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Season 3: Ep. 4: Tajik Maddâh, Healing, and Flexible Framing with Dr. Benjamin Koen


The music of the Pamir Mountains in Tajikistan offers opportunities to explore the importance of poetry, rhythmic flexibility, and sacred space within wellness and healing. Dr. Benjamin Koen is a leader in medical ethnomusicology who has written texts and articles exploring Maddâh or Maddoh and the practice of this sung poetry as an expression that promotes psychological flexibility for new perspectives of healing. This episode explores Rumi’s Masnavi and spirituality with musical excerpts.

Keywords: Baraka, Tajikistan, Maddoh, Maddâh, Pamir, medical ethnomusicology, Rumi, Masnavi, aql-tan-ruh, Central Asia, Embeingment, Entrainment

Dr. Benjamin Koen
Beyond the Roof of the World Book

Benjamin D. Koen is an international leader in the research, practice, performance, and teaching of music, meditation, improvisation, healing, health, and wellness. Dr. Koen is involved in several interrelated projects exploring music, the mind, and meditation in healing and wellbeing, goal achievement, and entrepreneurship. His focus is on the universal principles and processes that illuminate how music, specialized sound, and meaning can generate new neural pathways and bridge the conscious and subconscious mind to create an intended outcome via a complex he models through music-mind dynamics, neuroplasticity, psychological flexibility, entrainment, embeingment, and the Human Certainty Principle. Dr. Koen is also involved in several recording projects primarily focused on creative improvised music, jazz-world music, and musical meditations for healing, health, and wellbeing.

Dr. Koen is an author, including two ground-breaking books with Oxford University Press—The Oxford Handbook of Medical Ethnomusicology; and Beyond the Roof of the World: Music, Prayer, and Healing in the Pamir Mountains. Dr. Koen’s research in medical ethnomusicology, performances in jazz and world music, lectures, teaching, and entrepreneurship have taken him to over 50 countries. As a critically acclaimed jazz-world musician and improviser (tenor and soprano saxophones, world flutes, hand drums, didgeridoo), composer, and recording artist, Koen’s music and performances have appeared on a number of recordings, in film, television, on the web.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Tajikistan Map

Discussion Questions

1. What is the role of the spiritual within your musical culture, experience, and practice?

2. The Maddoh tradition speaks to music as a means of leaving the here-and-now, or the worldly concerns and gaining new, flexible perspective. When do you experience music as a means of leaving the here-and-now and reorganizing our minds, decisions, and responses?

3. Speak to the ways that spirituality plays a role within Tajik Maddâh. How does each word (Baraka, Jon, nafs, aql-tan-ruh) shed light onto unique cultural understandings of the transcendent?

4. Speak to the unique place of poetry within Silk Road Traditions, such as these traditions influenced by Persian languages. Take the time to read poetry by famous Persian poets.

5. How does poetry juxtapose experience, ideas, and understandings? How might poetry be an artistic practice for peace?

6. What is the structure of Maddâh? How does this structure support a reflective and spiritual experience that promotes change?

7. Why does Koen use the language of Embeingment instead of embodiment?

8. What is the role of entrainment in healing processes that are supported or inspired by music?

9. In the context of this podcast, how is music a grounding of balance that promotes peace? How does cognitive flexibility and reframing support peace?

10. How do you experience the need for centering and meditation practices in your life?


2:18 Journey to Wellbeing
5:41 Journey Continued
7:00 Spirituality
13:58 Spirituality of the Pamir Mountains
17:43 Baraka
19:58 Monojat
20:51 Metaphors of Longing
22:48 Persian Poetry
29:18 Abdul Hakim Music
29:55 Maddoh Structure
30:20 Haidari
30:47 Poetic Traditions
34:11 Setayesh
35:18 Outsider Healing
37:44 Experiences of Healing
39:06 Embeingment
41:49 Entrainment
44:31 War and Imbalance
45:20 Music Meditative Practice
46:44 Meditation and Looping



Koen, B. D. (2006). Musical healing in Easter Tajikistan: Transforming stress and depression through Falak performance. Asian Music, 37(2), 58-83. doi:

Koen, B. D. (2009). Beyond the roof of the world: Music, prayer, and healing in the Pamir Mountains. Oxford University Press.

