I’m not listening

In college I became known for my taste in music. Throughout high-school I’d listened to the local college radio station, and was introduced to a wide variety of artists outside of the mainstream. Then when I went away to Andrews University and gained access to high-speed Internet, I soon found sites where I could sift through a wider variety of music than would never make it onto even the latest hour of radio play. Rarely was there a moment spent in my room that I wasn’t listening to something, and usually something new.

There was no shortage of discussions with friends over the latest bands. They wanted to know who I had started listening to, how I felt about this group, what I thought of their bands latest song, and if I knew of anyone that would be touring. Eventually others respect for my taste led to me writing music reviews for our student paper.

So the question now is, why are my CDs gone, my mp3s wiped off my hard drive, and my speakers silent?

For many friends finding out that I had turned my back on the music I had once loved seemed too much to take. They seemed frustrated and confused. For some, perhaps only because they had lost someone to talk to on the subject. Others seemed to think it too extreme, acting as if I had given up eating or breathing. In part, this is for them.

My first move away from music actually started in college. I’d long loved what most would probably call depressing music. For some reason the songs with the most troubled lyrics also seemed to have the most moving melodies, and the most skilled artistry. Yet I realized that the appreciation of such beauty was not worth the artist pulling me along into their depression.

I did not seriously consider abandoning the rest of my music until long after this. I had seen the problems long before but had never been willing to admit to them. But after leaving Andrews, and beginning to understand more of what my faith calls me to I could see a problem with listening to music that often championed lifestyles and philosophies that I did not myself live, nor would ever endorse. Claiming to believe one way, how could I continue to be such a hypocrite in what I listened to and recommended to others? Eventually this prompted me to put my music to the test. To take a month long fast, and see what I would discover.

It quickly became clear the true effect of this music. Long before this the thought had often occurred to me that I shouldn’t listen to music that presented such objectionable ideas. But I had always pushed away the concern asserting that I only listened to the sounds, not what was said. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In absolute silence the songs would play. When I couldn’t sleep, songs of insomnia would repeat. Every song seemed to fit the moment, and it became clear I had understood every word. I might have assured myself that the songs would soon fade from my memory, but many songs in my mind I had not listened to in years. Everything I had allowed into my mind it seemed had found permanent residence there.

As I lived for a month without music I could also see it was doing more than inserting thoughts into my memory. Many talk about how music lifts the spirits, but I realized what I was listening to only plunged me into depression. And not only the depressing songs I had previously abandoned, but also the upbeat ones. The songs would excite me, get me ready to go, but when they stopped they left no substance to stand upon. They dropped me just as quickly as they had picked me up, and I had become dependent upon them. I needed a fix before my brain would start turning and my hands would start moving. But once they got me going, the constant background became like that dripping faucet of Pirsig’s friends which drove them to irritation. This music had made me depressed, agitated, and addicted.

After the fast I began to listen to a few choice songs, but soon gave it all up for good. How could I continue to carelessly fill my head with things I knew would stay with me so long . Even now many songs still linger, popping into my head without warning. But I’m glad that I made the choice to stop for a moment. I’m glad my faith gave me enough pause to forgo the excuses and take one drastic step to see things for what they really are.


4 Responses to “I’m not listening”

  1. 1 Ann
    December 13, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Hey Rob,
    I’d seen a few of your posts on FB but I finally made the connection that you have a new blog. I’ll try and give you my thoughts from time to time.
    I am not that much of a music listener.(I prefer the dulcet tones of Carl Kasell and Ira Glass) but I can relate to music generating strong emotions. Every time I hear that song, Mad World, I feel a certain solemn, sad mood. However, I can go for days without listening to music so I have never struggled with the idea of having to give it up. I have my own little set of things I struggle to give up. However, I find when I get rid of something, something new always rises to take it’s place. I have been asking myself what need these little addictions are filling. What is the root of the problem? For me it’s a little different than for you with music. My addictions tend to quiet those unwanted and unwelcome thoughts for a time and that is why I hold to those addictions. I tend not to engage in any activities that could cause me unwanted, unhappy thoughts. (i.e. watching scary movies, debating with Republicans) It is strange for me to hear you talk about how much music causes unwanted thoughts and emotions for you. For me life it’s self gives me reason enough to generate worry, anxiety and sleepless nights. If I had to worry about music doing the same I don’t know what I would do.
    I think it’s good you were able to recognize music as a trigger of stress and depression in your life. However the problem still remains for us both. What do we do with unwanted thoughts, emotions and feelings. You’ve probably figured out by now that depression and perfectionism run in the family. While you have eliminated a trigger for your depression and I have learned ways to mask my depression, we still wrestle with the root cause and how can to deal with it. I don’t have any easy answers to give. For me it has been a long slow process of learning to love myself, forgive myself and protect myself from my merciless perfectionist. I want to hear what you discover along the way.

    • 2 rcmosher
      January 5, 2010 at 10:48 pm

      For me the music also could quiet those thoughts. The problem is music also aggravated them. Addiction is the right word. Music provided a false high, but just like a chemical addiction it made it harder to get to a naturally normal state. But without it, completely, unwanted thoughts come less often, and are much easier to combat. Life now brings less worry, anxiety and sleepless nights though its circumstances are not much different. I don’t want any other addictions to take music’s place, I could only imagine them bringing the same problems with it.

      I certainly have recognized the issues that run in our family, though in the past few years they have been less and less of a problem for me. They may still rear their ugly head, but I now feel better equipped to handle them, and am not overwhelmed by negative thoughts unless I actively choose to dwell in them. I can’t attribute this all to eliminating music. Rather it is Christ, and my decision to trust in him to help me through this. One of the greatest helps to me has been realizing that the commands in the Bible are also promises. “Cease from anger and forsake wrath” is not just instructive, and I have felt anger quickly dissipate as I trusted in him to fulfill this in me. The Bible has also helped me to realize other triggers. “Whatsoever things are true…honest…just…pure…lovely…of good report…think on these things.” This helped me to realize many of my depressing thoughts were not rooted in circumstances, but in other, seemingly harmless, critical thoughts. Whether it be a mistake of my own or another, a problem in the world, a messy house, etc, I was training my mind to think negatively. The more I trust in Christ to work his righteousness in me, the more I can recognize those negative things in me (pride, selfishness, hatred) that lead to depression and separate myself from them rather than become depressed when I notice them.

      I just listened to a presentation on saving people from suicide that covered many of the things that have helped me.


  2. 3 martopoulos
    December 29, 2009 at 3:16 am

    I can completely relate to this post, but for me my fast was with computer games. You really need that time to step back and gain perspective on a situation before you can say, “This probably isn’t the best of things to be investing in.”

    As a side, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be writing articles for p.r.e.s.s.

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