Music opens a secret door in time to eternity

Music plays an important role in my novel Addled because the heroine, Zoe Popper, learns so much about how to be present and in the moment from her musician boyfriend, Jonah and his band Dionysus Wept. She first hears Jonah sing in Chapter 5 and is transported, amazed by the way the individual band members seem to be “perfectly locked together: the way the music would suddenly shift, speed up or slow, subtle changes in rhythm – it was almost like they were mind readers.

Music can be difficult to capture in words because it’s so abstract and emotional, but here is a beautiful extract from Divine Beauty by John O’Donohue that explores how music pulls you out of time. This is how musicians do it – they’re not mind readers, they simply tap into the timeless realm at the heart of the soul, and the music does the rest:

“In contrast to most other forms of art, music alters your experience of time. To enter a piece of music, or to have the music enfold you, is to depart for a while from regulated time. Music creates a rhythm that beats out its own time-shape. Whilst theatre invites the suspension of disbelief as we enter and participate in the drama the characters create, in music there is a suspension of the world. We are deftly seduced into another place of pure feeling. No other art distils feeling the way music does; this is how it can utterly claim us. Despite the complexity of its content or structure, the tonality of music invades the heart. In music, the most intricate complexity can live in the most lyrical form. Music is depth in seamless form. It is no wonder then that all poetry strives towards the condition of music. As T.S. Eliot said: ‘Poetry like music should communicate before it is understood.’

Feeling is where the heart lives. In claiming the heart so swiftly and totally, the beauty of music crosses all psychological and cultural frontiers. There is a profound sense in which music opens a secret door in time and reaches in to the eternal. This is the authority and grace of music: it evokes or creates an atmosphere where presence awakens to its eternal depth. In our everyday experience the quality of presence is generally limited and broken. Much of the time we are distracted; we might manage to be externally present, but often our minds are secretly elsewhere. Music can transform this fragmentation, for when you enter into a piece of music your feeling deepens and your presence clarifies. It brings you back to the mystery of who you are and it surprises you by inadvertently resonating with depths inside your heart that you had forgotten or neglected. Music can also stir memories, good or bad, and transport you back in time.

Music embraces the whole person. It entrances the mind and the heart and its vibrations reach and touch the entire physical body. Yet there is something deeper still in the way that music pervades us. In contrast to every other art form, it finds us out in a more immediate and total way. The inrush of intimacy in music is irresistible. It takes you before you can halt it. It is as though music reaches that subtle threshold within us where the soul dovetails with the eternal. We always seem to forget that the soul has two faces. One face is turned towards our lives; it animates and illuminates every moment of our presence. The other face is always turned toward the divine presence. Here the soul receives the Divine Smile or the Kiss of God, as Meister Eckhart might express it. Perhaps this is where the mystical depth of music issues from: that threshold where the face of the soul becomes imbued with the strange tenderness of divine illumination.”

from Divine Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue

Image: Video still


8 thoughts on “Music opens a secret door in time to eternity

  1. I love this post so very much. I’ve often been at a loss for words when trying to explain to someone why particular songs have such profound effects on me…now, I have a blog entry for an answer.

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  2. Yes I can totally relate to these ideas. I have moments where I have been playing guitar and will find some beautiful random chord progression that just swirls around effortlessly under my fingers and all time seems to stop. It usually happens with Celtic kind of stuff. Later I’m like: “wow I’ve been there before,” like it’s ancestral memory and created a kind of wormhole to the time and place where it was once played.

    That Iggy interview is one of my all time favourites. Busted arse face and waxing intellectual on classical Greek philosophy. I fucking love him!!

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  3. Funny how often we seem to be, if not on the same page, at least in the same library. Barely two hours ago I told someone there’s only three reasons to be born. Surf, sex and song. I probably shouldn’t say things like that to elderly real estate agents but it was worth it for the expression on her face.

    Dionysus Wept, though? Maybe giggled insanely but I can’t envisage him weeping. And I’ve got a feeling Iggy Pop would classify that Elbow song as Apollonian.

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    1. Ah, Iggy – that smile 😀
      Yes, I think he would classify Elbow as Apollonian and he’d probably be right. I just chose that song because of the lyric really.

      As to Dionysus weeping – there’s a story about him losing his lover Ampelos and weeping. It’s another of the tie-ins with Christianity. Ampelos is transformed into a vine and the wine is supposed to be some kind of solace for mankind, so it connects with the idea of Christ weeping in compassion for mankind.


      1. That sounds like a great excuse. I must try it.

        “Well, you see, I got really upset from losing my lover. But she got transformed into a cannabis plant so …”

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