“Psychology is the science of consciousness.”

-Sri Aurobindo, Essays Divine and Human

nada brahma



Sages from many spiritual traditions have extolled the power of sound to bathe the spiritual seeker in a stream of meditation, carry divine revelation, or even confer enlightenment. Musicians have spoken of the healing power of playing music and of the meditative aspect playing and listening to music. Scientists and performers have extolled the physicality of sound, from the harmony of planetary bodies corresponding to intervallic propensities of human hearing, to the capacity for rhythmic vibrations to entrain groups of singing and dancing bodies in altered states of consciousness. Some theorize that music is so special that by understanding it we may understand the very “landscape of consciousness”, summarized succinctly by the Vedic mantra nada brahma, or “world is sound” (or “sound is world”, “sound is consciousness”, “world/sound”, “everything/sound”, “sound is god”) (Berendt, 1983).

Music therapy has become a state-recognized professional field and there is growing interest in all sorts of “sound healing” modalities, from singing bowl therapy to somatic work with freeing the voice (see Nakkach & Carpenter, 2012). Despite growing awareness in the therapeutic potential of music, there is little scholarly treatment of musicking as a spiritual practice, or as a form of embodied spiritual inquiry into consciousness, spirituality, individual/group transformation, or contemplative education. I believe that improvising music is therapeutic precisely because it challenges us to open to many ways of knowing, open inquiry, and dynamic resolution of dialectical dilemmas of everyday life.

There is little scholarly treatment of the role of improvising music among non-musicians in the context of contemplative education. In musicology, the scholarly focus is on music cognition among professional musicians, or ethnography of ritual or “folk” music. Music therapy continues to study the therapeutic potential of playing and listening to music, while most music education programs continue to ignore free improvisation in favor of regimented classical music. The same reasons why free improvisation challenges the traditional pedagogical approach of most music schools[1], also present opportunities for a radical approach to participatory education that values healing, growth, and transformation of individuals and society.

Improvising music is an extraordinary practice that creates a processual context for inquiry into the nature of consciousness and multidimensional ways of knowing. We need a psychologically sophisticated understanding of why this is so, and how improvising music might happen in the context of contemplative education. Integral philosophy is a transdisciplinary discourse developed by Sri Aurobindo that provides us with a starting point to evaluate studies on human development that support the possibility of a radical transformation of individual and group consciousness. Integral psychology may provide a framework for appraising musicking as contemplative inquiry, due to its insistence on the importance of all types of experience, relational/multidimensional ways of knowing, and self-realization in-the-world. Playing instruments, singing, and dancing together facilitate a relational inquiry into our personal consciousness, relational knowing, and evolving communion with the world.

Integral Psychology

Integral psychology acknowledges the efficacy of traditional psychological approaches as lenses pointing towards particular types of knowledge (Cortright, 2007), but adds significant claims about the essential nature of human transformation and spiritual evolution. Integral philosophy claims, “The same energy which creates body and mind, does also give rise to man’s egoless consciousness, global perspective, transcendental awareness, etc.” (Chaudhuri, 1977, 60). There is no mind-body split, and the human being must be considered on a mind-body-spirit continuum. Additionally, integral psychology maps the finer gradations of mind, emotions, and body. Experiences and transformation may occur on inner or outer emotional, physical, vital, or psychic realms. Shirazi (2005) highlights the importance of change on all levels of being: “What is important is that all the various bands within the spectrum comprise a single, unified, and nondiscrete multidimensional reality. Changes, disturbances, and developments in any part of the spectrum are bound to affect other bandwidths, and the unification of mind-body-spirit requires the inclusion of the entire spectrum” (238).

Integral psychology considers all areas of human experience to be important for inquiry as well as for psychospiritual growth. Chaudhuri (1977) writes, “There can be no perfect self-realization without the actualization of the physical, emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual potentialities of man”.  All varieties of inner experience, from grief and despair, to altered states of consciousness and psychosis, are valid realms of experience to be explored, researched, and transformed into instruments of the Divine.

