Dave Jones on Healing from Traumatic Brain Injury with Handpans

This is a true story of sound healing, a first-hand account of the impact handpans had on Dave Jones' life after he suffered brain trauma, and the ripple effects that en-joying handpans can have in the life of others.

"Replace our years of trouble with decades of delight" (Psalm 90:15, referenced in the episode).

Connect with Dave Jones on Facebook & via his website

Podcast Transcription:

Sylvain: Hey, it's Sylvain and this is the Handpan Podcast.

Sylvain: Hey, if you stick around until the end of the episode, I want to tell you something, something big, actually like life-changing for me, and very exciting for the handpan art form as well. I promise I'll tell you all about it, but first I'm really happy to release this one-on-one conversation I had with Dave Jones, who you already met in the previous episode of the podcast about handpan camp. Something happened to Dave a few years ago that turned his life upside down and amidst the dark times that ensued that traumatic event. He stumbled upon the handpan. What happened next? Well, I'll let you hear it from him directly, but it's a powerful first account of something. I think a lot of us have had a hunch about with these instruments that hand pens can be therapeutic in some real, tangible ways. I'm grateful that Dave agreed to share his story and I'm really honored to be able to relay it to you. So here's my conversation with my friend, Dave Jones.

Sylvain: Dave, where are we right now?

Dave: We are underground, I think.

Sylvain: Yeah, at least partially. So I guess I should explain. We are in Dan's studio. Uh, this is day three of handpan camp and I have the great pleasure of sitting down with my friend, Dave Jones. It's been cool. It's been a long time coming. We met only for the first time two days ago.

Dave: Yeah.

Sylvain: But it felt like we knew each other. So I'm glad we can, uh, spend some time in real life.

Dave: Yeah, me too.

Sylvain: So there are so many ways to look at the hand pan, whether it's culturally, the instrument itself, the history its healing aspects. And we hear all of these aspects being talked about, you know, in conversations and online. Um, but some of the lingo that I picked up from you really quickly as we started chatting online was, uh, some kind of visceral mind-body response to the sound. Um, and I know that there's a reason for you being sensitive to that. Um, can you tell me about what brought you to the handpan and, and what your body and your mind's response is and why?

