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Graceful Passages: Facing our Mortality, Cultivating Gratitude

A globally acclaimed musical strategy can alleviate emotional pain and catalyze profound shifts that can benefit the end of life process.

Photo of Gary Malkin
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

As described in Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, there is a huge problem in healthcare resulting from a hyper medicalization of the end of life. Music-infused resources, especially ones as highly regarded as Graceful Passages, awaken a 'connection' & catalyze processes that establish experiences of the 'sacred' beyond religious denomination where patient, loved ones & health professionals more likely engage in life review, gratitude, forgiveness & goodbyes that are remembered by those who remain.


Wisdom of the World and its various strategic partners have produced many resources, events, performances, and trainings in alignment with the life-affirming vision it established way back since the release of its breakthrough signature product, Graceful Passages, in 2001. With incredibly limited funds, enormous passion, and a lot of ingenuity in leveraging the passion of our partners who shared our vision about the catalytic power of music and the arts, we’ve managed to produce and release music-infused products and resources that have set new benchmarks for how non-pharmacological music and arts interventions could positively impact the stakeholders engaged in serving a phase of life as complex, challenging, and problematic as the end of life.  Yet, since its release in 2001, the global reputation for Graceful Passages enjoys an ever-increasing loyal following, as well as a continued reputation from health professionals for being “the most powerful non-pharmacological audio intervention designed for the alleviation of fear and anxiety for those facing serious illness and all phases of the end of life process.” (Mary Labyak, the founder of the largest hospice in America, Hospice of the Florida SunCoast, who oversaw the controversial Terry Schiavo case between 1990 and 2005.)

What we lack is partners to collaborate on how these kinds of music infused resources could be credibly and effectively integrated within a mainstream healthcare system that truly validates the importance of emotional, spiritual, and psychological states of all stakeholders in the end of life process. Just as a film requires an appropriate film score to elicit the appropriate emotions to tell an impactful story, the end of life process, with all it's cast members, can profoundly benefit from integrating music, overly or subliminally, to produce beneficial outcomes, objectives, and states of consciousness that have higher likelihood of leading to more humane, mindful, and compassionate results for all involved. 

In spite of lacking the funds (thus far) to properly brand and market our work to the mainstream markets, we decided to continue to create products and trainings that demonstrated the viability of our mission and ethos. Products and programs that help to restore professional caregivers; guided imagery and environmental products for people with life-threatening illnesses; healing environment audio to inspire greater mindfulness, equanimity and compassion; Resources such as these have been produced and experienced, but have not been properly marketed to those who would most benefit from them.  We intend to change that. What we do know is that a world that has a greater than conceptual awareness of the reality of our impermanence is a world that treats itself and others with greater respect, gratitude, humility, kindness, and thoughtfulness. A world filled with uninformed, self centered consumers unaware of life's fragility is an unsustainable world in peril. 

We believe that it will be shown that when facing our life’s transitions and challenges- our experiential resources will awaken greater reverence, sensitivity, compassion, and mindfulness – individually and collectively-  so that we will help to cultivate a higher emotional and spiritual benchmark to all walks of life. We are convinced that as we do this, we will be capable of co-creating a more peaceful, connected, and thriving world, one heart and one environment at a time.

“Alchemical Wisdom” (The modality utilized in Graceful Passages)

The Transformative Power of Melding Curated Music

with Authentically Delivered Spoken Word

A description of our signature modality and what's behind its effectiveness

Music is an incredibly powerful phenomenon that touches us in profound ways. For more and more people, music has transcended being simply a form of art or entertainment to become much more: a source of spirituality, of religious experience, and of connection to the divine. This approach to music points the way toward a new paradigm of the sacred for the twenty-first century, a universal spiritual language that unites rather than divides. There is a growing movement that is advocating the experience of music as coming from this emerging paradigm of the sacred, exploring the connection between music and spirituality from a variety of perspectives, weaving them together into a larger whole, and providing a glimpse of a new landscape of sound and spirit.

The spoken word, especially when delivered with the kind presence, intimacy and authenticity that has typically been associated with music, can offer a window into our own innate wisdom that is deeply nourishing to the spirit.  This embodiment of living presence when expressed with this intention is something we are all infused with, and nourished by.

When experienced together with music, (by the different parts of our brain that process words and music), a powerful phenomenon occurs that can touch us in profound ways. It becomes a kind of alchemy of mind and heart that can offer a subtle yet profound shift in consciousness that defies explanation. For more and more people, this contemplative listening has become a delivery system offering a portal towards the sacred, a connection to the ephemeral.

