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Posts Tagged ‘growth’

I was walking home from work the other day thinking about the ways that I am enjoying being surrounded by music and how it has been a major factor in the recent mood shift, increased hope and joy in my life, and possibly even affected my energy levels and fitness, and decided to write a post about it. Then my new (shiny!) MP3 player randomly played some Cat Empire and I realised that I could do this subject no better justice than to repeat the lyrics to one-Four-Five:

“Cos these three chords make people
Feeling better all the time ah
They keep repeating
Like a scratch on a cd
But it’s quality cos these three harmonies
Breed positivity
Protecting against insanity
Of modern insecurities
Believe me when I tell you
All you need is to be hearing all that

One four five
To make you high to make you high”

The whole song suited exactly what I was trying to say, with a bouncy catchy beat, and a horn section. What better way to exemplify it?

But there is more to be said than simply “music makes us all feel better”. Let me take you on a journey…

If you’ve listened to my radio show then you may have heard some of this before, if so I apologise, and you should stop reading and continue listening to the show! (aside: the fact that there is a Cat Empire song to describe my mood fits the “there’s a Cat Empire song for every show, no matter the theme” rule).

I have an odd music background. My mother was an infants school teacher, who had a love for singing and musicals, especially Andrew Lloyd Webber. So I grew up surrounded by music that you can sing to. Nursery rhymes, Rolf Harris, lots of Play School in the early years and then Andrew Lloyd Webber, the Beatles and Elton John in my later childhood. Not very hip music, I know. The only saving grace was my father’s love for obscure early Moody Blues. Then in early High School came the Top 40 obsession as a way of not being quite so much of a social outcast. This meant I missed the early grunge music, BUT I did develop an appreciation for old skool hip hop, which is not so bad.

Then Thailand. Thai pop music is an interesting music genre, which really doesn’t change. I find it amusing that I can go into a Thai restaurant, have never heard the song and can still sing along to it. A theory I tested on my Cathay Pacific flight recently where the Thai Pop music channel was the only one worth listening to.

My real education in music started in 1996, with the people I spent most of my time with post-exchange. I was introduced to Beck, Weezer, Ween, Custard, the Whitlams, Esquivel, Radiohead, REM, and triplej in general. Happy music time, also happy life time, as if the two were interconnected.

Then around 2000 this stopped. My absorbtion of, and time spent listening to, music reduced to what I heard while while driving. And as triplej seemed to be playing more hip hop than I was willing to listen to at this time I switched to other generic stations, including AM (poor little Datsun, it didn’t have an FM radio). I was also too poor to buy CDs, so that avenue closed. Oddly this is the point that I started the downhill slide into a mild depression and the point at which I started to lose a sense of myself.

This continued until 2005, when I was introduced to a game that incidentally had a streaming radio station attached, which I started to listen to for the 7 hours a day that I was at work. All of a sudden I was discovering new music again: ska, irish punk, nerdcore, acapella, electronica, obscure tracks from well-known bands. Essentially non-mainstream music. I remember feeling a sense of happiness and excitement while listening to this music, but also, at a deeper level a sense of it being a bit of a life-line from a couple of stressful, depressing situations. The happy bouncy music was talking to a part of my personality that hadn’t seen the light of day for many years.

It then propelled me to start listening to a broader range of music again. triplej became my regular radio station, along with FBi. I started going to live music gigs. Then I was hired as a DJ and I happily spend a couple of hours each week sharing the music I’ve found with a wider audience, but also planning out what I am going to play them in my downtimes and paying attention to the music around me and working out what I’d want to play for others and what I wouldn’t.

Music was the salve for my soul late last year and early this year. Angry music with a bouncy beat sung very loudly while doing the washing up in my house by myself was perfectly cathartic and a great emotional release. Reel Big Fish‘s “Everything sucks” and Lily Allen‘s “Everything’s Just Wonderful” were the two most played songs during that time, and I think they contributed to the calm exterior that most of the world saw the rest of the time. Over time I stopped needing that sort of music and moved on to other happier stuff like Darren Hanlon, Old Man River and Regina Spektor. Although RBF still has a special place for housework related activities.

I bought an MP3 player while I was in London, which then got loaded with a bunch of music at a friend’s house. Many, many people have commented on how much happier and settled I appear to be since the holiday, and while a break from life, and the time spent with good, fun friends while overseas did help I think that this “soundtrack” to the holiday was also a factor. It gave a sense of imporatance to the time there, so that I paid more attention to the magic of walking beside wheatfields in Derbyshire, or of walking around Camden Town like a local, but not, or of travelling over the Firth of Forth. There was a bouncy purpose to my step and a smile on my face.

This has continued since, albeit reduced a bit, and I think that being surrounded by music again has a strong part to play. It’s hard to be sad when you are bouncing down the stairs of Parramatta station to the Fratellis, or dancing to the Cat Empire on Croydon station, or tapping your feet in time to Regina Spektor, or being uplifted by the Levellers, or giggling at Tom Lehrer. It all reminds me of how lucky I am and how much there is to appreciate in the small moments of life, as well as the opportunities that exist in the large parts of life. Hooray for the Cat Empire and their lyrics that explain this state, “cos these three harmonies breed positivity”.

So true, so very true, and let’s keep it that way.

Now, if only I could get this Morrissey song out of my head…

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I’m having an attack of the zeitgeist. It’s essay season so I am reading many things. The stuff that I need to do my essays, and the stuff that I read to avoid doing my essays. There is a theme emerging which gently smacked me in the head at lunch today.

Some of the items that feed into this theme:

What is the insight that all of these items are giving me? What is the theme? There are a couple of aspects.

There’s the importance of social sustainability as an important part of creating a better lifestyle/livelihood for everyone (post on this later). The realisation that my fundamental beliefs had not been subsumed in recent years and that they are starting to re-emerge. The fact that all of my reactions in the 6 months prior to easter and for the bit just after can actually be explained as part of my theravadan buddhist approach to life (see explanation below). Unabated consumption is the root cause of many of our problems, and simple lack of awareness and thought is perpetuating this problem. Economic growth is a paradigm that needs to be tempered, if not discarded, in the face of a finite planet and with the realisation that society is not getting exponentially happier as we get exponential growth. Finally that these themes are all linked

The actual paragraph that gently smacked me over the head is from E.F. Schumacher’s “Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered”. I have not yet read this book, the quote was from “Pathways to a Green World”.

“[a traditional economist] is used to measuring the “standard of living” by the amount of annual consumption, assuming all the time that a man who consumes more is “better off” than a man who consumes less. A buddhist economist would consider this approach excessively irrational: since consumption is merely a means to human well-being, the aim should be to obtain the maximum of well-being with the minimum of consumption… the less toil there is, the more time and strength is left for artistic creativity. Modern economics, on the other hand, considers consumption to be the sole end and purpose of economic activity” (my emphasis)

The buddhist thing? It’s not been a driving force in recent years, and I thought I’d forgotten it, but it’s now becoming important again. A few years ago if you’d asked me what my religion was the answer would have been theravadan buddhism (the monks in the orange robes, not the red and yellow tibetan ones, or the grey chinese ones). This was the direct result of my experiences in Thailand, where I got to be part of a culture that had used buddhism as the basis of its value system for over a thousand years. I really felt at home there, and the ethos really fit with my sense of justice and the world.

Further reading back at home continued this thought, as well as discussions with Thai expats and attending the wat (temple) in Annandale. I liked that the Buddha is not a god, and that while there is acknowledgement that the gods may or may not exist, in reality they are unlikely to affect your life[1] so get on with living it and being happy/fulfilled. I like that he told his followers to take his teachings and apply them, and any other teaching that they came across, and if that teaching does not give them insight into the reduction of suffering[2] then discard it. I like the concept of non-attachment, i.e not being attached to ideas, objects and emotions that are bad for your well-being. I like the idea of simple happiness. These things I find to be truth and good.

Anyway, there was a point to this post, not just to eulogise about buddhism. The book by Ajarn Brahm was one I wasn’t planning to purchase or read, but was exactly the right book. The first third of the book was full of stories and parables about guilt, anger, relationships and grief. Each time I read one it resonated with my thoughts and actions, something to the effect of “ah, so that’s why I have reacted that way, I was practicing non-attachment” It was fantastic to realise that I’d not stopped being buddhist, just that I’d not given it a label for many years.

“Your money or your life” is the first book I’ve come across that tells you that money is just an idea, a concept. Saving madly and trimming budgets so you can get more stuff is not the solution, rather the solution is to establish what is “enough”. What is it that you need that will create “enough” for you in your life. This is wealth, happiness and abundance, peacefulness and prosperity. Not some bizarre fetishisation of owning as many new shiny big gadgets and items as you possibly can. Happiness is not the next pay rise or the new car, it’s time spent with friends, time spent making things, time spent reading or relaxing.

The other items all talk about aspects of sustainability, some more urgently than others. How we need to be more conscious in our lives and the impacts that we have on the planet. How we need to change things, and some practical ways of doing so.

The ultimate realisation/zeitgeist thingie? It’s all connected, and that paragraph from Schumacher made me realise that. My buddhism, and personal goals to have less impact are tied in with the broader structures of changing the way we live and creating a more sustainable society. Sometimes it’s nice to be gently smacked over the head and know you are on the right track.

Might be time to visit my wat again. le tum boon duay la

[1] I don’t believe in an interventionist god… yay, Nick Cave
[2] It will take forever to explain all the facets of suffering but it’s not just physical, also emotional and mental and existential

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