My aim with these articles is to raise awareness of how beneficial music can be to all of us. This was highlighted when I sat in on the 'Music in Mind' group, led by Eva here at Hillingdon Mind. I noticed that service users who are usually shy, or sometimes withdrawn and not able to voice their feelings, were able to express themselves and feel included. It was as if the music channeled through to some sort of inner happiness.
Something I always encourage with my clients, is to write down their thoughts. This process can be so therapeutic, so healing. Feelings and thoughts can come out as lyrics, poems, stories, or in a diary or journal form. It's the transition from head-space to paper, and being able to view thoughts from a different perspective that seems to have so many benefits. It can be a relief.
With this in mind I wanted to get some musicians input into this area, to raise awareness, and to inspire people to get writing and to listen to and play music. It can help with a variety of mental health conditions. It can help anyone.
There is a level of understanding that comes with an ability to look inwards. Realisations come from the awareness of internal conflict and bringing unconscious thoughts into the conscious, which in turn awakens the mind and changes our perspective on life. John Frusciante’s life is based around the creation of music with an extensive back catalogue of solo releases. John is a man who actively explores looking inward, observing thoughts, and letting go. He states that there are some key aspects that maintain a healthy mind-state: meditating, reading, writing, and music.
I spoke to John about these elements and how music can bring a host of benefits to our mental health and well being. I asked John firstly about writing thoughts down:
It’s been really good for me. I think it’s being able to see the mind from an exterior position. It’s another one of the issues that come up especially with people who have mental imbalances: that you’re trapped in your mind; there’s no escape. It’s like being imprisoned. You’re inside yourself, you’re inside your body, your thoughts are inside your mind- you can’t escape. Your thoughts aren’t just moving along in some kind of cosmic orbit, they’re determined by your surroundings and your conditioning. The realisation of the inability to escape from it, not being able to step out of your mind- the more you think about it, the more overwhelming it can become- especially when you’re not happy with the thoughts that are in your mind, you’re not happy with your surroundings, and you’re not happy with the way people have treated you.
The thought that you can’t escape from within yourself is really terrifying. To be able to examine your thoughts when you write them down is really illuminating because you can read them back to yourself 5 minutes later, and have a completely different reaction to it than you had when you were thinking the thought. It becomes much easier at that moment to look at what you’ve written and say: ‘well that’s true from one angle but I can also see it from this position.’ Your emotions are directly tied to your thoughts and you had no ability to be able separate them. Then you read it a couple of days later and you’re in a different mood, and by looking at it from this exterior position you’re able to mentally put it in it’s place in a clearer way. By the brain taking in those same thoughts but in a completely different emotional context, you’re able to establish some sort of separation between your thoughts and your emotions; which if you don’t ever write anything down and don’t ever look at yourself from the outside, you’re incapable of doing.
I’ve resolved so many issues of my childhood from writing- page after page, when I was all revved up about them. By writing about them and reading them back to myself, somehow in that process I accomplished a lot of the same things that could potentially be accomplished by going to a therapist every week for years. I found it within myself to forgive people that I’d always resented, I’d always felt like a victim because of, and through writing them down I was able to see the balance of it all, and to not blame that person for their own actions but to realise that the way they treat people is the result of the way people treated them. There’s no more point in being resentful of another person for something they’ve done then there is of being resentful of life itself- which to me doesn’t really make any sense. The brain that’s making that statement ‘I resent life itself’ is only here by virtue of that brain, so who’s the ‘I’ talking? The ‘I’ talking is nature itself. If you’re attaching importance to the opinion that life is f****d, you’re automatically giving credence to life because life is the thing that’s talking and saying what you think. Something’s built into our characters, we all think a lot of what we ourselves think! Each person thinks their opinions are very true and valid. It’s a built-in thing of our character. But I think to do that with your thoughts is really important [to write them down]. It’s really bad to get lost inside yourself.
I spoke to John about being trapped in a distorted headspace with thoughts spinning around…
It’s a really interesting tendency on the part of people- is that they like being twisted. There’s a part of you that becomes comfortable there and you don’t wanna be released. I get like that when I’m in a bad mood about something and somebody tries to cheer me up, but I don’t want them to cheer me up. It’s like I’m happier being miserable than I am being happy. There are certain situations where somebody who would rather stay in their misery might be superior in their relationship to life than somebody who’s constantly trying to maintain a position of happiness- in that, there could potentially be a kind of emptiness. Sometimes people who go through life sad are some of the deepest people.
I can’t imagine it [writing] not being good for anybody. I used to be superstitious about writing down my thoughts, I only would write down poetry. When I started writing down ordinary thoughts, I couldn’t believe what a difference it made. Sometimes you might write the same thing all the time ‘I’m so sad, I’m so miserable…’ I’ve written those same entries in my notebook so many times- the same exact words. There’s a feeling of getting it out. There are times when just the act of writing it itself ends up bringing you to a new perspective. Sometimes it’s not even reading it back; as you’re writing it the train of thought is different as it’s more moderated. When you’re thinking things, your thoughts have the ability to go at this incredibly fast pace, much faster than we speak or can write, so sometimes the process of writing is also a process of slowing down the thought stream to where you’re thinking at a slower pace. You come to conclusions by thinking slower that you could when you’re thinking faster.
I talked to John about how music influences mind states:
‘Everything that happens has a big influence on the state of mind. Our senses are constantly being bombarded with all kinds of things that are making a constant change to what goes on inside of us. We have so many tendencies that have been put in place by things that have happened to us in life, and everything that happens to us to some degree affects our tendencies in the future and affects our state of mind. To me what I’m noticing more with music- that separates it from incidents that happen- that change somebody’s state of mind, is that it seems to come through another channel besides the five senses. When the music is being created, the ideas enter the musician from an unknown source, through a channel that there’s no medical term for, no biological term, no psychological term for. There’s some channel that the ideas come through and the sense of musical balance that the musician employs in order to organise the ideas. That’s also something that there’s also no word for. It’s all the unknown, and a person that has a good sense of musical organisation has no idea where that sense came from. Partially it may come from loving and listening to music and really appreciating the balance and organisation of music that’s so cosmic, but there’s a lot of people who appreciate it that don’t have a sense of it, of how to manipulate that organisation, how to take control of it.
I would say that in the creation of music, where the ideas are coming from- why one idea means a great deal to me and another idea means nothing to me- and that there’s some sort of mental criteria to distinguish between these two things; it’s not something that anybody has grasped in any way. And then in the reception of music, I don’t believe it’s just the notes, chords or melodies in themselves (although there’s a lot to ponder just in those- why they affect people in the way they do). I also think that what’s underestimated when people are judging music is that you are hearing the intention of the composer or musician or the band or whatever. I believe that there’s a sort of 6th sense when we’re hearing music and some people have this. For some people this sense is clearer than for others.
You can hear when someone is doing something for reasons such as personal gain or ego gratification, and when the intention is to purely explore this wondrous thing which is the nature of music as it’s presented to us by the laws of the cosmos. If you put some crap, some commercial band who’s only doing it because it’s how they make their living and they get a certain amount of ego gratification from it- if that same band played a Fugazi song, it wouldn’t mean the same thing as what it means to somebody who needs to hear Fugazi to feel good. It’s not a matter of the song, it wouldn’t matter how well it was played; we’re hearing something behind the music. We hear the psychological state of the people who are playing or composing it, and I feel that something else comes through into the listener besides what’s apparent to the senses. I feel really sure of that.