The Transformative Power of Sound
Sound impacts us deeply, whether we are aware of it or not. When we are aware of that impact, however, we can embrace sound in new ways and intensify its positive impact.
The Day Sound Speaks to Us
We often assume sound is just a conveyer, so that the words we speak are more important than the sounds that we perceive when we hear these words. But what came before the word? Thought. With thought there is always an embedded feeling as our thinking and feeling are so closely tied together. When you begin to hear the meaning of words through the tone of them, sound begins to speak louder than words.
In this blog post, I'll be sharing Don Campbell's story the day this musician heard sound in a new way, changing the course of his life. I'll also share with you the day when sound expanded my possibilities and helped me leave a toxic situation.
Don Campbell's Story
Over breakfast I was reading a book on "Toning" by Laurel Elizabeth Keyes and Don Campbell, influential figures in quickening the modern sound healing movement.
In the foreword, Don shares a pivotal moment in his life in which he realizes the power of toning. Toning is a conscious creation of sound through vocalization that is not based on language and words. Though we create words with sound, there are vibrations of tone underlying words. In toning, we bypass words and go straight to the tone. Creating those tones intentionally without the words is a healing process and one that allows us to transcend the mind.
Don Campbell, composer, educator and author of "The Mozart Effect," explains that meeting Laurel Elizabeth Keyes in 1978 for the first time changed the way he would interact would sound.
Trained as a musician, Campbell sat and listened to Keyes tone, but the sounds pulled him out of listening as a musician and he listened more deeply. He says "[m]y musically educated ears were forced to become dormant while I opened myself to another world of sound. It was more of a feeling, an energetic blast of kindness, sweetness and genuine well-being," (p. 11).
After he returned from that life-changing experience, he began to hum a little bit each day during meditation, finding that "when my jaw was relaxed and my eyes were closed, the sound flowed and I began to feel a unique and balancing quality. After three to five minutes of Toning, I would have a clear mind similar to that of a long meditation session. When I toned with energy, I was immediately refreshed. Something important was happening to me. I had found the wellspring of sound," (p. 12).
The year I was born it so happens, 1979, Don's world seemingly began to fall apart. His father died without warning, his work stress was increasing, and his doctor found a lump one one side of his lungs. Shortly after diagnosis, his doctor died in a car accident.
With all of this thrown at him, he struggled for two years, and then suddenly, on New Year's Eve, 1981, his feelings rushed through and he "sat along with my rage, grief, frustration and fear and started to sob." For an hour he sounded his voice, sounding his grief and sadness along with his desire to survive. "The spectrum of these primitive and rich sounds were broad, the emotions were raw. These physical and mental releases were like the end of a long trance of pain and darkness. My inner life had been caged and it was breaking free through sounding."
"For the first two days of the New Year, I sat in meditation with a hum in my breath. I napped with a sound in my heart and head. I felt gloriously empty, tender, quiet. Then I listened to Bach, Mozart and Satya Sai Baba as I hummed. I moved, I did yoga, I toned. Then, I slept for a full day as if I were a boat in the ocean of sound," (p. 13).
The Movement of Sound
Reading Don's story was like pulling out a misplaced index card from an old dusty library catalogue file drawer locked in the library's basement. The Dewey Decimal classification card pointed to a similar human story situated on January 1, 2017. It was my own story that felt deeply connected to Don's story.
On January 1, 2017, I attended a Yoga Nidra session at the Yoga studio where I was teaching at the time. A fellow teacher and musician facilitated the session, primarily using Tibetan singing bowls and a gong as the sound medium to help us hold a heightened state of awareness. In Yoga Nidra, a guiding voice is typically used to direct the practitioner's awareness which allows for deeper realizations. At this studio, the facilitator guided the awareness towards the sounds themselves.
The practice on this day, I believed, would be like any other day: unpredictable and predictable at the same time. As a participant, I had experienced Yoga Nidra and sound healing. I thought I would come away feeling relaxed and fresh, maybe realizing something new about my life or about sound in general, and it was a great way to ready myself in welcoming the year of 2017. But I hadn't realized how the night before was going to affect Yoga Nidra session the next day, and how that session itself would spark a readiness in me to make a vital change in my life. I thought I would come back a little changed, but I didn't expect an inner revolution.
