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Jeremy Tattersall

Fear of music

The alarm clock rang, unleashing the usual cocktail of shock, disbelief and disorientation. I dragged my numb body out of the bed and my still partially submerged mind into the faintest suggestion of consciousness. Sometimes it’s only after I’ve done it that I remember it’s good to practise first thing in the morning.

Like a tranquilized convict tied to a cartoon ball and chain, I shuffled into the bathroom and splashed some water on my face. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a song started playing in my mind, a really stupid song

that I currently hate but obviously must have loved once upon a time. I might not have thought about it for years, or possibly even for decades: ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ by the Beatles (it’s on itunes if you don’t know it, but trust me, it won’t change your life).

The piano thumped out the music-hall rhythm to the sing-along chorus, George’s guitar line came in right on cue, and after all these years Ringo still missed the beat. The lyrics were word perfect and the double clang of the aforementioned hammer as it landed on yet another hapless victim’s skull rang out clear and shrill.  Audiophiles everywhere would have been delighted by the quality of sound reproduction.

I stood there for several minutes, semi-comatose and confused, a malfunctioning organic jukebox playing the same song over and over, with the volume turned down to zero.

Childhood pop songs are like that. Where do they hide out all those years? How come they don’t know my tastes are completely different now? And who sent them to strike at exactly the right moment? The more you think about it, the scarier it gets.

You may have already noticed that I didn’t immediately apply the meditation method of shamatha with an object. In mitigation I would like to point out that I would have probably needed to be standing at the epicentre of a 7.3 magnitude earthquake in order to be jolted into being present at this particular juncture of my life.

What gave the song such a powerful hold on me was not the song itself. Theoretically, I could have just let it go. It was my sleepy vulnerability, my confusion, anger and desire for this lousy piece of music to stop that ensured that its presence was needlessly prolonged.

In the future, you could well find old pop songs being used as the ultimate test of mindfulness on meditation courses. I can picture it now: the serried ranks of meditators all seated in perfect posture—silent, aware and serene. The instructor sounds the gong and pauses to let people settle.  Slowly, so as not to disturb anyone, she moves her hand over to the soundboard, selects a tune at random from Now That’s What I Call Music! vol. 23 and pumps up the volume.Even though the light fittings are vibrating, nobody moves a muscle. The students remain calm and fully present, unlured by the throbbing bassline and unmoved by the total inanity of the lyrics. Finally the room falls silent. They’ve passed the test. They know that when they leave this place, they’re always going to be able to stay open, present and at ease, whatever the world decides to throw at them…

I did finally get around to doing some practice this morning. The distraction has gone and I’m feeling relatively calm and on the money. And unless something or someone reminds me of Boney M’s ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’, I’m hoping I’ll be able to stay that way.