Have you ever been driving to the store, minding your business, when you hear a song or certain formation of notes that transports you to a very specific point in your life and you’re met with a wave of memories or emotion? Always having had a fear of forgetting things, I began keeping track of these memories– curating a soundtrack for every year of my life for at least the last 10 years, and keeping journals specifically recounting the memories tied to each song. I like to call this time travel, but science likes to call it MEAM– music-evoked autobiographical memories.
Our memories have sensory triggers, and music is one of the most sensory forms of creativity– whether consuming or producing, the chances that you’re sitting still while doing so are slim. The ways in which music can engage numerous senses at a time is automatically stored in your brain at the time of its engagement. The limbic system, structures within the brain that directly correlate to emotion and memory, is activated when listening to music. There have been countless studies regarding the connection between music and autobiographical memory and why music can trigger certain emotional responses. There have also been studies which indicate mimicking your music selection with your mood– listening to melancholy music during times of turmoil– can provide comfort, which can aid in the healing process. The ways in which grief can manifest in the body are sensory effects to the cause just like the ways we engage with music are sensory effects to the cause. You see where I’m going here?
Music has healing properties, so I encourage those reading to tap into those parts that have been forgotten. Start small—no need to delve right into trauma– think about who you were a year ago, how have you grown? Sift through your library and find a song you remember enjoying this time last year. What kinds of emotions come to the surface and have those emotions evolved from their origin? I recommend sitting with it for a while and writing about what you’re experiencing. Is there a certain song or body of work that comes to mind for you while reading this? This is a call to embrace the elements of life that have brought you to this point, to gain a better understanding of the different components that create the whole.
As important as it is to reflect, it is equally important not to dwell on things that are out of our control or that we cannot change. As you dive into your library, it’s worthy of note that these are memories, and sometimes memory can be deceiving; each time you listen to a song, your neural catalog is updated, attaching a different memory to that song. Listening to Joni Mitchell won’t make your dog come back to life, but it might make you smile when you think about the times he’d stick his whole head out the window just so he could feel the sun on his face.