On Some Emo Meditation Practice

[Note: The title is a blink-182 reference. If just one person gets it I’ll be happy.]

I just want to relive this night forever. I wish they would play that over and over. Why can’t they come back here more often?

Concerts to see your favorite bands are surrounded by weeks, if not months, of hype and anticipation. And, they’re accompanied by many tradeoffs: Money, sleep, and putting life on hold. I drove two and a half hours to Montreal on a snowy February Tuesday night to see Neck Deep, three hours to Lowell, Massachusetts to see A Day to Remember (at Tsongas, ironically), and stayed out in Brooklyn until 3:30 for Emo Night when I had to wake up at seven the next day.

The thrash of electric guitars.

The infectious, erratic dancing of a crowd.

The catchy melodies ingrained in my head, bursting out after the first note of each song.

The chance to let loose, to dance and sing, to make new friends, to see your heroes up on stage.

These moments always outweigh whatever sacrifices it takes to get there. 

When Neck Deep played A Part of Me in Montreal or when ADTR played Sometimes You’re the Hammer, Sometimes You’re the Nail in Lowell represent much more than four minutes of music. ADTR’s rendition culminated everything the song meant to me through the years. Although there were thousands of others there, in that moment it felt like I was the only one there, and everybody else was an extra in the play. 

Perhaps you’ve had a similarly euphoric experience. 

Yet, once the last the last guitar chord fades out, once the band departs the stage, that’s it. You’re not getting that moment back. Especially when a band plays a deep cut, like when State Champs plays Shades of Grey. I’ll likely never have that experience again.

State Champs’ lead singer Derek DiScanio and I

What do you mean that’s it? It can’t be it! I want it back!

Paradoxically, some of our best moments become a source of longing for the past, of discontent, of yearning rather than of gratification. 

Before that Neck Deep concert, I recognized this and reframed my mindset around once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. 

“You may only see this band once,” I told myself. “And some of these songs you definitely will only hear once. The only thing you can do is soak it in; live in the moment; absorb the energy of the audience around you.”

“Well what did you expect? A fucking compliment?” Neck Deep’s lead singer Ben Barlow sang one of my favorite lines from a song they rarely play. As the words left his mouth the sounds of the guitars echoed my whole being, my fingertips shook, and my shoulders broadened as my vocal cords strained to sing along with him.

That night on the drive home, when the dancing and singing was over, I knew I stayed present for each and every moment. I had no regrets. How could there be? I wholeheartedly stayed in the moment. The longing to go back had dissipated, replaced by a feeling of fulfillment. 

The next morning as I journaled on the experience, I connected the dots. Concerts are meditation. Just like when I sat on my yoga block meditating, my attention was (well sometimes it was) concentrated on something happening in the moment. Maybe the sounds of the Vermont songbirds, or my gasps of exhale, or the cool air grazing my skin. Regardless of the external stimuli, my mind at concerts was in a similar frame: to absorb what was going on then and there and nothing else. 

Up until then, I only meditated because people like Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday told me I should. Cognitively, I understood the power of staying aware of our attention and electing where to place it, but it wasn’t until I connected it to these real life experiences where it all cemented together. In the subsequent days, I viewed each moment, each activity through the lens of a concert. 

Sure, everyday life doesn’t often provide the elation seeing our favorite band does. But like each track at a concert, each track in everyday life only gets played once. 

I began to view each personal training session with clients as trying to lean into each moment as if State Champs were playing in front of me. I became more attentive to clients, more in tune with our interaction.

At hockey practice, I viewed each rep in a drill similarly. The drills where I used to go through the motions, I started to make better plays, my passes becoming crisper, my shots taken with the intent of scoring. It was this month, February 2018, my play started to turn around.

Conversations I approached the same. At dinner with my parents I became more attentive to what they were saying, hearing about their life, the things they learned. Our relationship deepened, and dinner each night became a chance to learn from two of the smartest people I know.

Concerts made me a better trainer, a better hockey player, a better conversationalist, a better son, better at literally everything in my life. That’s the power of meditation, but it took a different form than sitting in silence. 

For me, it’s pop punk concerts. For you, maybe it’s another kind of music. Music has been a part of the human experience, the animal kingdom’s experience, the earth’s experience since the dawn of life. Birds sing, coyotes howl, streams rush over rocks to a soothing beat. For millennia music has brought people together, been part of celebrations, sparked people to live in the then and there. 

Or perhaps something entirely different sparks you to embrace the present, like seeing your favorite team, visiting your favorite place, or playing your favorite sport. When I went to Yankee Stadium in 2011 and saw Derek Jeter play shortstop, I had a similar moment. When a ground ball was hit to his right side and he had to jump to stop his momentum and throw it in midair, I stood in the seats on the third base line mezmorized. Nothing could distract me from Jeter’s brilliance. 

Uncover what those times are for you. Next time you have that experience, recognize when your mind wanders. When it does (and it will) reign in your mind to what’s happening around you. You don’t want experiences like hearing your favorite song to vanish while your attention runs astray. Once you have this frame, it will be easy to maintain your attention on it because it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. In these tracks of life, it will be far easier than when you’re sitting in your room trying to “meditate.” 

Then, carry it to other parts of life. Eventually staying present becomes your default. When you wander, regaining your presence will become automatic.

However, without some sort of meditation practice, inevitably the ability fades. Like a school subject you haven’t studied in years, the knowledge and skills dim with time. My daily meditation practice has proven difficult to maintain since moving to New York. Honestly, I’ve hardly thought about it. During moments I needed to focus, I’ve struggled more often than I’d like to admit. But then I went to Emo Night in Brooklyn, a night-long punk rock DJ set. When the first track, Paramore’s Misery Business, started to play, it brought me right back to the present and my meditation practice. And now, a few days later, I’ve regained it all.

With teenagers I’ve worked with, whether personal training or tutoring, as soon as the words meditation or mindfulness exited my mouth, I lost them. Because teachers have been preaching meditation to them since first grade, I became just another adult lecturing about something they didn’t care about. Unfortunately, these words have a bad connotation in the same way math, writing or even school does for many. Reframing meditation into a different context, one that relates to them, avoids negative connotations. Very few 8th graders—fuck, very few grown ass adults—are able to sit in silence for ten minutes. So don’t start there.

Use the best of life, what excites you most, to cultivate a practice of mindfulness. With time, practice, and maybe an emo show or two, you’ll learn to concentrate on the difficult but necessary aspects of life: the school assignment you’re dreading, the creative project you’re putting off, and the difficult conversation you fear. You’ll be able to lean into life’s most amazing, most mundane, and most difficult moments. I can’t think of a skill more powerful than that.

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