This topic is proving to be difficult. It’s one I’ve written about before from a different angle, but I’ve been thinking about it again. Listening to music can be done with varying degrees of intensity and concentration—almost meditation like—yet as with meditation, effort is counterproductive. Perhaps intensity and concentration are not the best words. They imply work, stress, sweat. Deep listening is anything but.
The anxiety of daily life interferes with our ability to let go. Focused attention becomes impossible as we’re on constant high alert, bouncing from here to there, ricocheting off every minor sensory input. We often get so tightly wound that we resort to chemical means to reverse the processes strangling our deepest enjoyment of music—and not only music, living itself.
There are many ways to tune-out of the commercial grind and turn-on to the brain’s internal sources of satisfaction, repose, and rejuvenation. Reaching a state of quiet attentiveness helps to focus the mind in an effortless manner. To get there, meditation is one of the ways that has been used for millennia. It can be done with or without special training, yet it takes practice. Some find it boring, some find it difficult, and some find the rewards hard to grasp.
Mind altering chemicals are another means. They have the advantage of being quick and easy. Major drawbacks, undesirable and unavoidable complications, come along with their convenience. There are many of them too, immediate and longterm side effects, upfront high cost and possible down the road legal ramifications. Kinda kills the buzz.
Music, dance, literature and the visual arts are means to the same end, but they’re often ignored. Worse than ignored, not even recognized as a highly effective means. Especially powerful is percussion music. It has a unique ability to induce trance and entrain performers with listeners to produce a vibrant link of consciousness. Paleoanthropologists believe entrainment is one of the evolutionary advantages of music. The connection of thoughts and emotions between artist and audience is a fruitful product of all forms of art. Music stands out as a particularly potent vehicle for producing this link. Letting the self dissolve into a relaxed, attentive state allows for listening below the surface. All the arts are within our reach, but music is uniquely the most approachable and universal. It’s readily available, inexpensive, and been shown to have beneficial side effects on both brain and body.
Sounds as though I’m hard selling music. I am. All three means have their place. All three produce results. All three aim at the same ends. However, music, dance, pleasure reading, and art are forgotten forms of deep relaxation. They help focus the mind and expel stress. They are undervalued for their potential to payback big profits. The kind of profits that feed our minds and hearts. The arts are huge assets directly in front of us. Take advantage of them. They’re cheap, they’re easy. Exploit music, exploit the arts, they’ll yield for you big returns.
From a different angle, the previous related column [Anyone Can Read Music].