Listening to musically-infused spoken words (including prayers and poems) can provide a non-linear spiritual transmission that is integrative, instructive, and deeply nourishing, especially for those of us who are moving so fast that we sometimes disconnect from our highest sense of self and life purpose. This Alchemical Wisdom modality has been referred to by experts in the Integrative Medicine, Hospice and Palliative Care, and the Personal Development fields as a new ‘contemplative listening practice’ and supports the ability to truly listen with your heart and spirit rather than only with your mind and your ears.  This kind of listening provides a music-filled opportunity to immerse yourself in a new form of contemplative listening, and speaking, helping to cultivate one's emotional, spiritual, and what we refer to as “vibrational intelligence”, as well as to tap into our own innate wisdom, offering the possibility of a deeper, bodily felt connection to that which matters most in our lives.

Alchemical Wisdom – as well as a daily contemplative listening practice - can provide an immersive and aesthetic way to enter into a thoughtful and integrated inquiry into the subject of death and dying, a subject that most of us tend to react to by running in the opposite direction. By directly listening to compassionate spoken wisdom combined with customized music, it becomes a healing, immersive modality that is substantially distinct from other kinds of guided visualization modalities.

When used with intention and awareness, this integrative format can become an evocative way to be touched and nourished at both conscious and subconscious levels. By utilizing state-of-the-art film scoring skill sets, a powerful emotional resonance is created through the words and music to deeply and multi-dimensionally touch the listener, delivering compassionate mentoring messages with quiet, non-threatening persuasiveness that bypasses the normal defense structures most individuals carry with them, for fear of being seen vulnerably. This ‘pattern interrupt’ of the culture’s agreement field to be guarded, protected and armored emotionally is an essential part of being vibrationally intelligent. When there is nothing hidden, when we are open hearted and exposed in our humanity in the presence of another in a safe manner, one can emerges from the experience changed in some inexplicable and remarkable way that is never forgotten.  

If the circumstances of a given situation make it particularly, (for example, when one has just received a cancer diagnosis), we recommend introducing deep, honest, profound and gorgeously poignant music only, as the words will be too harsh for someone going through that level of grief while assimilating the possibility of not surviving this newly received diagnosis. .   This carefully curated instrumental music must exude a healing quality that pervades the room without any intrusion or resistance so that it can support an experience of truly and inexorably “letting go”, surrendering to the recognition that we are not in control of any outcomes in this life. Our only option is to surrender to the infinity of the present moment, the mysterious place beyond space and time where healing occurs.

Playing deeply relaxing, beautiful music is always a wonderful way to enhance healing, warmth and awareness among people. Expanding our capacity to listen fully and vulnerability - with a bodily felt sense of safe and sacred space while listening - supports relaxation, acceptance, empathy and compassion, while providing a background for meaningful conversation, reflection, assimilation and reverie.  (There are many pieces of music of all kinds that can provide this quality, particularly the adagios of Mozart, for example.)

When utilizing the unique power of film score quality music to ‘alchemize” with recorded or spoken words of wisdom, the impact on a listener can be quite profound. In the context of creating an intimate field of ‘safety’ and authenticity, the listener can meditate  - through the potent experience of listening - on the profound remembrance, the innate knowledge we all have within us, of our fragility and our mortality.  We can think about everything that matters to us in this new context: our relationships with the ones we love, the entanglements we’ve created that have not been resolved, the transgressions we’ve felt hurt by, the hurts we’ve inflicted on others, and ultimately, opportunities for resolutions and discoveries within the inquiry of one’s relationship with anything larger than who we are, and our relationship to that Mystery. Even without a belief in God, one can come to a more lived and authentic peace around one’s relationship with the complex concept of whether who we are at our essence continues on some level, beyond any belief whatsoever in religious beliefs or dogmas.  And just like the falling leaves of autumn, one has the opportunity to experience an innate and mysterious knowing that there is something within us that continues, abides beyond form, space, and time. Even just imagining these things becomes a life-generative exploration that feeds us the way the fables of our childhood nourished our active and innocent imaginations, itself a form of deep, loving healing so often appreciated at times of uncertainty.

At the end of the day, we see this listening practice as a cultivation tool for gratitude; gratitude for your life, as it is, no matter what the circumstances.  As Brother David Steindl-Rast has said, the physical, emotional, and spiritual healing benefits of living a life with gratitude is well researched and documented. It has been said that if there were only one prayer you ever tried in this life, the expression of gratitude would be enough. And feeling filled with gratitude for being alive for any amount of time is the gift given when we enter the path of learning about Loss Literacy with sincerity, willingness, innocence, and curiosity, tools that in themselves can nourish us into a comfort rarely experienced except by meeting this remarkable passage of life head-on.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Since we've already received countless endorsements and anecdotal evidence testimonials from leading doctors, nurses, chaplains, hospice volunteers, loved ones, & patients from all over the world, integrating this as an innovative arts and health program & a research project is an idea whose time has come. However, we have many loyal health professionals who would be delighted to share their wisdom on best uses & would probably volunteer to participate in formal studies of many kinds.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

