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Sound Insights

by Jeff Volk

In the beginning was the word... or in Sanskrit, "Nada Brahma," the world is sound.... For most of my life, I could only relate to these as abstract religious concepts - until I actually had the opportunity to see these principles in action.

And what an opportunity! To witness the formation of galaxies; to watch coherent "organic" forms arising from the dust of the earth; to view delicate flower-shaped mandalas taking shape within a 

  © Rassouli

vibrating sample of water. Oh what mysteries 

these revealed! 


No, I'm not describing a psychic excursion to the lofty realms of cosmic consciousness. These are but a few of the fascinating experiments in the field of Cymatics, the study of wave phenomena, pioneered in the 1950's by the late Swiss scientist Dr. Hans Jenny. Following the work of German physicist and acoustician, Ernst F. F. Chladni, who, toward the end of the 18th Century, created intricate sand patterns by vibrating a steel plate with a violin bow, Dr. Jenny employed the modern technology of the day to carry out more precisely replicable experiments.  Using a sine wave generator and a speaker to vibrate various powders, pastes and liquids, Jenny succeeded in making visible the subtle power through which sound structures matter.

Imagine hearing a tone, and watching as sound waves involute an inert blob of kaolin paste, animating it through various phases in a nearly perfect replica of cellular division. Or watching as a pile of sand is transformed into life-like flowing patterns, mirroring symmetrical geometric forms found in nature, simply by audible vibration. Perhaps the most striking image is that of a snake slithering along, as if its vertebrae were being viewed by x-ray cinematography the result of light reflecting off the wave trains created in a thin film of glycerin spread upon a vibrating membrane.

This intimate glimpse into creation, seen in such graphic detail in Dr. Jenny's films, evokes visions of the Dance of Shiva in all its majesty. These phenomena vividly reveal certain universal principles which lend credence to the proliferation of sound therapies that are rapidly emerging at the forefront of the holistic health movement. Might this be yet another example of the blending of the wisdom of ancient traditions with the discoveries and practical applications of modern science?

In the video Of Sound Mind and Body: Music and Vibrational Healing, biologist Rupert Sheldrake describes our bodies as "nested hierarchies of vibrational frequencies" which appear as discreet systems functioning within larger more complicated systems, which themselves are contained within even larger and more complex vibrational structures. In fact, you can view the whole universe in this way, from sub-atomic particles, to the most intricate life forms, to the nebulae and galaxies themselves - all are resonating fields of pulsating energy in constant interaction with one another.

If you accept this viewpoint, it becomes quite plausible that externally imposed vibration can have quite an influence on our physiology. We've all experienced this phenomenon of entrainment, but we are usually unaware of it. Say you're sitting in your kitchen balancing your checkbook and you begin to notice that your shoulders are hunched up and your back is tighter than normal. Suddenly the refrigerator shuts off and you heave a sigh of relief. Your shoulders drop, your back loosens up, and your whole breathing pattern changes. Well, what just happened? Could it be that certain biological rhythms had unconsciously entrained to the 60 cycle hum of the refrigerator motor?

This process was first articulated in 1656 when Dutch mathematician, physicist, and astronomer, Christian Huygens, performed an unusual series of experiments. He found that randomly swinging pendula of similar lengths would begin to swing in unison after a period of time. After extensive observation, he formulated the principle of entrainment to describe this phenomenon where weaker pulsations come under the influence of stronger ones.

Some three hundred years later, a British physician, Dr. Peter Guy Manners, applied this same principle to treat a variety of physiological conditions. Positing that every form, with its unique shape, size and density, vibrates within its own specific range of frequencies, Manners correlated the resonant frequencies of healthy tissues and organs. He devised a way to project these vibrations via sound waves, directly into distressed areas which were no longer "sound", or resonating at their proper, healthy frequencies. Through a process called sympathetic resonance, the tissues are then guided back to their optimal frequency patterns, while releasing the tension which they had been holding 

With the advent of neurological monitoring devices such as EEG and EKG, it became possible to examine the entraining potential of audible sound frequencies on brainwaves. In the 1960's Robert Monroe pioneered a process in which he used specific sound frequencies to modulate brainwave states. Through headphones, he would introduce slightly different audible frequencies into each ear. Subjects reported that as the frequencies converged, they no longer heard separate tones, but rather an oscillation, like what you hear when you tune a guitar. As the strings approach the same pitch you hear a "wawawawa" pulsation, the "beat" of which being the difference between the two frequencies.

The Monroe Institute in Faber, Virginia, spent many years experimenting with these binaural beat frequencies, developing precise formulations to evoke a frequency following response, or an entraining effect on brainwaves. An extensive body of research documents the ability of specific frequency differentials to entrain brainwaves in such a way that a dynamic state of balance is achieved between the left and right hemispheres of the neocortex. Specific HemiSync? beat frequencies are then encoded into musical compositions which are further engineered to assist the listener to reach desired "brain states" ranging from relaxed or meditative states, to those of increased mental clarity and alertness.

