Mandala made from the Vedanta Centre OM symbol
Gordon Burnham, author, musician

Healing and Spiritual Awakening
Through Music

Overview | Personal Experience | Reference & Suggested Reading

Gold Line

This section contains information from scientific studies and
personal experiences regarding music, healing, and spirituality, and a
suggested reading list of titles and authors for valuable resources on these topics.

OVERVIEW

In this writing it is a pleasure to share my little parcel of knowledge and personal experience with the vast ocean of spiritual and healing power that music can connect us to. "Music alone can take you to the Highest!" This is a quote from Swami Vivekananda, Sri Ramakrishna's foremost disciple and the man who is primarily responsible for bringing the wisdom and teachings of India's Vedanta Philosophy to the West. He was a powerful and bold human being who was well known for his powerful and bold words.

The power of music to connect us with our Divine Source and to open our whole being to the natural healing forces within is widely known and largely ignored. Music has been used in spiritual and healing rituals for many thousands of years by virtually every culture and civilization on the planet. In nearly every culture that has existed, the power of music has been amplified by group participation in music, rhythm and dancing. Most of the music created in the past has been used to connect with a higher source, to induce healing, and often to tell stories and preserve history through the songs.

In the present day, particularly in the West music is predominantly entertainment. There is little group participation as musical events tend to be spectator events with a "star" performer and an audience. Outside of churches and spiritual and new age centers there is little use of music for spiritual purposes or for healing and almost no group participation in music with family, friends or community. Sadly, most of our spontaneous expression of music as children is greeted with another family member putting their fingers in their ears or worse. In rare cases where obvious talent is present and recognized, the talented person is often looked upon with awe and envy.

In cultures past everyone participated. They all chanted, they all sang, they all danced and made rhythm. There have always been leaders and specially gifted musicians but they have not always had the exclusive right to the joy and higher experiences that music so easily provides to all who participate.

Some of the power of music is still very evident, of course. Thousands of people pay a sizable percentage of their pay check to experience their favorite bands or musicians. There IS some group magic that can take place in a concert, as the power of the words and the music itself connects individuals to something deeper in themselves that connects them to that same something in others. There is still a great deal of popular music with meaningful words and gifted musicians who are truly channels for something larger than their egos, but percentage wise not very much.

This is changing however, and many are now beginning to experience some of the higher gifts music offers us all. Group drumming is becoming increasingly popular as people discover the hypnotic and healing high of losing oneself in ongoing repetitive rhythms and dance. Chanting is growing in popularity as people experience the grounding and at the same time the ecstatic high that can be experienced through chanting. You can chant by yourself or listen to chants or in my opinion experience the greatest high by participating in group chanting.

Chanting has evolved in every culture from Indian, Native American, Sufi, Christian, and on and on! It has even surfaced in some popular music such as John Lennon's "Give Peace A Chance". There are now new age and world music sections in most music stores where you can find chants and spiritually uplifting music from many sources. In new age bookstores and catalogs there is a great abundance of healing music, chanting, meditative music and sounds, and universal spiritual music. The power of music to soothe, relax, invigorate, release emotion, and organize our thoughts is widely recognized and experienced by millions daily. Still, as a central force capable of uniting us with the very source of creation and the vast storehouse of healing energy, music seldom receives recognition equal to it's power.

There are however, now available, volumes of great books and articles about the healing and spiritual power of music. There are thousands of case studies of psychological healing that has taken place through the use of music. Music has successfully been used to access and release deeply hidden and repressed emotions to aid in the healing of unprocessed emotional trauma and psychological damage. The use of music and rhythm has been used to greatly enhance physical therapy when repetitive movement was necessary for rehabilitation but painful for the patient. If you listen to music with a tempo slower than your heartbeat, your heart will slow down! The mind-body connection that has finally gained acceptance and scientific validation tells us that our emotional health directly affects our physical health and vice versa.

Music, meditation, movement and dance, affect our whole being, physically, emotionally and spiritually in profound and tangible ways. The cosmology or creation myth of nearly every culture has sound, music, words, or vibration as the source of all that is. "In the beginning was the Word." Science and physics today corroborate the ancient wisdom of the Vedas from India, the world as we know it is an illusion! There is nothing that is really solid, just pinpoints of energy that seem to pulsate in and out of existence and everything vibrates! Ultimately vibration is all there is! Hazrat Inayat Khan expresses this thoroughly and eloquently in his book, "The Music of Life". It's all so incredible, so amazing and so simple. Like all the secrets of the spirit and of the universe, the answers are always present and immediately available, we need only be awakened. Music possesses the power to awaken.


Gold Line

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

In my own life experience music has been a primary force, a lifeline and a connection to the deeper parts of my being and my spirit. I have experienced physical and emotional healing and incredible natural ecstatic highs through music. Music is an energy with the power to unite each of us with our own source and with each other. It is an essential ingredient, if not the principal ingredient necessary to realize the hope of a humankind united in the goal of peace and well-being for all beings, all creatures, all creation. My story is a tiny paragraph in the great book of the music of life, and one which I happily share with any who would find benefit in the listening.

