“Detachment Listening to Music – or Loneliness”

John Diamond, M.D.

Extract from the book 
 Medicine and Beyond: The Diamond Reports, Vol. 1 


For over fifty years I have listened intently to music. Hundreds of conductors, hundreds of orchestras, thousands and thousands of performers, composers and compositions. And millions upon millions of musical phrases and gestures, and maybe billions of notes. Each and every one of them has induced specific feelings in me. So many feelings over so many years.

Some time ago, a strange and wondrous state befell me. For the first time in my life, when I put on a record I heard only the music.

I was no longer aware of the personalities of the composer and the performer (yet I doubt that anyone had ever been more aware of them than I used to be). I have been a hifi aficionado for many years, going back to the days when we were thought of as freaks. I have made many recordings, monitoring intensely through headphones, and I have investigated the effects of notes, phrases and musical gestures. But I did not hear any of these now.

Now none of this existed. I listened and heard just the music itself. Furthermore, no feelings were aroused in me by the music, nor did I want to move with its pulse. I listened calmly. I now knew the music for what it was, not for what it did to me. I allowed it to be itself.

It was not that I had turned away from the music. I had not become coldhearted nor indifferent quite the contrary. In a way I felt much closer to it, more connected. By allowing it to stay “out there” I was able to know the music as it was, and thus to respect it for its own being. I was starting to move from attachment to detachment. To know its very essence, its thusness.

When I look at flowers in the garden my first response is to think how wonderful they make me feel. Then I put myself in the same frame of mind as when I last listened to music. Now I look at the flowers again, and I see them as they are. They are there and I am here. We are strongly linked, more so than before, and I see them much more clearly. But there is something else. I seem to know them. They are.

I have no wish to touch them, let alone to take them in my hand. They can stay where they are; to possess them would be irreverent, sacrilegious. Their existence, their souls are theirs.

I try to share this with other people, but they, perhaps like you, have trouble understanding me. I put on a record and ask them to try to hear just the music no composer, no performer, no notes, just the music itself. And to be concerned not with what happens inside them, but what is happening out there, in the life of the music, as the music pursues its own existence. But they cannot. They are stressed by saying, “I can hear just the music.” They are also stressed when they try to keep the music “out there.”

I find that this relates to a thyroid meridian problem: loneliness. And now I begin to understand why they are stressed by the thought, “I can keep the music out there.” They feel that they must bring the music in to themselves: “I must possess it, I must have it.” They cannot leave it out there on its own, for without it they are lonely.

They must pick the flowers and possess them. But they can never really possess a flower not its essence. They can possess only the feelings that the flower has awakened in them. The soul of the flower will always be free.

Likewise they cannot leave the music over there between the speakers. They must possess it. But they cannot, so they concentrate on the superficialities as if the color of the flower or the pitch of the music really mattered, compared to its soul. It is out of loneliness that they reach out to possess it and to attach themselves to it.

After I help them through their loneliness, they can allow the music to be. They can remain detached. They know the music for what it is, and the flowers, and their loved ones. Detachment comes when we no longer need to hold on out of the fear of loneliness.

To think of trash
as free form
that’s detachment.

There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing
between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life.

T.S. Eliot