A Musical Kind of Mindfulness

By: Talia Bassali  |  August 29, 2016

BassalaiI’ve always thought of myself as someone who is in touch with my feelings. I wear my heart on my sleeve: my friends always know if I’m in a good or bad mood and I have no problem crying my eyes out over a sad book or movie. And like most people I know, my music playlist is also equipped to echo any mood I might be in. It contains upbeat feel-good music for when I’m happy and energized, and calm somber music for when I’m feeling down, as well as music for pretty much every emotion in between. Music is almost constantly playing in the background of my life. My headphones are in my ears while I’m walking, in my room getting dressed, or exercising. The rhythm, words and melody all affect how I feel at any given moment.

Music is universally magical. It has the incredible power to make one feel things and oftentimes transport them to another place or time. The power music has to remove one from reality can often become a convenient and comfortable escape―one that I appreciate and make use of frequently. But what happens when there’s no melody to sweep one away? To where does one escape when music is no longer an option? This summer I learned about the power of tuning into the sounds of the world instead of the easy getaway of music.

In an effort to better connect with the sense of loss one is meant to feel during the nine days (which take place between the first and ninth day of Av), I took upon myself this year to refrain from listening to any type of music. It was something that I knew would be difficult for me to do, and for the most part, I stuck to it. It was an interesting challenge; I listened to the news on the radio when in the car and to the sound of sirens and traffic when walking the city’s streets. On several occasions, when I was met by a solitary thought or lonely reflection, my hand would instinctively move to turn on the music. Admittedly, I filled quite a few silences with humming or singing to myself. There was often a song playing in my mind, and when there wasn’t, my racing thoughts made more noise than I was able to keep up with.

One day when I was sitting on the train, I suddenly became aware―mindful, if you will―of the quiet surrounding me in contrast to the loud interior of my imagination. I stopped the noise in my mind and allowed that quiet to seep through, settling inside of me and calming my thoughts. After that moment, the absence of music became a welcome challenge in mindfulness, bringing me back into the moment. I have never been able to properly meditate, though I’ve tried countless times and greatly admire people who can. However during the nine days, I was finally able to achieve the goal of meditation, mindful awareness of the present moment, without going through the tedious and nearly impossible process of meditation.

I learned to listen to the silence and hear my own thoughts instead of the words of a professional songwriter. I was forced, perhaps for the first time, to put my feelings into concrete words, or hear the calm quiet of my head, instead of just pressing play and waiting for the perfect harmony or lyrics to explain them. I listened to my own feelings, both positive and negative, allowing their realness to sink in. They confused me, and at times, made me crazy. But in the end, it was an exercise in spending time alone with my explosive mind. It taught me to deal with what is before me instead of running away to a convenient outlet. I became increasingly more aware of my own existence in every situation and environment. While walking the city’s streets, I looked around like I always do, and finally heard the sounds of my favorite city. This change in routine woke me up and forced me to pay attention to everything else that had been there all along.

Of course, as soon as I broke my fast and the nine days concluded, I went back to my usual routine, but hopefully, I as a slightly changed person. I now practice being present and observe my thoughts, even while listening to magic of music. And it is nice to sometimes allow myself to be abducted into its trance, choosing consciously to put aside my newfound skill. Every now and then, I even opt for the headphone free commute, just to show myself that I can do it.