Daimon Publishers

Sounding the Soul
Mary Lynn Kittelson


Introduction: Essential Sound

The universe is more like music than like matter.

Donald Hatch Andrews
(modern physicist)

Sound resonates at the very core of our being. From the first miracle of a newborn's squall, to the last rattle of breath leaving a dying person, sound means energy and life. The auditory world sounds and re-sounds, all around. Within its vibrant reality, we are sounding. And things are sounding us. Day and night, it informs us, and helps us form our worlds, within and without.

Ears cupped, bodies humming, we live within sound. We vocalize from our own bodies, expressing our energy through vibration and resonance. In society, in nature, the acoustic array is rich and various. The whispers of breaths and the pad of footfalls play out their rhythms. Technology pulses and thrums, beeps and clicks. Insects buzz, dogs bark, children shout, water gushes, cars and jets roar and recede. From the vibrating air and ground, from reverberating objects, and from all the beings we encounter, sound surrounds us, and enters our being.

However, we rarely notice sound or its companion, silence, except subliminally. For most of us, auditory signals are mere muffled background, vague atmosphere, or irritating noise. Auditorily speaking, our ears are dulled and overloaded. We rarely note, at least consciously, the effect of a person's voice or ponder a quality of resonance or silence. We almost never notice the reality, much less the details, of how auditory energy carries meaning. Primary elements like rhythm, echo and timbre go in one ear and right out the other. It is just like during a film, when we "viewers" hardly notice the sound track at all. Yet the sound is moving things along, enriching and interpreting the film steadily, invisibly - and powerfully.

Oddly enough, one reason for our unconsciousness involves the very fact that auditory energy is so basic. The auditory channel is set to go, from very early on in life. Even before birth, fetuses in the womb react to sound, startling at loud sounds from outside of the womb. The middle ear bones are the only bones in the body that are fully mature in size at birth. Immediately after birth, human infants are able to hear with considerable differentiation. Visual differentiation develops over the months, but the auditory channel is ready from the start.

We are also vocal creatures, from the first breath. Our voices sound, in original moments and replayed ones. A myriad of vibrations and rhythms, resonances and silences hold us, vibrate us, move us, all through the life process. Sound is always moving us. Indeed, this fact is a literal, as well as metaphorical, reality. We are in constant reverberation with the world, with ourselves. Ancient tradition has given voice to this fact. "The ear is the way," it says in the Upanishads. "Hear, and your soul shall live," declares Isaiah in the Old Testament.

However, we are in an aurally dulled state. The eyes are frontal, in terms of their physical placement as well as our self-conception. The position of the ears is resoundingly to the side. The eyes appear to us to be the most vital of the five senses. We conceive of ourselves as an eye-minded culture, a vision-based species. People think in terms of what they see and how things look. Indeed, the "eyes" have it. In personal relationships and in soul work, it is the eyes that we long to gaze into - a lover's, a friend's or our own in the mirror. They are "windows to the soul." We long to catch somebody's gaze, to be "seen." "Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes," we sing, "Smoke gets in your eyes," and "You can't hide your lyin' eyes." Pain, knowledge, and love reside in a glance, a gaze; truth is revealed in a long, careful "look" at things. The eyes, we assume, are the real center of knowing. Even the very sounds of these eye-words assert their dominance! Whether we speak of "eyes" or "ayes" or "I's," it is the visual world which seems to affirm our being.

The ears, to the side, are more problematic. There is something questionable about them. Even their shape suggests a question mark. Auditory perception resists the direct pathway. Its ways are labyrinthine, echoic. Its essence is vibration, resonance. Next to the upfront, brazen eyes, the ears are easily embarrassed, and embarrassing. If directly peered at, in the spotlight or during an exposed moment, they turn red. Sometimes, the ears have a sideways sexual quality. They flame up, get red-hot. They also suggest waxy, earthy, shadowy ties. The ears are eloquent, in their burning, in their mysterious fluids and curves and chambers. It is such associations which tie the ears to the deepest roots of our being.

In seeking for the depths, vision is not necessarily the sensory channel of choice. In the deep, in the underworld, in dreams, the search is for resonance. It is for meaning beyond appearance. The process of seeing has its biases, as all the senses do. The process of seeing, for example, makes perception of the subjective seer very difficult. As Berendt points out, in looking at something, we do not see our own "I" or face. With all of the other sensory channels, perception of self is possible. We can directly hear, smell, taste, and touch ourselves.

