Music communicates only because there is a listener who is able perceive the language. That language is learned when the listener takes an active part in living and experiencing it. As with all things, “you get what you give.”

I ran into this nice quote while reading an article titled Why Music Gives Us the Chills:

“It is the listener who gives life to the emotions in music.”

While there is certainly a type of pleasure derived from listening while walking or working, listening to music as foreground provides an entirely different experience. The reason is entirely in the listener.

When investing the resource of self, by focusing all attention squarely on the music, the experience of the peaks, valleys, tensions and releases acquires much wider, richer, and more meaningful dimensions. To some degree this is obvious but the less obvious bit is why don’t we do this more often? Taking the time to appreciate something, not just music, is something that seems a fading practice.

I bought an expensive piece of chocolate the other day. I was curious as to why the price was so high. What would warrant a price tag 5 times that of other bars? On the wrapping, there were instructions on how to eat it. So, I did a double take: instructions on how to eat a chocolate bar? It reminded me of a section from Douglas Adams’ So Long and Thanks for All the Fish involving instructions on a toothpick box.

But, I think the reason for the cost may not so much have been the chocolate itself, which tasted fine, but more for the instructions. The instructions and price functioned, at least in part, to encourage the consumer to pay close attention to the act and sensations of eating.

Similar to noting music as foreground, the makers of this chocolate had noted that a good portion of people can forget to eat in the foreground. Really, paying attention, eating a small piece at a time, chewing slowly and feeling all the sensations involved in the simple act of eating.

The next time you eat a chocolate bar of any sort, note the difference in taking a small portion of it and chewing it slowly. Try to do it with minimal distractions in the room. In fact, actively reduce the number of things trying to grab your attention by removing them from your fields of perceptions – sight, hearing, or otherwise. I bet that the sensation will be quite different than the usual eating on the go.

Actively removing distractions to allow concentration on music, food, or other things can bring about a similar enrichment of experience. The question then is why is there a resistance to doing this regularly? Why is it a conscious effort to optimize and create a fuller experience rather than something that is unconsciously done?

These descriptions towards enhancing an experience are variations on meditation. These are simply different objects chosen for the practice. Beginning a meditation requires a conscious effort, yet when done well, is characterized by the removal of conscious effort from the task. It also creates a state that seems quite natural.

Without the intentional crossing of some threshold towards heightened attention and focus this state is not achieved. What is this threshold, and how has it come to exist?