Over the past decade or so, a variety of sophisticated machines have been developed to the point where contemporary light and sound devices combine binaural beat frequencies with pulsating LED visual stimulation. The user can modulate these frequencies to experience a wide range of powerfully entraining effects. Yet as compelling as these technologies may be, there are well-established practices which require no sophisticated equipment other than our own nervous system. For example, the beat frequencies associated with states of deep meditation are quite prevalent in such ancient ritual instruments as Tibetan "singing bowls". These pulsations tend to quiet brainwave activity from our more normally active Beta states (around 14 - 20 Hz.) to the Theta and Delta states where predominant brainwave activity may drop to a range from 8 Hz. to as low as 0.5 Hz. in deepest meditative states.

Listening To The World Within

From time immemorial, spiritual traditions have imparted various esoteric disciplines to help the student achieve these profound states of mental stillness. Their common objective is to bring one's attention inward, away from the attractions and distractions of the outer world. As anyone who has really delved into this process may attest, it is no simple matter to still the mind! While modulating ones brainwaves may provide a momentary sensation or experience, I believe that real, lasting effects will only take hold when such qualities as self-knowledge, dedication and devotion to inner unfoldment, a strong yearning for transcendence over one's conditioning, and the desire for liberation from the tyranny of one's own mind, are assiduously cultivated.

It is a very humbling experience to try to subjugate one's mind. This is where the power and skill of a teacher is paramount. In a sense, the teacher provides the entraining frequency, the "perfect pitch" through which one may allow oneself to be drawn into harmonization with the Universal Tone. So this is not a simple process of entrainment, so much as true individuation - with the objective not merely to be drawn like an iron filing to a magnet, (nor a moth to a flame), but to offer oneself as a bell to be rung, an instrument to be played.

These sonorous similes, like the Cymatics experiments themselves, are actually more than poetic imagery. I perceive them as living metaphors, embodying universal truths in a way that may be immediately perceptible to the astute listener. Throughout the ages, various esoteric traditions known as the Light and Sound teachings, have proffered a simple contemplative process of "deep listening", where one may actually begin to hear the subtle "inner sounds" at play within our nervous system.

In our normal active (Beta) state, the sensory currents flow throughout our body and out into the world gathering perceptions. We process these physical, mental, and emotional sensations and navigate our environment accordingly, totally unaware of this subtle energy outflow. Yet these sensory currents are the very avenues through which most of our life force is diffused into the outer world. The Light and Sound paths teach that through controlling the play of the sensory currents, rather than trying to dominate the kundalini energy, one may begin to reclaim this spiritual elixir and consolidate these energies at the third eye center. When sufficient energy has accumulated therein, it begins to rise into the higher chakras. It is through these centers that one may begin to hear these subtle sounds.

Yet hearing the sounds is not the objective, nor is simply stilling the mind. These are but effects of concentralizing ones sensory currents and allowing the energy to ascend to the higher, non-physical energetic vortices within the cranium. While these sounds are not heard with the outer ears, they may seem as if they are "out there somewhere" beckoning our attention. The sounds are very particular; each one denotes the level of consciousness where we presently reside. At first, faint buzzing or electrical-sounding noises may be heard, analogous to the static received when tuning a radio or when coming "on line" with your modem. If your attention remains focused, perhaps through chanting a mantra to help entrain the mind, you might begin to hear the humming of bees, then the chirping of crickets. These are the various "elemental sounds" produced as what is known esoterically as the Audible Life Stream, or the Sound Current, or Nada, interacts with the five subtle elements within our nervous system.

Over time, as one masters the ability to sustain focused attention at the third eye, the sounds become clearer and more powerful: a resounding bell being struck, a conch shell being blown, the beating of a large drum, the playing of harps, the flute and finally a sound similar to bagpipes. It is interesting to note that human cultures the world over have created musical instruments which mimic these subtle sounds, perhaps as archetypal symbols serving to remind us from whence we have come, and as guideposts for our long journey back home.

This is the same path that has been navigated by the great masters, saints and teachers from all sacred traditions throughout the ages. In the Sufi lineage, it has been described in detail in the poems of Rumi, and the writings of Kabir and Hafiz. In the Western mystery schools it was revealed by Pythagoras, Socrates and Plato, to name but a few. These teachings describe a pathway that is laid out within the template of our own bodies, and is therefore universal in scope and application. It represents a precise science of sacred sound which is absolutely non-denominational.

I am greatly heartened by the burgeoning interest in the various fields of sound therapy, and in the more esoteric practices of Sacred Sound. 

To me, this is a clear indication of the spiritual renaissance which is accelerating as humankind moves through this millennial portal in our evolution 


Jeff Volk is a poet, video artist and publisher. He recently re-published Dr. Hans Jenny's books Cymatics, Vol. I & II. Jenny's cymatic images are used by Gregg Braden, Jonathan Goldman, Tom Kenyon and many others because they scientifically demonstrate how audible sound creates harmonic, geometric patterns similar to those frequently found in mandalas and crop circles. In 1992, Jeff Volk's video Of Sound Mind and Body: Music and Vibrational Healing won the Hartley Film Award through the Institute of Noetic Sciences. For the next six years he produced the International Sound Colloquium, a conference exploring the power of sacred sound and healing music. He is currently completing Sounding the Psyche: Attuning the Bodymind, a video which examines many of the themes outlined in this article.  

Reprinted by permission of the author.

This article, Sound Insights, was written by Jeff Volk for the 15th Anniversary issue of Kindred Spirit Magazine,,published in the UK.

Jeff Volk occasionally offers multimedia presentations 

using Cymatics and related material to illustrate the 

universal principles which are at play in our lives. 




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