The uplifting rhythms of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. The soul-stirring contralto of Mahalia Jackson. The rapture of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It really does seem as if music has the power to soothe the savage breast.
But why? What is it about music that gives it so much power not only to speak to the mind and touch the heart but to elevate and to heal the soul?
All are Welcome
You don’t have to subscribe to a particular religious orthodoxy to appreciate the spiritual benefits of music. Whatever your particular perspective on God, faith, or dogma, music, in and of itself, transcends words and doctrine and speaks directly to the soul. And that is why it is such an integral component of worship in all of the world’s great religions, from Christianity to Buddhism.
At its core, music is the conduit to the collective consciousness, a vehicle for accessing universal energies that transcend time and space, to returning to the essential core of the human soul. And that’s not just theory. It’s scientific fact.
Increasingly sophisticated imaging technologies can capture in visual form what music lovers have already known: that music has profoundly healing properties for the mind and body as well as for the spirit. Research has shown, for example, that music produces significant and immediate changes in the deepest and oldest parts of the brain, the areas where our emotions reside. This explains the universality of music, its unique capacity to transcend the moment, to take us outside and beyond ourselves.
The spiritual power of music, though, rests not only in its capacity to move you beyond the moment, to connect you with a reality, a force and spirit greater than one person. Rather, the spiritual power of music can also help us to find peace and grace in life’s most challenging moments.
Studies have shown, for instance, that children who begin receiving music lessons from an early age are not only likely to perform significantly better in school than their non-musical counterparts, but that they’re also more apt to continue to college. This is phenomenal news for every child, but it’s especially important for children who face nearly insurmountable odds in their path toward higher education.
For example, the city of Los Angeles used academic findings regarding the brain’s responses to music to found the Harmony Project. Thanks to the inception of the program, the city found that 93% of the children who had received music lessons beginning in primary school ended up continuing to college. This starkly contrasts with the 50% dropout rates of students in neighboring schools who were not provided with music education.
The difference that music education makes is far more than a cognitive one, however. Medical imaging demonstrates the profound impact that music has on the human brain, activating not only the “intellectual” centers of the brain but also those areas responsible both for emotion and “spiritual” experience. Music, in essence, contributes to an altered state of consciousness that can be deeply transformative for the individual who experiences it.
For children who have grown up in impoverished environments where academic achievement may not necessarily have been prioritized, the ability to access this higher state of consciousness through music may well have taught these children to perceive themselves and their world from a perspective of grace and opportunity. Simply put, music may have given these students a glimpse at a transcendent world, as well as a heightened appreciation of their own inner potential, that simply was not defined by or limited to their immediate, impoverished circumstances.
Hope and Healing
If music education can have such a powerful impact on the lives of children who might otherwise seem consigned by poverty and lack of opportunity to a dismal fate, its capacity to inspire hope and healing in your own life is equally profound. For instance, work challenges seem to be an inevitable fact of life. Unfortunately, every day, millions of workers must confront a toxic work environment, one in which persistent volatility, abuse, and rights violations take a grievous toll on employees’ physical and mental health.
While no one should be made to endure such a hostile work environment, which is, in fact, against federal law, it’s imperative to take care of your mental, physical, and, especially, your spiritual health as you fight for your legal rights in the workplace. That, again, is where the spiritual nature of music comes into play.
Sound healing, for example, can be a particularly potent tool for self-healing. Through the use of sound vibrations, you enter a deeply meditative state, connecting mind, body, and spirit to achieve a sense of wholeness, wellness, and peace.
Music is far more than a timeless form of entertainment. It is also a conduit for spiritual growth and healing. And for millennia, humans have used music to connect with the universal human spirit, with their hearts, minds, and souls, and with the transcendent being — God, energy, the universe, the life force. It both takes human beings outside of themselves and also connects them to the immortal essence deep within.