Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound
By Robert Gass, Kathleen A. Brehony
Chanting is so extraordinarily useful for groups because each chant represents a different pattern of energy that can potentially transform a group field in a distinct way. Our collection of chants is like a tool box for consciousness, like an artist's palette with its range of colors. Virtually any experience a group is seeking can be invoked or enhanced by chant. Out of this limitless range of experiences, let's look at some of the most common uses for group chanting.
When we think of chant, we most often think of people coming together to intone in worship. As we have seen, traditions throughout the world draw on the power of chant to invoke the tangible experience of Spirit. It can be as informal as your family chanting the grace before meals, or as prescribed as the chanting of the Heart Sutra in Buddhist temples.
Group chant adds a communal dimension to worship. As my dear friend and Sufi Murshid Elias Amidon describes it, "We're not just sitting on a cushion dealing with our own salvation individually. We mingle our voices, we pray together, we share our deepest selves. This mingling of sound is as intimate as you can get. You're chanting, I'm chanting, and we're melding together. The authenticity of your devotion touches my heart. I allow myself to let go more, and as a result someone else is lifted. It's the great beauty of chanting - we're all in it together, reinforcing, encouraging the sweetness that's beyond words."
By focusing intent through sound and words, the group field can become a powerful instrument of healing as we have seen in shamanic rituals. Closer to home, contemporary healers in settings from Charismatic churches to therapists' offices to seminars, harness the power of group chant for healing.
At our Opening the Heart workshop, we help participants confront difficult truths and wrestle with their self-destructive patterns, running a gauntlet of emotions from sadness and anger to joy and forgiveness. Late in the evening, the tired seekers cluster in small groups on the rose-colored carpet of the soft-lit pine-ceilinged seminar room. In each group, one person lies down on their back, while others gather in a close circle around them. Upon instruction from the leader about healing touch, hands are gently laid on the person in the center. As the guitar starts to play, the "healers" join in chanting:
"May the love in my heart pass from my hand to yours . . ."
Almost immediately, those receiving the healing touch and the healing currents of chant respond-with tears, some curling up on the floor in the fetal position, others with little sighs of delight - as their bodies and hearts are bathed in love.
"Welcome to this world, dear child,
Welcome to the earth ..."
The warm vibrations of chant gently ripple around the circles of healing, caressing the bodies and hearts with waves of gentle sound. As one participant describes it, "It was as if I were being sung to by angels."
"Dear friend, dear friend.
Let me tell you how I feel ..."
The healing chants flow on and on, as those lying on the floor begin to face their own barriers to love: "I tried to turn away, as I always have turned away from love, but the song and the love kept on coming, until thank God, I gave up the fight."
"You have given me your riches ..."
"There was a lonely place deep inside that I had never let anyone see, and for the first time, I felt seen - and loved."
"I love you so . . ."
Looking at the radiant faces of those chanting and laying on hands, one would surely think they were the ones being healed. Whether a clinic group chants for stress reduction; a sound healer leads a group in toning for health; or a group of friends gathers around a sickbed - healing with chant, like all true healing, is an exchange in which both healed and healer are transformed.