How Graceful Passages Came Into Being

“Death has nothing to do with going away. The sun sets. The moon sets. But they are not gone.”

– Rumi

In the beginning…

    Ever since they met in the mid 1970’s, Gary Malkin and his old friend, Michael Stillwater knew in their bones that they were meant to co-create something of meaning one day. They didn’t know what it was, but they both knew that they had a kindred-spirit friendship that was profound and deep, infused with a mutual love of the Divine, Life, Love and Service. On a fateful day in 1998, Michael came to Gary asking him if he would join him in applying for a grant for an artist’s response to the challenge of supporting people at the End of Life, to possibly catalyze greater compassion, acceptance, and inner peace.

     Gary was a happily married husband and father of a beautiful six year old girl. He was also a highly successful mainstream media composer, composing for national television, films, commercials and video games ,with the most successful music production company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

     Michael was always the spiritual minstrel who travelled around the globe with his Miracle Singing gatherings. He was always clear, even at eighteen years old, that his commitment to God, Music and Service would always converge as one thing, dictating his life’s actions and projects. In the late90’s, he was providing spontaneous prayerful songs for Tacoma Hospice, providing musical solace and loving support to families saying goodbye to their loved ones during the last days and minutes of their loved one’s passage.
When Michael heard about the invitation to apply for a grant, he mused that if he were in his dying transition, he’d love to experience the music that Gary Malkin would come up with for such a cause. Listening to that inner guidance, Michael reached out to Gary, and asked for some time together to explore such an idea in his home recording studio. Gary’s schedule was always intense. He never had time for anything other than high paying gigs. But something in Gary’s heart remembered that ever since they met, they knew that they were destined to create something of meaning together, sometime. He couldn’t ignore this memory, no matter how committed he was with his commercial work.

     When that fateful day arrived for them to be the recording studio together, they were guided to explore what would happen if they simultaneously melded authentic, tender, and extemporaneous spoken words of blessing to some person who might have just received a terminal diagnosis. As Michael spoke his loving blessing to comfort a hypothetical person representing all the loved ones we knew who had faced such a challenge, Gary composed his spontaneous soundtrack under Michael’s poignant words of blessing, acceptance, and compassion.

     Eight minutes later, Michael and Gary were speechless. Had anyone ever done that before, using the art of film scoring to enhance the heartfelt words of wisdom and loving support so that the words could be received not only by the cognitive mind, but by the heart and soul, as only the power of music could achieve?.

The Graceful Passages project was born in that moment.

     Michael and Gary never dreamed that what would unfold would be a seemingly endless process of receiving guidance, inspiration, creative flow, and a palpable experience of support from Providence itself, guiding them over and over through a long and winding road that ended up receiving support of all kinds for the next three years to complete what became known as Graceful Passages: A Companion for Living and Dying.

     In spite of Gary only allotting a day of exploration – given his constantly busy schedule working with production companies and ad agencies – they both were completely and instantly smitten with a revelation and a calling that changed their lives forever. This became the project that they always sensed would happen somehow, but they had no idea how it would unfold.

     After creating three demos of this new genre that Gary starting calling “Alchemical Wisdom”, Michael and Gary received word from some of America’s most trusted leaders in hospice that what we had created was something they had never experienced before: A non-pharmacological intervention of unparralleled beauty and power that genuinely alleviated anxieties, fears, and stresses for all stakeholders facing or dealing with life-threatening illness, loss, grief and the end of life process.

     Upon hearing this news, Gary shuddered with a prescient intuition that scared him. He wondered: “What in me will have to truly die that will allow me to authentically provide music that will genuinely support the journey for people at the doorway of life and death?” He intuitively felt that something was coming that would somehow equip him with this ability to create an experience of empathic knowing with the music. But how could he provide that if he’d never really experienced loss directly? Yes, the death of his Father a few years before had profoundly impacted him, in a way that was indelibly carved into his heart and soul. But could he create music of that kind of authenticity and depth that would be worthy of offering to people who were truly at the crossroads of life and death?

     A month later, fulfilling that earlier moment of intuition, Gary endured a truly horrific bicycle accident with his 6 year old daughter, shattering wrists, ribs, facial bones, and a high-flying lifestyle that came to an end forever. A few days later, he learned that his wife no longer wanted to continue being married, all while attempting to accept that he might never be able to play the piano again, due to the seriousness of his injuries. Everything Gary cherished -except the life of his daughter – was lost. His capacity to play music, his love of his family, and his secure standing in his high-flying successful life, all seemingly had died in the space of one month’s time.

