What is the relationship between sound and spirit? It’s a question I think about a lot, because for me, over the last 20 years or so, sound has often served as a channel for accessing higher and deeper states of awareness. Often I find myself wondering, what is sound anyways?
One of my first intuitions that there was something mysterious beyond this world came when I was a freshman in college, and it came like a whisper from another dimension. I was sitting out on my front stoop in the Georgia twilight, when it grew very quiet and still and I felt something tugging on my awareness. Suddenly my attention became very focused and it was as if there was a sound under all the other sounds that I could just barely hear. It pulled on my awareness and it had a magnetic quality, but I was sure that it was a sound. And yet to hear it, I had to listen with a different part of myself than just my auditory senses. I had to martial every single bit of myself to hear it, like tuning in to a different frequency, and I gleaned pretty quickly that something more than just hearing was happening. It was more like communing.
A few days later, I asked a good friend of mine, a disciple of the great boundary breaking sage Sri Chimnoy, about this experience. He said to me, “What you are describing is meditation—yeah, that’s meditation!” I didn’t know much about meditation at the time, but I remember that this made sense to me when he said it. I was compelled by the magnetic quality of that sound, and I wanted to experience more of it! It seemed like a mini-miracle to my materialistic self at the time that there was this kind of omni-present phenomenon that I could tune into if I just listened with all of my being.
That same year I had my first real enlightenment experience. Through a series of choices and events, something big had happened to me, and for about three months I was in an altered state – filled with a clarity, conviction, and singularity that I had never known before. And interestingly, out of the blue, I became obsessed with listening to Jazz. And in particular, the Jazz-fusion music created by Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis. Every day at the University Library, I would check out the album by Miles called Bitches Brew and Hancock’s Empyrean Isles and listen while I studied.
Every time I listened, these albums seemed to reawaken that powerful state of consciousness and keep it going and so they became my constant companions. Before that time, I really didn’t like Jazz-fusion at all and couldn’t relate to it. Now, suddenly, I couldn’t be away from these sonic Masters for long without feeling diminished. There was something in the freedom and spontaneity of that music that unlocked my being and set me free.
When I met Andrew Cohen and started to practice his instructions on meditation, I started to notice that on retreats, in particularly deep states of consciousness, there was an experience of transparency between self and sound. Hearing a bird in the distance, or the bells on the collars of the goats grazing in the early evening, these sounds seemed to carry me beyond myself into a huge space. I was transported by the sound, and more than that, the experience of these sounds was delightful, tantalizing, promising and totally fulfilling all at once – perfect.
Now, after years of practice, this is a regular experience. I notice that as I let everything go, I drop into a deeper state of being and I experience sound not as an external event, but something that is both within and without. In the context of Being and meditation, it is as though I am external to nothing and nothing seems to be outside of me. In this letting go process, something gets removed between you and everything, and yet I feel more fundamentally me than at any other time.
Sitting in perfect silence and stillness, deep in meditation, our attention travels outward and inward, infinitely and all at once. The whole Cosmos is so close, there is no distance at all, there is only perfect union with everything. In this context, silence and the ultimately compelling sound of silence is synonymous with meditation. It is a place of complete awe and wonder.
So what does it all mean about who we are and how we should live? There is no doubt in my mind that sound and spirit work together in profound and mysterious ways. Some obvious points; sound deeply affects the substance and condition of our consciousness – arousing it (a jazz fusion jam), focusing it (the OM under everything), expanding it (the sounds of nature). And because we are talking about sound in the context of awakening to higher and deeper states of awareness, could it be that we are tuning into a more pure form of our nature as undivided from the whole of existence when we experience sound in these ways? I think so.
Classical Pythagorean mystery schools and ancient schools of esoteric Christianity had a concept called the music of the spheres. The Pythagoreans held that the universe, when all the planets were in balance and alignment, produced a tone of perfect harmony. And the esoteric Christians referred to it as a state of consciousness correlated with a heavenly realm. Were they referring to the sound of silence we experience in these deeper states? Maybe.
If anything, sound seems to be an unmediated bridge to infinity, another deeply compelling part of the mystery of who we are, and a stirring catalyst to think more deeply about our indivisibility with everything.