Tuesday, January 18, 2011


In recent years a form of complementary medicine known as music therapy has emerged, which can be useful for the treatment and management of a number of conditions including stress, depression, chronic pain and coping with cancer. (You may wish to watch this YouTube video on music therapy.)

Of course, music has been used for years in connection with various meditative and contemplative practices, but usually solely or primarily with the object of stilling or even numbing the mind.

However, readers of these blogs will already know that Mindfulness is not about stilling or numbing the mind. It’s about the presence of the choiceless awareness of, and bare attention to, the action of, among other things, one’s body and mind ... for never forget that Mindfulness is a whole-body-and-mind awareness of the present moment. More than that, it is the cultivation of awareness, bringing one's attention to the moment over and over. So, music therapy and Mindfulness involve no passive listening to music but a state of awareness.
One can listen to any type of music mindfully but I prefer something “sweet”, melodic and slow tempo. For me, Beethoven is definitely out, but you can still listen mindfully to his music if you wish ... or even punk rock. (Indeed, I do listen to Beethoven ... even mindfully ... for true Mindfulness is awareness without comment, judgment or discrimination ... so it really doesn't matter what kind of music you listen to ... as long as you listen to it mindfully.)

Having said that, I do have my favourites, so being quite unsophisticated in my musical tastes I ordinarily go for something as "ordinary" as Clause Debussy’s Clair de lune (to listen, click on this link) or a sultry rendition of “My Funny Valentine(from the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart musical Babes in Arms) (to listen, click on this link).

The important thing is to focus mindfully on the sound and the vibration of each note ... even if you are so familiar with the tune - like I am with the two items mentioned above - that you know which note is next. It doesn't matter. You simply feel the presence of the sound and the vibration in your head and elsewhere in your body ... as if you were hearing and experiencing it for the very first time!

As you listen to the music notice any changes in instrumentation, tempo and volume. If there is singing notice any changes in pitch, volume and feeling. Is the music loud or soft? Notice any changes in bodily or mental sensations as the music is played. (You may, for example, experience some not unpleasant "buzz" or tingling sensation when a certain note really resonates with you.) Notice, too, at what points the music influences what you are thinking and how you are feeling. 

Note the sensations which arise both in your body and in your mind ... as well as the feelings and any "emotional baggage" the music brings up for, and within, you ... as they arise ... from moment to moment. If you start engaging in mental movies or mental chatter, don't castigate yourself, but simply note what is happening, and gently bring your mind back to the current moment and the particular piece of music to which you are listening.

While you are listening to your chosen piece of music, breathe "normally". In other words, don't intentionally make your breath long or short nor strong or weak. Let it flow normally and naturally ... for you.

As I’ve said before, you cannot fail with Mindfulness ... unless you become involved in your thoughts and feelings as opposed to merely observing them. Be fully present with whatever arises in the moment.

Mindfulness involves observing and releasing habits of mind to which you would otherwise be enslaved, and being fully attentive to everything as-it-is as opposed to filtering everything through one’s subjective opinions and feelings.

Like all forms and applications of Mindfulness, listening to music mindfully starts with non-judgmental self-observation, leading to self-awakening, self-insight and, ultimately, self-liberty ... that is, freedom from mindless, unthinking existence.

Happy listening!



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