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Music as a Spiritual Tool

May 26, 2009 by Sarah Spence


Sarah Spence

Songwriter Sarah Marlowe Spence lives and teaches Yoga in Auckland, New Zealand.  She has studied at Yasodhara and was one of the musicians who contributed to the recording of Lift – sacred music from the Ashram.  Here she shares her experience of the ‘pyramid’ of music – from pop to songwriting, bhajans and mantra, reflecting on the role each has played in her life and her connection with the Light.


Over the last few years I have started to see the difference between the different levels music can take me to.  After the hip hop, pop and theatre music of my teens and early adult years, I was relieved and excited to find a world of fun upbeat music that is spiritual in nature: songwriting, bhajans  and mantra came into my life.

In many ways, songwriting doesn’t fit so well with bhajans and mantra.  After all, devotional chanting of a powerful Sanskrit phrase (mantra) and devotional songs of any language (bhajans), hardly compare to original songs for the history and vibration associated with them.  I struggled with concepts of right and wrong and started to ask myself, is there only one genre of ‘right’ music?

Music Pyramid

Sarah's take on music

These three types of music all play important parts in my life.  Mantra is my Light, bhajan and kirtan my dance of bliss and songwriting my connection to my inner self reminding me to go within.  All are different forms of Nada (sound), and remind me in different ways of my own inherent divine nature.

I can liken my musical journey to a music pyramid (like the healthy food one).  I started at the wide bottom range of listening to music over the years; on the radio, singing in choirs.  The next level came as a surprise when I started to write music that came to me in flashes of inspiration.  I remember having eaten too much dark chocolate during the YDC and creeping to the communal area with my guitar at 11pm to compose.  It seemed incredible to me then that lyrics and music could appear in my head and through my fingers and end up as a song.  I found that the less my mind is involved and the more space there is in my life, the more the songs can flow – the more my inner voice can speak its truth; the more I have an excuse to verbalize the reassurance it wants to express. The sound of these words makes me sit up and listen in times when inspiration is needed; music as a form of self-therapy.  In fact, the inner voice tells me what I need to know, so maybe what comes out as a song is what I need to be reminded of over and over again.

The next level of the pyramid becomes more refined: bhajans and kirtan (call and response chants, usually less complex than bhajans).  Gentle bhajans in the Temple of Divine Light create moments of bliss, while often with my local group; practicing kirtan with mad, loud mridanga drums and rhythmic cymbals allows ‘me’ to step aside. It lets something else come through, I am a channel, yet ‘I’ watch myself.  When I screw up the harmonium melody or the guitar chords I realize my mind is following a thought.  It is an exercise in concentration, and as per the yoga sutras, this leads to meditation.

At the tip of the pyramid, Mantra seems to be a step up to the Light.  These sacred syllables, given to the rishis (seers) in ancient times past, carry intense vibrations.  I ask myself, what does mantra mean to me? I can’t find words to describe mantra practice, and can only encourage self-exploration. It’s the icing on the cake –  no, beyond – the ananda cake of bliss.


The album “Lift” inspired and recorded at Yashodhara Ashram and featuring Sarah Marlowe can be purchased on Itunes or heard on Yasodhara Ashram Myspace.

You can also listen to some of some of Sarah’s latest acoustic folk music on Sarah Marlowe’s Myspace.

No Comments »

  1. Thanks Sarah for this uplifting reflection. It is a great reminder for me to keep the music alive in my heart!

    Comment by Joan Gamble — May 27, 2009 @ 11:00 am

  2. As someone who is working with allowing my creative voice to emerge (out of old cages of fear and perfectionism) I was inspired by your description of ‘creeping into the common room in the barn to compose’ and being amazed that a song could come through you. During my time at the ashram, playing music has been a source of light, learning, and bliss – I can really relate to your reflection. Om Om!

    Comment by claire — May 27, 2009 @ 11:51 am

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