The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology

The Tao of Music: Sound Psychology

by John M. Ortiz

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Just about everyone likes to listen to music to put them "in the mood," and these techniques get you "out" of a mood! The "Tao" part is about accepting what you're feeling, and dealing with it, by using Dr. Ortiz's methods. Includes musical menus that you can use to create your own program for dealing with issues, koans for meditation, and various other fun exercises… See more details below


Just about everyone likes to listen to music to put them "in the mood," and these techniques get you "out" of a mood! The "Tao" part is about accepting what you're feeling, and dealing with it, by using Dr. Ortiz's methods. Includes musical menus that you can use to create your own program for dealing with issues, koans for meditation, and various other fun exercises to make music a part of your holistic health program. Appendix, bibliography, index.

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Sound Psychology

By John M. Ortiz

Red Wheel / Weiser, LLC

Copyright © 1997 John M. Ortiz
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60925-106-2


When emptiness is all there is, silence becomes deafening.

Depressed Moods

If we are unable to resonate or merge with a part of ourselves, or our environment, we become dissonant or dis-eased.

To many of us, some of the following comments may sound familiar: "Don't worry, I'm sure things are going to work out!" "Just think positive!" "Why don't you just snap out of it!?" "What's wrong with you!?" "You know, you better get it together!" Over the past year, these were some of the "pearls of wisdom" which Donna received from well-meaning, caring friends and family members who were concerned about her pervasive, depressive mood.

A 57-year-old, happily married mother of two daughters, Donna presented a number of depressive symptoms that had persisted for "well over a year." Resistant to pharmacological intervention, Donna was almost more involved in wanting to know "why" she was so depressed than in getting over her depressed state. Although the cause of her depressed mood became apparent quite early during our sessions, Donna's resistant and defensive personality made it clear that she was going to have to "stumble" upon the "why" of this situation herself.

On the surface, Donna's life appeared gratifying and fulfilling. Running her own business for over thirty years, she reported an almost idyllic relationship with her husband, and the joys of having raised two talented, and beautiful daughters, now 20 and 24. Her husband was involved in his own thriving business, and both daughters were now in college, living away from home. She described her life as "full and busy," and her career as "fun and rewarding." Nonetheless, the once "fun-loving, life of the party" Donna just seemed completely missing from this new incarnation. This Donna was uncharacteristically tired, starting to overeat, neglecting her traditional exercise regimen, feeling "worthless," and losing sleep.

In an attempt to have Donna get in touch with her depressive mood, we discussed the idea of her making an entrainment tape. At first, Donna was very resistant. "It'll take too long ..." was her initial reply, followed by, "This sounds silly," and "Why would that work?" Since other attempts at lifting her depression had proven unhelpful, she decided to give the entrainment tape a try, in spite of her reservations.

Instructions on creating an entrainment tape are basically the same as the ones described later in the Entrainment section (see Techniques, Appendix B). Back home, Donna looked over her music collection and, as suggested, chose several songs which seemed to "match her depressed mood" (always tired, sad, and pretty miserable). Having recorded the melancholy, slower tunes onto a cassette tape, she then added several increasingly more "mid-tempo" tunes which generally "moved in the direction she wanted to feel" (happier, more energized). She completed the tape with a number of tunes which closely reflected the "feel" she wanted to recapture. These songs were positive, up-beat, energizing, and full of vigor. Interestingly, Donna chose a very eclectic mix of tunes to fill her tape, including '40s big-band,' 50s and '60s rock-and-roll, jazz, and a' 90s country tune. As always, it was interesting to hear how these songs— always resonating somewhere in the back of her mind—were tunes that played significant roles in Donna's "life's soundtrack" over the years.

During later sessions, Donna revealed that just taking the time to select these songs had somehow helped to affect her mood. The personal meaning these tunes held for her resonated deep within her unconscious. Further, the time she took—to decide on the order, and to record the songs—provided a wonderful opportunity to do something different for herself and to reminisce over "old, friendly voices" still echoing in her life. Having completed her personalized entrainment tape, Donna found her-self playing it at different times, and in different settings—in her car, while relaxing in the tub, even in her office while doing paperwork.

The songs chosen played a significant part in helping Donna get in touch with the core of her depressive mood. The self-designed entrainment sequence made her feel as if she had taken control of her own situation and devised her own "cure." After a few weeks, Donna looked forward to the bittersweet feelings and memories the introductory songs evoked, and smiled with a sense of geniality in anticipation as the more lively "in between" songs came on. The progression, she felt, served to remind her that things change—life wanes and waxes—and that taking responsibility and initiating movement in one's own situation can "feel pretty good." The concluding bouncy, energetic songs progressed from providing a sense of much needed energy to becoming "theme songs" to her newfound animated self. In a sense, the tape became a sort of compact "auditory metaphor" for her own life.

