Listen closely as your life improves
By Phil Hall
Given the high volume of wailing ambulances, droning traffic jams, bleating car alarms, rumbling subway cars, and eardrum-shattering music in bars and clubs, it is safe to exclaim that New York is not a city rich with aural comfort. For anyone whos had to brave the cacophony of the citys soundscape (or had to live with noisy neighbors, for that matter), Jonathan Goldmans Healing Sounds is a must-need, must-read study in the therapeutic value of sound on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual life.
Goldmans examination of sound as a force of critical nature is hardly new or even New Age. The power of sound has been recognized since ancient man began taking himself seriously: the religious traditions of Egypt, Greece, and Rome are filled with stories of gods who used sound or music to create and rule, i.e. the Old Testament tale of Joshua bringing down the walls of Jericho thanks to an intense campaign of shouting and musical assaults on the fabled barriers. In Australia, the Aboriginal people use the unique sounds of the didjeridu as the portal to connect contemporary tribesmen with the Wandijina, the ancient Dreamtime race who ruled the world before humans moved in. Specialized, sacred vocals are also key to such diverse theological groups as Gregorian monks, Kabbalah-focused Jews, Sufi Muslims, and Tibetan Buddhist clergy.
But Healing Sounds serves the reminder that sound, in addition to establishing or destroying Empires, can also be channeled as a means of repairing the spirit. This is not as simplistic as putting on soft music or a white noise machine, but rather it involves harmonic exercises and therapies which stress distinct man-made sounds utilized in a defined chant as a means of generating an inner energy to fuel self-healing. (Yes!)
In one chapter, Goldman meets with Joseph Rael, an American Indian of Ute-Tewa heritage who has constructed circular sound chambers designed for chanting what he calls the Five Vibrations. This vibrating quintet is actually our old friends the vowels, but presenting them in a chant and giving pause between the sounds for a brief period of silence had a profound effect on the author.
I also became aware that listening to the silence between the vowels proved as helpful as the creation of vowel sounds themselves, writes Goldman. Each silence was difference. My nervous system was different. The inner listening I experienced was different. I had done similar exercises many times before, but never had I quite had the inner validations of the effects of vowels and their harmonics as resonating tools for our brains and complementary systems.
Healing Sounds details at great length the manner in which the average noise-battered individual can channel the power of harmonics. Healing Sounds provides in-depth guidelines regarding tone, breathing, sound projection, listening to harmonics during meditative practices, and the resonation of sounds within the body. It clearly helps to pay careful attention to the instructions; at one point in his studies Goldman, obviously forgetting to focus on the positive energy within harmonics, experimented with an improvised form of primal scream therapy and popped three vertebrae out of his neck as a result of yelling too much.
Goldman may believe that some people would scoff at his presentation, which could explain why Healing Sounds is constantly bolstering its credibility via a somewhat overstuffed plate of diverse sources ranging from Pythagoras to contemporary medical researchers. Yet the intelligent presentation of theories and practices raises Healing Sounds above the typical alternative medicine text. Goldmans book is thoroughly researched and stresses the universality of harmonics as a healing agent; a discussion on Hindu Ayurvedic medicines effect on vocal balancing, for example, is mirrored with detailed recent studies by European health experts. Goldman also wisely avoids making steadfast medical claims or specific deadline reactions and cures. For a book marketed as a resource on healing, Goldmans text is uncommonly mature and responsible.
The only problem that the typical New Yorker might face with Healing Sounds is not a fault of the book but the city in which they read it. Where can you find a quiet, comfortable corner for a stretch of uninterrupted reading? The folks who recognize the power of harmonics never are definitely not the people who founded New Amsterdam.