I was recently giving a self-love starter assignment for an upcoming class. The person co-teaching the class with me interjected and gave a recommendation of some music that might be helpful to the students to reach the level of emotional clarity I was requesting. That made me think, “Wow. I use music everyday in my personal life to cause changes to my mood, improve my level of focus, and to work out my empathic muscles. Why have I never used it in the classes or workshops I teach?” I will be remedying that oversight immediately!
Music is the purest form of magic I have ever encountered. I do not say that lightly. It truly is magical in every sense of the word. Music is a universal language that resonates in the soul. Music can be broken down into mathematical equations and can even be produced by artificial intelligence, but these two forms have thus far come up short of causing the same results as music made by humans for one simple reason. The music made by humans for humans is an exposition of one soul poured out to be experienced by another soul.
Seems a little too deep, huh? I can just hear you now, reading along and shaking your head; thinking “WAP is a conversation between to souls? Come on!” And that brings to light another mystery of music – taste. What type of music we gravitate toward is directly dependent on what our goal is in listening. Not “genre”, type. Most of us enjoy a range of genres, but the important part is the type of emotional response the songs cause, not the label placed on them.
For instance, I have always been a die hard metal fan. I enjoy the fast pace, the aggressive lyrics, the deep and hard hitting bass. I enjoy the adrenaline that courses through my blood when the distorted guitar wails out. However, I also have a 1970s-1990s country playlist on my phone for when I am feeling disconnected from my roots. My parents were a country-only duo and I often heard, “What is that crap you are listening to?” growing up. I also have a huge blues playlist for when I just want to slow the world down around me. Hell, I even went through a stage 20 years ago where I was listening to Gregorian Chants! Sorry folks, not a big rap or pop fan. I taught myself to play a guitar as a teenager and I need that sound in every song.
That is the music which speaks to my soul. That is the type of music I feel. You may be the same way, you may be completely opposite, or you may be a mixture. And the great thing about music is that, there is no wrong answer. It is completely individual to you and your soul. So, explore different types of music and pay attention to the effects it causes within you and causes to your emotional state.
Music can affect us in spiritual ways, psychological ways, and physiological ways. Here are my top 5:
- Mood Alteration
- Increases Self-Awareness
- Reduces Stress
- Provides Spiritual Connection
- Boosts Empathy
1. Music Can Alter Your Mood
We have already touched on this one a bit. But music has the ability to deepen or completely change your mood. Whether you are feeling happy, sad, frustrated, thankful, etc, music offers us the opportunity to either sink further into our emotion or to switch it up, just based on your personal emotional response to certain types of music or even specific songs! How many of us (and this may date both of us), have been driving alone just enjoying our day and listening to the radio when “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins comes on? I don’t know about you, but I immediately become a fighter pilot and that song has honestly been responsible for the only two speeding tickets I have ever received. But it always makes me smile, no matter what kind of crappy day I may have had or what is weighing on my mind. What type of music can pull you out of the doldrums everytime? If you aren’t sure, it is time to hit shuffle on that playlist and figure it out. Having a go-to will change your life.
2. Music Increases Self-Awareness
We have come, once again, to my favorite step along the path to inner-peace… INTROSPECTION! We all need to know ourselves, truly know ourselves, before we will know self-acceptance and self-love. So introspection is vital. And music can be an easily accessible way to put ourselves in the right mindset for introspection.
Find a few moments of quiet time. Slip in your earbuds. Put on your favorite artist or music type and follow your mind wherever it goes. You may very well be surprised what you soul points out to you in these moments. I suggest keeping a journal of the emotions, thoughts and realizations that spring out of these quick sessions. You may need to reference them later to figure out what you were told.
In my experience, I have had my biggest spiritual and emotional breakthroughs within moments of just leisurely listening to music. It is also why I only ever write with music on in the background. Music opens me. It invites my soul to speak without the distraction of my brain filtering the message for political correctness; or being afraid to speak truth out of fear of reprisal. Being a metal-loving, motorcycle-riding, anti-organized religion minister can be an odd and confusing existence to grasp. But music is what keeps me emotionally clear.
