This morning, my ipod shuffle treated me to Dave Matthews' and Tim Reynolds' version of "Bartender," from their "Live at Radio City Music Hall" performance. Despite my awful memory, I can still recall the first time that I popped that CD into my car stereo, and the dramatic chills that resulted from Dave's soulful humming at the beginning of the track. It made me think about how much is sometimes said, without a single word being uttered.
And then, being a psychologist, I had to think about it more. If sounds, like Dave's gut-level groans, are precursors to words, then what are the precursors to thoughts? Well, this has actually been the source of much debate, spurred on by the fact that we have no clear way to measure what thoughts really are. We can measure electricity and activity in the brain, but none of us has actually seen a thought, which is kind of interesting in itself. Regardless, the prevailing theory is that thoughts are related to feelings in some causal or a-causal way. Much of the debate centers around whether the thought, or the feeling, comes first, in a kind of chicken/egg, circle of reason.
But for this example, it seems that we can put thoughts and words into one category, and feelings and sounds into another. Intuitively, this just makes sense to me, as both thoughts and words seem to be more left-brained, (logically formed), while sounds and feelings are more right-brained, (creatively formed), entities. This could explain why hearing a sound can produce such intense feelings. They are both built from the same cloth.
Sounds exist for us at a pre-verbal level. Before we learn to talk, we make sounds that help us communicate our needs. Babies use sounds to indicate how they are doing and, as most parents can tell you, they use different cries for different issues. Simple sounds like "Om" and "Ah" are often used in meditations that take our minds to another level of consciousness. And, as I learned in yoga, the reciting of certain sounds is believed to build corresponding virtues. Saying "Ra" for example is said to bring about strength, which could explain why football cheers usually include a "Ra! Ra!" or two. The fact that the meaning of "Ra" comes from an ancient source, and it is unlikely that modern high- school cheering teams think about that source, just shows the way that information is powerfully transmitted across time and space through the collective unconscious. But that is another discussion entirely.
For now, let's just wonder at the power of sound. Like feelings, sounds have a fuzzy and sometimes unpredictable quality that make them hard to define, but easy to recognize. But, also like feelings, if we follow the sound to it's source, we may find that we are that much closer to home. Especially when that sound soars inside the soul, chases away the worry, and dances around, like a butterfly.
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.