The Power of Music for healing, relaxation and cultural unity

healers-journal

Music and music for healing is a significant part of almost everyone’s lives. It can uplift us, help us to relax; it can be appreciated for its aesthetic appeal, its technical accomplishments or simply for the ‘feeling’ it produces on listening. We all listen to different music at different times and for different reasons, but most importantly we all listen. Most music doesn’t come to us from strings and skins, it comes to us through the radio, from our players, from the internet. The ease of transmission allows almost everyone to experience the beneficial effects of music.

And these effects extend far beyond the appreciation of music as art. Music is effective as a tool for healing and self-development, having a long history of use in this way which is increasingly supported by contemporary studies. The enjoyment we get so readily from music can elevate our mood and increase our happiness, even proving effective in the treating of depression. Music – especially fast, high energy music – can also help us to perform better in high pressure situations, giving us a more positive outlook, helping us to focus on strategies and solutions and assisting us in getting excited rather than anxious. Music can even improve memory, especially verbal memory. These effects were observed during the treatment of stroke patients, whose verbal memory recovery was enhanced by the use of music compared to silence or audiobooks.

Fairly well known is the power of music  for healing, to reduce heart and breathing rates and blood pressure. This is connected to a reduction in the level of cortisol (often termed ‘the stress hormone’) in the body. Noted time and time again, this effect was reported, for example, at the Massachusetts General Hospital, where it was observed that patients confined to bed who listened to music for healing for thirty minutes had lowered stress symptoms and were in less apparent distress than patients who didn’t listen to music. Music for healing (that the listener enjoys) can even ease physical pain.

Music can also enhance our relationships with our bodies, motivating us to exercise harder and for longer and improving muscular and cardiovascular recovery and growth afterwards. This can be explained in part by the fact that listening to music can improve blood flow, increasing the availability of oxygen and glucose and thereby increasing energy levels and promoting muscle fibre regeneration. Music can also protect the immune system by maintaining lower levels of cortisol.

The use of music in therapeutic settings has been extensively explored and its beneficial effects well established. To give a few examples: Ventre’s (1994) case study showed how music built up an environment of love, acceptance and trust for a patient attempting to recover from sexual abuse and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). McCaffrey (2008) found that music connects individuals with their emotions and self-awareness, creating a healing environment. Perruzza & Kinsella (2010) found that music therapy transformed their patients’ lives: empowering them, giving them a renewed sense of self, a means of expression and a sense of purpose which transformed the illness experience.

But the therapeutic qualities of music are fairly recent rediscoveries in medical science; the practice of musical healing predates Classical history, and has been kept alive in the world’s spiritual traditions. In Sufi culture, for example, music is still used as a tool for personal and spiritual purification and development. The tradition emphasises the use of dance, and Mevlevi practitioners or ‘dervishes’ engage in a repetitive whirling dance, attempting to reach Kemal, the source of all perfection, by listening to the music while attempting to abandon their egos and personal desires and focus on God. Of the Sufi’s, scholar and founder of The Sufi Order in the West Hazrat Inayat Khan says that “They have the power of wonder-working, and the power of insight.” Calling the dervishes “dreamers, and lovers of God.”, Khan points to the way in which “they worship God in nature, especially in human nature.” He suggests that Dervishes are those Sufis who are most receptive to the spirit and the soul: resonating with the music on a spiritual level, ‘feeling’ the music more deeply than the average listener. “Whoever among them is moved by spirit may manifest the ecstasy, which is called wajad, in the form of tears, sighs or dance,” Khan informs; “It is therefore that those who do not understand the meaning of their dance call them “howling dervishes”, or “dancing dervishes”.” Deeply concerned with direct emotional experiences and with the ultimate emotional experience of ecstasy, Sufi worship contrasts sharply with the quiet, reflective, controlled liturgy typical of Western traditions.

Hindu culture emphasises the importance of music in a very different way, focusing on refining and mastering the emotions as opposed experiencing them as directly and intensely as possible. Hindu traditions have produced broad and complex systems of mantras, which are intended to have healing qualities. Lacking any definable melody, these mantras are not songs, nor are they valued for aesthetic purposes. The qualities of the sounds and rhythms of these mantras, however, are highly valuable in Hindu culture for their perceived functional purpose. Generally speaking, single syllable mantras are repeated in order to free an individual from restraints or frustrations, whereas phrased mantras tend to relate to the specific cure of an ailment.

Mantras are believed to function through the pineal gland, highlighted by the widespread usage of bindis (red dots worn on the forehead in many South Asian countries), which symbolizes the importance of the pineal gland or ‘third eye’. The parallel with modern medical science is interesting, given that biology currently understands the pineal gland to release the serotonin-derived hormone melatonin, which is responsible for regulating our sleep patterns. In ancient Hindu practices we see an implicit understanding of some aspects of modern biopsychology.

It might even be the case that the combination of the personal benefits of music and the history of use in spiritual traditions affords spiritual music a particular power which reaches beyond its personal or cultural context and establishes a powerful resource for intercultural dialogue. Music may represent a way for us to explore the distinctions and similarities which have evolved as our cultures have developed. It may help us to better understand the experiences of others, to respect and celebrate our differences and discover the depth of those often unexpressed elements of human life which are of critical importance to all of us, healing divisions in our societies.

