This is part of the Compassion in Action series. If you just found this and are wondering what’s going on, click here for chapter 1.
Chapter 8 – Listening to the Inner Sound
“There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.” – Rumi
If you’ve ever been to a Yoga class, odds are you chanted an OM at some point when you were there, although you pronounced it more like “AUM”. There are similar words in other traditions as well. Christianity puts an Amen at the end of prayers, and in the Koran they use Amin. They’re all only a hair’s breadth away in pronunciation. What’s going on with these sounds?
In the Kriya tradition that I practice, there is an emphasis on experiencing inner light, sound, and vibration during your meditations. As you develop your spiritual practice, you’ll find that there’s an entire Universe within yourself. It’s not a place of darkness and random neurotic thoughts, but a world of light and sound. I’m not speaking in metaphors here, but talking in terms of actual experiences you’ll have in meditation. As you cultivate and run the energy through your body, all sorts of interesting things happen.
Although I came to learn about these things through Kriya, there are many other spiritual traditions that embrace them as well. Practitioners of the modern Radhasoami, or Sant Mat, groups specifically meditate on inner light and sound, and have techniques they use to experience this. As we trace our way back through the spiritual traditions of the East, this concept pops up many times, in scriptures as well as the teachings of masters.
There is one mystic in particular that talked very explicitly about experiencing the Divine Sound, whose name was Kabir. He was a 15th century Indian saint and mystic, who worked as a weaver. He wrote the most beautiful poetry.
This is not a book on poetry, but let’s make an exception for Kabir:
What kind of God would He be, if He did not hear the bangles ring on an ant’s wrist, as they move the earth in their sweet dance? And what kind of God would He be, if a leaf’s prayer was not as precious to creation as the prayer His own son sang from the glorious depth of his soul – for us. And what kind of God would He be, if the vote of millions in this world could sway Him to change the divine law of love that speaks so clearly with compassion’s elegant tongue, saying, eternally saying: “all are forgiven – moreover, dears, no one has ever been guilty.”
What kind of God would He be if He did not count the blinks of your eyes and is in absolute awe of their movements? What a God – what a God we have. 2
I think there’s no better way to introduce Kabir than through his own poetry. This poem is as applicable today given the challenges facing our own society as it was back in Kabir’s time.
One of the unusual things about Kabir is that he had a large number of both Muslim and Hindu followers. Those two groups traditionally didn’t get along very well, and mostly stayed separate from each other. However, they came together under the magnetism that came through Kabir, as his teachings were too sweet to be ignored.
He developed a huge following over his lifetime, and many miraculous events are attributed to him. One of the legends that stuck with me was the story of what happened when he died.
Muslims and Hindus each have different beliefs about what to do with a dead body, and so there was trouble at Kabir’s funeral. The Hindus wanted to cremate the body, but the Muslims wanted to bury it. A huge fight broke out right over Kabir’s covered body. But when the covering was lifted, Kabir’s body was gone. Instead, there was a huge pile of flowers in its place. The Hindus took half the flowers to cremate them, and the Muslims took the other half to bury them.
Kabir taught about spirituality through his verbal instructions to his disciples, as well as in his poetry. He was very specific about discussing the Divine Sound in very plain language:
If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth:
Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you. The one no one talks of speaks the secret sound to himself, and he is the one who has made it all. 3
This sound inside of you is not a turn of phrase used to write a poem, but an actual experience that you can have during meditation. It is the sound of creation. We normally don’t notice this sound because it is very subtle, and our attention needs to be turned inward to discover it.
The very first time I remember hearing this sound was when I was little, probably six years old, lying in bed at night. I heard a soft ringing sound, but couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I sat up, turning my head this way and that, trying to locate the source of the sound. It wasn’t a harsh sound, and wasn’t bothersome in any way, but was very noticeable.
Being a nervous little kid in general, and not sure what to do, I made my way to my parents’ bedroom and woke them up. I thought maybe it was important, and wanted to report it just in case. They asked me where the sound was coming from, and I told them as best I could figure, it was coming from the wall. Not a spot in the wall, but the whole wall itself.