Integral psychology asserts that the greatest potential for the human being is integral self-realization, which is an “integration and harmonization of the personal, the interpersonal/social, and the transcendental, and of the existential, and the ontological dimensions of existence” (Shirazi, 2005). Transformation must occur without suppressing instinct and the unconscious. Ego-drives are ultimately transcended and one acts through union with the Divine, to “make the Supermind overtly operative in our life and to make it a permanent ingredient in the evolving earth-consciousness” (Chaudhuri, 1973, 49). All outer dimensions of existence open to and are acted upon by the inner psychic being. This is conceived as an evolutionary process through Nature in Nature.

Integral psychology thus proceeds to envision a path where the Divine operates through the seeker in the present, everyday, embodied world. In terms of healing and therapy, this may envisaged as greater coherence of self, a self that is not burdened by wounding and unconscious drives or attachments. As the outer nature is purified and inner qualities of the psychic center and brought forth, surface instruments such as body and mind become more in touch with “the inherent delight of being” and allow a capacity for greater resonance, or “empathic immersion and depth of relatedness with another” (Cortright, 2007, 81). In musicking, one is faced with a multifaceted dynamic where as much happens inside oneself as does in between individuals and the environment. Hence there are many opportunities and challenges to exploring relationality as well as one’s own svabava, or uniqueness[2]. What is important for this inquiry is that music is a significant aspect of Nature, of which we are a part. Musicking is natural to us all in unique ways, yet connects us to others; it is part of the universe, and the collaborative enaction of music may allow us to experientially investigate transcendence and relationality while remaining home in our bodies.

Psychospiritual development proceeds according to principles of “uniqueness, relatedness, and transcendence” which correspond to the inquiry domains of “personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal” psychology (Shirazi, 2005). Since musicking is a participatory process that simultaneously involves personal, interpersonal, and transcendent qualities, it has the unique potential of sparking an inquiry that challenges us to explore ecstatic states of awareness, group consciousness, fundamental dialectical polarities of reality, and the possibility of self-transformation.


Understanding trance may illuminate the nature of improvised musicking in the context of contemplative inquiry, as I believe that qualities of trance can permeate the group improvisation experience. Although the description and interpretation of trance is always mediated by the practitioner and her culture (Becker, 2004, 43), a few defining characteristics may be isolated for consideration. Becker (2004) defines trance as “a bodily event characterized by strong emotion, intense focus, the loss of the strong sense of self, usually enveloped by amnesia and a cessation of the inner language…. an event that accesses types of knowledge and experience which are inaccessible in nontrance events, and which are felt to be ineffable, not easily described or spoken of” (43). Music during trancing provides a vehicle by which trancing individuals enter altered states of consciousness, where “imagination becomes experience’’ and “one is moved from the mundane to the supra-normal: another realm, another time, with other kinds of knowing” (Becker, 2004, 27).


Indian Tantra traditions of Buddhism and Shaivism developed an extensive theory of aesthetics, called rasa. Rasa is about the aesthetic experience as it pertains to enlightenement. The most influential philosopher was Abhinavagupta, a tantric shaivite who lived in Kashmir in the 11th century.  In rasa theory, refinement of perception leads to refinement of cognition, which can lead to non-dual experience. Aesthetics becomes a spiritual practice of arousal of emotions when listening to music, witnessing a theatrical performance, or viewing a piece of visual art. Abhinavagupta posits that a group of listeners in a ritual setting has different qualities from an individual listener, where “the flow of one’s own consciousness in ebullition (ie, when it is tending to come out of itself) is reflected in the consciousness of all the bystanders, as if in so many mirrors, and, inflamed by these, it abandons without effort its state of individual contraction” (Abhinavagupta in Gnoli in Becker, 2004, 60). This alludes to group trancing, where consciousness expands to the group, and the whole experience is co-defined by the participants. This rhythmic entrainment, or structural coupling (Maturana and Varela, 1987) is an important quality of musicking that will be discussed below.

