Ache, angst and aspiration

Do you ever find yourself waking up at night for no reason, and taking some time to finally fall asleep again?

And if you do, what do you think about? Do you focus on emptying your mind so you can fall asleep again? Or maybe you go through your plans for the coming day?

Or does this time make you feel reflective and a little negative? Do you feel a little ‘life ache’, a vague sense of your own shortcomings, or an apprehension about life or the future?

Or perhaps you have similar feelings about life and self at other times you are alone? Or maybe after finishing a good novel, watching a thoughtful film, or listening to a piece of evocative music?

All this is certainly familiar territory to me, and to many people apparently.

Ache and angst

The experts say that these feelings are quite normal, and not to be confused with depression or anxiety. Depression and anxiety can disempower, whereas angst is less severe and can be replaced by hope and then aspirations that lead to action.

For some people, their sense of dislocation never really rises to the level of angst (= “existential dread”), but remains just a vague feeling of dissatisfaction or “life ache”.

Music and life ache

Music can evoke a sense of life ache, and it can also express it and even help people move beyond it. Blues and spirituals used to be a way for African slaves in the US to help themselves rise above the horrors of their grim lives.

I was listening recently to the 1992 album Circus by Aussie band Not Drowning, Waving. While a long way from southern American blues, it contains a couple of songs that seem to me to reflect two ways that postmodern westerners deal with the feeling of dissatisfaction with life.

In Walk Me Home, a couple stumbles home late at night, drunk, loud and happy. One of them muses that this seems to be the only time they aren’t arguing, and he doesn’t really know “whether we will make it to next year”, for with the two of them, “things just seem to come and go”.

Life has its aches and bruises, but there aren’t any answers except an alcohol-induced forgetfulness, and he seems resigned to whatever fate throws up.

Parish Pump is a more positive song. The singer lives in a small, dusty, conservative wheat country town, “one sixty miles from anywhere”.On the surface, everything is nice and harmless, but barely hidden away is gossip, bigotry, alcohol abuse and “there lies a gun beneath every bed”.

But it doesn’t matter any more – “I don’t care what you say to make me stay ’cause I’m leaving here tonight”. His hopes are high that he’s “on my way to find a new adventure every single day”. It could just be escapism, the often false idea that going somewhere else will change the ache we take with us. But, as songwriter David Bridie says in another song: “I’ve got a plan, this time it will work.”

Life ache and aspiration

Maybe it is sensible to ignore life ache, think of it as just another aspect of being human, and get on with living. And sometimes running away is the very best thing we can do, especially if the situation we are in is toxic.

But perhaps life ache should spur us on to find deeper meaning and greater purpose?

As they say, “don’t die with the music still in you”.