The Singing Silences
The Path, August, 1886
Theosophists may be interested in an experience which I have named as above; “Singing”—because of a peculiar resonance which I then hear: “Silences”—because this resonance only reaches me in moments of retirement and silence.
Occurring throughout a life-time, at infrequent and remote interval, they have, since I became a Theosophist, increased until they embrace all isolated moments. They consist of a resonance difficult to describe, but resembling the vibrant note of a distant locomotive, resounding in the night atmosphere of a mountain gorge, and partaking somewhat of that melodious wail caused by running the moistened finger around the rim of a glass. Sometimes, though rarely, a low orchestral harmony unites briefly with this monotone. Unable to find any word which conveyed this cadence, I now discover that the word “Aum,” (hitherto unknown to me,) does so exactly, the A sound being the opening note, which prolongs itself into the M, or closing sound, when the keynote is then struck over again. Thus the |Singing Silences” mainly consist of innumerable repetitions of the word “Aum,” distinctly and musically uttered, having a resonant or vibrant quality, and a measured rise and fall, such as all sound assumes if one alternately closes and uncloses the ear. If the analyist will alternately inhale air with the mouth and expel it with the nostrils, he will gain a fair idea of this sound minus its musical vibration.
It is, moreover, invariably accompanied by a sensation of physical repose, even peace, and a perfect mental quiescence which falls about me like an enfolding mantle. The frequency of these moments has greatly increased since my attention has been specifically turned to them. Hitherto, beyond a momentary curiosity as to their nature, I attached no importance to their occurrence; the very rarity caused them to be easily forgotten in the whirl of every day life; I admitted to myself with surprise, however, that my innumerable pleasures, my keen enjoyments, shrank to nothing before the deep delight of these brief but peculiar moments, and I applied to them the opening lines of Faber’s hymn to music.
Reading the article on “Aum” in the April “PATH” I was startled by such passages as this:
“There is, pervading the whole universe, a homogeneous resonance, sound, or tone, which acts, so to speak, as the awakener or vivifying power, stirring all the molecules into action.”
I then called to mind various facts connected with Sound, as for instance, that a regiment marching over a bridge is ordered to “break step,” lest the regular footfall strike the “co-efficient of vibration,” which would destroy the bridge: also that the measured trot of the smallest dog will cause a perceptible vibration in a wire bridge, no matter what its size. Moreover, the monotonous sound of the railroad, in time changes the texture of die car wheels and axles from fibrous into crystalline, with consequent fracture.
In Reichenbach’s “Researches on Magnetism” we find this statement:
“. . . The following laws prevail in nature. A. There resides in matter a peculiar force, hitherto overlooked, which, when the crystalline form has been assumed, is found acting in the line of the axes.”
Since then, the homogeneous tone acts upon all the molecules of creation, may not this singing resonance cause such a transformation of brain energy as to vivify or awaken it in time, to the True, or Central Idea? We have seen that Sound, so to speak, polarizes certain particles of matter attracting them to the earth, the great magnet, from which they came; it confers upon other particles this same magnetic power, as in the case of crystallization; it awakens similar tones, as when several untouched harps vibrate in harmony when the musical key note is struck upon one alone. Why then may not the thought awakened by a fixed musical sound be in time attracted to the real source of that sound, of all sound? And as thought causes a disturbance among the molecules of the brain, some sound, however aerial, must accompany this vibration: does not my brain then answer this singing resonance with the note homogeneous to all the ethereal space?
In the article from “THE PATH” before quoted, I find the following lines.
“Having taken the Bow, the great weapon (Om), let him place on it the arrow (the Self), sharpened by devotion; . . . Brahman is called the aim. It is to be hit by a man who is not thoughtless.”
The “Singing Silences” are superinduced by meditation, thought, devotion: the closest imitation of them possible to the human voice consists in chanting, half aloud, the word “Aum,” over and over, as heretofore described. Do those Yogis who repeat “Aum” thousands of times daily, follow this practice in order to produce the resonance, or homogeneous tone, and to calm the mind, (as they claim to do,) by means of the harmonious monotony thus engendered? True, it fails to lead them to the higher knowledge, but is this not because the mental condition is self induced, like the delusive trances of self mesmerization? On the other hand, if (as they claim again,) it throws them into a trance like state or crystallization of thought, is not this because it is after all, in some measure, akin to the natural resonance? The idea herein advanced would thus seem to be further supported, since this mechanical repetition of “Aum,” and its sedative power, is as the power of the microcosm, faintly outlining that of the macrocosm, (or real resonance,) to lead towards the calm which incubates the dawning thought and leads towards the true Illuminated State. “THE PATH” goes on to state that we are “led by the resonance, which is not the Divine Light itself, towards that Radiance which is Divine; the resonance is only the outbreathing of the first sound of the entire Aum.”
This constant and peculiar singing, provocative as it is of a peaceful abstraction so great as to exclude all outer things and thoughts, seems to induce a state which draws the hearer into the border lands of Spirit. Works on eastern travel and foreign witnesses, alike affirm that many fakirs repeat “Aum,” and also “Rama,” thousands of times, merely because they are told that such a thing is useful, while others do it with the mind fixed on realizing the True. Studious investigation always reveals a deep philosophy underlying religious forms, from which there is no reason to suppose this one to be exempt.