     The next year was a year of such profound loss for Gary. He was given the opportunity to experience in his own shoes what the path of facing our impermanence really means, in the trenches, shadows and constant surrendering of that which we cannot control. The path of grief is long and deep, but if faced with courage, grit, and grace, it yields profound gifts of emotional and spiritual intelligence that help us become who we came here to be.

     Minute by minute, day by day, month by month, this time provided a crucible of grieving that became a reservoir of loss – and creative expression – from which this music emerged from his sorrowful but surrendering heart. With the deep visionary support and collaborative partnership with Michael throughout this process, the work started to take shape into the form it was meant to become.

     But it was the spoken messages from the visionaries and wisdom-keepers of our time, the ones that Michael and Doris Stillwater reached out to and started recording while Gary was recovering from this painful accident, that infused Gary with the inspiration, will, and sense of purpose that asked of him to consider that this horrendous period was actually happening FOR him, not TO him.

Awakening, Healing, and Grace

     That realization carried Gary towards the awakening, healing, and Grace that enabled him to find meaning in the creation of this music that would ultimately be created to enhance the extraordinary messages that were waiting for their custom soundtracks to be created.

     Almost three years later, in January of 2001 – nine months before Nine-Eleven – the CD/Gift book Graceful Passages was born. Once it was released, it was clear from the thousands of testimonials, letters, and heart-opening communications we received from all over the world over those first years, that something of great power had come through us. It was something that neither Michael or Gary could have ever done alone. It would require the grounding and astonishing support of the Spiritual Psychologist, Doris Laesser, who would ultimately become Michael’s wife, Doris. And she emerged as the Mother of the project, with her deep guidance, wisdom, and grounding in a deep and high aesthetic standard of creativity. It would require a team of extraordinarily dedicated and talented people who recognized that something of great power was being offered to the world, supporting us to reach completion and launch. It would require a tidal wave of Grace that supported this project from the very beginning.

     By all of our estimates, as we approach the 20th anniversary of the release of this work, Graceful Passages has touched close to a million people around the world. It has received accolades from nearly every sector of engagement – from hospice professionals, doctors and nurses, psychologists, personal development experts, meditation and yoga teachers, and so much more. The musical tracks, without the spoken word, are played over and over in support of people learning how to breathe and deepen their capacity to surrender to uncertainty, find peace and comfort within the unknown, and an island of serenity when we fully recognize that we have no control over our lives, such as how long we get to remain alive in this precious plane of existence.

     This page is devoted to celebrating all the resources and experiences that have emerged from the creation of Graceful Passages: The audio experiences, the trainings, the workshops, the webinars and so much more.

     The gratitude the creators feel for how this work came through us, and how it spread far and wide to deliver the message of trust, loving compassion, acceptance, and surrender is beyond our capacity to express in words.

     We honor the astonishingly generous thought leaders who gave of their hearts, souls, and voices for this work. We are grateful for all the extraordinary people who have passed this work along through word of mouth to disseminate this as a way to alleviate the journey of loss and surrender. And we are deeply humbled by the Grace that enabled us to be the vehicles through which this work emerged.

     If you have experienced the magic of allowing this work to support your goodbyes to people you have loved or cared for, you are our family, forever. Thank you for allowing us to serve you in this way, and for spreading the power of love and illumination through cycles of loss that inevitably touch all of us, one time ot another. Whether loss comes up in our lives suddenly, or cumulatively bears down on us over long periods of time, we always can benefit from finding the Grace in connecting to that which is larger than all of us, the Great Mystery of life itself. Often that Grace shows up in a butterfly, a warm glance from a stranger, or a calming recognition that this is just the cycle of life teaching us to surrender to what is. However it shows up in our lives, there’s always an opportunity to breathe, be present, and show up for love, wrapped in the arms of surrender.

The Graceful Passages Collection offers a meticulously curated array of musical experiences for all those facing serious illnesses and the end of life. Including a range of spoken word and instrumental meditations that have made Graceful Passages famous, it also provides listening resources for deep relaxation, healing environments, caregiver support, and for the peaceful acceptance of the cycles of life.

“Grief is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small. Grief is alive and wild, unable to be domesticated and a necessary emotion that is necessary to the vitality of the soul.”

– Francis Weller