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Sex, Drugs, And Rock N’ Roll: The Healing Powers Of Music From Addiction With Tim Ringgold

 

How do you deal with or reduce stress and be sober? Most of the time, everyone looks for something when stressed, and for Tim Ringgold, he found recovery in music. In this episode, Tim Westbrook interviews Tim—a certified music therapist, author, and host of Reduce Your Stress—about his journey of recovery from his addictions to a sober life through music. He discovered how music affects the brain and how to get back into the rhythm by listening and playing music or even making music. Join them today as they discuss Tim’s journey through sex addiction to recovery and the healing powers of music. Sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll are in that order for a reason!

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Sex, Drugs, And Rock N’ Roll: The Healing Powers Of Music From Addiction With Tim Ringgold

For many years my team and I have helped thousands of people find their path to long-term recovery. We started the show because there’s so much inaccurate information out there and bad content about the world of recovery and addiction treatment. This is a platform for us to share the truth. There is so much more to getting clean and sober than going to treatment for 30 days then working a twelve-step program. There’s so much more. Those are integral parts of the process. The twelve-step program saved my life and it saved lots of lives out there but there’s a lot more to it, things like food and nutrition, self-care, exercise, fitness, music, developing new healthy lifestyle habits to replace the old lifestyle habits that got us in trouble. These are some of the things that I talked about on this show.

It’s an honor to have my friend Tim Ringgold here. Tim is a board-certified music therapist, columnist, author, and host of the podcast Reduce Your Stress. He’s provided music therapy to thousands of teens and adults to help them lower anxiety and reduce pain. Tim is also an award-winning international speaker having shared the stage with some of the top minds on music, the brain, and personal development, including Tony Robbins. Tim was the first person to give a TEDx Talk on music therapy back in 2012. He is also a former regional president of the American Music Therapy Association. Tim, welcome to the show. It’s good to have you.

Tim, it’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

We’ve been working on this for a while. It’s good to have you here. I have your book, Sonic Recovery: Harness The Power Of Music To Stay Sober. Tim, give me a little backstory about you, music, and addiction.

It’s great to be here. It’s always great to hear other people’s stories because you hear yourself in it. I’m happy to share mine a little bit. I’m a kid who grew up on the East Coast who found himself on stage when he was four. I remember, it was like, “This is why I’m here on the planet. It’s music, it always has been.” I was a lucky kid. I had a great upbringing. What didn’t appear like any acute trauma, later on in life, I went back and realize there was a specific relational, spiritual trauma that I would love to touch on because it would be enlightening to the readers. I had a good life until I was 22. On April 18th, 1995 while I was at a live show listening to some music, my five best friends were murdered. I ended up going to five funerals in four days. I’d get up, bury a friend, get as hammered as possible, pass out, and then wake up the next day and do the whole thing over again.

Five of your friends were murdered?

Yep.

How did that happen?

It was an escalating tenant-landlord dispute that went way beyond. For those of you who remember, it was the day of the Oklahoma City bombing when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal Building. They were murdered the night before. When I turned on the news, there’s the Federal Building, blown in half on the national channels. On the local channel, it was my best friend’s house burned to the ground and they’re pulling body bags out of the ashes. I thought it was the end of the world. It was the end of my world because my band rehearsed in that house every Wednesday night and this was Tuesday night. If it had been the next day, I would have been one of those five because only three friends lived there and two are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Kryptonite is the thing that affects us that doesn't affect others. Click To Tweet

Burying five friends in four days is not something I recommend for anybody’s journey. I played music at all of their funerals and their memorials. It was my way of saying goodbye. I was the musician in the group. My community embraced me even though it tore me up. The night of the last funeral, I went back and went to some live music. For the first two hours since I had gotten the news, I found peace. No amount of drugs, alcohol, porn, food, or cable TV, and I used them all that whole week, had numb that pain but the music did. It was a pivotal moment in my life. From that moment, I was like, “That’s it. I know what I want to do with my life. I want to be the instrument pun intended that provides peace for others in their toughest times.” That’s what my journey has been like ever since.

That was when you were 22 years old.

Yep.

You were still drinking.

I was drinking, smoking, drugging, sexing, and porning.

You’re doing everything and anything to numb the pain. When did you realize that you had a problem with drugs and alcohol? What was your drug of choice?

It turns out sex was my kryptonite. I was a guy who was in the music business and they say sex, drugs, and rock and roll in that order for a reason. I loved that lifestyle. When I left the music industry, I was able to walk away from drugs and alcohol. It didn’t bother me at all. Women and porn were kryptonite for me. I was powerless around it. That’s why I use the word kryptonite. For those of us who are walking a recovery journey, there are things that affect others that don’t affect us. There are things that affect us that don’t affect others. Kryptonite is my term. I didn’t put two and two together. It took a long time to realize that I had this problem. It was probably not until 2003 that I fully understood that I was powerless over women and that my life had become unmanageable. I walked my ass into a twelve-step meeting on February 17th, 2003. I was scared out of my mind. I’m like, “A freak show.” The meeting was in a circle in a church.

SAA meeting or SLAA?

It was SAA. By the time they got to me, I was like, “I’m Tim. Apparently, I’m a sex addict because you told my story and you talked about thoughts and feelings that I’ve never shared with anybody but I have that exact thing going on inside of me.” It was such an eye-opening experience because what I found in my recovery journey and my clinical journey is that there are a lot of characteristics of thinking in the addictive mind where the person thinks they’re the only one that’s either victimized, suffering, or thinking about whatever it is.

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of Music

Sonic Recovery: Harness The Power Of Music To Stay Sober

When you go to a meeting, suddenly you realize you’re not the only one but it’s a symptom. It’s like a cough. Your thoughts can be a symptom and you thought you were the only one and you thought you were special. That was wonderfully eye-opening for me because I realized I’m not alone and other people have gotten sober. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I don’t have to try anything new. I can follow in other people’s footsteps and take the next right step.

When I called the 800 number for that meeting, a guy named Klaus answered the phone and he said, “I got good news for you. I called the same 800 number ten years ago when my wife served me divorce papers and we’ve been together ever since.” I thought, “If you’ve gotten that darn down the road with divorce papers and then walked it back from that edge, there’s hope.” Klaus gave me hope. The first gift of recovery was hope. The second gift was this feeling of I’m not alone.

When did you realize you were a sex addict? At what point?

I didn’t know I was a sex addict. I didn’t know until I was sitting in the room. I knew I might have a problem.

When did you start thinking you might have a problem?

I didn’t even think I had a problem until I filled out on SAA-Recovery.org. There’s a questionnaire. It’s like, “You might need to go to a meeting if.” It’s ten questions. They’re very specific. I took the questionnaire. I answered yes to eight of them. The criteria were if you answer yes to two of these, you might want to go to a meeting. When I scored 8 out of 10, I was like, “Fuck, there’s something is going on.” I was in a total delusion when I finally went to write out an inventory of all the people I had been unfaithful with my girlfriend with. If you had asked me how many were on the list, I would have told you four and I would have believed it.

My brain had compartmentalized my behavior so well I wasn’t consciously aware of the wreckage until I did an inventory. Do you know those old school lined paper, there are 26 lines? I filled every line and I was mortified, shocked, and surprised because the names kept coming. I had to turn the piece of paper over and I was like, “What?” I went to bed and then I woke up the next day and more names came back to me. My subconscious had buried all that behavior because of all the shame and the cognitive dissonance. I didn’t want to know myself as a player, as someone who was sleeping around, as someone unfaithful. I would have passed a lie detector test that I didn’t have a problem.

How old were you when you went to your first SA meeting?