Listening attentively to the “Singing Silence,” I fall, after a brief space, into an unbroken and dreamless sleep which lasts for hours; hearing, without listening, I experience a sensation of physical refreshment and mental placidity. It came to me uncalled for, unnoticed, unrecognized; when finally a sense of pleasure fastened upon my mind, I idly accepted it, but without questioning, as a curious personal peculiarity. It was only when, giving myself up to thoughts of higher things, I met it upon the threshold of meditation, found it daily recurring, daily growing in distinctness and power, that I recognized it as a possible psychical experience. As I never strove to produce it at the outset, so I never attempt to increase or evoke it now; I should not know how to set about doing so. It influenced me; I have no control whatever over it. It comes as it wills, and is not subject to my command.
Is this then one of the practical significances or uses of “the word Om, as expressed in tone?” Does this bell-like resonance have such an effect upon the molecules of the human body, (including those of the brain,) as to polarize them in time to The Spirit? If there are those who doubt the existence of a great undercurrent of universal tone, described by “THE PATH” as Nada Brahma—the divine resonance upon which depends the evolution of the visible from the invisible—they will at least grant its probability when they consider that this has been admitted by some of the greatest intellects of the world, many of whom firmly believed in the “music of the spheres.” Plato taught it. Maximus Tyrius says that “the mere proper motion of the planets must create sounds, and as the planets move at regular intervals, these sounds must be harmonious.” The Encyclopedia Brittanica says, “the origin of musical sounds consists in the regular, periodic vibration of some surface in contact with the air, whereby motion is imparted to the air. The loudness or intensity of the note depends on the magnitude of the motion or pitch.” The regular motions of the planets of our system, as well as those of known moving stars, such as Sirius, may well be accompanied by a rhythmical sound arising from the ether waves thus set in motion, That we do not hear it, may be due to the density of our atmosphere, yet it may be none the less transmitted along the ether waves and heard by the inner ear of those whose sense is developed. Pythagoras was the first philosopher to suggest this idea, which is mentioned by Shakespeare:
“There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young eyed cherubims:
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But while this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”
He also speaks of it again in Pericles.
“Keppler’s idea of the universe was essentially Pythagorean and Platonic. He thought that the planetary movements were related to musical intervals.” (Cyclo. Brit.) Montaigne, Milton, Donne, Pope, Newton, Tycho-Brahe and others believed in the “music of the spheres.” Faber beautifully attributed it to the vibration caused by the shooting rays of light on their journey earthward:
“Thou art fugitive splendors made vocal
As they glanced from that shining sea.”
All are agreed that the idea has come down to us from the earliest times.
Finally, if this resonance exists as the great undertone of nature, it is probable, natural and consistent that it should be a stepping stone towards reaching Spirit, since harmony and accord are vitally necessary to our progress in either the physical or the psychical world. The effect of harmonious sound on the moral nature of man has received much scientific attention in relation to its influence over the insane. The Rev. R. H. Haweis speaks of it in “Music and Morals,” as “the much neglected study of Musical Psychology.” His remarks are greatly to our present point.
“What has Nature done for the musician? She has given him sound. . . . Thoughts are but wandering spirits that depend for their vitality upon the magnetic current of feeling. Emotion is often weakened by association with thought, whereas thoughts are always strengthened by emotion. I have endeavored to . . . to show that there is a region of abstract emotion in human nature; . . . that, this region of emotion consisted of infinite varieties of mental temperature that upon these temperatures or atmospheres of the soul depended the degree, and often the kind of actions of which at different times we were capable. . . . Who will deny that the experience of such soul-atmospheres must leave a definite impress upon the character? . . . But if, as we have maintained, music has the power of actually creating and manipulating these mental atmospheres, what vast capacities, for good or evil must music possess! . . . The Bible itself pays a tribute to the emotional effect and power of changing the soul’s atmosphere possessed by even such a primitive instrument as David’s Harp.
“‘When the evil Spirit from God was upon Saul, then David took an harp, and played with his hand. So Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil Spirit departed from him.’ (1 Sam. Xvi, 23.)
“I have no doubt whatever that the acknowledged influence of music over the insane might be far more extensively used; indeed if applied judiciously to a disorganized mind, it might be as powerful an agent as galvanism in restoring healthy and pleasurable activity to the emotional regions. Who can deny then, if such a mysterious command as this is possessed by music over the realm of abstract emotion, that music itself must be held responsible for the manner in which it deals with that realm, and the kind of succession, proportion and degrees of the various emotional atmospheres it has the power of generating.”
Testimony upon these various points might be multiplied, but is not the above sufficient to indicate a possibility at least that these “Singing Silences” are closely allied to “Nada Brahma,” the omnipresent sound, the vibration caused perhaps by the speeding of Light, (which is the first Divine Thought.) from the Central Sun, and in the mighty harmony of its coming, awakening and vivifying all things?
“I guess, by the stir of this music
What raptures in heaven can be.
Where the sound is Thy marvellous stillness.
And the music is light out of Thee.”