Last week there was a fascinating Catalyst program on the ABC on the use of music in treating dementia and other neuro-degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease. A stand out scene was the gentleman suffering from Parkinson’s who could barely walk, yet became as light footed and coordinated as Fred Astaire when listening to a beautiful melody. Or there was the lady with severe dementia who stared into space, no recognition on her face of loved ones or other humans near her. When she listened to music from her youth, she smiled, interacted and was absolutely lucid and in the moment with those around her.
My tears welled at both these demonstrations of the power of art and music in triggering otherwise damaged brains. Moreover, they were great examples of the endless plasticity and capability to change that the human brain has and its ability to re-engage given the right triggers. Often, these triggers are from a significant period in our lives, such as our late teens, when we lay down strong pathways and memories. The power of music to transport us to a time and place that has been embedded into our minds never ceases to amaze me.
I reflected on this as I travelled home from the CBD by train just recently after a meeting. On the way home I observed my fellow passengers in the full carriage; surreptitiously of course – I don’t want to be mistaken for one of those crazies on public transport! Of the 80+ people in my carriage, there were a mere 5 people who weren’t watching an electronic device of some kind (phone, laptop, iPad) or listening with earphones in, completely disconnected from their surroundings. And one of them was this crazy lady (yes me!) observing the rest of them. There was even the elderly lady who, whilst admittedly was not watching a device, had parked her wheelie walker across the aisle, thus rendering exit from said carriage a physical act of contortion. Now I have to say that these twisty moves looked pretty funny but sadly, they are also an indictment of the complete lack of awareness we humans seem to have of one another these days and our telling lack of engagement with the world at large.
We are investing significant money in finding ways to re-engage the human brain in those who are suffering from degenerative illnesses and yet we are fast becoming a race that has already disengaged from life through its obsession with technology. I quietly marvelled at where our race is heading and I admit, dear readers, to a sense of dismay.
On further reflection though I admit that I too have done just this. Particularly when I worked in the CBD and in a highly stressful working environment. Just like all the other ants, I scurried into my high rise in the morning, in and out again for lunch (sometimes …. occasionally I ate at my desk), and out again to catch public transport home again; only to line up and do it all over again the next day and the next and the next. So overloaded was my poor brain, that I too disengaged on that train, plugged my earphones in, avoided eye contact and generally shut out the world for the 30 minute ride home to stop my brain from imploding.
I also did this because I am a natural empath. Spiritually speaking, being an empath means that you can be affected by other external energies including those of other people. An empath has an uncanny knack of being able to perceive others intuitively and can often instinctively understand the motivations and intentions of others. Empaths are always open and often walk around in the world sensing the energy of others. They can pick the “vibe” of a place the minute they walk in the door. As such they are the listeners of the world and always seem to “hear” the problems before anyone else. They spend a lot of their time trying to solve those problems too, sometimes to their own detriment.
So for me, it became a self-preservation strategy. That is until I shouted ENOUGH, took a step back, focussed on what it is I truly enjoy doing and started creating that for myself.
I wonder if this is what those 75 or so passengers were doing on the train? Disengaging so they could let go of their day and so build up the strength to go back and do it all again tomorrow. Perhaps, the use of technology could also be a way of managing the day to day stress for many? Maybe in the act of disengaging, they become more mindful not less and claim back a level of presence from the rigours of their day?
Or maybe it was just a way of avoiding eye contact with that crazy lady on the train who kept looking at them!