During our mindfulness meditation retreats, we introduce our guests to a variety of meditation methods, in an attempt to find the meditation method that each guest can seamlessly incorporate into their everyday lives. One of these methods is Music Meditation.
First of all, let’s focus on the difference between Music Meditation – music as the focus of meditation – and music as a background to meditation. I am not entirely convinced that the latter is a workable option. Music as a background to meditation can be a distraction rather than being helpful. If you are trying to concentrate on your breathing and you keep getting distracted by a favorite piece of music, this certainly is not very useful. If, however, the meditation music you are listening to is the focus, the object, of your meditation, the experience is very different.
Who would benefit most from music as meditation ?
There are as many different types of meditation techniques as there are different types of people. Music Meditation may appeal especially to a certain group of people : auditory interpreters and learners. According to Fleming’s (2001) Visual Auditory Kinaesthetic (VAK) Learning Model, most people possess a dominant or preferred learning style; although some people may have a mixed or even an evenly balanced mix of the three styles: visual learners, auditory learners and kinesthetic learners. Fleming claimed that visual learners have a preference for seeing (visual aids that represent ideas using methods other than words, such as graphs, charts, diagrams, symbols, etc.). Auditory learners best learn through listening (lectures, discussions, tapes, etc.). Tactile/kinesthetic learners prefer to learn via experience—moving, touching, and doing (active exploration of the world, science projects, experiments, etc.). (Wikipedia) Although the VAK learning model provides a very easy and quick way to assess people’s preferred learning styles, and then to design learning methods and experiences that match people’s preferences, it is not foolproof. If you would like to complete a questionnaire the determine your own learning style, you will find one here: The-VARK-Questionnaire.
People who have predominantly auditory skills may find music meditation especially beneficial. Having said that, they would find music as background to meditation unbearable distracting . If you are very keen on having a background sound during meditation, if you are stuck inside in the middle of a very busy and noisy city, then the best option would probably be a recording of the sounds of nature.
What kind of music can be used as meditation?
Many people believe relaxation is the primary goal of meditation and therefore, they believe that not only do they have to listen to music during meditation, but it has to be relaxation music. As I have said above, this is not the case. Calming the mind is an essential aspect of meditation, but so is awareness and the cultivation of insight. Mindfulness meditation, one of the most popular western meditation techniques, is also known as insight meditation. With mindfulness, relaxation is not the main aim. Awareness and presence in-the-moment is. So, if you’re listening to music as your meditation practice, you’re discovering what’s happening inside you while you listen to that music. You’re exploring your relationship with the music and your reaction to the music. And you can listen to any music you want to, to develop insight.
“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.” – Leonard Bernstein
How does music meditation differ from other meditation techniques ?
Music as meditation differs from other forms of meditation in the sense that the music makes a contribution to the meditation session – unlike breathing is is not a neutral aid to meditation. If you concentrate fully on the music you are mindfully listening to, chances are that whatever type of music you have chosen will have an emotional influence on you. Music is a language in its own right, it bypasses our conscious mind and speaks to directly to our unconscious mind.
Happiness, anger, melancholy, joy, frustration, pain…can all be communicated through music. And the music that you are listening to with your heart, mind, body and soul can have a positive effect on you. Researchers in an emerging discipline, Music Therapy, are beginning to document the psychological and physical effects of listening to music. Research suggests the effects of listening to specific kinds of music can be fundamentally good for our bodies, minds and spirits.
“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” – Victor Hugo
Certainly something to keep in mind when you choose the music you want to listen to during a music meditation.
During a meditation session with horses, a similar concept is at work. A horse or a herd of horses are not neutral participants in a meditation session either. They sometimes also bring their emotions to the table and they share their feelings with us whether it is anger or frustration or contentment or excitement. That is why we have recently introduced a Music as Meditation session to our Equine Guided Growth and Meditation workshops – to demonstrate the similarities between these two mindful meditation techniques. Of course, it may also have something to do with the fact that your hosts are both music addicts, one a singer and the other a pianist, and with the fact that music is an essential part of their lives and daily activities. Do not be surprised, if during your retreat you are invited to a choir concert or some or other musical recital…and for those of you who are musical, there is both a keyboard and a grand piano on the premises.
“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” – Aldous Huxley
How to listen to Music as Meditation:
1. Select a piece of music. You can choose any piece of music you want – if it is a piece that you enjoy, so much the better.
2. Headphones are not essential, but we do recommend them – for two reasons. Firstly, they make the music feel as though it is actually coming from inside of your own head. Secondly, headphones can help to block out external sounds, which makes them very useful if you are meditating somewhere noisy.
3. Before turning the music on, settle into a comfortable position. You can sit upright on a chair or lie down. We recommend the sun- loungers on the decking by the lake. Make sure you are neither hungry nor thirsty before you start. Settle down and then take three long, slow, deep breaths allowing yourself to start relaxing. When you are fully relaxed, allow your breath to resume its natural rhythm.
4. When you are ready, turn the music on and close your eyes. Simply listen to the music without trying too hard. Allow the music to wash over you, to fill your body and mind, to become part of you.
5. As you continue listening, occasionally ask yourself ‘am I still concentrating on the music?’. If you find that your attention is drifting away from the music and you are distracted by all sorts of other thoughts, just notice that this is happening and then gently bring your attention back to the music. You may need to bring your attention back to the music again and again. Do not worry about it, this is perfectly normal, it happens to everyone.
6. Once the music has finished, remain seated or lying down for a few more moments. As it is customary at any musical performance, thank the musicians and composer for their efforts, quietly, to yourself or you can share your appreciation with the horses nearby, they have seen it all before.
7. Take a few minutes to digest the experience. Tune into your mind and your body. Any prominent emotions well up ? Write in your journal about the experience if you keep a meditation diary.
What about making music as meditation ?
Using music as the focus of meditation is nothing new, especially making music as a way of meditating mindfully. Any musician, regardless of his/her ability or experience, can use music practice as meditation and meditation as a means of accelerating progress during music practice. The key is focused concentration. The benefits of practicing in this concentrated way are two-fold – the musician makes progress, plays/sings better, but also creates a peaceful inner sanctuary that can be very useful during a performance. Developing awareness in this way takes time, it is as easy to be distracted and for the mind to wander as it is during any other meditation technique, but one’s ability to concentrate with full awareness improves with practice and over time.
« For me, the practice of meditation – in its more secular usage, the cultivation of mindfulness – has brought an enormous amount to my life and music-making. A sense of clarity and control, less neurosis about ambitions and “career”, greater efficiency, awareness and body sense as a pianist. As a composer, I’m more in touch with the sources of my own creativity. » – Rolf Hind
Singing or playing music can be an intensely mindful experience if one gives it one’s full attention. But so can listening to music, as long as the intention is to concentrate 100% on the music to the exclusion of everything else.
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