Mindfulness and Music Listening: Some Observations

-by Michelle Graham

It is frequently suggested at Tayu that being present, in the moment, and not too caught up in thoughts can make life fuller and more enjoyable. Lately I have been noticing examples of this principle when listening to music.

Even before actually listening to music, I have found that the act of choosing the music I want to hear to varies considerably depending upon the degree to which I’ve been present in the moment. When I‘ve been mostly caught up in thoughts, I’ve tended to be extremely picky about what music I want to listen to. So picky in fact, that sometimes I have gone through my entire music collection and not found anything I that I wanted to hear. No choice could pass whatever judgment tests I created in my head. Then, on the other hand, when I have been more in my body and not as caught up in the past, future or thoughts in general, I have found the opposite: everything was appealing to me, and I had a hard time deciding what to listen to because there were so many things that would be just perfect at that moment to hear. It is as if the simple act of being present in the moment can make everything seem just right.

When I have actually managed to choose some music while being distracted by thoughts and not being with the moment and what’s happening, I have noticed some interesting aspects of my mind. In those moments I often have observed myself trying to fight what was coming up in a song. If it was moving too slowly or quickly for me, or if something in it seemed too repetitive to me, then I have seemed to have a habit of pushing back against it with my psychic energy. This was not a very obvious thing at first, and it was subtle enough that it took me a long time to notice it. When I did recognize this habit I decided to experiment, and started to “agree” with the music. I opened myself up to it and let it go where it was going without fighting it. This immediately put me more at ease and I started to perceive the music in a much more dimensional way. The stereo effects became more apparent, and it was very enjoyable to listen from that space of being open to it.

And lastly, another observation I have had while listening to music is how completely different a song I have already heard many times has sounded depending on my mental space. When I have been really stuck in my head, I have almost heard the song in chunks because my mind has seemed to conclude “Oh, yea, I know how this goes,” and then proceed to not really allow the sound in—but to just register each portion of it as familiar. It would seem as if I was listening to a memory of the song rather than to the current reality of it, and so it would really sound old and worn-out to me. But when I have been more present and in the moment, I have heard some very familiar songs almost as if they were new to me, and I have also found that I can hear many different things I never was aware of before in them. It actually has seemed to create new feelings or impressions for me when I have really listened to older music in the present moment.