Last Updated on September 2, 2020 by Paul Farrell, MRP, JD, PhD
“Music is meditation, if it is sung soulfully by good singers, or even if it is sung badly by singers with soulful hearts…
Music is the inner or universal language of God.
I do not speak French or German or Italian, but if music is played from any of those countries, immediately the heart of the music enters into my heart, or my heart enters into the music. At that time no outer communication is needed; the inner communion of the heart is enough. My heart is communing with the heart of the music, and in our communion we become inseparably one.
Meditation and music cannot be separated.”
– Sri Chinmoy, Indian spiritual master
Music is perhaps the purest of all natural meditations, for everybody, we all do music – everything from songwriting, composing melodies, playing our favorite instruments, singing a solo ballad, enjoying gospel singers at a local church, a string quartet, rock opera, or a concert hall filled with the sounds of a large choir and orchestra. And for every performer, there are thousands enjoying their music.
A Musical Meditation… While Busy Commuting
Music has always been one of my favorite meditations: Often while on a three-month sabbatical at Esalen I’d drive into Carmel. This hour-long stretch of the Big Sur coastal road is one of the world’s most dramatic. The twists and turns force you to stay on high alert. And yet, after making the trip several times the route seemed programmed in my system. With the Phantom of the Opera music as a backdrop I would slip into a trance-like meditation – and become one with the gentle winding road, the music, nature and the universe.
Years later Norman Fischer, a Zen abbot and poet described this kind of meditation: “I’m in my car, on the highway. I turn off the news and the baseball game I’ve been listening to and switch to a Beethoven violin sonata that’s loaded in the CD player. Listening to the music, my mind gradually starts to release, like a hand that had been grasping something tightly and is beginning to let go. Another mind appears, a mind completely engaged with the pattern the music weaves. A moment before I had been frozen into the shape of a self in a world. Now, the music has thawed me out.”
Meditate Anytime, Anywhere, Any Music
What a perfect way to meditate – whether you’re just one in an audience of thousands at a huge rock concert, or listening with head phones on a treadmill in the gym. Music naturally resonates within the human mind, lifting the emotions, the spirit and the soul, music is meditation in its highest form. Anything musical is a perfect meditation:
- You could be singing a favorite song in the shower, whistling on the way walking to work, sitting and humming on a park-bench during lunch, all great times to meditation for a moment anytime during the day.
- As a performer, meditating while singing a solo ballad or playing the harp at a wedding, in a band, quartet, choir, chamber ensemble, a large orchestra – or in the audience, listening, focusing on the sounds.
- Musicians meditate playing the cello, flute, tuba, piano, guitar, drums, saxophone, zither, xylophone – any musical instrument, even a ticking metronome, is an instrument for meditation.
- Any musical form can become a meditation: Rap, rock, jazz, soul, R&B, Latin, opera, Kabuki, bluegrass, show tunes, barbershop quartets, cabarets, piano bars, lullabies, holiday carols, karaoke and ballroom dance music. Whatever your passion, go with it, trust it, let it become your way of meditation, naturally.
- Lyrical Gregorian chants, guttural Tibetan chants, Aboriginal, African and Native American shamanic ritual chants, or the haunting sounds of whales, loons, seashores and thunder storms, every one offering an opportunity to connect with nature at a primal level.
- You may resonate with the sounds of Motown, Nashville, New Orleans or Harlem – meditate on your culture, your heroes and heroines, your dreams, discover the creative spirit and be lifted by its music.
Non-Musicians can Meditate Too
Music is a way of meditating for non-musicians as I discovered back in the mid-eighties. I went to a workshop at the Esalen Institute in the Big Sur.
Imagine thirty of us were given sticks and bottles, bells and noisemakers of all kinds, even a few real musical instruments like sousaphones, harmonicas, a violin and some horns, although few knew how to play any of them!
Like being in kindergarten again, definitely non-musicians, “musically-challenged” you might say, and yet we played a hauntingly beautiful music! We played from the heart, from somewhere deep in the soul – you could sense it in our solos, the quartets, even as a full orchestra.
Our “music” was created spontaneously in the moment, we had to focus, trust and flow because we were truly in alien territory. Besides it was so darn energizing we just didn’t want to miss a beat.
Yes, Universal Language of Active Souls
When the delightfully inventive musical “Stomp” came along a few years later, I was remind of my non-musician’s experience. Stomp used far out noise-makers like garbage pail lids, large trash cans, brooms, matchbooks, and anything handy in a musical production which the producers said has no words, and yet:
“Everyone can understand it. It has little or no melody in the traditional sense, so it doesn’t matter if your taste in music is jazz, classical, dance or pop. Stomp is about rhythm, which is common to all cultures. Everyone knows rhythm, if only from the beating of their own heart—it is the basis of all music.”
