Music is amazing.
There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a song that moves you so much that you feel more connected to yourself and to the world. Today I’d like to discuss the impact music has had for me over the course of my life.
It’s been an interesting journey…
As a teenager, you could often find me at The Arena in Brisbane. This live music venue was, surprisingly, one of the only places I truly felt comfortable in public (other than in nature, but it doesn’t count if no one else is around!). I struggled with social anxiety up until my mid-20’s, and most public occasions that attracted a crowd would be completely intolerable and overwhelming to me.
There was a good reason for my comfort at this venue: feeling connected to the bands and music playing.
Heavy metal was part of my identity as a teenager. I ‘lived’ it. I learnt how to play guitar just so I could cover some of my favourite songs. Metal music helped me to transcend an emotion that I held onto, in private, that I felt wasn’t healthy to express around others. That emotion was anger.
Looking back, I feel that my gravitation towards metal was due to a perception that anger got people into trouble. I watched people expressing anger in unhealthy ways, and something inside me said ‘don’t succumb to that, you don’t have to be that way.’ At the same time, I had a lot of emotions – particularly anger and sadness – that needed a safe space to express themselves.
I connected with something important within the metal genre that most tend to overlook: it allows you to transcend your emotions by expressing them through the music. You’d often find me dancing around my living room, on my own, headbanging my way through my emotional blockages. Literally transcending my situation through movement and angry music. How cool is that?
As time went on, my tastes changed. As I worked through my anger and sadness, other more complex emotions started to surface, and my musical tastes changed as a result.
… To Ambient
The biggest shift came after I completed my first breathwork retreat. To give a brief overview, it was a weekend of intensive breathing and self-exploration in a safe, secluded environment. It was an interesting and enlightening experience that I can recommend to anyone wishing to explore their unconscious.
Accompanying the sessions was an eclectic mix of music, oscillating between fast, tribal drum beats and slow, ambient, atmospheric music. There was a certain ebb and flow to the design of the playlist, and I found much of the music to be enchanting.
Returning to the real world, I immediately began searching for similar music. I discovered a new world of ambient electronic music, bursting with atmosphere and flow. There were no lyrics to most of the songs, and there was an element of trance that I found very soothing. I would often fall asleep listening to this music, and meditate upon the vibrations.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
In the past, I tried to share my music tastes with others. I tried to get them to see it from my point of view. ‘This is why I like this stuff.’ But I could never quite get the message across.
It took me a few years to realize that the reason is fundamental to our shared existence – it was my experience, and while some people will connect and relate to it, ultimately it was my experience. I found that I wasn’t spending the time savouring the thing I enjoyed most – in this, case immersing myself in a powerful or beautiful song – because I was spending so much time and effort trying to make people understand why I enjoyed it.
Often, when you have an uplifting and enlightening experience, you want to share it with others. There’s nothing wrong with that, and these blog posts are ultimately my attempt at doing that.
I would ask you to reflect on your experience with music. What is music doing for you? What do you get out of it? If music isn’t really your thing, then what are you passionate about? What gives you a sense of engagement and connection to both yourself and to the world? Can you relate to the aspect of transcendence I am referring to? What is it that helps you move through your difficult emotions? Perhaps a conversation with a loved one, or a night in the bath reading a good book?
I realize that not everyone will relate to my taste in music, and that’s ok. My point is this: find what you love within yourself, and nurture it.
You never know where that path will lead you.
Stephen is a budding counsellor, avid craft beer enthusiast, and part-time Buddhist. He enjoys hiking, connecting with nature, losing himself in deep conversation, and contributing to the Conscious Beginnings blog.