Sunday, March 3, 2013

How Vibrations Affect our Physical Reality - Part I: The Nature of Sound Waves and the Patterns They Create

Right from the beginning of my kundalini journey, I have experienced the divine as vibrations. My initial experience was a hyper-aware state where I experienced resonance with my surroundings and 'saw' the universe as a jumble of vibrations. Naturally, I investigated that path and, pardon the pun, found resonance, with spiritual traditions that used sound and vibration to explain genesis. I studied musical traditions specifically developed for balancing chakras, from tibetan singing bowls to Indian classical music.

Reading about the cosmology described in Kashmir Shaivite texts satisfies intellectual curiosity of spiritual seekers, but the question remains, how do we use this knowledge in our day-to-day lives and spiritual practices? This is a very valid question. As JJ has pointed out in his previous post, "knowing is not enough, we must apply." Being a knowledgeable pundit may satisfy your curiosity but will not take you even a single step closer to self-realization and will not bring about a transformation in your personality.

However, blind adherence to ancient traditions is also futile. If you chant mantras or hymns and listen to certain sounds because you have been told to, without knowing the inner mechanism of what works how and why, you could be wasting time doing the wrong practices, not seeing any benefits and never knowing why they did not work. It is never a good idea to follow something on blind faith. In this post, I will attempt to shed some light on the nature of sound and the use of resonance in ancient languages such as Sanskrit and efforts by modern scientists like Hans Jenny at understanding vibrations in a scientific manner.

In 1787, the jurist, musician and physicist Ernst Chladni published Entdeckungen über die Theorie des Klangesor (Discoveries Concerning the Theory of Sound). In this and other pioneering works, Chladni lay the foundation of acoustics, the science of sound. Among Chladni´s successes was finding a way to make visible what sound waves generate. With the help of a violin bow which he drew perpendicularly across the edge of flat plates covered with sand, he produced those patterns and shapes which today go by the term Chladni figures. Chladni demonstrated that sound actually does affect physical matter and that it has the quality of creating geometric patterns. More importantly, we could see the nature of a sound wave reflected in physical objects, giving us a better understanding of the propagation of a wave pattern and variations caused by differences in tones and frequencies. 

Chladni Patterns

In 1967, the late Hans Jenny, a Swiss doctor and scientist, published Cymatics – The Structure and Dynamics of Waves and Vibrations. In this book Jenny, like Chladni two hundred years earlier, showed what happens when one takes various materials like sand, spores, iron filings, water, and viscous substances, and places them on vibrating metal plates and membranes. What then appears are shapes and motion- patterns which vary from the nearly perfectly ordered and stationary to those that are turbulently developing, organic, and constantly in motion. 

The development of a pattern in sand (step by step)
Jenny made use of crystal oscillators and an invention of his own by the name of the tonoscope to set these plates and membranes vibrating. The tonoscope was constructed to make the human voice visible without any electronic apparatus as an intermediate link. This yielded the amazing possibility of being able to see the physical image of the vowel, tone or song a human being produced directly. (see below) Not only could you hear a melody – you could see it, too!
The vowel 'A' seen as a pattern in sand

In his research with the tonoscope, Jenny noticed that when the vowels of the ancient languages of Hebrew and Sanskrit were pronounced, the sand took the shape of the written symbols for these vowels, while our modern languages, on the other hand, did not generate the same result! This means, the ancients that came up with the language used specific symbols that corresponded to the vibration pattern created by the sound for each word for it's written representation, not something assigned randomly.

It can be surmised that ancient “sacred” languages have the power to influence and transform physical reality, to create things through their inherent power, or, to take a concrete example, through the recitation or singing of sacred texts, to heal a person who has gone “out of tune.”

What Hans Jenny pointed out is the resemblance between the shapes and patterns we see around us in physical reality and the shapes and patterns he generated in his investigations. Jenny was convinced that biological evolution was a result of vibrations, and that their nature determined the ultimate outcome. He speculated that every cell had its own frequency and that a number of cells with the same frequency created a new frequency which was in harmony with the original, which in its turn possibly formed an organ that also created a new frequency in harmony with the two preceding ones.

Jenny was saying that the key to understanding how we can heal the body with the help of tones lies in our understanding of how different frequencies influence genes, cells and various structures in the body. He also suggested that through the study of the human ear and larynx we would be able to come to a deeper understanding of the ultimate cause of vibrations.

Harmonic similarities found in nature
Jenny called this new area of research cymatics, which comes from the Greek kyma, wave. Cymatics could be translated as: the study of how vibrations, in the broad sense, generate and influence patterns, shapes and moving processes.

A more in-depth look at Jenny's investigation and conclusions can be found here. I have used the text and diagrams on this blog page to give a modern scientific perspective to the use of mantras and chants. The tones associated with different chakras will be explored in Part II of this post.

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