In Naomi Levy’s beautiful new book, Einstein and the Rabbi, she shares the Hasidic teaching, “There are ten levels of prayer, and above them is Song.”
This past weekend, I spent a lot of time singing. I went to a couple of religious worship services and sang and sang… and then sang some more.
Now let me tell you, I was not in a good mood when I showed up, but I left feeling so much better. I was a little shocked, because there was no problem solving or unpacking of the issues, no talking about them. There was just song.
I was reminded of the primacy of song, and why every spiritual tradition involves singing in some way.
In the Jewish tradition, there is a word, nigun (pronounced nee-gune), which refers to songs without complicated lyrics or a set tune, but rather with very simple sounds in repetition. It’s a term for what so many of us often do naturally – make up a song of “da-da-dahs” or “la-la-la’s”. Or we might pick a simple phrase – “I love you” or “it’s okay” – and sing it in repetition, varying the tune organically.
When it comes to singing for spiritual and emotional reasons, niguns work particularly magically. We aren’t worrying about what words come next or how to sing the song right. We get out of the thinking, language-based place in our heads into something much more intuitive. And the repetition of the sound offers a kind of container to go deeper and deeper into the intoxication that comes with singing our hearts out. We go into that special place that chanting takes us to.
There’s so much emphasis on “getting still” in spiritual circles these days, on being in silence, on “quieting the mind,” that we may have ended up mistakenly associating spirituality with quiet. And our spiritual practice may entail something very hushed – silent prayer, meditation, yoga.
But of course, spirituality is not just about finding quiet in a noisy world. It is about finding the sacred in the mundane. It is about re-contacting our aliveness after experiences that have deadened us. It is about crying out to something larger than ourselves. Song allows us to do all of this.
And spirituality aside, singing is also – a host of studies show – one of things we can most reliably do to change our mood, to simply feel better.
How can you bring more singing into your life? Perhaps through spiritual music you sing along in a house of worship. Perhaps singing along to a favorite artist in your kitchen as you pack lunches or scrub dishes. Perhaps adding chanting to your yoga or meditation practice. Perhaps singing again in the shower or the car if you’ve gotten out of the habit.
So just a simple reminder today to sing – it is potent medicine.
Join the discussion 11 Comments
You’re singing to my soul, Tara. Singing along or solo is wonderful, and singing with others creates another kind of magic. You remind me of this need in my soul. Singing is truly healing. The physical act of singing, of breathing and moving our diaphragm, brings release to our bodies. And of course, literally using our voice, even if not is a “message”, can be powerful. You’re post comes at exactly the right moment. Sing on soul sister!!
Wonderful post, Tara. I love how you tease out the Jewish teaching in a way that can serve everyone. There’s a point that speaks to me very powerfully at this moment about the nonverbal wordless aspect that is healing (we don’t always have to unpack it and talk about it) and spirituality not always being about quietness. I would add one more thing which is the release of oxytocin (the love hormone, also known as rest and digest, healing and bonding) a probabluy a whole other bunch of neurotransmitters during singing. Oxytocin doesn’t just help us feel better, it can help us get better. Thanks, again. ya lalalalie.
Wonderful post, Tara. I love how you tease out the Jewish teaching in a way that can serve everyone. There’s a point that speaks to me very powerfully at this moment about the nonverbal wordless aspect that is healing (we don’t always have to unpack it and talk about it) and spirituality not always being about quietness. I would add one more thing which is the release of oxytocin (the love hormone, also known as rest and digest, healing and bonding) and probably another bunch of neurotransmitters during singing. Oxytocin doesn’t just help us feel better, it can help us get better. Thanks, again. ya lalalalie.
Thanks for this uplifting message! Singing with a group of people, praising God, is one of the most hope-inspiring experiences I have ever had. The more I participate, the more joy and peace I have every day.
Fabulous reminder! Thank you. I’m currently exploring this idea through dance — slipping out of my left-brain, into my intuitive body. Thank you for reminding us about the potency of singing — and our ancestral relationship to this medicine and soul food!
I love every post you do Tara. Your depth and the sharing of your deep truth makes my heart “sing”. THANK YOU for this post. Kathleen
Thank you, Tara, for this great reminder!!!
I can really relate this…I feel this type of release when I am chanting…it frees me from my thinking mind and releases me into a state that is beyond thinking. Spirit Rock does a lovely Winter Solstice ritual with chanting and a lovely candle ceremony that is about going into the darkness and bringing back the light…very powerful.
Tara, I posted on Facebook several days ago how making time for listening to praise and worship mhsic and engaging in the act of worshipping with song in the mornings always help to keep my JOY bank full. So, your post resonates with a truth I discovered for myself. And it reminds me that in our desire to keep our audience engaged sharing what many may consider mundane can actually become a catalyst for feeling better for others. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your postings, have a wonderful channukah and enjoy singing over the candles