I’m 31.

The first gift of recovery is hope. The second gift is the feeling that you’re not alone. Click To Tweet

Nine years after the major incident where five of your friends were murdered.

That story is the origin story of when I realized the power that music has over my suffering, my pain, and my experience of the world. I didn’t connect the two dots along that journey. I was still going along, wrecking ball, out of control, and not thinking I have a problem. When I got into recovery, I went back to school a year later for music therapy. At the time, I wanted to go work in hospice. As I was in my music therapy career in school, I remember doing my first rotation in an inpatient mental health facility. I was working with guys who are struggling with a number of different things, one of them being addiction.

When I went to do my internship, I worked in a 28-day residential program and I saw myself sitting in all my groups and I was like, “Wait a minute.” I’m in this position where this one leg of me, a brother in recovery, is here. This other leg of me is this clinician who knows something about music that others don’t. I can help people in recovery lean on music the right way to support them in their recovery and prevent them from relapsing due to their own music. I was happy because my two worlds came together.

That’s awesome. When you were at the treatment center, where was that in your journey?

I was about five years into my recovery journey at that point.

When you got into recovery for your sex addiction, were you drinking? Were you doing drugs at the time as well?

Weed was my drug of choice if you want to use a substance that isn’t alcohol. I was a recreational stoner and drinker. I wasn’t drinking regularly or smoking regularly. I also wasn’t abstinent. It wasn’t on my radar. I might have a beer or two when I go out on the weekends but I might not. I might go months without smoking and then I might see some friends, stoner buddies, and we might get stoned once every six months or a year. It wasn’t part of the constellation of what was hitting for me.

What is your sobriety date?

In sex addiction, sobriety is a little bit different around using the three circles. My circles have changed throughout the years. There are things that at one point where in my middle circle went to my inner circle and now they’re back.

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of Music

Healing Powers Of Music: Not everybody is as coordinated as the others, but everybody has rhythm. If you can tap, snap, clap, hum, rap, sing, strum, or scratch, you can be musical.

 

Give us a quick breakdown of the three circles.

In sex addiction and SAA, we define behavior in three different circles, your inner circle, middle circle, and your outer circle. Your inner circle behaviors would be behaviors that lead to what we call the pitiful demoralization, the bottom-line behaviors, the ones for you that wreck you that leave you feeling more disconnected afterward, that heaped the shame on. They’re behaviors, they’re subjective. Working with your sponsor, you’re the only person who determines what’s in your inner circle. You work with your sponsor to either, over time, add things to that and take things out. It’s a process.

Your middle circle is behaviors. You could look at them in two ways. One, they might be a slippery slope towards your inner circle. Two, they might be a safety net where they’re the least worst option. If you’re feeling squirrely and out of control and you engage in a middle circle, it’s not great. It’s better than your inner circle. That’s like a yellow light if you will, that’s your middle circle. Your outer circle is all the behaviors that lead to you feeling more connected and what we might use the term healthy behaviors, recovery behaviors. The idea is that you could put everything you do from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep in one of those three circles. “My sponsor,” his definition of sobriety is that it’s a process of working with another person to determine what’s good and bad for you. It’s a little bit of a different way of looking at sobriety. It’s dynamic.

It’s not, “I had a beer or I didn’t have a beer. I did a lot of coke or I didn’t do a lot of coke. I smoked some crack or I didn’t smoke some crack.” That’s black and white. You either did or you didn’t. You have these red, yellow, green behaviors, that’s what they also call them. The red behaviors are your bottom-line behaviors, those are the things that lead to guilt, shame, demoralization, and you feeling horrible about yourself. You’ve got the yellow behaviors, which are somewhere in between. You’ve got the green behaviors, which lead to a healthy lifestyle. Those are healthy lifestyle habits. Those are for you playing the guitar. Those are for you running, exercising, eating healthy, having good healthy conversations with people, and with women that don’t lead to objectifying them, whatever would lead to you not feeling good about yourself.

In my journey, sleeping with other women, middle-inner circle behavior. It has always been an inner circle behavior since my first day of recovery. I’ve been abstinent from sleeping with women since the first day of my recovery. I’m grateful for that. Pornography, a whole different candle wax for me. For some people in recovery, it’s a middle circle behavior. For some people, it’s an inner circle behavior. For a long time, it was in my inner circle and I struggled with getting any time more than two years. I could get a year. I could get two years and then I’d have a slip. I’d look at it and then the clock might start over if you will but the frequency went from daily to monthly. It went from monthly to semi-annually. It went from semi-annually to annually. It went to bi-annually and then it might slip back to maybe quarterly.

There’s an important thing when it comes to behavior, which is frequency, intensity, and duration. If you’re changing any behavior, there’s on-off with drinking or with smoking where it’s like, “I never did it again.” Someone who’s working on a recovery journey, the challenge of the sobriety date idea forever thing is I find a lot of people get sober incrementally. What I mean by that is they put down until they don’t and that’s a short period of time. As they practice their recovery, those periods of time get longer and longer and they’re progressing. In certain circles, they feel a lot of shame around the story because it’s a chronic relapse. They’re putting together longer and longer periods of sobriety each and every time. They’re getting better at the game. It’s almost like they’re taking ten steps before they fall over as a kid and then they’re taking twenty steps before they trip. Now they’re taking 100 steps.

For me, my journey has been this incremental way out here. I would love to come on here and be honest and go, “I haven’t looked at porn in twenty years.” I wouldn’t be honest. I couldn’t tell you that. That was the one that’s been the hardest for me to quit. It’s been probably months since I viewed any. I’m feeling rather safe. I still have a sponsor I work with. We talk on the phone probably five days a week, that’s the strongest part of my twelve-step journey. At first, I kept looking at it through this shame lens and then I looked back and I was like, “Your relationship with it is different than it was when you were out of control.” Let’s try to stop beating ourselves up so much. Let’s be a little gentle and yet not take our hands off the wheel and be like, “I’m fine. I got no problems at all,” but to ride that fader between the two.

One of the problems with AA is that if someone slips, if they relapse, it’s like, “I started over. I’ve got less than 30 days.” It’s like, “You have less than 30 days.” However, your recovery journey doesn’t start over. You’re not starting from the ground. You had a slip. You’ve already done some things. You’re already on the journey to recovery. It’s part of the journey for some people. It’s not for everybody. For most people, relapse is part of the journey.

Any behavior change in your life is going to probably require more than one go. My first sponsor walked into his first meeting and never struggled again. His nickname was Gandalf the Wizard because he was this aged guy, white beard, and he never fucked up afterward. I was like, “I can’t be like you. I must be broken because this program works for you. It doesn’t work for me. I can’t put it together any time.” I used to think that the whole thing about less than 30 days, it’s less than 30 days continuous in this run. As if you’re the same person as a newbie who walked in. Let’s all agree it’s an imperfect program and most of us who have been in it are grateful and know that we’d either be dead or in jail without it. We hold both in our hands.

Sobriety is a process of working with another person to determine what's good and bad for you. Click To Tweet

You were still smoking weed and drinking. Are you still smoking weed and drinking a little bit? Are you completely abstinent from drugs and alcohol as well?

I gave up drinking in January 2019. I noticed that every time I had gotten close to sleeping with someone, alcohol was involved. For me, it was like the kerosene that was lighting the fire. I’m also a speaker. Prior to COVID, I’d be on the road 2, 3, 4 times a month speaking at conferences or retreats. I would get into trouble on the road. I would drink on the road, two beers, and then suddenly I’m flirting. I was waiting on someone else’s integrity to keep me safe. Sometimes, I’d meet people who didn’t have that problem. I got close to the edge several times and I realized alcohol was involved every time.