The way in which sharp distinctions between cultures are perceived is often viewed as the source of misunderstandings and failures of cooperation; the misleading view of fundamental difference can shut down the possibility for reasoned discussion. Divisive cross-cultural issues can be difficult to fully understand because the principles on which these issues are based are so often deeply held and ancient. This failure of understanding typically results because individuals have no real access to or understanding of the causes of these unfamiliar principles.

Just as listening to music from unfamiliar genres can help us to understand the ‘scene’ associated with that genre, so too can listening to music from spiritual traditions give us a greater understanding of that tradition’s culture. Listening to music from a specific cultural group can give a powerful insight into the direct emotional experiences of belonging which are associated with being part of that group. Experiencing the passion of the performer and appreciating the context of that passion can help us understand important and intimate parts of other people’s personalities and can help us to appreciate that the principles which sometimes divide us as are only cultural insofar as they are also personal; the importance of any given belief is its relationship to every individual who holds it, and its cultural significance is the way in which it brings them together.

Often people are unwilling to discuss important issues cross-culturally. We seem to expect total stubbornness when debating matters of religious importance. Frequently deeply held principles being explored by another group is interpreted as an hostility. There is perhaps a perception of an attack on those principles which define an individual’s relationships with their community.

The connecting effects of music – especially music from spiritual traditions – may help us to see the way forward in these important and often troubled cross-cultural debates. Music may help us to commit to resolution-focus discussions of our most notable cultural and religious differences which aim at framing principles and practices in the context of an international community, in which cultures are seen not as divided but as similar and separate parts of a wider global culture. Music can bypass the doctrines and dogmas which so often divide us, helping us to access a common spiritual awareness and creating an atmosphere of respect and appreciation.

Spiritual music – after decades of relative obscurity – is enjoying strong representation once more. Ventures such as internet radio station Sacred Music Radio are making this form readily available to the world: playing music from a wide variety of spiritual traditions and from performers associated with no particular tradition.

In this atmosphere in which the importance of understanding the legitimacy of other cultural positions is seen as primary, we can avoid the problems of resistance or defensiveness which often result in deadlocks; rather than perceiving e.g. an inquiry as to the ethical viability of a certain practice in our own culture as a challenge to the principles which reside at the core of our cultural identity, we can appreciate that our core cultural values are acknowledged are respected, that the inquiry is legitimate, focused and needn’t be considered differently from any other ethical question. This place of understanding and respect is a ground for resolution and coherence, in which cultures – just like individuals in a society – work together to achieve the common goals of peaceful cooperation and mutual enrichment.

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Older Than Calendars: The Spiritual Meaning of Christmas

The Spiritual Meaning of Christmas

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The Spiritual Meaning of Christmas…

Something I often hear people worrying about in the weeks leading up to Christmas is the way in which Christmas is losing its meaning, and becoming focused on consumerism. But what is the meaning of this time of year?

The winter festival predates all organized religions by millennia; we celebrate Christmas when we do because it aligns with the cycles of nature and of our lives. At the end of the year, when all seems so dark and lacking in life, the solstice finally passes and the natural world is reborn in light.

The true spiritual meaning of Christmas has always been vested in the relationships we have. It is the time to come together and reflect on the meaning we have in each other’s lives. With the days starting to lengthen and our focus being drawn towards Christmas preparations, we need to remember to pause, reflect on the year just past, and consider what the year ahead holds for us. In terms of our goals and aspirations, what is our vision for the coming year?

Christmas is meant to be an enjoyable and uplifting time of year, yet a recent study of 3,000 people in the UK has revealed that 65% find Christmas stressful, making it the sixth most stressful life event — up there with divorce! One reason for this might be the speed of modern life. Many of us may feel we don’t have the time to explore our spirituality, don’t have the time to “do Christmas” properly with real meaning.

Just slowing down and thinking about the true meaning of the winter festival can remind us of the importance of community that the festival has always revolved around. Other people give our lives meaning, and so often we don’t take the time to express our feelings in a positive way or even feel insecure about letting people know how much they mean to us. Christmas isn’t just a time for family; it’s a time to meditate on all of our relationships, including the relationship we have with ourselves.

To have a good relationship with others, our relationship with ourselves has to come first: we must first take care of ourselves. If we are not at peace with ourselves how can we be a source of joy to others?  By taking the solstice as an opportunity to think about the sort of life we each live, we can gain a sense of self-acceptance and peace that is necessary in order to openly express our feelings to others.

The winter festival is far more than observing tradition; the spiritual meaning of Christmas it is a time for new beginnings, a time for looking at how we can enrich our relationships with friends and relations to be aware of others on our planet who are suffering, people we do not even know. Use the next few weeks leading up to the year’s end to look at what changes need to be made in our lives to bring us closer to the people who matter most to us, not just around a pile of presents on 25th December with a fire crackling away in the background, but throughout the year, with each of us bringing warmth to enrich each other’s lives and the life of our global community.

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The Passing of the Solstice: The ‘Spiritual’ Meaning of Christmas

The Passing of the Solstice

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When it gets closer to this time of year, many people often say that Christmas and the passing of the solstice has lost it’s meaning, with the focus on consumerism becoming larger every year. But what is ‘the meaning’ of this time of year?

Christmas is celebrated in the winter festival because it aligns with the cycles of nature and our lives, predating organised religions by millennia. I feel this point often gets forgotten about, and it is important to remember that at the end of the year, when the dark nights are getting longer and life is lacking, the solstice is passing and the natural world is being reborn into the light.

