Power of Silence

     I remember the first time I experienced total silence. Perhaps I had experienced it as a child, but as a conscious adult, this was my first time. I was visiting a friend in Southern California, in a home where I would soon be living. When I went to bed, I realized I had not brought my fan. I sleep with fans. Always have. The fan blocks out any noise that keeps me awake or occupied – i.e., loud neighbors, house settling, whatever. Well, not only did I not hear the sound of my fan, I heard nothing.
     NOTHING – as in SILENCE.
     It was a loud buzzing in my ear. Suddenly I was wide awake. The silence was everywhere. How did it make me feel? Scared. Uncomfortable. I thought of the song by Simon and Garfunkel:
Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.
    Was I ready for a vision from the silence? I don't remember a vision. I don't remember what I did. I just remember the silence and a realization that silence is powerful. Many years have passed and I have learned a lot about silence since then.
     The most basic lesson around silence is learning to not speak. So often we feel a need to say something when really the most powerful response is silence. It took quite a few times of wishing I'd remained quiet to learn this. In the silence of a conversation, many powerful things can be felt and communicated.
     During my training for regression certification after completing my hypnosis training, the instructor regressed a student to when he was still in the womb. The student described hearing his parents argue as well as feeling a moment when his father kicked his mother. His father did not want a child. In the womb, the student experienced his mother’s feelings of powerlessness and sadness. When he entered the birth canal, he began to panic and started crying - not because of sound, but because of the silence. He thought that he had killed his mother. Yet, out of that silence, came his birth.
     Much of the healing that takes place in sound healing sessions takes place in the silence. When using bowls, voice or music, a field is created that stretches long past the sound and it is important for that field to be experienced in the healing process. When you are at a live concert, notice how at the end of a performance, the emotions permeate and if we didn’t clap, we could experience a continuation of the field created by the music. Clapping is our way of breaking the “spell”. Performers of healing music often request the audience to not clap for that reason.
     Today, I call silence the Void. From the Void comes my unrealized dreams and my unconquered demons. In my studies with a Lakota Medicine Woman, I have visited the Void many times. I have been rebirthed over and over. It still scares me at times. I wonder how many times I can be reborn in one lifetime. I wonder when I will become as comfortable with my creations as I am with my failings.
     As this was my next blog, I decided to attend a silent sitting with a Swami. I met her last week and realized it was no coincidence. It was comfortable, sitting in silence with others. I realized that I had come a long way in making friends with the sound of silence.
     I'll end with the saying on her website::
Silence is the final and ultimate teaching
and the final and ultimate teacher.
~ Adyashanti