First, I quit drinking on the road. My wife wanted to quit. I saw the ads for One Year No Beer on Facebook. It was December and I remembered I cringed. I was like, “What’s that about? Why did I pull back when I considered One Year No Beer?” Instantly, I was like, “I better sign up.” I signed up with my wife, not on Facebook but in my head. I’m like, “I’m going to do a year with no alcohol.” 2020 came around and I was like, “I don’t feel like going back to alcohol.” I’m glad I didn’t because there would have been lots of opportunities to drink in 2020.

Tim, once I made the decision that I don’t drink, I don’t have to make any decisions anymore. I don’t have to decide whether or not I’m going to drink today or whether or not I’m going to drink tonight or whether I’m going to drink tomorrow or whether or not I’m going to drink because of blank. There are no more decisions involved. It’s off the table. That has been freeing. People ask me, they’re like, “Do you miss it?” I was like, “About 5% of the time.” That’s about it.

Alcohol leads to other behaviors. When I hear you say you’re clean from your bottom line behaviors, instead of resorting to your bottom line behaviors, you resort to something else. You resort to alcohol, drugs, smoking weed, video games, work. If you resort to alcohol because you still drink, next thing you know, your judgment is not great. Alcohol leads to the behaviors. You hear people that say, “I’m a heroin addict. I’m a crack cocaine addict. I’m a meth addict. I don’t have a problem with alcohol. I can still drink.” I’ve seen this happen many times. They have a few drinks and they might be able to do it a few times. The next thing you know, they’re back to meth, heroin, cocaine.

They don’t even know how they got there.

You decided that this was going to be in your life, music, therapy, and you were going to help people. Tell me what transpired next.

The reason I was a musician and wanting to inspire people was because of my friends’ journey. I wanted to give people that peace. In the music business, that culture is unhealthy. I found myself being easily socially influenced than environmentally influenced by all kinds of bad behavior in that world. I discovered there was this career called music therapy. It’s like being a physical therapist working in the same places that a physical therapist works except using music instead of exercise to treat people.

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of Music

Healing Powers Of Music: Music is the most complex stimulus in nature for the human brain to process. It requires every sub-region of the brain to activate, to take in, take apart music, and put it back together.

 

I am one part athlete, one part musician. At one point, I wanted to become a physical therapist but it only felt it was skin deep, it was tissue, it didn’t touch the soul and it didn’t touch the mind. I got bored with it. When I discovered that there was a career called music therapy, it was like putting the two in a blender. At the moment I discovered the field, I filled out my college application to go back to school and my financial aid in that same computer Google search. I never looked back. I realized I can help others through the toughest times of their life and I can do it during the day from home, in a clinic, in a school, in a hospital, or in a professional setting.

That social-environmental cue and influence will be healthy for me compared to being in clubs, in venues, on the road, at festivals, where I might be wanting to use music to help others but that social and environmental cue was sex, drugs. A much safer way for me to express this desire to help people is as a music therapist than as a musician. Plus, I don’t have to be on the road. I don’t have to miss my kids’ childhood and that was important to me.

I went back to school, five years, full-time, in my 30s, and became board certified as a music therapist in 2008. My joke is I haven’t worked since because my experience is that I get paid to play and pray. You don’t work music. You play music. People are like, “You’re lucky.” I’m like, “I have a student loan and five years of my 30s that I don’t get back.” Aside from that, I knew that for the next 30 to 40 years, I would be doing what I love in a safe environment, helping people and not missing my kids’ childhood.

What instruments do you play?

My main instrument is my voice, that’s what I’m trained in since childhood. My second instrument and my accompanying instrument is the guitar. Additionally, I play the Native American flute. I play tons of percussion. I can pick my way around a keyboard. I know the theory.

You’re going to be playing music for the rest of your life.

It’s how I express myself. For me, going into the quick spiritual, I’m this one tiny fraction of the whole that came into form to experience itself. What do I want to be doing while I’m in form? I want to express myself athletically and artistically. When I say artistically, it’s musically specifically. The ultimate joy for me in life is when I experience myself playing. That’s the verb playing because I play sports and I play music. I’m here to play. How do I do that in a way that shines light everywhere around me and increases and improves those around me, those little fractions of me? How can I hook me up, the other me? Which one do I want to do? I want to do that through this medium of music. This is thrilling because I experience the same joy you do differently when you’re the listener and I’m the creator like I experience the joy of music when I’m the listener and you’re the creator. It’s a win-win.

What are some of the myths that we have around making music in our culture?

The main ones are that it requires talent. There’s this thing, the music gene, and there’s no such thing. There’s no music gene. Genes are far more complex than the gene. It doesn’t work that way. We like to try to make simple answers out of complex things. Every human body runs in rhythm. It’s the organizing principle of your body. Everything we do, we do in rhythm. Our cells, organs and body runs on rhythm, which is the foundation of music. Everybody has the ability to be musical. We don’t think that way in our culture. We think some people have it and most don’t.

There is a rhythm to the breathing in and breathing out of the entire universe. Click To Tweet

I’ve never thought about it like that. You’re right, everybody has rhythm.

Not everybody is as coordinated as the others, but everybody has rhythm. If you can tap, snap, clap, hum, rap, sing, strum, or scratch, you can be musical. Tim, everybody scratch is an itch in perfect rhythm. What we do is we take an egg shaker and we pretend we’re scratching. We’re perfectly rhythmic people. Some of us have been handy around the house. If I can hammer and nail, I play a frame drum. If I can bounce a ball, I can play a hand drum. It’s much simpler than we make it out to in our culture. The big myth is that most of us don’t have it and some of us do. We all got it.

How did music originate?

That’s a whole course. There are two lenses to think through, one is evolutionary. Music is what’s called a proto-language. It’s a pre-language. We sang before we spoke as a species to communicate. In addition to evolutionarily, developmentally.

We sang before we spoke.

Yes. We had sound before we had language. We would use sound to communicate and connect. We developed language later on. There’s a mirror of this, which is developmentally with kids. Kids sing before they speak. They vocalize and they sing before they have language. In all cultures, all moms sing to their babies. All moms sing in the same stepwise motion across the globe, regardless of language, because the kids don’t have language yet. They’re not paying attention to the words. They’re paying attention to the melody and the sound of mom’s voice and the tempo, meaning the speed of it. Developmentally and evolutionarily, music comes before language. It’s our stepping stone.

I’m thinking about a dog barking. Dogs barking in rhythm too. Birds chirp in rhythm. Crickets chirp in rhythm. Everything is in rhythm. Nothing is out of whack. It’s always in perfect rhythm, the same sequence, the same frequency, the same sound.

It is the fundamental organizing principle of the universe. There is a rhythm to the breathing in and breathing out of the entire universe.

How was music discovered? Where was this discovered that music was the first thing that was developed before talking and communicating through language?

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of Music

This Is Your Brain on Music

My honest answer is that when I’m spouting out these brainiac little quotes about evolutionary, they are from a guy named Dr. Ani Patel who’s a neuroscientist who studies music in the brain, and this guy named Dr. David Wolfe from the Ohio State University who is also a researcher on music in the brain. I got to attend a real high-level conference and I was a speaker with these guys at this one particular conference. They started to talk about the origin of music and where it started in our journey as a species. Both of those men, their lectures were the ones who taught me that piece of it.

There’s a great book called This Is Your Brain on Music by Dr. Daniel Levitin. He’s also a neuroscientist. He was a recording engineer with the Alan Parsons Project. He went back to school to become a neuroscientist. In his book, This Is Your Brain on Music, he gives you a great journey through music without losing you along the way. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it to anybody. You’ll come away with such a deeper appreciation for the power of music in your life.

