Mickey Hart cured my panic attacks. I used to have them when I was highway driving. I’d feel a compulsion to pull over on the shoulder, but felt certain that once I did, they’d have to take me away in a straitjacket. So I was dreading a drive down I-95 from Bucks County to Maryland, until I popped the Grateful Dead drummer’s “Planet Drum” into the CD player. It did something to my brain. The primal rhythms drove out the chatter and allowed me to focus. Before I knew it, I had safely crossed into Delaware and was calmly on my way to my destination.
I was reminded of that drive and the soothing power of music again recently. I had to run a few errands about half an hour from home. It’s all country roads between my town and the county seat, so the drive wasn’t bad, but I was stressed about having to fit the trip into my already busy day. Once I did everything I had to do, I got back in the car and switched on the radio in time to hear a gorgeous classical guitar piece. Suddenly I had all the time in the world just to sit and listen—and breathe.
At home that night, I pulled out a classical guitar that I hadn’t played in a long time, tuned it up and pulled out some simple sheet music. I tried to play mindfully—not focusing on doing it “right,” but paying attention to how the instrument felt in my hands, the color and texture of the wood, the feel of my fingers moving on the strings, how the sound resonated. The simpler the piece, the better. Doesn’t even have to be a song—could just be a couple chords, back and forth. That helps keep my ego, the part of me that wants to perfect and perform, out of the way.
I once read that in the very early days of human development, it was almost equally likely that our species would use language or
music to communicate. I also know, from studying music theory, that music is very mathematical. And yet, it seems to me, that listening to and playing music is also a very right-brain experience. For me, it’s at its most meditative when it’s purely instrumental—no lyrics to distract me or start me thinking.
Now, when I’m stressed or anxious, I put on some music or reach for my guitar and I get that “aaaaahh” feeling that I used to chase in other ways. With Mickey Hart or a Bach cantata, there are no headaches, no hangovers—and I’m a much safer driver.
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