Unit VIII. The Sound of Silence


1. The sound of silence
2. Verbal mediation
3. Talking
4. Mantra

Materials needed: Journal, mantra tapes

Books and articles needed:

Tao Te Ching

Exercises and practices:

Sound as Speech

The petals on the chakras represent expression and/or speech as one form of expression. The increasing number of petals as we go up the chakra tree means increasingly refined speech or an increase in frequency of vibration of the organism. This means also higher and higher levels of consciousness. Therefore, the work we do on ourselves during the spiritual journey results in increasing refinement of every aspect of ourselves: the senses, the mind, speech, body, relationships and consciousness.

The Sound of Silence

Hello darkness my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains within the sound of silence.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
Beneath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash
Of a neon light that split the night
And touched the sound of silence.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs - that voices
Never share and no one dare disturb
The sound of silence. . . (Simon, 1964)

What is the sound of silence? Is it the sound of one hand clapping? Or is it, as Simon probably intended, the silence of suppression? I would like to suggest another interpretation. Silence is the space in which one can hear the divine voice, that still, small voice that speaks to us only when we are ready to hear. To hear this voice, we must be quiet, cease talking and really listen. We find silence in solitude and in meditation when we are alone and still both in body and in mind. Talking, both inner and outer, must stop for that interim. Let us take a look at talking of both sorts.

Verbal Mediation

"Mommy hates me. I'm going to run away," says four-year old Peter as he packs his teddy bear into a satchel. "No one will ever find me," he continues as he heads for the door. "That's too bad," he remarks as he opens the door. "Coming, Sandy?" he summons the dog.

Imagine his surprise when he looks up to see his mother standing beside him a smile in her eyes as she asks, "Aren't you happy here any more?" How did she know he was thinking of leaving?

Four-year olds say out loud everything they are thinking because the thinking process is still attached to the speech mechanism. We learn to express ourselves in talking before we learn to think. When the mental process of thinking separates itself from the spoken word, it essentially goes underground and becomes a kind of internal speech - talking to oneself. Then later it becomes a process in its own right.

At around the age of five, a gross internalization process takes place in children as the brain matures. We have seen how parental warnings and sanctions become internalized as conscience, and how the ego represses the dynamic ground which results in ego defenses. Imitation of adults in the home that was formerly acted out is now also taken inside and, henceforward, manifests as the various roles we play in our lives.

It makes sense in terms of efficiency for thinking to be separated from talking because without the relative slowness of articulation, it can proceed much more rapidly. So, at this point in development a comparative, external silence falls like a keystone dropped into the peak of an arch, and we no longer know what is going on in the minds of our children. This is talking without speaking. Thinking.

Henceforth, we engage in two kinds of speech, that which communicates with others and that which communicates with ourselves. The first fosters relationships and the second becomes discursive thought, that run-on commentary that goes on constantly in the back of our minds. It is this chatter that is the sound within the silence when we first turn to meditation. And it is this chatter that must cease in order to permit messages from the Higher Power to come through. When the commentary finally stops, we have a true silence in which the only sounds to be noticed are those of primal vibration. This is the place of meeting we all seek.


"Limit your talk for the sake of eternal communication." - Rumi

Talking is what we call external speech. It has many uses. The most obvious is the exchange of information or direction between two or more people. "Johnny, what did you do with my scissors?"

"I left them on the porch."

"Would you go get them, please?"

This process can become extremely complex as in a university lecture or a corporation briefing. In both of these settings, talking can also be an expression of power and status. The one with power talks, the others listen.

Talking can be a form of touching. We call our friends and family on the phone as a way of touching base with them. When someone calls us for this reason, we feel accepted, supported and loved. Lovers talk long before they are ready to touch. We exchange gossip with our neighbors and service people as a way of touching when physical touch might not be acceptable. Doctors, nurses and other caretakers talk to those in their care as a way of soothing pain and fear. "Don't cry, it's not that serious." "What's the matter, lovey. Did you get a boo boo?"

Talking can be a means of self-expression especially when someone wants attention. When I go to visit my daughter, we both fall all over ourselves sharing all that has happened since we last met. This is partly touching, of course. We share our feelings of ecstasy at seeing a gorgeous sunset, we tell another how badly we feel about a betrayal or our sadness at a loss of some sort. Or we share our excitement about finally getting a job. You can think of many examples.

