Lucky the road was quiet, because I was transported away somewhere in my mind. Nowhere in particular, just that kind of experience where your current situation melts away and the sounds coming through your ears dissolve somewhere deep in your insides.
I find it easy to be engulfed like this by music. I had the very good fortune to grow up in a household where there was music of some kind most of the time. A big variety too; the Stones, the Doors, Johnny O’Keefe, the Seekers, Peter Paul and Mary, Dave Brubeck, the Beatles of course.
But it was the classical music that really seeped its way into my soul. Symphonies, concertos, suites, sonatas, oratorios. Bach, Rachmaninov, Mozart, Handel, Holst, Palestrina, Monteverdi. My elder sister sang in the newly formed Melbourne Chorale and at around eight years old I started attending their concerts with mum and dad. Today, hearing choral music such as the Allegri Miserere will literally stop me in my tracks.
Music can make almost any tedious or unpleasant task tolerable. This has been known for a very long time; think of marching tunes to keep infantry moving over long distances, rhythmic chanting by African slaves in the cotton fields.
Sports men and women listen to upbeat, up-tempo music to get “pumped” before and event. Boppy pop music makes gym classes more fun and makes you feel like you can lift more or keep going longer.
But music is also a well known sedative. Think of lullabies to calm fractious infants; soothing music to accompany a relaxation massage.
More than that, I believe music can also be used to create the kind of state induced by meditation. The benefits of meditation for health of mind and body are now well documented; lowering blood pressure, stimulating the immune system, improving mood, reducing stress.
The aim of meditation is to remain conscious but release the mind from the constant chatter of thoughts. Falling asleep seems a relaxed state where the conscious mind indeed switches off, but it doesn’t create the same internal environment. In meditation you can remain aware of your surroundings and yet be unaffected by them. Time becomes irrelevant or at least unimportant, and when you stop and return to normal activities you feel refreshed, even after a short session.
Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting cross-legged for hours chanting “om”. You can achieve good effects in just a few minutes by simply focussing on slowly breathing in, and just as slowly breathing out.
I believe you can achieve similar results from listening attentively to a piece of music that resonates with you. Music without words is best because it has to express its message by the interplay of sounds alone, leaving the listener’s mind free to find its own images. It doesn’t have to be classical music played by an orchestra. Any instrumental or synthesised sounds without a driving beat would work.
It’s the process of concentrating on something, giving it all your attention, that is the important aspect of meditation, whether that be a mantra, your breathing, or, I would argue, a piece of music. This is referred to as mindfulness, and means that when you focus all your attention on something, far from being stimulating or taxing, it in fact calms the mind, creating the kind of brain waves that have the profound positive effects.
Mental time out is so healing. Next time you need some, try listening, really listening, to music.