Dave: Yeah, sure. And I'll do my best to make us editable later. Not edible, but editable. Yeah. I think the, the, the handpan for me means many things now, but back in 2018, when I heard a handpan for the first time on February 20th, it, um, it meant one thing in particular and that thing, um, if I were to describe, to use one word to describe it would be hope. So if we rewind a little bit, I had in 2015, I experienced, um, brain trauma and it undid me, uh, inside and outside. And so what is what a normal person is able to experience in the world? The person who has brain trauma experiences, maybe a little bit different because the brain is working to heal itself. It's damaged maybe in a, in a way for me that meant, um, you know, constant migraines and, um, sickness in the body it's as if you had vertigo or were on a, if you get sick, you're on a boat in the ocean that you in 10 foot swells, and you can't see the horizon, but you can't get off. And so that was, had been happening for years before the handpan. And I experienced relief in, in different ways. But I was particularly looking by February of 2018, for ways to help me experience the life. Um, I was living fully, you know, no matter what, because at that point, you're in the chronic stage of an illness or an injury. And I was, I had been told, we just don't know if this will ever go away. And so those symptoms were still there. He was relating to them differently now because of some different practices I was introduced to, but I was also looking for new ways all the time to deal with the light sensitivity and particularly where the handpan comes in is with, um, sensitivity to sound. So I somehow, after the accident experienced loud, loud ringing in my head, actually with hot, I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like there was like, it was burning inside of my head between my ears and be so loud that I would ask people, do you hear that? Like a siren going off? And I was trying to manage that particular symptom. And I had lots of different practices for, you know, listening to all the sounds and going deep into that sound and finding the center of it. And those are very helpful, but I was looking for something else as well, lots of good medicine out there. So I found these Tibetan singing bowls, and I don't know how I found those. And I ended up buying one. And so I was, I was playing this thing all the time and I put water in it and play it that way in, and I would move it all around my body and play it and hold it around my head. And I was showing everybody look at the singing bowl it actually, it seemed to, um, it seemed to actually resonate inside of my body in really interesting ways and especially on move it down to like my chest. Um, but around my head, it was almost like a massage. So I don't know how long I had the singing. Well, it wasn't very long. And I think I had mastered most of the techniques I'd been shown in the store when I bought it. And I, I was, I went on my phone and I'm like, I put in a Google advanced singing bowl techniques or something like that, you know? And so up pops up this guy with dreadlocks and he's sitting in a tunnel and he's smiling and he's playing a shaker in one end. And with the other hand, he starts to play this thing on his lap. And I just wept almost instantly. There was something about the sound that just brought me home and, and there was, um, I mean, I, I like, told my wife, my kids, you gotta listen to this, you gotta see this, what is this? You know? And that began the quest, um, for, um, to just to find a handpan, but they're expensive. And so that was February 20th, 2018. And we just didn't know like do pump at that time. It really felt like most handpans were at least $3,000. And so we were like, I don't, and we didn't know which one to buy. And then you have all the different keys and scales. And the more I went down that hole, um, but I started listening to a bit of, of handpan music, but I could feel it, I could feel it in my body and I could actually feel what it would feel like to play. I had a sense of like what that was going to feel like I also had really intense neuropathy on my left-hand side. And so my left hand, like parts of it were more like a claw and depending on heart rate, I would lose feeling on my left side inside, outside. And so up to the point of losing vision on my left side. And so I had this feeling like, I think, you know, this, this thing could be, could be really, could be part of my story. I really think it is part of my story. When I heard that pan. And I think it was Daniel Waples when I heard that, by the way, a Daniel, if you're listening, like thank you for recording it because it, it changed my life. And I just knew whatever he was playing and how he was playing it, you know? And now I know like part of his heart was coming through this music that was connected to this pan in front of him. I knew that I wanted to experience that, that there was something about that. And that day I wrote in my journal, I'm like, you know, I don't know how, cause it really expensive, but I know the universe is conspiring and someday I will, I will have one. If I could name the texture, I felt that day. It was the coolness of, um, the cool, uh, force of a river. If you were to get in the river and hold onto the rocks and face upstream and put your head under the water while it rushed over you, that's what I felt.

Sylvain: Um, I love that image. We were just in the river 30 minutes ago, at that point, you really start being obsessed with handpans.

Dave: Yeah. I started, you know, there, there was like some app where you could play different Hang and I would like go through it and play. And even that sound was pleasing, but it was more of like, I could, I would dream about the texture of, you know, feeling the pan and the balance of the fingers and the touch of the pan. And, um, I think that, like, I just, that all of a sudden, like there was this longing, like there was a, there was a relationship like we, it was almost instant, uh, you know, it's metal. So it was, there's a magnetic quality to it. And it really drew me in and I must've drawn it in as well because in October we met.

Sylvain: That's. Right. Yeah. And it was really cool that you reached out. I remember, I think I told you I was visiting my brother in London when I got your message and you reached out and I think you said something along the lines, like, you don't have to respond. Like I'm not, you just wanted to reach out. And I thought that was really cool. Um,

Dave: I think I reached out because of an episode that you did, um, with, um, is it Spiros.

Sylvain: Spyros.

Dave: Spyros.

Sylvain: And so you heard that?

Dave: Uh, yeah. And that happened, like I was listening to that on this like incredible journey that ended in Pahrump Nevada at Jacob Lee's workshop.

Sylvain: Okay. That's, it's cool that it was with that episode because this episode with Spyros was so inspired and he had transformation stories to share from his past and from his encounter with the Hang. Um, so yeah, if you had to summarize this evolution these past couple of years, since you discovered the instrument, what did you learn? What did you discover?

