The Power of Sound
Hearing, Sound Meditation and Parshat Vayelech
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayelech, the people of Israel are commanded to listen to the entire Torah at the end of every seven years.
When we received the Torah on Mount Sinai we heard the blasts of the shofar and said, “We will listen… to the commandments of the Torah”
And one of our most important prayers that we recite three times a day starts with Shema Yisrael, “Hear o Israel…”
On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the only commandment we have is to hear the shofar. This holiday is referred to in the Torah as Yom Teruah, or the day of shofar blasts.
On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiday ends with a long shofar blast.
While the shofar is often called a trumpet, it is a ram’s horn. The ram’s horn reminds of when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Issac, and instead, a ram was caught in a thicket and Issac was spared. We too hope to be judged favorably on Yom Kippur.
What is it about hearing that is so important compared to the other senses?
Our sages discuss the importance of hearing in the Talmud .
The Beit Yosef, written in the 16th century by Joseph Karo, said that sight is external (what you see isn’t always what you get–you may see a beautiful house, but you don’t really know what’s going on inside) while hearing has more depth.
In the 18th century, The Ba'al Shem Tov said that this wordless sound of the shofar speaks to the heart in a way that surpasses anything that could be expressed by words or through vision. The shofar is meant as both a call to us to wake up and examine our deeds and work on ourselves and also a cry from deep within us that represents our appeal to G-d to judge us favorably on Yom Kippur.
According to Seth Horowitz, neuroscientist and author of The Universal Sense, hearing is an underrated sense.
Hearing, and sound shape the mind and affect the way we think, feel, and act.
He explains that “much of the emotional impact of sound dwells beneath conscious thought.”
Hearing is the fastest of all the senses -- we process sound much faster than sight. It is also the sense that allows us to perceive the world at the greatest distance away.
Mindful meditation is often practiced with the breath as the object of our focus,
Sound meditation uses sound as our object of focus. Just as we use the breath to anchor us in the present moment, we use sound to keep us in the here and now.
Let’s try this sound meditation together.
Sound meditation can be practiced indoors or outdoors.
So settling in, and making sure you’re comfortable, sitting straight, shoulders relaxed. You can sit or lay down, whatever keeps you most alert
Either close your eyes or lower your eyes to a spot in front of you.
Noticing the points of contact that your body is making with the chair or surface you are sitting on. Noticing if you are holding any tension anywhere in your body. (pause ) taking a moment to check
And seeing if you can let it go of any tension as you allow your body to be supported by the chair or mat.
Just as in awareness of the breath meditation, when our attention gets pulled away, we gently re-focus on sound or sounds.
Follow the instructions as best as you can.
I will leave spaces with no talking between the guiding for you to practice.
And now bringing attention to your breath.
Allowing the breath to move all the way down to your stomach.
Not forcing your breath in any way, but allowing your body to breathe naturally and at its own pace.
And noticing where you feel the breath most in your body– your stomach, your chest, your nose/nostrils? Taking a moment to notice (pause)
Can you hear your breath entering and leaving your body?
Resting your attention on the sound of your breath. (pause)
Any time your attention wanders, bringing it back to the sound –as many times as you need to.
Imagining that all that exists is the sound of your breath (pause)
And now expanding our awareness and paying attention to the sounds in the room around us. And if there is no sound at all, then noticing that.
Sounds around you, sounds from within you (and your body) such as your breath,
Being fully open to any sounds around you or within you.