Stop. Break the pattern of where you are.
Step sideways, sideways out of one state and into another. Another that is calmer, more coherent, more remote from the first. One that warms, allows tensions to ease and subside. One that draws you out of malaise or tension. One that brings a smile.
Find a rhythm as though you're learning to walk - one step then another. The coherence of mind, heart and body helped forwards, mobilised, aligned and ready for whatever comes next.
It's not always easy to find the music for the moment, not once you've acquired more than a few dozen albums. And I'm not so into streaming that I have playlists set up, but maybe now I will.
What I find hardest is to find the music to break patterns. Anything that jars gets skipped, and it's easy, easy for me to spiral into a long search rather than to break and change.
One of my favourite songs is Nature Boy, written back in the 1940s, and it's one of the few pieces of music I find it hard, if not impossible to stop listening to in the middle. There are some great versions, like Kurt Elling's, yet the one that I use to break patterns is performed by the a cappella group The Real Group. I love their shifts in harmony, and the roundness of tones they bring to the music. It captures my attention straight away.
This relatively soft break works because I start humming or singing along!
Another that works to break a current pattern is La Chanson de Maxence from a musical, Les Desmoiselles De Rochefort . The music is by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Jacques Demy. This works because, again, I love the song, and I have only heard it while watching the film or listening to it to break state. I also am learning how to play a version of it. Rather than a steady dynamic it really has a strong story arc of a young man looking for the love of his life he's seen just once, or something like that. It's in French and I've never looked at a translation in any depth. The arc of the song, the emotional high and and the quieter, yet hopeful end take you through a range of emotions. Intriguingly there are therapeutic techniques that do exactly this. The one that springs to mind, and it's been a while since I read about it, is Sentic Cycles - using sound and tapping to take you through a series of emotions and in doing so letting go of those emotions and the associated tensions.
Another song that helps break patterns is Oren Lavie's beautiful Don't Let Your Hair Grow Too Long. It's short and, although it flows, the vocals are quite disjunct, with emphasis at the beginnings of lines. I might use this to break me out of a malaise, to introduce something with energy yet not so energetic that it conflicts with my state ate that time. I also love the title and lyrics.
Don't let your hair grow your hair too long / Leave you yellow raincoat on / Don't get wet / But don't get warm ...
Each of these works and yet for radically different reasons - one because I love it so much, one because of the story arc of the song going through various emotions that my subconscious goes through too, and one because it is mellow yet disjunct and curious that it interrupts my thoughts without adding tension - like someone walking into an office wearing a bright yellow raincoat!
To step sideways and draw me into finding coherence and alignment I use a wide range of songs. Some perform the function of breaking patterns too, or finding a pace to get moving again. Here are some of my favourites.
First up is such a wonderful mellow song, Be Still My Heart. I prefer Silje Nergaard's version. It's really open and spacious and I feel as though layers of tension drop away especially with the little flugel horn interjections. As the song becomes more complex with layered vocals and the flugel horn kicks in feels like casting off old cares, and breaking into spring.
It is still relatively upbeat, carrying some energy with it. If I wish to take it down in energy I might go to Max Richter's Sunlight. The lack of vocals helps keep the energy a bit lower, and this introduces another aspect - the steady emphasised beat that helps me to find coherence and alignment. By coherence I mean bringing my energies into the same pace as each other. Often when tense energies are fighting each other. A stronger, rhythm that is also a bit slower can help anchor those energies as I also let go tensions. I have been known to put this on repeat and write short stories and essays, once even spending hours just listening to this and becoming absorbed in writing. And I'm playing it now as I write, and feel as though I could keep going for ever. It's grounding, and in that it is freeing. Alignment, at least for me, is about physical alignment - I sit taller, find length in my neck allowing better breathing and the release of excess tensions needed to hold an unaligned shape.
A song that has the same sense of strong rhythm is Olafur Arnauld's Particles from his album Island Songs. It's just four chords played in order, no real variations, and that gives it a subtle hypnotic feel. It's also relatively slow and benefits from the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir. One of the aspects of a number of these songs is the open soft vocals. Strangely, as I listen to it now, I hadn't noticed just how great the dynamic change is as she goes into the last iteration of 'Already down/ And I cry / Already down'. It's another song I've put on repeat for hours.
Next up is a possibly curious choice, at first both the lyrics and melody seem a bit downbeat I actually feel this song is about persistence in the face of challenges. Each time I listen to it I feel relaxed and buoyed up. It brings to mind the quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, 'This too shall pass'. It's Winning A Battle, Losing The War by Kings of Convenience. At the end the lyrics are so apt for changing pace and renewal:
The sun sets on the war/ The day breaks and everything is new...
