I have never been a music connoisseur.
Most of the music I have came by my friends’ recommendations. I don’t have the most abundant iTunes library, nor do I really listen to music all that much other than when I’m writing.
So this makes it rather strange that I’m writing about music, doesn’t it?
So why am I?
The thing that has always interested me about music is the cathartic release it ceaselessly provides.
It’s so bizarre that throwing together a few sounds in a particular rhythm adds a whole other dimension of human life—a dimension that completely alters our emotional field in a matter of moments.
Not all music is the same, but there seems to be an experiential component to all music that transcends a particular genre. If I had to guess, I would say that one’s preferred musical genre correlates to the personality of the listener, but there is something much deeper than preference and psychological makeup at work.
Music feels so damn good because it exemplifies the cutting edge of human perception; it resembles the most harmonious manner of being possible. I have written before about the universal balance between order and chaos, and I believe music is one of the best illustrations of this balance.
If we really think about music, it is a consistent structure jointly intertwined with moments of novelty—a cooperative flux between pattern and innovation. If music was one perpetual sequence, it would be boring. If it was constant permutation and uniqueness, then it would be utterly intolerable.
Jordan B. Peterson speaks to this point well:
“Imagine that each of these levels of existence are like patterns—patterns within patterns within patterns—and there is a way of making all of that harmonious. That’s what music models. That is why music is so meaningful.”
Take a beautiful orchestral composition. All of the instruments are doing different things at different levels, but they flow together harmoniously. You’re right in the middle of that as a listener. It fills you with a sense of almost religious awe, even if you are a punk rock nihilist. The reason for that is music is modeling the manner of being that is harmonious, the proper way to exist.”
I have a Daoist vision of the world. I see all of life as an eternal flow between order and chaos, the known and the unknown, the rigid structure of human conception and the sheer absurdity of nature. Meaning in life is found on the border between order and chaos—the balance between what is understood and what is yet to be understood.
Music epitomizes this balance.
Music, like virtually all art forms, tells us how to live. Art is beautiful because it encapsulates the human experience. It speaks to some underlying element of our soul—reflecting a dormant dimension of the human condition.
Music uplifts us. It reminds us why we are alive because it is a calcified expression of what it means to be alive. It is a palpable manifestation of the frequency of the universe.
In this sense, music is true—meaning it speaks to some underlying truth of being human.
I’ve noticed that, regardless of the genre of music I listen to, there is a certain awareness resting beneath my emotional state that is evoked when I listen to something I like. I get the same feeling when I read, write, or meditate. It is the evocation of this awareness that indicates whether or not our experiences are meaningful.
A word of advice: Go with this feeling. When what we do feels meaningful, pursue that engagement.
Meaning is what we should aspire for—rather than wealth, pleasure, or security—and we uncover meaning through striking the balance that music expresses. When order and chaos flow harmoniously, our lives feel meaningful.
Artistic expression is perhaps the most apt example.
Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Nikos Koutoulas/Flickr
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Callie Rushton