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Journaling Music: The Oracle of Shuffle

Do you listen to music while journaling? Should you? Is it alright to?

I get asked these questions often. Some journalers and teachers have strong opinions on whether or not to listen to music while journaling. I guess we all have our soapbox; mine is writing by hand, every day.

One workshop I took vetoed music while writing because it apparently “drowns out the singing of your soul.” I beg to differ. Music enables my soul to sing.

Another journaling expert warns against music influencing what you write about. Well, of course it does. If I’ve got something heady to write about that I need to focus on, I instinctively pick music to keep me in that space.

When it comes to whether or not to listen to music while journaling, my usual advice is to do whatever works for you. I almost always listen to music while journaling. That works for me.

Most of the time I’m like Rob Gordon in High Fidelity: I just want to listen to something I can ignore. My favorite Seattle radio station, KEXP, provides background noise as I write away. If I’m in the cafe, I don’t get to choose the music, but I can choose the cafe based on the music they play. This sounds obsessive, but it’s coming from an audiophile who moved 3,000 miles to be closer to her favorite bands, so it comes with the territory.

The Oracle of Shuffle

Much of the music on my iPod is emotionally charged for me. I like to play a game: I hit “shuffle” and let my iPod select from the 10,000 songs in its memory. As each song begins, I journal about the emotions, memories and ideas it digs up. Then when the song changes four minutes later, I start anew. Because there’s a mixture of new music and old favorites, the outcome is a fabulous jumble of history and current events.

I’ve noticed throughout the years that the Universe (you can substitute God, Goddess, Allah etc. here if you like – it’s all the same shorthand to me) speaks to me through music. Songs arrive with startling synchronicity when I need them most. I’ve had some of my most powerful and life-altering epiphanies during live shows. Early on, I must have held up my heaphones and told the Universe, “If you need to reach me, you know where to find me.”

When I worked in Harvard Sq. in Cambridge, I often walked to and from the office. It was 40 minutes each way. During that time I got to know my music intimately, with no distractions. Just footfalls, fresh air and audible poetry.

During these daily walks, I noticed a pattern. I’d be working on some dilemma or other, torn apart or jumbled up over it, and the perfect song would come on my iPod with the answer.

So I began to play directly with this phenomenon. Unsure about what to do, I’d tell the Universe I needed direction and could you kindly provide it with the very next song. It worked magically and I grew to depend on this ritual.

(And yes — the answers are always inside us, it’s just a matter of accessing them. Music gets me in the door.)

Aloha Spirit

In 2004 I decided to move to Seattle from Boston, mainly because I was rabid for the vibrant music scene in Seattle and wanted to write about it. While the idea had been brewing in the back of my head for the better part of a year, I can identify the exact moment I made the leap.

I made this decision rather impulsively during a particularly arresting song the Universe selected to motivate me (“Lioness” by Los Halos). I’d never even visited Seattle, and I didn’t know a single person there. But I decided that’s where I needed to be so I started packing.

Aloha St. street sign

While studying the maps of my future city, I came across the baffling Aloha St. I immediately fell in love with the idea of it. Why Aloha? The streets around it were numbered or boring: 10th, 11th, Federal, Broadway, Prospect… Aloha. I absolutely loved it. Anytime I talked about moving to Seattle, I told everyone I wanted to live on Aloha St. Just because it was called that. I imagined leaving each day and arriving home with same greeting: “Aloha! I live here!”

A few weeks before my planned departure date, I had my regularly scheduled meltdown. I sat down with my journal, headphones on, and started to write out all the anxiety. “What the hell am I doing? I’m crazy. This is crazy! I have a great job at Harvard. I don’t know anyone in Seattle. Where am I going to stay? I’m just out of my mind. I can’t do this. I shouldn’t do this! Should I do this?”

The journaling was not getting me any closer to peace or resolution. In full freakout mode and on the brink of tears, I looked to the sky and told the Universe I needed a sign, holding up my iPod. In the spirit of clarity I added, “Please make it really obvious because I’m kind of dense.”

As the song I was listening to faded out, I immediately recognized the beginning strains of the Universe’s chosen song. I was paralyzed with simultaneous tears and laughter.

The Universe answered, with its wry sense of humor. The song? “Aloha Spirit” by Seam.

I embrace the Oracle of Shuffle in times of need. I know this sort of faith is not for everyone. But it works for me. And migrating to Seattle to live in my Aloha Cabana was one of the best moves I’ve ever made.

So I think listening to music while journaling can serve as both a grounding force and a prompt. I often use this tool with a spirit of play. I journal about my issue or dilemma. I spell it all out. Then I write my question for the Universe. I ask for a sign. And I listen for the answer.

How about you? Do you journal with tunes or embrace the silence?

11 comments

  1. Wow, cool story Kristin, and I’m glad you’re here in Seattle! Aloha!

  2. Y’ever been humming a song to yourself, turn on the radio and find that’s the song playing at that very moment?

  3. I have had that happen and I love it! The other thing that happens is I hear a song on the radio and think how it reminds me of another song — and then that song comes on next. Musical synchronicity.

  4. I sometimes listen to music while I journal, but honestly, I end up tuning it out completely because I become so engrossed with my writing. However, I do use the Oracle of Shuffle other times!

  5. Katie – me too – think that’s why I look for “something to ignore.” Just need to drown out the sound of that refrigerator humming behind me. 🙂

  6. I sometimes put my rain machine on when I journal. I don’t play regular music though. I would find it too distracting.

  7. Another wonderful and inspiring piece of writing, Kristin! I included it in the latest creativity roundup on my blog: http://stranglingmymuse.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/creativity-roundup-7/

    I also use the “oracle of shuffle” technique to get answers to life questions through the music on my iPod. Like you, I figured it out on my own and have been doing it for a while — but I recently heard someone else talking about doing this too!

    Thanks for the inspiring post!

    ~Sandy Ackers

  8. Thanks for the linklove, Sandy! Maybe the oracle of shuffle is sweeping the nation… 🙂

  9. i like to journal to music
    write to music
    but it has to be the same song over and over
    not even a set of songs i pick
    when the new song comes on it short circuits whatever path i had going on in
    my brain