Koen, B. D., Barz, G., & Brummel-Smith, K. (2011). Introduction: Confluence of consciousness in music, medicine, and culture. In B. D. Koen (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Medical Ethnomusicology (pp. 1-15).  : Oxford University Press.

Koen, B. D. (2011). Music-prayer-meditation dynamics in healing. In B. D. Koen (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Medical Ethnomusicology (pp. 1-32).  : Oxford University Press.

Koen, B. D. (2013). “My Heart Opens and My Spirit Flies”: Musical exemplars of psychological flexibility in health and healing. Ethos, 41(2), 174-198. doi: 10.1111/etho.12014

Rumi, J. (2004). The Masnavi: Book one (Trans. J. Mojaddedi) . Oxford University Press.


Badakshan Ensemble

Dr. Benjamin Koen plays Naima

Three Breath Meditation

Doira, Tajikistan




music, people, coen, healing, spiritual, meditation, moving, state, poetry, tajikistan, world, peacebuilding, part, traditions, persian, poetic, poems, experience, life, speaking


Kevin Shorner-Johnson, Benjamin Koen


Benjamin Koen  00:00

That's one of the things I love is is understanding deeply within a culture or within a one person culture. I like to call it how these things work. You know, what are people's experience, and discern ways that can be taught and shared with other people so they can also benefit from it.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  00:21

You're listening to season three of the music and peacebuilding podcast, a professional development network at music Exploring intersections of peacebuilding, sacredness, community, creativity and imagination. Through research and story. Dr. Benjamin D Coen is an international leader in the research, practice performance and teaching of music, meditation, improvisation, healing, health and wellness. His scholarship includes two groundbreaking books with Oxford University Press, the Oxford Handbook of medical ethnomusicology, and beyond the Roof of the World, music prayer and healing in the Pamir Mountains. As a critically acclaimed jazz world musician and improviser on tenor and soprano, saxophones, world flutes and drums and didgeridoos. And as a composer and recording artist, Dr. Coen's music and performances have appeared on a number of recordings, in film, television and on the web. This podcast is a rich and complex conversation. Throughout this conversation, I invite you to sit with a central theme that of the power of moving into alternate space time to gain new perspectives and reorganize our being. In the rush of the day to day, many of us often lose our perspectives and cause harm with our reduced visibility. What happens when we pause to open new frames? What happens when we enter new senses of time beyond the demands of the here and now? How do we move from imbalance to balance? Because of the nine or 10 Internet disruptions between Pennsylvania and Hong Kong, this interview has been edited to improve flow and cohesiveness.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  02:18

So in your space of medical ethnomusicology, I sense that there's a deep challenge to the dangerous limitations. That's your quote, of the exclusive reliance on scientific healing. And if I read your quote, you say, there's a desperate need for individual and societal healing far beyond the facade of the body and the material dimension of life, allowing transformations in ways that recognize and support unity and diversity, foster a greater realization of the oneness of humanity, and create wholeness. For me, there's a service centered impetus underlying my interest, which arises from what I see as foundational to any scholarly endeavor. Could you talk about the service centered impetus that you're feeling and how you are moving into medical ethnomusicology that moves beyond the facade of the body?


Benjamin Koen  03:12

So, you know, at the time of, of writing, that, I was spending a lot of thoughtful time and a lot of different areas of research literature. You know, there were some movements, I would say, within certain schools of cognitive science that were, you know, part of my, my graduate studies, that there was this debate about, you know, kind of that ancient debate about the material and intangible or transcendent part of life, not necessarily science and religion, that's, you know, kind of the older version of it, but I wanted to strike some balance, and I'm not sure I did in that book, but maybe in subsequent writing, strike a balance between... or not even between but but take a, strike a balance by taking a holistic view at the topics I was interested in. And so, those topics dealt with, you know, music, the mind, consciousness, and meditation, you know, as an area of inquiry, and of applied practice that could really help people. So, you know, when you deal with music, you immediately are taken into not only kind of the vast complexity of how music and sound and meaning, connect to and effect change within the complex that is a human being. But those experiences are so often transcendent, spiritual, somehow, there's something else there something intangible that seems to be not only part and parcel of music, but That thing that really attracts us, as human beings. And I think it's that area where the meaning lives where that that transcendent experience lies, however, we want to want to call it maybe beyond the facade of the body was was too strong. But that area, and especially that experience of transcendence is so central to musics, potential efficacy, when we start thinking about healing, health and well being.


