~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Sing Out!

December 31, 2019
The new year is upon us. Are you scouring about in search of just the right resolution for the coming season? If so, I have a suggestion: This year, why not resolve to sing out?

Literally. And maybe even metaphorically, too.

In the coming year, resolve to sing every chance you get. Sing loudly, sing softly, sing in any key you like. Sing in the shower and sing in the car. Sing while you're walking in the woods. Sing to your grandchildren, sing to the elderly, and sing to your pets. And please, turn off the television with all those angry talking heads and turn on your vocal chords instead. You and everyone around you will benefit from the beautiful music you make.

Sing when you are happy for sure. Hum, whistle, chant, or make a joyful noise of any sort. As we say in my family, when you're happy and you know it, show it! And when you're feeling glum, sing anyway. Let your sadness move through you in clear and soulful ways. At the very least, this will help keep your sadness from getting stuck. And it might even transform your despair into delight. I have a feeling that the very act of raising your voice in a melodic way will bring you deeper happiness and health.

Does your brain, like mine, sometimes get stuck in a negative loop of frustrations and fears? Give your brain a song to sing instead. Substitute a melody of healing peace for those intrusive and unwholesome thoughts. A dear friend and I both hum the classic chant Dona Nobis Pacem when we are too stressed out to think clearly, and it helps us both. It might just work for you, too.

If you know you have a lovely and well-trained voice, then let your melodies be a balm and a gift to others. Join a choir. Sing with friends. Sing often. And if, like me, you are more of a croaker than an opera singer, then sing anyway. Maybe not necessarily in the aisles of the supermarket, but in the shower for sure. You don't have to be good, just whole-hearted.

I learned the secret of singing out years ago when I took meditation teacher James Baraz's course Awakening Joy. Our homework included several expected tasks: meditate daily, write about your experiences, watch or attend the lectures. And it included one very surprising assignment: Sing every day.

I scoffed at that one initially. But when I found my spirits lifting as I sang "I Can See Clearly Now" along with James as he strummed his guitar, I began to understand why we were invited to sing.

Singing feels good. Singing gets the juices flowing. Singing sends vibrations up and down your spine, and into the deepest reaches of your body. Singing exercises your vocal chords and your diaphragm. Singing naturally deepens your breath and reminds you to exhale. It can unstick stuck thoughts and feelings and energies. And all this, in turn, will help your nervous system shift away from alarm and in the direction of ease.

It's no surprise then that just about every religious and spiritual tradition includes some form of melodic vocalization as part of its litany of practices. So feel free to consider this not just a New Year's resolution, but a spiritual practice as well. Sing a hymn or put a psalm to a melody, if you like. Or chant a Buddhist prayer for peace or an ancient Hindu sutra.

Do you practice yoga? Then add Bhramari, or Bumblebee Breath, to your practice. Breathe in naturally, and then exhale through your nose, vocalizing with a little hum along the way. Try a high pitch and notice how it ricochets way up into your brain. Try a low, chocolatey pitch and feel it resonate all the way down into your gut.

And if you're not spiritually inclined, no worries. Create your very own customized playlist - be it Patsy Cline or the Beatles or a new-fangled group that I am too old to name. Sing your favorite childhood tunes. Sing old camp songs. Sing songs you haven't remembered in years. Make up your own melodies and words. Sing your fears and sing your dreams. Put your life to music and see what happens.

Science backs up claims that singing is good for you. Studies have shown that singing boosts the immune system, elevates the mood, improves respiration, reduces stress levels, manages chronic pain and may even prolong your life. Recent studies have found that practices like yoga's Bhramari breath help strengthen the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to the abdomen and is vital to health and wellbeing.

You may even find that being willing to shout out "I am here" through song will empower you in bigger ways. Maybe exercising your literal voice will help strengthen your metaphorical voice as well. Maybe singing out will feel so good that you'll be inclined to stand up a little taller even when you're not making music. Maybe you'll breathe a little deeper and raise your voice lovingly in the face of hatred and injustice. Perhaps you'll finally cast off that sense of shrinking back, or hiding, and let your inner light shine a little brighter. Maybe singing out will convince you to finally take up all the space you need to be alive in this world.

Singing out is my resolution for the coming year, and I hope you'll consider joining me. I hope that together we can create a chorus of joyous voices to help drown out all the angry ranting that has has flared up all around us. And I trust that our sweet singing can keep the world spinning brightly in the name of health and peace.

If you'll join me in the coming year, then when I am driving around town in my trusty Subaru singing James Taylor tunes, or practicing Bhramari breath on my yoga mat, or chanting Dona Nobis Pacem to chase away my fears, then I will think of you. I'll imagine you somewhere else in the world singing your heart out, in your own unique way, in the name of happiness and harmony. And I'll smile and sing just a little more fervently on behalf of us all.

I hope you'll think of me, too. Near or far, together or apart, our heartfelt voices will create a larger and more powerful melody than we could make alone. Our songs will wrap around one another as they rise up into the sky, in a beautiful and potent gesture of love and hope. And in this way, together we'll create a world where sweet sounds and loving melodies are heard loud and clear, as an offering of joy and healing for us all.