In this series we’ve been exploring how sound, because of the inherent truths within and amongst sounds, can give us portals to peace beyond stress and anxiety and become a healing therapy.
Today we’ll look at sound as a means of healing the suffering of separation. We’ll see how sound can heal the suffering of feeling separate, alone, abandoned … literally “left to one’s own devices”.
The pain and suffering of separation often leads us to seek comfort in external forms –– the “special relationship”, material possessions or chemical dependency. Sometimes all three together (as I’ll soon show with a personal story). But this never succeeds and only leads to more suffering.
The essential healing modality of sound is its ability to convey “Oneness”. When we have learned to hear sounds in a new way, or perhaps more accurately –– remember how to hear them in an old way, we resonate to the Oneness that sound conveys and thus feel wholeness within ourselves and let go of the need to be made “complete” by external forms.
Before I explore this abstraction, and prove to you the unifying transcendence of sound, I’d like to show you, with a personal story, just how “separate and suffering” one can become.
As this is a story that evolved over 20 years (having emerged from earlier stories) I’ll just mention the highlights. In 1997, having been separated from my first wife for some years, and desirous of a union with another women, I manifested one.
I’m good at manifestation and have called in vintage cars, jobs, musical gear, multiple houses and in this case another wife. The problem with manifestation is not that it is impossible, or hard, but the problem lies in the truth of the old adage: “be careful what you wish for, you might just get it”. Manifestation most often proceeds from the ego’s desire to externalize itself and make itself substantial through material form.
So I manifested a lovely wife with great interior design sense and I manifested several nice apartments then two lovely houses, a 1953 Chevy 3100 pick up and a recording studio in the final house’s basement complete with 40 or so guitars, 6 bass guitars, a totally bitch’n custom drum set, keyboards, synths, vocal booth, guitar tech room, machine room for the computer, mixing console, fully isolated wall construction. Perfect. Problem was, I wasn’t happy.
Because I was in a loveless marriage between two separate individuals that had no basis in true union. This separation of spirit, led to physical separation as well. She spending her evenings in front of the big screen TV watching Game of Thrones and other fantasy fare while I’d spend my early evening in another room drinking Beefeater martinis (very dry, well shaken, one olive in the winter a lemon twist in the summer) and hanging out on gearslutz.com –– the biggest recording gear forum on the Internet where I’d get into pissing contests with a few of the more argumentative denizens of the place. Oh, a season of heavy pot smoking and the death of my mother to cancer on top of a loveless marriage had me in one big depression.
After binge buying yet another guitar on Musicians’ Friend I’d wobble downstairs to my studio. As soon as I approached the basement door and started to descend to the studio, the weight of my depression grew worse. I felt as if I was descending into my own personal hell, Dante would be proud. The weight of all I had manifested –– wife, house, gear … became more oppressive as I descended those stairs to the studio.
This went on for months until I experienced a combined physical and psychological crisis. The wife, who had been preparing her own exit strategy had temporarily left our house on Cape Cod, was visiting friends in the South. I was left alone with the animals to care for, my high blood pressure and a blizzard.
One the third day after the first blizzard of the winter of ’15 (which gave us a blizzard a week for six weeks) I decided I couldn’t stand being in the house any longer and had to get out. But that would mean shoveling four feet of snow off the walkways and driveway. Better check my blood pressure first so I don’t kill myself. Oops …
… 195 over 160 or some crazy numbers like that. Got on the phone to my contractor friend with a four wheel drive truck –– “Joe, got a problem here, can you bring me to the emergency room?”.
An hour later I’m in the ER getting my blood pressure brought down, prescription refilled and sent home to consider the state of my affairs.
I gathered up the two cats and my Yorkie Lucy, put them on top of me and laid down on the sofa to read. I had several hundred book samples in my Kindle account that I hadn’t read yet, or had dismissed out of hand as “not for me”.