By contrast, if I'm looking for something more chilled I would usually go for some jazz or bossa nova, and who better than Antonio Carlos Jobim?! I've got a number of his albums, and love lots of the songs. My current mellow choice to which to gently move and loose tensions through drifting into dance [in a chair or standing ... or lying] is Tereza My Love. It does have the lilting strong rhythm of bossa, and a lovely melody, again ithere are no vocals which can be useful as there is space to sing along with whatever lyrics come to mind, a bit of top-lining can allow me to release thoughts and ideas with ease.
With some songs it's really easy to tell if I have shifted into a better more Zen state and let go of the prior state because I feel comfortable changing song. For some reason with this song and some others I know as soon as I stop the track whether or not I need more chillout and release time.
Another such piece is the wonderful Alma by Paolo Fresu and Omar Sosa. Intriguingly, with this piece, I am not freed to focus on writing or an activity I always feel more drawn to stop doing everything! The recording I've linked is the live performance they did on NPR Tiny Desk. It finishes at about 4m20, when Fresu changes to a flugel horn and blends straight into another song. I like the NPR live version as it is more open and spacious and it's great that when trumpeter Fresu uses a ring on his finger to create some percussive sounds.
A song that is calming and takes me into that mellow zone is one I've only heard recently and it's been playing on repeat in my office on and off for a few days now - Moonchild's The Other Side. This marks the shift toward becoming more energised whilst still being chilled. What I love with this song is the relaxed singing of Amber Navran against a still strong beat. It picks up on those jazz leanings and the middle section with the piano solo is like walking out on dew-laden grass with the smell of spring and friends laughter in the air. The main lyrics talk of the grass being greener on the other side. This carries with it enough energy to start to build me up, to stir me toward coherent action.
The last of the songs that I use to chill, to step sideways, is another which leans toward the future. It is Priscilla Ahn's A Good Day. I cannot help but smile when I hear this, and that is what brings more energy to it that the other songs, that and the fact I tend to sing along to it, and really get into the belief about 'I can tell it's going to be a good day'. Singing this a few times conditions the mind and body to then create a good day, even a great one! There is one line that says 'you can sleep in', so I never listen to this of a morning while I'm still in bed - I'd fall back to sleep!
As you may notice you've moved into a bit more energy and this takes us to the last stage - Finding a rhythm to help you move forward.
These songs all still have qualities that help reinforce coherence and alignment. Yet each also carries more energy and I get a sense of sitting or standing taller and my eyes widening.
The first of these is Avishen Cohen's inspiring piece Calm. I've put it in this section because although it has mellow qualities it also has a persistent even insistent feel. The album version remains relatively mellow. Here I've linked to a live version which gradually ramps up in complexity and energy. Maybe too much for some days. Both versions are strong in the structure and foundation that the piano provides, and I especially love the syncopated rhythms like a gentle nudge or jolt to the system, not quite a defibrillator shock but enough to stir action.
Only three to go. The next is a song with a deep rhythmic bass line to provide the energy. It gets me moving, even just bobbing around on a chair, or ready to move, to stand and start taking action. It's Like It Or Not by Bob Moses. The rhythm, once you've chilled and let go of tension, is like having going for a walk, and checking everything is working. A friend has a gorgeous whippet/lurcher called Luna who does a brief and elegant warm-up when she wakes. This music is the sort I can imagine her moving to, elegantly, stretching, reaching, shaking her body out.
The next song, for me, is about getting connected again. Not just through the lyrics but also from the building energy of the piece. As with these finding rhythm pieces it has a strong rhythm. This, in total contrast to the Bob Moses, starts slow and grows, and grows, and grows. It's Oh Wonders' My Friends. The lyrics really get to that sense of positive connection:
And all my friends / I am heavy / Can I beat within your heart? / Can I bleed within your love? / Oh my friends ... All of the love / All of the love
Of all the videos posted here, I like this the most, just the intensity of their faces and the undistracted focus - again an aspect of becoming more aligned and ready to focus on that which you wish to to move forwards.
The last song now. Even though I thought carefully about the order, it surprised me that I had left this until last. I think it ended up last because it seems to me to bring a mellow quality in vocal tones, along with lyrics about being a new person, about having your mind put at ease. Yet it has a pace to it that might be closer to a jog. When the lyrics say 'I should get some rest / But I don't know how' I smile because by then I have relaxed and rested. I suppose that therapeutically it seems to remind me of where I've come from and that now I've put my mind at ease and can move forwards without having to look back again. I get a really strong sense of having moved forward in spite of challenges. So here it is, Joel Ansett's Ease.
In writing this I realise that it's now three am and I feel more energised than I did when I started. It's as though I've had a good night's sleep and could just carry on without having an actual sleep at all!
I know that's not scientific evidence. It's just one anecdote, maybe, just maybe you'll listen to all these on a playlist and can let me know how you feel. I could caveat that by saying just positive responses, and you know what, I believe and trust in you to be positive regardless of how it turns out.
All the best, keep well, and I wish you all the very best for a good great day!