December 20, 2016

Barry Manilow, Toby Keith & the Dharma of Music.


Music. It’s said to soothe the savage beast.

But just like listening to some radio show talk hosts and watching certain news channels, it can agitate us. Garbage in, garbage out, right?

So just as I’m mindful of what I watch on television, or which radio show hosts I will listen to, I try to be mindful of what kind of music I listen to. There’s almost always someone’s version of the dharma being taught in all of it.

I listen to everything from hip-hop (yes, middle-aged white men do—just not the misogynistic, angry sort) to country music (don’t judge me) to alternative rock and oldies. I draw the line at Barry Manilow.

If you know much about music, you’ll know of an artist named Toby Keith. He’s a bit of a storyteller with a strong rock influence. And he’s been known to sing, and say, some provocative things. I don’t know his heart and I’m not interested in sitting in judgment of him. But I do know one of his songs that I find a bit entertaining—and profoundly insightful.

Keith’s 2001 release, I Wanna Talk About Me, is a humorous look at one man’s stereotypical relationship plight. In it, the artist finds himself frustrated with his girlfriend’s unwillingness to let him talk about himself. If you listen to the lyrics, really reflect on them, examine the song’s theme, you’ll likely find something to chew on. I’ll spare you the regurgitation of the lyrics in favor of examining two things: We all want to be heard. And sometimes, we are way too to focused on our ourselves.

When my daughter was a child she often grew frustrated with me and complained, “You’re not listening to me.” In truth, there were times when I was surely guilty of that accusation. Other times, she mistook listening for agreeing with her. In the first case, I’m sure my impatience, my fixed mind, and sometimes, my fatigue, fostered a sense of being unheard.

Quite frankly, there were times when I was distracted and probably could have done a better job of not just hearing, but listening to her. The fact that I was “the parent” and she was “the child” probably didn’t help the dynamics much either. But those kinds of things creep into all our relationships, not just the parent-child relationship. In many relationships there’s an unseen struggle to be seen and heard, an underpinning, that frustrates even the most compassionate of us.

So what are the lessons here?

First, we need to see ourselves clearly. We need to take stock of our own ability, and more importantly, our willingness not just to listen, but to hear another’s dreams, fears, heartache, or even just the mundane details of daily living. Our fixed notions of who we are or who someone else is or how things should be often preclude us from understanding what’s important to the people about whom we care most dearly.

Second, we need to realize that, “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” Bottom line: get your ego out of the way. I wish this was easier. It just isn’t. Most of us have spent a lifetime trying to figure out how to get what makes us happy. It’s exhausting. So unlearning our unskillful mental habits takes diligence. And while there are certainly legitimate expectations we can have of one another, sometimes we are just being whiny children metaphorically shouting “mine! mine! mine!” when we just need to let go and get out of our own way.

So the final lesson here is a reminder. Music, like all media, has a profound and subtle power. It can make our hearts leap. It can comfort us. And it can teach us both wise and unwise, skillful and unskillful things. We need to be mindful of what it is teaching us, it’s ethos, and what it provokes within us, allowing it to show us ourselves.

And oh, yeah, one more thing:

Sometimes we just need to roll down the windows of our cars, turn the radio up really, really loud, and sing along like no one is watching—even if your thing is Barry Manilow. Because music really can soothe the savage beast.




Author: Jim Owens

Image: Wikipedia

Editor: Travis May

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