By Jill Purce
In "Retreat", Ed Roger Housden, Harper & Row, 1995
My aim is not modest, I am trying to re-enchant the world, which means to make it magical through chanting.
My workshops have this as their aim.
I am trying to reintroduce into our daily lives, ways of experiencing the extraordinary power of group chant.
My aim is to help people rediscover their own voices as a tool for deep meditation and personal transformation.
There is a profound sense of disenchantment in Western society. I think this is because, quite literally, there is no chant in our lives anymore. All the situations in which members of traditional cultures came together to chant have gradually been eroded away, so we feel disempowered and helpless in a desacralized world. My aim is to try and re-enchant the world, to make it more magical through people chanting together again. The workshop gives us a real sense of what a literally enchanted community could be like.
My own first transmission of the power of the voice came in early childhood in Ireland. We were visiting a remote island off the West coast. The only other people in the small boat were the old women of the island returning home. A violent storm blew up and it seemed obvious to all of us we were going to drown. Suddenly the women began to sing with an ancient power and deep passion. Almost at once our fear dissolved, waves of strength surged into us, until finally we were overcome with feelings of bliss and enchantment.
During the week we work with increasing intensity and at deeper and deeper levels, touching quite often on areas of the psyche long buried. Through the therapeutic use of the voice we are able to bring these areas of hurt and pain safely up into the light of clarity and illumination, often ridding ourselves of traumas which have beset us since early childhood.
One of the effects of chanting is the dissolution of boundaries and when this happens something new can take place in the psyche and body of a person. Chanting seems directly to stimulate the emission of certain chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins, which give rise to states of enhanced awareness, blissful calm, and other deep meditative states.
People of all ages and backgrounds come together for these retreats. I have people from eleven to ninety, from professional musicians, singers and voice experts, and therapists who want to extend their work, to those who were told at school that they could not sing in tune. The retreats also attract people who want to work on emotional or physical blocks, as well as professional educators, actors and healers. People often report miraculous healing experiences: headaches and backache may suddenly vanish, or emotional burdens quickly lift. Others report feeling more confident and powerful. Overtone chanting, in particular, can facilitate visionary experiences.
My teaching begins with instruction in a specific form of breathing. This is the basis of all the other work. We then begin to tune our voices together. We discover the effect of the voice on the body, mind and spirit. We learn exactly what the voice does, and its power to heal.
A specific skill I teach is Mongolian overtone chanting. This involves a single note only, but by modulating all the resonant cavities including the shape of the mouth, you make audible, high, bell-like sounds which float above the continuous bass note in a way which makes people think of the music of the spheres. The overtones are the component parts of the fundamental note being chanted, and are normally too quiet to be audible. Here they are filtered in such a way that they can be heard louder than the note itself. It is a powerful experience even to listen to it, producing a state of extreme calm and clarity.
One of the practices I have been exploring most intensely on the week is the healing of the ancestral lines. We go back through our families and by means of the voice we exorcise family curses, unacknowledged deaths, redundant themes and patterns, and other ancient hurts. At the same time we uncover the particular blessings, the gifts which we receive from our ancestors. Often we find what the Native Americans call ‘our medicine’, the gift which we are to the world and how this relates to the essence of our family patterns. One person who did this work with me said that they managed to release and heal their relationship with their mother, which had been untouched by years of therapy.
Depending on the time of year, we do ceremonies which mark the passing seasons and reflect and interact with the quality of time, making accessible the spirits of the moment, so that we can remain in harmony with it. In a similar way we work with the spirits of the place, learning to interact with the forces and spirits of nature and understand how they can have a benign influence on us. We discover how these forces affect our place of birth, our childhood and the health of our family lines, and what we can do to balance these forces of nature to bring our lives into harmony with them. In addition to these, we do different purification practices and work with the elements to purify past and future karma and balance the elements in our bodies. I also work with dreams through sound and mantra. I use chant combined with ceremonial dance to connect with one of the most ancient forms of healing, the power of vocally induced trance . We do many ancient forms of sacred chant.
Underlying all my work is the premise that the voice is the key to spiritual transformation. Because the sound of the voice is directly linked through the breath to the activities of the mind, through working with the voice we can learn to enter the state the Tibetans know as ‘rigpa’, the awareness which combines emptiness with clarity. This leads ultimately to illumination.