Reflections: Using Music to describe Resonance

I’d like to begin with a personal haiku:

this earth is vibrant
and I like a string attached
moved with vibration

That’s resonance. I think many of us have an intuitive notion of resonance, that feeling of connection at multiple levels – sympathetic vibration.  Genuine resonance has a force-like quality.  I’m going to use music as a concrete way to examine the process, starting with neurologist Oliver Sacks.  Sacks relates an amazing story in the autobiographical A LEG TO STAND ON.  He tells us that he shattered his leg in a hiking accident in the mountains in 1974.  The leg was surgically repaired, but was completely paralyzed. He relates that it felt like the leg was no longer a part of his body.

Sacks, a lover of music, describes how barren his hospital room felt without the opportunity for music.  Luckily, a friend brought in a tape recording of Mendelssohn.  Not Sacks first choice, but for the sound of music, he wasn’t complaining.  He listened to the tape over and over.  Then, during a session of physical therapy, as he was trying to gain the ability to walk again, the near miraculous occurred.  He began to hallucinate hearing the Mendelssohn tunes, and the music literally animated his paralyzed and forgotten leg.  He walked!  This I would call deep resonance.

Music is extremely personal, intimate even, and the more one recognizes music as a personal medicine, the more advantage can be had from the experience. Knowing what music can transform our spirit and pluck the strings of mood is like discovering personal resonance through sound. Music is alchemy.  Music can be Power.  There is a chord that resonates with aspects of our soul that are alive in the world.

Discovering resonance requires the development of a discriminating mind so that one can differentiate what genuinely chimes or radiates for us individually, as opposed to what we are told we should accept or prefer through participation with a larger social group. For example, music for early teens often represents a social desire for popularity and an exploration of social emergence and belonging.  Music that is defined by the group as popular may take precedence over individual predilection.  That is the difference between social acceptance and personal resonance.  The notion of resonance commonly associates a richness of identification.  But resonance is deeper than that, touching a sympathetic response.  In music, this is known as sympathetic resonance, when a formerly passive string or vibratory body actively responds to external vibrations to which it has a harmonic similarity.  In other words, one thing vibrating makes another thing vibrate. In life, like in music, resonance is vibrational harmony.

In any case, we can’t fake resonance. We can put a mask over perception, but we can’t fool our body. Here’s another example from Oliver Sacks.  Sacks reports that he loves to listen to Bach and does not like Beethoven.  When Bach is played, fMRI scans show that his brain is lighting up with stimulation, especially his amygdala (part of the emotional brain).  We can infer deep appreciation.  Not so with Beethoven.  The fMRI showed very little response in Sack’s brain to a Beethoven piece that was selected for its similarity to the Bach piece.  And there was no response in his emotional brain.  Sacks concurred that he did not like the Beethoven piece.

A team of scientists decided to mess with his perception by splicing small exerts of the Bach and Beethoven together into an unrecognizable piece. Sacks admitted that he could not consciously tell the difference between the Beethoven and the Bach. But they couldn’t fool his brain, which still responded with a strong preference for Bach (NOVA: Musical Minds — 2009).  One might infer that people are not always in touch with what resonates with their own mind, accepting an outside authority or cultural norm to inform them of their likes and dislikes.  If so, they may sacrifice personal resonance in order to participate in a group mind or gain acceptance.

In order for music to transform it must be engaging. Participation needs to be active – active listening or active participation through dance or playing an instrument. As Rumi says (my modern translation):

This morning, like every morning, you wake up tired and confused.
Don’t go into the living room and turn on the television.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty you love be what you do. *
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

*(Italics mine)

Letting the beauty you love become an expression of what you do, your actions and engagements, is a way of establishing resonance. This becomes the yoga of your life.

Now let’s extend the definition of musical. There are the sounds of children laughing, wind in the trees, the sound of rushing water, birdsong…  And there’s the poetry of words, the lilt of imagination. Words can be spoken out loud or carried in a stream of thought.  Our thoughts are the inner language of our ongoing dialogue with our world.

Finding a kindred spirit can be like listening for soul songs echoed in the world.  We’re discovering the threads that sing the songs of our lives.  Here’s an imaginal experiment: think of yourself as a being with many strings flowing from your center toward Resonance.  This is an image of the human harp.  Follow any chosen string with your imagining to see if it leads to a song, person, place, idea, image, or soulful embrace.  By attending mindfully to what activates our spirit we bring ourselves into sympathetic vibration.  The Soul’s strings may begin a journey of expression.

Understanding what plucks our strings is useful knowledge, because resonance is a source of renewal.  Personal resonance also provides a temporary shield from the abrasions of the world while you regroup, animating your body in times of trouble. We’re searching for the threads that link us to Life, so that we can participate in the motion of genuine connection. The more attuned our attention, the greater the sympathetic vibrations.

Image from Facebook: How to Raise Your Vibration — Art by Robby Joseph Donaghy

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