Unfortunately, speech can also be used as a form of control over others. You have surely known someone who will not let you talk but insists on interrupting whenever you begin to express a new thought in order to go off on their own tangent. Or other persons may raise their voices and talk faster if you seem to be ready to say something. We view such people as bores and tend to avoid them because the exchange is unequal. We say we "can't get a word in edgewise."

There is a sense in which such talking is a form of defense. It holds people off at literally arm's length. Watch the body language sometime when you see someone doing this kind of talking and see if the other person does not back off or lean backwards. It could be very interesting to search for the underlying fear that is being defended in such situations.

Yet another form of talking was called "stream of consciousness" by William James. This is a kind of regression to the preschool method of saying whatever is going through one's mind without regard to feedback from others. We all do this when a difficult problem presents itself as a way of hearing ourselves think. But a great many people do it as a way of preventing others from speaking or to fill a silence that they find uncomfortable. It can become habitual especially with mothers of small children who may find it difficult to restrain when the children grow up. This is sometimes called "running off at the mouth."

What do you think speech would become if it were refined to higher levels of consciousness?

Exercise: Sound as Speech

1. Read verses 17 in Tao Te Ching. What does Lao Tsu mean by "When actions are performed without unnecessary speech, people say, We did it!" To what extent do you talk while you are working, either to yourself or to others? Can you work in silence without music in the background or some other unnecessary noise? Do so for a day or two and see what happens. Make notes in your journal to help you keep on track and to remind you of what happened.

2. Read verse 56 in Tao Te Ching. Then go on silence for two days. You may wear a sign saying you are on silence, so no one becomes offended by your not talking. Do this at a time when you will be meeting others, so you can experience how they respond to your silence. If you can, find a period when you can extend your times of silence. It is a marvelous opportunity to examine your own uses of speech and to look at whether you wish to make any changes. Verse 59 may encourage you.


The word "mantra" comes from the Sanskrit words "man" meaning "to think" and "trai" which means to "protect" or "free from the bondage of the phenomenal world." Therefore, mantra means the thought that frees us from the bondage of the material world. The Rishis or seers in ancient India spent lifetimes experimenting with sound and vibration in order to find ways to expand awareness to new levels of Self-realization. The result was the Sanskrit language and mantras of power. They discovered the power of vibration and resonance in the body as well as the importance of breath and breathing.

Now we have a collection of mantras or chants that enable us to literally tune our bodyminds to higher frequencies of vibration. Such mantras have been handed down for centuries, and are imbued now with the vibrational powers they have acquired over the 2500 years or so that they have been in existence and chanted by other seekers.

If you are interested in more information about mantra, look up an article by Alistair Conwell called "Soundless Sound" in the Yoga International journal, June/July, 1997, pages 25-29 or write to the American Sanskrit Institute at 73 Four Corners Rd., Warwick, NY 10990 (Phone 914-986-8652) and ask for a copy of their Newsletter Sanskrit Today, Spring, 1993 wich has an article called "Sanskrit: A Sacred Model of Language - Part II" by Vyaas Houston. This latter is especially good as it explains in detail how the Rishis discovered all the sacred sounds.

A tape called Power of Mantras by Swami Sivananda Radha (see references, no date) gives more information plus chanted examples of some of the classical mantras discussed.

A mantra may be only one syllable in some cases when it is called a bija, or seed syllable. Each chakra has a bija associated with it that, when chanted, opens the chakra and causes it to vibrate. Alternatively, a mantra may be a phrase of words that usually invoke a deity, such as "Om namah Siva" or "Hari Om." In such cases there is usually a melody that is chanted called a raga in Sanskrit. The original pitch is important since it is pitch that creates the frequency of vibration. When you chant, you will find that all the cavities in your body are capable of resonating with the various pitches of the mantras.

Dr. Hans Jenny made use of this information and his own consequent research to develop a process called Cymatic Therapy that uses sound to heal the energy fields and cells of the body. His double-volume set of books is called Cymatic but is no longer in print. Goldman (1996) published a book on the subject called Healing Sounds: The Power of Harmonics. Since Jenny's work, a whole new field of energy medicine has emerged that is based on the energy field that surrounds the body and that is inherent within it. This includes the chakra system, of course.