What happens in the brain? How does music interact with the brain? How is it relevant to addiction treatment?

What’s the point? Music is the most complex stimulus in nature for the human brain to process. It requires every sub-region of the brain to activate, to take in, take apart music, and put it back together. When we do that and we have the experience that we’re either making the music ourselves or we’re listening to music we enjoy, our reward system gets activated. The reward system is what gets hijacked during drug addiction. That same reward system gets activated when we either make music or we listen to the music we enjoy. It is pleasure-inducing.

That’s relevant to people in recovery who are going through this journey of anhedonia where they’re not feeling anything in early recovery or early treatment because their reward system is been shot to hell and their brain is recalibrating. They don’t feel anything. Introducing pleasure causing behaviors back into their life is important so that they don’t feel they’re dead inside or that there’s no fun left. Whenever we make music or listen to the music we enjoy, dopamine is released in the brain and that’s that feel-good chemical.

When we make music together or we listen to music together, oxytocin gets produced which is the social glue, the hug drug if you will, in our brain. That feeling that we’re connected to someone else is released when we’re making music in a group or we’re listening to it. If we listen to relaxing music, our brain releases prolactin. Prolactin is a chemical that allows us to feel the afterglow, this chill, “That’s nice.” That feeling that we have when we’re satisfied is prolactin and slow tempo music will trigger the release of that.

Everybody knows music is good for their mood and their spirit. When I learned what music did specifically to the brain and the body, I got curious. The last piece that’s important for a person in recovery is that it turns off the stress response. Our nervous system runs in these three speeds or three gears. Rest and digest, which is your normal default nervous system. You’re in connection mode and creativity mode. We have the fight-flight response. People are familiar with that. That’s the sympathetic nervous system activation. That’s when we go into protection mode and reaction mode. That’s when we don’t consider the behaviors we’re doing at the moment. We may not be fully aware of what that’s going to do in the future. We’re right at the moment dealing with whatever’s going on.

Music resets that nervous system faster than any oral medication. Most people have experienced this for themselves when they were in an emotional state and a song came on. I hear this story all the time. I was here. The song came on. Before the song was even over, I was in a different state. It shifted me. It pulled me out. When I listen to recovery specific songs on YouTube, in the comments, I will read over and over, “This song saved my life. This song is the thing that got me into recovery. This song is the one that helped me through my toughest time.” As a musician, I’ve heard that personally as well.

We know that music turns off that stress response. When we have the stress response, that’s when the brain triggers cravings because it’s the brains’ way of trying to self soothe. What we want is we want tools that work fast to turn that stress response over before our brain can issue a whopper-sized craving. The brain is not designed to withstand cravings. It’s designed to do the behavior. That’s the system’s design, it’s trying to self soothe. We can use music in those moments to reset.

Music resets that nervous system faster than any oral medication. Click To Tweet

The brain is designed to do the behavior and not to resist, which is why willpower doesn’t work.

That’s why people feel terrible about themselves because they don’t understand that craving isn’t designed to be withstood. It’s designed to be listened to and followed. Gabor Mat at Wanderlust in 2016, I will never forget the moment he said, “A craving is your brain’s way of trying to love itself.” It’s trying to self soothe.

It was looking for the solution, the behavior that’s going to soothe.

Whatever is going to soothe. That part of the brain doesn’t care if it’s healthy, legal, socially acceptable. It doesn’t care if it caused a bunch of problems. The last 27 times he did, it doesn’t care about the future ramifications. It’s the number one answer. It knows, at the moment, that will scratch the itch.

Gabor Mat also says, “Addiction is a solution to the pain.” The question is not why the addiction. The question is why the pain. That’s why in addiction treatment, we have to look at the root of the trauma because the pain is the cause of the addiction and the bad behaviors. Is there a type of music that’s better to turn off the stress response than another type of music? There are lots of kinds of music. Is any music therapy? Can I turn on Eazy-E? Is my stress response going to be turned off?

Here’s what the research shows, it depends on whether or not you like Eazy-E and it depends whether or not you already have any neuro associations to using while listening to Eazy-E.

What happens is we have party playlists. We all got hammered to music. There’s a neuro association between the music we’re listening to, the emotions we’re feeling, and the behaviors we were doing. I remember early in my recovery, at the time, if I put on EDM dance music, within four beats I was thinking about women. It was coursing through my veins. I was like, “I can’t even come near this.” I could listen to any other music but that music triggered me because that was always the soundtrack. 

The good news is that neuro association tapers, prunes, and atrophies over time. In long-term recovery, you can go back and you can check-in and listen to music from that time and you’ll observe the music. You might even have a memory but you won’t have that emotional charge to it. It’s similar to the grief journey. Early in grief, there is an emotional charge with the memory. Over time, you’re left with the memory and the emotional charge fades. Music operates very similarly. It’s important for people in recovery to understand to avoid your party playlists for as long as until you check in with them. Notice that they don’t start to trigger that emotional charge.

The second thing people ask is, “What’s the right type to listen to?” The right type of music to listen to is the music that you enjoy, that you associate with safety, connection, inspiration, and comfort. If you love Celine Dion, all the power to you. Go at it. Listen to Celine. If somebody likes Michael Bolton, good for you. That’s why God invented headphones so that I don’t have to hear Michael Bolton. It’s like a flavor. It’s subjective. You don’t have to try anything new. You don’t have to buy anything new. Stick with the genres you already are comfortable with that already have that inspirational neuro association. Beware of the party playlist.

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of Music

Healing Powers Of Music: People feel terrible about themselves because they don’t understand that craving isn’t designed to be withstood. It’s designed to be listened to and followed.

 

There is dark music. You have Death Metal. You have Punk rock. What would your response be to that? Let’s say I love death metal. If I love Death Metal and I’m trying to get clean and sober, it’s not triggering, is that going to lift me up?

It depends on your relationship with Death Metal. It may very much so. What we noticed in the research is that music doesn’t cause emotion. Emotion causes the choice of music. It’s like the chicken or the egg. A lot of parents are concerned about the music their kids listen to that it’s going to cause them to be depressed or suicidal. They reach for that music because they’re already vibrating at that point and the music resonates with something inside of them. That’s why when you’re sad, you listen to sad music because it’s matching the experience you’re already having.

Here’s what they noticed, particularly with adolescence and this can be extended to adults. 1 of 3 things happens when you’re in that negative mood and you turn on what some people would call dark music. One, the music acts as this resonant catharsis where you feel heard and understood and you express and get out that emotion and you feel better afterwards. Two, it doesn’t do anything. You’re listening to the music but your mood preceded the music and your mood is still there after the music. Sometimes, the music will exacerbate those feelings. You’ll get in a spiral. It could be an anger spiral, particularly with metal, with fast tempo music. It could be a downward spiral. What they find is that sometimes, even the same music, kids will use it to experience all three depending on where they are in the moment.

It’s interesting that it’s not like, “Stay up. This is okay. This isn’t okay.” It’s subjective. What’s important is to have a connection with someone else to be able to talk about those experiences without any judgment. The problem parents have is they can’t talk with their kids about their music without judgment. They suck at it. They have total amnesia. They forget that when they were a teen their music drove their parent’s crazy. That’s why kids will spend more time in their bedroom listening to music and feel more connected alone in their room than down in the living room because the music doesn’t judge them, it doesn’t lecture them and it doesn’t scold them.

