Ever spent a week in the wilderness, then found yourself temporarily traumatized by the noise of the big city upon your return?
There’s no doubt that sound has a profound effect on our mental and physical states.
We experience a vast array of sounds during the course of each day – rushing sirens, the lapping of incoming tides, wind rustling leaves, the sweet songs of birds. Sound has a resonance and ability to heal – the sound of laughter or simply a long, peaceful silence that soothes and invites the soul to hear the guidance of your heart.
Ever tried blocking out the sound on a horror movie to make it less terrifying? How about blocking out the visual and leaving only the sound?
What would the shower scene from Psycho be without the horrifying violin screeches? The audio alone can send shivers down your spine.
People who have survived the horrors of war are often easily startled by sharp loud sounds, imprinted on their brains as gunfire or an explosion – and may never be able to escape the innate recollection. By contrast, the reassuring sounds of childhood – a lullaby, mother’s voice or even a vacuum cleaner creating white noise – can evoke feelings of safety in later life.
Be careful what you say to an expectant mom. According to a recent study (reported online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), newborns can remember words they heard while in the womb. Researchers gave mothers a recording of a made-up word and some music to play multiple times to their babies during the last few weeks of pregnancy. After they were born, tests showed the babies remembered this word and its variations.
If your baby is colicky or irritable, playing a recording of a heartbeat or blood flow (sounds your baby would have heard in the uterus) may help to soothe him or her. Even making a “shhhing” sound, which emulates the sound of a heartbeat, can ease a child’s restive state.
Sounds conveyed through music can induce powerfully differing emotions and spur us to follow our feelings into action. Soothing baroque music apparently promotes brainwave activity that helps us study and relax.
Every country, tribe and clan has songs that encourage its followers to patriotism. Slaves used spiritual songs to transcend their misery, creating rhythms that made throwing bricks and lifting heavy loads easier. And singing in a choir, recent studies show, can provide you with a host of health benefits, including no less a bonus than longer life.
What we hear as humans may be created by nature, other animals or ourselves. The noise of nature is sometimes unsettling, such as the sound of a falling cedar. On the other hand, water trickling over granite or air moving through the ancient Douglas firs in Cathedral Grove can have a tranquilizing effect. Animals can frighten us with a roar or a screech or they can calm us – like the twittering of chickadees in a shady garden you might be enjoying in the company of a good book.
With the invention of speech, humans have taken the power of sound to a whole new level. The noises we make – strung together like threads of fabric – wield immense power to harm or heal. Words can weave a vision with palpable possibilities, awakening dormant knowledge or memories. Jim Jones moved followers to dire deeds, but Martin Luther King Jr. inspired millions with his ‘dream’ speech.
Words can bring the salve of understanding to a broken heart. “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain,” said the great Lebanese poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran.
If we have the courage to endure the despair, confusion, darkness and pain of life, we’re rewarded with an increased capacity for joy. It is through pain that we grow and learn to appreciate life’s happy moments.
Confident words may have enough strength to direct the actions of others — such as the words Moses Martin, elected chief of the Tla-o-qui-aht, spoke to the MacMillan Bloedel forestry workers arriving to clear-cut Meares Island. Martin welcomed them to his garden and asked them to leave their chainsaws in their boat. This speech and the actions of the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation saved the trees, and led to the creation of the Meares Island Tribal Park. We are often able to choose what we hear, and always able to choose what we say. Let us choose wisely – in a way that promotes healing in others and ourselves.
“When you meet your friend on the roadside or in the marketplace, let the spirit in you move your lips and direct your tongue,” said Kahlil Gibran. “Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear, for his soul will keep the truth of your heart as the taste of the wine is remembered (after) the colour is forgotten and the vessel is no more.”
I encourage you to be gentle also with the words you whisper to yourself, as they form part of your consciousness. Some of us would never speak to another human being with the caustic tongue we lash out on ourselves.
“Watch your thoughts; they become your words,” said legendary early-century Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu. “Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
Published in Tofino Time magazine May 2014