I grew up playing the drums & piano. My first mixed tape was called Tammy’s Music 1, which was made for me by my dad, from his extensive LP collection and included Bob Marley, Blondie, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Police. My Dad and I used to listen to BBC Radio 2’s saturday morning show “The Sound of the Sixties.” I sang in the local W11 Children’s Opera in my neighborhood in London (I was a Siren, China Tea in a story set in a Grocery Store called The Tin Knight and the piece de resistance – the front end of the sacred cow who chose the site of Troy). My first two boyfriends were musicians. At University I went out dancing at every opportunity possible and got into trouble for dancing when I was supposed to be selling shoes on High Street Ken. Music was a huge part of my life. Then I married a man who used to turn the radio to the talk shows and did not enjoy seeing live music, so I slowly let music slip out of my life.
Since our separation, barely a week goes by when I am not listening to live music, in the basement of a bar, in the front of a coffee shop, in the spectacular Severance Hall, in a theater, or by the side of the river in an outdoor venue. Cleveland, where I live is home to many amazing musicians, and has great live music venues. I am listening to all types of music as I dive back into this new world and re-learn, educate and challenge myself.
Hanging out with people who understand music and have studied it and play it for a hobby or for a living is giving me a new perspective on life in two ways. Firstly, I am breaking my routines – live music is usually played late at night, so I miss my 10pm bedtime and then I miss my 5am meditation/yoga/pranayama/abhyanga (oil massage) etc routine. This serves to educate me about my keystone habit(s). A keystone habit is one which, when followed, generally results in the other habits following on: it is the spark which ignites the other habits. When I rise later, I usually do a modified morning routine and during this time of unpredictability, I find that my two keystone habits which help ground me are 1) abhyanga (self-massage with oil) – a habit which grounds my physical body and helps to keep both my mental and physical body less agitated and 2) meditation – a habit which grounds my mental body by allowing me to see what arises when I sit quietly and acknowledge my mental patterns with gentleness.
Routines are important for many reasons, such as helping your body know when to expect food and sleep. However, I feel that is necessary to be comfortable with breaking them and to manage how that feels in your body and mind. I try to cultivate that with my children – eating, sleeping etc at the same time every day, with the occasional spanner in the works as I try to make them citizens of the world: an overnight flight to Brazil, an unknown language and unusual food, a train through the French countryside and an unusual bed in Paris, a flight to London to stay with grandparents and the inevitable management of jetlag.
Secondly, it was pointed out to me that when we listen to music, we have an expectation of where the music will go – up, down, back to the beginning – a resolution of the notes within the major or minor scale that the piece is written in, for example. Yet, there is a whole genre of music where this feature is completely absent. I was vaguely aware of this concept from some jazz that I had heard, and how I found the unpredictability difficult to stomach. Once in a yoga class some atonal, experimental jazz was played and I found it very hard to move and breath without a predictable rhythm. What makes this atonal/serial/12-tone music different is that, as the listener, one has no idea where the music will go, if there will be a predictable resolution that fits with one’s expectations.
Life is stressful, often as a result of the lack of predictability. Five months ago I knew, definitively, that my marriage was over and the stress in my life changed from relatively predictable unhappiness and suffering to much less but more unpredictable kinds of unhappiness and suffering.
As I travel this new path, where I am occasionally assailed with overwhelming sadness or anger, usually in relation to my children and their experiences of this process of divorce, my meditation practices and self-care routines have provided huge solace. Learning how to sit with what is and accept that a) my feelings are temporary and do not define my mind and b) because I am attached to something being a certain way I am resisting outcomes that are not what I want, expect or believe I need. That is, “suffering is simply the difference between what is & what I want it to be,” Dr S. Johnson.
This expectation of things playing out in a certain way in my life are mirrored by this atonal/serial/12-tone music. My solution? I plan on listening to more of this kind of music, in order to appreciate both the genius required to write music that does not follow one’s expectations and to increase my own comfort with unpredictability.
Tamsin Astor-Jack, PhD writes at www.YogaBrained.com/blog
©Tamsin Astor-Jack, Yoga Brained LLC