Ear worms crawl in your ear when you least expect and when you suddenly find yourself singing a melody in your head you didn’t really want to, over and over again. Apparently it is worse if you are musical. Worse if it’s a tune you have composed yourself. Mind you I’ve experienced this for many many years and developed a strategy for stopping it. This wormed its way into the news recently because a music researcher had approached the subject scientifically and was seeking a cure, but didn’t suggest anything revolutionary for dealing with it, in my eyes (or rather ears).
There are some useful practices that come from a metaphysical understanding of certain invisible influences that the human heart is exposed to. In Thomas Cleary’s English translation of The Qur’an (Starlatch 2002) his interesting interpretation of the word for Satan is The Obsessor, which is a long way from the traditional notion of the devil and the immediate image most people might have of a fiery horned beastly bogeyman with a tail who wreaks havoc on the earth. Or just not believing he exists at all, yet another devilish ploy. Just to fill you in, the devil, from Muslim tradition, definitely exists but is just one of several enemies to man and by no means the greatest. Without getting into the history of Satan’s refusal to bow down to man out of arrogance, it’s enough to explain that out of vengeance he vowed to lead man to destruction and to lead him away from worship of God till the end of time. But it is by deception, suggestion and whispering in the hearts of men and women (around whom he hovers) that he would accomplish this.
In fact the first gift we have from the Qur’an is protection from any influence of the devil, and it’s all from phrases seeking refuge with God from the devil. If you maintain physical purity and a knowledge of some basic verses of protection these Satanic suggestions are simply dealt with. Other influences like the endless thought impulses (the monkey mind) that beset all people, as well as love of the world are also enemies, but the ego or the self is traditionally considered the worst and most intransigent enemy of all. My own understanding of this is (and I don’t claim to be an expert) is that the evil of creation is something distinct and which it also necessary to seek protection from. There are many ways of protecting ourselves and our families from the many hazards of existence and I plan another blog on this subject in the future as it of primary importance and usefulness and a subject which I don’t think has been grasped by many people or explained in an accesible way by our various teachers and translators.
Back to ear worms. The above being so, any kind of obsessive thoughts like repetitive tunes can be dealt with in various ways either by repeating many times in Arabic “I seek refuge with Allah from the accursed Satan” but in Arabic: audhubillahi mina shaytan ar-rajeem.” Alternatively you can replace the tune in your head with a different tune from a purer spiritual source (eg an Andalusian or Turkish qasida melody or even, for example, a Provencal carol if you know any) – that’s what I usually do. When I used to spend a lot of time in recording studios where it was often necessary to do many takes of a song, that same song would often haunt me at night whilst trying to sleep and was quite horrible. People say the devil has the best tunes. Er…no. I think the devil himself must have suggested that idea to someone. Maybe he makes the best earworms. The devil might well concoct the most commercial tunes, but the best tunes are most certainly angelic, celestial tunes and why they disperse immediately that hellish suffocating feeling of being trapped in some earthly melody. So powerful are these earworms that people physically close to me, like my wife, will start humming or singing the very same tune if it is inhabiting my brain. Infectious ear worms no less.
Recently I found when I was out digging in my garden that I would always find myself singing ‘Hey Bungalow Bill who did you kill…‘ for no apparent reason, a song I really detest – or some other irritating repetitive tune , so I would be forced to take steps (described above) to rid my head of it although it would slip back if I wasn’t careful. It has become a useful kind of meter to gauge just how awake I am. It is as if the tongue is meant to be doing something at any given time and of course if you look hard enough you will find advice from many teachers and scholars who counsel you to keep the tongue repeating at all times the various Qur’anic Arabic formulae well known to the Muslims which have been handed down from a very long time ago. It is what stops the mind (and the body) from wandering and so is of enormous benefit.
There is much on the internet on this subject eg http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17302237
but I felt it necessary to give a religious perspective. If you have a way of dealing with earworms then email:
firstname.lastname@example.org who are constructing a database on this subject.
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Salaamu Alaikum and Ramadan Mubarak Ian. Great topic. I do tinker with music much, particularly in 5.1 surround. I even upmixed The Book of Signs documentary that includes that wonderful tapestry of sound you composed in it. The copy I have has that attic stash of VHS quality that will not yield the results of virtual surround sound immersion. I believe the stereo effect is nonexistent. I simply put the monaural audio in the 6 channels which is…meh. This is the month I dial noise down and listen to Quran (of course in 5.1) and my favorite documentary on Islam, The Book of Signs. I know this is a long shot, but would you happen to have all of those recordings for The Book of Signs in true stereo? If so, how can I obtain them? Thanks!