What about the lyrics? I’m a person that doesn’t listen to the lyrics. I’m more into the beat. I’m more into the way that it makes me feel. I might know all the words to a song. However, I have no clue what is being said. I can remember, I would get in trouble because I would listen to things and my mom is like, “Do you know what that is saying?” It’s like, “Not really. I’m not into it. I like the beat.” What do you have to say about the lyrics?

The jury is out on lyrics. When I pull kids to ask them why they listen to the music they listen to, l what you said, I get, “I don’t know. I like the beat. It’s bumping.” I’ve also had guys in groups say, “I used because Lil Wayne sang about it.” I have to be honest. There are three types of influence, personal influence, my own thoughts and beliefs, social influence, which is the influence of others on me, and then environmental influence, the influence of the environment on me. Social influence is real. We have to say that. What’s important is having a connection so we feel connected. We can check-in if you’re listening to something that’s got crazy lyrics. You start thinking, “That’ll be a good idea.” It’s more complex than I wish it was.

Music is therapy and music turns off the stress response. Listening to music versus playing music, which is going to do a better job?

The gold standard is making music. Making music doesn’t mean learning an instrument. It means involving your body in music. You could be listening to the music you enjoy and then try to stay with the beat whatever the beat is. Try to drum the beat. Try to sing along with the beat or hum it or rap along. If you engage your body with the music, it pulls you into the present moment because music is time-based. You have to be present to make music. It allows you to stay present whereas music listening, you can go all over the place. Music making is the gold standard and you don’t have to learn an instrument to make music.

Dancing is number two and listening is number three.

Making music doesn't mean learning an instrument. It means involving your body in music. Click To Tweet

Any way you engage your body, that’s aces.

Tim, how can people reach you?

I have a gift for anybody who’s reading. One of the gifts I give away to everybody is the gift of relaxation. We all need tools to help us reset our stress. If you go to SonicRecovery.com, I’ll give you a fifteen-minute relaxation vacation and that’s the place that’ll put you on my list. I’m also at TimRinggold.com. My podcast is Reduce Your Stress with Tim Ringgold, find that where you find podcasts. I release relaxation music and interviews on that every week. Upcoming is the Stress Elimination Summit Recovery Edition where we have 28 speakers talking specifically about how to reduce your stress in the context of a recovery journey and why that’s important. You can go to StressEliminationSummit.com to register for free.

Is there anything else you want to share?

Stick with it. Find the good and focus on it.

Tim, thank you so much.

Thanks, Tim.

Important Links:

About Tim Ringgold

ILBS 16 | Healing Powers Of MusicTim Ringgold is a board-certified music therapist, columnist, author, and host of the podcast, Reduce Your Stress. He has provided music therapy to thousands of teens and adults to help them lower anxiety and reduce pain.

Tim is also an award-winning international speaker, having shared the stage with some of the top minds on music, the brain, and personal development, including Tony Robbins.

Tim was the first person to give a TEDx talk on music therapy in 2012. Tim is also a former Regional President of the American Music Therapy Association.

Meditation, Music, And Breathwork For Sober Living With Jason Campbell

There is way more to recovery than just abstaining from drinking and doing drugs. People can get clean and sober by seeking other things to achieve fulfillment. On today’s show, Tim Westbrook chats with Jason Campbell, the Founder of Zen Wellness, an organization committed to health, healing, and longevity using the skillful means of time-tested Medical Qigong, Tai Chi, and Yoga. A 7th-degree black belt and Zen Wellness Master Teacher, Jason has been teaching the eastern healing and spiritual arts for over 25 years. Together, Tim and Jason talk about self-care and discipline, and explore the magic of meditation, music, and breathwork in assisting sober living, emphasizing how quieting your mind is such an important thing to do.  

Watch the episode here:

Listen to the podcast here:

Meditation, Music, And Breathwork For Sober Living With Jason Campbell

I am here with Jason Campbell of Zen Wellness. Being clean and sober is more than not just drinking and doing drugs. There’s way more to it. I’m going to tell a story. I remember about in 2019, I was with one of our clients, one of our residents, we were up at a treatment center and this was a resident that was disgruntled. It was myself and our Program Director, Anthony Tatum. We were up at The Meadows Outpatient Center and this resident was screaming. He was completely flying off the handle. He stopped and he said, “I’m concerned that Tim is not giving us a bigger reaction and that he’s not taking this seriously.”

My response was, “I’m here to listen and see what I can do to make this situation right.” What I realized after that meeting was that the guy was looking for a reaction. He was looking for a response. I was talking with a guy named Paul Sugar, who’s the Director of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course. I was in the process of taking his class at that time. I talked to them about it and he said, “It’s because he wanted a reaction because he’s addicted to adrenaline.” Many people are addicted to chaos and adrenaline. This guy was early on in recovery. He went to inpatient treatment at The Meadows, and then he was a few days out.

To frame this correctly, this is a guy that was planning on staying at the Four Seasons for two months while he went to outpatient treatment but instead, he decided to go to sober living. Our sober living homes are nice. However, they’re not the Four Seasons. His expectations were much different than the services that we provided. The point being is that there’s way more to recovery than just not drinking and not doing drugs because the drinking and the doing drugs are the solution. If someone gets clean and sober, they seek other things to achieve fulfillment. You’ve got the drinking, drugs, excessively looking at Facebook, exercising, overeating, smoking cigarettes. There are many other things that people can do. When I first got sober, that was when I first dug into meditation and breathwork because quieting your mind is such an important thing to learn how to do.

I’m grateful to have Jason Campbell here as my guest. Jason is the Founder of the Zen Wellness Center. His unique perspective on health wellness and spiritual growth comes from his lifelong study of music and the ancient arts of Taoist health, medicine and enlightenment. He is a seventh-degree black belt and Cofounder of Zen Wellness. His meditation and Zen training began as a child through music. His whole adult life has been an effort combined with Eastern arts, wellness, meditation and music. He has released over twenty albums. He has been number one on the Billboard and Amazon, and created three musical styles, five-element meditation music, Zen piano and new opera. The music has opened meditation to many who have never meditated before or who have tried and been unsuccessful in their effort to simply sit and clear the mind. Jason, it’s good to have you here. Welcome.

It’s good to be here.

Where did it all start for you, Jason? I’ve known Jason for a while and he has led little workshops with our house managers intern. He has led meditation sessions with our sober living homes. He is a master. He’s 50 years old but doesn’t look 50 years old. He’s got secrets. Jason, tell me where it started for you. How did it start? 

I’ll have to go back to when I was eight years old on the piano. My piano teacher said to me, “Never, ever listen to notes. Idiots listen to notes. Masters listen to space in between the notes.” When you hear a note, when your mind focuses on sound or notes, your mind is cluttered with thought. When you focus on silence or the space in-between notes, you stop the incessant stream of thinking, the inner voice in the head. When you drop the inner voice in the head, you can hear everything. Your mind becomes clear. We didn’t use the word meditation. I didn’t use that word until about a decade later when I was formally trained in ashram, sitting, kneeling, and doing breathwork, all the physical movement and the martial arts.

There are many ways up the mountain. Don't be attached to which way you get to it. Click To Tweet

My entry point to it came from the sound. When I was formally trained later, I thought, “I’ve been doing this.” This is already what we’ve been doing. We came at it like a slightly different toolset, but it doesn’t matter how you get there. However you get up the mountain is however you get up the mountain. There are many ways up the mountain and don’t be attached to which way you get to the mountain. It points to some of your mindfulness or some of the training that you went through when you had the irate person who in his mind an expectation was not being lived up to. Whether real or perceived, he was going through that. How you were able to stay calm, have some space and respond as opposed to react, that comes when you have more space in your head.

Jason and I were supposed to start this show at 9:00. I logged into StreamYard which is the service I use and the broadcast somehow had got deleted. I wasn’t able to figure out how to go live. I went onto Facebook and I wasn’t able to figure it out. I called Jason and his alarm wasn’t set. He was unprepared. However, there’s no reason to react. Tell me, Jason, from your perspective, how did we handle that whole situation?

I don’t even notice because the technology didn’t go as planned. If you get thrown off-center every time technology does not go as planned, you’re going to have a tough life. Technology is a great example of it. If things don’t always go as planned, then you have a choice to how you react and how you respond. Is there a space between the action and the reaction? This is an example, “You couldn’t control it. You called me, “Text me when you get the link then we’ll do it and we’ll roll,” and here we are.

If getting stressed and upset helped, then I’d get stressed and upset immediately. I do it all the time. I teach seminars on how to get stressed and upset. Shorten your breath, look down, tighten your shoulders, think about what else could go wrong. Think about all the ways that you’ve been a victim and every way that somebody has wronged you. Now, stop your breathing and hold your breath, and make a mean face. We have seven steps or so, but most people are already masters at that. They don’t need my coaching.

When did you discover the magic of meditation and breathwork? Tell me the process. How old were you when you first realized this magic?

As a kid and training and music. It first came from the sound. It was my original meditation. When I was trained formally, it all made sense to me. I remember even at nineteen years old thinking, whether you’re playing piano, swinging a sword, conducting an orchestra, painting with a brush, it’s all the same. It’s about presence and being now. It’s about some type of art and expression. The real short version is I did all my music studies and I went to school. I was trained and had a career in music, but then in my mid-twenties, I decided to devote full-time to all my Zen training and my personal development. I opened studios and we started the business, raised a family, and did all those types of things.

I took about twenty years off from writing music professionally. When I came back to it a few years ago, it was clear. I’m going to blend all the ancient teachings, a lot of the Eastern teachings, and I’m going to translate it into music for a purpose of creating more stillness. Whether it’s music for some of the breathwork that we do, some of the mantra, a lot of it is meditation music or Zen piano, whatever the brand is that all points to that direction. If you listen to pop music, it’s some type of combination of, “I want you. I need you. I miss you. Let’s party and social commentary.” I’m not saying that is a good or bad thing. I love music and all types of music because of the way music makes you feel but it is usually that. That’s not my brand or the style that I’m doing. It’s all for some type of mental stillness, emotional stillness and personal development.

ILBS 12 | Meditation Practice

Meditation Practice: Things don’t always go as planned. You have a choice to how you react and respond.

 

Would you say music was first then?

That’s what I started at first. I took a couple of decades off before doing all the combination. If you even look at meditation, one of the things that we do is we help a lot of people not just meditate but a lot of people tried meditation and not succeeded with it or not felt like, “I got any benefit from it.” You started meditation, “I’m going to close my eyes. What’s happening now? What am I supposed to do? I’m looking around? What am I missing here?” We have people that come to us and they’re honest when they talk about their experience with meditation, “It was almost stressful because I’m sitting here being still and I’m not getting anything done. I have this list and I need to get things done,” or the stress of the addiction, media addiction, phone addiction or the need to picking up your phone and scrolling.

There’s a lot of addiction there and it makes the mind turbid. Little stillness is going to come through Instagram or looking at Facebook. It makes your head full of stuff and it creates more thought. When we look at meditation, there are three types of meditation and we call that sitting, standing and moving. Sitting meditation is what you normally think of as meditating when you’re still, but there’s a movement that you can do. There’s a bunch of standing postures that you can do. Usually, we start our members on some type of all three. Sometimes we have people that come to us that their sitting is hard for them, to sit and be still. We say, “Don’t worry about that. Let’s give you some moving meditation,” or it’s a combination of movement, breath, intention and that gets it started. After a while, it becomes much easier to sit and be still.

A lot of times people feel unsuccessful at meditating because nothing is happening. It’s like we want this spiritual awakening the first time we meditate or every single time we meditate, and that’s not the case. It’s a meditation practice. I can relate to this. If I’m meditating, I’m not getting anything done. I’ve got a gazillion things going on in my head and I’m like, “I don’t have time to meditate for five minutes because I’ve got a list that’s 300 things long.” How do you overcome that urge?

Let’s back up a few steps here. Think of the nature of the mind. We have two parts and there’s a teaching in the word human being. The human part changes every day. You and I are different than when we were eight years old from a human viewpoint. From a being viewpoint, which think of being is the observer, the eternal I am, the being doesn’t change. The eight-year-old observer is the same as it is now and the same as it will always be. When I say observer, think of it as that which watches your thoughts. One of the internal disciplines is the ability to watch your thoughts. The analogy I like to use is like a cat looking at a mouse hole. The cat stares and waits.

When you can activate the observer and watch the stream of consciousness, that creates a little bit of space between you and the thought. It’s been estimated that we have about 60,000 to 100,000 thoughts per day, and 99% of them are the same thoughts we had yesterday. It’s like a skipped record of recurring thoughts. The first step is to watch them and realize that most of the thoughts you have, you don’t need. It’s taking up headspace and room for new thoughts or something that’s going to be more creative. When you start the discipline of watching it, that’s when you can start to have a little break of no thought. The voice in the head goes, “Blah, blah, blah,” and that little space is almost like a crack.

Think of it as a crack that’s letting light in. There’s even a Japanese word for that experience. It’s called satori, which roughly translates into a glimpse of enlightenment. All you need is the crack because once you experience it, you can’t unring that bell. By having that, you have fewer thoughts, less mental and emotional turbidity. You have room for more creative thoughts or better thoughts. It even changes the brain chemistry. There have been more studies than you could possibly ever read or study that’s been done on meditation and brain chemistry on meditation. The short answer is it increases dopamine and serotonin, which are the happy chemical. It can decrease cortisol, which is the death hormone, excessive cortisol.

Respond as opposed to react. Click To Tweet

What’s the goal of meditation?

The first step is to create a little gap in the incessant stream of thinking. You have a moment of no thought. It’s a moment of nothing and you’re sitting with nothing. I had one teacher years ago that would always say to me, “There’s no such thing as good or bad Zen. There’s only Zen. There’s no such thing as a good or bad meditation. There’s only meditation.” Even if your brain is a turbid snowstorm and you can’t stop thinking, that’s okay. Even if you make your body still and connecting with your breath for a couple of minutes and begin that process, that’s okay because with practice and doing something over and over again, you do get better at it.

The other thing that we find, especially in these pandemic times, is starting members with breathwork is also good. Sometimes you can’t stop the mind if it’s too much. We’ve got to get you doing some deep pranayama, which means deliberate breath with inhaling and exhaling. We have different kinds of meditations that we do with that. The breath is everything. If you look at somebody that’s stressed, I’ll bet you the person that was upset, was yelling and screaming was not deep breathing. Shallow chest breath and they’re oxygen-deprived. It tends to happen when you become stressed.

The average person has between 60,000 to 100,000 thoughts per day. Would it be fair to say that one of the goals of meditation is to bring that number down?

Yes, absolutely.

I would be curious to know if that could be measured.

I haven’t found a way to measure it but I’m looking forward to it.

ILBS 12 | Meditation Practice

Meditation Practice: Moving meditation is a combination of movement, breath, and intention.

 

How many thoughts do you have per day? Ninety percent of those thoughts are the same thoughts that you had yesterday. How many of those are toxic thoughts?

