Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Is Music A Quasi-Spiritual Practice?

This article in the Guardian, in a fairly non-specific way, suggests that regular music making might be a substitute for spiritual practice. While I think that there are similarities between music practice and spiritual practice, I don't feel one can stand in for the other.

Both behaviors employ combinations of the Jungian categories of thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation as a way of entering and expressing non-quotidian mental states that are beyond the grasp of words. Music, though, is more a tool that can be used in various ways, depending on one's motivation. The first non-spiritual use of music that comes to mind are the drums, bagpipes, and bugles of war. There are also various trance states that can be induced by music making, which are not necessarily spiritual in the positive sense we usually associate with the word.

As a tool to help deepen and broaden spiritual experiences, I think making music can be at the top of the list. As a therapist, there's nothing I enjoy more than helping people use music in their spiritual practice. Music making can be tremendously rewarding on it's own as well. Suffusing one's brain in dopamine is a positive experience, with or without a framework of spiritual practice.

On down the line the neuroscientists are going to be able to compare and contrast what's going on in the brains of those making music and those pursuing spiritual paths and we'll know better then how to talk about the two. For now it's what works best for an individual that matters. My sense is, though, the benefits of making music are amplified when combined with other behaviors and interests of the music maker, especially those where the music is shared with people in some sort of social context.

Thanks to Jonathan West for finding this article and posting about it here. This post of mine is a first approximation of a response to the deep issues raised in connection to spirituality and music making. I hope in a later post to comment on the emotional aspects of music making Jonathan talks about in his post.

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