[Editor’s note: Every Wednesday, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
Your answer to last week’s question really helped me. I could relate to both you and the person who wrote in. I’ve actually gone to a program to conquer my addiction to painkillers, but I always got stuck on the “higher power” stuff. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get myself to give in to the “spiritual experience” they were talking about. I’m a business student by day and a musician by night, and I’ve always paid my own way and taken care of myself, including taking responsibilities for my own troubles. Now I’m having the same old trouble with pills again, and in my efforts to quit, I’m again being encouraged to turn myself over to this “higher power” concept. That seems like a cop-out. I want to get cleaned up, but how can I be true to myself when I really don’t believe in this higher-power spiritual stuff?
High Versus Higher Power
Dear High Versus Higher Power,
Thank you for asking about this. And thank you for reading last week’s advice column and sharing your thoughts. I’m really glad you could relate to it.
I strongly believe everyone should think for themselves. And I totally agree with you that no one should be required to believe in anything in order to stop doing something. So I only offer the following idea as a humble suggestion.
When it comes to the idea of a “higher power,” what about thinking of it this way:
You’re a musician, and you clearly love and believe in music. What if music is your higher power?
I’m sure you’ll agree that music is overwhelming and undeniably powerful, and I’m sure you’ll also agree that music can make you feel deeply, truly good. In addition, we’re aware that music gives us a genuine and reliable physical high — the euphoric rush of gleeful excitement when a perfect melody rushes through us — the butterflies in the stomach and goosebumps we get when a music moment hits us just right — those are real physical sensations. There are times when the sound of music can truly change not just our thoughts and moods, but the actual feeling in our body. Music is a force that changes what it feels like to exist. Music makes life feel better.
But did you invent music? Did anyone invent music? Certainly, we can invent songs and sounds, and instruments and technologies that work with music, but where did the very phenomenon of music come from? What is this feeling?
And even though we didn’t invent music, we have this very real and relatively effortless ability to access it, harness it, and feel it work inside us. We can feel how it’s really a part of us, and maybe even that we are a part of it.
But what is it? What is music? It’s obviously something that can’t really be seen or touched or smelled, just heard and, most of all, felt. Out of all the things we experience in day-to-day life, nothing really works quite like music. It’s frequencies and vibrations, but why do they have this unbelievably powerful effect on us?
Music is something completely different than anything else we encounter, and yet it’s also very familiar to us — as close and dear to us as a family member or best friend. But unlike a close friend, no matter how accustomed we are to hearing music and feeling its magic, it remains mysterious and somehow removed from us — as infinitely complex and wondrous as the whole of existence. Maybe music is the sound of existence itself.
Much like the staggering vastness of existence, music is something that is infinitely bigger than us — and yet, despite all of its undeniable otherworldly grandeur, it is also very simple and small and close — we can bring music out of the smallest places, just by humming a melody or whistling a tune. It’s remarkable how something as huge and omnipresent as music can also be so up-close-and-personal and literally be inside of us.
So, when someone says you need to have a spiritual experience, I say the feelings you get from music also count as a spiritual experience. The part of you that feels something indescribable from music is the feeling of your own soul connecting with the spirit that lives inside all of us.
Music is a very real higher power. It counts just as much as any other higher power people turn to. And it’s all part of the same ultimate power, which is impossible to define or explain anyway — just like music — the ultimate power and truth of the world is something that can only be felt and experienced.
No matter what anyone else tries to force you to believe in, you just have to believe in the truth of being moved by music — everything else you need eventually emerges from that same place and feeling.
Let music move you more than ever — allow it to be bigger than you, and yet also a part of you. Trust in that feeling of music and trust in your love for that feeling and your ability to recognize and appreciate it.
And if believing in music works for you, don’t let anyone else tell you it’s not good enough.
More:Ask Andrew W.K.