It is in the very nature of seeing to create what is, in some ways, an artificially separate relationship. In seeing things, we necessarily experience them at a distance from us. There must be space between a seer and a visually perceived object. If the object is too close, it blurs. It darkens. A visual object must be far enough away so that we can see it, as separated and distant. Furthermore, in looking at an object, we usually focus, homing in on a clear view. In visual mode, we sharpen the perceived boundaries between objects and their surroundings and between objects and ourselves. We adjust vision until we perceive a hard line to things. Berendt makes the claim that perception through the eyes encourages more distance, while perception through the ears is more experiential. The closer we edge up on something, he says, the more judging changes imperceptibly into experiencing. Indeed, our assumptions, both phenomenological and philosophical, have been shaped by the process of visual perception, by the nature of seeing.

Light is necessary for seeing. It is not necessary to any of the other senses. In eye-minded mode, light is associated with seeking consciousness, with seeking a separate stance. In an up-front, separating-out style, seeing and light create "consciousness." In eye-minded illumination, we are like Prometheus; we have to have the light. So eye-centered are we that, in the metaphors of our language, we actually equate seeing something with understanding it. "Look here!" we say, or "I see what you mean." "It appears to me," we comment, or "He observed this or that," or simply, "Open your eyes!" In fact, we go so far as to say: "Seeing is believing." We really do talk as if we were exclusive creatures of light. As the dim and dark descend, every evening, on our well-lit days, how quick we are to turn on the lights!

We need to notice this domination of the visual mode. We need to awaken to the fact that perception occurs along different pathways, and comes in many styles. Each of the human sensory processes have propensities toward distinctive, let us say, angles of understanding. All the senses are capable of making fine differentiations. The imaginative world of dreams, fantasies and myths expresses itself in auditory images, as well as visual ones. In hearing things when awake, and in our dreams and fantasies while unconscious, we are experiencing images, just as we do when seeing things. In Jungian thought, images are the language of the psyche. When discussing how people can work with images, Jung specifically mentions "acoustic images" and "audio-verbal types," among other types. Working with images, be they visual, auditory, kinesthetic or in another mode, is central to understanding the psyche, and especially the unconscious.

In breaking away from the tyranny of "seeing," conceiving of images as only visual, we discover the acoustic world, replete with evocative vibration and sound. It is full of meaning, defining our impressions, enlivening our days and nights. Indeed, in Western culture especially, we might well ask ourselves what this preponderance of eye consciousness means. What might we be missing?

In The Listening Self, M. Levin speaks of the domination of "oculocentrism." The nature of the Gaze, says Levin, is practical and aggressively active. The physics of vision tends to overvalue constancy, uniformity, permanence; it stresses unity, totality, clarity, and distinctness. In modern times, our capacity to listen fully and well is limited, and is linked to a ''loss of Being" or a "loss of meaning"; historically, it is linked to an experience of nihilism. A sense of wholeness and fullness, and the awareness of the world as resonance are lacking.

Auditory images evoke an archetypally feminine mode. Hearing is vibratory, surrounding, surrounded by. Participatory, flowing, receptive, audition is replete with images of cupping, dark and fleshy passages, moist and hairy sensitivity, and watery labyrinths. Acoustic energy is received into openings. It pulses and curves inward along dark canals. It coils in moisture and fluid. And finally, it sparks along neural passages that create new response, new life. The process of hearing is linked with creation, insemination, pregnancy and birth.

The images of the hearing process suggest a gestation of meaning. The spherical waves in the "bath of sound" create a sense of rounded vessel. Hearing sound means mutual vibration. Held, contained within a field of energy, energy participates, resonates. Its essence suggests a taking-in, in contrast to an outgoing thrust of rays. Listening is erotic, lush with curves and fluidity. It resonates a back-and-forth rhythm of reception, as it rocks us, bone to bone, fluid to fluid.

Other writers have also commented on this essential feminine eros of listening. H.-J. Berendt commented on the eye-dominance in our culture, which developed alongside of patriarchy. The eyes, he said, are associated with yang energy, with the sun and masculinity. The ear, however, partakes in yin energies, of the moon and femininity. James Hillman also connected listening with an archetypally feminine receptivity. In describing the dominance of seeing, he commented on the tendency of the ego to identify with seeing in seeking "the light of consciousness." A more passive awareness, a "receptive consciousness," is involved in listening. "We receive the other as if he were music," said Hillman, "listening to the rhythm and cadence of his tale, its thematic repetitions, and the disharmonies." Conceiving and gestating a new solution to a problem, he says, "occurs only after we have been fully penetrated by it, felt its impact, and let it settle in silence."

