What’s happening? An “autonomic nervous system arousal, the evolutionarily ancient preparation for fight or flight.” Plus a positive emotional component, related to brain activity and dopamine release.
To whom? Not to everybody. According to some estimates, only to every second non-musician.
Why? Emotional experiences can be related to specific musical structures like “enharmonic changes” or “appoggiaturas” (examples given in the article), connected with unexpected, dramatic shifts that force the listener to pay attention. Add to this memories and “feelings of transcendence.” Maybe music helps to form bonds with other human beings or it played a role in the development of language. “Music simply taps into [linguistic ability] in the same way that drugs tap into a system that wasn’t designed for drugs”.
Example: “The last few minutes of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, the last page or so of the Dona Nobis Pacem.”
Philippa Perry’s short book provides a succinct perspective on mental health. Perry argues that mental disorders fall into two groups: one associated with behavior that displays a tendency to stray into chaos; the other with behavior that manifests itself in excessive rigidity. She discusses the structure of the brain and the role of nature vs. nurture in integrating emotions and reasoning. The former rules.
Perry points to several areas that are central to successfully navigating between chaos and rigidity:
Self-observation: Wisdom and sanity build on a non-judgemental, self-observing attitude that fosters self-awareness and avoids self-justification. Self-observation amounts to re-parenting oneself. It helps develop compassion (internal and external) and it grows the brain. It requires to use feelings rather than be used by them. Keeping a diary helps, as do prayers or meditation. “Toxic chatter” doesn’t.
Relating to others: Brains need brains; nurturing relationships are key to staying sane. True dialogue requires honesty and thus, vulnerability. “Adhering to strict guidelines about how to behave around others is a form of rigidity. Not being mindful of your impact upon others is a form of chaos.” The “daily temperature reading” fosters emotional honesty.
Stress: Positive stimulation is fruitful; it fosters learning, creativity and brain plasticity and it strengthens the immune system. But it must not become overwhelming as to trigger panic and brain dissociating. Physical activity generates good stress.
When things go wrong Perry recommends to aim at re-writing one’s narrative:
Personal narrative: Grasping one’s guiding beliefs helps developing new perspectives. Narratives are co-constructed and form minds. They pass down “identity, wisdom and experience” from generation to generation. Telling one’s own story helps gain distance and independence, and it creates “a place of freedom” (Perry refers to Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning). Narratives are self-reinforcing; a genogram can help uncover and trace their roots. But stories are flexible, they can be changed, and so can lives that build on them. “Creating a consistent self-narrative that makes sense and feels true to ourselves is a challenge at any stage in life.” Optimism is productive and self enforcing; but hearing good news must be learned. Fear of losing love comes with penny-pinching. Certainty is a trap.