The Music of Resistance

“I undertake to keep the precept to abstain from listening to music, singing, dancing or beautifying my body with makeup, flowers or perfumes.”


I’m giving up on giving up an element of the Seventh Precept: “listening to music”. I’ve been persistently listening to music now most every day for the past six days; at work, at home, in the car.

These days, when I recite my morning precepts, I just leave the music part out.  At least this doesn’t make a liar out of me…which would be a breach of the Fourth Precept, too!

There is some disappointment and self-consciousness at my lack of discipline with this. In fact, when my daughter “liked” on Facebook the fact that I was playing Nahko & Medicine for the People (one of her favorites) on Spotify late last night, there was a moment of embarrassment at being exposed, accompanied by a surprising sense of defeat.

There is also a  pouty-lipped sense of defiance, obstinacy, resistance and indifference that has arisen in this decision.  Mental snapshots of myself in opposition arise:  at two, fifteen, twenty, twenty-four, thirty-six, forty-two and forty-five.  These girls and women, young and not-so-young, make me giggle a little.  They meant to make their point. They did what they did because they wanted to, because they could, regardless of who might have been watching. Sometimes they won their way for a lasting stint.  Sometimes they crumbled at the threshold of a door somewhere.

Good intentions drove me at first.  At work, music helps me to tune into certain bigger, more repetitive tasks and helps me relax when things are intense.  In the car it actually keeps me awake and alert…well that and, of course, coffee.  At home, I’d let my four year old determine the choice of sounds, or else I’d watch videos or listen to audiobooks or talks. But in days past, playing music has even crept into my home life when the little boy is gone.

Silence does not exist on this earth except in sensory deprivation chambers.  So why the big fuss?

In graduate school, I studied the art and technology of sound.  In my very first class on Music Technology at Oberlin back in 1984, our professor had one of the conservatory pianists play for us John Cage’s 4′ 33“. This provocative conceptual masterpiece by this widely-known Zen Buddhist practitioner set a tone for sonic exploration.  Any sensation in the ears, even no sensation, has now become music. Now, any of us can acknowledge that the organic, spontaneous world may actually yield greater musical masterpieces than in the realm of instrumentalists, singers and musicians.

Do I recognize this as a persistent attachment?  Well, yes!  I readily acknowledge it but do not celebrate it.

Is it wholesome?  Most of the time it is, but not all the time.

Am I fearful or averse to silence?  Not at all.

Is there more to learn about silence?  Come on now — of course!

So what happens next?  we’ll see.

Precepts, also known as Training Rules, cause us to conduct such investigations around our objects of restraint.  If precepts are taken on seriously there is a care and thoughtfulness that goes into such investigation.  This is so even when making the choice not to observe the precept.  But there is the space for a true inner dialectic. And until this back-and-forth happens, there cannot be a real level of understanding.  So I’ll abide with the discomfort for a bit longer.  We’ll see where this line of investigation leads.