Sound in Mind and Body

Many traditions consider sound the principal creative force in the universe. Everything in the world has its identity because of the periodicity and the regularity of its movement, and this is what makes one thing separate from another and gives it form. If sound can introduce form and pattern into matter then there is something essential about sound.

Using the voice and listening to the sound we are making at the same time enables us to go beyond the dualism of language and separation from the world. We see that something is different from us and that which is different from us is also different from something else. The separation of "us" and "not us" is the separation which all traditions try to overcome so that we can be in a state of unity. Sound is one of the most effective ways of going beyond this separation, and is often seen as a bridge between the material and immaterial.

Sound has been used in almost all places and times throughout history for traveling the path of transcendence. Within the Tibetan tradition of Dzogchen the aim is to relax into a state of contemplation and to live our lives with integrity so that the implications of our actions are apparent in the clarity of every moment. Living like fish in water, we leave no traces and lead impeccable existences causing no disturbances, riding the waves of the Tao. If we cannot do this — perhaps we have some blockage or disturbance in our energy or a problem of some kind in our mind — there are certain things we can do through sound and voice which can make it easier.

Most of the great world religions of modern times have super-imposed themselves over indigenous, shamanistic traditions which existed for hundreds of thousands of years before. Their ancient practices of chanting, rhythmical bodily movement and rhythmical breathing were cultivated to bring us into a state of transcendental ecstasy or spiritual bliss. Many of the sonic yogas of Tibet and India already existed long before Buddhism. We find practices like the whirling of the Sufi dervishes who spiral and rotate while breathing and praying in combination with the voice of the flute which is very similar to the voice of a human being. The body of the dervish is said to be like the body of the flute through which God is blowing.

Mantras are sacred sounds used throughout the world, conserved in ancient or archaic languages, sometimes even in languages which are no longer understood. There are certain sounds which have been identified for treating specific illnesses or problems caused by particular beings, or mantras used to bring us into a state of clarity or emptiness. Other mantras tune us into the lineage of ancient teachers and if we use these particular sounds, we tune into and share the attainment of these masters as well as all other people who have ever used this mantra.

Most liturgies are chanted or sung, including the liturgy of the Christian church. The Sunday services of matins, communion and evensong are forms of spiritual entrainment so that when we chant psalms together, sing hymns and intone prayers, everyone is tuning together. When we change from speaking to singing, we move into a magical domain where we can unite with everybody. That is why all countries have a national anthem.

The commonalities in these many diverse sound traditions point to a path which can help those who feel alienated from their own spiritual tradition. By understanding the way in which the ancients used sound and voice for healing, we rediscover this magnificent tool which we carry around with us all the time. If we can liberate the voice then we can liberate the human being. Using sound to work on the “morphogenetic field” of the person — the potentiality of our own healthy state — we can maintain ourselves in a state of health. To be healthy is to be of “sound” mind and to have ideas which ring true. To be in tune is to be healthy.

Jill Purce uses healing movement, ancient vocal techniques, the power of group chant, and the spiritual potential of the voice as a magical instrument for healing and meditation. Jill is an author and lives in England with her husband, biologist Rupert Sheldrake. Contact her at