Who says you always have to sit in silence? Ryan Winger explains how to bring the spirit of meditation into the music you love – with friends.
Music is the backdrop to our lives – it plays in the supermarket, accompanies us while we wait to speak to the nearest customer service representative, and shuffles on our iPhones when we drive to work. Music is ubiquitous, but most of the time we don’t really listen.
Most of us have had a more attentive experience with music as well – real listening with a unique focus. When we are really attentive, we can appreciate the feeling and energy of the artists and songs that hold a special place in our hearts. Whether in a concert hall, on a busy street corner, or in the privacy of our home, the experience of meaningfully connecting to music is rich, deep, and sometimes profound.
From the perspective of meditation practice, this experience is the result of attuning to our present experience through the sensory perception of sounds. We are fully there with the music, experience the texture, the rhythm, the melody, the harmony and the progress and ride the waves of sound in real time.
My experience with music as part of a group meditation practice began a few years ago when a handful of us were relatively new to the Washington, DC, Shambhala community and enjoyed our first taste of freshness and inspiration from the meditation practice. While we were talking about our experiences with meditation, we discovered a mutual appreciation for jazz. We wondered what it would be like to listen to John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins with the same amount of attention we paid to our breathing.
At some point someone said: “Why don’t we get together, meditate and then listen to jazz?” This triggered our first “Music Night”. Here is the format to follow in your own group if you want to try meditating on music.
We meet in a small group (6–12 people) equipped with a stereo system. Each participant brings two pieces of music with which they feel connected. Start with refreshments and conversations for half an hour.
To ground ourselves and get fully into the present moment, we gather in a circle and meditate in silence for 10-15 minutes.
Little by little we offer the group a piece of music. Sometimes the person offering the music says a few words about their inspiration for the selection. When we share something that matters to us, we become naked and vulnerable. The more meaningful the music, the more naked we may feel.
While each person offers their choice, the others practice receiving the music with their full attention. Without analysis or commentary, we mostly practice in silence. We walk around the entire group at least twice and sometimes keep listening late into the night.
When we listen openly, we absorb a lot more of the energy and substance of the music – both pleasantly and sometimes less pleasantly – than we normally do. If we look carefully, we will hear things that we have never noticed before. We see in vivid detail how we sometimes approach our experiences through the lenses of passion, aggression, and ignorance.
While this practice sounds simple and straightforward, from my perspective it can be meaningful, challenging, and profound. Music represents feelings, emotions, colors and statements that cannot be expressed through words or pictures. When we feel our common connection to music and are fully present with one another, we feel incredibly intimate and warm.
Music is an important part of my life. During the music night I felt completely seen, with warmth and love and without judgment. It played a significant role in connecting with my own goodness and the goodness of others, and it can be for you too.
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