Our Noisy World

     One day my sister came over to visit me. We sat out on the screened back porch on a beautiful spring day. As we were visiting, I watched my happy, chilled sister move into an agitated, unhappy individual. No, it wasn't the conversation. It was the noise of a leaf blower coming from a few houses down. I must say I was surprised that I didn't join her in her angst but for some reason that day, the noise wasn't bothering me.
     The fact is we live in a noisy world - airplanes, cars, motorcycles, leaf blowers, hair dryers, hand dryers, people talking on their cell phone, construction noise…the list is endless. What does that mean to us?
     James D’Angelo observes in The Healing Power of the Human Voice: “We can choose to turn off a radio but not to stop the sound of traffic on the high street. The sounds of our world have their own quality and their absorption into our bodies, minds, and spirits will produce either positive or negative effects which are often not detected.”
     I believe most of us are aware of the effect of loud noise on our hearing.  But what about the effects we aren't aware of. The brain regulates our internal system through homeostasis. Homeostasis is the internal balance of a system and for humans the balance of this system is essential to good health. Homeostasis stabilizes our internal environment, including our blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar levels and temperature.
     When we are assaulted by loud noise, our internal balance, homeostasis, is disrupted and even without our awareness, our body responds. These responses can include changes in our blood pressure, release of stress hormones, adrenalin, moving us into fight or flight. The activation of fight–flight and defeat reactions is thought to involve subcortical regions of the brain like the hypothalamus, which has inputs to the autonomic nervous system, the endocrine system, and the limbic system.
     So noise can throw us completely out of balance physiologically. When we don't return to baseline balance, we can suppress our immune system and create the beginnings of disease.  When noise disrupts our sleep cycle it has profound effects on our health. And as we age, our ability to restore homeostasis becomes even more difficult.
     What about our emotional response to a sound. Everyone responds differently to noise. One person’s symphony may be another person’s cacophony. Emotional responses can be based on factors such as  memory association, neurological conditions, or our current emotional state. For instance, the opening story about a leaf blowing irritating my sister but not myself on that particular day. Some days a leaf blower can drive me mad.
     Our world will continue to be noisy and perhaps get even noisier. I have been going to a retreat center in the north Georgia mountains for about 11 years. I record a lot of nature sounds there and 2 years ago, realized that it is now in a flight path. The sound of planes is prevalent and I must say, it saddens me greatly. Noise is also disruptive to animals in our natural environments, both on land and in our oceans, as many of them communicate with sound.
     There is a discipline today called archaeoacoustics. Acoustic ecologists have begun archiving sounds of nature. Instead of images, they collect sounds “caught in the brief intervals of modern life before the cacophony of airplanes and jets, air conditioners and automobiles, music machines and gardening equipment kicks in.” Jeff Rice, a librarian at the University of Utah, is often up and recording a soundscape in the early morning hours, such as a moose stomping across a stream in Utah or the crickets in Range Creek, all helping to preserve an aural understanding of the world from an archaeological perspective.
     So how do we deal with our noisy world? We can incorporate noise in a positive way. Jonathan Goldman, a sound healer,  describes doing a workshop on sound healing and the room where the event took place had a loud hum from the electrical system. He describes the initial frustration caused by it and how he decided to use that frequency in a toning exercise rather than being irritated by it. This is certainly an example of making the best of a noisy world.
     Awareness is the beginning. Awareness of sounds can change how we deal with them so that we can minimize negative responses. Realizing that loud or sudden noises create imbalance allows us the opportunity to consciously return to our baseline. We can do deep breathing, listen to some peaceful music if possible, chant or tone a soothing syllable. Basically, giving ourselves a moment to acknowledge and recover on a physiological as well as psychological level.
     I have chosen on more than one occasion to remove myself from a location because of noise. As I have become aware of how I am being affected by my sound environment, my choices change and when I cannot remove myself, or a sudden explosion of noise occurs, I make sure I allow myself the chance to acknowledge its effect and create some space to bring myself back into balance.
     Eventually I will hear my neighbor's leaf blower again. Beyond wondering whatever happened to rakes, I know that I will have some choices to make about its effect on my happiness. It is that awareness that can help grant us all some peace of mind and body in our noisy world.

Finding Your Voice

     In the previous post, I spoke of the power of sound through music, the singing bowls and nature. Sometimes though, these may not be available to us. But there is one sound making that is always with us - our own voice. The use of voice for healing and sacred communion is ageless.
     Humans make sounds all the time, for a wide variety of reasons. First, of course is the sound of the spoken word. A language to communicate to each other, and we not only use words, we use volume, accentuation, and cadence to convey emotion.
     Think about some of the sounds you make every day beyond the spoken word. When you hit your finger with a hammer, you yell. When you're settling down in your favorite chair after a long day, you sigh. When you're happy, you hum. When you're working out or doing a physical activity, you may grunt or groan. The list goes on. Sound making is part of our daily life.
     What we might not realize is that making sound with our voice can actually help our physical being. Studies show that chanting can lower our blood pressure, slow our heartbeat and brain waves. Toning is the elongated sounding of a vowel sound such as AH, OH, OOO or it can change into other sounds. It is not singing, it is more free form. There is no right note and anyone can do it. Toning utilizes breath and breath is life itself. Breath is a powerful tool for transformation. Often when someone is upset or stressed, deep breathing can restore calmness as it moves the life force throughout the body. With sound, we can learn to immediately relax tension, release stress and pain, restore homeostasis to the body.
     Not only can we create physical transformation with our voice, we are able to use sacred vowels and mantras with intention to connect to our deeper nature and experience Divine connection. Sacred sound is found in most religions, whether it be hymns, mantras, sacred vowels or chants.
     The beauty of our own voice as a healing modality is it is free and we have access to it all the time. I use humming a lot during a stressful moment to just center and relax. I had a client who was having difficulty after a minor car accident. She had to drive for her job and she was having mini-anxiety attacks every time she got in her car. We worked on her toning the AH vowel as she was driving. What happened is that she would begin to breathe, she would focus on making the sound and center her energy there instead of on her anxiety.
     As you begin to work with making sounds with intention, you can actually begin to move the sound throughout your body, focusing on areas that may be experiencing pain or blockage. Certain vowel sounds such as EEE focus in the head, AH in the heart and OM in the solar plexus. If you work with chakras, you can find several teachings on the sounds associated with each chakra.
     In meditation classes, I use the Tibetan Warrior Syllables from Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche. It has been interesting to observe how difficult it is for some participants to make sound. When they begin to use toning, they can get in touch with how they have "lost their voice" - perhaps in a relationship, in a work situation or within their own being. As they open to making sounds it often times translates into finding their voices in other areas of their lives.
     I think about a room of 4 year olds. If you ask them, "How many of you sing?" most of them will raise their hands without hesitation. Ask that same group as adults, and maybe 2 or 3 will raise their hands. We give away our voice and the power of our own healing sounds for many reasons, but, regardless of the reason, today is a good day to rediscover this powerful healing modality.

