If you, like me, are attempting to “navigate” the new government bureaucracy that is supposed to be “health insurance” in the United States and are frustrated, I’d like to offer a life line.
Clearly, there are aspects of health care that are beyond the normal ability of most of us: we probably shouldn’t perform open heart surgery on ourselves, for example. But when it comes to dealing with distress, anxiety and common-variety depression, there’s an alternative to the ObamaCare mess that is affordable, safe and effective.
First of all, please know that most distress, anxiety and common-variety depression are feelings that are normal for most human beings. These feelings arise as warnings to us: ALERT is usually the indication. Notice what’s causing the distress. Notice what’s causing the anxiety. Notice what’s causing the depression.
***BIG DISCLAIMER!!!*** If you can’t figure out what is causing your feelings, please stop reading right now and GET HELP. IF YOU CANNOT GET OK ON YOUR OWN, please please please DO NOT self-medicate with harmful substances or hurtful practices. Licensed therapists, ministers, physicians and other professionally-credentialed individuals are available to help you sort out what is causing you to hurt. There’s no real reason for your to suffer 100% of the time; there are ways to change that and you deserve to do so if that’s what you want. There are many FREE resources you can find online if you need them — search for your County’s health services department or dial “2-1-1” to locate help, for example.
Back to the discussion about noticing the cause of my feelings….
My difficulty with noticing comes from maintaining my perspective; that is, the “bad” feelings, when they become debilitating, sometimes become too much for me to handle without tools and interfere with my ability to notice what’s causing the feelings themselves. This blog post offers you some of my favorite musical tools for maintaining perspective so that you CAN notice what’s causing your feelings and change them. (If you don’t use it to blow your eardrums, music is economical, safe and effective.)
These tools are presented in order — you will want to experiment with the first ones to help you master the next ones. I will offer you three tools here — for more, please contact me!
Overwhelmed by your feelings? Go with it!
There is a common practice in mental/emotional health care that seems to have originated in Eastern wisdom and been adopted by Westerners. This practice engages you deeply and safely in a full experience of the feeling, whatever it is. This is in direct opposition to the “stiff upper lip” method of dealing with issues, which is how I grew up, and I find it quite freeing. Here’s a quick “how to” for using music to fully experience a feeling.
First, select some music you love that matches the feeling you are having. That is, if you are grieving, don’t choose your happy music. Instead, choose music that is sad, melancholy, tragic, depressing. You want the music outside of you mirror the feeling inside you.
Next, find a place where you can put on your headphones and listen without being disturbed by too much around you.
Then, LISTEN. Listen to your music over and over. Listen for as long as you feel sad — sometimes a few minutes, or sometimes days or even weeks. If you needs days or weeks to fully feel the grief, please know that using music to support your grief in this way will permit you to feel it fully and more beneficially than if you did not consciously sit down and make time for your musical grieving.
You will notice at some point that your grief has passed. It’s as if the feeling has been fully experienced and moved through you, leaving room for the next feelings to appear. Don’t worry about the next feelings; your objective is to stay with your grief and the music in which you are “containing” that grief until you are done with that particular feeling of grief.
This process works with ALL feelings. Don’t trust me on this; prove it for yourself.
Need a quick pivot? Use a musical “corner.”
In a traditional New Orleans funeral procession, mourners accompany the coffin on foot from church to cemetery, often joined by a brass band. The band starts the procession playing a dirge: slow, sad music that permits the mourners to grieve (see above!). At some point during the march, however, the music will change. Usually the same song that was played down-tempo is now played up-tempo. Right there in the funeral procession, the musical accompaniment changes from grief to joy. Why?
Have you ever attended a live concert? Recall the moment in the concert when the band played something slow? Back in the day, we all held lighters (or matches) in the air to join the feeling of the ballad; last time I witnessed such a thing (Hollywood Bowl with Crosby, Stills Nash and Young), everyone held up their lighted mobile phone. This is equivalent to the slow part of the New Orleans funeral procession.
Back to that live concert. Remember what happened after the ballad? Everything went crazy, right? CSN&Y started a medley of all their greatest hits, and 40,000 people sang along. In only a moment, that entire concert shifted from “ballad” feeling to “greatest hits” feeling. This is what I call a musical “corner.”
I know: joining a New Orleans funeral procession or getting 40,000 people and a legacy musical act together for YOUR specific issue isn’t practical. But you can make a playlist with a musical corner in it. All you need are two songs with clearly contrasting feelings. From the music you love, pick a song that’s slow and one that’s not slow, put them into a two-song playlist, put on your headphones and listen. It only takes as long as the two songs you love and you’re done. Pivot accomplished.
Here’s the magic: you don’t even need a music player!
Need to support or corner a feeling? No music player handy? No problem!
Fortunately for you, human beings have a unique ability to recall music accurately. Ever been bugged by an ear worm (that annoying song stuck in your head that won’t go away)? Use that ability of your brain to recall the music you WANT and put it to work.
You’ll need a way to shut off the world while you “play” your music in your head (soundless, but you will respond as if you were actually hearing the music). I use noise-canceling headphones if they’re available, or a walk outdoors, or just sitting in a chair for a few minutes. Even if I’m in the office, there are ways to “take 5” that are relatively quiet — a restroom stall works OK. The point here is to turn off as much of the external noise as you can to give your ears a break.
Once you have relative silence around you, make the voice in your head become a DJ and tell it to play the song you want. This will take some concentration because that voice in your head like to talk about what it’s doing ALL THE TIME, but with practice you will find you can rely on it to shut up and just listen for a bit. You can help the voice to stay quiet by focusing your attention on the music of your choice playing in your head. Try to stay with the music from beginning to end — as you remember it. Whether you’re supporting a feeling or creating a corner, you will find that the results surprisingly similar to the ones you get when you actually listen to a recording or live concert. Really.
Plan in advance: playlists for when you need them.
I like to have a few feeling-specific playlists stashed away in Spotify for when I need them. It only takes a few minutes to organize your songs in this way, and when a feeling shows up that needs expression, my latest playlist is right there at my fingertips. You can make a two-song corner playlist from longer ones of contrasting feelings, or make specific two-song corner lists that work just as well. Go nuts! Storage is free (mostly — I DO keep some songs in iTunes or offline Spotify playlsits for when I don’t have decent cell coverage) and the music is “mostly” free (you know how it goes: pay the subscription to avoid the advertisements — I don’t like audio ads honking up my self care).
Happier new year….
I hope you’ll join me in working to improve this year over last. (I don’t actually make resolutions for the new year, but the notion of working to make things better is a practice I remember every time January First rolls around.) If there’s any way you can make music a bigger part of caring for your sanity, that’s a great start. If you find it works for you, spread the word. I’m just one person, and so are you, but if more an more of us start adding music to our practice, perhaps some of the world’s noise will also be transformed.