The winter festival is often expected to be an enjoyable and uplifting time of year, yet a recent study of 3,000 people in the UK has revealed that 65% find Christmas stressful. It is actually the sixth most stressful life event, up there with divorce! A lot of this can be linked to the speed of modern life, as many often place spirituality at the back of their minds, feeling that they don’t have the time to explore their spirituality, and as a result, don’t have time to ‘do Christmas properly with real meaning’.

The true spiritual meaning of the winter festival is vested in the relationships we have. This time of year is the time to come together and reflect on the meanings we have in each other’s lives. With our focus being drawn towards Christmas preparations, we need to remember to pause, reflect on the year just past and consider what the year ahead holds for us. In terms of our goals and aspirations what is our vision for the coming year?

By simply slowing down, and considering the true meaning of the winter festival, we can be reminded of the importance of community, which lies at the heart of the festival. So often, we do not appreciate the meaning other people give to our lives, and do not take the time to express our feelings in good way. Many feel insecure about letting people know how much they mean to us.

Christmas and the passing of the solstice isn’t just a time for family; it’s a time to meditate on all of our relationships, including the relationship we have with ourselves. Our relationship with ourselves has to come first- we must take care of ourselves. If we are not at peace with ourselves how can we be a source of joy to others? The solstice presents the perfect opportunity for us to think about what sort of life we lead, allowing us to gain a sense of self-acceptance and peace that is necessary in order to effectively express our feelings to others.

The winter festival is far more than observing tradition; it is a time for new beginnings, a time for looking at how we can enrich our relationships with friends and relations to be aware of others on our planet who are suffering, people we do not even know. With Christmas around the corner, try to use the time wisely and look at what changes need to made in your life to bring you closer to the people who matter the most. Look beyond the pile of presents on 25th December with a fire crackling away in the background, to the entire year, as each of us can bring a warmth to enrich each other’s lives and the life of our global community.

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The Music You Listen To Can Enhance Your Meditation

The Music You Listen To Can Enhance Your Meditation

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Listening to music to enhance your meditation  while practicing yoga is more of a controversial idea than you might expect. For some people, it just seems to work; for others, it’s a distraction. What’s most important is to select music that you enjoy listening to and music which serves the purpose you’re trying to achieve. One of the most beneficial effects of almost all sorts of music is to enhance movement. When practicing, some poses can feel difficult or uncomfortable, especially while a practitioner is in the earlier stages of learning yoga. Listening to music can increase the sense of grace and ease which is sought, easing transitions between postures and improving the physical benefits. Listening to music while practicing yoga can also help us to relax and not strain. Yoga is about doing our best while we relax and not comparing ourselves with others. Becoming more relaxed with music is an ideal way to do this.

‘Meditation music’ has become a surprisingly popular phrase lately. Surprising because traditionally, music is a distraction which has no place in meditation. Certainly methods which focus on mantras and on breathing are only interrupted by music, but the most popular form of meditation in the West (‘mindfulness’) is totally compatible with music.

Meditation and yoga are different practices, but they’re both related and the impact of different musical qualities is similar in both in terms of helping us to relax. Music can be used as a backdrop which adds context to one’s thoughts and feelings, for example by creating a positive mood and helping us to move past emotional obstacles to mindfulness. Just as when we listen to the sound of a gong, we transcend our thoughts to a state of inner peace. Rather like the way in which when we listen to the sound of a gong we transcend our thoughts to a state of inner peace.

Musical variation is the repetition of parts of a piece of music in a different form, with e.g. melody or rhythm altered but the bar or phrase is recognisable as something we’ve already heard. Variation tends to increase the extent to which music is ‘interesting,’ giving us more to think about, more to notice. Variation can be insistent; we expect to hear a certain melody repeated, and the subtle difference draws our attention. This can make highly varied music distracting when we’re trying to achieve a state of peace and relaxation. Sacred music tends to be conservative in its variation; designed more to soothe and exalt and not “jump out” at a listener. With less potential for distraction and more consistency, sacred music can be perfect for both yoga and meditation.

Tempo is also a major factor. A bit more self-explanatory than variation, higher tempo creates a sense of energy, excitement and urgency while lower tempo creates a sense of peace and relaxation. Not all meditation, not all yoga aims at relaxation, but it’s a great place to start and is greatly eased by the introduction of pleasant distractions.

Every spiritual tradition is different on the surface, but most spiritual music is concerned either with clearing the mind of unwanted tendencies and cultivating its positive tendencies, by awakening an awareness of and connection to divinity or of refining one’s emotions. Substitute ‘Self’, as in the higher Self, for divinity and sacred music could almost be purpose-built for yoga and meditation.

Music can be used (by some people) to enhance meditation, but may be more valuable for  most people asmeditation. As a background, music provides things like emotional bias which could either be considered good, for its power to create a good mood without a strong positive context, or bad because of the way it distracts you from finding a source of happiness within yourself. As a foreground, music can function more like a mantra; providing a content which the mind can focus on in order to edge out other distractions for the purposes of contemplation and reflection. Music can actively improve our ability to reflect, as it enhances memory.

There are as many types of sacred music as there are spiritual traditions in the world, as music is such a part of being human that every tradition (indeed, almost every human group) has developed their own style. If you’re looking for something new to enhance your yoga or meditation, or even a way to relax prior to meditation and you’ve never considered playing some background music (or sitting with headphones, hearing every note and every instrument dance together in the darkness behind your eyelids), you might be pleasantly surprised by the results… I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t enjoy music.

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Does music belong in meditation?