Backing up a little bit, it was 6 years ago from today, October 18, 2015, that I announced to my spouse that I no longer wanted to be married. But by the time Yoga Nidra on January 1, 2017 came around, we were still living in the same house with our children and the divorce was a long three months away. The divorce took almost 2.5 years to achieve and things were getting more and more tense as it approached.
On New Year's Eve, I was extremely disturbed by my spouse's behavior though I didn't express my upset. I wanted the day to end instead, a day that had its own painful quality for me at that time. Looking forward for the the morning to start afresh, I took the kids to bed early and slept as soon as possible.
The next day, Sunday morning, I headed to Yoga Nidra, enjoyed the session and returned home. Later that day, my spouse's behavior was degenerating once again to a disturbing level. I'll spare you the details. To clarify, though, he's not a violent person, but can be passive-aggressive and things were declining fast. Let's just say it got to the point of no return; a dramatic evening that I'd only ever seen in the movies. Expressing a level of anger I had never let myself convey, I nearly growled through my words.
Another first, hurriedly gathered some of our belongings, clothing, toys, books, and the children and I set off to my mother's house where we stayed for six months.
Within a few days of that dramatic exit, I slowly began to realize, as if coming out of a long slumber and realizing I was in my mother's home, that I was now free. The nightmare was subsiding and now I could make choices I never before allowed myself to acknowledge were possibilities.
In those days after the storm, I looked up the calendar of The Theosophical Society in Detroit. I had become a member some months before but had yet to attend a meeting. I gathered the courage easily, more easily than ever in my life, perhaps it didn't require courage at all, and I set out. The kids stayed with my mom and I went to my first meeting, second, third, fourth, and suddenly, I met Theosophy, one of the most important forces in my life today and ever since. Theosophy widened the presence and deepened the impact of Yoga in my life, and it helped me find other seekers who also chased after Truth. What's more, in that same short period of January 2017, I met Randy, now my beloved partner and closest friend.
Sound that Transforms
What does this have to do with Yoga Nidra? The deep state of relaxation I reached, encouraged by the tones and soothing vibrations of the singing bowls, brought me into a higher awareness. That level of existence helped me realize, once I returned to the same old life, that I could no longer support that old life. The external reality I had created had to now be edited to match the internal reality I had been creating - I was holding on too long. The next transformation had to occur and the grand exit was now.
The sounds moved me into a place that I needed to go - they seemed to have shifted my insides - my feelings, beliefs and my thoughts. I remember lying there, totally motionless and unable or unwilling to move, and sensing my body in a whole new way: I could feel my blood flowing; I could feel my palms and my arms breathing. As I inhaled, the space around my arms and palms drew inward toward them, and as I exhaled, the space around my arms and palms drew outward away from them. Eventually, in studying Theosophy, I came to realize that I was experiencing the subtle etheric body through which Prana flows, but at the time I had no idea what I was experiencing.
Having expanded beyond the boundary of what I typically perceived as my "physical body," I couldn't shrink back. I couldn't stay home any longer with the turmoil that had been building within my spouse. The level of emotional and physical toxicity could no longer continue, but I could not have known that until something inside of me was cleansed.
This is how I perceive that moment. And related to this moment are many others, also similar to Don's story which center around sounding the voice, but I wanted to share this particular moment with you because it's a memory that I tend to hide.
When I read Don's story I had to ask myself: "Why would I hide my memories, my own story, when, in fact, it was a driving force that led me to facilitating Yoga Nidra, sound healing, and using the voice for healing and spiritual elevation?"
When we listen to each other's life stories, these human examples, we are able to better see our own stories. That's the power of the story. And the power of sound, when used properly, is that it changes the patterns that cover the underlying truth, the tone of life itself. Sound helps us change the story, so that like the hero and the heroine, we develop, we learn, and we transform.
There is another reason I have kept this story to myself: I don't want anyone thinking that they'll have to face such a life-changing moment the day they experience Yoga Nidra or a sound healing session! If things are pent up, sure it's possible, but most of our change happens gradually in small increments. By this time in my life I had undergone so many little shifts that anything that was clearly not aligned to those shifts needed to be changed. This moment was a bit larger in the incremental ladder, maybe. Maybe it's size reflected the amount of time I had been putting things off. Nonetheless, it was necessary for me. I just don't want you to think it's going to be as difficult, though I cannot tell either way. Even if it is difficult, I tell you, the hardship pays off.
Resisting change only creates heavier hardship.
I accept change and I accept however change presents itself.
May sound promote the change I need, even if I don't know what that change is.