Where words fail, music speaks. — Hans Christian Andersen- This piece on how music affects the brain and mood is excerpted with permission from The Secret Language of the Heart … Read more “Music & the Brain: The Fascinating Ways Music Affects Your Mood and Mind”
Bodywork and Living by one’s own authority as I have experienced it, is linked and obvious. Why define it? Defend it? Sometimes when I see massage listed… Read more “In Defense of Massage”
BUILDING A SOUND SELF
Hope Horton and Gabrielle Laden
It was an early evening in November. I was addressing a group of about a dozen physicians and healing arts professionals about the healing power of sound, vibration, and music. We were listening to short examples of recorded sound ranging from mountain streams to classical music to hard rock, simply to notice the effect of these sounds on our body, emotions, memory, or mind. Then I picked up a Tibetan singing bowl, tapping it gently with a felt mallet, and circulated through the room for a minute or so. Something happened in the room. Everyone became very still. Our breathing slowed and our minds quieted. We all noticed the change and decided to bask in this calm and present state for a few moments. When we continued, the level of our interaction was deeper and richer. The sound of the bowl seemed to crystalize our collective intentions. We started speaking – and listening – from our hearts. ~HH
Sound: the Invisible Healer
For several hundred years, humankind has been dominated by the notion of a mechanistic universe that is at root logical, rational, a predictable. From the physics of Newton to the philosophy of Decartes, we have attempted to measure, codify, and think our way through life, certain that if only we know enough or try hard enough, we can control ourselves and our environments. This approach has led to astounding discoveries and improvements in science, healthcare, and social institutions. However, in our pursuit of safety, predictability, and progress we have lost both our muse and our music.
When science and philosophy were still joined at the root in the ancient world, the concept that the universe is musical, harmonious, and interconnected was not merely poetry or metaphor, it was Truth. From the moment that the Greek philosopher Pythagoras discovered the pure mathematics of music in the 5th century BC, the greatest minds in history have attempted to codify the harmony of the spheres. Johannes Kepler, the 16th-century astronomer responsible for determining the laws of planetary motion, was convinced that the relationship between the planets – indeed everything in the universe – was harmonic in nature. This ancient thread in science and philosophy was lost in the modern shuffle, and is now thought of as merely poetical or metaphoric.
Music was also considered to be the most sacred of the arts. In the words of Hazrat Inayat Khan, the great Sufi master, “Divine sound is the cause of all manifestation. The knower of the mystery of sound knows the mystery of the whole universe.” Many spiritual traditions posit that sound was the original creative force of the universe and that the impulse of all creation is available to us through sound. Music and sound are used in every spiritual tradition to uplift us and to bridge the world of the mundane and the divine. In shamanic traditions, drumming produces altered states of consciousness that lift the veil to the spirit world.
Sound has been believed to exert incredible power in the physical world. Information from Egyptian and Tibetan streams suggest that focused beams of sounds were used, literally, to move mountains. This may not be so far-fetched. Today, ultrasound, or sound that is too high for our ears to hear, is routinely used to dissolve kidney stones and has recently been shown to be instrumental in breaking up stroke-inducing blood clots in the brain.
This brings us to recent discoveries in quantum physics, Superstring Theory, and Zero Point Field Theory that suggest that vibration is indeed at the very heart of everything. And vibration is musical. Brian Green, in The Elegant Universe, presents a model of the universe that suggests that elementary particles are tiny vibrating strings. “Differences between the particles arise because their respective strings undergo different resonant vibrational patterns. What appear to be different elementary particles are actually different “notes” on a fundamental string. The universe – being composed of an enormous number of these vibrating strings – is akin to a cosmic symphony.”
Wave forms, frequencies, and energy fields permeate the universe from the smallest to the largest manifestations. Sub-atomic particles, molecules, living cells, tangible objects, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and states of consciousness are at root the same thing – frequencies of vibration that interact with and affect each other at every level. And frequencies of vibration make sounds, whether we can hear them or not, that surround and permeate our being on every level in every moment of our lives.
Each of us has a relationship with sound, vibration, and music that is uniquely our own. On the most basic level, we each carry a signature sound, made up of all of the spinning, vibrating, whooshing, whirring, flowing, beating, thinking, and flowing parts of our body, mind, emotions, and spirit. This sound changes from moment to moment, sometimes consonant, sometimes dissonant, depending upon our health, circumstances, and attitudes. When discord prevails, we feel “off key,” “out of tune,” or “unsound” and we try to restore ourselves to harmony in some way.
