By Silvia Nakkach October 10, 2013
Join Silvia Nakkach for a two-day workshop, "Medicine Melodies: The Music That Healers Hear," at CIIS on November 16 - 17. The workshop is from 10:00 am - 5:30 pm each day. Learn more.
In the universe, everything sings: plants, animals, waterfalls, bones, people, the stars, the rain, and many things we don’t see. Even silence makes a sound. From time immemorial, the shaman has heard the hidden music of the universe and sung it back through what I like to introduce as “medicine melodies,” simple tonal configurations that reflect a sacred unity with nature and have the power to heal body, mind, and spirit. Many people today are visited by such melodies—as if spontaneous transmissions from nature or the spirit world are “singing into” the person rather than the person “singing out.”
Almost every week, someone reaches out to me with a request like this: “I am not a singer, but I hear this beautiful music inside me, and sometimes when I can express that music it sounds like short and repetitive melodies, inspired by some spiritual presence, like someone is singing through me, and my voice sounds so free and open. Can you help me?” I always wonder why these gifted people are so worried—the singing feels like an incantation! It is a gift. It’s a medicine melody born out of a spiritual connection.
What is extraordinary is that the music delivered by these melodies has the intention to assist, to lessen fear, to orient, to abrir caminhos (to open the way). Many cultures program us to think that the main purpose of music is entertainment. These melodies, on the other hand, are intuitive medicine. Singing them is an act of spontaneous reverence for a subtler dimension of reality, where we obtain spiritual information in a process I call musical divination: The music is in the air; by deep listening we are open to receive it. The mind has access to a higher realm where a medicine melody is heard. The voice is the gatekeeper. Spirit uses our voice as a vehicle to sing through us.
We can look at medicine melodies as healing-vibrational formulas that help transform energy patterns and enhance deep listening and receptivity. By balancing the activity of the left- and right-brain hemispheres, medicine melodies can produce measurable effects in the physical body. Singing or listening to them induces concentration and sharpens our capacity for self-awareness, allowing us to see not only what is there, but also what is felt, and what others feel, giving us access to an insightful vision of the past, present, and future.
Medicine melodies can be found in all traditions: from lullabies to Gregorian chants, Hebrew davennen, the kirtans, mantras and ragas from India, Tibetan ritual prayers, the zhikrs of the Sufis, Buddhist sutras and tantric chants, indigenous songs such as the icaros, and healing songs from Africa and the Americas. These melodies are divinely inspired, constructed with simplicity and minimalism and rendered with a great deal of repetition to most effectively convey emotion, memory, revelation, or spiritual transmission.
Evoking the original function of music—which is to quiet the mind and make it sensitive to divine intervention—these archetypal melodies clear and open energetic channels. The simple contour of the melodies creates a contagious sensation of ancestral communion and well-being. Anyone who cultivates familiarity with chanting can find herself creating or remembering medicine melodies. It requires simply the ability to be completely present in the moment, allowing yourself to be subtly immersed in a transpersonal field of sound and fearlessness—the mind of the shaman.
As sacred sound, a medicine melody travels through consciousness; it can transform everyday occurrences into a visionary dimension. A fundamental part of shamanic healing, medicine melodies possess profound consciousness-altering effects. Examples from the Peruvian Amazon are icaros, songs that plants “transmit” to the healers as soon as they become physically, mentally, and spiritually prepared to receive the songs. After shamanic initiation, individuals in completely different locations have been known to receive the very same icaros—evidence of their direct transmission from sacred realms.
A shaman will sing medicine melodies for divination—obtaining information from the spirit world—and protection in support of the inner journey. The sacro-magical and transformative qualities of these chants make them central to medicine ritual. The practice involves using evocative voices that imitate nature and spirit sounds, simple chants, and deep drumbeats to facilitate the transference of energy and connect with the healing power of the elements of nature and the spirit world.
Some of the psycho-spiritual qualities (or rasas) that may be conveyed when people sing medicine melodies include inner wisdom, serenity, open-mindedness, selflessness, compassion, devotion, calm acceptance, wonder, affliction, detachment, inner joy, radiance, and relaxation. In music and sound therapy, both the clinician and patient can benefit from medicine melodies that generate an atmosphere of calm receptiveness.
The voice as a fabric of breath, vibration and expression has the capacity to convey and release emotions like no other instrument. We experience singing as one of the most directly transformative art forms because it liberates self-expression, promotes physical and emotional balance, and engenders a sense of devotion and happiness. The latest discoveries in neuroscience confirm the healing power of prayer and devotional singing in particular. Chanting awakens all the physical and energetic psychic centers, stimulates the immune system and the emotional body, allowing greater meaning and insight into the mysteries of creation.
Singing medicine melodies becomes a spiritual practice that involves both the body and mind, opening us to divine remembrance, nature, and transformation. The realm of sounding becomes a state of consciousness—a kind of trance—where the attention is not on the Self, but in the experience of listening. Free from selfish demands, the voice soars, listens, receives, and releases healing frequencies and songs. We wonder again, Who is singing?
Through the emotive magic of medicine melodies, we become cosmic singers, connecting through sound to spirit, eternity, and light. Herein lies the beneficial power of this distinctive music that has no composer and no ownership, except for the intervention of the divine. In particular, we benefit by connecting with the archetypal dimension of consciousness and magic. Our hearts open to the deep longing of the enchanters, to those who journey through the magic of sound to attract spirit power.
So, there’s nothing to worry about when you receive these melodies. You have been blessed. You have been listening to the voices of the unseen; you have tasted the “unseen fruit,” described by the Sanskrit concept of adrsta-phala (spiritual benefit). Your voice is making cosmic music.
To read more: Free Your Voice, Awaken to Life through Singing (Book, Sounds True, 2012)
To listen: Medicine Melodies, Songs Healer Hear (CD, Sounds True, 2012)