Benjamin Koen  05:41

One of the main ideas was to approach this, this space in this area to build up the knowledge so that it could actually be applied and help more people, because so many of the things that people are suffering with, can be if not fully treated and cured, at least be supportive of health and well being, and quality of life. Because they deal with that interaction of the mind, belief, and, you know, lifestyle. So that's become, you know, a really important focus, and, most recently, trying, just trying to help people bring the body back into focus within that holistic frame. So really not denying any part, you know, but really building this, the way I think about it is through this five factor model of the body, mind, spirit, emotions and relationships, or, you know, in the scientific lingo, the bio psycho social, emotional and spiritual, transcendent. So that's been my focus of late, you know, taking it further into the realm of actually teaching music, meditation practices for people's health and well being. And that's been especially important these last couple years with the pandemic, for sure.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  07:00

I pivoted to ask Cohen about spirituality, because spirituality and understandings of what the spiritual is, are at the heart of understanding Maddoh. Cohen notes that spirituality or something that is intangible, transcendent, or elusive, has a foundational role in well being.


Benjamin Koen  07:24

When we use spiritual as a parameter, to speak about something elusive, or intangible, or otherwise, we can't explain, but it plays such an important role, not only in our lives, but in our ability to move from one state of being to another. So from like an illness, or ill structured profile into one of health and wellness and hopefully, eventually, vitality. And that process of moving from one state to another is called Healing, right? It's a kind of transformation. And incidentally, that's where the music meditation practice that I've been working with, and using in my research for so many years, and teaching people to use in their own health and wellness practices. It has it started off as a process of healing. But as I continued to use it in my own life, and teach it and research it and look at it in different contexts, this dynamic of music and meditation, I realized it could be used for any goal. In other words, healing itself is a process that moves from one state to another, it gets to a desired outcome, right, which is a state of health and wellness and hopefully more, vitality, human flourishing and so forth. But that movement, from one state to another as a kind of transformation, I thought, well, any goal achievement is a kind of transformation, and how could this process of music meditation play into goal achievement, whether it was you know, applied in an educational setting, or in a business setting, you know, or any kind of consultative setting, right? So, that's been a big part of my most recent thinking and use of the music meditation process.


Benjamin Koen  09:25

But getting back to the idea of spirituality and healing. I've spent my life around people because both of my parents were in medicine, and then being able to travel extensively, and, and then do research in this field. I've been really fortunate to talk with lots of people going through all kinds of illness and healing processes. And there is this sense of insight we can say. Sense of knowing that people often have when they can kind of shut off areas of their brain, you know, kind of tweak the story that's running on the subconscious record of the mind, and get into a place of the meditative mind, where they can have insight about what has led to or caused the state that they're in, then find some way. And this is where, you know, a guided process is usually very helpful, find some way to help heal that to transform that. Now, that whole dynamic, I would say, you know, it falls into, you know, certainly a psychological frame. But often people describe it in a very spiritual frame, you know, what I mean? And so, understanding what spiritual means for people with respect to healing is often a very, you know, personal thing. And so, therein lies one of the struggles of, of doing a research that uses, you know, spirituality or the spiritual as a domain of measure, right, because it, it has meaning within a culture, broadly speaking, but even more importantly, within the individual, you know, cultural landscape of a human being. So there's something I think that music itself is, I would say, inherently spiritual, it has this stuff of itself, that is, in part because of the way the neurophysiology of hearing works in human beings. And that through the process of listening, and the frequency is coming in through the the ear, hitting the eardrum, going through the Basler membrane, and, you know, having neurotransmitters released in correlation to the kind of sound, music, that's being taken in, and most importantly, the meaning that that music or sound carries, facilitates this neuro physiological process, which is beautiful and fascinating. That is the foundation of our experience, our consciousness, our biochemistry, our emotional self, and then how we then act and behave and move through life on a daily basis.


