Music is my Medicine

So we are in the middle of chaos. A place where everything is erupting, spilling over, flowing out to sea. And we are teachers and parents who need to somehow make sense of it all to our students and children. We must somehow ground ourselves and our youth in this current reality, and that ground seems to have transformed into a live wire—sparking.

Is this really happening? streamed through my mind in the first months. Soon replaced by How are we going to get through this? and then When will it end? These are big questions for everyone right now, but for anyone looking into the eyes of a child these questions quickly become existential. How do we create safety now that physical contact can be potentially lethal? How do we build vital human-to-human connections within the confines of rules that require distance and isolation? At what point do we draw the line between safety and the reality that life involves risk, and survival means more than just health? At what point does the protection of life become too heavy a burden to carry? No easy answers there.

We are faced with our limitations as human beings on a daily basis, and confronted by a seemingly impossible task of nurturing and growing young minds in this new place, not just a COVID-19 place, or a Civil Rights crisis place, but a place so many of us humanists have adamantly avoided—a digital place, a touchless place, an authoritarian place.

And then there is Peace Train. A song to get us through.

Or what about this one created by my dear, young (genius) friend Anthony Arya for his latest album (yes, at 17 this is his second album) Is it All Too Much? Listen to this and tell me you don’t feel an upwelling of catharsis (it’s okay, just let it all out).

Anthony Arya graduated from high school during COVID-19 and will be attending Stanford as the first-ever class of freshman facing a global pandemic.  Read more here

So here in this place, Santa Cruz, California, circa 2020—a year that got sideswiped by chaos— a place where there are no easy answers, musicians can provide us with a connection to the internal, eternal human connection we all crave.

Our brains and bodies respond to sounds automatically. Neuroscience tells us that our brains constantly review inputs from the five senses in order to determine our present state of safety. Our brains learn over time which sensory stimuli signal safety. Music can literally soothe us from the inside out. We can retrain our brains to associate certain seonsory stimuli as safe through practice with calming strategies, such as regulated our breathing patterns, affirmations and meditation. By engaging in these strategies over time, we can develop a toolkit of calming sensory strategies to help us regulate our nervous systems, and a regulated nervous system can feel calm in the face of chaos. Music can be a universally calming intervention for many people.

My advice to you is: Seek out the musicians that soothe your soul and ideally share this experience with the children or students in your life. Talented musicans also can tell stories about life, they teach us history, they provide an alternate view of the world around us and they inspire us to move our bodies. All of this is good medicine and helps connect us in a deep and meaningful way during a time that seems determined to force us apart. I play music or nature sounds as the beginning of each online session to provide a place of transistion, a predictable transistion.

What music soothes your soul? Share it…ask the youth in your life to share what calms them. Develop a playlist together. Discuss the meaning of songs, explore the history and context.

Seek music out on You Tube, Alexa, Apple ITunes, Spotify, whereever, but find the music that moves you in this time of chaos. Practice deep listening and breathing. Practice focusing only on the the music for a few minutes each day. Eventually, you may move toward classic meditation and leave the music behind, or not. Music brings us to the present moment in a way that can calm our interior monologues.

Because these artists are doing what words alone can never do; they are providing us with a way of feeling, of being in this moment of chaos and processing it on a level that is beyond words. Like gems that get flushed out from the earth in the upwelling—bring these songs forth in your classrooms. Marvel at them. Hold them up to the light of day and ask: What does this make me think about? What do I feel? How does this help me understand where we are today and where we have been collectively as a human species before today?

Or just get up and dance: Movement in digital educational spaces.

Use music and reflection in your homes and classrooms, to ease the suffering, to bring us back together, to connect us to our uniquely human spirit through the joy of listening, creating, sharing. Or maybe just to sway back and forth in front of our cameras together, to remind us we are all right, we are all right now, we are all here right now…

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