Dave: I mean, I think the first thing that comes to mind is just like how much gratitude I have for, um, the community of at large, whatever that means. And some specific people, uh, in particular, Daniel Waples being the first, like, I don't know why he uploaded that video or made it, it changed my life. And that set me on a course toward meeting a lot of other people who would change my life. And so, as I say, we didn't know, we just were not in a place to like put a bunch of money into this thing that we weren't sure if it was like, what I use it. I don't have rhythm. I think of you, my wife was like, how's this going to work? But she just saw that I kept after it. And, but I wasn't willing to like, just do it without, I just felt like we needed to wait. And that was, uh, that was kind of an interesting thing. And so as we're waiting, um, Colin Foulke does a thing where he has a lottery, you know, and if you get, if you, and so Emily had everybody, we knew put their name into the lottery and we didn't get it. And it was super bummed. And then he does another one for kids at later. We're like, wow, who is this guy? And at that point I knew of Collin and I knew of Pantheon Steel. And we were on both of their lists and we would get updates from them. I think that was kind of the only two makers I really was following. And Emily, I didn't even know she did this. She put our kids' names in for the kid lottery and we got an email, she got an email. I didn't even know this happened, that my daughter Sophia had won. And I mean, you know, when I said the universe is conspiring, however, whatever language you would want to use to talk about that, like what did, what this all is, is way bigger than me. You know, I think so many of us have that story. Like whether it's a handpan or something else, like they're just like things in life that happened. You're like, wow, I just am so thankful. I couldn't have orchestrated this. I couldn't have planned it. And that handpan arrived at our door. And, um, I mean, it was, it was what I imagined, you know, Sophie played it and Noah played it and I got to touch it. You know, I don't mean it quite honestly and call it nose is like, I mean, Sophia plays it, but it like what that was, was like somehow in the way of, uh, it got to me and I got into our family's hands. And from the very beginning I started playing it outside. I don't even know why, like, I think I had this thing. I wanted my kids not to be afraid to learn something new and I was going for it. And so I would play it outside. And within, probably within, it was really November by the time I got to really start playing it and I would sit outside on the stoop and one day a man comes walking by and we've gotten to know him since then. We live in an area of downtown Boise that's close, really close to social services. So we have lots of friends who are, you know, making their way through life in a different way. And, um, he stopped, he just staring at me. I just kept playing kind of smiled. And then he came back and he has a little brown bag and he stood there and I stopped and he's like, no, please don't stop. So I kept playing. And I mean, at this point, like, I didn't know, have any idea what I was doing. Right. I was just, I didn't care. I just knew it was like, this feels better. I love this did not care. And he like comes up and approaches me and he says, he said, um, hi, my name is such-and-such. I'm like, hi, I'm Dave. He said, can I sit by you? And so he came up the steps and he sat right next to me. And so I kept playing and I look over and like, there just tears running down his face, you know, we've gotten to know him since then. It was like this, something happened inside of him. And so I started, the more I played outside, the more I noticed that, um, this thing in my lap, wasn't just for me, you know, it, wasn't just, this, isn't my story. Like I'm watching it happen and I'm a part of it, but it's our story. And, um, which is why I agreed to do this. Cause I'm not a super fan, like sharing it in public ways like this, but it's this, isn't just my story. Uh, there are, this is our story, this just different content

Sylvain: And thinking out loud about, you know, that beautiful encounter. What do you think went through his mind?

Dave: I have no idea. And I guess, you know, that's a really good question because the more I played, the more experiences I had and like, sometimes you would have a sense, like somebody who's really being moved and you know, maybe they were like texting with someone on their phone and then I did it. Wasn't about you at all, you know? Or, um, it's like that, you know, you think somebody is waving at you and you wave back and you're like, it's actually somebody behind you. Um, and then sometimes I have these, I had these experiences where I thought people, I just like "stop playing", you know, and then I'd find out later, like just loved it. So I, I am really working, not to even try to figure that out. So I don't know.

Sylvain: Yeah. Cause it's confusing.

Dave: I mean, something happened, right.

Sylvain: And interpreting it is, is dangerous because we don't know. And, and we, you also don't want to set that expectation. You know? I mean, I, I know my own response to the instrument when I first heard it. I know yours, I've heard countless stories. Um, but it's always a mystery. It's always a puzzling thing to witness it's beautiful. Um, but it's just, it's, it's very sacred to me. And uh, and curious too.