Benjamin Koen  12:39

You know, there, for some people, certainly, the spiritual domain is, you know, squarely within a religious framework and a belief system or philosophy or ideology. And for some, it's not right. The thing that I find fascinating and beautiful and empowering about the whole thing is this relationship between music and the mind, music and meditation, and music itself is a meditation, meditation often itself takes a, you know, specialized sounded or musical form. Sometimes they're one of the same. But music, meditation, the mind and healing, you know, that these things work together in a very fascinating way. And all three of them music, meditation and healing, have some deep connection to our you know conceptualization of and experience of the spiritual or the transcendent. A lot of that understanding comes out in you know, deep ethnographic research of understanding how people express their experience of healing, music and meditation.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  13:58

I turned our conversation to ask about the particular spirituality within this mountainous region of Tajikistan and how it informs the practice of Maddoh


Benjamin Koen  14:11

you know, in in the poetry and the the spiritual, mystical traditions in the Persian speaking world. Okay. And of course, you know, Sufism is probably the the most well known mystical tradition in the Middle East and from The Persian speaking world, primarily, at least as its origin, because of the towering figure of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, the poet and mystic, but there are so many others from that world of wonderful, incredible poetry. So, you know, including the figures of Hafiz Sadie host row and in that world of poetry, there are some recurrent and beautiful metaphors for human progress and for human growth and development. There are several common and beautiful metaphors that talk about this human development and flourishing and it's mostly framed in a spiritual way, and between the lover and the beloved, you know, so one of those is this idea of the moth being so attracted so in love with and really entranced by a flame, it's it's love is so powerful that it can't stop itself from getting so close to the flame or even at its singes, its wings if not being totally consumed. And the idea there of being consumed is not about death, or dying of the physical self, or anything dark or tragic, but really, the dying of the lower self, or the nafs, in that context of Tajikistan, you know, there's this aspect of unity of oneness again, that happens when one is entranced with that, that fire of love, and the idea, you know, within a person's self, bringing together all aspects of oneself, right. And so, a direct relationship kind of on the practical side, if I can just kind of jump back and forth. One of the powerful things that music does not that it is only a meditation, not that it is a vehicle of meaning these two are so important, but also music functions as a bridge between the subconscious and conscious mind. And it does that in part because of that neurophysiological process of, of hearing, and the meaning that it carries. And so when we look at, you know, studies of music and the brain, music and cognition and brain activity, and so forth, we see that music is one of these rare things that it's not like the old idea of right brain, left brain or more creativity on this side. And that's, and of course, there are certain centers that have important roles to play. But music is one of those things that really holistically connects with and effects, activity and change in the brain.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  17:42

In his article for ethos, Cohen begins by noting that the spiritual energy of Baraka is central to understanding healing through Maddoh. Baraka is a generative, lifeforce and spiritual energy from God that is associated with prophets and mystical figures, and particularly within special places, like the majestic mountains of the Pamir region. Within the spiritual traditions of this place, the self is divided between a higher and a lower self, an individual detaches from the worldly, lower self or the nafs, to move toward the true and higher self. This higher self is comprised of Aql-tan-ruh, or the three part whole of the mind, body spirit. The spiritual experience of Maddoh brings about a kind of psychological flexibility, or a space that allows new perspectives. A participant within Coen's writing reflects that in Maddoh quote, my body relaxes, I become empty but full of spirit (Ruh) and love. I leave my body and forget. I'm in another atmosphere, another world. I think it is a kind of Mercy (rahmat), music is a mercy and blessing. It is like traveling far away and I can see things spiritual things. I change when I sing and pray and everything can change then to be good, healed. It is a mystical feeling. A transcendent state that is moving like water, free and I fly. I am always better and refreshed afterwards. I become new if the music and prayer is true." Listen to this coming excerpt provided by Dr. Coen, where performers prepare spiritual space through the opening notes at the Munajat section of Maddoh. This first section creates a feeling of detachment or disengagement as the participant seeks to disengage from the worldly or lower self, the Nafs.



