Or, we could say, “Life hits hard; hit back harder!”
Music is powerful. Music is influential. No matter what you tell yourself and your parents when you’re a teenager; the music you listen to affects you, in a very real way. Science now supports all this. Thank God for the invention of brain scans, ay? What you listen to will affect mood, ideas; it will influence you in subtle and significant ways. Deny it if you want to, but music is a spiritual force.
I’m not hear to preach at you. I am simply in awe of, well, the awesomeness of music. As a musician, it’s an honour and responsibility to use the “power” wisely (with great power, yeah, yada yada yada…Spiderman has nothing on us musos…we’re the real superheros and, dare I say it, villians). Music is a gift to us all and a helpful medication in the struggle to cope with life.
I am a huge supporter and believer in music therapy and the more I find it helping myself and my mental health difficulties, the more I want to share the therapeutic benefits with everyone who will, well…listen.
Listening is where we start. Not a passive listening, but listening with awareness. Music is meditative in quality, and right there lies so much of its healing power. The Latin word for meditation is mederi, which means “heal, cure, remedy, assauge, comfort, amend” (see, you learn something reading my blog).
What is listening with awareness or meditative listening?
Sitting or lying comfortably, choose a piece of music to listen to (for this “exercise” I recommend going for an instrumental piece so you can focus more on the music and avoid the temptation to get caught up following the story of the lyrics and how THEY play on your emotions or what they cause you to remember, think about, etc.). If it is a piece you are familliar with already, approach this listening session as if it’s the first time you’ve heard the piece. Or, you could choose something new to you. The idea is to approach the music with curiosity, as if hearing – not only music, but hearing itself – for the first time. You are cultivating a sense of curiosity and wonder. You are cultivating a sense of gratitude for the ability to hear and for the gift of music itself.
Perhaps you’ve been taught that meditation is some Eastern mystisism that you wish to avoid. Lately my view has been quite challened on this subject. The medical and scientific proofs of the benefit of meditation on the brain is not to be sniffed at! You need not sit and chant weird words and it’s not about reaching some altered state of consciousness. It’s about becoming AWARE, about getting off the autopilot most of us are run by day in and day out, and grounding yourself in the present moment. It’s about taking time out of all your busy DOING to simply BE.
Ok…now, back to the music…
Actively listen. Don’t judge what you hear. Just follow along with the “travel” of the changing notes, follow the rythym and, as you listen, shift your attention to your body and see how the sound is affecting you. What do you feel? (This is why it’s better to try this with music sans lyrics because we are discovering the raw effect, the sensations, in the body – how the music effects the body, and working with those feelings rather than with emotions. And (now this is important) if (and when) the mind wanders (it’s what minds do), gently escort your attention back to following the music, right where it is. The mind may wander several times – that’s natural, but every time it does, gently (without beating yourself up about it) bring your awareness back to the music.
When the piece of music finishes, you could sit quietly for a little longer, focusing on your breathing, staying aware of the present.
Taking the therapy beyond listening.
Making the music takes this therapy a leap beyond listening. This gets you actively involved with making and using the gift of music. Some might even call it true magic. The problem is, not everyone is musically gifted and so they can feel left out of anything more than the listening. Sure, having some kind of natural talent helps (greatly), but you can still benefit from something like joining a drumming circle and getting involved with making the healing sounds. Drumming with a hand drum (like the African djembe which I am playing in the second picture up there), helps with blood flow and circulation. And, if you have any kind of rythym at all, you can play – it’s a very “user-friendly” instrument.
You don’t have to play complicated rythyms. Experiment. The idea here isn’t to play to entertain others, or even to “entertain” yourself. This is for YOU. Time for you to beat the demons away. Time for you to personally take the power of music and let it IMPACT you. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t judge the sounds, just play them. Imagine you’re one of those X-Factor contestants that really think they can sing but are tone deaf and couldn’t carry a tune if a bucket was strapped to them to carry one in! Just play.
Like anything, it takes a bit of practice, but it’s worth it. I challenge you to play the djembe for 15 minutes and tell me how you feel afterwards? It’s invigorating. Much better than a gym workout, in my opinion – one, because you don’t have to be a super-athlete to do it, and both body and MIND get the benefit.
See, meditation doesn’t have to be freaky hippie stuff – it can be cool musician stuff (I know, sometimes, it’s the same thing…but yeah… I encourage you; give it a go).
Anywho, hand drumming is a great place to start your music therapy journey. And, you don’t have to join a circle (that just gives an added social/community type thing to it – it is fun to make music with others) – just get yourself a hand drum (again, I highly recommend the djembe) and begin. I am certain you will feel the benefit straightaway.
To comfort…to assuage (mederi).
If you follow my blog, you know I am a professional musician and have been singing since the age of 4. I am now nearly, coughcoughcough, shuddershudder, 40. Throughout the whole of my existence, music has always been a great comfort to me. I have used my voice and the piano (mostly) to express myself, to express my emotions, my pain…to be the voice of my soul. Now, I am learning a new way to use music.
While I have always known music to be powerful and therapeutic, I am now using it in a specific and meditative (mederi) way and this has led me to expand from my comfort zone of voice and strings hit with hammers.
I am presently embarking on learning what I call “my second voice”. This week, a dear friend of mine (another person I met because of this here series of books) sent me the exceptionally special gift of two Native American style wooden flutes. And, when I play them, they speak to something deep within me and they become the voice of my soul, in that moment. The sound resonates and clears my head.
Music therapy. Awesome stuff.
I also had an appointment with a doctor this week who finally seemed to listen to me and see how badly I was struggling – crippled and not really living – because of my mental health. It was nice to hear someone who knows what they are talking about say that you can’t just choose to be happy; it’s a chemical thing. It was also nice to hear that she was going to get me properly diagnosed and see I eventually get some more specific help for my case. Refreshing. It won’t happen overnight; I still have to jump through some nhs hoops, but…there might be some hope, and that’s a big something. What do I do in the meantime?
Blow back! Oh, and I’m a musician, I welcome all your blowing jokes, innuendo, and double entendres…be my guest. Blow it, beat it, finger it, baby! It’s all good.
Yeah, it was nice to finally say to someone, “Really, there’s never a time I’d choose life (existing) over death…I’d always prefer to die,” and not have them give me some stupid, high and mighty response made in some effort to shame me into appreciating the “gift of life”. No, she listened, she understood, she promised to help. Now we see. And, for the moment… I play on.