Welcome to the monthly series where I write about the ideas and inspiration behind the Spotify playlists I release on the first of every month.
Lately I’ve dedicated a good amount of time studying and practicing meditation. One of the practices I found myself most intrigued by in the past month was a type that has you sit with all types of emotions — enjoyable, challenging and everything in between.
This month’s playlist is a musical journey through that meditation practice. The arrangement of songs took me chronologically through moments when I’ve felt empowered, joyful, in love, nostalgic, sad, angry, open-minded, carefree, passionate, and empowered once again. The list of emotions certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it touches on a lot of the things I’ve been reflecting on through this practice. I figured I’d explain or tell a couple stories about just a couple of them. I don’t expect you to have any considerable connection to the actual experiences, but knowing that these journeys are something we all go through as humans, I hope it serves as a starting point to explore, remember and sit with different emotions you’ve felt throughout your life.
Like most, I’ve had a few things in life that I’ve felt have set me back in those moments in time. Most recently, this has presented itself in the health challenges I’ve alluded to in many of these write ups that I fear may be getting a bit redundant. But I bring it back up because it’s a constant game of emotional tug-of-war. Some days I feel completely at the mercy of the circumstances, and other days I feel empowered to keep perspective and realize I’ve been given the opportunity to become more resilient. So the first two songs represent the days I feel empowered. That line in the Samm Henshaw opener gets me every time. “I’m working on my masterpiece, and I’m shaping it with these hands. This fate is not my destiny, so I’m shaping it with these hands.” – Samm Henshaw
A couple weeks ago, I was in a Lyft en route to another doctor’s appointment when I looked out the car window and saw this huge bundle of flowers pouring out of a large window frame on a tall apartment building. I’m not sure I’d ever paid much care to this building at the end of my block, but I’m so thankful I looked up. It reminded me to pick my head up, literally. You never know what you might find; even the smallest things can bring a whole lot of joy. Each time I go by that building, I look at that same window, and never again have I seen those flowers. There’s something magical about its impermanence. “As it goes on, still life, it electrifies me sometimes.” – Panama
I remember sitting on the floor in the middle of my room in my mom’s house in 2007 surrounded by a mess of things I was considering stuffing into a suitcase for a 4 month study abroad adventure in Kenya. The hardest part of it for me was picking the 100 songs that would fit on my iPod shuffle. Four months with the same 100 songs! Try doing this. REALLY hard! One of the songs I picked was “The Instrumental” by Lupe Fiasco. For the next four months, I listened to that song almost every day during my walk from my homestay to school. To this day, I remember every single word. Four months of a song on repeat will do that to ya. It carries an element of synesthesia with it. When I hear it, I can see all the details of that walk. There’s something pretty magical about that.
I might as well use this word to describe most of my social experiences in college. As I’m now in my 30s, I think back and cringe a little bit, but that was the stage of life I was in. I got home from study abroad and my roommate and I elected to live off campus. We both wanted our cars there, so we decided to caravan from our hometown of Houston to Durham. Spontaneously, my sister decided to come along for the ride. M.I.A had just released what soon became her hit song “Paper Planes,” and I can’t imagine how many times we listened to that song on that drive. We had a little dance that we did to it. I’m pretty sure my sister took the song and dance to both cars as she switched between the two. That song will always remind me of that drive with two of my very favorite people. (And the speeding ticket I got somewhere along the way.)
It’s no secret there is a ton of injustice in the world. From a young age, I’ve felt passionate about educating myself and trying to do what I can in my own life to address some of these issues, even on the smallest scale. At risk of sounding boastful, I have to say that I do think back proudly on my middle school years when I tried not to sit with the same group of people two days in a row in the cafeteria. Inclusion has mattered to me throughout the course of my life. Beginning with the Nina Simone song, I included some songs about the injustices I am passionate about and hope to change. “I wish I could say all the things that I should say, say ‘em loud say ‘em clear for the whole ‘round world to hear. I wish I could share all the love that’s in my heart, remove all the doubts that keep us apart. […] I wish you could know what it means to be me, then you’d see and agree that every man should be free […] Well I wish I could be like a bird up in the sky. How sweet it would be if I found out I could fly.” – Nina Simone
I ended the playlist with a Lauryn Hill cover of another Nina Simone song that represents the empowerment I hope the whole world can feel to impact whatever they’re passionate about. For me it’s a path to racial justice and equity. “Birds flying high, you know how I feel. Sun in the sky, you know how I feel. Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me. […] And this old world, is a new world, and a bold world for me.” – Nina Simone, performed by Lauryn Hill
This been a meaningful practice of using music — a form of time travel for me — to bring curiosity, attention, and a willingness to listen and feel different emotions I’ve felt at different times in life. In the midst of a flood of information that our brains have to process every day, there’s something about this practice that brings me calm and stillness.