Sound and Spirit: Music As a Path to Awakening

Carrie Grossman dives deep into the connection between music and spirit. Join her in this article to explore the transcendent power of sound.
Carrie Grossman is a singer and composer.
music for awakening
Carrie Grossman is a singer and composer.

As a child, I absolutely loved to sing. Before being drugged with a potent dose of pubescent self-consciousness, I was more than happy to serenade anyone, anywhere, with earsplitting melodies of my own creation. When adolescence arrived, however, all of this changed. Terrified of what others might think, I stuffed my voice deep down where no one could hear it. There it sat, gathering dust, until difficult life circumstances summoned it to the surface many years later.

Worn out from a prolonged, mysterious illness, I was exhausted to the core. It was as if a heavy cloak had been thrown over my life, and darkness stared me down from every direction. Not knowing what to do, I learned to play the tamboura, an Indian drone instrument. For hours every evening, I strummed the long, resonant strings and surrendered into sound. Hypnotized by an ocean of rich harmonics, my grief began to flow. As I sang with wild abandon, each note rang out in space and broke me open. Like a raging river, the music swept away my sorrow and untied an ancient knot within my heart.

The Power Of Sound

What happened on those evenings was pure magic, but that is no surprise—after all, music is magic. Few things have the power to transform reality so quickly, inspiring joy or calming the restless mind. While one short song can uplift a somber mood in minutes, another can churn the ocean of sadness within. That’s because the power of sound is so vast it affects our physiology, mind, emotions, and even our libido. But it doesn’t end there. Music can do something even more miraculous: It can take us to the infinite.

Listen to Carrie Grossman’s chanting music tracks while reading on. You can find these and more for free on Insight Timer.

  1. Touch The Sky Carrie Grossman 6:26
  2. Om Tare Carrie Grossman 6:37
  3. Ong Namo Carrie Grossman 7:11
  4. Honey Hanuman Chalisa Carrie Grossman 12:51

Explore Insight Timer’s large collection of sound meditation tracks.

Music As The Bridge Between Matter And Spirit

When we really listen to music, we cross a threshold into another dimension. Perhaps that’s why almost every culture and civilization has used sound as a form of prayer. From medicine songs of the Amazon to ecstatic Gospel hymns and Gregorian chant, music has always been a bridge between matter and spirit—a force that unites us through the language of the heart. 

For centuries, mystics and prophets have used music to express their realization. In India, poet saints like Meerabai and Tyagaraja lost themselves in ecstatic devotional hymns, and Buddhist masters like Milarepa shared the dharma through spontaneous songs called dohas. In ancient Israel, King David sang his heart out in stirring psalms of supplication and praise while Sufi masters expressed their longing for the Beloved through qawwals. For these wise beings, music served as a powerful vehicle for enlightenment, inspiring others to the path. 

Since the beginning of time, song and chant have been used as forms of prayer. They help us express the inexpressible when words don’t suffice. Singing or listening, we forget ourselves, which is what prayer is all about. In our thirst for freedom, we unleash a call from the depths. Music reminds us of this call, as it stirs the soul’s yearning. In truth, what do we hunger for but our own song, our own light? Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan said, “Our whole being is music.” If this is so, it seems fitting that we should use music to remember who we are.

Read more: In another article, Carrie explores the different approaches and paths in the yogic tradition that can lead to Self-realization and highlights how practicing bhakti helps to express our feelings.

Physical Effects Of Music

Today, the healing power of sound and music is available to us like never before, and science is beginning to recognize its value.

Practically, music has been shown to reduce stress, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and support the immune system. Neurologists like the late Oliver Sacks have shown that music may have a positive impact on the brain, while psychoacoustic pioneers like Alfred Tomatis suggest that Mozart may help with learning disabilities and depression.

But it’s not just humans who benefit from music—apparently animals do, too! Studies have found that symphonies can soothe dogs and even help cows increase their milk yields.

Discover thousands of free meditation music tracks on Insight Timer.

Filling The Heart With Love

While we may enjoy different kinds of music, what matters is not what we listen to, but where it takes us. When the mind becomes fully absorbed in sound, all of the energy we deplete through thinking comes back to us. Like falling into the arms of a long-lost lover, we tumble into ourselves. Inner obstacles dissolve, and the heart becomes intoxicated with love. How could it not, when music is the very form of love, transcending all boundaries of color, caste, and creed?

The Tradition Of Nada Yoga

Music is perhaps the greatest vehicle to help us access the profound peace of meditation. According to the tradition of nada yoga, the yoga of sound, as our mind becomes quiet, we can hear the inner music.

Nada yoga concurs with quantum mechanics in its view that the entire cosmos is comprised of vibrating frequencies. The subtler our consciousness, the more we can tune into and experience these vibrations, both in our bodies and in the universe as a whole. Known by different names across traditions—logos, shabd, naad, music of the spheres, the unstruck melody, the Word—nada yoga reveals the undeniable connection between sound and Spirit.

Chanting For Calming The Busy And Anxious Mind

Thanks to music, we can ride the wave of sound into silence with very little effort. In fact, many of us need this wave to reach the shore of stillness because silence can be hard to come by in our hectic world. While a select few may find it easy to plop on a cushion and commune with the cosmic forces, most of us struggle to concentrate for even 30 seconds.

Hindu philosophy offers a potential reason for this: We are in the midst of the Kali Yuga, the Dark Age of Materialism. The Kali Yuga is considered a time of great agitation in the atmosphere and in the human mind. It’s almost like there’s an ambient angst in the air—a tension that leaves so many people anxious and drained. Because of the intense vibrations, silent meditation can be a bit challenging, so the sages prescribed practices to help us drop inside more easily. Of all the methods, chanting is considered the simplest of all.

Throughout the world, chanting is an essential component of so many spiritual disciplines. Like alchemy, the repetitive sounds help us let go of painful emotions that sometimes stay lodged in the heart like splinters. By providing a powerful point of concentration and helping us feel, chanting moves us beyond the storyline of our life. This is why it’s such an effective technology on our journey to self-knowledge. As we sing the same words over and over, our mind relaxes and drops into the heart.

Awaken your heart through chanting and mantras on this journey into the path and practice of Bhakti, the yoga of love. Over 10 sessions, you will explore teachings from the mystical traditions—along with guided meditations, mantras, and chanting—to inspire and enrich your life.

chanting and mantra course

Immersed In Sound

Still, chanting isn’t the only way that music opens us. Today, concerts have become houses of worship. Step inside any stadium for a rock show, and what will you find? A mass of exuberant humans swaying, singing, crying, and raising their arms to the heavens. Such a scene could easily be mistaken for a religious revival.

On the flip side, most revivals and pilgrimages— from Gospel gatherings to the Kumbh Mela—use music to create an atmosphere of sacredness. Immersed in sound, we feel alive and awake in the world, connected to one another and, at times, something more.

Despite this, at the end of the day we can’t be rational about music, just as we can’t be rational about love. It’s something to experience, not analyze. We certainly don’t have to listen to the radio with our hands folded in prayer, but we can acknowledge music’s transcendent power. As U2’s Bono said,

“The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt.”

Indeed, whether we believe in God or nothing at all, none of us can deny that some mystery lives in music. Pulsing in our very blood and breath, this music calls us home.

Meditation. Free.