[Music excerpt - Munajat]


Benjamin Koen  20:51

but there's tons of, tons of metaphors. The nightingale is another one, you know that you mentioned. And part of that is the entrancing melody of the nightingale that one harkens to, you know, the whole idea of listening is also at the heart of this mystical poetic tradition. You know, the very beginning of Molana Rumi's Masnavi is a great poetic work of 1000s of rhyming couplets. It starts off saying, listen to the Ney, you know, hearken to the sound of the Ney of the Persian reed flute, as it bewales, its plight, having been separated from its homeland. And, you know, this is another metaphor about returning to the Beloved, you know, returning to one source. So, you know, if we take it out of that language, and we think about becoming whole becoming one again, right, finding peace and tranquility. And from that space, one can see clearly, you know, one can feel more clearly and can understand things more clearly. So, I think, in all endeavors, you know, tapping into that meditative state is one of the things that we need to do, as a, as a humanity, you know, it's as important as, or at least, you know, immediately after water and food and shelter, and love and sex and music or, you know, meditation, it's, and I would say, maybe it's one of those basic essential states that we need.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  22:48

Within Persian speaking cultures, poetry is quote, placed at the center rather than the fringes of life. Coen notes that the rhythm, intonation and emotional content of poetry are the foundation upon which the mystical, classical and folk traditions of music lie. Drawing upon that, we embrace sections from the introduction of Rumi's Masnavi, in which he uses the metaphor of the reed and the reed flute, to speak to connectedness, longing, consolation and purity. It is worth noting the special place that Rumi holds in Tajikistan as someone who was born in the space between Afghanistan and Tajikistan, In the opening of Rumi's Masnavi, he speaks of the quote, reed flutes deep lament, to note the agony of separation and longing for return. His language speaks of unchaining and releasing from the hold of greed and the here and now speaking to the elegance of the Ney or the flute, he writes, quote, loves fire is what makes every Reed Flute pine loves fervor thus lends potency to wine, the reed consoles, those forced to be apart, it's notes will lift the veil upon your heart.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  24:18

I think I was going to reflect to you just how much the poetic traditions draw me to the Sufi tradition when I had a chance to go to Azerbaijan. You know, for me, it was it was kind of leaning into that love that I had for Mugham and the way in which they lean into the poetic traditions that I just so admire.


Benjamin Koen  24:39

Yeah, you know, I think it's poetry. And if we extend it into, you know, so many of the poetic traditions there, they just want to be sung. You know, there's a thing called declame, which is like a deck, declaring it's a way of saving upon in Persian, but you know, so many of them, they just they start to build and they and this happens with so many traditions, they just want to be sung you know, so that bridge between poem into song, you know, into music is really powerful. But I think we've lost that in a lot of places in the world, you know. So many friends that speak Persian, especially the older generations, always have a poem on the tip of their tongue to contribute to any situation, you know, to make a comment to support, to break down.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  25:37

So can you take us into this form of Maddoh and, and what this form looks like and how it integrates prayer, meditation, poetry aroused emotional states, so introduce us to this genre and this form, if you would,


Benjamin Koen  25:52

sure. So, Maddoh in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan is the one of, if not the preeminent devotional music among the Pamiri people, the majority of whom are Ismaili Muslims, which follows a very mystic tradition similar to Sufism, different, but for those people that that aren't familiar with it, that's a good kind of starting point of understanding. I've had many Tajik friends say, you know, thank you for making that clarification. And then he say, yeah, thank you for making that comparison. So Maddoh, you know, it's funny, you know, playing the language game of communicating about all these things. Think of it like this, Maddoh is a devotional music genre. It IS a corpus of poems. So it is a form of poetry. It IS a meditative and spiritual practice. And it's a healing practice. And it's a practice of worship. So it is all those things together. On the musical side, you know, it, it has a very unique structure in Tajikistan. And I can just say, incidentally, that you can find Maddoh and pronounced in different ways, you know, throughout the Middle East. It can have different forms of expression, you know, it can sound different in different places. It's fascinating, the Maddoh in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan, you know, has a similar form all over the region there, it has a three part form. And those three sections are called munâjât, Haidari and setâyesh. And these three sections, they start kind of in a low energy reflective, you know, moving out of silent state where people come into the main room where they perform Maddoh called the maddâhkhâne. And people collect themselves, you know, prepare themselves for the experience, they're going to have this mystical devotional, in some cases healing experience. And, you know, the genre is used, like I said, for worship, but also education. So for many things, it's not that everyone always comes to a Maddoh ceremony for healing. But you know, in the broader spiritual sense of things, it is looked at as something that is good for health and well being AND has a healing function just inherent within it. So it starts off from that place of reflection meditation, getting ready to perform, and the the main singer, the Maddoh Khan, who's reciting these poems and playing the pulmonary rebab a long necked lute and the music itself is, is how to describe it? I can just hear it in my head right now so much it's you know, very I could say almost Stark in a way you know, some of my Tajik friends that perform it say it's primal almost you know, there's something fundamental.