There seems to be a connection with high arousal states, group consciousness, and a multidimensional inquiry that is able to contain a dynamic flow contradictory polarities. In rasa texts the first rasa listed is usually srngara rasa the erotic rasa. Sufi imagery is powerful due to its frequent metaphor of the lover and the beloved, which employs bodily sensation and erotic tension to connect the metaphor to the relationship of the seeker with the Divine. Blood and Zatorre (2001) show how music uses neural systems similar to those that govern reward for food and sex, and Panksepp (1995) links sexuality to particular types of musical stimuli. High arousal states may create the opportunity for transcendent states of awareness that are deeply embodied as well: “There is a joy in the pure bodily experience of strong arousal, a life-affirming quality of feeling truly alive that both deep listening and trancing can enhance. Both are affectively akin to skin arousal” (Becker, 2004, 67).

Embodiment and Consciousness

I contend, following rasa theory, that emotion is an essential aspect of our interiority that can be followed not only to states of ecstasy, where one may feel a deep sense of life-purpose, but to awareness of our psychic center, authentic self, or interaction of the various gradations that make up our mind-body-spirit continuum (all occurring in relationship to other members of our culture and world). To understand this we must explore the types of embodiment in which humans exist: the body as container of the inner life and the body in interaction with other bodies.

Trancing is characterized by the temporary loss of certain kinds of awareness that is sometimes supplanted by a spirit being or foreign consciousness. For contemporary Pentecostals, a major stage of spiritual development is achieved when one experiences a Baptism in the Holy Spirit where one is possessed by the Holy Spirit. Here it seems that the culture promotes a sense of readiness or receptivity on the part of the practitioner, a self-surrender; this leads to a new way of being-in-the-world that is condoned by the community (Becker, 104-106). In the language of integral yoga, this may be a type of opening on the inner planes, of the psychic being or central emotional center. The important point to consider is that during trance the listening self is different from the self of quotidian activities. Becker (2004), drawing on the work of Damasio (1999), Maturana and Varela (1987), and Benzon (2001), writes that trancers “temporarily lose the sense of their private, autobiographical self in favor of the sense of the special self of trance possession” (144). She links this to the cessation of inner language during peak experience, where a qualitatively different way of knowing emerges for the trancer. Music helps enhance the perception of alternate worlds, creates a sustaining rhythmic ground, increases emotional arousal, and “may facilitate the experience of a different self” (Becker 147).

If the autobiographical self is temporarily suspended during trance, there is the possibility of immense restructuring of the psyche. This might take the form of increased perspective in regards to one’s ego structure. Shirazi (2005) writes, “Repeated insights into the ego-structure may bring about transformations of the ego that result in the development of a unified and healthy ego, which is the organizing principle of embodiment”. My own view is that at the very least this compels us to explore our capacity for trancing in order to access the healing and transformative potential of altered states of consciousness.

Another aspect of the body as site of inner life is the multidimensional nature of the intrapersonal experience of musicking or trancing. In the pursuit of emotion in listening to music, in a rapturous experience of rasa, one attempts to bring about a connection with the divine. In rasa theory, “high arousal emotions… are the appropriate vehicle to lead one to mystical knowledge of life’s meaning and purpose” (Becker 76). From an integral psychology perspective, aesthetic rapture has great potential for being a tool to actualize wholeness and ought to be a valid venue of inquiry.

Group consciousness

Integral yoga is unique among spiritual philosophizes for emphasizing the importance of domains of relatedness and transformation of consciousness in-the-world (as opposed to transcending the world). The domain of inquiry for the student of integral yoga is not limited to inner life, but also includes the multidimensionality of social relations and the cosmic whole. Chaudhuri (1975) points out that growth and transformation of the individual demands “increasing skill in the adjustment of his relations to others. It consists in joining hands with others in constructive cooperation without loss of inner freedom and sense of value” (120). I believe that musicking is an instinctive, yet challenging and complex, realm of embodied spiritual inquiry that allows individuals to explore the purpose of life, which is not “freedom from relations but freedom in and through manifold relations” (Chaudhuri, 1975, 121).

