by Hugh Smiley
Watching David Suzuki’s Sonic Magic – the Wonder and Science of Sound, I was struck (like a bell) by the ferocious shift in big city ‘soundscapes’ over the last century. The ringing of church bells, once heard 40 blocks away, now travels only half a block, drowned out by the din of traffic and industrial noise. ‘Mindscapes’ too, reel with the internal racket of anxiety and stress. Seems like everyone deeply needs to talk and be heard, but who is there to listen?
OM : the world’s favourite yoga chant means something like ‘Sound of the Infinite’. Mantra (repetition of specific words and sounds to still the mind) is well-defined in India, but has been practiced in traditional societies worldwide. Medicine People chant with drums to help clients on their healing path. Canada’s First Nations elders lead sacred songs helping transform trauma (inherited from the painful legacy of racism and residential schools) into confidence, freedom from addiction and peace of mind.
OMMM is the pebble,
silence – the still surface of the pond,
sound waves and their data – the ripples,
aural study of the ripples – the gateway to understanding.
Many creation stories, e.g. Hindu, Christian, Viking, state that in the beginning was The Word (logos, vibration, frequency). Even physicists talk about the Big Bang, not the Big Paintbrush. This connection between creativity and production of sound out of primordial Silence is tantalizing to those of us curious about creating our purpose and with tools (ears, voice and other) to listen and utter. The throat chakra (energy centre), ‘organ of utterance’, lies between heart and head, so provides a key to vibrational unity and consonant balance and health. Simple exercises combining these elements can be extremely powerful for self-awareness and self-healing, building new neural pathways in our brains and psyches.
80% of conscious sensory intake in contemporary society is visual, but the auditory is finally threatening to give the former a run for its money. The emerging field of neuroscience demonstrates how music unlocks areas of the brain to promote learning, healing from trauma, various medical conditions as well as enhancing communication.
The ‘Naked Ear’, and …Before the Big Bang
…was Silence (the calm before the storm), we might surmise. Have you experienced the “music of the spheres” or sound of silence when relaxing in a very quiet place? There are teachings which encourage us to develop a subtle listening faculty to discern these subtle, exquisite melodies and rhythms not heard by the physical hearing faculty. Finland now markets itself to potential tourists as a quiet land where not much happens. It’s working! Whether choosing or being forced, many are reaching out not with arms but ears to find, often in Nature, the embrace of quietude in order to simplify, soothe and heal.
Conscious attention to sound as well as silence provides an effective tool for stress management and alleviating depression and burn-out (the modern plagues). Sound can stimulate, but also relay safety and emotional nourishment (imagine a mother singing to her infant). As contemporary adults, how can we take in, also then give out (through our words, sounds and songs) that which will heal, not hurt …soothe, not singe?
From Healing Power of Sound (HPS) to Authentic Voice and Dialogue
In the evolution of HPS we can take a journey through stages of increasing application:
Silence – being comfortable, still and listening deeply to the ‘Audible Life Stream’ or inner sound.
Sound – listening and producing all manner of sound: noise music, talk, etc.
Voice – discovering and cultivating the ‘authentic voice’, both natural physical voice and voicing our truth.
Dialogue – taking this voice into conversation, consultation, communication in general and cultivating ‘authentic dialogue’ in relationship and groups.
Listening globally – chanting locally
Thanks to the internet and YouTube, we get front row centre seats at the great planetary concert hall, can learn the secrets of sound and chakras, vibration, binaural study aids, the quiet language of plants and listen to the growing choir of sound and voice gurus. Mongolian overtone singing, once only heard in its homeland, now is enjoyed through concerts and workshops everywhere. In Toronto, meet-up groups as well as spiritual communities offer study and practice of the power of sound, voice and chanting as well as deep listening within the context of mindfulness meditation. One group using mindfulness to cultivate authentic voice and dialogue for personal and group healing meets near Bay and Bloor in Toronto. Another class explores emotional health through flamenco, the passionate Andalusian art form.
Through all this perhaps we can regain sacred healing ground, purifying perception by remembering how to hear through the ears of a child while singing with the throat of a sage.
Hugh Smiley offers counselling in Hakomi body-centred psychotherapy, creative voice work, mindfulness and meditation coaching (in his Toronto practice or via Skype).