Harmony is our natural state. The body seeks homeostasis in all of its systems, continuously compensating to correct imbalances large and small. We are uncomfortable with pain, conflict, unpleasant emotions, and “cognitive dissonance,” feeling relief when the pain goes way, relationships are restored, feelings are cleared, and problems are resolved. When we can learn to feel and shift the vibratory frequencies that we carry related to all aspects of life, we can chart and sustain a course to health, wholeness, peace, and attunement with all that is.
If sound, vibration, and music truly are at the heart of everything that is, how can we harness this knowledge to improve our lives, our health, our relationships, and spiritual connection? When something is sound, it is whole, secure, healthy, solid, dependable, and trustworthy. Because we are made of vibration, we can easily return to our essential “soundness” by using different types of sound, coupled with awareness and intention. As the saying by William Congreave goes, “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” When we use sound, music, and vibration, it is important to consider what we want to accomplish and then notice what actually happens along the way.
We can begin by listening. The range of music is as wide as human culture and imagination, extending from the sounds of nature, drumming and chanting, to singing, playing instruments, and striking bowls and gongs. It can energize, relax, inspire, touch, and move each of us in unique ways. It is important to honor our own responses to what we are hearing, rather than the preferences or opinions of others.
Our most intimate and effective sound healing tool is our own voice. Our voice is a mirror of our state of being, yet many of us are reluctant to fully use it. Perhaps we have been judged as children as being “tone deaf” or told to “be seen and not heard.” As we learn to open and use our voice through self-created sound, our whole composition begins to shift and change.
“Ken’s” story illustrates this. As a child, Ken loved to sing and play the piano. He would sing constantly and especially liked to sing himself to sleep. But Ken’s songs annoyed his father, who would angrily tell Ken to be quiet. At the dinner table, his father would also silence Ken’s ideas and opinions. Ken learned that his expressions were not acceptable and that it was best to keep his mouth shut. Ken began exploring work with sound out of a desire to re-connect with his own voice and inner beauty and return to his original childhood impulse for joyous, spontaneous self-expression. As his voice becomes richer and fuller, he is reconnecting with himself and his power and is opening up in unexpected ways. He says that working with sound feels like “coming home.”
Somewhere deep in our being we innately understand the language of sound, of vibration. We are hard-wired for it from the first cry to the last breath. The simple, unforced quality of self-created sound is that it breaks all barriers, without effort. We find ourselves “there” when we don’t even know what “there” is.
Now, just do it. Close your eyes, breathe, relax, and then gently begin to sound. . . . Just whatever wants to happen. Follow it, let it take you for a few minutes, far in and far out and back again to your center. Just there. Then be silent and listen to the quiet being that is still softly vibrating, living life. Your Sound Self.
Sound is a ready-made toolkit, freely available to everyone that packs immediate and powerful results. Try these simple methods for shifting your vibration into a more harmonious and healing state.
- Make spontaneous sounds throughout the day. If something hurts, say “ouch.” If something pleases you, laugh out loud. If you have to sneeze, do it as loudly as you can. These kinds of sounds help our bodies to release and re-balance. Stifling them adds to the build-up.
- Notice the sounds in your environment. What effect do they have on you? What can you do to minimize sounds that make you feel on edge and maximize sounds that nourish you?
- Use music with more awareness. Notice how you are feeling. Are you stressed? Tired? Irritated? How would you like to be feeling? Choose music that will help promote the desired state.
- Sing in the shower. Making sounds first thing in the morning can help us to clear out old energy and make space for something new and fresh to enter. Besides, it’s fun!
- Play an instrument, any instrument. Told you have no musical talent? Get a drum and play along with your favorite CD. Strike a singing bowl, or a pair of tuning forks. Start to experiment. See what happens to your joy and creativity in life.
- Be quiet. Spend some time in silence, just listening to yourself. Do you hear your heart beating, your nervous system singing, your stomach gurgling, your breathing moving in and out? How does it feel to just listen to your own sounds?
- Choose your words carefully. Words are sound, too. Are you creating harmony or discord by what you say and how you say it? Really listen to yourself. Is that what you want to put out? If not, stop and change it.
- Listen to others. Are there people that you just can’t hear? Relax and experiment with finding the places in you that resonate with them. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself, and them.
- Get moving to music. Feeling stuck? Then MOVE. Put on some fine, time-tested music. Really listen and start to let the music move you. Notice your own resistance and start to play with it. After a few minutes, you won’t be the same.
- Hum where it hurts. If you have a pain in your body or are experiencing an uncomfortable emotion, hum into it softly and very gently, with lots of love. Feel the vibrations caused by your own voice. Allow the pain to relax and start flowing again.
Originally published in Healing Arts, Dane County, 2005-6