I recently discovered a song that embodies one of my favorite genres of music. It’s a simple, melancholy piano recording by Aphex Twin. You can listen to it here: aisatsana .
It has a curious way of slowing things down. Of calming the mind. Of welcoming back mindfulness.
Living in New York City, it’s easy to lose presence of mind. Bustling streets move quickly here. Step outside and you’re swept into the current without permission. Walk too slowly and you’re knocked aside. Block someone’s way and you’ll collide.
To avoid confrontation, we naturally quicken our pace. We walk faster to match the speed of the streets. It’s just too difficult to struggle against the flow.
Imagine one morning, you’re late for work. You find yourself impatiently waiting behind a 90-year old man. He’s directly in your way, hobbling and grasping the handrail. You hear your train approaching and don’t have time to wait. So you push by him, more roughly than you’d like to admit. A dozen onlookers then follow your lead.
Without realizing it, we’ve accidentally become the cold-hearted New Yorkers that used to callously bump into us.
How did this happen? When did we become so cold? When did we begin making the current even faster?
We probably can’t point a specific moment. Small, thoughtless transgressions build up slowly over time. No act is ever heinously worse than the last. But each one subtly calcifies the sense of empathy that connects us with everyone else. The empathy that connects us with the journey itself, not the destination.
Empathy and mindfulness can be difficult to cultivate in places that value continual movement over contemplation. And that’s the essential character of Manhattan; it’s defined by an urgent sense of constant upward motion. That collective attitude pulls people like a magnet from all over the world. And when millions of people laser-focus on their individual ambition, it’s no surprise that many lose touch with the simple joy of the current moment.
So it’s in this context – constantly barraged by a storm of eight million combatting ambitions – that Aphex Twin’s soft piano music starts to play. It begins drawing my attention back from the future, toward this moment. The sound of blaring car horns and aggravated pedestrians begins to fade.
Awareness shifts to my breath. Projected scenarios and anxious conjectures about next week momentarily fade. My consciousness plunges deep into a reservoir of feeling. For a minute, my to-do lists release their monopoly on my mind.
All this happens with Aphex Twin’s notes as my guide. They are understated and meandering. Each one feels deeply personal. There is no rush. There is no destination. There is only the act of contemplation, Reflection. Simple repetition. Recollection. Nostalgia for things past. And a somber acceptance of right now.
As it continues, finally I’m in the right headspace to let it fill me completely.
It drips with beauty.
Sadness permeates my pores as I indulge in the rawness of the experience. I’m flooded by physical sensations, shadows of those moments in my life that were heartbreaking and meaningful. It feels like a rich blend of melancholy and overwhelming gratefulness, simply for having the experiences I’ve had.
I feel connected to all the people I care about in this state. Friends. Family. Lovers. Coworkers. Acquaintances. Every single one is having just as fully-felt a human experience as I am. To write that sentence sounds plain, but it washes over me – the profundity of simply being alive, now.
For five minutes and 22 seconds, I hold gratitude and empathy in my entire being. I am awash with the beautiful contentedness of nostalgia, momentarily undistracted by daily obligations.
And I remember the importance of being grounded in this very moment. Something so easy to forget in this city.
For these reasons, I hold a special place in my heart for Aphex Twin’s song, aisatsana .