Two Ways in Which Music Helps You Manage Your Mood

It’s ironic that when self is the only thing you can control, that’s one thing you often feel powerless to.  If you feel that you are a slave to your mood’s haphazard whims, like a pendulum in stormy wind, then you’re getting weighed down by a backlog of emotions from your past.

To put it in simplistic terms, the way to process that backlog is to feel them.  Feel them so they are out of your baggage and part of your emotional muscle (a process called integration in Michael Brown’s “The Presence Process”).  What happens when you have reduced weight and more muscle?  An improved mobility and control.  It gets easier to navigate the life experiences and create desired ones, when you have mastery over your moods/emotions instead of they over you.

Music is a powerful mood regulator in that it helps you feel.  So you can use it as a guide and tool to assert your intention as you run through the two-step process that takes you from being a slave to your moods to a master of your experiences:

  1. Feel the emotions fully by paying attention to it without resisting, then
  2. Experience the desired emotions.

The step 1 is similar to a process we call commiserating.  This is a stage in which you give yourself permission to fully wallow in whatever uncomfortable emotions you have.  Imagine yourself a child who’s throwing tantrum.  And as the parent of your inner child, you’re telling her/him “it’s OK, go on and cry.”  The more extreme the tantrum, the greater the temporary discomfort, but quicker the processing.

So during this phase it’s great to listen to music that helps you channel the pure, unadulterated emotion, whether it be anguish, rage, or sorrow.  When music matches what you’re feeling inside, it helps it to come out.  Validation and acknowledgement is like a key that unlocks the gate.  When someone connects to what you’re feeling inside you feel safe to let it out.  And music can be an excellent stand-in for a real person, perhaps even better in some ways.  Music will not judge you nor distract you.  It’s important to disregard any notion of silver lining or uplift in this stage, as they only serve as dilution of the feelings that need to be felt.  If you feel hopeless, feel hopeless.  If you feel crushed, feel crushed.  If you feel resentful, then feel resentful.  Don’t try to put a positive spin on it. . . .

Until you feel the emotion ebbing.  Tantrums don’t last forever, the more intense ones, less so.  When you sense the weight of your baggage getting lighter, then you’ll want to transition away from it to desirable feelings.  Joy, ecstasy, triumph, peace — whatever you want to have more of.  This may require your imagination because your real life isn’t necessarily there to help you feel that, particularly after immersing yourself into uncomfortable feelings.  Again music can aide you in this transition.  You could listen to songs that mix the original uncomfortable emotion with something a little more uplifting as a bridge, before fully moving on to music that focus on the desired feelings.

In broad, general terms, different genres of music have varying strengths/ease of depicting certain emotions.  For the stage 1 I feel that no music depicts them more powerfully than rock and metal, though modern classical or dissonant jazz/fusion can get there also.  The stage 2 can be any type of music, from the peace of Gregorian chants to easy-going bliss of reggae to serenity of Baroque classical.  I myself still gravitate toward rock and metal because they are just as suited for conveying heroism and courage as they are for rage and desperation.

The point is that to improve your emotional mastery you have to go through these two steps, and music can be your companion.  You can create playlists that focus on certain feelings and call them up as needed to help guide your mood.  I have lists labeled with words like “heartwarming” “vulnerable” and “resolve.”  What sort of moods will be in your playlists?

In short, art’s role is to help you feel, and feeling is what you need to do to process your backlog and create desirable experiences.  It may not be too bold to say that art is the cure, art is the answer to all human problems, because all human problems boil down to emotional problems.  And as the most accessible and emotional of all arts, music can be a powerful ally as you make your way from a salve to a master.

j j j

Emotional Muscle, Music and Becoming Better at Getting What You Want

So what we desire in life is good experiences.  And we can’t create what we don’t have the capacity to create.

It’s because of our “emotional muscle.”  Just like a real undeveloped muscle can’t lift heavy weights, an undeveloped emotional muscle have a hard time feeling strong emotions.

For example, it’s common in us artists and performers to want the experience of being adored and appreciated.  But when your muscle to feel those feelings are weak, you can’t feel them no matter what real life events occur that should make you feel that way.  I’ve been that performer who, upon receiving complements, immediately dismiss them mentally without really taking in what it means, even though what’s said is very positive and uplifting.  I’m not talking about letting complements inflate your ego.  I’m talking more about being open to that feeling of genuine appreciation being expressed.  It is possible in this case to overpower my underdeveloped emotional muscle by flooding me with exceptionally strong feeling of appreciation, but that’s uncommon.