A collaborative process with an interdisciplinary community is EXACTLY what these music & health resources need! By looking at the most valuable benefits these resources provide - more humane patient & family engagement, balancing hyper-medicalization & alleviating unassimilated caregiver grief, organically lessening senseless attempts to prolong life when it's clearly inappropriate, we would be validating the psychosocial healing power of these music-infused modalities in soulful ways.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a 25-year veteran media composer with 7 Emmys & 7 ASCAP Film & TV awards. I am a record producer, a pianist & a singer/songwriter. After a brush with death in 1998, I dedicated my life to creating healing music resources while offering keynotes & trainings to healthcare conferences worldwide.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
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Team (5)

Cynthia's profile

Role added on team:

"Cynthia Perliss is the director for the Art for Recovery Program at UCSF."

Greg's profile

Role added on team:

"Greg Schneider, CEO, Executive Director and Founder of the HEAL Project. He has been directly involved with hospice as a volunteer caregiver at the bedside of the dying since 1996. His experience has given him the insight to see that compassionate care starts with first intimately knowing ourselves and then having a good understanding of the nature of the dying person's journey."

Annette's profile

Role added on team:

"Annette Ridenour is recognized as a leading pioneer in applying the arts to improve health and healthcare. She has stated, “Original art done with a healing intention is transformative. It can shape shift the hospital environment.” Ridenour served as one of the original board members of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare and co-founded the Blair L. Sadler International Healing Arts Competition, which recognized exemplary art projects that have measurably improved the quality of healthcare."

Jeff's profile

Role added on team:

"Jeff Patnaude is a senior business coach and expert in EQ and inner Excellence. He is the founder of the Habits of Heroes Project and has coached executives within organizations like Cisco for over 30 years."

Gary's profile
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Attachments (7)

Core Team and Circle of Advisors.pdf

This project is supported by extraordinary people. Look at a list of the core team and circle of advisors. We would be thrilled to invite members of the IDEO community, the national arts and health community, as well as health professionals interested in creating a coherent and exciting new way to integrate these music strategies towards better serving the end of life process in healthcare.

12 MALKIN BIO &CV 2016.pdf

This document provides both the CV and bio of the founder of Wisdom of the World, the company that created and launched Graceful Passages and its other music-infused modalities for health and wellness during life transitions.


This is a description of the keynote presentations I have been giving in service to a vision for a new role for music as a psychosocial and psychospiritual resource for self regulation, stress reduction, emotional homeostasis, wholehearted mindfulness, and cultivating the art of healing presence for people engaged in the end of life proces.


These are some endorsements and testimonials we have received about Graceful Passages, the first of our music infused resources in support of the end of life process.

08.21.14 GM TESTIMONIALS.doc

Here are some testimonials in support of me and my work.

Graceful_Passages ONE PAGER FINAL 2.pdf

Here is an example of a one page description of the discussed project, one of more than fifteen launched programs integrating these aesthetics, modalities, and concepts.


This is an overview description of the business we have been attempting to fund in support of the vision described in this challenge document.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Paul Ennis

Gary - Great, lovely work you are doing. Perhaps I missed it in my initial read-through - is there a component, or understanding within it all of making sure that the dying person is wanting to hear the types of music, spoken words, etc., that Graceful Passages is focused upon? I ask, 'cuz when my Dad died here at home 'I' wanted to play very special healing, loving, gentle, music for him in the environment/house we all were sharing. What did he want? The 'Country Music Channel', 24/7 non-stop! The other types of music made him nervous, uncomfortable, they were too relaxing, etc. Candidly, when he went into a more comatose-state (he was doing a VSED dying process at his choosing) I switched over to the 'New Age' and/or 'Light Classical' music channels 'cuz 'I' just could not handle the 'Country-music' vibe/energy any longer. My point being - we definitely had music going throughout my Dad, and my Mom's, dying process - yet, there was a definite protocol we went through in deciding what 'kind' of music was needed/required. My Dad loved listening to 'Country Music', for him that was going to church, if you will. And, his choice/his preference in music had to be respected - at the end of his life. For me it was a cool experience to go through, 'cuz I had to look at music in a much broader sense than I had previously. In brief, music is music and it all gets us where we're going - especially when we're listening to music we love. My Dad loved country music and he went unconscious into his final passage immersed in the twanging and whining of the singers and song-writers who'd moved him the most throughout his life. No greater gift could he have been given. Keep up the good work you are doing... - PWE