‘Listening to music or playing music can also help us step outside our small sense of self, into a larger, more expansive awareness, just as meditation can.’ Anja Tanhane
Music as a practical tool for meditation and mindfulness is an obvious concept when you stop to consider it. When I even think of music and how I interact with it, I immediately feel more grounded and more centred in my own heart. There are many ways to invite music into our lives, not all of them are mindful although all are certainly joyful and advantageous. Music is often a backdrop to many other things we are currently doing and that is a totally valid expression of our love for music. It soothes and relaxes or invigorates and excites, depending largely on what we are listening to. But music used as a mindfulness practice is something a little different.
If a musician or student is interacting with their instrument in the act of music making, it is essential to focus fully on playing the piece – present moment engagement comes with the territory and some even liken it to meditation so akin is it to the essence of mindfulness! You can read more about that idea here.
If you are listening to music then you can listen on a superficial level, with the piece playing in the background as you go about your many other activities and that is most definitely a valid way to use music in your life. It is uplifting to envelope ourselves with beauty and it is an appropriate addition to many situations, socially or individually and is how many people generally interact with music – for fun and enjoyment!
The other way you can listen to music is to engage with it very mindfully, focus on it only, doing nothing other than listening to it, allowing it to engage with us fully and to evoke the emotional responses that allow us to focus on our inner selves. In this article there is great advice about ways to prepare ourselves for this type of interaction with music. Put simply we need to remove possible and real distractions from the physical situation so we are best able to really allow ourselves to feel the music and feel our emotions arise. We may need to look at our physical environment, seeking a quiet place, making sure we are physically comfortable.
This is not only for adults but using music as an emotional response can be cultivated in children from an early age. In our Seven Day Challenge for Calm Nights eBook available for download here, we suggest listening to music as a path to a better night’s sleep. In this situation music is a calming, relaxing tool, an emotional experience when there is mindful engagement with a piece of music.
In other ways music can also be used as an evocative method to connect with our emotions as a form of therapy as we allow our emotions to rise, to be held in the safety of the beauty of the music and to let those emotions fade away in the same way as a wave rises and falls. Positive and negative emotions may arise at different times. A physical response can be involved, perhaps the music calls you to move – sometimes in celebration and other times as a physical release for something difficult in your life. It can be incredibly healing and cathartic.
Music has played a changing role in my own life. I was at one time living a life with so much noise that I felt music was an intrusion into my personal space and psyche. When things changed and my life slowed down and became less chaotic the music joy came back to me, uplifting me as it is so capable of doing. Music soothes me, it entices me to move and when I move, emotions and feelings surface and come to peek out at the world. The world heals us if we let it. Music can heal and restore. I guess the conclusion of this personal observation is to make space in your life for music, set aside some special time for real interaction with it as you use it as a tool for the whole family to move forward into mindfulness.