I may be wishing to feel appreciated, but if I am not used to feeling appreciated, even when life events occur where that feeling can be triggered, it doesn’t.

So how does one gain the ability to experience what one wishes to?  This is where imagination comes in.  Vivid and powerful imagination can incite the same emotional reaction as any real life events.

That said, I don’t know about you but imagination takes great effort.  I have to carve out significant amount of safe, alone space to properly travel away from the reality and concoct an imaginary experience that gives me real feelings.  You may be able to switch your mental gear more quickly than I can, but I suspect it’s hard for a lot of us.

A movie is a great way to experience non-real-life situations vividly.  The multi-sensory nature of a movie can create powerful experiences.  But it also requires your full attention, and enough elements, from acting to script to set design to editing, have to work right.

That’s where music comes in, because it has the right combination of high accessibility and emotional punch.  There’s something about the aural experience, of hearing without seeing, that bypasses some of the distractions of visual experiences and cuts straight to heart.  You can have a playlist made up of feelings you want to feel in life.  For example, I adore Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “I Will Not Take These Things for Granted” because it is such a poignant expression of gratitude.  Except I don’t listen to that song often enough, even though gratitude is on my desired-yet-scarce experience list.  It’s not enough to think grateful thoughts.  I need to truly experience the feeling of gratitude, but a lot of times I find myself unable to.  The experience of gratitude feels foreign to me during those times, as if I’ve forgotten what it’s like.

Once you get more used to feeling them, then it’s easier for you to feel that feeling when life events present opportunities.  You’ll get the sense that you’re getting better at creating experiences that you wanted, because the experience you desire is getting created more easily.

To sum up, here is a quick run down of the process I’m describing to enhance your power to get what you want in life:

  1. Recognize that it’s the experience (which is essentially a feeling) you’re after, and separate it from specific events, achievements and goals that you think will create that experience.  This makes you open to having that feeling come to you in many different shapes and forms.
  2. Recognize that you can’t create what you’re not capable of creating.  You can’t feel what you desire to feel if you’re not used to feeling that way, even when the life events that you thought will make you feel that way occur.
  3. Focus on developing your capacity to feel your desired feeling.  Use your imagination if you can, but liberally use arts like music and movie to assist you.
  4. Once you become capable of feeling the desired feeling frequently and deeply, then your real life will follow suit.  It’s because you’ll more easily recognize the opportunities where you can feel the desired feeling, and this time you allow yourself to feel it.

As I write this, I myself am amazed that I have underdeveloped emotional muscle to so many feelings I want to experience.  I’ve accomplished so many of my dreams, yet many of the life experiences I want are still ahead of me.

I’m going to get better at this, and I’ll continue to share what I learn.  I hope you do the same.

j j j

Music as the Mood Regulator

So continuing on yesterday’s post, the best practice is to feel whatever “negative” emotion you have first, and then steer it toward a more desirable outlook.

That’s easier said than done.

Yesterday I had an incident where I got very mad.  Except I realized that I can’t get 100% mad.  I escaped to my private space but I still couldn’t unleash my fury.

I learned from Michael Brown’s The Presence Process that the ability to feel emotion is like muscles.  When it’s not developed you can’t lift heavy weights.  My angry muscles are very undeveloped.  I had fully intended to act it out by kicking and screaming but I couldn’t bring myself to do so, even in my safe, alone space.  I must be carrying life time’s worth of anger as a baggage, because I never felt them.

Boy, do I have a problem.

So I turned to music.  I categorize my music with the moods they convey to me, so it’s easy to pull out stuff that express how I feel.  Metal is the most overtly angry music I know, so I listened to songs like Slayer “You Against You,”  Sepultura “Roots Bloody Roots,” System of a Down “Boom,”  and In Flame “Everything’s Gone.”  That loosened me up a little and after that I was able to scream my silent screams.

Being an empath I can’t stay mad at any single person for very long, I can’t help but see where they’re coming from and where I could have been different to avoid any anger-inducing incidents.  But that is separate from fully feeling the anger until it’s done.  This is not about letting others know how mad I am.  I just need to fully embrace my anger.  The lesson of the day was that my anger muscle is underdeveloped and I am not capable of fully channeling and experiencing my anger.

So I intend to listen to more angry music to help me lift where my muscles fail on their own.  Until I feel like I don’t quite relate to the same level of anger any more.  Then I can change my playlist to include songs that contain the feelings I want to feel.