The Power of Sound

     Today I was listening to Tom Kenyon, a sound healer based in Seattle, WA. Oh my, how moved I was.  I was not surprised by this. The first time I listened to him was about 7 years ago and I lay on my massage table weeping. Which is to say, he speaks to me.
     That is the power of sound.
     It is likely that you have experienced the power that music has to support or change your mood or feelings. When we are sad, we play a certain song. It is a different song than the one we play when we are happy. There is a concept known to music therapists called the ISO principle. This is a concept according to which a patient's musical mood can be matched to help them become aware of thoughts and feelings. The aim is to meet the person where they are and then gradually work to redirect them towards a different feeling state.
     I worked with a client who was quite sad. For 15 minutes, I played a series of pieces on the piano, starting with one that I believe was entitled Melancholy. I ended with a rather upbeat beautiful piece and by this time, the client was smiling. It would not have worked if I had started right in with the upbeat piece we ended on.
     The bowls are quite adept at helping client's access their feelings. During a bowl session a client began crying and retrieving childhood memories and feelings and was able to get in touch with some long standing emotional content. During the post session, she talked about how the bowls sounded like church bells from her childhood which prompted her exposure to these deep seated memories.
    At this point, I want to address that everyone is different. What sounds good to one person may or may not sound good to another. I have started listening to music or sounds that were marketed as "calming, meditative sounds" and couldn't get my headphones off fast enough. When I give bowl concerts, I can sometimes watch someone who is actually being annoyed by the sound of the bowls, while the rest of the room is sinking into alpha and theta brainwave states. I had a person come up to me after one who said, "Oh my gosh, when you played that crystal bowl, I wanted to get up and leave. But I sat through it and then felt so much better when you played the singing bowls."
     These are just a few examples of the therapeutic use of sound and music. But, we are surrounded by sound all the time. It is speaking to you on some level, whether it is at a conscious or subconscious level. So if we look at how powerful the effects of sound are, it behooves us to become conscious of our sound environment and how we can utilize it to promote positive sound space in our lives.
     I think of the sounds of my home, my old dog settling down on his bed with his grunts and sighs. It makes me smile. At night, I sleep with an old box fan - for several reasons. I grew up in Florida and there was no air condition then, so everyone had a fan in their room. As an adult living in noisy metropolitan areas, I have found the hum of a fan not only a lovely childhood memory, but a way to block sounds that may keep me awake. I live about 3 miles from a railroad track and enjoy the sounds of trains clacking along. Something about that sound just makes me happy and content feeling.
     Last week I was hiking and I passed quite a few people with earbuds in. I understand that music can "pump you up," and so these people were definitely creating their workout mode. When I hike, I prefer to access a different mode. I am getting in touch with nature, I am grounding with Earth and accessing her voice. I heard a loud rustling of leaves and told my hiking partner, who was able to then see several deer run across the path and into the woods. She was so delighted to have seen them.
     We can't control the sound environment when in public places. I have left places because the noise or the music grated on me. But I have also spoken with restaurant owners and other places of business about their music and what soundscape they are wanting to create.
     Take the time to listen to your environment. Does it please you? Does it irritate you? Is there something you can change to help you feel better, happier, peaceful.  Can you play music instead of having the television on? Can you open the windows and hear the sounds of nature?
      Right now I'm thinking of a Beach Boys song - Good, good, good, good vibrations. That one will be in my head for the rest of the day. Go ahead, find your favorite song and feel the good vibrations of your own soundscape!   



