Mercury is said to be the god of communication. In Roman mythology, Mercury was the messenger of the gods. He is like quicksilver, hence his name, no doubt. Astrologers say that, when Mercury is retrograde (behind the sun), communication systems and connections between people are disrupted. Now this does not only apply to speech, it also would apply to the Internet, business communications and much more.. if it is true, of course. What do you observe?
This tendency to introspect verbally is a carryover from childhood, a time when children normally think out loud. We have seen how language begins to emerge during the first year of life with naming. Then, when the ego takes form, a child's speech reflects that in the appearance of words such as "Me," "Mine," "No" and "I want." The construction of the duality that was the subject of the last unit is accompanied likewise by the appearance of objects of the verb in children's speech: "I want cookie." "Dis my kitty." This is separation congealed. I, the observer, am over here. The object is over there or elsewhere, but not a part of me. The sentence nails down the separation by using different parts of speech for the speaker and the object.
Names come first, then action words which may or may not be verbs. Then come objects of the verbs. It is as if children name things first as they dimly perceive that there is a separation; or, perhaps, as a partial cause of the separation. Then action words are needed to communicate what is happening to the things that are separate. In the examples above "Dis" is an action word which may appear before the verb "is" is comprehended. With the subject-verb-object combination complete, we have the first complete sentence. It is hardly coincidence that that formation occurs at the same time that the ego completes its separation from the mother matrix at about two years of age. In this way, the sentence tells us what has happened on the inner frontier.
Words are symbols. They stand for, point to, and represent something else. Symbols and signs enable us to represent something to ourselves. They are especially useful if the thing, object, or person is not immediately available. Babies may cry inconsolably if their mothers disappear, and they have no way of knowing where she has gone or when she is coming back. But when a child is able to create an internal image of her, the image can stand in for mother in her absence. And this enables a baby to begin to wait for its needs to be met. In this example, the mother's image is a symbol that substitutes for the actual presence of the loving one.
Symbols are used for purposes of self-control. A young child learns to wait for a reward, say a cookie, because there is an image of the cookie in mind that can be held onto until the real thing materializes. Or a child can be distracted from crying or from the pain of a superficial wound by being reminded of something pleasant that creates an internal image, such as a friend or a lolly pop. Adults continue this kind of self-regulation by the use of fantasy or day-dreaming.
Symbols are also used to control others and are usually verbal such as when a parent give a direction or correction to a child. Children then imitate these directions in their subsequent play. Bosses tell us what to do, spouses tell us how to change our habits, friends ask for help. Road signs tell us when to stop and how to turn.
More importantly, for our purposes, symbols carry meaning about spiritual matters and internal affairs of the heart and soul. Archetypes are a good example. All good art is symbolic of universal human experience. An effective symbol may carry more than one meaning depending upon the observer. Or the meaning that reveals itself in a given symbol may vary from one time to another. Take the cross, for example. It can mean the crucifixion, selfless love, trust, the junction of self and the Divine, selfless sacrifice, Easter, a mistake on a paper, etc. Angeles Arrien in Signs of life: The five universal shapes and how to use them documents the universality of certain symbols that appear in all cultures.
Words when used as symbols have two types of meaning: denotative and connotative. Denotative is the assigned, consensually agreed upon meaning, what you would expect to find in the dictionary. For example: "Mother" is the person who gave birth to you. Connotative is meaning that has become attached to the word through experience and about which there may be little consensus. In this sense, "Mother" might mean the person who raised you, but not necessarily the person who gave birth to you. It might also mean a person who smothered you with too much supervision, a term used in swearing, or the great archetype of all mothers. It is usually connotative meanings about which people argue.
To return to development, in the third year children begin to notice the qualities or characteristics of things around them including other people. So it is not surprising to see that adjectives now enter the vocabulary: "I be good boy." "Dis good cookie." "Dat bad mommy." "Where red socks?" The qualities noticed first are most likely those that are pointed out by the child's caretakers. It is not long before children begin to apply adjectives to themselves, also following the lead of family members. Since this is the time in personality growth when children are beginning to form their self-concepts, it is no wonder that the adjectives that are applied to them at this time tend to adhere to their self-images. The implication is that, if parents give their children positive feedback about their behaviors and explorations, the children come to see themselves as loveable and competent. And the reverse is also true. The connections between self-image and self-value that are represented by adjectives persist into adulthood and are very difficult to change because of the stability of early learning.
