Starboy and Eckhart Tolle
[Cover art by the author]
Does Eckhart Tolle ever get a song stuck in his head?
Eckhart Tolle, for the unacquainted, is arguably one of the most important living spiritual teachers--or at least among the most famous in the West. His work is pretty interesting: he combines (or appropriates, depending on how you view it) elements of Buddhism, centered on a version of mindfulness he most often refers to as “the Now,” and wisdoms from other spiritual traditions, namely Christianity. He, like many so-called “enlightened” folks, see the common thread of liberation in each tradition, and it’s that part of his message that resonates most with me.
And, while I sometimes find his perspective limiting (he is a rich white dude after all) and possibly inaccessible (“consciousness” may be most available to people not facing intense neuro-atypical struggles), I embrace his central message of presence/mindfulness/”Now”-ness.
We all get glimmers of The Now. A few delicious seconds in which we feel fully present. These moments can be especially triggered by the unfamiliar, causing what some call “beginner’s mind.” This is what makes traveling so invigorating: it forces you into the moment by confronting you with environmental newness. Our days are typically too routine; and, while routines can provide helpful mental spaciousness, they can also cause you to fall into a fog of overthinking.
Tolle claims to be able to access this present-moment sweetness whenever he likes. He says he can actually switch his “thinking mind” on and off, accessing The Now at will. Part of me doesn't want to believe him, but mostly because I'm jealous. I hope to get there some day with my mindfulness practice.
But one annoying obstacle I keep running into is that the Weeknd’s Starboy won’t stop playing in my head.
Even when I’m able to turn the volume down on all my other thoughts, I almost ALWAYS have some scrap of song on repeat. It is only those rare moments of pure presence, that the songs actually stop. This lead me to wonder: does Eckhart Tolle ever get a song stuck in his head? Can he turn it off by the same force of will that he shuts down the rest of his thinking? Is it normal to have these songs constantly playing? Is it symptomatic of being mindless (rather than mindful)? More importantly, how can I get rid of them? If I want to, of course. Sometimes it's a real banger and I want to keep it right where it is, thank you very much.
So I did a little research and the stuck-in-your-head songs are called “earworms”! Gross! The most solid-sounding advice for getting rid of them is:
Listen to the sounds of your environment. I mean, REALLY listen. This is a step that’s often included in guided meditation tracks, but apparently it also helps with this earworm phenomenon. If/when the song returns to your mind, repeat the environmental audio-observation. This could be a useful way to maintain mindfulness! Whenever the song creeps back in, just remind yourself to get present.
Do something distracting, but mentally absorbing. Some recommendations include puzzles, work, reading, or writing. Sounds pretty legit. Especially because, time and time again, studies have shown that trying to not focus on the thing will lead you to hyper-focus on that thing. I do worry, however, that the distraction technique might take me further from mindfulness...I mean, isn’t this why people get addicted to consumption? To take their mind off an unsettling problem rather than confronting it? I guess I’m on the fence about this one.
Just listen to the gd song and enjoy it--and focus on it fully. This may be unadvisable if it’s the Space Jam soundtrack, which has afflicted my poor S.O. for past several weeks.
Also, remember that mindfulness is a practice, so be patient and kind with yourself. There are a ton of resources on mindfulness out there (I’ll recommend a few I’ve tried below), and nearly all of them impress that the mind is a muscle that needs to be exercised regularly through practice, via meditation and related methods. Acceptance is also key. If you can accept the song, for example, it has less power or hold on your mind!
How about y’all? Do you have any advice for getting rid of these nasty “earworms” (gag)? Are you friends with Eckhart Tolle and can you ask him for me? Leave your thoughts/earworms in the comments below!
Mindfulness resources: Jon Kabat Zinn; Thich Nhat Hanh; Headspace; Stop, Breath, Think; and of course, Eckhart Tolle. Please note that while you can buy these materials, I accessed all of them for free through friends who shared CDs and books and through free versions of the apps and through the OverDrive app, which gives you access to free local library rentals.