Does music belong in meditation?

new-connexion

Listening to music in meditation or while practicing yoga is more of a controversial idea than you might expect. For some people, it just seems to work; for others, it’s a distraction.What’s most important is to select music that you enjoy listening to and music which serves the purpose you’re trying to achieve. One of the most beneficial effects of almost all sorts of music is to enhance movement. When practising, some poses can feel difficult or uncomfortable, especially while a practitioner is in the earlier stages of learning yoga. Listening to music can increase the sense of grace and ease which is sought, easing transitions between postures and improving the physical benefits. Listening to music while practicing yoga can also help us to relax and not strain. Yoga is about doing our best while we relax and not comparing ourselves with others.Becoming more relaxed with music is an ideal way to do this.

‘Meditation music’ has become a surprisingly popular phrase lately. Surprising because traditionally, music is a distraction which has no place in meditation. Certainly methods which focus on mantras and on breathing are only interrupted by music, but the most popular form of meditation in the West (‘mindfulness’) is totally compatible with music.

Meditation and yoga are different practices, but they’re both related and the impact of different musical qualities is similar in both in terms of helping us to relax. Music can be used as a backdrop which adds context to one’s thoughts and feelings, for example by creating a positive mood and helping us to move past emotional obstacles to mindfulness. Just as when we listen to the sound of a gong, we transcend our thoughts to a state of inner peace. Rather like the way in which when we listen to the sound of a gong we transcend our thoughts to a state of inner peace. 

Musical variation is the repetition of parts of a piece of music in a different form, with e.g. melody or rhythm altered but the bar or phrase is recognisable as something we’ve already heard. Variation tends to increase the extent to which music is ‘interesting,’ giving us more to think about, more to notice. Variation can be insistent; we expect to hear a certain melody repeated, and the subtle difference draws our attention. This can make highly varied music distracting when we’re trying to achieve a state of peace and relaxation. Sacred music tends to be conservative in its variation; designed more to soothe and exalt and not “jump out” at a listener. With less potential for distraction and more consistency, sacred music can be perfect for both yoga and meditation.

Tempo is also a major factor. A bit more self-explanatory than variation, higher tempo creates a sense of energy, excitement and urgency while lower tempo creates a sense of peace and relaxation.Not all meditation, not all yoga aims at relaxation, but it’s a great place to start and is greatly eased by the introduction of pleasant distractions.

Every spiritual tradition is different on the surface, but most spiritual music is concerned either with clearing the mind of unwanted tendencies and cultivating its positive tendencies, by awakening an awareness of and connection to divinity or of refining one’s emotions. Substitute ‘Self’, as in the higher Self, for divinity and sacred music could almost be purpose-built for yoga and meditation.

Music can be used (by some people) to enhance meditation, but may be more valuable for  most people as meditation. As a background, music provides things like emotional bias which could either be considered good, for its power to create a good mood without a strong positive context, or bad because of the way it distracts you from finding a source of happiness within yourself. As a foreground, music can function more like a mantra; providing a content which the mind can focus on in order to edge out other distractions for the purposes of contemplation and reflection. Music can actively improve our ability to reflect, as it enhances memory.

There are as many types of sacred music as there are spiritual traditions in the world, as music is such a part of being human that every tradition (indeed, almost every human group) has developed their own style. On Sacred Music Radio we play music from all traditions, and from performers with no particular affiliation. If you’re looking for something new to enhance your yoga or meditation, or even a way to relax prior to meditation and you’ve never considered playing some background music (or sitting with headphones, hearing every note and every instrument dance together in the darkness behind your eyelids), you might be pleasantly surprised by the results… I’ve yet to meet a person who doesn’t enjoy music.

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Promoting Interfaith Harmony and Breaking Barriers

Promoting Interfaith Harmony

Spiritual Music as a Means of Promoting Interfaith Harmony

Spiritual music may be underrepresented in modern society, but its importance and potential to contribute to global interfaith harmony are great.

By Michael Vakil Kenton

Music is a fundamental part of humanity, significant in almost every human life. Music can uplift us, connect us, help us to relax and focus. Because of its ubiquity in our society, combined with its ease of transmission, almost everyone can experience the beneficial effects of music.

In 1979, I participated in a meditation retreat led by Pir Vilayat Khan, leader of the Sufi Order International at that time. It was located in the beautiful French Alps, and while I was there I meditated several times per day, and attended talks exploring the wisdom of Pir Vilayat and the teachings of this tradition of universal Sufism founded by his father Hazrat Inayat Khan. While at the retreat and in between periods of study and meditation, beautiful sacred music was played in the large tent where we met. This was entirely new to me, as I had never experienced just how beautiful and relaxing sacred music could be.

Rays of Light from the Same Sun

I found it profoundly uplifting. I was also inspired and really moved by the inclusive interfaith principles of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s universalist teachings, which view all religions as rays of light from the same sun. These teachings are based on the message brought by all the great teachers of humanity: the unity of all people and religions. But it was even more than that unifying message. After the retreat, I felt transformed and found that I was much more relaxed and accepting of myself and other people.

Several years later, I trained to perform The Sufi Order’s Universal Worship Service. This service is designed to attune to, acknowledge and appreciate the religions of the world with readings on a particular theme from the sacred texts of the world’s religions. Music is a vital part of the service, as music enables us to attune to each religion and to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony.

