Awakening the Music WithinCatherine L. Schweig
Long before quantum physicists discovered it, Ayurvedic healers of the past worked with the knowledge that everything in existence has an intrinsic musical, or sonic, quality to it, including our very selves. From galaxies, stars and orbiting planets, to rivers, forests and the migration of birds, everything in the universe is connected by sub-atomic, sonic frequencies. When our own individual sonic vibration resounds in harmony with the primordial sounds in the universe around us, we experience good health. Ayurveda is, therefore, about tuning in to life’s music and joining harmoniously in the symphony.
But how do we start playing in the symphony of life when we can’t even hear the music? One of the first ways in which we begin to tune into the music of the universe, and the music within us, is to learn to listen. As the macrocosm is contained in the microcosm, traditionally, listening begins with hearing our own breath. In Ayurveda, the way our breath behaves within us becomes a dynamic metaphor for the way we behave in our lives. Full breaths are characteristic of living a full life, and vice-versa.
In bringing awareness to the sound of our own breathing, we begin to learn about our bodies and minds, and the powerful relationships between the two. As our breathing reflects our emotions, we can engage breathing practices, like pranayama, to enter peaceful states, and make our consciousness more receptive to hearing primordial sounds around us. In synchronizing our breath to the breath of the universe, we begin to awaken our own musical core and participate in the greater cosmic symphony.
Life’s symphony is being conducted, and simultaneously permeated by, the sound of the sacred utterance AUM. According to the Chandogya Upanishad, AUM is the original vibration from which all others come. It was never created, nor will it ever be destroyed. All sounds already exist eternally within AUM. Ayurveda recognizes that one of the most powerful ways to harmonize our breaths and bodies to AUM is to step out into nature.
Water trickling through a gentle brook, bumblebees buzzing between flowers, birds calling out to their mates, crickets at night, ocean waves: our bodies are programmed to automatically enter into healing dialogues with all of these natural sounds, and so many more! In Sanskrit this is called samskrita, or “perfectly formed communication”. Since antiquity, yoga practitioners have regarded these natural soundtracks as passages to the soul. Only recently has science confirmed that their sonic frequencies naturally resonate with those of our chakras—nourishing us in ways nothing else can. So, if you’re feeling out of synch, just take a walk in nature and listen.
Yet today’s modern culture is greatly deprived of life’s natural soundtrack. Many of us seem more frequently exposed to the sounds of man-made machines than the sounds of birds and streams. From our refrigerators, juicers and other electronic household appliances, to vehicles of transportation, buzzing fluorescent lights, construction equipment and leaf blowers -to name a few- we are bombarded with noise.
Even when we try to escape the noises, sometimes we can’t. These sounds seem to be everywhere! Many of us live surrounded by dangerous levels of noise, becoming desensitized to the environmental cacophony around us. Our species has created so much noise on our planet that it is continually disorienting migrating birds and animals, on both land and sea. Just imagine what it is doing to us!
The sounds we hear every day greatly influence our consciousness, and therefore, our health. We benefit when we seek out sounds that uplift us and participate in our healing. When we don’t, it has a wearing effect on our overall wellbeing. Yet chronic suffering from noise pollution does not happen overnight. It is the cumulative result of a lifestyle in which we repeatedly expose ourselves to loud or constant sounds on a regular basis. From cardiovascular disease to neurological conditions, continuous noise in our working or living environments has a damaging effect on our minds and bodies. Regardless of how desensitized we have become to it, or how accustomed we have grown to it, industrial noise wounds us, making hearing life’s symphony challenging.
The consequence is usually feeling disconnected from our purpose in life, just as the Puranic genesis deity, Lord Brahma, did. Feeling unfulfilled and sitting alone upon the lotus flower of his blossoming consciousness, Lord Brahma began to listen in quiet meditation. Attuning himself to the music of the universe, or Vak, she appeared before him as Saraswati, the goddess of music and learning, and offered him a valuable tool to help him center himself within his heart. The valuable tool was a mantra, and it served to release (tra) his mind (manas) into a state of receptivity to sacred sound, despite how many obstacles were preventing him from hearing it before.
Once Brahma’s listening deepens, he feels his heart become impregnated with shabdha-brahman: the Upanishadic term for divine, or absolute sound. The enchanting sound was emerging from Krishna’s flute—non-different from AUM in spiritual potency— which then blossomed into the Gayatri mantra, and then further, into the “four essential verses” or catuh-sloki of the Bhagavat Purana, and subsequently, the entire Vedas!
And so it was that the search for life’s meaning and divine revelation became tightly bound with the experience of sacred sound. Mantras prepare us for this experience, even when we aren’t able to go out into Nature as often as the science of Ayurveda recommends we do. In such cases, mantras come to our rescue to reconnect us with the ultimate source of vitality.
Like virtual recipes of creation made of mysterious, timeless constituents, mantras hold the sonic seeds for all healing. Whether recited aloud with musical accompaniment in the company of others who are doing the same (kirtan), or recited in soft, prayerful meditation (japa), the intonation of sacred sound in the form of mantra stands alone in its unique ability to swiftly elevate consciousness. Mantras thus become keys that unlock our soul’s natural, inner dialogue with divinity, and the universal symphony all around us. When we awaken this music within us, and feel reconnected to our purpose in life, our overall health begins to thrive. It is then that we know we are playing along in harmony with life’s beautiful symphony.