Find a comfortable spot to sit and think about yourself. Make a list of all the adjectives that you think describe you, both positive and negative. Be very honest if you want this exercise to be useful. You might want to use the form:
[take an intentional page break]
When you come back to the paper, see what conclusions you can come to about your self-image and your self-esteem. Make a list of the adjectives you used in the paper and keep track of how many times you used each one. Are they generally positive and self-confident or not? Considering that the ego is invested in maintaining the self-image whether it is positive or negative, think about what you might like to change about your self-image.
In doing this, you may want to look back into your family relationships to see if you can pinpoint the source of any negative feelings you have about yourself. Were there any words or phrases said about or to you during your childhood that are particularly emotionally loaded or weighted? What did your parents say to you when they punished you for misbehaviors? What did your peers or friends say to you when they teased you? What did teachers say to you when they corrected you? Did any of these become self-fulfilling prophecies? How did others react to things you created? To ways in which you tried to help? To your investigations into others' space or privacy? Is there a pattern in your positive attributes? Who contributed to the accumulation of those? Did the same person or persons give you both positive and negative feedback? How did this impact the final result, if at all?
All of these kinds of interactions helped to create your self-image and the self-esteem or lack of it in which you hold yourself. So, as you encounter these memories, be compassionate with yourself and gently untangle the truth from fiction. If you run into a great deal of negative feedback, it might be useful to try to understand why those who abused you needed to do so. The fault may lie in the backgrounds of others rather than in anything you did or said. Also, keep in mind that young children can be very trying sometimes with their energy and constant explorations. Therefore, their exuberance may trigger irritation or frustration on the part of caretakers. So cut your parents some slack.
Speech and Relationships. During the next two years, from roughly three to five, children develop all but the most complicated forms of grammar and all of the parts of speech. It is during this period that they are also mastering the basic functions of being a human through their imitation of others and their play. For each new bit of learning, a verbal form is generated that can communicate what the child is experiencing to others. It goes without saying that parents or other caretakers help children do this through their conversations. In cases where they do not, the children usually suffer educational and cultural deprivation that can have severe consequences in later life.
During the preschool period of development, children spend the greatest part of their day in imitation or play. Piaget (1952) says that imitation is a form of accommodation. Children copy someone else's behavior and, in doing so, have to change their own patterns of doing things. Hence accommodation. However, this is an entrance into new territory, so this is an initial stage of learning. The new behaviors must then be practiced, so they can be mastered. And this is what is going on in play. Play is practice time. Piaget calls it assimilation because the inherent meaning of the activity is taken in and integrated with what the child already knows. Language is an integral part of these events. If you watch preschool children at play, you can hear their parents, teachers and siblings talking. Many a mother has been embarrassed to hear herself scolding as her daughter chastises her doll. Keep in mind that, until language is internalized, children think out loud. Speech and the meaning of their activities are melded together in what they say.
Speech and Thinking. You may remember a previous discussion about the internalization of functioning at around age five. It is at this time that the semantics or meanings carried by language are split off from the motor aspects of speech. This means that a separation occurs between communication with others through speech and communication with oneself through thinking. Such a divergence allows thought to become more rapid, fluid and flexible. It also provides a vehicle for verbal mediation of concepts. Notice that all of this happens before myelination is complete.
Up until this time, most of the representation of experience was carried by images, either visual or auditory (see Unit 6). But now, experience can be represented by words and/or the meaning of words which provides for abstract conceptualization. That takes another eight or nine years to mature. But this is the critical starting point for development of the intellect.
Non-verbal Communication. We began this discussion with verbal communication since that is what usually captures people's conscious attention. However, it is well known that over 80% of our messages are communicated non-verbally through body language, gestures, and vocal qualitites. In these cases, what is largely transmitted is the person's emotional state. If someone comes into the room with a red face, leaning forward and begins to talk very rapidly and loudly with a harsh voice, I am likely to conclude that they are angry. On the other hand, if someone slides into the room quietly with shoulders hunched over and speaks with a thin, hoarse voice that is low in volume and slow in cadence, I am going to suspect that they are saddened or frightened. This is an oversimplification, of course, but you get the gist.