After a short time, Donna looked back and realized that her previously obsessive need to know the "why" that may have been behind her depression had somehow resolved itself.

[W]e cannot change the cycles around us until we change those within us ...

The Tao of music lies at that space between harmony and dissonance.

Clinically, depression is a mood disorder. For the purposes of this book, however, the following suggested exercises are designed to assist with lifting a depressed mood, rather than a clinical depression. This type of depressive mood state, or sadness, is a feeling that oppresses the mind, weighs down the body, and darkens the spirit. Like all other emotions, depressive moods have a sound all their own—"the blues." In music, these feelings are typically portrayed by the sound of a minor key on the low end of the register. We feel dejected, discouraged, unhappy. Whatever the "lyrics" to our sadness, the sound is "gloomy ... dejected ... melancholy ... discouraged ... distressed ... desolate ..." we sound like we are "... down."

Many people are afraid of Emptiness, however, because it reminds them of Loneliness. Everything has to be filled in, it seems—appointment books, hillsides, vacant lots—but when all the spaces are filled, the Loneliness really begins.

Contrary to some people's denial, anyone can become depressed. A depressive mood is not a sign of weakness, of "copping out." Depressed moods can be brought about by many things, including a major loss (loss of a loved one, fire or theft in one's home), personal crisis (accident, illness) or a significant life change whether "positive" (marriage, new birth) or "negative" (divorce, child going off to college). In effect, these moods are normal reactions to any number of life events and are experienced by all of us at one time or another, regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, diet, geographic locale, or chosen profession.

Chinese art teaches the importance of empty space, openness, the wisdom of Tao.

Feeling empty, we may stray into compulsive eating. Weighed down, we may experience a loss of appetite. Debasing our normal state, a depressive mood can rob us of pleasure, energy, and satisfaction with life in general. Disheartened, we may struggle with insomnia, early-awakenings, or hypersomnia.

[M]usic can provide a temporary retreat from the pains of existence.

Although not necessarily disabling, depressive moods are typically associated with a sense of fatigue. They can affect our bodies—making it difficult to work, and taking the fun out of play. They can be chronic in nature, and keep us from functioning effectively for sustained periods of time, disrupting daily functioning and emotionally disabling us for weeks, months, or even years.

[T]here is no doubt that music can alleviate loneliness.

At one time or another, we all experience low moods which disturb our daily thinking processes, interfere with concentration, or make it difficult to deal with daily decisions. Fostering pessimism, these "blue" moods may leave us despondent, questioning our sense of identity. Depressive mood states may also impair self-esteem, leading to irrational feelings of guilt or self-blame.

Although any, or several, of the feelings mentioned above may accompany a depressed mood, the most prevalent effects usually involve low energy and lack of motivation. Somehow, it may seem more difficult to get up in the morning, or get to sleep at night. Preparing dinner may feel like a major task. Running out to the grocery store or cleaning the house may seem as demanding as climbing a mountain. Sitting in moderate traffic may be perceived as overwhelming. The joy of watching a favorite team win a major victory may be short-lived, or go unappreciated. When depressed, even if the energy is somehow mustered to accomplish a major personal or professional task, we may underestimate the significance of the event, causing us to miss out on the joy of achievement. On the other hand, hearing criticism for a minor, insignificant transgression may be misinterpreted as major rejection, leaving us feeling helpless, hopeless, or worthless. While in this state, "happy" songs tend to sound somehow irritating, while "sad" music tends to feel just about right, some-what like a long lost friend.

Patients with neurotic depression often associated music with Beauty/Harmony/ Tenderness, Energy/Life, and Relaxation.

Depressive moods are typically felt as constrictive, or often described as somewhat paralyzing. An effective way of lifting these moods involves using music to activate or mobilize our resources. Since feeling depressed can interfere with various modes of functioning (behaviors, thoughts, moods) the following exercise is designed to attack feelings of melancholia from a number of different modalities (behavior, feelings, sensations, images, thoughts, and social-interpersonal). In effect, the following exercise combines psychomusicology techniques and various standard psycho-logical models.

Music has the unique power to bring us to an awareness of our feelings in an unfettered way. Somehow it is acceptable to shed tears while listening to a Mahler symphony, the same tears we suppress when confronted with our own or another's pain.

Music informs us that we are creatures of feeling, that our feelings are valid, that there is nothing wrong about experiencing them.

In a sense, music can serve as a stimulus to assist us in our descent into the darkness to explore our fear. To look into its eyes, and hear its sound. Engaging us in activity music can assist us in ascending out of the darkness, brightening the path through our internal labyrinths.

* * *

Exercise 1: Lifting a Depressed Mood

{D}epression, which is so common in today's world, may have its roots in the person who is out-of-sync in deep and basic ways.

Take a few minutes to identify the areas (behaviors, feelings, thoughts, sensations, etc.) being affected by your depressive mood. Once identified, apply the "psycho-music" suggestions discussed below according to each modality.