If the integral approach calls for a critical approach to understanding uniqueness, relatedness, and transcendence in the domains of personal, interpersonal, and transpersonal psychological inquiry (Shirazi 2005), a psychologically sophisticated understanding of music cognition in improvisation and trance requires transdisciplinary perspectives. Trance and musicking are group events, and the essential magic of group improvisation or trancing takes place across the group—not merely and internal, isolated event within a single body—and hence must be analyzed as such. The phenomenology of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty resituated consciousness as part of bodily experience, as codependent with the environment, and as organized through action and interaction (Becker, 2004, 118). Maturana and Varela (1987) link insights from phenomenology with biology and produce a fresh approach to thinking about interactions of organisms, from single cells to groups of human beings. They call “structural coupling” a process that describes how repeated interaction between organisms and their environment leads to bonding, of “co-ontogenies with mutual involvement through their reciprocal structural coupling, each one conserving its adaptation and organization” (Maturana and Varela, 1987, 180). Becker (2004) asserts that the concept of structural coupling, as well as “supra-individual biological processes” (Nuñez 1997), helps us understand the type of knowledge that is gained through interaction, through the process of doing actions, such as improvising music together: “Music and emotion are part of a larger processual event that subsumes many other people doing many other things while the whole event unfolds as a unity organized and reorganized over time by small structural changes with the participants… The event is not coded in the culture or even in an individual. It is an enactment, a performance by particular groups of persons who continually restructure each other and subsequent events” (Becker, 2004, 123).

The rasa theory of Abhinavagupta also speaks of the expansive group consciousness of participants of religious ritual. Abhinavagupta writes that consciousness finds itself “free of obstacles, and pervaded by beatitude” during dance and song events where every person is absorbed or identified with the “spectacle” (Abhinavagupta in Gnoli, in Becker, 2004, 126). This is not negating the uniqueness of each person’s experience, but asserting that the processual whole, the trigger of emotionality or rasa, occurs in a relational bringing-forth of the world. Becker (2004) writes, “The changes in the neurophysiology of the listener are not attributable simply to the brain and body of a self-contained individual. They occur through the group processes of recurrent interactions between co-defined individuals in a rhythmic domain of music” (127).

I contend that these insights from trancing greatly reinforce the value of musicking in providing a medium for psychospiritual inquiry and transformation. It is somewhere along the spectrum of non-normal consciousness, or when group consciousness emerges in a dialectical dance of emergent, co-defined realities, that we may gain epistemic insights that may reinvigorate the efficacy of collaborative contemplative education. Although trancing normally occurs within micro-cultures that already sanction it (for example, shamanic dance in Nepal, or at Phish concerts), trancing is a universally endowed faculty, and for that reason alone must be explored as valid experience according to Integral psychology.

Free Improvisation

The widespread prevalence of trancing in human history and contemporary cultures is indicative of a shared propensity to trance that is shared by all humans. As an entryway to rhythmic entrainment with other bodies in a specific environment, trancing might be enacted in novel modes of academic inquiry or psychotherapy.

Musical free improvisation is an art form that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, when jazz musicians such as Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, and Sun Ra challenged conventional jazz idioms and songforms, and emphasized a practice of collective improvisation. Free jazz, as it came to be known, was also an enactment of celebration of black arts against the backdrop of a dominator society. Free jazz artists, most notably John Coltrane, included an explicit spiritual aesthetic in the music and its presentation, as well as a deep honoring of ancestral ties to Africa and indigenous music.

