Thursday, July 30, 2015

Musical Therapy

Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. You spill the coffee, burn the toast, and drop the eggs all over the floor, and that’s just for starters. Then you make the mistake of turning on the news,where someone with an impossible haircut and 100-watt smile spends thirty minutes trying to convince you that the world is a cesspit sitting on top of a bomb, and the timer is about to kick into overdrive. Nope. On days like that, all you want to do is crawl back into bed, hide your head under the pillow, and then staple the edges of the pillow to the mattress, just to be sure.

Worse still are those times when you are already well into your day when it all goes wrong. Someone backs into your car in the parking lot, that special project you’ve been working on for two weeks goes to digital heaven and takes all backup copies along for the ride, or someone swipes your lunch from the office fridge and you didn’t bring any lunch money to work today. (Don’t think that last one is as big a deal? Try being a diabetic on a carefully restricted and scheduled diet.) You just want to scream, but the boss is already giving you funny looks, and that conference call is not going to dial itself.

There is no denying that sometimes life is so great that you just might explode if it gets any better.

That was sarcasm, by the way, just in case you weren’t sure.

Unless you live in a secluded hermitage or have achieved permanent balance through applied chemistry, you are probably going to have bad days from time to time. If anyone has discovered a solution to this, they do not appear to be sharing. They are probably chemically confined to a hermitage. Or something like that.

You are going to have bad days. Accepting that fact is the first step toward preventing it from being a major challenge. Step two is remembering that it’s a bad day, not a bad life. Nothing lasts forever and, easy as it is to forget, this includes most problems. “This too shall pass” can be a very handy mantra when having a bad day. The trick then is to prevent explosions until it passes.

One of my favorite tricks for getting through this period is what I like to call Musical Therapy. In short, get a collection of the right songs (“right,” in this case being defined as “right for you,” and no one can make that call but you), play them as loudly as you need for as long as you need, and let the music carry you away. Depending on your current location, headphones might be a required element of this therapy. For most situations, I would recommend using upbeat, high energy songs, but even that cannot really be narrowly defined because what works is largely defined by circumstances and personal taste.

It is worth noting that this recommendation does not mean that the music needs to be happy or uplifting. Sometimes that would be great - there is certainly nothing wrong with converting anger or frustration into dancing or laughter, if you can manage an honest transition - but sometimes it’s just not what you need. Sometimes what you need is a way to give voice to rage in a way that won’t come back and kick you (or anyone else) in the teeth. Sometimes sound and fury is exactly what the doctor ordered. Those are times when you want to crank it up to eleven and throw away the knob.

Just me? Anyone?

Okay, it’s not just me, but it’s not going to be for everyone either. Music can be helpful for most people, but not always the same music and not always in the same way, As with most things, I can give you some general pointers but, when it comes to specifics, all I can do is tell you my story and let you decide how it fits in with your life.

In my early twenties, when I was having more bad days than good, my neighbors probably knew far more of the lyrics to Queensryche’s “Operation: Mindcrime” than they ever intended, because that was my go to mood killer at the time. People who know me today probably notice when my Facebook feed starts to fill up with the likes of Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, and Avenged Sevenfold. I’ve mentioned in the past that my musical tastes are extremely eclectic, but there are times when only a screaming guitar will get the job done. A wall of screaming guitars might earn overtime.

There are other times, though, when what I want is to soar, to fly through a landscape that only music can reach. Yesterday, for example, I spent a few hours listening to Lindsey Stirling make magic on the violin. This inevitably led to a round of Halestorm, because I can’t listen to Lindsey without listening to “Shatter Me,” an incredibly powerful duet she has with Lzzy Hale, and then I need to hear more of Lzzy. So it goes. Some days I might disappear into the folk worlds of The Chieftains or Blackmore’s Night, and still other days, especially if I’m feeling homesick for Texas, only the rodeo stylings of someone like Chris LeDoux will do.

The point is, the exact nature of the music isn’t what’s important. What matters is that music can carry you away and left you over whatever is troubling you, at least for a little while. It can help you to find perspective, and it can help you to find peace. Sometimes it can help you to find that critical few minutes of just not obsessing over your troubles. When you can’t let go on your own, sometimes music can help you let go. Depending on your troubles, they may still be there when you get back from your musical odyssey, but you will hopefully be refreshed and in a better place to address them.

Music will not have the same impact for all people but, in my experience, it will have an impact for most people. Music is a major factor in my life, so it is a huge influence on my moods and thinking. It may not have quite the same pull for you, but most of us do have that song that makes us smile, or brings back a certain memory. Tap into that, and let it help you through the bad times.

Keep in mind, though, that this association can work both ways. If a particular song or type of music tends to bring up sad or painful memories, that is probably not the song or music you want to use to try to break out of a funk. Looking at those memories can sometimes be useful or necessary, but try to keep it in context. If you’re trying to overcome a bad day, pick music that will actually help you to do that. Don’t wallow.

It has long been understood that music can tap into a fundamental, primal portion of the human psyche. Use this to your advantage and let it help you to go where you want to go. At this point in my life, I would suggest that you be more courteous than I was back when I was educating my neighbors on the joys of Queensryche, but there are so many options now that this shouldn’t even be a problem. Find the music you love and that works for you, and let it work for you. Your life can be epic. Give it an epic soundtrack to help it along the way.

By the way, I've tagged some good examples all through the musical section of this one, in case you're curious. Give them a listen, if you haven't already.

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