The myth of music and meditation
By LP John Paramai
We all know that music is for relaxation because it makes us feel relaxed and happy. Meditation can also make many people feel relaxed and happy as well. Are they meant for the same purpose or are they different? Is it possible to combine these two things together?
Let me explain the myth of music and meditation. In which way can they be used together or not at all?
Both music and meditation are for the mind.
Basically the human mind has one nature. It thinks, thinks, thinks a lot. Even when we are alone without talking to anyone, the mind can still think. Many people think too much and those thoughts are not always happy ones. Listening to a favorite song can make us feel happy because we can shift our concentration and stay focused on enjoying the song.
That helps us stay away from other worries troubling the mind. However, there are moments where we can be so unhappy that the favorite song does not seem to work the same way. In addition, when the song stops, the mind can start thinking and worrying again.
Music, like other sensual pleasures such as food, pictures, people or places, still relates to our mood when we listen to it. If the mind is happy, the music is more enjoyable. If the mind is unhappy, we don’t enjoy it the same way.
Meditation is a tool to fight with unhappiness in the mind. During the moment of stillness, worries or anxiety simply disappear from our feelings. That’s how we can enjoy our favorite songs, favorite food, favorite places, and favorite people better.
Before I became a monk I used to be a pianist. When my mind was so distracted, I couldn’t focus on playing a song at all. When I needed to make sure I was able to focus, I meditated before playing the piano. Otherwise, I would make a lot of mistakes.
Meditation practice also helps to keep the mind still longer and make it more patient. That was helpful because I made a lot of mistakes and wanted to quit. Somehow my meditation helped me become a better musician.
So, can we meditate with music?
The answer is yes but not at the deepest level. While we listen to music, our concentration is still connected to the auditory nerve. Meditation practice is somehow different in this point because it’s a balance between concentration and relaxation.
The balance, once achieved, will also increase both relaxation and concentration to a deeper level. At some point, the mind of meditators disconnects itself from the physical five senses. At a deep level, many meditators don’t hear anything from the outside world anymore. It’s similar to when we enjoy reading a book so much we don’t hear any other noises or even feel the time.
That’s why in most libraries they don’t play any music because they wanted the mind of readers to focus 100% on the book and not to the music. When we meditate, we also want to focus our attention 100% on a single point, object or feeling. So, it will be easier not to focus on any song until we reach a state called equanimity.
Many meditation instructors don’t recommend using music because people will depend on it later on and cannot meditate without it. If we don’t depend on music, we don’t have to listen to anything and that’s going to be helpful for deeper meditation levels. For many people, however, music helps increase relaxation before they meditate.
So, using music from time to time to calm the mind is fine especially before their meditation. They can choose slow and calm tracks without lyrics. Otherwise, the words are going to distractingly repeat in the mind. Sounds of nature are helpful but don’t get attached to it. The best is to practice meditation until we can do it without music and we can meditate on our own anytime anywhere.