Dave: Yeah, I like the word. I mean, what a great combination sacred, it's curious, you know, you do wonder because there's another person you're connected to and you get a chance that sometimes you get the, you get the Intel, right. Or at least what they were aware of at the time when they're telling you what happened. So I mean, a big evolution then was, uh, for some reason I, oh, I started noticing like people experiencing it in this way. And so I've always had like, this have always related to older people and you know, part of my work is as a therapist. And, and so I'm like, this is really helped my experience. And so I think I, I was like, I just watched Colin give, you know, and it wasn't like, oh, I need to pay this debt back. It was more of like, just out of a heart of gratitude, like I'm going to play anyway. Cause I played a ton, I mean, hours every day. Cause it's my medicine. And so I thought, well, if I'm playing and maybe somebody recommended it, maybe I could go play somewhere else. And there's an assisted living center. It's all memory care. Uh, literally directly one block from my house. Like if you look on my front door, it's, if you could remove the block in between us, it's the next front door. And so I called them up and it was like really strange for, you know, I'm like, "Hey, I'm Dave, I live around the corner and I'd like to come play this instrument". And I'm like, well, that didn't sound great, but he did it, you know, it's like, who is this guy? And they're like, what is it? And so I said, it's this and that. So I like just played in the background and whoever it was who answered the phone, she was like, well, that sounds pretty good. Can you come tomorrow? And that is B they began, uh, a long relationship of, uh, playing in different places where people are experiencing, um, situations in life that can't get out of. And that really spoke to me, you know, like,

Sylvain: Because they were in it.

Dave: Yeah. I mean, at that point we didn't know that there was what it was chronic, right? Like this is the lessons I was learning, continue to learn is that life is only unbearable when we demand that it change and that it is possible to experience peace and joy and love, no matter the circumstances. And I w I have experienced that in the darkest of days that I've had, it was there that I experienced the bottom. That was actually what I was always standing on and those kinds of things. And I, and I, I had, I was felt compelled and not, uh, any other way, except like, it's just like an overflowing cup to if other people found it at all, helpful to be in that, to be in those kinds of places. So

Sylvain: Tell me about your own discovery of how playing the handpan was actually really good for your brain and for, uh, yeah. For what you were dealing with at the time.

Dave: Yeah. So one of the things that happens to a dysregulated brain, that trauma brain, a depressed brain, um, is that you, you lose some of the natural functioning of that brain. Problem-solving, you know, the executive functions. And so you operate much more often in the back part of the brain and the reactive part of the brain. And so, um, what the playing the handpan does in a very practical way, is it activates the entire brain as what music does. It's not just a handpan, but it activated the creative side and also also activated what would become like the problem solving side, the thinking side. And it also helps take the mind offline and you get in those places are just flowing. You know, it's just the mind can rest and the body can rest as well as what you're receiving in terms of literal measurable frequencies from these notes into your body, which is full of different frequencies. It's full of water, frankly. And what happens when these notes hit water and ah, just, wow. You know, it's just the different experience, different combinations of notes and chords. And then I would hear another pan and be like, oh, you know, wow, that stirred my heart. What is that? So that's that begins the quest for, um, you know, other types of, of handpans and even other types of instruments. Like the didgeridoo that I was like, oh, I feel that in my body. And wow, that is corduroy, for example, like that feels like corduroy. It feels like that, that the texture, you know, those low, the rumbling notes together is like running my hands across corduroy. And I feel the rumbling in my chest and loosening my chest and opening my throat, you know? And I think that was, that just started like to happen very naturally as I dove in, as well as like I have almost zero musical background and I started playing and I'm like, I'm only, I can't think outside of this thing that I started playing, you know, a rut, a groove. And so I started doing, you know, some of the online courses and, you know, frankly like your cousin's course David's course master the handpan was a, I mean, I don't know it was, it just came at the right time. It was fairly early in that actually. And, and I, I mean, I dove in like, I, it was, I loved it. I loved it. Cause if I experienced a lot of pain in the body, I would often like find something super hard to learn, which was like everything at the beginning. And then I would, it would move attention and energy away from the pain, not ignoring it, but just, here's all this other stuff going on and give my attention to that. And, you know, I'm learning new things and I'm also like, here's another type of medicine for pain. It's not ignoring it, but it's a way of like learning how to direct energy and focus to something else. Not just the pain, not just feeding pain. Yeah.

Sylvain: Um, what other aspects of the instrument you mentioned the community, like what were your first interactions or trips to visit makers or...