3. Music Reduces Stress
With everything going on in the world today, and everything going on inside of each of us, any way of reducing stress should be as welcome as an oasis in the desert. Music is that free-flowing, crystal clear water that we all need.
Through your introspection, identify a type of music or specific songs which have a positive effect on you (the music that you can not help but smile and sing along to). These are your mood lifters and stress reducers. When you are feeling overwhelmed by the inevitable crush of stressors in modern society, fire up your playlist and take some deep breaths. Let the music calm your soul. My playlist is labeled “Feel Good Songs”. Find your personal feel-good songs and let them wash over you.
4. Music Provides Spiritual Connection
I spent two years as a worship leader in a Christian church. The “worship leader” is kind of like being the band leader for a church. Many modern Christian churches use full live bands, light shows and even fog machines to create an energized and immersive experience to get the congregation in a worshipful state of mind at the beginning of services. It was my job to find or write biblically-based Christian music to elicit a worshipful and emotional response from the congregation; teach it to the team members; and perform it at the services held that week. Someday perhaps I will post about some of the emotional highs and lows of that experience, but for now…
Music has, in my opinion, an unparalleled ability to cut through the mundane and snap our souls to spiritual attention. Songs that I find spiritually significant may not even be “religious” in nature. They are songs that make my soul respond in a spiritual way. One strange example is the 1990 song “Something To Believe In” by the hair band Poison. Definitely NOT a “religious” song. But it elicits a spiritual response from me every single time. My heart breaks for the man the song portrays; a disillusioned man floating completely alone through life with absolutely nothing concrete to believe in – including himself. I cry for that man everytime I hear the song because he exists in the form of so many people today.
Find those songs that speak to your soul. They can quite literally come out of the blue, so just keep your ears and mind open. You never know when you will stumble on a song that leaves you in awe of the majestic and amazing Universe we are a part of; or will make you cry for the lack of love others feel for themselves; or brings your journey into focus for you.
5. Music Boosts Empathy
Being empathetic is a vital skill in connecting with others in a deep, meaningful, and powerful way. It is the ability to see life from someone else’s point of view; to put yourself in their shoes to understand their thoughts, feelings and needs. Music can enhance your ability to empathize with your fellow humans, or in my opinion it can even teach you how to empathize with others.
When you are immersed in a song, you can feel the emotion the writer and/or the musicians are attempting to portray. You are literally empathizing with these total strangers and riding along on the wave their song causes. It can help you to hone your empathetic skills; to sharpen your blade of empathy without running the risk of hurting a friend or loved one who needs you to understand them in the moment. It is basically practice so you can be ready at game time!
Individuals who exhibit a severe lack of empathy are referred to as “narcissists”. A person with high narcissistic tendencies are unable to experience the emotions of others and, as such, lack compassion for others. Narcissists are becoming more and more prevalent in our society, are highly functional, and are often times very successful. It is likely that we all know at least one narcissist, even if we are unaware of it. One method of reducing narcissistic tendencies and teaching empathy may be through music therapy. In this type of therapy, a heart-felt musical selection is played for the individual and then the writer of the piece speaks with the individual explaining the motivations and emotions behind the music. The therapy is still very much in the early testing stages and so no data yet exists as to its effectiveness, however I personally believe there is a huge amount of promise in this therapy. Imagine a world where everyone is able to show compassion for their fellow human!
So as we have seen, music is not just some kind of auditory distraction. Music has real world implications and effects on its listeners. It can alter our mood; increase our self-awareness; reduce our stress levels; provide spiritual connection; and boost empathy. Music is the language of our soul and of our Universe. The Universe is all around us and the Universe is in us. Be open to it speaking to you through rhythm, timber, pitch, and lyric.
Oh, and rock on!