Adam Kagan with The Josh Craig

Recently, our friend and the creative force known as The Josh Craig wrote an essay for us on using music as a calming, focusing force in your daily life. This essay inspired me to think about how listening to music, just like many physical or creative activities takes us “into the zone” where we lose track of time and forget about our daily struggles, lost in the moment. Josh’s essay informs us how music helps him chill out and after his essay, I’ll examine the role that music plays in mindfulness and focus. – AK

Calm Your Soul

The Josh Craig

Let’s focus on what you’re listening to and how it can calm your soul. Listening to music is to make oneself vulnerable and available to the emotions of the composer and seeing as that most music is obtainable online, the Internet virtually ties all of its users together. A worldwide community of listeners and creators—but what are we listening to?

I was raised on what people call “Soul Music” from the ’50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. It’s a type of music that has a message amplified by the voice; bands where vocalists sing about life in the USA and how the hardships made them feel. Some would call it Jazz. Others may call it Funk. The thing I care about isn’t a specific genre but how it makes me feel. That has a lot to do with the soulful aspect of the songs.

Whether upbeat or downtempo, I feel the music of that era and the messages conveyed have a purpose now more than ever. With so much turmoil in the world, I think people need to connect with sounds that are directed at your soul. I’m not saying that everyone needs to listen to Lonnie Liston Smith, Donald Byrd, Roberta Flack, or Norman Connors. That music may not resonate with you because not everyone understands English and every word’s meaning can be subjective. However, when you look at the advancements and the presence of emotionally powerful electronic sounds in most of the music popular today, it would be beneficial to identify how these sounds of “now” touch your soul. This leads to understanding how the sonic forces of instrumental genres like Ambient, Drone, New Age, and even certain variations of House and Techno can calm your soul.

Pioneering artists like Suzanne Ciani, Laraaji, Alice Coltrane, Brian Eno, Bernie Worrell, and Sun Ra introduced us to the “other side” of music. The side where you spend less time dancing and instead reflect upon how you got to where you are where you’re headed. The answers to those spiritual and metaphysical questions are usually sparked by looking deep into your soul for clues. The unpredictable sounds of Ambient Music can change your mood in an instant, especially with the current technological advancements of sounds and soundfields. This is very powerful. People should appreciate and study this aspect more. Get some records or tapes, sit back, take a breather, and let some synthesizers take you on a journey. As you listen for sounds coming from all directions, your patience and awareness will expand, and this is especially true for really well-mixed music.

Whether you’re having a bad day or you’re working hard at checking off your goals, some calming music for your soul can be the most instantaneous method for helping you chill out and refocus on specific things or nothing at all. Whatever it is you are looking for, I’m sure you will find it in a song. Enjoy the vibe!

About The Josh Craig
The Josh Craig is a singer, songwriter, producer, DJ & visual artist currently living in Brooklyn, NY. His music reflects the everyday journey that is living as an involved artist in a city that never sleeps and paints vivid pictures of life on the road in the driver’s seat. Often blending genres, TJC has a one of a kind style and flavorful stage presence. His original songs involve him sequencing lush melodies on bass, playing deep chords on the keys, and reciting lyrics that speak to a generation of thinkers. More about The Josh Craig, his art and enterprise can be found at http://thejoshcraig.com

Find Your Flow

Adam Kagan

Vacations provide a welcome break from our daily routine and let our minds reset so when we return, we can better focus on our work, our studies, and our daily lives. For many, vacations are too few and far between and it often takes the first few days of vacation to shake off normal life. Activities like cross-country running,  cycling, surfing, or skiing can provide frequent, even daily, mini-vacations. Intense physical activities, especially ones that require intense focus, force our brains to shut out the noise of our daily lives. We return from our vacations or activities feeling refreshed, accomplished, and ready to focus.

Mental isolation and the accompanying sense of happiness we experience during these activities are commonly referred to as “The Flow State.” We are actually happiest when we are fully immersed “in the flow” of a task—often a challenging task. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is recognized as popularizing the psychology and theory of Flow, a psychological state of being totally focused and absorbed by an activity and deriving happiness from that activity. 

Creating music—performing, writing, producing, mixing, all embody a key element of Flow: Autotelic Experience. Autotelic is a fancy way of saying that the goal of a task is simply to experience the task. That is, we create music because the creative process is enjoyable for us—an autotelic activity. Many of us understand the comfort and happiness of entering our studio—our creative lab—and losing ourselves in the experience of manipulating sound. Flow.

Since audio creation is also work for many of us, we may crave another activity that helps us enter this state of flow, be it a sport, a hobby, or as The Josh Craig explained, listening to music. Josh, like so many people, feels that electronic music helps him find the zone, but there is no right answer for the kind of music that triggers you. There are a few triggers that can help induce a state of Flow. Let’s examine them in the context of listening to music and get you on your way.

  • First, you need to eliminate distractions. Put on some comfy headphones; park your car in a shady spot; turn down the lights in your home theater; turn off the ringer on your phone! 
  • Next, you need to turn off your internal distractions. Fortunately, listening to music will probably push the internal conversations out of the way.
  • Find a time of day where you can dedicate 20 or 30 minutes to this experience. Choose a time when you won’t be disturbed or feel pressure to cut your time short; to focus yourself before work or to relax after a tough session.
  • Choose music that forces you to engage. EDM and techno are popular choices because the music actively engages you. It is physically impactful as much as it is mentally stimulating. Dance music and bass-heavy music exudes confidence and alertness, elements that surround a sense of Flow. There is no procrastination when listening to music—it propels you through the experience.
  • Get out of your own way and let yourself be immersed and carried away by the soundwaves. Lyrics may be distracting to some, while they may be an adventure to others, so figure out which helps transport your mind into the Flow.

So, do as The Josh Craig says and spend some time every day, or as often as you can, immersing yourself in music that moves you and refreshes your soul. Explore different playlists until you find one that triggers the Flow. Invest some time in this activity and you will find yourself more productive, relaxed, and even feeling more productive!