• Joshua Hummel

the present of music

While there are debates in neurology about what’s called hemisphericity (the notion that each hemisphere in our brain operates somewhat independently and quite differently from each other), let’s maintain that we have essentially two brains, a Left and a Right. In short, the left brain is the logic center, deals with data, processes sequentially and categorically, handles all sorts of minute details. It’s also obsessed with the past and the future. The right brain by contrast works in the abstract, feels more than reasons, deals with subjectivity and creativity, processes our essence, gets lost in the big picture and couldn’t care less about details. It is not a planner nor nostalgic but lives fully in the present. [1]

Most of us live very "left-brained" lives. We work in lists, data, numbers, spreadsheets—mostly logical, linear and categorized activities. Meanwhile our right brains sit off to the side wishing for a sun-lit meadow, a few birds and maybe a rainbow, a waterfall or two. Our right brain lives fully in the present, finds fulfillment in the now. Our left brain is constantly planning for the future by way of the past. Of course we'd never get anything done if we only listened to our right brain; we'd have a great time, but we wouldn't be very productive. However, I'd like to suggest that we would be all the more productive if we learned to engage both brains, finding ways to optimize the strengths and propensities of both hemispheres.

I think a perfect application of this whole-brain synthesis is music. Even though music is an abstract art-form that would seem to be most at home in the right brain, music requires a complex mixture of both brains. This is all the more so when you are creating and performing it, requiring complex symbol recognition; real-time aural analysis; real-time artistry and interpretation; tactile, aural and visual memory; collaboration; fine motor control; intense focus; and on and on the list goes. Music is immeasurably good for our brain! It's neurologically healthy to work multiple regions and to engage in activities that use both hemispheres.

This then brings us to the central idea of this article. Music is the ultimate present experience. It’s an obvious concept, but we can only experience music in the present. And it takes right brain cooperation and engagement to appreciate. Music forces whole-brain health!

Which segues to a huge plug for Deo Cantamus’s March 19th premiere of a new oratorio of mine, Remember. I love the irony of this title within a discussion of being present. :)

All the texts are various Scriptures on the subject of remembering God: remember who He is, remember what He’s done, remember that He is still working now, and remember that He is in control of our future.

The piece is dedicated to my parents, Rand and Amber Hummel, who remembered to show me God; and I hope to show you some of the beauty of God in this oratorio. For program info and for live streaming, CLICK HERE.

How does all this remembering relate to living in the present? First, the past informs the present which in turn guides the future; and secondly, we learn from the past how to live fully and abundantly in the present.

Now, let's filter these thoughts through LEAF, since this is the LEAFlet blog afterall.

LIFESTYLE. We need a pattern of living that enjoins our entire being, not just our intellect or our body,

but all of us. So, start each day being fully present. Find a routine that works for you. Use music, use tea, use coffee, use focused worship. Be present and still before you jump into your day.

ENVIRONMENT. Create space in your life. Maintain the margins. If busyness and work crowd out your margins, you can't be fully present, and you can't enjoy much of anything. Be intentional about your environment. Find a few minutes of solitude. Get outside. Create some space.

ATTITUDE. Have a present mind. Find things that use both the right and left brains. Be intentional about your whole mind. Take time to think, to dream, to contemplate.

FUTURE. To have a future where you're living fully present, all in, we need a lifestyle, environment and attitude that supports present, whole-brained living.

[1] These thoughts largely come from Harvard neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor. She has an amazing TED Talk concerning her left-brain stroke and has written a book, My Stroke of Insight. Some of her work can be accessed at https://www.ted.com/speakers/jill_bolte_taylor.

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