Variety of Sacred Music

Aware that comparatively few people can attend these services and experience this sense of unity and harmony, I created “Sacred Music Radio.”It is based in the UK but broadcasts worldwide, all day every day with the intention of enabling many more people on our troubled planet to experience the beauty and benefits of the incredible variety of sacred music from around the world. That explains why our theme is “Peace through Music”. We now have listeners in most countries of the world. The web site of Sacred Music Radio (sacredmusicradio.org) has an interfaith section and a quote from the site illustrates how we aim to promoting interfaith harmony:
One of the properties for which music was most valued in its usage in spiritual traditions was its capacity to bring individuals together, creating a shared space in which participants could feel and think in harmony. The usage of music in this way has never faded.

If music can help us explore other cultures and traditions, it may help us to respect and celebrate our differences and discover the depth of those elements of human life which are of critical importance to all of us but are often unexpressed.
The insight that spiritual music gives us can show us how attitudes which are apparently held by communities are more importantly held by individuals in those communities.

Spiritual music may be underrepresented in modern society, but its importance and potential to contribute to global interfaith harmony are great. Ventures such as the Internet radio station Sacred Music Radio are playing music from a wide variety of spiritual traditions and from performers associated with no particular tradition in order to make this form readily available to the world.

Crossing Linguistic and Personal Barriers

Music can bypass the dogmas which divide us, creating an atmosphere of respect and appreciation and increase our common awareness of spirituality as fundamentally personal and free-flowing. An example of how music is successfully used in this way is with the Abrahamic Reunion, a group formed to promote harmony between the religions of Abraham. As part of an interfaith conference at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem in June 2015, the Abrahamic Reunion provided music performed by Palestinians. This was enjoyed by people of all faiths who attended the conference.

In a time when the need for promoting interfaith harmony and dialogue is so pressing, music and its power to cross linguistic and personal barriers of understanding may help us to better understand the spirituality of others, discovering and focusing on our fundamental similarities rather than our trivial outward differences.

(Michael Kenton is a commentator on interfaith, global peace and harmony and the founder of Sacred Music Radio. For more details or to listen live visit http://www.sacredmusicradio.com)

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Using music to motivate

Using music to motivate

Modern life is fast-paced and can often feel aggressively demanding. With the constant expectation that we should fill every day with activity, we often forget to take time out for ourselves and reset. As today (25 February) is Employee Motivation Day, it is important to recognize that something as simple as listening to music can provide us with that much needed boost to get our work finished and see us through to the end of the day (music to motivate).

Reduces stress and anxiety

For many, the mental and emotional effects of music are the most noticeable. It can directly increase our happiness. At Massachusetts General Hospital, attendants noticed that patients confined to bed who listened to music for thirty minutes had a lower heart rate and blood pressure than those who hadn’t listened to music.

The reason behind is that music reduces our cortisol levels. This is more commonly known as the stress hormone, and is partly responsible for feelings of tension and emotional distress, as well as lowered immune response. Therefore, the calming effects of sound gives you the perfect excuses to sit back and switch off in a world where we are always on the move.

There are various types of music that you can listen to to relax, but many find that classical and sacred music are the most effective. There slow tempo and conservation in variation creates an enveloping experience which allows you to forget the world, in a peaceful space of your own. It can also help us to identify and express our emotions.  It can help us to become aware of the feelings associated with our stress and it can help us to master that stress instead of being subdued by it.

It can boost memory and restore focus

Using music to motivate also has the ability to enhance our minds and bodies, helping us to improve our memory and increasing the results we get from exercise. This has been demonstrated in the well-known Mozart Effect Study, which has suggested that listening to Mozart’s compositions may induce a short-term improvement on the performance of certain mental tasks. The key type of music that keeps your brain engaged is ambient music, which engages your brain at a lower, subconscious level, and can be found in sacred music, waterfall sounds and whale songs.

The second element is a good example of the multiple simultaneous benefits of music. Enjoyable music increases our motivation and encourages us to exercise harder and reduces levels of boredom during repetitive tasks such as free-weight exercise or hypnotic tasks such as long-distance running. At the same time, enjoyable music increases our tolerance of pain, helping us to exercise harder and for longer. After exercise, music helps our bodies to recover by increasing the overall availability of oxygen.

By Michael Vakil Kenton, founder of Sacred Music Radio

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Interview with Marcus Braybrooke

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Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke is the President of World Congress of Faiths,  co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum, Peace Councilor andauthor.  He and his wife Mary have been involved in interfaith work for 50 years, having joined the World Congress of Faith in 1964. Alongside encouraging interfaith relations in the UK, Marcus has travelled widely to attend interfaith conferences and to lecture. His contribution to the development of inter-religious co-operation and understanding was recognized in 2004, when he was awarded a Lambeth Doctorate of Divinity by the Archbishop of Canterbury. To find out more about Revd Dr Marcus’ work, please visit here. Sacred Music Radio was fortunate to sit down with him and discuss the current shape of interfaith relations, and the role music has in it.

How do you think we can best achieve interfaith harmony?

Local activity is very important. This week is the National Interfaith Week and Next February there will be World Harmony Week, which is sponsored by UN. It provides a great chance for people to get involved in local events, and encourages people to meet and learn about different religions. Internationally, we are trying to bring pressure on the governments, campaigning at the UN on the major issues. The recent Parliament of World Religion in Salt Lake City discussed topics ranging from the dangers of climate change, hate and war, to women’s rights and we focused on what we can do together.

What do you view as the biggest obstacle to achieving this?