In the later category was Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of NOW”. This book had been on my kindle for 6 years at least. When I first looked into I said: “Oh right, Eckhart Tolle, he’s one of those ‘be here now’ guys. Check, got that, don’t need to read this”. So I never read it –– that is until I was convalescing from a high blood pressure episode, deep depression and loveless marriage. The suffering of all that finally led my essential self to resist no longer and open myself to a new teaching.
I read “The Power of NOW” with amazement as Eckhart Tolle perfectly described my suffering. Suffering brought on by my obsessive identification with external forms and my disregard for my own essence identity. In a matter of hours I came to see that my lack of stillness, my lack of peaceful awareness free from conceptual thinking –– and attachment to external forms, were the causes of my suffering. I saw my obsessive striving to acquire external validation and completion was in fact the very source of my suffering.
As I began to practice intentional, no-thought awareness of stillness, my life began to change for the better. I should add that “not thinking” is something I can do easily. In my forty-year career as an audio product design engineer I was always required to listen intentionally to the equipment I had designed or modified. One cannot listen intently and be thinking at the same time. But while I could listen without thinking, what was missing was the meta layer over all of this –– the awareness, that I was aware. An awakened consciousness in other words.
I continued to practice intentional, no-thought, “awareness of being aware”, at first for just a few moment at a time. But with more practice I found I could sustain no-thought awareness of being aware for longer periods to time, and significantly, frequently throughout the day as I went about my normal work routine. No intentional “sitting meditation” in other words. Before too long my depression lifted and I became more engaged with the world again. I booked a trip the big Musik Messe trade show in Frankfurt, Germany –– just to wander around, enjoy the show and city, not to buy or sell.
After the show had ended, and I had a couple of days of leisure, I was out walking and sat at a cafe to have an espresso and one of the wonderful little cakes that are so prominent in Frankfurt. It was an overcast day. The bells of the nearby cathedral began to ring. They rang for a long, long time. I thought “huh, what is this all about? It’s not a Catholic feast day. A big funeral perhaps? Some other kind of celebration?”.
The long duration of the bells ringing really got my attention. I was fascinated. How long would these bells continue to ring? They went on ringing for ten minutes or more. Slowly, they began stop. Slowly, one bell after another began to fade and stop ringing. Slowly, just three bells remained ringing. The two bells, ringing more quietly. Then one bell, ringing ringing … ringing, then it stopped.
I had been intently following the bells for ten minutes or more. When the final bell stopped ringing I was in a very open state of mind –– very aware of being aware. Very aware of the Oneness of the bells fading into the background ambience of foot traffic, light automobile traffic and voices speaking German (which I didn’t understand) all heard as one big moment of Oneness.
As if on cue, like this was a movie scene, the clouds parted and a beam of light lit up the sidewalk cafe where I was sitting and I felt, in that moment, that I had my State of Grace batteries charged. A Satori moment, to use Zen terminology.
This is how deep, intentional and attentive listening led me to become extremely aware of being aware – how my consciousness was awakened from the slumber of being attached to external forms, and how I experienced a deep sense of Oneness, in that present moment.
Everything changed in that one moment, time was not required –– but deep, attentive, intentional listening to the present moment is what it took to permanently change my life. That one moment in Frankfurt, near the cathedral, brought together my long term ability to listen intently, with a new and deeper “awareness of being aware”. That intentional, attentive listening, coupled with deep “awareness of being aware” changed my life. Nothing would be the same after those bells stopped ringing.
I returned home to Cape Cod energized. I ended the loveless marriage, sold the house and sold or gave away 99% of my music gear and walked freely, and joyously for the first time in a long, long time. I was content with the wholeness within myself, not needing completion from another person, place or thing. My separation had been healed in a moment of true recognition of wholeness brought to me through the non-judgmental, non-analytical acceptance of the totality of the sounds I had heard in that one Satori moment in Frankfurt.
That was three years ago this coming April. Since then my life has completely changed for the better, in all ways.
You can experience wholeness and heal the suffering of separation too, by intentionlly listening attentively to sounds –– while you’re aware you’re doing so. More on this another time.