For a couple of years now, I have been trying to meditate on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Ostensibly this helped me to better focus my energies throughout the crazy schedule I keep both at the American Music Center and in my own personal life of exploring music as a journalist and composer. I frequently joke that sleep is extremely overrated and that caffeine is the human equivalent of battery power, but at the end of the day multi-tasking can be daunting and the more input you attempt to intake the less you can actually absorb.
The secret to effective meditation is being able to let go of all your thoughts. This is frequently done by following the trajectory of your breath. Once you are aware that something else has distracted you from your breath, you are supposed to let that thought go and return to your breath. Although that level of focus on breath is ultimately about getting you to not think, it actually focuses you and makes you more aware and arguably makes you think more clearly. That is the remarkable paradox about meditating, at least from my vantage point.
What I realized this morning is that this process of focusing is remarkably similar to the way that so-called serious music is “supposed” to be listened to or how books are read, even though meditation is ostensibly a personal inward activity while listening or reading are outward activities focused on someone else’s thoughts. Everyone knows that if your mind wanders while you are reading a book, you will lose the train of thought and the words that you have just read will turn into meaningless gibberish. Many people, however, do not treat music the same way and instead use it as background sound to create an environment or to simply keep a room from being “too quiet.”
I still remember how hard it was for me to read books start to finish or to focus on music when I was growing up since my family and everyone around me never gave either that much foreground prominence. Listening to something for longer than a few minutes without talking (or starting to do something else ) is extremely difficult for most of my equally non-bookish relatives. I have since learned that most people have the same problem.
To me, not being able to read a lengthy novel or listen to a 35-minute-or-longer musical composition seems an unfortunate blind spot to a vital and wondrous part of our humanity. Yet it is an ability that we seem more cavalier about these days at the peril of our society and its democratic underpinnings which require the ability to listen to others. As we move more and more toward a world that channel surfs through life, making time to pay careful attention to anything has become more and more difficult.
By this point, you might think I’m hyperventilating, so I’ll try to take a deep breath and focus more clearly. Something to consider…