The holidays are over. We are back to everyday life. I don’t know if the transition back to daily living is a relief or a challenge for you. For some people, the Christmas season can be a very stressful time. Traffic, finances, social obligations, etc., can push people’s buttons and trigger great levels of stress. For others, the season is a time to enjoy and have quality time with loved ones. Through the years, I have noticed that I have actually been swinging from one to the other.
While we have started on a new year, much of the past will still be with us. Problems do not go away magically just because an old year ends and a new one begins.
Changes, the positive ones, take longer to happen. Deterioration, inertia and negativity can sometimes feel like they last longer. That’s because, without human intervention, the nature of things is to break down, get corrupted and destroyed. Entropy is a law of thermodynamics and rules over everything. And our lives are about trying to stop chaos, uncertainty and destruction that happens in the world. But preventing things from going to pot and rot also causes pressure and stress in daily life.
Through meditation, I have learned to remain mostly calm and collected even in the middle of a situation when many people are likely to be showing signs of physical and psychological cracks. Sure, like everyone, I lose it at times. But I have trained myself through the years to depersonalize situations or look at events objectively and without too many emotional attachments. The world does not revolve around me. Things and events simply happen. They come and go. When I am under stress, I just tell myself that problems are simply clouds passing by. They, too, shall pass.
And yes, they do.
Aside from mediation, I have been relying lately on the power of music to help me cope. I have discovered some songs and instrumental pieces that I know to be effective in helping me relax and calm down. There are pages on the internet that claim some of these songs have even been tested scientifically on people and gauged at how effectively they relieve all kinds of pain, daily stress, headaches, depression, and even for post-operative recovery, etc.
I did a lot of research on the net and personally listened to a lot of the recommended material. Many of the songs recommended were still not calm enough for me. The beats and melodies were still too actively engaging for my taste. In my quest for de-stressing music, there were some albums I’ve discovered by myself over the years. I find that the songs I like were not too well known by me or other people. That, to me, is a good thing. It forces me to surrender to them.
Here are my recommendations.
1) “Music to Calm Down Anxiety” by Relaxing Records. From the very beginning, the music will calm you with its extended long notes played on strings. The label has other albums that can put you in a meditative state. The songs can help ease anxiety or just simply pull the plug off from your busy mind. You will leave your concerns far behind.
2) Please Don’t Go by Barcelona. I have not heard other songs from this group except this one. This song is chill and can calm you down. The sound is more contemporary, too.
3) “Watermark” by Enya. Enya’s sound is very conducive to relaxation. Mostly slow, no loud beats. Very chill. Most of her albums are like that. After a while, you tend to be unaware it is playing and just feel so light and stress-free.
4) Any album by Ravi Shankar. Sitar music is very mysterious and haunting. It still sounds almost alien to the Western listener. I find it relaxing because unlike Western music, it takes a long time before the music gets to its central or main theme or melody. There is a lot of meandering. And the music sounds atonal since it is not written or played using a Western musical scale that we are used to. We are used to songs that try to catch our attention and engage us within seconds. Ravi Shankar’s music does not build up, at least not in the Western sense. They are long pieces that last up to 30 minutes or more. A busy, analytical mind will simply surrender to it since it is hard to analyze its structure. There is a drone-like effect that lulls you to sleep.
5) Happiness Runs by Donovan. A short song. Delightful, but calm. The working ingredient is its repetitiousness.
6) Energy by Ryuichi Sakamoto. I would recommend not just the song but the whole album called “This is Ryuichi Sakamoto.” The music is unfamiliar and the flowing piano solos are very soothing. They do not intrude. Play it at low volume in a dark room. Get lost in it.
7) “Urubu” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Strangely, I find this album engaging but relaxing at the same time, probably because it takes me to another world. All the lyrics are in Portuguese and so I am not distracted by any narrative or story the lyrics may suggest. The orchestration is by Claus Ogerman. His arrangements are wonderful, magical, sometimes with understated brilliance, and at other times breathtakingly playful. The total effect is it engages you out of your mundane concerns and refreshes you.
8) Cinema Paradiso soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. The music is beautiful and sentimental. It is soft and grows on you immediately in a very cozy and caressing way. Totally disarming in its beauty. It can change your mood from tense to totally relaxed in just a few seconds.
9) “Weightless” by Marconi Union. This album is undisputedly the most relaxing, de-stressing album you can listen to. The first time I heard it, I drifted to sleep quite quickly and woke up two and a half hours later feeling so peaceful, calm and refreshed. I listened to the two-hour version of “Weightless” on Spotify. Upon further research, I discovered there is a 10-hour version! No, I have not listened to the long one. But I will soon.
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You can put all these songs on a playlist and have them ready when you want to seriously relax or just get away from all the problems of the world.
I like to lie down on my bed wearing loose clothes (or none), and feel all my muscles give way to gravity. I try to abandon all physical, mental, psychological resistance and control, and just totally surrender to the music. This means not even having an opinion on what I am listening to. I avoid trying to classify, understand, analyze or dissect the music. I open and allow the music to change and alter my mood and feelings. I end up completely flowing with it.
I would not suggest you listen to your playlist in traffic. While it will de-stress you, it might also make you sleep. If you have a driver, try it, but make sure he does not fall asleep either.
Shut off the deadlines, obligations, responsibilities once in a while. Recharge. This is a good practice to adopt for the new decade to survive it intact.