Music therapy employs musical free improvisation in its collection of therapeutic modalities. This “clinical improvisation” is:

Here-and-now experience where the music of the session is improvised based on the person or persons present in the session. Each individual and group will respond to this task differently. Many percussive and melodic instruments from around the world are made available to the clients and can be played successfully without previous training. These instruments tap the innate potential of all people to make and respond to music. Singing and sounding, instrument playing, dancing and moving are all interwoven into the unique expression of the group. (Hesser, 47)

There are many possibilities and challenges for musical free improvisation to be successful as a therapeutic modality as well as an embodied spiritual inquiry. Hesser (1995) describes how improvisation music therapy creates “opportunity to explore and more deeply understand relationships in the community, and the changing dynamics of groups…” wherein situations of “oneness” arise that are supportive and enriching, as well as the challenge of making music as a group, allowing “dissonance to exist” (49).

Dialectical Polarities

In order to deeply probe the relational challenges and opportunities of musicking, the Norwegian pianist, composer, and improviser Tord Gustavsen juxtaposes several dialectical challenges in personal relations of child development and sexuality with improvising music, to illustrate what he calls the “dialectical eroticism of improvisation” (Gustavsen, 2008). Gustavsen asserts that the polarities “moment vs. duration”, “difference vs. sameness”, “gratification vs. frustration”, “stability vs. stimulation”, and “closeness vs. distance” help us understand the dynamic tensions that exist in child development, sexuality, and musical improvisation. Each polarity has the potential for dynamic flow, where opposing forces are held within a recurring time-bound process, or for being “frozen” in uncreative opposition:

“…each polarity or dilemma comes with a set of dynamic potential, and a set of dangers. Dangers threaten when dialectics are frozen—that is when there is no creative movement, when the flow of relations (or the flow of music) is stalled in repetitive conflict. Dialectical potential, on the other hand, lies in dynamic resolution of conflict, and in fruitful integration of opposing forces. And—importantly—we are not aiming here for the dullness of a ‘middle way’—a middle way without any clear profile and striking qualities. You need to really embrace and explore each side of every paradox, but in ways that don’t bring about the frozenness and the repetitive conflicts” (3).

In re-framing the experience of free improvisation from an ideal ultimate state such as oneness or unity to emphasizing the processual nature of holding opposite tensions in-the-world, we can evaluate group musical improvisation as a practice of contemplative inquiry that opens us to possibilities of academic, therapeutic, and transformational engagement with group musicking. One polarity in musicking that Gustavsen discusses is difference vs. sameness, which is, “Coming to terms with being separate and being connected; indeed, developing dialectical ways of being fulfilled in individuality through tight connections, and being relaxed in connected belonging through the acquisition of secure separateness; these are all basic challenges for the infant’s forming of a self” (pp. 7-8). While free improvising, individuals must simultaneously feel unity or oneness with the music, while also “analyzing it as something outside of oneself” (8). Each person must be different from music in the sense that she will be envisaging strategies, choosing to express devotion to a detail or a macro-resolution aesthetic, and “challenging the material in every new ways” (8). Concurrently, there is a pull for “infant-mother like symbiosis” and “childlike devotion” with the music, other musicking bodies, and the environment (Gustavsen, 2008, 8). The work of holding this polarity has deep resonance with inner, relational, and transpersonal domains of existence. It challenges us to become conscious of Other, of our projections and separateness, while at the same time enticing us to explore our shared consciousness and mutual co-creation of being in-the-moment and in-the-world. Working with this tension musically might help us realize its dynamic potential in all other areas of life. Stierlin (in Gustavsen 2008), explains, “Through this work we transcend the narcissism that keeps us from recognizing in the other anything but what is already known and familiar—that is, ourselves. This work makes us capable of incorporating the other’s difference in us. Thereby, we ourselves become more complex, and gain greater opportunities for developing the relationship and our psychological understanding. But thereby, we envisage differences on a deeper level, differences that again has to be accommodated and transcended” (8-9).

Gustavsen’s psychological approach[3] to the challenges of improvisation illuminates the dialectical potential of all sorts of improvisation-as-inquiry, from music therapy to informal jams. By considering improvisation within a framework of dialectical dilemmas, we may fathom the great potential for learning and growth that is presented by musicking as contemplative inquiry.