My Dad responded, “Oh, that’s the sound of the Universe. You’re fine. Go back to sleep.” I have cool parents.
This sound is the sound of creation, and it exists everywhere. It does seem easier to hear in nature, but you can also hear it on a busy street in New York if you know how to listen.
The sound itself doesn’t have a fixed tone, and will sound different to different people. I think that is because although you can be anywhere to hear it, ultimately what you hear is coming from within yourself, and so the sound is somewhat personal. Various Indian scriptures have gone into exhaustive lists about all the different kind of ways this sound can manifest: as cymbals, as waves, as bells, etc. I even met one lady who claimed that she heard croaking frogs.
What we are going to cover is a method that you can use in order to listen to your own inner sound. In my own experience, especially if you’ve never encountered the inner sound before, you’ll have the best chance for success following a two-step approach.
In Chinese medicine, they refer to Chi (or Qi), which is the energy of life. It flows in your body through various meridians. When it flows freely, you are healthy, and when it stagnates, you get sick. The whole purpose of Acupuncture is to clear out those energy channels to get the Chi flowing properly again. In the Indian systems, this life energy is also recognized, but is referred to as Prana.
Yoga provides us with various exercises to increase and cultivate our Prana. These exercises are referred to as Pranayama. Prana follows breath and intention, so Pranayama can simply be thought of as breathing exercises. However, they are much more than that.
By practicing Pranayama, you not only build up your storehouse of energy, you also start strengthening your energy body. This energy body might not be understood by modern science, but as you practice Pranayama, it will become very real. You can feel the energy flying through your body, up and down your spine. Eventually, once the pathways are clear and the knots have been loosened, all sorts of spiritual experiences will unfold. This is why every meditation tradition focuses on the breath in some way – breath and Prana are connected.
If we want to listen to the inner sound, it helps if we have some ‘juice’ in our system. If the battery is low, the light bulb is not going to shine very brightly. So before practicing any kind of meditation, it’s a very good idea to begin with Pranayama. That will get things flowing, let your mind begin to focus, and will make it much easier to hear the sound.
This is a very powerful technique, and shows up in many spiritual traditions. I’ve seen at least three variations of it, in as many different schools of meditation, and I’m sure there are more.
The most important energy channel in your body is the one that runs right up your spine. We are going to combine breath with visualization, and move the energy in a circuit up and down our spine. I say visualization loosely here, as you actually don’t really visualize any of this. You feel it. But if you can’t feel it, then just use attention. Feeling will come once you get better.
Touch your tongue to the top of the roof of your mouth, and put it as far back as you can comfortably go. This shouldn’t be uncomfortable. If you just want to touch your tongue to the back of your teeth, that’s okay. You’ll get more of a buzz if you can reach the soft palette though. The Yogis have learned to bend their tongues all the way back and stick them up into their nasal cavities. Whatever works for you is fine, but the tongue is the connection between the front channel and the back channel, so it needs to be touching somewhere up there.
One breath is one cycle. An inhalation corresponds to the back of your body, and the exhalation corresponds to the front of your body. You start at the bottom, and inhale up the back of your spine, pausing at the back of your head. You then exhale, starting from the point between your eyebrows, all the way down the front of your body to the perineum, the place between your anus and genitals. That completes one breath, and one cycle. The next breath then goes up again.
As you breathe, constrict your throat slightly as if you were going to snore. Not a really loud snore, but an almost imperceptible noise. You should be able to hear it yourself, but someone outside your room shouldn’t. That noise will help you focus. If you find that your mind wanders mid-breath and you lose the thread of what you are doing, try breathing a little louder.
This is pretty easy to learn. Just remember about your tongue, and start with the in-breath going up your back, and the out-breath going down the front. You may reverse the direction if this feels backwards to you. It should be a smooth breath, and you want to be able to do many of these in a row, so don’t try to breathe so slowly that you get winded.