It is said that thought creates reality. This is especially true of mantra. For, if you chant a mantra over a long period of time, its vibrations will change your life. The effect is usually in the direction of finer and finer sense perceptions and the refinement of every aspect of life into higher levels of consciousness.

Exercise: Mantra

Select one of the mantras you have used before, preferably a Sanskrit one since they are the ones designed to operate through vibration. Chant it every day for a half hour for two weeks. The easiest way to do this is by chanting with a tape. However, you can pick it out on a piano or other instrument if you have the melody. Keep journal notes about what you experience. Watch for how it quiets the discursive mind and how it distracts the ego from its usual escapades. Do the first two exercises without doing anything else at the same time. Sit with a straight back as in meditation.

1. For the first week, chant, then observe silence for five to ten minutes to allow the vibrations to settle in your body. See what happens in that silence without any preconceived idea of what that might be. Just wait.

2. For the second week, chant then meditate for 15-20 minutes. See if you are tuned in to anything. If so, what is it? Are you aware of any presence or voice in that space? If so, is there a message? Whatever happens, try not to judge it and continue to keep notes. Judging restricts the channels and blocks communication. If nothing happens, that is all right. You may need more time. Stay with it at least until you have a sense of some of the resonating chambers of your body and how they respond to the vibrations.

3. After these sessions, try combining chanting and mindfulness practice in your work. That is, if you can make sounds at work. Perhaps a tape and earphones would be acceptable. If not, use the process at home while cooking dinner or something. Notice how it changes your attitude toward the work and what effect it has on your energy. Does it impact the work itself in any way? Or the way you do it?

Listening to mantra is another way to reap its benefits. A mantra tape going in the background can help realign whatever vibrations are in a room and create a sacred space to contain your work or other activities. It is especially nice to go to sleep with a mantra softly playing in the background - or in your head.

Tapes and/or CDs of mantras are available at the following bookstores:

1. Timeless Books, Box 3543, Spokane, WA 99220-3543, phone: 800-251-9273, Email: info@timeless.org, URL: www.timeless.org . This is the company that publishes Swami Radha's work.

2. Siddha Yoga Meditation Bookstore, 224 Pleasant Valley Rd. South Fallsburg, NY 12779, 888-422-3334

3. Sounds True, P. O. Box 8010, Boulder, CO 80306-8019, 800-333-9185, customerservice@soundstrue.com

4. GIA Publications, 7404 So. Mason Ave., Chicago, IL 60638-9927, 800-442- 1358, www.giamusic.com

GIA is a religious music publisher, but they also have audio tapes and CDs, most notably the Taize tapes which are Christian mantras. You can ask for catalogs from any of these companies.

Good luck in tuning up! Remember to focus on Sanskrit mantras as you begin. You can expand later on after you have experienced the effects the Yoga tapes have.


Conwell, A. (1997) "Soundless Sound". Yoga International Journal, June/July, 25- 29.

Feng, G and English, J. (1972). Tao Te Ching. New York: Vintage Books.

Goldman, J. S. (1991). "Cymatics: The Sound of Healing." RMSEN Times, November.

Goldman, J. S. (1996). Healing sounds: The power of harmonics. Boston: Element MA.

Houston, V. (1993). "Sanskrit: A Sacred Model of Language - Part II." Sanskrit Today, Spring, 1-3. (write to the American Sanskrit Institute at 73 Four Corners Rd., Warwick, NY 10990 (Phone 914-986-8652).

Radha, S.R. Power of Mantras (audio tape). Spokane, WA: Timeless Books.

Simon, R. (1972). "The Sound of Silence." Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits (cassette tape). New York: Columbia Records/CBS, 51 W. 52nd St.

We have seen in Unit VIII. Sound of Silence how talking and thinking can be controlled by the use of mantra in order to realign the bodymind to higher frequencies and to open a space for meditation. Unit IX. The Internal Critic and Disempowerment speaks to problems that center around authority issues, judgment and criticism, and shows how these factors have become associated with our feelings and experiences of loss of power.

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