Of course we aware that that there are issues preventing us from achieving harmony. The greatest danger is the way people use religion to embitter  conflicts  and to justify killing other people. For some, actions are deemed acceptable because they are doing so in the name of their God: But a criminal act in the name of God is always a crime against God.  We need to challenge teachings in religion which encourage exclusivity. Many people believe that only one religion is right and all others are wrong. We need to help people recognize that they can still believe in their religion whilst respecting others at the same time.

A lot of that stems from the dogmatic approach to religion that has developed. What can we do to discourage this?

This can be a major obstacle. The issue comes from people taking the texts too literally and not in context of the religious teaching.  For example, you should read the Bible with a mind of Christ- or any scripture it in the light of your overall knowledge of its teaching . If you get a letter from someone you love, and there is a strange letter or sentence within it, you realize the mistake because you know the person, and know they would not be saying that. One of the things that is important about interfaith is that it’s not about watering down a religion. People need to recognize that the more deeply you go into a faith, the more you feel akin with other spiritual people. People of faith meet in the presence of God- it’s a call to get to the very depth of you religion, and that is where the dogmatic approach to religion becomes a problem.

I feel like there needs to a concerted effort to encourage empathy between people of different backgrounds. How do you believe this can be achieved?

The first thing is encouraging people to meet. Hostility comes from a feeling of being estranged. Once you meet, you discover that you make friends and often forget which religion people belong to, as we often use religion as a badge of identity. It’s important that people try and learn about other religions. So much is available online nowadays. Throughout Interfaith Week, this was achieved through people going to other’s places of worship and sharing meals together. Acting together and campaigning for shared goals, such as the environment and animal rights, or helping refugees is one way of achieving this. One way the World Congress of Faith has addressed this is through interfaith worship. People of different faiths pray together. Our last, before the London Olympic Games focused on the Golden Rule, which is to be found in every religion and we heard each religion’s version of it. There is so much we can share.

Michael found himself drawn to the ability of sacred music to unite people after he trained to perform a service called the Universal Worship Service- was there a significant moment in your past that led to you focusing your work on encouraging interfaith relations?  

After writing a book on 1000 world prayers, which draws on prayers from all different traditions, I began to recognize the harmony between them. There are so many words of dogma where faiths disagree, but what motivates me is the mystical tradition, that sense of overwhelming oneness. I was on the underground looking around at the passengers, and could feel the sense of unity. They were not strangers. We are all children of God.

How can we engage with the next generation to ensure that our message of interfaith relations is spread and strengthened?

A lot is happening now at local level. One of the encouraging things about the Parliament of World Religions was the number of young people. There was a great emphasis on youth leadership. Last November there was a World Religious Peace Summit in South Korea, which began with a gathering in the Olympic stadium, and it was full of young people. It demonstrated that in some parts of the world, there is a strong desire from young people to get involved in interfaith activities. In this country, I feel that the encouragement will most likely come from the activist approach.  However, a lot comes down to where you live. In some areas, people are very accepting of multi-faith communities, having lived in one for years, yet others still view it as a novelty. Encouraging spirituality, as opposed to doctrine is important.  . The real sharing is getting people to meet through hearts and minds, not just through theology.

Do you think that music from spiritual traditions has a capacity to connect tradition and modern life?

Music is tremendously important. I have stressed in the past the need to get away from the verbal. We had a wonderful concert in London that ended with Peter Gabriel’s arrangement of music from different traditions. For everyone, the highlight of the Parliament of World Religions was a concert with musical contributions from all traditions. At that level, we were moving beyond our particularities. The reasons we get together don’t have to be specifically religious. The Three Faiths Forum has a mixed choir, where members come from lots of different traditions, and they just come together to enjoy the singing. Similarly at the Parliament of World Religion in Salt Lake City – one of the most moving moments was when there was a great choir of children singing together. Music is a great way of bringing people together.

How do you feel Sacred Music Radio can develop to further help build interfaith relations?

First, the music encourages inner peace and harmony and may help us to appreciate other cultures. Sometimes the stories of those who wrote music are inspiring. It will be good to hear from people what it is about sacred music that moves them, and works towards further breaking down barriers and encouraging a longing for universal peace.

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Interview with Jonathan Arnold

Jonathan Arnold

Rev. Dr Jonathan Arnold is the Chaplain of Worcester College and a professor of theology at Worcester College, Oxford. Dr Arnold specializes in Reformation History and Music and Theology, having recently written ‘Sacred Music in Secular Society’. After studying at St Peter’s College Oxford, Dr Arnold went on to train as a singer at the Royal Academy of Music, from where he became a Vicar-Choral in the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral and a member of The Sixteen. Sacred Music Radio was fortunate to sit down with him and discuss the changing face of sacred music.

How do you feel we can best encourage sacred music amongst the younger generation?

The demographic of people who are spending their money or time to listen to sacred music has traditionally been perceived as the middle aged and above. However, what we are seeing now is diversity in our culture, which allows people of all generations to engage with a wide of variety of music from different cultures and places. This has meant that it has become something that is accessible to the young as well as the older generation.

A key way to encourage sacred music amongst the younger generations is through education. One aspect of education that I consider to be a priority in schools is an engagement with different art forms in classes, whether that be music, visual art, or literature that come from different cultures. What we don’t want to lose in our schools is a sense of the diversity of the sacred in the different cultures of our world. Once people are exposed to different forms of sacred culture, they can experience them for themselves and undertake their own exploration of what they may want to follow.

