Music can blaze a path through our neurons to reach something essential in us.
If you have been reading Mel’s Mouth, you know that the idea of resonance is important to my theology. Resonance is what connects us with the oneness of everything. I don’t think we understand exactly what that resonance is, but I know it’s there. Some of us experience it in meditation or prayer, and many of us experience it in music. Even if we don’t recognize the resonance, we know that the music is talking to us — talking to (or with) the essential us that’s hidden behind our facades of words and sentences.
Over the week or so after my Uncle Eddie and Aunt Margaret were shot to death by their son — my first cousin — in October 1983, I spent hours in my New York City apartment sitting on the floor with a boombox in front of me. I had a Beatles cassette tape in the boombox and just repeated the same song, a song that kept me from falling apart. I knew that Paul McCartney had written it with something else in mind, but to me it always had represented a prayer to the patron saint of lost and hopeless causes. The song was Hey, Jude.
In September 2010, my sister and brother-in-law, Marilyn and Alex Kaplan, died in an auto accident while driving to the movies in southeastern Pennsylvania. After Marilyn was declared dead at the scene and the critically injured Alex was taken to a trauma center, I drove through the night from my home, now in Loudoun County, Virginia, in a failed attempt to reach Alex before he died. The song I played over and over on that trip was Good Things Matter, by my good friend singer-songwriter Andrew McKnight. Marilyn and Alex both understood that we change the world with the little things we do, so that song fit them, and helped me hang on.
This year, a day or two after the June 1 death of our son Thomas in a skateboarding accident, my wife was walking the dog when a few lines from a Jackson Browne song came into her head:
Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive and the time you go
May lie a reason you were alive but you’ll never know
Carol came home and needed to hear it right away. Since then the song, For a Dancer, has been a comfort for both if us.
But music is far more than a delivery mechanism for words of comfort. I believe that good music can cut through what Buddhists call the “monkey mind” — the chattering that distracts us from what is in the here and now. Most of the meditation I do is in the mindfulness tradition, either in silence or with occasional guidance, like: Breathing in I know I’m breathing in; breathing out I know I’m breathing out. Breathing in I know I’m alive; breathing out I smile to life.
But occasionally I use mantras, like Namo Amida Butsu (honor the Amida Buddha) or chanting. Sometimes I meditate to instrumental music. When I do, I try not to anticipate the melody, but just to accept each note and chord in the here and now. Some of James Radcliffe’s music touches my soul and, with his non-vocal vocalizations (vocalizations without words), lends itself to the sort of meditation I’ve described. The piece below doesn’t even have a title, so it simply is what it is.
Copyright 2015 © Mel Harkrader Pine