Sounds and Silence

20181206_140403There is a brief calm at the beginning of a new year when all the noise has subsided and we prepare for what is to come.  We may think back and forth – from what has passed and to what will be.

This blog first took shape in January 2017 when a new family member gave voice to the world on the 17th of the month.

43  years ago , on 17th January 1966, Simon and Garfunkel released their album, The Sound of Silence. The title song first featured on their first album Wednesday Morning, 3am, released in October 1964, but it’s commercial failure led to the duo splitting – Paul Simon returned England and Art Garfunkel to his studies at Columbia University.  By the spring of 1965 the song was receiving airtime and Tom Hudson,  producer at Columbia Studios, added electric instruments to the acoustic track and released it in September 1965. The Sound of Silence hit no. 1 in January 1966.  Simon and Garfunkel hastily reunited and recorded a second album –The Sound of Silence – an attempt to capitalize upon the success of the title song. The song was a top-ten hit in multiple countries worldwide. In 2012, the song along with the rest of the album  was added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important”.

There are many commentators on Paul Simon’s song but the words of  Dr Don Saliers have struck me. In 2013, Paul Simon spoke at Emory University as part of the Richard Ellman Lecture in Modern Literature and Dr Sallers recorded his thoughts on Simon’s most famous song:

“…At a time when there was a lot of noise….and coming chaos ..that notion of silence as a friend and the ambiguity of silence, made the lyrics resonate with us…

He refers to the song being taken up by an America mourning the death of John Kennedy and to the assassinations that were to come.  Dr Saliers adds _ “Silence can be a refuge and silence can be a phenomenally difficult reality….

silent raindrops
wells of silence

So silence is refuge, silence is a friend……
…….Reference to people talking a lot but not listening

…..Silence of the interior life….

Saliers is a Professor of Theology and Worship, Emeritus at Emory University, a private research establishment in Atlanta.  Paul Simon’s series of talks were entitled: The Insomniac’s Lullaby: Awake and Aware of the Time”.

Sound of Silence.  Interior life.  Listening. Awake and Aware.  These are words commonly found in mindfulness manuals.  Jon Kabat Zinn uses them in The Breathscape Practice for Cultivating Mindfulness.  In Mindfulness: a practical guide to Finding Pace in a Frantic World by Williams and Penman, a Sounds and Thoughts meditation reveals how similar are sound and thought – sound and silence:

We are immersed in a soundscape of enormous depth and variety. Just take a moment to listen……. Even when you are in quiet room, you can still pick up muffled sounds. It might be your breath….Even silence contains sounds…
………..This constantly fluxing soundscape is just like
your thought stream….” pp 141-143

Williams and Penman write that sound and thought both appear as if from nowhere; both can seem random and we have no control over their arising. Both are enormously potent and carry immense momentum…

This connection and train of thought has been highlighted recently by my first taste of  Sound Therapy.  Sound therapists believe that we are all made up of different energy frequencies. They use sound frequencies to “..rebalance the body’s energy..”

Sound therapy was formally introduced to the UK in 2000 with the establishment of the British Association of Sound Therapy . The BAST website outlines the approach:

The BAST method of sound therapy combines carefully considered therapeutic sound techniques which have been shown to affect physiology, neurology and psychology with a form of reflective enquiry (a kind of questioning). This approach has been shown to be very effective at improving health and wellbeing.

Sound therapy is a complementary therapy used alongside orthodox medicine. As such, it wise to ask questions of the therapist if you have any queries or doubts.

Before each session, the practitioner will ask the client about their medical history and any current health problems. Treatment is adapted accordingly.  Therapists use relaxing or stimulating sounds  – ie. gongs, drums, bells, bowls, tuning forks and the human voice.

Sound has been used as a healing or calming tool for thousands of years. Himalayan singing bowls (standing bells that “sing”) have been used throughout Asia for thousands of years in prayer and meditation, and are now used to promote relaxation and wellbeing.  Music therapy is a creative arts therapy in which a music therapist uses music and all of its facets—physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual—to help clients improve their physical and mental health.  Sound has been used for thousands of years in a healing sense – overtone chanting from Central Asia, for example – yet now it is featuring more prominently in neuroscience journals and webpages etc.

Joshua Leeds, the author of The Power of Sound is an expert in the field of psychoacoustics, the study of the effects of sound on the human nervous system. He writes about the power of sound:

…creating a frequency and vibration for someone that’s conducive for him or her to heal. Sound healing is trending up. It’s like where yoga was 15 years ago. People are realizing that sound is a viable medium to address distress, enhance learning….

I am investigating the idea of a Yoga and Sound Therapy Workshop which brings together 3 practitioners – a Sound Therapist (Wendy) , a Reiki Master and a qualified Counsellor (Heather) and myself as a yoga teacher. The workshop would be for a group of just 6 people who could experience and evaluate the sound therapy.  A second blog would report on the findings.

If you are interested, please make contact and we will send details of both Wendy’s approach and the format of the session itself. 

Have a very Happy 2019.  I look forward to seeing some of you next week.


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