Most of the characteristics of non-verbal speech are innately programmed and universal in meaning which is why we can often interpret a person's meaning even if the language is foreign. However, it is possible to gain control over these aspects of communication. Actors and public speakers must learn how to do this if they want to be convincing. It goes without saying that sometimes the verbal and non-verbal messages are out of synchrony. When that happens, the listener usually becomes suspicious or distrustful of the overt message.
Why does the mind go on this way? Is there a reason, a function that it performs? The eastern traditions tell us that the internal monologue keeps the illusion of separateness intact. As long as I am aware of myself as an observer, there must be something out there that is being observed. If I hear myself talk, I must be real. There is feedback, something observable, coming back from something or someone, isn't there? That proves the point. Doesn't it? Well, does it?
Not so, say our mentors. It is just the mind running on and on in neutral like the motor of an automobile waiting at a stop light. The process has no intrinsic significance. The only thing it means is that the mind is not under our control. It also means that we cannot get in touch with higher levels of consciousness. So how do we control it? Do we want to? Each person has to answer that for themselves. However, if you are on the spiritual path and wish to achieve higher levels of consciousness, you must learn how to control your mind, so it can remain quiet and inactive for fairly long periods of time at a stretch. We do this with meditation and other forms of spiritual practice.
Sometime, when you have your hands free, write down your stream of consciousness. This is rather like journaling except that you will not be censoring the content. You will get the most interesting results if you are tired at the end of the day, frustrated hung up in traffic, angry about something, a little bit tipsy or otherwise not completely in control. That is because your normal inhibitions are relaxed under such circumstances. Alternately, you may want to stretch out on the sofa and let your mind drift into a day-dream. If you do this, pick up your pen and journal fairly soon and begin to write it all down.
Again, lay this aside and come back to it several days later, after the mood has worn off and you are into something else, and reread it. See what it tells you about yourself. Is it asinine drivel or genuine creative inspiration or something in between? It could be either or neither. Anything can come forth given an uncensored opportunity. Which it is may tell you something about your defensive system. Were you using your mind as a defense? If so, against what? Or were your intuitions emerging because the censor was asleep? Did your mind run away with some emotion and imagine all sorts of retributions? Did you re-run an old script? Try to identify what happened mentally. Make some notes in your journal about what you learned. You may want to repeat the exercise under several kinds of different conditions to see what the range and variety of activity might be.
Jesus sheds some light on that dilemma. He uses the phrase mentioned above in eight different places in the New Testament: Matt. 11:15, Matt. 13:9 and 43, Mark 4:9 and 23, Mark 7:16, Luke 8:8 and Luke 14:35, so we can conclude that he thought it was important. In Matthew 13: 9-17, Jesus elaborates on the meaning of the phrase as follows:
Now, tuning in is a matter of how attention is focused, as you might tune a radio dial or a television antenna. We have seen earlier that in meditation, the intellectual mind may be quieted or tuned out, and attention can then open like a satelite dish to receive information coming from higher levels. So, first we must quiet the busy, intellectual mind, then open out our antenna. But what is received may still be confusing if we do not know where to aim the dish. From where is the message coming? If you have been following the thread of these propositions, you will know where to look.
Attention-getting Mechanisms. It is obvious that you cannot hear when you are talking. All of us talk too much. That is why someone who truly listens is a gem whom everyone likes to have around. A good listener makes you feel like you are an elegant and important person whose ideas are valuable and whose experiences are fascinating. He or she strokes your ego, and makes you feel better about yourself. That is on a surface level. On deeper levels, a good listener touches you. You feel met, understood, loved perhaps. There is a connection that overrides the separation that is so omnipresent. The good listener gives up his or her own agenda to pay attention to you. This is truly selfless service.
What about those who talk incessantly? Not only are they not tuning in to anything valuable, but they are actively screening out anything that might help them to find what they need. There is another sense in which non-stop talking is an attention-getting mechanism. The ego is making a lot of noise saying, "Look at me!" And one can hardly avoid doing just that because of the blatant exhibitionism. This person does not have eyes to see nor ears to hear, nor is there any interpersonal exchange possible.
