The Spirit of Community

"We've all experienced a sense of wonder and magic when a great choir performs sacred music. Sometimes the sound feels as comfortable as a soft blanket on a cold night. At other times, its power and majesty roll over us like a huge wave, knocking us to our knees. The musical experience touches us deeply in a mysterious way, awakening our emotions.

"The effect is even greater when we participate in singing together. Joined in song, our emotions are not merely stirred; they merge and dissolve with the emotions of others, deepening our human connection. Our voices create a net of sound that binds us tightly together. When we gather to sing sacred songs, the song and the act of singing together strengthen our spiritual community by bolstering our sense of fellowship.

"The word spirit is derived from the Latin spirare, 'to breathe.' The act of singing moves our breath, the essence of our spirit, from our deepest core out into the atmosphere. When we sing together in singing meditation, the benefits are reciprocal: The act of singing strengthens the community, and the group's camaraderie enhances the beauty and power of the songs.

"Singing in community produces a tangible power that doesn't exist when we sing alone. As an experiment, sing a song alone, then sing with recorded music, then sing the same song in the presence of others who are singing the same song. Notice which of these forms affects you most powerfully.

"Singing in community increases the effect music has on us.

"Katy Taylor, a professional singer, compares her spiritual connection when singing with a group to singing solo: 'Group singing is a different kind of connection. In a group, it is not about any one single voice being heard. We are together creating something. It is much more about interaction, an energy and blending between us, and hopefully that leads to movement toward the divine.'

"Performing alone demonstrates a higher level of proficiency in some activities. Flying an airplane solo or mounting a solo art exhibition require a certain level of mastery. Only the best musicians and singers are awarded these opportunities.

"However, mastery is not the point of singing meditation. Its purpose is to move the soul towards — or even into — the divine impulse. A single carbon atom transmutes into an entirely different substance — a protein, an alcohol, maybe an acid — when joined and energized with other atoms. Similarly, an individual voice transmutes into something new and wondrous when joined with others in heartfelt song or chant. Each voice singing in community becomes part of a vibrational field or structure that did not exist before.

"Many world religions recognize the power of community worship and have institutionalized it in their practices. Praying alone is permissible in Judaism, but many prayers are written in the first-person plural — 'us' and 'we,' rather than 'me' and 'I.' Some prayers acknowledge the importance of souls linking with other souls when approaching the divine presence.

"Theravada Buddhists recommend group chanting, believing that it develops the collective mind. Proponents of Hindu bhajan, which can only be practiced in a group setting, say that group chanting reduces stress, resulting in mental relaxation and a feeling of camaraderie. When asked whether group or individual meditation is better, one teacher of preksha meditation said that group meditation makes the vibrations of the life force stronger because each individual's power becomes available to the others."