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Music is a holy place, a cathedral so majestic that we can sense the magnificence of the universe, and also a hovel so simple and private that none of us can plumb its deepest secrets.
–Don Campbell, author of The Mozart Effect
A fundamental aspect of the human experience is the art and science of music. Existing far into the depths of remote antiquity, music has always been a part of culture. It adds texture, depth, and meaning to life. It entertains, uplifts, and scores the highs and lows of life. For many, music is as essential as the air you breathe. But exactly what is music and why does it have such a powerful influence on you? Even more importantly, how can music potentially open the door to healing and the transformation of consciousness?
What Is Music?
By definition, music consists of vocal or instrumental sounds (or a combination of both) that blend to create a pleasing expression of pitch, melody, rhythm, and harmony. Music can express ideas, emotions, and moods. Music also can touch you spiritually, triggering an expanded state of awareness and heightened perception.
Music is a universal language. Regardless of where you’re from, what language you speak, your nationality, income, religion, or level of education, music is a common tongue that has the ability to unify the human species across all boundaries. So powerful is the language of music that multiple selections of classical, jazz, rock, and folk music were recorded and placed aboard the Voyager 1 probe so that if it made contact with other forms of life in the galaxy, those beings might gain some insight about humanity through music.
So exactly how does music affect you, and in what ways can you harness its healing and transformative potential?
According to the teachings of Vedanta, the entire universe is a field of vibration. Every object, person, building, tree, mountain, or planet is a vibration in a vast ocean of energy. Nature is vibration. You are vibration. The universe is vibration. In the same way, your thoughts and speech are vibrations in the field of consciousness. Each object or thought vibrates at different frequencies that create either harmony or dissonance in the local field. Music, of course, is also vibrating and oscillating at different frequencies.
The music you listen to, therefore, can either help create harmonizing and sympathetic vibrations or chaotic and disorganized vibrations. Coherent, harmonizing vibrations promote healing, balance, and peace in both your mind and body. Loud, harsh, or jarring music can similarly lead to physical imbalance as well as mental turbulence. In Vedic teachings, the science of the influence of sound and music is known as Gandharva Veda. Through this practice, the music of nature is used to restore balance to your mind and body. Using specific pieces of music or melodies, vibratory coherence can be strengthened, assisting with healing and helping to settle the mind.
- Consciously choose the music you listen to based upon its vibrational quality. Lean toward soothing and calming selections to help settle your mind and bring balance to your body. Avoid harsh or discordant pieces, especially when you are tired or ill.
- Explore selections of Ayurvedic or Gandharva music and notice the effects they have on your body and mind.
- Experiment with a meditation chime or a Tibetan Singing Bowl, allowing the tones and vibrations to resonate throughout your being. Take note of their effects on your consciousness.
Rhythm is a fundamental quality of life. Rhythms are all around you. Common examples include the:
- Beating of your heart
- Pace of your breath
- Crashing of waves on the shore
- Cycles of wind blowing through the trees
In addition, there are more subtle rhythms of light and dark, seasonal changes, and physiological cycles hidden within your body. Being tapped into these rhythms is what helps your mind-body system remain in sync with nature. When you deviate too far from these rhythms, imbalances can occur.
Music is a powerful way to deepen your rhythmic connection. Whether through a tribal chant or a drum circle, the driving beat and percussion of drumming or dancing helps attune your consciousness to the primal rhythms of the universe. This process is known as entrainment, or the synchrony of your mind and body with an external beat or pulse.
A strong, driving rhythm can have a powerful impact on your consciousness. It can shift you out of your thought stream and into an expanded state of awareness in which you perceive the world differently. Thoughts of the past or future fade into the background as you hang suspended in the rhythmic pattern of the present moment, glimpsing your soul.
- Obtain a recording of tribal chanting. Try to adjust the bass so you can feel the beat in your body. Allow the rhythm to wash over you, noticing the sensations that arise within.
- Take part in a drum circle. Detach from any particular outcome and simply play and lose yourself in the experience. Feel the beat of your instrument as it merges into the multitude of beats in the entire group.
3. Associative Memory
Music has a powerful ability to tag a memory or highly emotional experience in your consciousness. You can likely think of a song or piece of music from your past that calls up specific memories or feelings. It’s as if the music has become imprinted with images and sensory input from that experience. When you play it back in the present, it triggers a cascade of powerful associations that can feel as real as the original experience.
Although humans tend to more easily recall experiences connected to powerful emotions, since music is often the “background noise” during many activities, that music often gets anchored to the time, place, and experience during which it was originally heard. Consider how listening to a playlist of songs that were popular while you were in high school can be like a ride in a time machine. Your consciousness is instantly transported back to that period and your mind floods with memories.
In a similar manner, older classical or traditional pieces of music may pull your awareness back into the historical past by tapping into the collective soul of humanity. In the same way that myths are the stories buried in the collective unconscious that everyone shares, music has been the soundtrack of those stories dating deep into the past. Hearing a classical sonata, a Gregorian chant, or sacred hymn may flood you with impressions and memories of distant times and places, all contained within the vast web of the collective consciousness.
- Find and listen to music selections that have strongly pleasant associations to your personal history. Allow those memories, images, and feelings to wash over you, recognizing that they were stored away within the music like a personalized time capsule. Embrace those memories, grateful for the experiences that have led you to this present moment.
- The next time you are pleasantly looking forward to a significant event (a vacation, for example), take the time to prepare a playlist in advance. Try to select new or unheard pieces of music that have no mental or emotional association. During that event, try to listen to that playlist as often as possible—even exclusively. After you return, retire the playlist for several weeks or a month. Whenever you’re ready, play the music again, this time taking note of the feelings, images, and associations triggered by the music. Reflect on how the music triggers an expansion of your consciousness into the recent past.
- Spend 5–10 minutes in silent meditation. Upon completion, listen to a piece of classical or traditional music that is at least 200 years old. Allow your mind to be filled with images of that period; imagine what life would have been like when this music was popular. Step into the mind of the composer and try to feel what he or she was trying to say through the music. Recognize that this music is a link to the living past carried within the collective consciousness.
Take time to reflect on the transformative power of music in your life. Explore these practices whenever you want to deepen your understanding of the vibration, rhythm, and powerful associations hidden in the place where everything is music.
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