My life is, and will continue to be, surreal. That’s why I’ve never been able to end it, no matter how much I might want to at times. I wish I could give that surreality to you.
I can fly here. I can dive. I can, “Roll in the deep,” as Adele might say, or I can ease into the shallows. One thing I can’t do is stop and settle, even if that’s always been my main goal. There’s something to be said for seeing things the way they are, but personally, it’s been imagination that’s given my life meaning. Imagination, storytelling, and an almost masochistic disposition toward the poetry of raw feelings. Music helps too—music is my life.
Sometimes I’ll slip into apathy without knowing it. I’ll get caught up in life’s drab—and often painful—daily shitfest and don a hard exterior to keep myself intact. Anger and aloofness cover up a deep fear and sadness that threaten to make the daily grind unworkable. That isn’t just my story, I see it everywhere. I think it’s one of the reasons why people are losing their shit and committing mass murder every other day. It’s a reaction to zoochosis, which most of us suffer from in some way.
This tendency to protect ourselves from the Wild is what ends up causing us the most pain in the long run. It also isolates us from those who might truly understand us. We live in lonely, apathetic times. Everyone’s closed off, everyone’s only half-on, everyone’s preoccupied. It’s like we’re sleepwalking through life, each day one step closer to the end of everything.
One day, our song will be over.
We’ll have to give up the music, the colors, the tastes and scents. We’ll give up each other, our memories, and ourselves. We all know that, but it’s still not enough to keep us awake.
Days, months—hell, whole years can go by without us being aware that we weren’t truly aware. Then maybe we experience something that sneaks by our defenses. Maybe it’s a sunset, a hug from an old friend, a hit of weed, relaxing after a long day. Maybe it’s a song.
I found this song (Better Days by Graham Nash, video also at the end of this article) a few months ago, and it’s really grown on me over time. It climbed into my Top 100, then my Top 50. Now it might be on my, “Songs to Play at my Funeral,” list. I can’t express how passionate I am about this track. If my personality suddenly transformed into sound waves, I’d probably sound something like this.
I enjoy the lyrics, some of which are quite insightful and poetic, but really it’s the music and melodies that do it for me. I’m gonna try to take you with me on this little journey as I listen to the track on repeat while I write this. I encourage you to do the same. If you haven’t heard it before, give it your full attention before reading along.
How to Truly Listen to Music
Take a few deep breaths, press play and close your eyes. Try to forget everything but the song. Try to occupy the little world it creates, forgetting the one you usually live in. Using your mind to travel the surreal side of life is all about skillful forgetting, remembering, attention and visualization. Feel free to stretch those mindfulness muscles as you listen, and let yourself sit and feel.
The trick is to listen with your body, to experience music on an almost tactile level, letting it engage all your senses. Even with headphones on, you can still feel the vibrations from the music travel through your head and shoulders, down your arms and out through your fingertips. The song is literally moving through you, so let it move you. Let it move through you and connect you to that, “Something greater.” On that note, here we go:
Right off the bat, this tune gives me a nostalgic feel. I see another era. I see my own past—the city sidewalks of my childhood beneath autumn leaves. I can feel it, that crisp innocence from long ago that time has tried so fucking hard to annihilate. It’s the inner me that I’ve always fought to keep safe and sound. Catching a glimpse, and then looking at how far I’ve strayed from that Self, I face myself and say, “I remember better days.”
Then the beat kicks in, grabbing our attention, and we start flying. It’s like witnessing the hidden gears of creation. Unfolding, the night sky fills with stars. The cosmos comes into focus, and we meet “The Voice,” that’s trying to guide us back to ourselves, back home. “Now that you know it’s nowhere. What’s to stop you coming home?”
What is, “It?” I think it’s whatever’s relevant to you. Something you’ve been seeking, something that’s kept you on edge for far too long. For me, I’d say it’s the ideal self, or the ultimate truth, the blissful rest of certainty. I traveled for decades, sampling the best (and worst) of the world’s traditions. None of them have given me the rest and stability I so desperately want.
“All ya gotta do is go there.” Go where? Here, this surreal, spacious mindset that can turn sound to music, and music into stories, images and emotions. This well of creative thought where all the bullshit turns transparent. The ghosts are gone.
“You went to a strange land searching, for a truth you felt was wrong.” This line is kind of sloppy, but to me it reads like, “You sought the truth, and when you found it, you realized it was really another fiction.” Much like Siddhartha going from guru to guru. Except, in this case, even his sit under the Bodhi tree didn’t cut it. Like the Perfect Enlightenment Sutra said, “Enlightenment too is an illusion.”
A high-pitched piano note starts playing in the background, the same note over and over, offering a meditative drone to the piece. It’s like a wake up call. We’re spinning in circles together, cycling through everything. We’re a whirlwind.
“That’s where the heartache started. Though you’re where you want to be, you’re not where you belong.”
What’s the drive behind the quest for truth? One force behind it is the need to belong. That might be why outcasts and introverts seem more prone to embark on contemplative life. We can’t find that sense of belonging with our peers or in society, so we seek it in the mystical, creative, and profound. All the mystic traditions basically point to Oneness, which is the ultimate sense of belonging.
But what if even Oneness doesn’t do the trick? You wind up like me, you wind up like this song. Full of things you can’t say, full of universes you’re dying to share anyway you can. You’re left with the city sidewalks and autumn leaves of your childhood and the tenacious dream of staying innocent while thriving in a dying world.
Give in, but never give up. Pull through without pulling away. Deep breath in, and push.
We come to a major chord, offering a satisfying smile before the final passage, which has the same chord progression as the first one. That gives this journey a beautiful sense of closure. The nostalgic saxophone and eight-note cabasa rhythm (heard in the left speaker) bring an almost heartbreaking warmth into the sound. The feeling at the end of this song goes way back for me, back to when I first saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit? when I was a kid. There’s something about that sound that makes me, well, feel.
Feeling is where it’s at in life. Our feelings are close to the heart of who we are beneath the bullshit, and unlike our reasons, they’re less likely to change over time. More often than not, the sights and sounds that made us a feel a certain way when we were five, give us a similar feeling when we’re 55. There are always exceptions, but if you can bracket off some of your memories, you’ll find that original feeling again.
So when it comes to feeling at home in ourselves, we’ve gotta go through that territory. From there, we arrive at Just This, basic presence, the foundation of all our experiences.
Apathy is a hard shell to crack. It’s beautiful when it breaks and the light starts to shine through again, but fuck, it hurts. Even blissful feelings hurt when we haven’t felt anything for awhile. Music is great at chipping away our defenses. It can take us back to our innocent hearts. It can make us weep.
Each uncried tear kind of waits around like a shadow until we let it out. Many of us have a lot of unwept weeping to do, and that’s alright. There are times, especially when we’re young, when we cry ourselves to sleep. The opposite is also true: we cry ourselves awake.
Listening to this song and writing with tears in my eyes, can you join me here? Can we connect through this, in this life so vast and this mind surreal? Wake up and dream.
We’ve got a lot of living to do, floating and swaying even as the music fades and we return to the “reality” of day-to-day life.
Each uncried tear kind of waits around like a shadow until we let it out. ~ Anshi Click To Tweet
Editor: Dana Gornall