The Los Angeles Times added: Stomp “reminds us that art can be made anywhere out of anything.” The overlap here is obvious, making art, making music and meditation can be created anywhere… anytime… out of anything… and simultaneously. Remember, meditation is very simple, “all you need to do is focus on one thing, what you are doing,” says Philip Toshio Sudo in Zen Guitar.
Beatles Music was a Spiritual Adventure
Music is already part of the harmony of the universe. It’s everywhere in nature and throughout the world. Listen. Feel it. Make music your meditation by connecting your spirit with the universal music.
The Beatles are a classic example, they were meditating quite naturally through their music and in their lives every day, when playing simple love songs about adolescent love, like “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” And other times when the message was more deeply metaphysical in “Tomorrow Never Knows,” where Lennon uses the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
And yet, it’s not the content that makes a song meditation, neither of those songs is necessarily better for meditation. The only thing that matters is the experience of the meditator, not the music. The Beatles music was so successful because their music was their meditation:
- George Harrison spent his life searching the spirit world: “Everything else can wait but the search for God cannot… It doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest guitar player in the world, if you’re not enlightened, forget it… I‘m really quite simple, I don’t want to be in the business full-time because I’m a gardener. I plant flowers and watch them grow.”
- In one of his poems Paul McCartney asked, “God where are you?” and the answer came back, “I am here in every song you sing.” When asked about his all-time hit “Yesterday,” he said: “It’s amazing to me that it just came through me. That’s why I don’t profess to know anything; I think music is all very mystical … Well, you’re dead lucky if something like that passes through you.”
- When the Beatles returned from a trip to India to study and meditate with guru Maharishi, they came back disappointed. In fact, John Lennon wrote a satirical song about the guru and another song about a friend traveling with them who went into meditation overload: “She’d been….trying to reach God quicker than anyone in the Maharishi’s camp: who was going to get cosmic first? What I didn’t know was I was already cosmic.”
The truth is, the Beatles didn’t need to go to India, music was their meditation. Lennon finally realized he was already in that spirit. Harrison knew all along, and never stopped searching. And McCartney not only spoke with God, he even got a reply. They were the messengers – and the message!
Cancel that Trip to India – Take the Next Journey Within
They went off to India because like most of us, they had doubts, they wanted assurances, and at the time they weren’t aware that their music was their path to enlightenment—always had been.
Would the Beatles have chosen Tai Chi as their meditation if they had gone to China? Or perhaps taken up surfing, golf or tennis as an alternative way to meditate if they had lived in California instead of England? Maybe. But what we do know is they had already found what they were looking for back home, every day, in every song, in every session, in every performance. It was there all along for them and for everyone in their audience.
In the final analysis, meditation comes from within the meditator, not from some guru out there, nor in a distant land, nor locked in some secret mantra. Meditation is within the musician, it is the music of the heart and the soul, and each one of us has a musician within us.
Musical Meditations to “Blow Your Mind!”
Music is such a powerful meditation tool because it naturally taps into all of our senses and emotions, into our heart and soul at a deep level – music is so successful and efficient as meditation simply because it naturally bypasses our thinking mind, giving it a chance to rest and enjoy some peace of mind, or more accurately, “peace from mind,“ while it heals and renews our soul.
This way should be obvious, however, it is not because most executives are trapped in their thinking brain for hours every workday, often at maximum overload. As a result, the rational brain is not the best meditation channel, nor are sitting meditations. In fact, the mental zone and sitting meditation will likely increase your stress because they forces your thinking mind to confront itself with itself. Music, on the other hand, is an alternative route bypassing the thinking mind, it is the perfect way to get you “out of your head.”
When your mind shifts into a music channel – either as a creative artist or a music lover – you know you are one with the music, that you are meditating, you know something inside you is in touch with the universal spirit, you know you have gone into a place where you can hear a still small voice say to you, as it said to McCartney:
“I am here in every song you sing,”
and in every musical number you will ever hear—so meditate on that!
About the Author
Dr. Farrell is a Behavioral Economist. His books include The Millionaire Code; The Millionaire Meditation: Stress Management for Wall Street, Corporate America & Entrepreneurs; The Zen Millionaire; The Winning Portfolio; Expert Investing on The Net; Mutual Funds on The Net; and The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing.
He also published 1,643 columns on DowJones-MarketWatch and for years was their #1 traffic-generating columnist. Before the Internet, he edited & published FNX: Future News Index, a financial newsletter for stock market traders. Earlier he was a Wall Street investment banker with Morgan Stanley, Executive Vice President of the Financial News Network; and Associate Editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.
He has a Doctorate in Psychology, Juris Doctor, Masters in Regional Planning and Bachelor of Architecture. He worked on the Esalen organic farm and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as Staff Sergeant in aviation computer technology.