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Friday, April 26: There’s a playlist of songs that I keep on my iPod Nano;  I listen to them when I walk or when I’m driving in my car, at times when my mind could otherwise be at peace or be present to the moment.  Lately I’ve been wondering why these songs continue to draw me to them.  I’ve decided that each of them transports me to a memory, not necessarily the actual moment of the memory, but the feeling I had at the time of the memory.  Slowly, I have come to realize that I’m “addicted to a certain kind of sadness,” brought on by these songs.

flowering musical memories

little musical notes (& memories) stuck into my brain

Since I’ve been meditating lately, I’ve noticed that certain thoughts keep recurring in my mind.  I can see these relentless thoughts capturing my attention, and I find when they appear like uninvited strangers that I continue to grasp them as if they’re essential to my survival.  In meditation I try to let go of these thoughts, to look at them as if they’re just artfully designed clouds floating by.  But too often, when the thoughts arrive, my mind grabs them and runs around them in circles like a dog chasing after its tail.

Of course, many of the thoughts are worries about the future.  For the last month, I’ve been so occupied and worried about selling my car that I could hardly concentrate on anything else.  I know I’m also worried about the upheaval of returning to the USA, although I’m also very excited.  So yes, future thoughts and worries run rampant through my mind.  I don’t like the discomfort and mental anguish of worries, nor do I like the stomach upset, headaches or other physical manifestations of anxiety.

The playlist on my iPod allows me to escape from these worries about the future by taking me to another place: back to the past.

my playlist takes me back to fleeting bittersweet memories

my playlist takes me back to fleeting bittersweet memories

Since I’m trying to pay attention to my own destructive thoughts, I noticed that I tend to gravitate to the same playlist of songs over and over. I realized these songs take me back to some strange moments that don’t seem connected.  Most of them take me to a time when some big change was happening in my life, when I was feeling deep yearning for something, or when I was in the company of a certain person who I thought was the love of my life.

For some reason I am drawn to this song by Gotye, and I find myself listening to it repeatedly.  Here it is: Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know (featuring Kimbra):

This song makes me think about the endings of my relationships and how people who I once loved have now become “somebody that I used to know.”  But the line that really speaks to me is this: “You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness.”  I recognize that I am most certainly addicted to a kind of sadness. I feel comfortable in this sadness for some reason and I just can’t seem to make the choice to abandon it and move on.

There was a person who I truly loved, for a time.  I felt so incredibly alive in his presence that I often dwell in memories of our time together.  Lately, I don’t know why, I’ve been reading old letters that I wrote to this person when I was in Cairo in 2007.  I’ve actually been trying to recreate, in a blog, my time in Cairo from nearly 6 years ago.  Even though this person wasn’t in Cairo with me, I wrote to him nearly every day while there.  The letters between us are intertwined with my experience of Egypt.  In addition, I’ve also been trying to recreate some other parts of my past, such as two study abroad trips I took while working on my Master’s degree, one to Mexico and one to Singapore, which marked the beginning and the end of this doomed relationship.  These trips were the bookends, so to speak, of our short-lived but exhilarating love affair.  I can’t help but wonder why I am dwelling on these memories, yet I’m not willing at this time to abandon them.

a happy memory for me that eventually became painful

a happy memory for me that eventually became painful

Some of the songs on my playlist are wrapped up with this person and my feelings when I was in his company.  The songs are bittersweet, because they remind me of the happy times we were together; on the other hand, they remind me of an excruciatingly painful ending and a year of suffering and sadness. They are, to name a few:

  • How to Save a Life, by the Fray
  • Chasing Cars, by Snow Patrol
  • Hurt, by Johnny Cash
  • Silver Lining, by Rilo Kiley
  • Think I’m in Love, by Beck
  • The Reason, by Hoobastank
  • She’s Mine, by Brett Dennen
  • Meadows of Heaven, by Nightwish
  • While Your Lips are Still Red, by Nightwish
  • Falling Slowly, by Glen Hansard

Then there are other songs unrelated to this person.  One song is related to the time I separated from my unhappy first marriage.  I had a friend and colleague who I thought was the most sophisticated and wise woman I’d ever known.  She was 10 years older than me and had traveled all over the world; she had been on safari in Africa and on too many other grand adventures to count.  We could talk about everything and I found her wisdom valuable, as I was desperately trying to find myself.  At this time, I was 31 years old.  The sad thing about Susan, though, was that she was desperately in love with a married man who caused her great anguish.  The song “Foolish Games” by Jewel always takes me back to Susan and her doomed love affair with a man who sounds much like the man in that song.  For me that time represented new-found freedom and a world of possibilities.  Susan’s life, except for the married man, was the life I myself yearned for.

There are many more random and unrelated songs on my playlist, but all of them evoke some feeling of yearning, of possibility, but also of sadness.  Many of them are associated with my travels, or the possibilities that travel promises.  These are:

  • I and Love and You, by the Avett Brothers
  • An Egyptian song played at a wedding party on a boat on the Nile River
  • All of Loreena McKennitt’s songs about Turkey
  • Songs by the Turkish grunge band Duman, especially Oje and Aman Aman

There are too many more that I could talk about.  I recognize that all of these songs evoke unfulfilled desire in me, a kind of sadness that I can dwell in quite comfortably.  I don’t know why I keep going back to them, and to the memories they evoke.  But go back I do, time and time again.

my memories are of moments of pure happiness that came to an end

my memories are of moments of pure happiness that came to an end

Buddhist thought says that we should not cling to thoughts of the past or the future, but we should be present to the moment at hand.  With a steady practice of meditation, we can learn to do this.  Because of this, I’ve been trying to cut back on listening to this playlist that so vividly brings the past back to me.  When I was in Kathmandu, I bought a CD of Tibetan chanting.

The chants are evocative and repetitive, much like a mantra.  I’ve started listening to these chants while walking and I notice when I listen to them, I become more aware of my surroundings, of the feel of my feet moving along the path, of the small breezes that whisper across my face, of my breathing, of the actual act of walking. I love it because it feels like a walking meditation and releases me from that “addiction to sadness” that my old playlist brings to me.  It helps me to be present to the moment, to be alive to the NOW.

I know it's best to leave the past behind, but I don't really want to abandon it.  Not yet.

I know it’s best to leave the past behind, but I don’t really want to abandon it. Not yet.

I don’t think I will abandon this playlist of memories absolutely, but for now, I’ll put it on the back burner for rare rainy days.