Open Inquiry and Embodied Spirituality

Integral psychology calls for the harmonious development of all human dimensions, including our embodied life. Embodied spirituality has been refined by Ferrer (2008), who ties together ideas from spiritual traditions in light of contemporary questions of what it means to “live a fully embodied spiritual life” (1). Far from being a peripheral activity, musicking in the form of free improvisation—singing, dancing, playing—encourages development of whole beings, who “while remaining rooted in their bodies, earth, and immanent spiritual life, have made all their attributes permeable to transcendent spiritual energies, and who cooperate in solidarity with others in the spiritual transformation of self, community, and world” (Ferrer, 2008, 8). I believe that musicking may be explored qualitatively across the spectrum of parameters of embodied spirituality outlined by Ferrer, and prove to be a apt medium for inquiry that “emerges from the creative interplay of both immanent and transcendent spiritual energies in complete individuals who embrace the fullness of human experience while remaining firmly grounded in body and earth” (Ferrer, 2008, 2). Ferrer importantly discriminates between spiritual practices that sublimate sexuality so that it might empower another human dimension (i.e., mindful concentration), and those that integrate sexuality. As noted, trancing is characterized by high-arousal states that share physiological processes with sexuality, and free improvisation may allow us to navigate “erotic tension” in the dynamic, embodied, and relational context making music together. Thus, there is great potential for musicking to be enacted by groups in the context of integral transformative education, where all human dimensions are valid realms for transformation in-the-world.

There is an annoyingly common notion that music in education is valuable only if it serves other ends such as increased performance in mathematics or other areas of study. The psychospiritual account I have given, albeit limited, I think goes some way to dispel this idea. Because it is a faculty endowed to all conscious persons (and non-humans as well), and allows us to deeply probe inner worlds as well as tackle relational challenges and opportunities, musicking is an attractive medium available to integral educators who wish to take seriously an inquiry process that is participatory, multidimensional, and intersubjective. Free improvisation especially challenges traditional paradigms of education precisely because it is a form of open inquiry. Almaas (2002) eloquently elucidates why open inquiry resists limits:

“When you inquire into something, you are opening it up, you are revealing it. Ordinary experience comes in a wrapping. To inquire, you open the wrapping, you remove the veils that obscure it to see what is there. So the very nature of inquiry is a process of opening up; and what you open up are boundaries, limits, positions, beliefs—any stand you bay be taking about what you are experiencing” (27).

Free improvisation in an educational context might allow students to generate novel realizations regarding their innate epistemic powers, rather than simply assemble facts or be forced to digest ways-of-being that are superfluous to their development. The next section will explore how might musicking look like in integral transformative education.

Integral Transformative Education

As we have seen, musicking organically engages, as well as challenges, the important dimensions of the human being in an intersubjective, co-creative, and relational process. Musicking may be a powerful tool that is included in inquiry-based creative processes that honor the “epistemic power of all human attributes” (Ferrer, Romero, & Albareda, 2005, 21).  The co-creative process of musicking awakens and confronts the intellect, sexuality, somatic realms, altered states of consciousness, emotion, spirit, and psyche; this is, importantly, deeply relational, in respect to other human beings sometimes, and absolutely in terms of internal ways of knowing. Musicking is an exemplary medium in which to explore second-person approaches to contemplative education. Gunnlaugson (2009) has shown how intersubjective approaches are neglected even among contemplative educators. According to Gunnlaugson (2009), “second-person approaches to contemplative education involve exploring contemplative experience from an intersubjective position that is represented spatially as between us, in contrast to inside us…or outside us” (27).

