You hear that song. The notes feel like they are inside you, coursing through your blood stream straight to the heart, pumped round and round again, syncing with the sound of your own heart beat. You feel different.
That inexplicable connection between music and mood, our emotional state, our state of mind has been a part of traditional medicine for thousands of years, and now the western world is listening too.
Aboriginal Australians have used the yidaki or 'didgeridoo' in healing practices for at least 40,000. Ancient Egyptian priestesses used sistra, a type of musical rattle with metal discs that we now know generates copious amounts of ultrasound, only used in western medicine since the 1930's. Archeological ruins show that during the Greco-Roman period patients would enter small reverberant cells with parallel facing stone walls, where they would undergo 'dream sleep' therapy, aided by music.
This idea of dream sleep therapy is exactly how I would describe Sonic Enchantment, a live multi-media sound healing experience by Fabio Garces. An expert in the field of cymatics, acoustic therapies, solfeggio frequencies and ancient South and Central American shamanic sound healing practices, Fabio has identified the frequencies which help lull the brain into a deep meditative state ideal for healing.
As a practitioner of open eye meditation, which uses both positive incantations as well as visual stimulation, I decided this was something I had to hear to believe.
At the studio a low hum of excitement passed between the 20 or so people settling down onto yoga mats and blankets in front of a large projector screen showing intricate animated mandalas. The innocent glee as everyone claimed their space was reminiscent of a childhood sleepover.
I lay there allowing myself to be carried away on layers of ambient music, sounds derived from nature, hypnotic melodies, ethereal soundscapes and subtle shamanic rhythms. To my surprise I found that where I would usually be focused on a still or moving image during meditation, the lack of external visual stimulation was almost immediately replaced by internal images, called into focus by my minds eye.
My brain interpreted certain sounds as birds, waves, trees; at one point I was standing on the balcony of a tree house I had stayed at in Sri Lanka a few months previously and was filled with the same feeling of peace, happiness and fulfilment I had felt there.
Amazing! I thought, who needs to fly half way round the world... paradise is a state of mind and somehow lying in a darkened room, listening to this atmospheric soundscape, had stimulated in me the sense of being on holiday.
Bliss gave way to other emotions as my subconscious seemed to be working it's way through memories and fragments of emotional debris still floating around, not quite forgotten. In this state I did not become upset, it was almost as in a dream, where complex emotions and experiences can be processed in a more abstract way. But here I was more lucid than I might be whilst fully dreaming, a detached observer of my own thoughts and feelings.
At one point I heard something reminiscent of ghosts howling. Afterwards I asked Fabio what it was and was surprised to discover it was the sound of planets recorded by NASA.
Fascinated that even the largest objects known to humankind emit a sound, I began to read up on the smallest and came across the work of James Gimzewski, a professor in nanotechnology and sonocytology at The University of California, LA.
Gimzewski modified an atomic force microscope so that he was able to detect the vibrations of the cell wall of a living cell. These vibrations, once amplified using computer software, create audible sound. What's more, Gimzewski discovered that cancerous cells emit a slightly different sound to healthy cells; leading to the hope that sonocytology may someday have applications in early cancer detection and diagnosis.
In clinical trials at the University of West Virginia, ultra sound is being used to perform brain surgery on fully conscious patients, without having to go through the invasive procedures usually associated with brain operations.
Although our scientific endeavours to better understand the healing potential of sound are still in their infancy, I believe we stand on the precipice of a giant leap in human evolution; brought about by science and spiritual experience, knowledge and practices finally coming together. Two halves of the same picture.
Researchers at Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences in Lucknow, India recently discovered that listening to the sound OM (an ancient sacred sound in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism) activates areas of the brain involved with emotional empathy and relaxes the parts of the brain used in everyday functioning.
That night as I slept I experienced a lucid dream. I knew without doubt that I was dreaming as I watched the dramas of my subconscious unfold. I awoke with a renewed sense of purpose, recalling some very clear messages I had received during the dream.
We all seek guidance, but what I now realise is that everything we need to know is inside our mind already; we just have to connect and listen.