What We Listen to Matters
What we listen to matters. I deeply believe this.
Perhaps you have heard the saying “You are what you eat” or “You become your surroundings”.
The same philosophy can be applied to the music we listen to. The music we listen to can affect our thoughts, our beliefs, our communication, our actions and our very being. Some of this can be happening with our own consciousness but much of it also can be taking place subconsciously. There’s the literal words of the song but also the energy and the intention behind the music and the musicians. There are numerous layers to our music.
Music has the ability to liberate us or to keep us trapped in systems of oppression and exploitation. Music has the ability to bring humanity together or to create great divisions among us. Many people with great influence have known this and used this knowledge for the betterment of humanity as well as the suppression of humanity. Some of the greatest liberators of humanity have been human beings who used their musical gifts for empowerment, uplifting and educating the masses.
Music that has Influenced Me
In my early stages, I was likely not fully aware of the influence music had on my life. I knew that it affected my mood. I could feel inspired and hopeful from the music I was listening to. I could feel sad. I could also feel irritated and frustrated. The first song I ever owned was given to me in second grade, “God Bless the USA”. One of my teachers recorded it onto a tape disc for me. In fifth grade, I remember my peers listening to the Barbie Girl song. Lean on Me was a song that made an impression on me in my early childhood. My first album ever, when I was in sixth grade, may have been Matchbox 20. In early middle school, my peers got me into Ska, like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. My big brother Joe got me into Green Day and Offspring. My father got me into classic rock. On most of our drives, we would listen to Tom Petty, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Classic Rock was my primary music in high school. The local Classic Rock station was pretty much always on in my car. But I also listened to a lot of current hits which included rock, pop and some rap. Tom Petty and Pink Floyd were two of my all time most listened to artists. Later in high school, a girlfriend got me into Country music, after years of my disliking it. All throughout, Oasis was a band that I listened to a lot. For my early adulthood in University, I continued listening to much of what I had been exposed to and discovered some new music that I was drawn to.
Immediately after graduating University, I embarked on a five-month trip around the world, primarily through Southeast Asia and Kenya in Africa. I was on a path of personal liberation, self-exploration and growth, while exploring the world and different cultures. I didn’t bring most of my old music with me, in part because I was forming a new me. This was before we streamed music like we do now. The music I had with me was the music I had access to for the journey. I don’t remember most of the music now, but I remember Eddie Vedder’s “Into the Wild” soundtrack traveling with me, as well as Alexi Murdoch.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties, after having moved to California and after having realized that most of my current actions were not serving me or the Earth, that I started to become much more intentional about my music. Jack Johnson became a role model to me for the way he carried himself humbly as a rock star, for spreading the money he earned with equity and sustainability and for his leadership in sustainability. I listened to his music consistently.
I was introduced to Xavier Rudd, Trevor Hall, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Trevor Green and later Rising Appalachia and Holy River. These humans were singing for my liberation. They were singing about reconnecting with Earth, reconnecting with humanity and reconnecting with ourselves. They were singing to bring attention to inequity and injustice. They were singing songs of solutions and of hope for a new way forward. They were incorporating Earth into their music.
I also began listening to a lot of international music as well. I frequented The Worldbeat Cultural Center in Balboa Park and took African dancing lessons with a West African man named Lamine Thiam. I was introduced to Amadou and Mariam from Senegal. On a trip to New York City, I visited a Nepalese shop and took home a few CDs that brought a lot of peace and joy into my life.
Other music that I listened to during this time included:
1% For the Planet, The Music (Vol. 1) – Learn more about 1% for the Planet here
180 Degrees South Soundtrack – A film that greatly inspired me
Brett Dennen, Eddie Vedder, Michael Franti, MC Yogi, The Beatles and Bob Marley.
By this time, I had firmly decided that I would be very intentional about what music I was listening to. That meant paying attention to the lyrics of the songs and learning about who the musicians were and what they did for the world. I decided that I would no longer listen to music that degraded women and spoke of them as sexual objects, spread racist views and language, glorified excessive drinking of alcohol or drug abuse, focused on material objects and financial wealth or that spoke negatively about my fellow humanity. I was doing work to overcome my racial biases and my sexist biases and it was clear to me that my music needed to play a role in that. I was doing work to liberate my mind from societal norms and expectations and I certainly didn’t want my music to be holding me back.
This was during the period of my life when I began to heal my relationship with Earth, both through my actions and through my thoughts. I wanted to embrace music that aided me in healing this relationship. I chose to support and listen to musicians who were healing their own relationships with Earth and who were using their music as a means to help others heal their relationships, too. One of the ways in which I was able to more easily ensure this was by listening to much fewer musicians than I had in the past. If I listened to hundreds of musicians, that meant having to research hundreds of people in order to know the intentions behind their music. If I listened to new songs from new musicians all the time, that meant having to listen to the lyrics to make sure they were in alignment for me. So over time, I have become much more intentional about selecting my music, which means listening to far fewer playlists online or radio stations.