My connection with music during my childhood was deep though not extraordinary, I am sure. I loved our radio and the popular songs of the day. I loved record players, speakers, wires, tape recorders, our slightly out of tune piano and guitars! I did not love the trumpet, which was the instrument chosen for me when our grade school offered band as a class. Though it is actually a wonderful instrument, to me it seemed cold and not very expressive, and you couldn't sing and play it at the same time! I found out early that I had at least a modicum of talent. I could go to the piano and pick out any tune in a matter of a few minutes. I also found out that my voice was at least listenable. When our music teacher decided to have us put on a play they needed a singer for the leading male role. I'm sure I got the part mostly because I was nearly the only one with enough nerve or audacity to get up in front of the class and "audition". In fact, I may have been the only one who got up. At any rate, I had the exhilarating, terrifying and mortifying experience of singing love songs to a girl about a foot taller than I was, in front of an audience of all my schoolmates and their parents.

I lived through the experience and realized I wanted to play music for and with as many people as possible. I had wanted a guitar since the beginning of time and had managed to procure a plastic ukulele and a plastic Elvis Presley guitar along the way. I finally got a real guitar, a decent little Harmony guitar, for my birthday at age 14 or so. I refused to have a teacher and immediately began figuring out songs and found I could tune it easily using our piano. I was soon organizing musical events at school and playing and singing whenever and wherever I could. It was the first time I felt connected to who I was, to something in me that was of value. It was the first time I really felt the joy of emotional expression.

I will not elaborate here on my overall experiences as a boy growing up. I had many wonderful and fulfilling experiences that I will always be grateful for. I also had excruciating experiences as most of us do, and experiences I had no preparation or guidance for that I was completely incapable of processing in a healthy way. I know now that some of those experiences manifested themselves physically. I had chronic asthma, allergies, bronchitis, and a collapsed lung. At the ripe old age of 16 I was turned down for life insurance because of my health history!

When I began college I was not yet 18. I studied psychology and played music as much as possible. Along the way I learned about psychosomatic illnesses and somewhere inside recognized my respiratory problems as having their basis in some unresolved emotional issues from childhood. I could feel that I was innately channeling a lot of this unresolved "stuff" through my music and knew that I was no longer going to carry it with me. During my 19th year all respiratory ailments left me, aside from occasional sneezing during pollen season. I no longer needed the aspirator, the medicine or the annual hospitalization for severe bronchitis. Somewhere inside I knew what had happened and what role music had played.

My awe and fascination for life and the world around me lead me to Eastern philosophy around this same time. Every thing I read just seemed to ring a bell, and seemed much more like remembering than learning. Music was a natural part of this expression and exploration into the mystical realm of spirit and the intellectual realm of philosophy. I also soon found myself in the presence of a wonderful yoga teacher, a man from India named Raj Mangathrai. Besides the wisdom and knowledge of yoga and meditation, he guided me to my spiritual teacher Srimata Gayatri Devi (Mataji). She was at that time spiritual leader of the Vedanta Centre in Cohasset, MA, and also Ananda Ashrama in LaCrescenta, CA.

Mataji drew me in and enfolded me in an atmosphere of love, spiritual awareness, and exalted music that I shall ever be humbly grateful for. The songs and chants from Mataji's lips came directly from a place so deep and pure that anyone close enough to hear was transported there. She gave me a new spiritual name, Jaidev (Victory to God), encouraged my music and appointed me "Music Director", a position I gladly experienced for twenty years. Without calculation or intent, her being only responded to music that came directly from our souls. Our egos, seeking gratification and bolstering found little to flatter them in an atmosphere where true singers were not performers, but open clear channels for something larger than themselves. Our hearts, when they came flying out through our songs and chants found nourishment fit for the gods. Mataji's approval of our music came mostly in the form of her own ecstatic moods during and after the songs, moods that were tangible and that healed and lifted one's heart and soul on the wings of the deepest truth and joy. Her name, Gayatri, meant "one who attains through song". Her gift to us all was the ethereal song that was her whole life. It was her, and her song that taught me and gave me the direct experience of how deeply healing and spiritually uplifting music can be.

Gold Line

REFERENCE & SUGGESTED READING

"The Healing Voice" by Joy Gardner-Gordon

"The Roar of Silence" by Don G. Campbell

"Music & Your Mind" by Helen L. Bonny & Louis M. Savary

"Music Medicine" by Ralph Spintge, M.D., Roland Groh, M.D.

"The Gift of Music" Compiled by Suzanne Beilenson

"Music as Medicine" by Kay Gardener

"Psychology of Music" by Carl E. Seashore

"Love, Medicine & Miracle's" by Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.

"Music and Sound in the Healing Arts" by John Beaulieu

"Recovering the Soul" by Larry Dossey, M.D.

"The World of Sound" by Joachim-Ernst Berendt

"Music Therapy in the Treatment of Adults with Mental Disorders" by Robert F. Unkefer

"Case Studies in Music Therapy" by Kenneth E. Brussia

 


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