I was driving into work last week, up in my head, noticing how many items I had on my internal task list. I work at a college counseling center and when April rolls around there is much stress on campus. You can see it on the faces of students as they walk across campus. The reception area at my office is full of students feeling an accumulation of the semester’s high performance demands. As a social worker, I also feel these demands. I can recognize my own wish to be helpful, responding to complex emotional struggles, hoping I can offer a skill or a presence that leads to reduced suffering.
So, on that particular morning as I walked to my office I could feel my own heightened stress, could notice I was up in my head, not in the moment. And then, for some reason, a lyric sung by one of my favorite musicians popped into my head. “SOMETIMES YOU’RE THE WINDSHEILD SOMETIMES YOU’RE THE BUG”. I must give credit to Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits for the song. But my heart goes out to Mary Chapin Carpenter for singing it! Okay, so my first reaction was to smile and I began to notice I was a bit more relaxed in my body. And I began to slow down as I walked from my car to work. Part of me thought, “wow that is kind of morbid”, and I was very glad no one else was inside my head. But then I got curious.
What was this lyric trying to tell me? The question followed me throughout my day and I came to an awareness that this lyric, at this moment in time, was a gift of mindfulness. What it was speaking to was the reality that we all will have pain and we all will have struggle, anxiety, uncertainty, even death and we will also have moments of fullness, stability, relief. Can we accept it? As I walked to work on that morning, so absorbed in my own fretting about the day, could I listen to a tiny moment of mindfulness speaking to me. Could I accept the fact that my life was very demanding right now and it too would end?
I think perhaps my own practice of mindfulness helped me ‘show up’ for the lyric offered up in that moment. I bet if you think about your attachment to music, you will find moments of mindfulness spring to mind. Moments when you were fully present and open to emotions of sadness or joy or fear. Moments when you accepted you were heart broken or madly in love. This is mindfulness! I think our favorite musicians offer us a window into the present moment.
So, I made a commitment to honor my musical mindfulness teachers. I decided to take time each day, devote that time to mindfully listen to one song. To show up and be fully present for that song. To bring my full awareness to each lyrical statement, to each chord. It became my mindfulness practice for one week. And what a gift. I noticed how much emotion lies beneath my surface. I noticed how much I love to dance and how rarely I do so in my life. I noticed the sadness of losing my mother and relief with just having my sadness. I noticed an energy inside me that had been buried underneath my task list.
A dear colleague recently shared a musical moment that happened for him as he was driving his 5 year old to preschool. My friend was in the midst of many life transitions and was aware of the stress he was holding. He decided to listen to one of his favorite musicians, Cat Stevens, while driving his son to school. One of his favorite songs included the lyric “I want to be a rock star”. As he and his son rode along, singing the song, he noticed his son had created his own lyric and with great happiness was singing “I want to be a Pop Tart”. As he shared the story in our Wednesday morning staff meeting, he noted that the moment he heard his son’s song he let go of his planning mind and came home to that perfect moment with his young child.
So, give it a try and see what you notice as you invite music and mindfulness into your life!