I envision transformative musical inquiries in education, where free improvisation is used to explore the many ways that human beings know and experience realities. From dialectical tensions to an embodied dance of spirit, or from inquiries into schoolyard scuffles to singing a subaltern story against an oppressive dominator culture, deep psychospiritual transformation and scholarly rigorous inquires can proceed from musicking. Similar to Albareda and Romero’s (Ferrer, 2003) transformative practice which employs touch-based meditation, and very much in alignment with Heron’s (Heron, 1996) cooperative inquiry paradigm, musicking in education may provide a rich medium for learning in and through “intrapersonal epistemic diversity, embodiment and ‘bodyfulness’, deep relationality, and transpersonal morphic resonance” (Ferrer & Overmyer, forthcoming, 20). In Osterhold, et. al. (2007)’s description of interactive embodied meditation (IEM) classes, the core meditation practice is followed by two other inquiry tools: “Integrative work and creative expression through drawings, paintings, movement, journaling, poetry” and “Verbal elaboration and critical discussion of the experiences in dyads, small groups, group check-ins, and circles of sharing” (4-5). These types of inquiry tools may similarly supplement free improvisation so that an “extended epistemology” organically flows from the inquiry process and it generates practical and transformational inquiry outcomes (Heron, 1996). Moreover, I see this type of radical inquiry to be readily available for educators in many different contexts. The California Institute of Integral Studies—perhaps a pioneer in integral and contemplative education (Hageman, 2015)—offer classes in embodied spirituality as well as a “sound, voice and music” certificate program, but does not yet have an academic research class on musicking-as-inquiry. I believe musicking can expand the scope and reach of transformative education, making it accessible for all persons, from infants to senior citizens.

Concluding Remarks

            Singing, playing instruments, dancing, moving, trancing, grooving… all are uniquely human ways of being-in-the-world. They have served many functions since the beginning of human history, and may have even been the spark that kindled the flame of languaging, social bonding (Dunbar 2012) and deep participation the Mystery. In looking at how consciousness changes during trance, and how the “dialectical eroticism” of contradictory polarities is dynamically held and propelled through improvisation, we gain a deeper glimpse into how humans might explore psychospiritual inquiry through musicking. This essay is only a tiny peek into the possibility of musicking in integral transformative education. Many insights could come from the many fields now working with music, such as linguistics, cognitive psychology, and semiotics. It is my humble opinion that although objective-rational data on music cognition is important (and very much taking up real estate in the top musicology journals), it is much more important for education, children, and the future of humanity if we encourage qualitative, ecological, participatory research on music—by doing it classrooms, in the academe, and on the street. Through the power of music and scholarly inquiry, we might validate Ferrer’s (2005) stirring proposition that within the “exercise of our own creative capabilities we are fostering the unfolding of the Mystery’s infinite generativity in the world” (21).




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[1] “the issue of connecting informal learning and improvisation might be resolved by regarding improvisation as an exemplary case of creating a communicative context where most representations/conceptualisations/struggles to solve problems are left implicit. Such experiences for pupils and teachers alike might further extend the social and personal effectiveness of informal learning as music pedagogy” (Wright and Kanellopoulos, 2010)


[2] Esoteric techniques that employ sound and yogic techniques of nada yoga all speak to the very individual path of self-realization through sound meditations. Uniqueness in listening might be a self-evident idea, but it is interesting that while you and I share the ability to identify a major 2nd interval, the exact way we hear is different; it is shaped by genetics, childhood, culture, our lives, our bodies, our dis-eases…. Our hearing “fingerprint” gives us clues to our svabhava when it comes to deep listening.

[3] While in Gustavsen’s model the dialectical tension is illustrated using a theory of child development psychology, the idea of dynamic resolution of contradictory polarities is shared by a variety of psychological approaches. In Jungian psychology, our quest for wholeness necessitates working with unconscious material, with the light and dark aspects of consciousness. Jung explains how the process of becoming conscious of repressed material is necessary for growth:

“The repressed content must be made conscious so as to produce a tension of opposites, without which no forward movement is possible. The conscious mind is on top, the shadow underneath, and just as high always longs for low and hot for cold, so all consciousness, perhaps without being aware of it, seeks its unconscious opposite, lacking which it is doomed to stagnation, congestion, and ossification. Life is born only of the spark of opposites” (Jung, CW 7, par. 78).