This article is both a game and also serious.
The words we use are formed of sounds. One can find twelve basic consonant sounds in the European languages and seven vowel sounds that are ordered into our alphabet of 26 letters. With close attention one can also find which part of the mouth is employed to create each of these sounds. Each sound we make affects our body. Speaking well, using the full range of our voice-timbre and forming each sound we make fully is a type of sound-healing. By ‘healing’ the sounds themselves so that their full expression is allowed we heal or make-whole ourselves also.
When we speak we form our intentions into these sounds. Again if you bring focussed attention to watching what actually happens you will notice that the words convey only an idea of our meaning. When we hear words from another, we ourselves construct what we hear into sentences and from these sentences we construct meaning, hoping to get close to the meaning behind their expression. Misunderstandings occur frequently this way, mostly benign, sometimes less so. Thus we can feel into how sound forms an incomplete bridge between one person and another. Focus your attention also onto where your words come from. Feel how the sense behind what you are saying is not fully formed until you speak the words. It is as if we reach behind us into a well of meaning and bring forth an expression of this meaning in words. Very often when we hear ourselves speak we understand our own meaning more deeply. Thus our words are forms that crystallise the flow of meaning into clearer, more simple forms. Those who listen have to melt these crystals again to find the flow of meaning within them.
What I am playing with in this article is how certain sounds, used in the English language touch in certain parts of our mouths to express in ways we have not usually noticed how we feel about certain simple, basic concepts of life. I hope you enjoy what follows.
To discover how sound is formed into vowels in the mouth you need only hold a tone with your voice and modulate your mouth. At it’s simplest expression the vowel sound can be seen as modulating the mouth from the wide open ‘Ah’ sound to the almost closed ‘Oooo’ sound. Or as moving from a sound deep in the throat to a sound right between the lips. note 1
Looking a little closer one can include those vowel sounds made by flattening the mouth to produce the ‘Eh’ (as in Air) and ‘Eee’ sounds.
This is expressed in our written language as five letters that indicate the steps between these extremes of wide open and almost shut.
A, Ah, as in Far, E, Eh, as in Air, I, Ee as in See, O, Or as in Form or in Awe U, Uu, as in Soon
in English we rarely use a pure or simple vowel sound but tend to slide one into another without recognizing it. This makes it difficult for us to recognise the letter we call ‘I’ as representative of the Ee sound as it is in many other languages. For example the word ‘Wide’ though spelt with an i if said slowly reveals the sounds Ah-Ee or in another example the pure Ah sound is given a letter we call ‘Eh-ii,’ though we write it as ‘A’ and read it in various ways according to the moment, most purely in words like ‘Far’. Linguists call this method of running two vowels into one a ‘diphthong’ which means gliding vowel and is not meant to suggest very skimpy underwear worn too low.
The consonants also have a place in Sound Healing but there is far more to this than I can do justice to here as my intention with this article is not to lay out a whole modality of phonetic healing. There are at least two groups that use phonetic structures as part of Sound Healing Chirophonetics and Psychophonetics but they are not the source of this article.
I woke up one morning in 2009 with the realisation that the five vowel sounds appear in the English pronunciations of personal pronouns in a most remarkable way. Consider the sounds shown above as the simplest expression of A, E, I, and sound them in your mouth with their full sounds: aah, air, eee, Now run them together fast, they will, if you are reading this right, form the diphthong or sliding vowel written as ‘I’. the first personal pronoun or everyday expression of our sense of self. note 2 Those vowels that start deep in the throat and slowly flatten and move forward to sound in the centre of the mouth, used in English, present to us and others our sense of self.
Now take the vowel sounds that begin with I, (Ee as in See) and progress further through the mouth forming O, (or as in Form) U, (Uu, as in Soon) and, once again, run them together Iii-O-Uuu, and find yourself quite easily forming the common word, ‘you’.
Thus the progress of the vowels in our alphabet, scattered amongst the consonants leads us delicately from self to other. Thus the forming of our out-breath from within our throat to right on our lips leads us in two steps from our expression of self awareness to our expression of awareness that others around us are also a self.
In the centre of this progress stands the letter I, halfway between the forming of self awareness and the completion of awareness of another’s self. Is this why the letter I is formed simply as an upright line? note 3. Is this why the sound it represents most purely, Eee is found in the name for self in nearly all European languages, both Romantic and Germanic?
