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:
- Feel the emotions fully by paying attention to it without resisting, then
- 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.