There is an inner voice: the still, small voice, it is called. That is because it cannot be heard unless the mind is quiet and the heart receptive. It is the voice of Truth, the voice of God, if you like, or the voice of your Higher Self. It is the voice of wisdom and true knowledge, what the Yogis call prajna and the Buddhists call prajnaparamita. It is well worth cultivating.
Exercise: Active Listening
You will need a partner to do this exercise, so find someone who will cooperate with you. Each of you should spend a moment choosing something to communicate to the other, preferably something important that you care about. Decide who will be A and who will be B. Also decide how long each transmission will be. Five or ten minutes for each round is recommended. You will need to tailor the length of your message accordingly, allowing time for feedback from your partner. And you will need a timer to limit the sessions.
To begin, sit opposite one another in comfortable chairs, but do not lounge. This requires your undivided and focused attention. A prepares to speak and B prepares to listen. A will make a point, a simple one, please. When A pauses and indicates a stopping place, B will repeat in his or her own words the basic meaning of what was just said, "What I heard you say was that...." A will then either confirm its accuracy or rephrase the original message so it is clearer. B will then rephrase and the process continues until A is satisfied. Then A goes on to the next point and the process is repeated. Continue for either five or ten minutes as prearranged.
When the communication is ended, B gives A information about the clarity of the transmission. Then A gives B feedback about his or her listening skills and how it felt to be in interaction with her or him.
The next round proceeds as above with roles reversed.
Make notes in your journal about what you learned from this exercise.
The practice of silence is probably one of the most useful tools for spiritual development. It allows you to watch your mind in action. You have a chance to observe all those things you might have said without thinking about whether they were useful or not, or how they might have impacted the listener. It also brings your attention to how you use speech to satisfy your emotional and egoistic needs. You may find yourself feeling invisible as others ignore you in favor of what they want to say, or because you are not fighting to put your "two cents in." You may learn something about dominance and pecking orders that you were not aware of before. But, most importantly, you may be able to hear the voice within.
However, to do this, you will first have to stem the stream of internal conversation which will continue even when your own voice is silent. Silence puts your ear right in front of your internal dialogue or monologue, as the case may be. The content may surprise you.
Silence is the ground of meditation and prayer. We might think of meditation as a listening exercise because the transmission is limited to incoming messages. Prayer, on the other hand, is usually two-way, a dialogue with the Almighty who might be giving you guidance, answering questions, or hearing petitions. In the Christian tradition, what is described here as meditation is called contemplation. It is like resting in the Divine One. No speech is necessary.
Find an appropriate time and go on silence for three days, or a week if you can stand it. Do not go out of your way to be alone as the value of the exercise can only be fully appreciated if you are in the presence of others. You may put a small sign on yourself saying, "Observing silence," to let people know that you do not mean to be rude. And you may carry a notebook and pen in case communication is essential. But limit your use of that medium to the minimum. The point is to not communicate with others. Most people will understand. Some may tease you. You may laugh with them but do not cave in. Insist on your right to experiment. You do everything else as you would normally, just without speech.
If you have young children who are not able to understand what you are doing, either wait for a vacation from them, or perhaps you could employ your silence only during their sleeping times or when they are away at preschool. A school aged child should be able to understand and cooperate. So should a spouse, a friend or a lover. Parents might be a difficult but an interesting challenge.
When the time is up, write a paper on silence and what you have learned about yourself as a result of employing it.
Repeat the exercise at will. Longer periods will yield comparably better results.
Now it is not just Jewish and Christian doctrine that would have the world began through speech, but also Hinduism. Kundalini Yoga presents the acts of creation as based upon Sabda-brahman which is the "kinetic ideating aspect of undifferentiated Supreme consciousness" (Woodroffe, 1973, p. 99). This means that which thinks. The first movement of Sabda-brahman is "seeing" or ideating. We might think of this as a kind of visualization, intuitive knowledge, getting an idea, or insight. When the idea begins to move, it causes a vibration, called Nada most often translated as "sound." The next development is inner naming (Nama) at the subtle level which gives rise to the first assumption of form which is probably a mental image. This is followed by uttered speech or language. So we see that what all of these world views have in common is the role of sound, which appears to refer to both vibration, and naming.
