§ Some people have the stars. Some people have tarot. Some people have the yijing. I have the music I listen to.
Looking back, it is uncanny the correlation I can detect between what I listen to and what comes up in my life. For instance, when my work is enjoyable and getting me up early in the morning, I’m usually listening to piano jazz from the 50s. Why? I probably happened to be listening to jazz a lot during early phases in my career, and made an association. Or, sometimes I’m listening to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” on repeat. That happens when some phase in my life is ending. It makes sense that song would resonate with me in a time like that—that’s exactly what the song is about: a flighty, mercurial person perpetually in transition.
And that’s exactly what the mechanism is: resonance of ideas and/or of memories. It isn’t that music is a divinatory medium like the signs in astrology, but rather that it tells me what’s going on in my heart, mind, and environment.
It’s obvious in the abstract, of course, but in practice it’s hard to pick up on. Unless someone else is listening to all the music I choose to listen to and paying attention to what’s going on in my life and emotions, no one can make the connections except me. Meanwhile, I’m too busy listening to the music to think about whether the song means I feel a certain way or am in a certain groove in life.
However, becoming aware of music (or something else) for its indicative properties provides an excellent path to greater self-awareness. The last time I listened to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” over and over and over, I noticed it, and knew it meant something important to me was about to end. I wasn’t quite sure what (although I could guess), but I sure knew the ending was coming. It wasn’t so much that it predicted the future as it indicated high-level situational information that I wasn’t picking up consciously—except for noticing the song and knowing that there’s only one reason I listen to it. That’s useful information.
§ Perhaps even farther down this path is greater self-direction. I didn’t figure out what was wrong in time to change course in the previous example, but I definitely think harder about what my music choices mean and about what’s going on around me. It’s definitely a source of information, and a medium through which to practice self-contemplation.
I wonder too if it’s possible to change my internal state through choosing music more deliberately. Sometimes when I’ve been unhappy, I’ll try to listen to music that I’ve listened to when I’ve been happier. So far that’s met with mixed success, mostly because I’m not strong enough, and change the song a few seconds later. Other times, I might itch to listen to those ballads about memory and romantic focus (think “Vanilla Twilight” or “Got My Mind Set On You”) that I’ve listened to in the past during foolish, misguided obsessions—and catch myself, and repress that urge to listen, knowing it will only reinforce unhealthy ideas, and ruin relationships.
It’s a road, at least. Some people navigate with the stars. Some people navigate with maps. Some people have supposedly navigated using music (think “Follow the Drinking Gourd” or songlines) so maybe it’s viable for me. On the other hand, it does change what music means for me. Every piece enters my mind now on two levels: what I experience in the moment and what my listening signifies as information. Music remains an aesthetic experience, and now it’s also an encounter with objectivity.