You start to begin to build a bridge. In business, it’s so hard anymore to build bridges. Human resources are pushing on people and isolating people. It’s the only way we can keep each other safe in business, from the #MeToo Movement and all that. Music is a great way to come back together.Politics is a great mirror for how we're doing in the world. Click To Tweet
I love how you described that because you’re shifting the conversation from judgment into curiosity. Curiosity is the path away from judgment into compassion. Curiosity is the link between the two. I love that you brought that up, Bill. Thank you.
We’re on the same page here. You’ll get back to the linear thing that you need to accomplish, the task, whatever, that will come. Taking a moment to get out of the space and it doesn’t take any skill. We know how to do this.
It’s taking the time to slow down and learn to be okay with yourself in those quiet moments. Many people don’t like to be with themselves. Some of the things that we fear the most are public speaking, death, our own mind. People will do anything possible to get away from experiencing what’s going on in their own mind. They’ll drink wine, go for a run, take a hot bath or do yogas, anything to keep them from being in their mind. That’s where it’s even more important to go inside yourself and look at your motivations. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with going for a run, doing yoga or taking a hot bath. Look at your motivations. Why are you doing it?
When you do that, when you open up to that, it’s there. I never had to worry about it for very long. Once you opened that door, you’ll get this flood of emotion that overwhelms you in many cases like it did for me that night. That’s good information for you. It’s not, “1, 2, 3, here’s your to-do list of stuff. Thanks for listening to his music. We’re clear about the X things you have to do.” It’s not like that. It is an emotional clarity, a sense of relief and a sense of power that doesn’t come from any checklist. It’s not linear at all.
Don’t apply linear thinking to these concepts because they’re not logical. Bill, if any of our readers are interested in looking you up, where’s the easiest or most prominent place to find you online?
The best places is to go to Quest.MusicCare.net. It’s a network of people. It’s a movement. We need to engage in this movement in a way that’s going to take us to the next place. Look where we’ve gone with the binary movement and the greed movement and the competition of it. This is a collaboration between me and everybody else who’s out there who can accept music more as a tool and less as entertainment to bring it in and let it enliven what we do. There’s free stuff. You can find me there. It’s the tip of the iceberg.
Do you have any final tips or bits of wisdom to leave with our readers?
Anybody can be wise. You have to learn from your experiences. The simplest thing that I found learning from my experience is change your music, change your life. If you allow your openness to music, you’ll also allow your emotional richness to come into play and that will change your life. It’s like an all sugar diet is not a great thing, so change your music, change your life.
Bill, it’s been an honor to have you with us. Thank you for being with us. If you’re looking to learn more information about me, you can find that at JenniferWhitacre.com.
- Bill Protzmann
- Music Care Inc.
- American Music Therapy Association
About Bill Protzmann
Bill Protzmann is an entrepreneur, musician, husband, father, and proud member of the human race. He’s the founder of Music Care Inc, the first for-profit business established to teach you how to give yourself effective, evidence-based self-care using nothing more than the music you love.
Bill’s work has been recognized by the National Council for Behavioral Health with an Award of Excellence – the mental health industry equivalent of winning an Oscar.