“Why do you always have to be so emotional?”

“How can you be so unfeeling?”

And so it goes…the classic debate between the reasoning mind and the feeling heart. Our DNA gives us both the ability to feel and to reason but where’s the instruction book on how to work with them in our daily lives?

Musically, if a performance is too cerebral it will not satisfy those looking for an escape into the finer feelings of the music. If a performance is too emotional it can push us to our limits of tolerance, like feeding gorgonzola cheese to a boy: “It tastes TOO much!”

We all have emotions (even young vulcans!), but should we just let them have their way with us? Do we just give in, or is there another option?

The heart must be open for any fulfilling musical endeavor, playing, singing, listening or performing. How we work with the flow of feeling and emotion will dictate how charged or drained we are afterwards. Strong emotions are exhausting, but some people love the roller coaster ride anyway. Calm feeling, on the other hand, can invite the muse of inspiration and leave us supremely blissed out. Our choice is simply where we want to go.

Have you heard of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras? The entire discourse begins with “Yogas chitta vritti nirodh”, which can be translated into “Yoga is the neutralization of the waves of feeling.” One might get the idea from this that there would be nothing to look forward to.

Ever.

A good friend once asked me about my spiritual practices. “Yeah,” he said, “I tried yoga once. Too boring!”

But the exact opposite is true. When the heart is open and calm we can exquisitely enjoy beyond the senses and especially savor the musical experience. Coming from a place of silence, the subtleties of artistic expression can be truly appreciated. Calm feeling is it.

So when we finally get tired of the emotional roller coaster, how can we get off? We’ve trained ourselves to react emotionally and to live in old emotions and patterns. Yet think about this: Emotions are states of consciousness, but they come and they go. To a certain degree we do have control over where we want to focus, and so often we choose to linger in the old negative emotions because they are familiar. We know how they feel, we’re used to them, like a well worn heavy coat—comfortable, protective, but confining. Letting go of old habits of negative thought, feeling and reaction can be terrifying especially if you, like myself, have had a closed heart for much of your life.

The answer lies in creating new habits. Habits can be built specifically with music, for music has the power to transform your consciousness just by listening.

So your challenge this week: when you are in an emotional state that you want to leave behind, put on a joyous or peaceful holiday tune and tap the inspiration that lies within. The vibes that have been built into so many classics are in the air this month. But instead of trying to go higher and higher on the roller coaster, try to take it more inward. See if the music can bring you out of your funk and into a place of being okay, being balanced, feeling GOOD. If it doesn’t stick right away, don’t worry—it will eventually. As you do this, you are building new habits which will continue even without the music.

So get quiet.

Listen both outside and in.

Your own happiness is stirring.

Emotions vs. Feelings: a musician’s perspective

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