Effecting Behavior. Use music to help you "do."

Some songs are like an old, dependable friend.

Choose several musical selections that you feel will energize you. Pick ones that will promote your desire to be active, or will help motivate you to engage in a pleasurable physical activity. While for some a pleasurable activity may involve something practical, such as clearing out the attic, cleaning the house, or working out in the yard, for others it may be something more fun or recreational, such as running, aerobics, lifting weights, or simply going out for a walk. For ideas on stimulating music, see the "Stimulating Musical Menu" at the end of this section.

Modifying Affect. Use music to help you express feelings.

If you can't sing—whistle; if you can't whistle—hum.

If you are having difficulty expressing feelings which may be underlying— or causing—your depression, select music that will function as a catalyst to assist you in releasing these feelings. For example, if your feelings of depression are tied to feelings of anger, animosity, or annoyance at someone, but you feel it would be unwise, inappropriate or "politically incorrect" to demonstrate these feelings directly (to your boss) you may want to select some very upbeat, loud, fast, and "frenzied, turbulent, or energetic" sounding music from your favorite genre, such as rock (classic rock, heavy metal, punk, hard rock, alternative), classical (a vigorous piece with explosive crescendos), new age (up-tempo, highly rhythmic), or big band (highly charged, energized). Specific musical (album) examples may include: for rock, "Shake Your Money Maker" (The Black Crowes) or "Ragged Glory" (Neil Young); classical, "Symphony # 5 in C minor" (First movement, Beethoven), or "The Messiah: Hallelujah Chorus" (Handel); new age, "Dance the Devil Away" (Outback), or "Borrasca" (Ottmar Liebert and Luna Negra); or big band, "In the Mood" (Glen Miller) or "Well, Git it" (Sy Oliver). For other suggestions see the Letting Go Musical Menu (page 259) or the Music for Dealing with Anger (page 73).

Play this music at a loud, but not uncomfortable, volume. As it plays, either "sing" or emote along with it (act it out!). Allow yourself to dance, exercise, or simply "respond" to the beat. If you choose, allow the music to "give you permission" to release your feelings and express them by—while in the privacy and comfort of your safe haven—(virtually) "hollering at your boss (neighbor, partner, child)," effectively airing any pent-up feelings you may have of wrath or indignation. Allow yourself to let go as you "become one," revitalized through the energy generated by the rage and fury contained within the music.

Transforming Sensations. Use music to positively alter your perceptions and sensibilities.

Music can certainly alter a person's mood, as many sufferers from recurrent depression have realized.

In this modality a person experiencing a sense of sadness may benefit from exposure to a number of cheerful, joyous, or highly animated pieces of music. Again, by use of an entrainment procedure, gently modify your mood so that you may feel yourself moving upward from the depths of your depression (Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," or Harry Nilsson's / Mariah Carey's version of "Without You") toward a happy, uplifting, and empowering musical mode (Beethoven's "Für Elise," Ray Steven's "Everything is Beautiful," R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People"). For an example, please refer to the Sample Anti-Depressed Mood Entrainment Sequence, under Musical Menu 1 on page 16.

Creating Healing Imagery. Use music to help give birth to rejuvenative visualization.

Listening to music by oneself restores, refreshes, and heals.

Here, you may choose to find a quiet, comfortable place where you can lie down and close your eyes without being disturbed. With soothing, but moderately upbeat, brisk, lively music in the background, visualize your-self at two progressive stages. First, following the music's cadence, imagine yourself slowly emerging from your depression. Feel yourself synchronizing with the music's dynamic rhythms, or stirring tempo. See yourself actively becoming more fresh and alert. Second, visualize yourself sometime in the future, being very alive and enlivened, smiling and spirited, bustling with energy and purpose.

Altering Cognitions. Use music to help convert depressive thoughts.

Depression resulting from our mental processes may very well be linked to negative, pessimistic, or irrational beliefs and self-statements. By turning to a musical background similar to the one described above (Creating Healing Imagery), use the music to mentally challenge, dispute, and reject any such mental messages, replacing them with more positive, rational, and optimistic alternatives.

Ask yourself, "How valid are these negative beliefs?" Are you dredging up past issues which do not rationally apply to the heAr and now? Do these thoughts relate to pessimistic future probabilities which may, indeed, never come to pass? Are these thoughts self-destructive, or self-defeating? Are you overwhelming yourself with unrealistic and demanding "shoulds, oughts, and musts," particularly in areas of life where you have little or no control ("I should be taller," "I ought to be a better athlete," "I must win that award")? Is your mind consumed by useless, distressful and discouraging thoughts, images, and ideas?

Excerpted from THE TAO OF MUSIC by John M. Ortiz. Copyright © 1997 John M. Ortiz. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel / Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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