Since 2011, it has been a central focus of mine to do everything I do with a high level of intentionality. Mindfulness and presence are two of my core practices. I am breaking free from the patterns and beliefs that no longer serve me while at the same time forming new patterns and belief systems. My music plays a strong role in this.
Later in that period, I also started listening to Beautiful Chorus, Holy River, Sam Garret and Kirtan.
There are many musicians who I have felt strong love and appreciation for, and who I’ve listened to dozens or hundreds of times in the last decade, who I do not know that well and will not share today.
I also want to acknowledge that what I have shared so far is just a tiny fraction of the musicians who have used their music as a means of liberation for humanity. In particular, I have not covered the many Black musicians who have used music as a tool for the liberation of their people. What I am sharing is just a small selection of some of the musicians who have had their greatest impact on me personally. Yet at the same time there are many musicians who have impacted me greatly without me directly knowing it through their great influence on the society that I am a part of. Bob Marley is one of these musicians.
What I Currently Listen To
2023 has been a new chapter for me and it has been a chapter of much fewer words. I have begun the practice of Vipassana, which is a ten-day silence meditation. Over the last few years, I have embraced silence, with numerous solitude immersions with Earth and with more frequent days and multiple days of silence. During these times, there is no music and I have found that I am most often in my greatest state of peace and harmony with no music at all.
Twice since 2011 I have deleted all the music on my computer and deleted all online playlists that I had. This has been a very helpful practice in overcoming attachment.
What I have on my computer right now is just a handful of musical pieces that have no words. My primary music today is the sounds of the Earth, Native American flute, Indian flute music (here is one track), healing and soothing music that is based on frequencies such as 528Hz. This is music that brings me into a state of peace and harmony and helps to reduce my anxiety when I am experiencing it.
I’ve found that many songs with lyrics light up a yearning inside of me that I do not want, such as a yearning for romantic love. I have found that emotional lyrics can bring me into a state of sadness when I do not wish to be sad. I’ve found that often this music only contributes to overstimulation. When I turn off the music, I feel most peaceful. I often experience my highest clarity and focus with no music, but sometimes some music can aid me in this regard. Although there is certainly a place for this music in my life, there is a much greater space for time without. With each mini-chapter of my life, there is a different balance.
Sometimes I do go online to listen to musicians who I feel a connection with and are in service to Earth. And sometimes I still listen to music that serves only for some instant gratification but does not provide what I’m really looking for in the long run.
I am also embracing my own voice. I love the simple songs of Thich Nhat Hanh. On many days I sing:
Happiness is here and now, I have dropped my worries.
Nowhere to go, nothing to do, no longer in a hurry.
Happiness is here and now, I have dropped my worries
Somewhere to go, something to do, but I don’t need to hurry.
I often spend time with community, singing songs of the Earth, songs of connection within and songs of connection with each other.
My Music Recommendations
Here I share some of my music recommendations and a few selections of songs that I love the most:
Search these keywords wherever you listen to music online and find music that feels good for you: “music to reduce anxiety”, “nature healing music”, “Indian flute music” (India the country).
Songs: Follow the Sun, Better People, Messages, White Moth
Songs: Resilient, Medicine, Novels of Acquaintance, Harmonize
Also if you like them, you might like Yaima and Ayla Nereo. To explore more music like this you could try a Spotify, Pandora or YouTube playlist with these artists.
Songs: The Lime Tree, Green Mountain State, The Mountain, Where’s the Love
Songs: Upside Down, Do You Remember, If I had Eyes, Good People, Flake, Home, Hope, The 3 R’s, Broken, Spring Wind
Nahko and Medicine for the People
Generally his earlier music
Songs: Be The Change
Songs: One Love, Three Little Birds, Redemption Song
Songs: Into the Wild Soundtrack, Rise, Society, Hard Sun
Songs: Ain’t no reason, Closer to You
Songs: Say Hey (I Love You), The Sound of Sunshine
Songs: Revolution, Here Comes the Sun, Come Together, Imagine
Songs: Wish of Peace, Home
More Music: Amadou and Mariam, Donovan Frankenreiter, Ziggy Marley
Resources for Education and Inspiration:
Robin Greenfield’s Book Recommendations
50+ People to Listen to and Learn from
Films that Changed My Life
Nonprofits I Recommend and Support
Social Media Pages I Recommend to Follow
YouTube Channels I Recommend to Watch
Black Liberation Resources
Indigenous Sovereignty Resources
This page was created in 2016 and was last updated 12/08/2023.