By Michael DeMaria, Ph.D

After 20 years of exploring the relationship between sound and healing it is still ‘difficult’ to write about it. Essentially, it is something to be experienced, like a early morning sunrise or a cool afternoon rain. The way music and sound promote healing is like opening the windows on a beautiful day and allowing fresh, cool, cleansing air into the house - like the greater forces that define our life moving into alignment - ultimately something organic that clears away that which has become stale and lifeless, while welcoming and inviting in refreshing feelings of peace and possibility. These ‘healing moments’ are as individual and unique as each person. For some, healing comes in the form of listening to the NAF, to another playing, and to still another making them.

What I have also learned is that these ‘healing moments’ can not be forced or manufactured, but they can be facilitated and tended like growing a garden or dressing a wound.  With the right atmosphere, intention, and care they can be invited and then the grace of healing that playing the NAF may give us or others can be remarkably consistent. Just as germinating a seed or tending a wound, although we are not the one’s ‘making’ the seed germinate or the wound heal, we can create the right conditions that make it much more likely that the miracle of growth and healing will occur.

I have been presenting workshops on sound and healing, particularly with the NAF now for a number of years and here are a few of the elements (conditions) that I have found help ‘facilitate’ healing:


Atmosphere is a wonderful word. Here I mean it in the sense of the surrounding spirit of a place, the general feeling tone of a particular setting. When playing for oneself or others, it is an often overlooked dimension although it helps ‘align’ all of ones playing. It does not mean that you won’t play if you don’t have the right atmosphere, but you are attentive to the power and importance of atmosphere.

In our culture we tend to think of atmosphere as an unnecessary aesthetic luxury - nothing could be further from the truth. It is our western word for the ‘Spirit’ of a place and a setting. Even when I do a workshop my first goal is to ask ‘what is the spirit’ of this place. If it’s not conducive to the ‘flow’ of healing work, one must put some time and energy into creating more ‘spirit.’ Whether it is the arrangement of chairs, the opening of a window, the dimming of lights, or smudging. This will help you ‘align’ with playing from that deep place inside that will help you with the next two elements.


Enough can never be said about intention. Throughout all cultures and all traditions, one point everyone agrees with is that nothing can happen without the proper intention. The problem I find most people have with this word is that they ‘think’ about it as a set of ‘thoughts.’ To say in one’s mind, "I intend to help promote and facilitate healing’ can be helpful; but if it’s not emerging from a ‘felt sense’ of heart within, it won’t have any effect. Healing is not a state of mind, but a state of being; said another way, not 'what' we play, but 'how'.

The best preparation for learning about intention is to think of it as ‘inner atmosphere’. Many players will describe a ‘place’ which they go to when they play; there is much that could be shared on this subject, but it suffices to say for now that the best apprenticeship in learning about developing the proper intention (inner atmosphere or alignment) is to have helped heal yourself through playing. If you go to the flute to ‘heal’ after a hard day, or to play to rejuvenate to release some pain, hurt or fear inside this is the best apprenticeship one could have in learning how to play for others. This is crucial in discovering the place you go inside that will be the 'place' you take other's too when you play.  This is a very different kind of practice than learning all the notes to a particular song. For each person this is different and unique, but chances are if you are playing ‘from a place within’ that puts you in a state of peace and healing, it will have this effect on others.  I call it playing from the inside-out as opposed to the outside-in. That is, it is something that involves the whole self and the center of that self is the heart. Which brings us to the next and last element:


I have variously used a number of words to describe this element (e.g., care), but I am more and more finding myself using the word "Heart" to describe this central ‘element’ that contributes to ‘healing.’ As you have also noticed these elements build on one another. When we discuss playing with and from the heart I am referring to the qualities of ‘genuineness, sincerity, wholeness and care’. Intention is not sufficient, if that intention is not sincerely emerging from the depths of your own heart. We know people who are in touch with their feelings (the heart dimension) and are able to identify, own and express their feelings are the one’s that grow. In psychology, we call this the ‘felt sense’. Unfortunately, today most people are so disconnected from their hearts they don’t even know what they feel. This is a common situation when people come into therapy or seek ‘healing.’ The NAF is such an incredible instrument because it helps people connect to their ‘heart’ (the feeling dimension) in a powerful way - facilitating the acknowledgment, expression and release of their feelings.