Woodroffe (1973) goes on to say that perception depends upon distinguishing and identification. Notice the separating qualities of both of these functions and the fact that the observation is replicated in modern developmental psychology and Buddhism (see Unit 4). Kundalini Yoga divides the Sabda-brahman into subtle sabda which is the part of the mind that distinguishes and identifies (cognizes) and subtle artha which is the mental shape that corresponds to the outer thing. This sounds like a mental image, to put it in English terminology. Both of these are part of the subtle body which means they are not yet available to the sense receptors but are activities going on inside the mind or consciousness. Subtle sabda and subtle artha, taken together, constitute the Vach or Logos or Word - the "sound" or vibration which made the universe.
Naming is, therefore, an integral part of the creation process. Spoken language is simply an extension of this function of naming. Artha or the cognized object (mental image) becomes form (Rupa) in the outside, objective world of things. So you can see the correspondences. There is more on creation in The Serpent Power by John Woodroffe (1973), but we will save it for a future discussion since it is not relevant to mantra practice.
To translate combining all these bits and pieces: In the beginning, there was a void. Out of the void came a dynamic consciousness that could think. It had an idea which began to vibrate. And from this vibration came mental images and inner naming. As these images and names were projected (see the holographic model in Unit 4), the objective world of forms came into being along with language. So we could say that all of creation began with vibration. The new physics substantiates this point of view with its discoveries of particles and waves as the smallest units of anything that can be detected with the instruments we now have. Vibration is caused by an alternation between positive and negative electromagnetic particles or fields. And this is what the universe is made of: energy vibrations. To call it "sound" is a bit confusing, but you can see how that label came to be applied. The early seers actually thought they heard these vibrations in their meditations as sounds within their heads. You can experience that yourself if you meditate regularly and especially if you develop a chanting practice.
Now, to come to mantra. The Sanskrit language was initially composed of the sounds heard by the early seers, and the frequency and resonance of each letter of the Sanskrit alphabet is significantly meaningful when it is pronounced or sung. The first human languages developed from utterances and grunts that imitated the sounds of things that were being represented by the utterances. And this still holds today. For instance, say the word "pig" out loud. Words often sound like what they mean. What this implies is that the meaning of a word is inherent in its sound. Noticing this, the seers carefully put together a new language, Sanskrit, that embodied the vibrations they were receiving from higher levels of consciousness. The Vedas are the hymns and writings of these seers, and represent some of the earliest written material in human history.
By extension, the seers may have reasoned, if the meaning is inherent in the word, and if the word is what created the universe, we ought to be able to rejoin that original power by chanting the words repeatedly with deep concentration. Thus mantra practice came into being.
A mantra is a sacred Sanskrit syllable, word or phrase which is repeated over and over. Practitioners must keep their focus of attention and concentrate on what they are doing for the practice to be effective. What seems to happen is that, with practice, seekers can tune into higher levels of consciousness and also tune their bodies to the frequencies of vibration embodied in the mantra itself. Since mantras are based on the seers' experiences of higher levels of reality, when people chant the mantras, it is possible to tune their bodymindspirits to the same vibrations and thus become conjoined with them. Furthermore, over time, the vibrations of all those who have gone before us and chanted have accumulated and enlarged the spiritual wellspring.
Mantra is used in Yoga to capture the mind and disable its defensive maneuvers. It also focuses attention on the Divine One, and so may be employed as a form of worship. There are many ways to use mantra. We will mention only a few.
Chanting may also take the form of bhajans which are used like the hymns in a Christian church, but they originate in India or the eastern countries. There is generally a lot of repetition and a bhajan may use the pattern of call and response with a leader chanting a line followed by a group repeating it. This pattern distinguishes bhajan from hymns. Both mantras and bhajans generally focus on repetition of the names of the Lord. Japa Yoga is mantra practice used in worship.
Mantra may also be written. In this case, it is usually a short phrase that can be copied over and over to fill a page or many pages. Sometimes it is written in patterns or to form designs.
The Universal sound is OM. Intoned correctly, it is chanted as A-U-M. Done this way, it runs through all of the vowel sounds, and so it is said to contain all sounds. Pranava is another name for the sacred syllable, OM. One wonders whether this is the 7 hz underlying tone that astronomers have found in the universe.