[Music Excerpt - Maddoh]


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  29:55

As described in this podcast, Maddoh is constructed of three sections. The Munajat Haidari, and the setâyesh. The second section of muddle is a, quote, contemplation of options, as the listener encounters stories with moral conflicts that illustrate potential outcomes. Listen now to an excerpt of Haidari.


Benjamin Koen  30:47

Many have said that because of the vast mountain range that let many of the Pamir traditions develop with less outside influence. That's one reason that it kind of has taken this form. So when I refer to it this way, it's beautiful and powerful. And but you know, there's, there's a lot of space that one can, can hear within that genre. And, you know, I'm thinking rhythmically for a second, there's a kind of open and driving aspect to the rhythm that is unique to the, to the region. So it moves from this first very kind of meditative state of munâjât, which is another word for a kind of prayer supplication into Haidari, which is more stories, and that's where a drum enters. And that could be you know, 123 of these Rubabs, and then maybe 123 daf or doire frame drums with rings on the inside, they start to play in a strong duple meter Goon Gaga, Goon Gaga.


Benjamin Koen  32:00

And then it goes into this third part called setâyesh, which goes into a new rhythm that's very driving. And one of the things in my research, it came out that this rhythm is actually structured over a five meter period, right, so it's an a meter of five. And it has these eight pulses that kind of function as a as a three meter, like two versions of 123123. And then one, two, making eight pulses. But kind of two groups of three, and then one shortened one. And then on the other side, there's this kind of evenly spaced five meter that follows along the poetic structure. So you have this interesting kind of shortened two against three, rhythm that itself is quite flexible, open, there's a lot of breath, you know, in that rhythmic structure, it's quite fascinating. The reason that's interesting is because the the people themselves there identify themselves with the symbol of five in many aspects of life. And the religious belief practices, the natural and built environment, the rivers, the maddâhkhâne, like five, five shows up many, many times what they self identify as. So it's quite fascinating that within the most, one of the most important genres of music, and at the height of that music, the state that is helping people move from that previous state, or let's say if we're looking at healing an illness state into one of health and well being and a big part of that journey is understood spiritually, viewed and experienced spiritually, but also musically, it, this rhythm and the poems and the energy also propel a person into that state that they they want to get to


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  34:10

the final stage, the setâyesh, becomes the most intense where conflict is resolved, and participants are invited into a new state of mind and being. This is the work of reframing with rhythmic lilt, a move into the liminal space beyond the here and now to contemplate with the clarity of alternate organizations of time [excerpt of setâyesh].


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  35:19

Yeah I wondered if you could kind of paint a picture for us. So one of the things I found fascinating your book is that you talked about this, this role that you took on sometimes as being the outsider and the guest. And how the outsider and guest in this particular culture is, is seen as maybe a source of healing, could you kind of paint a picture for us about what Maddoh looks like in the space of healing and your own experience,


Benjamin Koen  35:46

it looks very much like a meditative community experience. Okay, so you have maybe three to five, six musicians. But in the maddâhkhâne, the main room of the primary traditional home, which is upheld by five structural, but also symbolic pillars. People sit around the, you know, edges, the walls of the room, sometimes lean against the pillars, and are in a reflective state, you know, there's not a lot of movement, in Maddoh, mostly, you know, there's not dance involved in Maddoh, there is some movement, you know, mostly from the musicians, or people may be swaying a little bit back and forth. But it looks like people, you know, sitting around a room kind of in their space, but also connected. And there's a point within Maddoh, where the community actually cry out one of the words and the word in Persian is a, and in Arabic, it would be Yah, but it's basically like a supplication saying, oh, like saying, Oh God, right. And so after the singing of these poetic verses, these spiritual lines, and the music coming up, and the whole, let's say, a few phrases of the poetry, or a kind of verse, if you will, ends, then everyone sings this "a" together. And it's quite, quite powerful. So there's, there's a very powerful musical, spiritual energy from the music. But there's also a very calm, tranquil kind of state of people. Being in that self reflection and just state of immersion in that experience.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  37:44

The movement from a calmness to a heightened state of arousal is a key part of the experience, participants expressed a feeling of quote, nonstop forward motion, upward movement, a rising sensation, energy, or a movement from heaviness to lightness. Coen notes that one participant expressed feeling physically lighter, during the setâyesh, that transferred into a feeling of floating with a participant experienced the spiritual or baten. Embeingment is a word that Coen uses to describe when a new consciousness is brought about within the body. He states embeingment, then is a process of absorbing positive energy. And disembeingment the absence of that energy, just as darkness is the absence of light. That is, darkness has no energy of its own, it is dependent on the absence of light. New perspectives and flexible change may be at the heart of movements from illness to wellbeing, as well as from rigid dichotomies to open perspectives and possibilities of peace.


Benjamin Koen  39:06

So the idea with embeingment is that, you know, we have an experience, and that forms part of our, of all of these aspects, you know, not just the body. And then the important part of that is that, you know, when we go through that experience of hearing something, focusing on something, getting into that meditative state, letting it trickle down, letting it be absorbed, and letting ourselves embody it, it becomes part of us, you know, wholly, it becomes part of the way we view the world, we think about ourselves and others. So, I just wanted to make it a little more than just the body but also what what has been most important recently, is helping people see how important the body is, as a channel of, a barometer of our state of being, right. So when people have stress, which, if ignored, leads to bigger stress, which, if ignored leads to anxiety and then depression. So the first experience of stress, you know, comes through our body. Right. So there's a neurophysiology involved, a biochemistry, but what happens in our experiences, we feel it in our bodies, right? And so paying attention to that moment, and helping people to then take a meditative practice, outside of that distinct, say, morning and evening meditative time, which is kind of the main form I focus on teaching, habit in the morning, extended through your day, again in the evening, prepares you for your sleep and dream state, and then repeat. But the idea is that, listening to that, or paying attention to how a stress comes through the body is so important in creating mental wellness, what usually happens in the mix of that subconscious conscious mind play and busyness of life is that a stress comes, and people ignore it, right. Now, if you multiply that to, you know, many times to many months to year, many years you can see how important you know, that's one of the reasons our relationship to stress is so important, we have to better understand how to do that. And for me, this the music meditation practice is one way to do that. And so embeingment kind of you know, wants to speak to that whole aspect.


Benjamin Koen  41:50

Entrainment is really a fascinating physical law of the universe. You know, it was discovered by I think Christian Hugens a Dutch scientist, where he had these two pendulum clocks, you know, far away from each other, and he brought them close together, and he noticed they started to tick tock, tick, they started to tick tock together, he moved them apart, and they they went independent again. But this also happens, you know, in other areas of life, in biological, not just mechanical, but biological and social. You know, for example, if if many women are living together, their menstrual cycles will get on the same cycle, they'll they'll start to have their period on the same time. Now, if one person is taking a drug or say birth control, there's something that would be a stronger rhythmic cycle that would keep that person out of, you know, that would be an outlier, but the rest of the group would be, you know, on the same cycle, it's fascinating. Another example I like is, you know, if a if a newborn has a, a weak heart, instead of doing something, you know, invasive, the first line of action, if appropriate for that infant with a weak heart is to put it beside another newborn with a strong heart. And then that heart will slowly entrain or synchronize to that stronger, rhythmic pulse. So it's, you know, it's clear how deeply related entrainment as a physical phenomenon is connected to frequency, vibration, music, rhythm, right. All of those things that are components of aspects of music and sound.


Benjamin Koen  43:39

Now, when we think about music being a vehicle of meaning, and being able to use the entrainment properties, of music, to bring things into synchrony, or balance, or unity, I think a lot of exciting things can happen. And I think intuitively happens, we often put certain music on to entrain to that music, both physically, rhythmically, but also mentally, emotionally, spiritually. And so I tried to take that idea of, you know, physical entrainment, it's a it's a law of the universe. I tried to use that then as a metaphor, I suppose. For more of a spiritual or mental entrainment.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  44:30

Toward the end of his text, Coen speaks of war as a kind of disequilibrium and imbalance. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan fell into a civil war. Coen's contact Samandar spoke of war is a time of confusion, fear, and a time when people became monsters. Samandar and his friends leaned into instruments, embracing the Falak and Maddoh quote, music was a personal healer, protector and preserver of their own humanity and sanity. The music gave a physical manifestation to the opposite of war, namely, the virtues of love, compassion, peace, fellowship, and unity.


Benjamin Koen  45:20

So the music meditative practice helps us to become aware, right, just like those signals coming through the body, if we ignore those stress signals, they become stronger, they turn into other things. But if we are in more of a state of awareness, self awareness, when we get that signal through the body, right, that would be like a little, let's say, shot in the War Within, I could be aware of that, pay attention to it and then participate in my emotion, biochemistry, belief, understanding view, right, and then I can actually shift it. So I think that's the same on a collective level, no matter where we are. We, as human beings need music, meditation experiences daily, I think, because no matter how the world is raging and going on with all of the, the wonders and tragedies. We need that as human beings, right. And I think that impacts not just the individual, but the world. So I kind of think the more the better, you know, the more we can, we can do, the better, of course, without making it dogmatic or, you know, suffering from the same problems that one would be trying to heal through a meditative process.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  46:51

Yeah, I think I think one of the great harms of COVID is that I, I have sensed that so many of us are just looping in our brains, and we are moving more and more into our minds as we become less and less embodied, I think, and that's been a harm that I've noticed, especially as we kind of loop on things that come across email and such that there is a restorative fact in kind of moving back into a sense of centeredness.


Benjamin Koen  47:20

100%, because you know, what happens when people are going through that loop. And I had a little of that experience in that 21 day quarantine in the tiny little hotel. If we aren't doing some practice, to nutrify our mind and heart our being, in other words, if we're not doing a meditative practice. There's nothing else to be aware of, other than all of the information from media or from whatever that's coming in. So if people aren't doing anything to engage their awareness, their consciousness, their beingness, right, then the only thing the brain can do is cycle that the information that it has, you know, so we have to give it the, the focus that we want. And this comes back to that initial point about music being a vehicle of meaning. So using musical meaning in meditation or as meditation. And here's the beautiful part, you can assign your own meaning to music, right? The the default position that you know, this music means that or the meaning that exists in music is just because you know, repetition that's the way we we have a notion about what something means. But we can create sounds music with our voice even just long tones, you know, which people that are not musicians or are it's so pleasing for people to use their voice, it's like a transformative thing when they're just making a loud, a long you know, gentle hum or vowel sound. But then using unfamiliar music, and then assigning the meaning you want to that music through a process of repetition, letting that coupling happen. And then that music carries that meaning into a person. So if we're not doing things that give more, you know, health building, and exciting and fun and beautiful and challenging content into our minds, then it's just gonna cycle a bunch of rubbish, you know, so it's, it's fun, you know, I think for me, the whole thing becomes very fun when you realize that it's, it's a creative process. And so the terrain of one's consciousness is just unlimited, so it's it's really getting to know a whole new realm within oneself. And that can be scary sometimes, you know, but it's nevertheless important.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  50:18

May we find the space to exit the loops of the here and now, making room for alternate spaces to reframe our being and our relations. May the step back, step out of time, and bring us a step toward healing and more meaningful and compassionate relation. Thanks to Dr. Benjamin Coen for his time, expertise and the generous use of audio files from his archive. His book, Beyond the Roof of the World Music prayer and healing in the Pamir Mountains is published by Oxford University Press. Other books, videos and articles referenced in this podcast can be found on our website. If you enjoy this podcast, I encourage you to leave a review on Apple podcasts such that others may find this space. Thank you so much for the generosity of your time in leaving your review.


Kevin Shorner-Johnson  51:23

This is the music and peacebuilding podcast hosted by Kevin Shorner-Johnson. At Elizabethtown College, we host a master of music education with an emphasis in peacebuilding. thinking deeply we reclaim space for connection and care. Join us at music

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