A good friend of mine is a composition student at the Cleveland Institute of Music. This is a piece of his that really had a profound effect on the way I look at music.
This piece, titled "To Purify," is about a monk who subjects himself to self-flagellation, basically whipping himself to purge and purify his soul of his sins and failings as a human being. This was a common practice among monks and clergymen during the Middle Ages, most notably a "favorite" pracice of Martin Luther and Thomas More.
There's a particular way you have to listen to this piece. The point is not to express the emotion the man is feeling, but rather the heightened state of intellectual awareness that the monk is trying to experience. Self-flagellation was not only about causing pain to oneself, but it was about achieving a sense of enlightenment about one's sins and the shortcomings of human nature.
This piece focuses on the intellectual aspect of self-flagellation, not the concomitant emotional rush associated with the severe pain. The practice was more of a meditation than a punishment, and when I listened to this piece it made me use my brain in a way I hadn't previously with music.
It changed my approach to music, and hopefully it can have as profound effect on you. Enjoy!
Here's the link in case anyone needs it: