The Spiritual Dynamics of Sound

By K. P. Riley

Like skilled musicians, spiritual aspirants work with vibration to alter states of consciousness.Because musical tones are readily audible, their effect is clear to any alert observer.Good music soothes, uplifts, activates, evokes, and heals.By blending the tones of different instruments, music creates an atmosphere that can alter the whole tenor of an event, mood or state of being.Likewise, the spiritual worker uses vibration to change and develop consciousness.Using the disciplined and developed self as an instrument, the spiritual musician sounds forth his or her note, adding energy and quality to the universal stream and developing particular states of consciousness in other living forms.While more subtle than audible tones, notes of confidence, love, respect or any other spiritual quality sounded forth with skill can dramatically alter both individual and group states of being.

Because they work with vibration, spiritual aspirants and workers can learn a great deal from musicians.Skilled musicians and composers order their vibration through rhythm, pitch, tone quality, and dynamics.When one first learns to play an instrument, it seems enough to make any pleasing sound at all; yet skill in moving listeners, in charming them to alter their unconscious mental, emotional and physical states requires mastering the subtler elements of vibration, such as tone colour and dynamics.And so it is with spiritual expression.At first we are happy simply to sound something of the notes of joy, goodwill or patience.But soon we learn that there is much more to effective expression than simply sounding forth a note.In some cases, the note itself may be good, but an ineffective execution, like a badly played piece of music, jars the audience, just as too much boisterous good cheer in a sick room disturbs the patient.

Since living things cannot receive force unmediated, good dynamic control is a vital part of masterful expression.Just as unrelenting sunlight can kill even the hardiest plants, so too can unwavering vibration repel or overwhelm.Dynamics are subtle changes within the patterns of a vibration’s intensity.Good dynamics create a wave-like movement within the musical piece or expressive form.Living things rarely change state instantly.Growth itself has an implicit dynamic arc succinctly expressed in the old adage:“One step forward, two steps back.” We oscillate from new state to old until a new equilibrium is attained.Good dynamics mimic this pattern; greater intensity draws us forward, weakened intensity lets us fall back and rest.By playing with intensity, an expressive dynamic arc coaxes, tempts to a new pattern, gives time to ponder until the moment of inner assent is reached and the old vibration gives way joyfully to the new.

Rather than overwhelm, dynamics charm the recipient, making the act of assent a free choice, rather than a capitulation.

How can we bring better dynamics to our expression?Paradoxically, a deep understanding of the subtleties of sound and the effect of vibration is impossible without first embracing and exploring the absence of these qualities found in silence.Our world is noisy; untold clamoring from both within and without scatters our forces and diverts our attention.Listening to the silence, feeling its contours, embracing its possibilities, learning to inhabit it fully is the only way to begin to perceive the very quietest stirrings of vibration that signal any dynamic arc’s commencement.Wrapped in silence, we can follow the vibration of silence itself and then, listening carefully, perceive the first stirrings signaling sound’s wheel beginning its rotation.Only in silence can we begin to repair the damage to our sense organs accrued through the hubbub of daily living.In silence, we can finally begin to hear.

Another good first step is to notice and contemplate the many dynamic arcs embedded in daily life.Sunlight’s familiar cycle from dawn’s first refracted pink glow to the twilight’s final star-glazed sheen provides a constant reminder of natural changes in intensity.Listening attentively to our own audible world with voices rising and falling, footsteps coming and going, sounds ringing forth and fading attunes us to the dynamic element of vibration.Playing and listening to music naturally sensitizes us to the world’s dynamic dimension.

Once attuned to the dynamic element, we can work within the imagination to apply the dynamic principle to spiritual expression.Love’s vibration, for example, is quite distinct.We could focus on Love itself, or on one of Love’s many tonal variations: respect, tenderness, caring, compassion, support, kinship, or generosity.Summoning forth the chosen quality in our imaginations, we could listen for the quality and intensity of its note.Holding this note in the mind, we might experiment with deepening its force and then relaxing the tension.Just as we can follow the pattern of our own breath by listening to the rise and fall of the incoming and outgoing sounds, so too can we begin to understand and follow the rhythm of an abstract quality’s dynamic arc as we imagine it in all of its expressive ranges from weakest to strongest.We could add a visual image to guide the process.We might, for example, imagine ourselves standing in front of a great vat of coloured dye.In the mind’s eye, we might envision ourselves dipping the quality chosen into the vat, observing and experiencing its deepening vibration as we watch the dye saturate the quality’s fabric.We might then mentally dip our quality into another vat; this one filled with clear water, and note the changes in its vibration as the saturation level lessens.

Like any good musician, we will know the value of practice.At first the fingers fumble and the sound is weak, uneven, uninspired; but soon the pattern is established and the vibration flows forth as music.Practice leads to performance and the spiritual worker can eventually begin to experiment with levels of intensity in daily expression.Can we observe the effect of our own intensity? Too great a force overwhelms; a weak one fails to make a mark.Just as plants in a garden need a variety of levels of sunlight to thrive, human beings each have their own unique response to incoming vibration.Can we see or hear these differences? Can we begin to alter our own vibration to meet the need? Skill comes with practice, but with work and time, the spiritual aspirant can send forth a vibration as powerful, dynamic and complex as the most beautiful music adding thereby another set of graceful notes to life’s great symphony.