If you practice regularly, it shouldn’t take too long before you start feeling the energy rushing through your body. You may get hot. If it seems too intense, don’t do as many cycles. If you aren’t feeling anything at all, do more cycles. In either case, do it regularly. Every day is ideal.
Once you know how to do this, you can use it as a preliminary practice to any of the other techniques we’ve discussed. It’s a way to supercharge your meditations. Sit down, do a set of ten cycles of spinal breathing, then practice your Ho’oponopono. Everything will flow a little better.
So that’s the first part. It should quickly become an important part of your practice. It takes a long time to get results with some styles of meditation, but you can feel Pranayama working the first time you try it.
Once you’ve charged yourself up, you are ready to listen for the inner sound. There are two places you can concentrate on to hear this sound: either the point between your eyebrows, two inches inside the head, or alternatively, the top of your head. If you are familiar with the Indian Chakra system, these are the sixth and seventh Chakras, respectively.
I was originally taught to go to the top of the head (the fontanelle), and then inside by an inch or so. When I’d go and visit Baba down at his ashram in Florida, that’s pretty much the only thing he’d ever say. Go to the top, concentrate there. Then he’d knock on the top of his head with his knuckles.
But the third eye works too, and is the more traditional location to focus on. The key to making the third eye work is not to focus on the skin on your forehead, but to focus more towards the center of your own brain. The sixth Chakra, like all Chakras, has two parts, a front and a back. The front half is between the eyebrows, and the back half is at the lower part of the back of your head. If you drew a line between them, it would slant downwards as it went back. This is the line that you want to be on, but towards the rear, not towards the front. Towards the back and you’ll activate your psychic centers, towards the front and you’ll just end up putting your attention in your eyes and giving yourself a headache.
Pick one of these places, whichever one seems to fit better for you, and that’s the center that you are going to focus on. That is your speaker, where you are going to sit and listen for the sound to play out of.
Meditation on the Inner Sound
Sit down in a comfortable position, spine straight, and eyes closed. Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth, putting it as far back as you can without it being uncomfortable. Practice the Spinal Breathing technique for a few minutes. Try to feel the energy running up and down your spine.
Once you finish with your Pranayama, focus your attention on either the third eye or the top of your head. Focus deeply on this center for a few breaths.
Now, plug your ears with your fingers, shutting off the sound of the outside world. Each ear gets its own finger. Keep your focus firmly on the third eye or top of the head, and listen. There is a sound there, waiting to be heard. You may have never heard it before, but it has always been there, and will always be there. You just have to listen.
Now, generate some love, and send that into the center you are focused on. God may not respond to intellectual prayers, but God always responds to love. Give that center your love, and listen for the sound.
When you hear the sound, latch on to it. Try to find where it is coming from. Try to follow it back to its source. And never stop loving. Love, love, love. Love is the secret ingredient that makes meditation work.
Practice this sincerely. As you practice, you will get better and better at hearing that inner sound. Eventually, you won’t have to plug your ears anymore. You can take one finger out and listen, then take the other out. After that, you’ll be able to tune into it during your waking life, as you are sitting there riding the bus, or having your dinner. It will become a sort of Divine companion, tagging along at your side as you complete your worldly tasks, constantly reminding you of your own true nature.
After you have heard that sound, your sound, the sound that emanates from that place within you that is beyond time and space, you’ll understand why it has become traditional to say “Om” at the beginning of yoga, rather than some other word, or why “Amen” was chosen as a way to end prayer in the Christian faith. When spoken in certain ways, those words sound a lot like the sounds that you’ll hear inside yourself.
This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom. A scholar studies the scriptures, but can only repeat them back in the way a parrot asks for a cracker. The sounds and punctuation are correct, but the inner meaning can only be guessed at. The yogi meditates and becomes the scripture, and speaks with authority grounded in direct realization. Follow the sound to its source. Meditate there, and realize your own Truth.