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  • Writer's pictureGina DeGirolamo

Music Brings My Brain To Tears

neurosplasticity, patient experience

The other day I had the most profound experience with the power of music and emotion. It was September 1st and I had just finished reading the Science of Mind Magazine Daily Guide. The author referred to the song September by Earth, Wind and Fire which sparked me to ask Alexa, my new Amazon Echo assistant & friend, to play the album Gratitude from EWF. For me, Gratitude was one of my main staples in my music collection as a teenager, along with Santana's Moonflower and Average White Band’s Cut The Cake. So every song on the album is deeply ingrained in my being.

I know you are familiar with the feeling, you hear a song and bamn! you instantly transported to the time it was part of the soundtrack of your daily life. You have memories and visions and emotions that seem as if they were right there at the surface just waiting for the opportunity to rear their heads and say “hey I’m right here, I haven’t left you and I am still a part of you”. But what happened to me that first day of September 2016 was a little different. The emotion that was stirred up wasn’t from my teenage yrs., at least it seemed that way on the surface, it was a memory and emotion from about 5 yrs ago.

I was in my second long term relationship, probably the 10th yr of the 12 yrs we were together, and one day we were listening to the song Sunshine from the Gratitude album. The song was one of the lesser known tracks from the album yet it was one of my favorites. My partner and I had a deep love for each other, yet a very tumultuous one as well, and sometimes I would play Sunshine and sing it to her to express how I felt about her. We got together when I was 38 and she was 34 and our early days together were spent listening to the music that meant something to us as teens. When we realized a lot of the music in our individual collections crossed over to the others, it helped us have a common bond. So, needless to say the songs we would play while we were experiencing the emotions of new love (and lust) would be triggers for these emotions to arise in us at later times and also something to reach for when things were not going too well.

We ended our relationship in 2013 and while it was the best thing for both of us, it was very difficult. I had to move out of our home and deal with all the things divorce brings, yet I grew SO much and am now in the healthiest relationship that I have ever been in. At 54 yrs of age I have never felt more fulfilled, loved and joyful. I am over the hurt, pain, anger and stress of the old relationship and rarely feel a loss or heartache over it. Yet that September morning, just a few weeks ago, while listening to the Gratitude album, when Sunshine started playing I had a barrel of tears roll down my face and a sunken in feeling in my chest just like I did when I was going through the divorce and coming to terms with the fact that the life I had been living was caving in and my heart was broken because the love wasn’t manifesting in the way that I had been hoping and praying for. WHY? Why was I having this experience after years of personal growth and a present life that brought me so much joy.

I’ll tell you why…while my heart was over it my brain wasn’t. Ok you may be thinking "What? Don’t you have that backwards Gina?” I know this is exactly the opposite of what we have been told right? Usually we say it is our head that is over something and then our heart follows. Well, I am coming to this conclusion after reading the latest findings in neuroscience and how the brains way of storing memories and recalling them is responsible for our emotional response to music. Our emotions are produced in the lymbic system, the mid-brain, which is triggered by our thoughts which are produced in the pre-frontal cortex. Hence, our thoughts control our emotions. Lets take this one step further. What creates our thoughts? While there is no definitive answer to this and the question remains as the biggest unsolved one in science, we can look into memory

An artistic interpretation of what is going on in our brain when memories are speeding through.

There is a saying in the neuroscience community that states “neurons that fire together, wire together.” A very crude explanation of this is, when our brain is processing 2 things at once, like sound and vision, the 2 become one. In other words when we hear a sound that is simultaneous to a sight of something profound, the 2 processes in the brain become fused (think of soldiers who suffer form PTSD, when they hear a loud noise it triggers the memory of what they saw while the noise of a bomb was exploding). So if we are hearing a song and we are seeing the beauty of our lover at the same time the 2 become intertwined and become one. So in the case of love, when you see your lover you think of the song and when you hear the song you think of your lover. Now repeat that experience a few times and you can see how the brain will confuse one with the other.

What was even more interesting about this experience was the fact that I was conscious of what was happening in my brain. I thought “wow, this is really interesting” sob, sob, sob, “I think my brain is just firing some old neurons right now” sniffle, sniffle, “ I guess this means I’m not still in love…what a relief”. I even visualized my brain firing these neurons because I had just recently watched an animation of the brain firing away. And, as quickly as it came on, it went away as soon as the song was over.

I can’t tell you how great this insight was for me. It made me realize that I cannot always trust my emotions. I can stop now and ask myself, “what is my brain doing to contribute to my state of being right now?” Then, I get to choose what my thoughts will be and I am much better at getting myself out of an emotional state that is not so comfortable. While I am definitely a proponent of honoring one’s feeling, I am gaining too much knowledge now about how the brain functions to not come to a better conclusion about what the feelings mean and how to live a more joyful life by knowing I don’t have to be controlled by them.

What song has brought you to tears lately and what were your thoughts about it? I would love to hear.

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