It depends on the mind and I’ll bet a lot of them are toxic. There’s a joke about the inner dialogue is the asshole that lives in my head. Usually, the inner dialogue is not a nice person or it spends more time being negative than positive. The good news is that’s okay. You’re not going to change that. Don’t get angry at the monkey mind for being negative because the monkey mind is going to do what the monkey mind is going to do. If you try to say, “I need to think more positively.” That’s tough to do with the incessant stream of thought. What’s much easier to do is realize that it’s just your thoughts. You are not your thoughts.

The thoughts are just clouds going by. The second thing is you don’t have to judge them. You don’t have to take them seriously. If you have negative, nasty, ugly thoughts. It’s like ugly stormy clouds going by. You don’t have to act on them. When you create that little bit of space, you also become less judgmental towards yourself because they’re just your thoughts. It’s okay to have an ugly thought. Let’s give our readers a permission to have horrible, nasty, ugly thoughts. Don’t act on them or don’t take them seriously. Keep them as a thought and then you let them go like clouds passing by. You don’t even take them seriously. When you have negative, silly, stupid or ridiculous thoughts, you just smile and laugh.

That’s the monkey mind being crazy again. It’s crazy because it’s a monkey. There’s an old saying that says, “Chain the monkey to the tree.” It’s a playful way of saying, “Stop the incessant stream of thinking in the monkey mind.” However, I’m going to add to the old saying. You have to go into it realizing that the monkey is a master locksmith. However long you chain that monkey to the tree, it’s going to escape. No matter what you do, it’s coming out. It loves to trick you into even thinking it’s still chained because here’s what happens with members all the time. This is a process of development. You start the process and you do one of the disciplines to stop the mind from talking.

An easy one in the beginning as you say to yourself, “I wonder what thought I’m going to have next,” and then you wait for your next thought. The cat waiting for the mouse hole. Eventually, a thought comes out and you repeat. It’s one of many different exercises you can do to have less thoughts. Here’s what happens. You have a moment, “Blah, blah, blah,” and you have a moment with no blahs. The moment you realize that, “I’m not thinking anymore. I’m getting this. I’m cool. It’s rad. I’m not doing any more thoughts,” you blew it.

I say that playfully because it’s going to happen but that’s okay. The mind will trick you and the monkey mind will do that. When you catch yourself doing that, you have to smile and come back to, “I wonder what my next thought will be.” When you start to get this muscle of even having a couple of seconds of no thinking, it’s amazing what it does for your happiness, creativity, clarity, for dropping judgment on yourself and even judgment on others. It starts with that little crack of not thinking.

What do you say to the person that says, “I’ve tried to meditate, I can’t do it?”

Internal discipline is the ability to just watch your thoughts. Click To Tweet

We say a few things and the first thing is, “When you say I can’t and then whatever it is, you’re usually right because the mind is not allowing you to do it.” The first thing I would say, “Let’s drop that.” We want to say, “You didn’t benefit from meditation in the past, fine, but then we want to take a different approach to it.” Usually, the person that has a hard time doing it will start with some type of breathwork like deep breathing. We have a whole series of breathwork exercises that we do. It’s like, “Don’t worry about trying to stop thinking. Let’s get you in your breath or even movement.” It’s because there’s a combination. This is the back of one of our books. This is an old concept and it translates to mean jing, qi, and shen.

What that means is we’re made up of matter, energy, and consciousness. The matter is everything you can see, touch and feel. The qi is the energy and that’s the breath. That’s also the emotion because you can’t hold emotion in your hand but it still exists as qi or bioelectrical energy, whatever we want to say, but it’s all things qi. Shen is spirit, consciousness, the awareness or the I am. An analogy I like to use with this is if we have H2O, solid, liquid and vapor would be the three. Likewise in meditation, we have sitting, standing and moving. When we do our movement, it’s the movement, breath and intention. I’ll give you a couple of answers to that. Sometimes we’ll start our members on, “Here’s the movement and don’t worry about trying to sit and be still.” If you’re willing to go through some of the phases of mastery and say, “I want to learn this and I’m going to do this,” then you’ve got to get over yourself and drop the I can’t and each day do a little bit.

For example, one of the breath exercises you do is you pump oxygen into your body, then you exhale everything and you hold the exhalation. You usually try and do 30 or 60 seconds. As you get stronger, you build up. We have many people who are lucky to do ten seconds holding the exhalation and that’s where they’re at. I say, “If you’re a ten, let’s see between now and next week, make it to eleven. In between next week, then make it to twelve.” It’s like, “I think I can do eleven.” You get to the ten and you do one more and you’re good. From 11 to 12, three months go by, they’re holding their breath for 60 seconds doing it. A lot of it is the mental block in the beginning or not thinking masterfully yet. Being a master in any subject is a skillset. Mastery is a skillset no matter what the skill. Let’s approach this from the mindset and the viewpoint of mastery.

It’s a tiny habits approach. It starts with 10 seconds, then 11, then 12 seconds. What is the recipe or what are your instructions to somebody who is newly in recovery or anybody for that matter who wants to learn how to meditate? What’s your advice?

I’ll give you a couple of things. We have a portal that I can give you. It’s EveryoneCanMeditate.org. It’s a free portal. There’s a bunch of stuff, music, and we have some exercises that we do in that. It depends on where your starting point is. Let’s do a little exercise with the readers, “I don’t have time to meditate. I can’t do it. This is too overwhelming. I know it’s something I should but I can’t do it.” Let’s do this. Close your eyes, inhale, exhale, open your eyes. You did your meditation for the day. Good job.

You can start with one breath and if that’s what it takes to start, do that. Maybe tomorrow you do two breaths, and then three breaths. If you’re having a hard time doing it, close your eyes and take deep breaths. That can get you started. There’s a lot more as we go along but I’d rather have you do that and do nothing because 1 breath leads to 2 breaths, leads to 5 breaths, leads to 10 breaths, and then you can get comfortable starting to sit and be still. The second part of that is the discipline of asking yourself, “I wonder what my next thought will be,” and waiting for the thought and see if you can have a split second of not having a thought.

When you start, you have to find the time that works for you. A lot of my music that I wrote for this were five-minute pieces to get people to meditate for five minutes. There’s a bell every four seconds. You breathe when you hear the bell and you exhale. You put on headphones or listen however you want to listen, then that’s a five-minute. If five minutes is too much, do one minute. If you don’t want to listen to music, put on a countdown timer, close your eyes and breathe for one minute but do get started because when you start this process, it is an amazing process. I have yet to meet anybody that says, “I wish I didn’t start that meditation habit.” I haven’t found anything or anyone that’s ever said that. This has completely changed my life, my body chemistry, and how I relate to myself and others. It’s the little bit of space between action, reaction, and the change of brain chemistry that’s amazing.

ILBS 12 | Meditation Practice

Meditation Practice: When you can activate the observer and watch the stream of consciousness, that creates a little bit of space between you and the thought.

 

I can relate. Meditation has been a game-changer for myself. I know many people that meditate. What about the time of day? Going back to the newcomer or going back to the person trying to learn how to meditate, when should they meditate? First thing in the morning, during the middle of the day, in the evening. Do you have any suggestions?

I have a few different answers to it. The first answer is whenever you can is good. Whatever works and the time to meditate is now. There’s the saying, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.” The best time to start a meditation discipline is twenty years ago. The second -best time is right now. The second thing is we do find that when you do it early morning, the first thing, you have better success with it, but it is good if you can pull it off. One is the psychology of having it done with. It’s like exercising or there’s something that you do in the day, when you can do it in the morning, you get it out of the way and your day is different.