This archetypally feminine attitude is a necessary mate to hardline focus, to sharply penetrating and separating consciousness. It is in a patriarchal setting, when the goal is a keen and bright consciousness, that people identify more with seeking light. It is still resoundingly the case that the more distanced and hardline mode of perception is generally more highly valued in our culture. Mainstream society, almost reflexively, calls on the concepts of "objectivity" and "observable differences" to support validity or truth. And what profusion and contradictoriness, what utter cacophony its jungle of data has engendered!

Even the so-called experts in "sanity," clinical psychologists, generally overvalue rationality, "objective" thinking. In modern psychotherapy, active, thrusting styles are predominant, promoting control, rationality and directedness. "Proactivity," not "reactivity," is the vogue. The fuzzier, more ambivalent and associative tendencies of the psyche fall into the shadows, where we lose relationship with them. Depth psychology suffers mightily when goaded into this mental Sousa march, straight down the street. As so much of myth suggests, it is the fate of the psyche to wander in the labyrinth. It is just this irrational, associative, layered world of symbol and image that is the very nature - the very language - of the psyche. In visual mode, we more easily remain deaf to this kind of multiplicity, to the necessary unclarity of the psyche.

Ear reception selects out different information, different aspects of perception. Ear-mindedness also affects how we feel about and interpret those perceptions. When the world, both inside and outside, is heard to resonate and echo, that is, when it reaches us through sound, consciousness becomes participatory. This idea of participatory consciousness is a radical departure from our old sense of what knowledge and science consist of. However, it is in keeping with the theories of modern physics, with the Principle of Uncertainty, and with Field Theory.

The Western world is in the middle of a revolution regarding the nature of the universe. This revolution has affected not only what we conceive of as the "facts" about the universe, but also how we go about functioning in and understanding this universe. Modern physicists say that we are in a state of constant, reciprocal vibration with matter and energy. Matter and energy now appear inseparable. Matter is looking more and more like force or energy, and less and less like something solid or set. The more atomic and subatomic our outlook, the less solid that matter appears.

Matter has become inseparable from its field. It is the vibration of matter which is now studied, and with it, the accompanying "vibration" of the scientific observer. A person's vibratory effect on an experiment or situation is now taken into account. This is to say that pure objectivity, made up of distance, clarity and sharp difference, is no longer conceived of as a scientifically accurate basis from which to discover "reality."

The findings of modern physics, even decades ago, influenced C.G. Jung, and reinforced his ideas in regards to psychology. Jung, a firm believer in scientific method, described himself as an empiricist, studying the phenomena of the psyche. The subjectivity of the observer or analyst must be noticed and taken into account. In discovering the "truth" of a situation, an accurate observer, said Jung, must take his or her own vibratory field of energy into account.

Both the Freudian and Jungian schools among others, have continued to develop these ideas. In modern times, psychoanalyst Evelyne Schwaber has particularly stressed the participatory aspect of the interchange. Theory-based interpretations or assumptions are based on the analyst's inference, she says, and imply that the patient's experience in the transference, for example, is devoid of his or her perception of the analyst's responses to him or her. However, the field is interactive; psychic experience, she says, is not separable from its context. Thus it is vital that analysts be aware of their chosen perspective.

It is precisely in learning to take the participatory aspects into account where the pathway of audition, with its vibratory mix of inner-and-outer, is so valuable. Ear-mindedness is well-suited for work from within a field of energy. It recognizes more fully the participatory base from which we are operating. In hearing, sound surrounds us. We experience its vibrations as coming toward us. Hearing persons perceive themselves as surrounded, animated within a force-field of sound waves. In fact, hearers are even "surrounded" and animated inside our bodies, for sound waves literally enter the body. In contrast to seeing, hearing is a more flowing experience between inner and outer. Acoustic energy naturally evokes both breadth and depth. Sound enters and then resounds onward, inward, and outward. Sound, resonance and silence involve reverberating space, which naturally encourages and deepens reflection or retro-hearing and re-experience. Sound is alive with flow, rhythm, layers of vibration. And so is silence. Through careful and imaginative listening, the perceptual richness of the acoustic realm, and the myriad of ways it manifests, can become a more conscious experience, moving us along the way.

Sound and reverberation call especially to those layers of experience that hover near consciousness. They take their meaning from the laws of vibration and associativeness. Indirectness, likenesses, hold sway in the night world. Unconsciously, we receive a great deal from the side, from our ears. This world of acoustic perception is one that we are subliminally in tune with. Indeed, we are deeply dependent upon it.

In exploring the depths, vision is the last perceptual mode to center in. Sight leaves us in the dark. Depth work intrinsically entails working in the dark and with the dark. In darkness, we are by no means bereft of our ears, nor for that matter, our other senses. Indeed, they may seem intensified. Working with a more unconscious mode of perception like audition, in its very essence, invites depth work. It is a "natural."


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