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Celia Beeson
from: Celia Beeson
Category: Sound Healing

Sound and Silence

What is silence?  It is so much more than the absence of sound.  A meditative silence is really about a sense of inner quiet, of stillness and tranquillity, free from mental chatter as well as external sound. Often this is felt in those moments when we hover between waking and sleeping, between the in breath and the out breath.  This space is so precious in these times when we have so much input from radio, television, phones, email, Facebook… it can take a big effort to drop all these distractions and actively seek out silence. And it can be challenging to drop these distractions, enter a silent space and observe what arises.

One of the great gifts of working with sound is the way it can move us effortlessly into this meditative silence – we can just rest and be carried on waves of sound.  It makes it really easy for us. There is no need to sit on the meditation cushion, struggling to still the mind.  Instead it’s just about surrendering to the flow and following the sound into silence.

Sound releases us from mental chatter, stilling the critical voice which constantly makes judgements on our experiences. With language comes the desire to label what we perceive, and then with ego the impulse to judge whether things are going in our favour or not.  This is essential for our survival and protection, but can prevent us from being in touch with our essential selves and from living in the moment. We also habitually cast back to the past and forward into the future, endlessly rehearsing what we should have said, what we might say. As Eckhart Tolle so vividly describes this: ‘virtually everyone hears a voice, or several voices, in their head all the time…the voice comments, speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes and so on.’ (The Power of Now) The experience of a sound bath or meditation gives us release from these habits of mind – we do come back, of course, to the world of ‘ten thousand things’ – but altered, because we have experienced the deep peace which lies beyond.

One of the many beauties of gongs and singing bowls, is that they create music which we can’t easily define or label, which never repeats itself – it just is what it is.  So the mind surrenders the search for meaning, for pattern, and for judgement. Each time we play or listen  we experience a unique improvisation, with many and complex tones and overtones.  Listening intently to these instruments draws our focus from the ego, softening the edges and allowing us to just be.  We lose our illusions of separateness and feel the reality of our interconnectedness with all beings. Sometimes in this state of connectedness we can experience flashes of insight or understanding, or be released from mental or physical discomfort.

Then the silence which follows these sounds is also not just an absence of sound, but is a resonant silence – the vibrations may no longer be audible but they continue to sound in the body and in the room.  Holding a silence at the end of the sound meditation is a wonderful harmonious experience, as we continue to rest and integrate all we have heard and felt.  

Often people report an enhanced quality of listening – as we turn our attention outward once again to engage with the material world, we can often find our enjoyment of music and sound sharpened.  We can also find that we can welcome in all the sounds which arise – traffic as well as birdsong – hearing it all as vibration.

There is something special too about the experience of sharing this silence with other people – in a one to one session with the practitioner, and in a group session with all the participants.  This has a different quality from solitary meditation – we feel the energies of our companions in this experience, and are drawn together. Having the presence of a practitioner who creates a safe space allows us to surrender more deeply than we would otherwise. They take the role of a guide or witness, giving a sense of security. Perhaps there is some ancient memory of needing to keep some awareness for self-protection when we are alone, preventing us from relaxing completely, and this is released when we are accompanied.

This is a big responsibility for sound practitioners, but it is profoundly rewarding and a great privilege to share the journey into sound and silence with our fellow human beings.

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