You feel good about yourself. “I did my meditation. I did my breathwork, but I’ll take it any time throughout the day.” We have a lot of our members that will do little blocks of meditation through the day. They’ll take a loop or a little break, make your body still, or do one of the movements or breath exercises. You think of it as you’re pumping life in your body all throughout the day. It’s like filling up the gas tank throughout the day. The first answer is any time. The second answer is to do it in the morning. The psychology, you got it done with.

I like the morning because my mind goes 100 miles an hour and I’m sure there are lots of people out there that can relate to me. My first thing before I get out of bed, I do breathwork, then the eleven-step prayer, and then I meditate for ten minutes. It’s like, “I get my meditation out of the way. I’m good.” I do meditate at different points in the day beyond that. A lot of times, I have way too much going on and I’m not able to get my stop. The next thing you know, I’m ready to go to bed. That’s how the day works.

You’re wise for doing it first thing in the morning because it also sets the tone of the day. Do you notice a difference on a day that you do meditate and the day that you don’t? Do you notice a difference?

I give myself an hour in the morning and some people make fun of me because, for example, I went and did my workout at 8:45. I’m up at 4:00 AM and I can barely make it to my class by 5:00 AM because I get up, do breathwork, pray, and meditate. I do red light therapy and get on my power plate. That time for me is self-care, which is what I’ve learned in recovery. It’s such an important thing for me to do to get my day started off on the right foot, to be centered, to be grounded, to not be reactionary. I don’t want to be a victim. I’m responsible. It starts by getting the day started. I can remember hitting snooze on my alarm clock and ten minutes goes by and another ten minutes goes by. The next thing you know, I’m running out the door and I don’t have any time to myself. I’m completely sideways when I do that. That time to quiet my mind has been a game-changer for my life.

The best investment that you can make is the investment in yourself. The morning discipline is good because it sets the day and it sets the tone. You never regret the time that you invest in yourself in whatever the modality that you do. The way nature is set up is funny. God played this funny trick on us where we’re issued this body. You don’t own your body. You think you own it, but it’s not yours. We borrow it because at some point, we give it back. It’s weird because we don’t know when we give it back. There are two things we do know. We do know that you have to give it back and the second thing is you don’t know when. It also requires maintenance like all things, like a car. If you don’t maintain your car, you’re going to have car problems.

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The thing about the car is if you completely neglect it, you can replace a car. Good luck with replacing a body. You have to do some type of work and development even to maintain vitality because after your early 30s or around there, if you don’t do something, you start to feel it in the energy. It’s the energetic inflation that happens around there. Is that a good or a bad thing? I wasn’t consulted on the way nature is set up.

You have to do that. If somebody thinks, “You’re selfish by doing that.” That’s a little naive to say that. It’s selfless because if you’re in service of others, you have to make sure that your body is strong and you’re in a good state. If you always just give or you exhale without inhaling, at some point you don’t have anything to exhale anymore. You can only give what you have in abundance of. Taking care of yourself and having a self-care discipline, whatever that looks like for you, is essential. It’s not selfish, it’s selfless.

For someone that wants to meditate, is meditation just sitting there? Are there forms of meditation?

We break it into three different forms, sitting, standing and moving meditation. The movement meditation starts to loosen your body up. It loosens your joints and it starts to circulate the energy throughout your body. We call it breathe movement and intention. Standing was a whole series of static postures that you do with breath. That’s how you get the qi to move. It’s like steam rising when you stop. When you sit, the mental and emotional turbidity starts to settle. That’s why we call that sitting, standing, and moving meditation. There are examples in the website I gave, in the portal, about how to pull that off and do it.

I find doing yoga is spiritual, meditational, and physical. I do my sitting meditation every day but then I have the other things that I do like when I ride, run, swim or hike. Any time where I can be by myself to myself, I would consider that meditation for me as well.

It’s a meditation if you make it meditation because you can do a lot of things with meditation. What I always advise, if you think breath, movement, intention when you’re doing things physically. Gym work is good where you pump your biceps. I go to the gym a couple of times a week, you build up your biceps but let’s remember you don’t die of that bicep, you die of a heart attack. Make sure you’re doing a discipline that affects the organs and the circulation of energy within the organs. Let’s go back to doing curls in the gym. If I could clone you and one of you goes and does your curls, does your stuff, looking around, looking at the television or looking at other people, but you still do the exact same movement, and then your clone adds two things.

First is breath. You inhale as you come down. You exhale as you exert force, inhale, exhale. Let’s say a bench press. You exhale as you push the weight out. If you add your breath and then the second thing, if you add intention. What does that mean? Put your awareness into whatever muscle you’re working. If it’s in your bicep, you close your eyes, you put your mind right in the bicep, you feel every part of it as you’re breathing in, you’re moving. I clone you, then one person does that, one of your clones doesn’t. After a couple of months, there’s a huge difference. You can spend the same amount of time, but you get a much bigger return on investment if you add those two things, the breath and intention.

ILBS 12 | Meditation Practice

Meditation Practice: It’s been estimated that we have about 60,000 to 100,000 thoughts per day, and 99% of them are the same thoughts we had yesterday.

 

If people want to learn more about you or Zen Wellness, tell them where to find you and Zen Wellness.

EveryoneCanMeditate.org. We have a whole system and a portal, you can go in, get a lot of direction and music. We explain how to use the music and there are links to music. If you want some other overview, ZenWellness.us is one of them. If you want some more of my music, JasonCampbellMusic.net. You can also find me if you look me up on all the streaming services. There are other people with my same name, so type in Jason Campbell Meditation Music and you’ll get a bunch of stuff. If you want to pursue this, I suggest you go to the EveryoneCanMeditate.org site, and then we have a bunch of info for you there.

Jason’s music is fantastic. If you want to learn how to meditate, breathe along with him. It’s like you’re breathing with him, so it’s set up well.

It all comes from stillness. I do live what we’re talking about. In the piano music, the way it’s even composed is from a place of nothing and a place of complete stillness. I have a whole process for it, but if you listen to any of the Zen pianos, see if you can focus not on the notes but listen to the space in between the notes. Even going through deep listening, if you say, “I don’t have the headspace to meditate,” put on one of the Zen piano songs and the concept is that through deep listening, the space in the music creates space in your thoughts. It’s another way that you can get there. There are many ways up the mountain.

Jason, I appreciate you being on the show. Anything else that you want to share with people out there about breathwork and music?

I appreciate being on here and thank you for inviting me. Your place is amazing. When I went there before and we did some meditation, what you’re doing for sober living is cutting edge. It’s fantastic. I’m impressed with everything. The environment that you set up is amazing. In terms of starting, start small. Set yourself up to win even if it’s one breath. Close your eyes and do one breath a day. You can do that, do it right now and then you win. Tomorrow is two because when you feel like you fail at something, you don’t want to keep doing it. Set up the game so that you’re going to win and make it super simple and super easy. That’s how you build a long-term muscle, not just in meditation but anything.

People change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad. Start small. If your goal is one breath per day, then you’re going to accomplish 1, and then you make it 2, and then 3. That’s how to create a meditation practice or anything for that matter. Thanks, Jason. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Thank you, Tim.

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About Jason Campbell

ILBS 11 | Meditation Practice

Jason’s unique perspective on health, wellness and spiritual growth comes from his lifelong study both of music and the ancient arts of Taoist health, medicine and enlightenment. He is a 7th degree black belt and co-founder of Zen Wellness. His meditation and Zen training began as a child through music. His whole adult life has been an effort to combine eastern arts, wellness, meditation and music.
He has released over 20 albums, been #1 on Billboard and Amazon, and created 3 musical styles (Five Element Meditation Music, Zen Piano and New Opera) The music has opened meditation to many who have never meditated before or who have tried and been unsuccessful in their effort to simply sit still and clear the mind.