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Reclaiming Singing, and Ourselves

At a recent RC workshop in Washington, USA, I led a topic group called “Sing and Discharge—Reclaiming Our Full Humanness,” as a way for people to work on their relationship to music and singing.

Singing can put our attention on being powerful, visible, and big and in so doing help us discharge embarrassment, humiliation, shame, fear, and ways that we have given up on parts of our creativity (intelligence) and humanness.

Singing is a way to pay attention to the benign reality and reclaim our hope, joy, and full humanness. It can help us notice and take pride in our culture, language, and people. (Oppression functions to wipe out non-dominant cultures, including their music.)

Singing has played a huge role in every culture. Songs are often a part of everyday life—from waking songs to working songs to protest songs. The power of singing has been used throughout history in revolutions and other wide world change. Singing brings people together, creates solidarity, inspires hope, and reinforces commitment to a goal or action.

As leaders in RC we need to be big and powerful, with our voices and presence and thinking. Singing with the attention of a group lets us try out being visible and big. Harvey1 knew about the power of singing and insisted that people sing in front of workshops. It was an example of “I can!” and putting attention on the benign reality.

Singing can contradict any way that we feel bad about ourselves, stupid, or incompetent. Many of us in North America have been told that we are not “talented” or able to sing. In fact, there is no such thing as being “tone deaf” or “unable to carry a tune.” Like anything new or unfamiliar, we can learn how to use our voices and pursue more skill at singing, at any point in our lives.

Singing in front of people is also a way to work on feelings of arrogance and being “better” than others (a version of oppressor material2). We can notice how we hope to “impress” others or be “special,” how we’ve been hurt into believing that we are ”better” or “the best.”

I started the topic group with a short talk about this topic (see above!). We then divided up the time and each person had a turn to sing and discharge. I invited people to stand up front with me for their turns (more of a contradiction,3 I thought).

We were twelve people of various ages and class backgrounds—USers and Canadians, white folks and people of the global majority. People used their turns in a variety of ways. Many worked on embarrassment and fear. Some worked on internalized musicians’ oppression—how comparison and competition had played out4 in their families. During people’s turns the group as a whole also discharged a lot.

It was clear how much we all loved music and wanted to reclaim that joyous part of our lives. It was also striking how powerfully each person took the direction to sing, or think about singing, and then discharge—as in Harvey’s “think, act, discharge” direction. The energy was high: lots of laughter, closeness, and connection.

Below are reports from some of the other group members.

Heather Hay

International Liberation
Reference Person for Musicians

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada



My experience in the group affirmed for me how deeply singing is connected with our essential humanity. Being witnessed in that place of exquisite vulnerability touched people to the core. Singing is a powerful and empowering route to discharging early hurts about being heard. It’s also a wonderful way to notice and share the joy of being alive.

Shasta Martinuk

Bowen Island, British Columbia, Canada



It is incredibly useful, I think, to live our lives in the direction of reality. And for someone like me, who got hurt in ways that had made it impossible for me to sing in front of people without lots of humiliation coming up, it is really important to do this work.

The group provided a powerful contradiction to my distress. It was also great to see others experiment with using their minds in a fully human way. There is something about singing and solidarity—music has been so important in every social movement.

Margaret Butler

Portland, Oregon, USA



The best part for me was the permission to sing whatever I wanted, knowing that I would have complete, approving attention from everyone there. It was a contradiction, like being listened to without judgment in the first few Co-Counseling sessions I had forty years ago. I found that I was more relaxed and bold at the next workshop, where I sang a few oldies!

Lang Marsh

Seattle, Washington, USA



I noticed how cooperative everyone was. It also seemed as if each individual was right at the point of feeling while also having a heck of a good time.5 I sure was!

I had fun watching people’s faces. I was intrigued by the smiles and how relaxed people looked. They were embarrassed, yet their faces were so soft.

Cheryl Banks

Seattle, Washington, USA





I had never before, in twenty years of Co-Counseling, seen thinking, acting, and discharging work together so quickly. I continue to use my session in the group as a model for how to approach other parts of my life.





Singing with loving attention was a unique experience—different from performing and certainly different from singing alone. I had more of myself and was able to notice how I actually felt about singing, which was that I really wanted it.

The feeling I most noticed people having was eagerness, even when they were discharging humiliation. Later that night I spent over an hour singing with a couple of other Co-Counselors. We had a great time. It made us really happy.

Since the workshop I have been using singing more in my ongoing RC class, to get our attention out and to help us get closer. We laugh a lot, and it brings a lot of warmth to our class.

Marnie Valenti

Seattle, Washington, USA



I loved the chance to think about music and to do some discharging on the damage from the past. I continued singing and discharging on the drive home.

Caroline Wildflower

Port Townsend, Washington, USA



Out of all the discharging I did over the weekend, the discharging in the singing group was the most profound.

After I came home and was lying in bed, I started thinking about the group and decided to experiment and sing out loud. As I lay there singing, my son heard me and excitedly burst into my room asking, “Are you singing?” He had never heard me do that before.

Xanne Sarka

Shoreline, Washington, USA


1 Harvey Jackins

2 Material means distress.

3 Contradiction to distress

4 Played out means been acted out.

5 A heck of a good time means a very good time.



Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00