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Meditations on Music (and Silence)

by on March 31, 2011

Someone recently asked me if I could abstain from listening to any music for 1 week. The only rules were that I was exempt from music being played outside my vicinity of control, and I couldn’t play the guitar. I accepted the challenge, neither knowing nor expecting what the experience would be like. If anything, I anticipated coasting through the week, occasionally cheating by humming or beatboxing to myself. Little did I know how the effects would manifest themselves into my day-to-day actions. After one week, the results are eye-opening to say the least.

This is an attempt to organize my ideas and share. Foremost, I must admit that I am glad to be back. Last.FM is a killer app.

meditating dude with headphones

Become the Beat

The beginning

The first couple of days were easy. While driving, my radio is almost always tuned in to talk shows on NPR (88.5 around these parts). Sometimes I find a groove while working at the office or home office, but I usually work in silence. Although I couldn’t control who played what, when, and where, I would tune in when I could to music pumping from other people’s cars or the occasional wisp of a beat/tune from an open store front.

Then I started becoming more aware of my patterns. There are moments when I automatically load up itunes or online radio, and had to consciously stop myself halfway through the routine. This was pretty easy at first. Keeping the challenge in mind was fun as it allowed me to observe these patterns.

The silence

Then I started paying attention to the silence. I don’t mean ambient sounds; being outdoors allowed me to tune into a frequencies of the sounds of the office, traffic outside, or crickets* at night. I mean the hum of the air conditioner. Driving on the highway. Riding on the metro. Coming home from work. Cooking. Cleaning. Gym. I had been performing all of the above and more to some sort of soundtrack. Suddenly this was gone, and I had to make do with the sounds of my own activities. It was mildly disconcerting at best.

Then my awareness of my senses increased, particularly my senses of hearing, movement, and balance. I started listening to sounds with increased attention. I started seeking new rhythms from sparse encounters with the aural. This activated my imagination – I would generate minimal soundtracks to my activities.

Subtle effects

One strange effect that I observed was that old songs from my teenage years – the mid-90s pop and rock anthems – started to emanate from deep within. Out of the silence, I found myself humming Presidents of USA, Alanis, and others I hadn’t listened to in years. Also, the¬†frustration kicked in more than once – and manifested itself by driving fast, or tapping my feet to the imaginary rhythm, or impatience with my cohorts when no music was playing.

Realizations

  • I realize now that my once-overstimulated ear started calming down and becoming more comfortable with less.
  • I also realize that my imagination is at its most potent when outside stimuli are minimal. Guitars, bass, drums, and vocals fill up so much space that I can simply choose to listen, allowing minor connections between the sounds to happen automatically. Silence appears to forge new connections in my brain (or reactivate dormant ones).
  • I also realize that there is a latent rhythm to a lot more than I knew. In other words, there is a rhythm within ourselves that is validated by the activities we perform and the stimuli we crave.
  • Finally, I realize that my own inner rhythm is alive and well, and doesn’t need music all the time for me to validate its existence.

 

*Crickets – especially in the suburbs – provide a vast soundscape to listen to and play with. Listening to the cacophony of chirping was a moving meditative experience, and especially recommended to anyone who may be developing hearing issues. Forging rhythms with cricket chirps is an awesome exercise for the region between the eardrum and the cerebrum.

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From → Lifestyle, Meditation

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