It is now estimated that 98 percent of medical maladies can be traced back to ‘stress’. We also now that the central feature of stress is our inability to express our feelings and emotions in a healthy way.  To do so promotes peace in our hearts.   When there is peace in our hearts, stress melts away. So many of us grew up with such ‘heart wounding’ there is pain there initially when people stop to just ‘be.’ That is why the flute works on a number of levels - 1) people stop to listen because it resonates and 'calls forth' feelings often hidden that have been longing to be heard and expressed. 2) the bittersweet plaintive call reminds them of their own longing for wholeness and healing, and 3) often that is when the tears that may be hiding beneath the ‘doing’ lifestyle can come to the surface. Tears are always a sign of ‘soul’ returning to the ‘house of the heart’ - and therefore a sign of healing - of recovering soul. In the presence of listening or playing the NAF we are no longer seeking, but rather being found by the great Heart of creation - and we can give some time to ‘living from the heart.’ Where we can stop the merry-go-round of life and ‘just be’ and know in that precious moment of playing or listening that we are ‘enough’ just as we are.

The heart is the balancing point of heaven and earth, self and other, joy and sorrow, night and day. The heart is the organ of connection to what I have elsewhere called, "The Vital Connection"(Ever Flowing On, 2001) - it is the connection to all-that-is. The flute being an instrument made out of wood (earth) and played with our breath (air) is a beautiful balancing of the parts of us that want to ‘fly free’ and the part of us that needs to be grounded. The NAF is unique in it’s ability to balance both of these different dimensions of existence, and that is the deeper meaning of what I’m trying to express with the word heart. The NAF reminds us to ‘get out of our head and into our hearts.’ That is why it evokes emotion, by both bringing up the grief and simultaneously soothing it, like a warm compress bringing out the poison and cleansing the wound all at once.

The Cherokee say, ‘our first teacher is our own heart." - unfortunately in modern Western culture we have left that teacher far behind. There is not the time or space to go into the ‘great heart split’ that occurred in Western culture over the last 2000 years, but it suffices to say that it is rampant today - we have not lost our minds - it is our hearts we have lost. Thankfully, slowly but surely the renaissance of the Native American Flute is helping people rediscover their first teacher one heart at a time.

There is much more to say on the subject, but this is a good beginning. One thing is for sure, if you simply apply these three elements to your playing even though you may not make the lame walk, you can always rest assured that you have brought some peace and beauty into the world, and in a world full of torment and suffering this is much.

Dr. Michael DeMaria is a clinical psychologist and founder and director of ONTOS : A center for being. He has 20 years of experience helping guide other’s on their life journeys and is the author of Ever Flowing On: on being and becoming oneself, and has a newly released CD called The River, which is an ambient journey down the river of sound - taking the listener on a healing journey from sunrise on one day through nightfall, midnight and sunrise the next. Both are available from his website: www.ontos.org or by calling 850-438-0320.

Release info:
Title: The River
Artist: Michael DeMaria
Label: Natura
Contact:   http://www.ontos.org/Store_music.htm   email theriver@ontos.org, or call 850-438-0320;
Description:   Take a journey down the river of ambient sound with clinical psychologist Dr. Michael DeMaria.  This CD is based on 25 years of research into the use of sound for healing.  Ideal for massage, yoga or anytime the world has become too much and you need to flow again.
"Music for me has always been my way of praying.  These are tone prayers, wrought out of a deep sense of reverence for the experience of being alive.  Our lives truly are a river we have never been down before, full of mystery, awe, and wonder.   On the river of life, from sunrise to sunset, from midnight to dawn, we are perpetually learning about living and dying, being and becoming, when to paddle and when to glide...ultimately to not resist nor push the current, but rather trust the flow.  Ultimately, learning about accepting what comes our way with grace...May the river of life always flow through your heart...."
"Water never tires of flowing."
- African Proverb
Michael B. DeMaria, Ph.D.
ONTOS: A Center for Being
512 E. Zaragoza St.
Pensacola, FL 32501
(850) 438-0320 (voice)
(850) 438-5972 (fax)

Next Page

©Voices and Visions