You focus a lot on diversity in schools, how do you think we can achieve interfaith harmony outside of the classroom?

In one word- music. One of the great things about music is that it can break down faith barriers and within faiths; it can break down denominational barriers. I am reminded of an interview I carried out with Peter Phillips, the conductor of the Tallis Scholars. He told me that in his concerts, there is no speaking. One of the reasons for this is that if someone stands up and states that they are Roman Catholic, immediately someone else will say they are something else. We create a division when we try and decide if a piece of music is part of Catholic liturgy or of another denomination, rather than letting the music speak for itself.  When we listen to a piece of choral music by Byrd, Victoria, Bach or Rutter we need not necessarily say that it is Catholic music as such, it is just music.

You yourself performed classical choral repertoire- what was it within sacred music that moved you the most?

One of the wonderful things about music is that it can be enjoyed and appreciated by everyone. I might be moved by Arabic or Jewish chants as equally as I would be by western music of the Christian tradition. Within the interfaith situation, we can appreciate that and see that it comes from the same source, which is, of course, a divine source. We shouldn’t need to explain that because music and sacred art goes beyond words, which can so often create boundaries between faiths and cultures. Music can take us to a place where words are not necessary, as music reveals something of the ineffable reality of the unknowable divine. It is speaking of the inexplicable.

Do you think that sacred music can help us to understand and interpret what is mystical in our lives?  

One of the reasons for the popularity of sacred music, both within and outside a religious context, is that it takes away the need for an ascent to a particularity institutional religion. If you are listening to a particular piece of music, you can ascent to it without necessarily following a strict doctrine or creed. That is why people enjoy going to concerts of sacred music, or listening to it online or on a recording, because they are not required to kneel down and pray etc. They can take the music on its own terms and move to a place beyond words.

Based on your belief that the sacred can take us to a place beyond words, do you think that sacred music can help us understand spirituality as personal?

A lot of sacred music in its original composition is tied to its function within a religious institution or organization. Yet, what is happening now is that people are accessing sacred music in ways that are not related to institute religion. The interesting question is how do institutional religions respond to that fact? Is it time for faith to reclaim sacred music as part of the religious tradition and make people aware of its function within a faith context or is it enough for sacred music to stand-alone? The future role of sacred music is certainly an interesting area to watch.

In your latest work, ‘Sacred Music in Secular Society’, you suggest that the spiritual nature of sacred music continues to hold an immense attraction in the secular society. Could you expand on this?  

The book is a study of how we in the west are consuming sacred music, by which I mean how we access sacred music and the context within which we listen to it and engage with it. Within the book, I mainly focus on western sacred music, specifically Western Europe from the early Middle Ages through to today. If we look at how Christian sacred music is now being accessed, it is not necessarily being heard within a liturgical context. The rise of digital media has meant that people can access sacred music just about anywhere, either through downloads or live streaming. It is a way for people to bring sacred music out of the church setting and into their home.

How have you seen attitudes change towards sacred music?

There has already been a huge rise in interest in sacred music, and this interest goes beyond the liturgical settings- attendance to cathedrals in Britain has risen sharply. People are going to cathedral worship in much greater numbers then they did 20 years ago, which is one indicator. Another is how popular sacred music has become within classical music and in the concert halls. Before I became a chaplain at Worcester Collage, Oxford, I was in fact a practicing professional singer, and I performed in a cathedral setting and on a concert stage with various choirs. It was whilst working with these choirs that I was able to see how audiences, as opposed to congregations, reacted and responded to sacred music. Sacred music has not only become more accessible than it ever has been in world history, but it is now more easily consumed and desired by the public.

What direction do you see your upcoming work taking you in regards to the role of sacred music?

In the research I have undertaken so far, I have focused on case studies of performers, composers and listeners. Through these, I engaged with the professionalization of sacred music, undertaking interviews with people who have informed opinions about sacred music in our society including Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Moving forward, my research is taking a sociological and psychological approach. I will be focusing on two categories of listeners, cathedral congregations and concert audiences. I have two surveys on the go, which can be found here http://www.experienceofmusic.org/. Through these surveys I hope to understand how people respond to music in a particular settings and come to some conclusions as to where the sacred is concentrated in our society and how people use the language of sacred music.

Is there a particular piece of sacred music that you favour?

There is no one piece of music that I favour. Music can often be a surprising joy and I am always keen to hear new music and gain more experience. There is so much powerful and wonderful music that has been written that I sometimes return to the great works of Bach or Palestrina, for example, but there are some great living composers of sacred music that I am optimistic for its future in our society.

How do you feel Sacred Music Radio can develop to further help build interfaith relations?

Would it be possible to have tracks ready to play on demand and would it be a good idea to have podcasts of interviews?  

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Interview with Satish Kumar

Satish Komar

Satish Kumar is a former monk and long-term peace and environmental activist. Inspired in his early 20s by the example of the British peace activist Bertrand Russell, Satish embarked on an 8,000 mile peace pilgrimage. In 1973, he settled in the UK, taking the position of Editor ofResurgence and Ecologist Magazine, a position he continues to hold. If you would like to find out more about Satish, you can read his autobiography ‘No Destination’, alongside his other books including ‘You Are, Therefore I Am: A Declaration of Dependence’.

Sacred Music Radio was fortunate to sit down with him and discuss the current shape of interfaith relations, and the role music has in it.

In your 60s you undertook a truly amazing pilgrimage with your friend, which saw you cover the 8,000 mile journey from India to America- How did this incredible journey change you?