Tapes of mantra may be found in the following catalogs:
Timeless Books, P. O. Box 3543, Spokane, WA 99220-3543, [www.timeless.org] for tapes of Ave Maria, Radhe Govinda, Sri Rama, Hari Om, Om Namah Sivaya, Siva Siva, Om Krishna Guru, Om Tara Tuttare, Krishna Invocation, Guru Invocation. Also Mantras: Songs of Yoga and The Power of Mantra by Swami Radha. All of these chants are in Sanskrit. The latter two are narrated and also contain chants.
Sounds True Catalog, P. O. Box 8010, Dept. W10, Boulder, CO 80306-8010, [www.soundstrue.com] for tapes of Atzilut: The Fourth World, From the Circle of Saints (Northern India), Chants to the Sun and Moon and Sounds of the Chakras (both by Harish Johari), Sacred Healing Chants of Tibet. Ask them for others, specifically Sanskrit ones, that they may not have listed, because they used to have more. Gregorian Chant from the Christian tradition is also suitable although the mantric characteristics described above cannot be guaranteed in chants that do not originate in the Sanskrit tradition.
GIA Publications, 7404 South Mason Ave., Chicago, IL 60638, [email:firstname.lastname@example.org] for tapes from Taize such as Veni Sancte Spiritus, Wait for the Lord, Cantate, Jubilate, Alleluia, Resurrexit, Sing to God and Taize in Rome. GIA also has songbooks from Taize, video and music. These tapes use Christian motifs that are sung in a mantra-like pattern of repetition. However, the mantric results cannot be guaranteed because they are not in Sanskrit. Chants from other traditions may be used if you prefer to stay within your own religious context, but the results may not be the same.
Sit comfortably with back erect. You may use a tape or, if you have the music, you may accompany yourself on an instrument. Keep your attention focused on the words and music. If you become restless, change the cadence or emotional overtones of the chanting, but do not change the pitch as it is the frequency of the sound that does the work. Once you learn the mantra, you may chant it without the tape or music.
Although you may wish to play the tapes while you are working or doing other things, do not do anything else during your practice time, but give your undivided attention to the chanting. You may chant for longer times, but try not to do less than an hour a day. It can be used for your meditation practice.
Mala. If you wish, you may use a mala to keep track of the number of repetitions or to help keep your focus on the practice. A mala is like a rosary. It is 108 beads (that represent the 108 names of Divine Mother) strung like a necklace. Another larger bead, called Mt. Meru, is also on the string. You begin with Mt. Meru and count one bead for each repetition of the mantra around the string until you encounter Mt. Meru again, then reverse and go the other way. The mala is held between the second and third fingers of one hand and the thumb moves the beads. A mala captures the vibrations of the mantra, so it should be handled reverently and stored carefully. It may be worn around the neck, but inside the clothing because it is not meant to be shown off like jewelry. Malas may be found at metaphysical stores or catalogs from spiritual centers. Meditation cushions are also available from these same sources.
You may want to wear a prayer shawl to close you in and protect you from outside influences and vibrations while you are chanting and meditating. It should be made of natural fibers. If you do use a shawl this way, select a beautiful one, keep it for that purpose only and care for it as you do the mala because it will also capture and hold the beneficial vibrations.
Many blessings as you practice.
This unit has led you through a study of language and speech showing
how speech plays a bridging role in the development of self-image, relationships
and thinking that tends to reinforce the original separation of an individual
from the primary matrix. We compared the mental chatter and talking which
impede spiritual progress with silence, meditation, prayer and mantra that
are tools to assist the spiritual journey.
French, R. M. (Tr.) The way of a pilgrim and the pilgrim continues his way. New York: Ballentine, 1979.
Iyer, Raghavan (Ed.). The Gospel according to Thomas. New York: Concord Grove Press, 1983.
Johari, Harish. Chakras: Energy centers of transformation. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 1987.
Lamsa, George M. (Tr.) Holy Bible from the ancient eastern text. San Francisco: Harper, 1968..
Piaget, Jean. The origins of intelligence in children (3nd ed.) New York: International Universities Press, 1952.
Woodroffe, Sir John. The serpent power. Hollywood, CA: Vedanta Press, 1973.
You are now ready for Unit VI. Imagination in which we will look at the form-making process directly. This unit will deal with symbols, myth, the astral realm, creativity, the relationship between desire and imagination, and the symbolic meanings of water and taste.
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