Dave: Yeah, so, um, I think we, yeah, it would be, as soon as I started playing at the assisted living center, someone in Boise, like posted a handpan for sale, never seen it before or since. And I think I must've like set my Craigslist to have an auto alert. And so this, like, I got the alert, like right before I was doing the assisted living center. And, uh, and it was like, uh, it was, uh, it was a Meridian low F pygmy or something like that. Right. I didn't know what that was and this yoga teacher was selling it. And so I just asked her if I could come to her house and then I talked to Emily and you know, at that point we were like, this is a road I'm going down. So I go to her house and I, I touch it. And I think it was probably, it was at least 15 minutes before I knew she was before I became aware that she was still in the room. It was, there was something about the scale itself and the metal. And the sounds resonated with me. I was crying and you know, she's like, I think this is going home with you. And she, and it was really interesting cause he goes, I have a price I put online, but I have one in my head and she said, what's yours. And it was the same price. You know, it was like one of those wonderful moments where again, universe conspiring like this is, um, this is happening. It's our story. And it's, I'm just getting to be part of it again. And so that really opened up the door soon thereafter, my mom was in the hospital, I went to visit her. She said, can you bring your handpan? And I went to visit her. And I started playing and the nurses started coming into the room. They asked if they could bring, bring people, patients to sit outside of the room and listen. Cause they thought it would be helpful. And after that, when I came back to Boise, I started going into the hospital lobby and playing. Cause I saw like, this is a really, and so I did that probably three times until security asked me to leave. And they said, you know, you have to, you can't be in here. Like, and uh, and the people who were there were like, they were really getting mad at the security guard. They were like, "no, he can stay". And he's like, actually he can. And like, it's okay. Like if they need me to leave because I need to go through an avenue to be here. So I asked the security guard security guard. I'm like, well, how could I stay? And so he said, well, you need to talk to such and such. So that began the process of then getting into, um, the hospitals and, um, cancer care centers and another, you know, other, other health related kind of situations where people are often not there because they want to be,

Sylvain: Yeah, you're on a fast track, you're on a fast track with the handpan, those are profound experiences across the board. It's impressive to see your journey and just a couple of years, especially cause you're in Boise and you have, I think a good chance to introduce the instrument to a town that hasn't seen it or, you know, like I assume there hasn't been a lot of, uh, street musicians playing the handpan in Boise, you know, like you get to be one of those pioneers in your town.

Dave: Well, it's interesting because like, so I will resist fast-track language because I don't say like, I don't see it as a way to get anywhere.

Sylvain: Sure.

Dave: Yeah. So I, and we've talked a lot about this. Like I think for some people, like, that's what it is, you know, like this is, and I think a lot of times you get what you aim for and I'm not, I mean, I'm aiming, I want to we've, we've talked recently. Like I want to be the best at this that I can be. But what I mean by that is like, when I see somebody like Nadishana, do these finger rolls. I feel them, I don't want people like underneath me while I'm sitting on a stage thinking it's really cool. I feel them. And I'm not saying that that other thing is bad, but for me, I want to know what that feels like. I've had neuropathy, I've had the experience of no feeling. And the idea of like all these little textures, like, oh, what is, what would that feel like, oh, if I can move my fingers and I can move my fingers independently on my left hand now, you know, it's like, it's, it's, it's incredible. It's been thousands. Yes. Thousands of hours of like monotonous work to bring those things back online and the satisfaction experience of like freeing those fingers up and having feeling in my hand and like move my left hand all over the place right now is, is, uh, man, it's so gratifying. It's a wonderful feeling. So, you know, I don't feel like I'm going anywhere with it, but I guess the other thing is like, I just keep experiencing, I mean, I think when you love something, you know, and I have a relationship with these instruments is with the sound of them. And I've been developing relationships with the people who make them, I'm just blown away. But the type of people who make these instruments and when, you know, I've had the real fortune to have a couple of them built for, um, for me, and to be able to work with the makers and say, this is my story. Like when you're building this, like, I want you to know where this is going. It's going into a settings where people are often like, don't feel a lot of hope or they feel really anxious. Or, you know, like some life has thrown a curve ball. They just found out they have pancreatic cancer or whatever it is, or they just found out they're terminal or, you know, working i