     I would like to introduce some definitions and terminology and also establish the difference between sound and music. Music is an arrangement of sounds with different patterns and constructs, including melody, harmony and rhythm. When you listen to a band or a song on the radio, you are listening to music.
     For sound healing, sounds are used that are not necessarily musical, although they can be pleasant and calming. When I use the term sound, I can be referring to a single tone created by my voice or the sound generated by striking a bowl. For sound healing, frequency can be used to describe a vibration that is not necessarily heard but felt through bodily application such as placing the tuning fork on the body.
     Basically, all music is sound, but all sounds are not necessarily music. For both, the following definitions apply.
     Sound is a wave and these waves are measured by how many occur during a specific time frame. Sound is measured in hertz (Hz) which describes how many cycles occur in one second and this is called its frequency. So a tone that has a frequency of 514 Hz is producing 514 cycles per second. (See diagram below)

     The range of human hearing is approximately 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. To give you a relative understanding, the sound of the average male speaking voice is around 110 Hz and the average female speaking voice is around 220 Hz.
     The lower the frequency, the lower the sound, and that introduces another term, pitch. Pitch is what most musicians use to describe the fundamental frequency of a tone. An interesting phenomenon of pitch is that it is purely a psychological construct, a mental representation of the frequency of a sound. Sound waves themselves do not have pitch, it takes our human brain to map them to the internal quality we call pitch.
     We use notes to represent the pitch of a tone. When you see the note A on a sheet of music, you are seeing a representation of a tone of 440 Hz. Tone and note are used interchangeably, but tone is primarily used in sound healing to describe frequency.
     An important component of sound is its loudness or amplitude. Loudness measures the intensity or sonic energy of a sound and is measured in units called decibels (db). The decibel level of a whisper is about 20 db and the level of a loud rock band is around 105 db. Continued exposure to sounds above 100 db can lead to hearing loss, which is something to consider if you listen to music at high volumes regularly.
     Earlier, I discussed music as having rhythm. Rhythm is a crucial part of what turns sound into music. Rhythm refers to the length of a note and the relationship between the length of one note and another and usually establishes a rhythm pattern. Rhythm and tempo are related concepts and often confused, as tempo is the pace of a musical piece or the rate you tap your foot to a piece of music. Tempo is also a major factor in conveying emotion. Typically, a song with a fast tempo is thought of as happy or exciting and songs with slower tempos as sad or pensive.
     Every tone has what is called a fundamental frequency. But there is also what we call overtones. When I play a note on the piano, for example A, you are actually hearing many pitches at once, not just a single pitch. The one with the slowest vibrational rate or lowest pitch, in this case A, is the fundamental frequency and is what we hear most easily. The other pitches are called the overtones.
     Overtones give us the timbre or tone quality of a sound and allow us to identify what we are hearing. Even if they have the same fundamental frequency, the sound of a lion roar and a human scream are different because of their overtones.
     In sound healing, when we talk about fundamental frequencies, we’re talking about resonance. A resonant frequency is the natural frequency of the vibration of an object. Every object has a fundamental resonance, each cell in our body, each organ, has its own resonant frequency. Resonance is the probably the most important principle of sound healing.
     Some important properties of resonance are: It is easy to get an object to vibrate at its resonant frequencies, hard to get it to vibrate at other frequencies. A vibrating object will pick out its resonant frequencies from a complex excitation and vibrate at those frequencies, essentially "filtering out" other frequencies present in the excitation.
     Through entrainment, we can affect the resonance of an object. Entrainment, or forced resonance, is when a vibrating object begins to vibrate at a stronger vibrational rate of an object near it, so that eventually, all are at the same vibrational rate. This term was first used by Christian Huygen in 1666 when he noticed that two pendulum clocks would fall into the same rhythm when placed side by side and that this continued to happen in subsequent experiments. Entrainment is the basis of sound healing.
     Sympathetic resonance, or free resonance, is when an object with the same vibrational frequency begins to resonate with a like vibration near it. This has been shown when two tuning forks of the same frequency are placed next to one another and one is struck, the other will begin vibrating even though it was not struck.
     Another example of resonance at work and a different application for sound healing can be seen when an opera singer is able to break a glass with their voice. If a singer can match the resonant frequency of the glass with enough amplitude, it will shatter the glass.
     In another blog, I will talk about brainwaves and how sound affects our brainwave states and the results of a small study Atlanta Sound Healing conducted on the bowls and brainwaves.