We all know that music is a powerful mood regulator.  It creates a safe space in which makes it easy for you to focus on certain feelings.  Metal music sometimes gets criticized for not conveying enough of “redeemable” values but in this context all emotion and all music has perfectly valid and useful roles.  You can collaborate with your music catalog to navigate your emotions.  You can use it help guide your heart from first embracing the feeling you need to experience, then onto a better outlook.  You don’t want to get stuck in the misery and anguish but if that’s where you need to go music can help you get there, and then get out of there.

We put on workout music, put-ourselves-to-sleep music, calming music, and so on.  We also put on wedding music, funeral music, sport event music.  We already use music to enhance and create moods.  It’s very powerful.  In the same manner you can use your music to help you get in touch with your feelings, and then to lead you away from them when it’s time to leave.

What music do you turn to when you’re angry, sad or depressed?  I’m always looking for more recommendations.  Let me know.


j j j

What’s Wrong with Positive Psychology?

I don’t know about you but the whole “think positive” thing had mixed results for me.

So I’d look at an upsetting event and I say to myself “think positive… think positive…” and try to come up with a better way of framing something.  Except it’s all mental gymnastics with none of the heart.  I may come up with a better, more positive viewpoint but beneath that thought I’d still feel very conflicted, stressed, worried or upset.

We human are emotional beings, in most life situations feelings come up to let us know how our subconscious views the event.  Our subconscious being the lower, more foundational part of our psyche, it has a stronger coloration of our experience no matter how furiously we tap dance on top of it.

But that’s not to say that positive psychology is all wrong.  It’s just missing a big piece of the picture.

Now if something upsets me, first I focus on the emotion.  Ideally, I’d sit in a quiet place alone and I just pay attention to it.  But even on the go, I just breathe deeply and take note of how I feel.  I try not to distract or numb myself.

And then after I feel like I spent enough time doing so — when the emotion seems to be losing some of its charge — then I open myself up to a more positive view.  Tom Volkar taught me to ask “what’s good about this that I don’t yet see?” and wait for an apt interpretation to come.  I resolve to feel good about whatever is happening when all is said and done.

So it’s a two-step process.  First, process the feeling.  Then open yourself up to a higher viewpoint.

Works much better than pasting a forced positive story atop a pile of stress.

Give it a shot, let me know how it plays out for you.

j j j

Carpark North “Burn It” and the Freedom to Project

The great thing about art is that as the audience you have the power to do what you want with the experience of the art.

What the artist intended, and what feelings the artist conveyed in the art, do matter.  It’s hard to turn a funeral dirge into a party song.

But as an audience you can take what was given and make it your own.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Many artists are aware of this so they hesitate to explain their songs, because they want to allow the audience the maximum freedom to do what they want.  Creating an “official” meaning limits the potential of the art.

Carpark North’s “Burn It” is such a song for me.  On the surface it looks like another fluffy breakup song.  I was initially surprised that I got into it.

But there’s enough venom and intensity here, that it tapped into something I feel inside.  I actually have never been in toxic relationships that resulted in this sort of vengeful thoughts.  But I related to this song in reference to something different.

My addictions.

From video games to junk food to staying up too late, I have had a number of things whose allure have been too strong for me to control.  I’m so glad I was never exposed to real addictive substances, I would’ve been so easily hooked on them.  I have as addictive personality as anyone.

So when they sing

Everything I did
I did for you
I have put away my pride for you
Taking all the hardest roads I knew
Cause’ I got you on my mind

You were never there
To touch my love
It was never ever clear
What you thought about
But I can never live without you love
‘Cause I got you on my mind

I’m gonna break this
I’m gonna burn it to the ground

I project not an unfaithful lover but all the things I have been addicted to.  All the stuff that promised fun but left me feeling rotten.  Stuff that I somehow couldn’t live without.  I empowered this stuff to make the defeated feeling my normal and familiar state.

Projection is a dangerous thing when used in real life.  You can interpret events with meanings that don’t serve you.  But art creates a safe place.  To bring out whatever you need to feel and feel it fully.  As a songwriter myself, I’m more than happy if anybody makes anything out of my songs, there is no one “correct” way to interpret a song.

I’m just glad a song creates a safe place for all emotions.  There are some that really don’t have anywhere else to go.  “Burn It” is a song that lets me channel my disillusionment and rage about my demons.  That’s an interpretation all my own, that nobody else can take away.   And I love the song for that reason.

j j j