Going around the world without any money gave me a sense of profound trust in people and in the universe. The idea that someone could go through Muslim countries, Christian countries, capitalist countries, the wilderness, and the desert and can survive gave me a profound trust and faith in people.

How do we feel we can best achieve interfaith harmony?

We have to see people as people, and then whatever occasion you are organising, always consider bringing people of different faiths. Different faiths should be celebrated, not viewed as a division or source of conflict. It is wonderful to have Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews and many other faiths, as it creates a diversity of philosophy, religion and faith. It would be boring if 7 billion people on this earth were all following the same religion or faith. If you have a garden, you wouldn’t want one with only roses, you would want many different types of flowers to create a beautiful garden. In the same way, you need many different types of faiths to make our world a broad, varied and all embracing place. We should celebrate the diversity of religion in the same way we celebrate biodiversity, national diversity, and linguistic diversity. There is no religion that is better than another. We have to say that religion is not truth-truth is in religion. You are looking for truths. All paths lead to God. Whatever way you follow, you can follow the paths and practice to live in harmony in the universe.

What do you believe the biggest obstacle will be to achieving this?

The most difficult obstacle to interfaith relations is the conditioning of our minds. We have been conditioned to think that one religion is better than another and we have a narrow self-interest to only promote our religion. We have to look beyond our narrow interest and consider our common ground. If you look deeply, you will find that all religions have more in common than they do differences, such as love for the earth, compassion and a sense of service. The best way to bring harmony is to highlight the way we all come together and share our visions. The differences are small but we exaggerate them and highlight them rather than commonality- the best way to overcome our divisions is to highlight our similarities.

Do you think music from spiritual traditions has a capacity to connect tradition and modern life?

Music is a great power of uniting people. When you are singing together, you don’t have differences as these melt away as you sing. We transcend our divisions and become one, we are members of one human community Music is the best way to unite people and for us to participate in singing.

Is there a particular piece of music that you feel promotes interfaith harmony the best?

There are many kinds of musical traditions, and I find them all wonderful. I enjoy sitar music, which is played by many Muslims in India, as much as I enjoy more accomplished musicians in the West, such as John Tavener. When they play, you are moved and transported to another world and inspired, regardless of whether you are Hindu, Muslim or Christian. This is why I believe the tradition of sacred music is very important.

How do you feel we can best spread this message amongst the younger generation?

The best way to engage with the younger generations is to invite them to musical or interfaith events. I feel like young people are hungry for these experiences. In the 60s, Bob Dylan and the Beatles had a deep love for peace and were great with engaging with younger people. We need to find some music that is accessible to young people. John Lennon’s song Imagine moved millions of young people, so we need to find music that inspires and moves young people in this era. Music can inspire. You can marry popular music with music that has deeper spiritual values, which is what they achieved in the 60s- they had great ideas, which were spiritual and uplifting.

What do you think is the best way of improving our environmental and ecological awareness?

The best way is to understand that the freedoms we enjoy are limited. We cannot have unlimited things which create global warming, climate change, pollution of the oceans etc. All these kinds of activities will lead to a disaster for humanity and the earth, and therefore we have to restrain our consumption and live an elegantly simple life. Elegant simplicity should be embraced- when you have a life of elegant simplicity, you can have a life beautiful things, good food, well made clothes which last a long time, houses which are built by hand which are ascetically beautiful and you are happy. Have a few things, but have good things that last a long time so that you don’t waste anything. If we can eliminate pollution and waste and celebrate the gift of the earth that we are receiving every day, we can stop the destruction that is happening.

In some of your work, you speak of the ways in which modern education fails to equip students for life. What do you think it is about practicing real skills over acquiring theoretical knowledge that enhances our lives?

Within education, I work on two projects. The first is the Small School in Hartland, Devon, which is a school for young children aged 11-16. These children learn how to grow and cook food, build houses and make things with their hands. We believe that children should have the education of the head, heart and the hands, which does also involve academic education. However, we also recognise the need to have feelings and emotions, and we need to develop how we feel and how to cultivate our feelings of compassion and joy. All these values are just as important as learning mathematics or physics. Development of the heart and the head should go hand in hand together. Through hands, we can manifest our imagination into reality. We should not be teaching our children to just be consumers, we should be teaching them to be makers and creators. Don’t think about consuming, think about making and consumption will follow- when you have cooked something, you will then eat it. I want to emphasis the practical education of young people, where they learn skills of life.

The second project is Schumacher Collage, where the students participate in practical things, such as gardening, and cooking. This way head, heart and hands are included in the education of the older students. We believe subjects shouldn’t be divided into departments as it encourages isolation. All the subjects are interconnected; we have to consider how they all fit together, as we need to find a balance and a harmony. Education is very close to  my heart, and through these projects I hope we can create a holistic education that is not compartmentalised.

The third project is editing Resurgence & Ecologist magazine which is an educational publication presenting a holistic world view.  Through Resurgence & Ecologist we promote culture, conservation and community values. We have regular articles on social justice, ethical living, spirituality and environmental sustainability.  The magazine was established in 1966 so next year we will be celebrating our 50th anniversary at Worcester College, Oxford from 22nd – 25th September.

Through these three projects I have been able to make a small contribution in the ongoing awareness about the values of good life and good society.  It has been my privilege and joy to be of service in a small and humble way to humanity and to the earth.

http://www.resurgence.org/

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