Singing Is Full Body Playing
Yesterday I facilitated a singing circle in Santa Cruz, California. I was touched by the level of participation by the women in this circle. When I say participation, I am talking not just about the listening, singing, harmonizing etc., but also the depth of emotional presence that each woman showed up with. For a few hours we sang, improvised, listened, shared, and forgot to worry. It was as if we fell through the floorboards of our minds and into a territory beyond words. We let go of caring what we sounded like. There was no goal but to sing and be together.
I was reminded once again of the power of singing in a safe circle. Here, the inner child can emerge from hiding and the wise guru can take center stage. Singing is full body playing. The inner critic is pushed to the sidelines for the sake of something larger, grander, and more alive. Read on...
This is why singing can be so healing, so empowering, and so freeing. Most children don’t plan out a play schedule, they just follow where their own energy takes them. They are true improvisers, because they have not learned to hide or protect their voice, their self. In Playing and Reality, D. W. Winnicott (1991), an object relations theorist, emphasized the importance of play and the creative process in the uncovering of one’s true self. Winnicott wrote, “It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self” (p. 54).
Chloe Goodchild (2006), a voice teacher from the UK who calls her work The Naked Voice on an audio CD, spoke about the fear that most people feel around exploring their voice. She said, “Maybe so many people are terrified of singing because of the sheer disarming aliveness that it can generate” (track 4). The women and I talked about how enlivening singing can be. One woman said, “This is what it’s all about, feeling awake and alive like this!”
When I think of the word awaken, I do think about the experience of feeling more alive. Isn’t that what awakening is all about? I find it astonishing how easy it is to go through an entire day with our mind chatter taking up all the space. When our thoughts dominate, we often miss the music, and certainly the stillness beneath it. Singing and making sound can give us a break from the activity and thoughts in the mind and assist us in dropping into our bodies. It's a good thing that singing and thinking at the same time is like rubbing your belly and patting your head.
Naturalist Terry Tempest Williams said, “If we stop the world from penetrating us, what does that mean? The body allows us to be human. It is through the body we feel the world, both its pain and its beauty.” I was reminded of the gift of group singing the other day in this circle. Through this full body playing, the mindless chatter of my mind, the petty thoughts and fears, the subtle anxieties moved to the background, leaving me more fully alive and aware of the deeper stillness humming within me.
Goodchild, C. (Speaker). (2006). Your naked voice [CD]. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Jensen, D. (2004). Conversation with T. T. Williams. In Listening to the land: Conversations about nature, culture and eros (pp. 310-327). White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.
Winnicott, D. W. (1991). Playing and reality. London: Routledge.