Is this where the true Self lies, halfway between the self that arises within us and the self that we recognise in another? Notice that the I, in the centre of this is included in both aa,ë,ee, and in ee,o,uu. It is the one uniting factor. Could this be a deeper meaning in that Christian phrase “where two or more are gathered together in the name of I AM there also am I” ? (the original Aramaic actually translates into this way more easily than the usual, biblical translation)
I presented this yesterday at the Hawkwood College workshop on Sounding Bowls, and referred to the progress of human consciousness up to this point in time, which has been a steady increase of self awareness, an awakening to personal power, individual thinking, self as distinct from the world, the tribe, the group ethos, be it religion, nation or even philosophy. The way forward in human development as in the mouth is to form an awareness, outwards of the other, the move from I to you.
Yet we can go further. applying close attention one can see a True Self living within all of us that is more truly found in the space between I and You. It is the finding and ‘warming’ of this self, this growing ‘Child of all Humanity’ that Sounding Bowls seem to speak to. Their resonant response from the sacred-spiral inner-form seems to enable people to come to a feeling of this True I AM in themselves, thus making it easier for them to relate to that goodness in others. Evidence for this lies in the numerous stories of people locked or lost in themselves who are able to come out and relate to others better after Sounding Bowl therapy. This is particularly easy to see where depression and autism are in the picture but once the theme is noticed, such a response can be seen in much of the feedback from the field of therapeutic use.
On getting back from the workshop after this course I found a message from Jane Francis, one of the participants, to say she had realised that one can do one more transformation with these sounds. Her insight that follows moved me to put this article together.
Taking the last three vowel sounds and moving backwards with them, U,O,I, Oo, Or, Ee and slurring it into a diphthong one arrives very easily at ‘We’.
From this point of view one could say that individual consciousness evolves from the infantile I, Me, need, need, need, to the teenage social bind of ‘nothing is Ok if my peers, YOU, You, you disapprove or criticise it’ to the eventual maturity of equality, in which we are able to find that which is common in us and grow community, a world that shares from that place of mutual recognition, awareness of the equality of the Self that lives within us all.
In any relationship what I do with my own ‘I’ affects both equally. If I am not loving and respectful of my own ‘I’ you also suffer. Equally true and less commonly noticed today is that what I do to your ‘I’ affects me as much or more than it affects you. Truly the I stands between us, as the True Human Self. The fact that we form this sound at the end of pronouncing self and the beginning of speaking other seems to me a quite magical representation of the importance of awakening to this image of the True Human Self.
Could it be linked in to the fact of English being the main international language today that this awareness, this discovery of the True Self that lives between I and You is nascent in human consciousness and is key to any survival of our present crises? note 4. Empathy is the concept ‘I can, within myself feel what is happening in you.’ Recent biological discoveries have shown that this consciousness leaves it’s mark in the physical, empathic activity can be traced in delicate movements in the brain. I suggest this is the tip of an iceberg and that we will find in time that we can trace biological activity resulting from empathy deep into human tissues and organs, not least the heart.
Whether you see human consciousness as emerging from biological traces or descending from higher consciousness and evolving a deeper relationship with itself and it’s biology with time, empathy remains an important concept. The essence of Empathy is that there is a higher truth than ‘self’ that unites I and you, that We together can forge something new. A new step in human development that the world is desperately waiting for. Manifesting this higher self, this core of true empathy depends on developing a warm and sound sense of Self. We each of us are poised on this threshold.
Sounding Bowls wish to assist in this awakening, this moving over to a newly resonant individual and social group. Their very sound is compassion, inspiring empathy with the human condition, both as I suffer it and as you do.
Tobias Kaye 28 June 2010
1Many people use this movement of the vowels in the mouth already, in meditation, as part of the ‘OM’ or ‘AUM’ tradition, ending in closing so far that the lips meet, producing the ‘mmm’ sound. Some see this archetypal meditation as part of the ‘Ways’ given to by the Gods for ‘coming in,’ closing down our cosmic openness and slowly evolving a sense of a Self from which our individual response-ability can grow. Or to put it another way the route by which we may become one with the God who dwells within us rather than relying on the gods who hold/held us in their arms for so many millennia
2 Comparing the concept of ‘I’ with that other personal word ‘me,’ it appears that ‘I’ refers to what flows through me, “I think; I feel; I want” whereas ‘me’ refers more to what flows towards me. “she’s talking to me; can you give me…”
3 An upright line is the symbol for human self awareness. Unlike animals we have an upright spine/posture. Standing truly upright is a sign of an elevated self awareness.
4Phonetic healing is a development of Sound Healing that is nascent amongst a small number of people. Could it perhaps also offer ways to our address individual crises? I know practitioners who have been using it with remarkable efficacy for decades.
5The images at the top of this article taken from Leonardo and other esoteric developmental traditions, showing bodily positions now associated with the enacting of the Eurythmy verse “I think speech” which leads your attention through the process of finding purpose in the well of meaning and giving it form through speech. The verse covers both the simple, bodily actions and the accompanying soul-images of this process as an archetype of the constant process of becoming human that is our timeless now.