One day, Julie, a young woman in her late twenties, shares the following dream with me:
I am at the foot of a volcano that is about to erupt...
surrounded by people running rather hysterically in all
directions. To my surprise (still in the dream), I notice
that I am calm in the midst of the chaos surrounding me.
I ask her, “What was the SOUND in the dream”? The question surprises her. After a moment of hesitation, followed be a short silence that allows her a quick but intense review of the dream, she blurts out, with more than a bit of shame, “there WAS NO SOUND”.
Right away, almost matching the sound of her voice, her gesture and tone, with probably a slight sense of doubt, I repeat softly, “There was NO SOUND?”
“No”, she says again, more firmly now: “There was NO SOUND”.
Then she falls into a concentrated silence. I simply wait. Upon speaking again, she says that the silence served to identify those aspects in her life that lack sound – and what that realization implies, means to her. Among other things, Julie is shocked to discover that she evens laughs silently. “Since when?” she wonders out loud.
While it is probably that we pay little attention to sound in our dreams, what about sound in our lives? This is a question of more that a little importance:
how often do we actually take sound into account when working with ourselves?
That we take sound so much for granted is puzzling, particularly because we depend so much on it for orientation, information, balance, and communication. The price of taking sound for granted is a kind of insensitivity, which leads to a lack of insight into how sound can serve to transform our relationship with ourselves and the world around us.
But the fact that we might not take note of a particular sound does not mean that there is no sound. I ask Julie, “Had there been a sound, what might it have been?” I sincerely wonder to myself which sound from the dream she might choose to focus on.
To my surprise, her body reacts instantly to my question, at first with a simple shift in posture. Then, as she tries to imagine and describe a certain sound, I cannot help but notice the shift in her breathing and in the color of her skin (indicating a temperature change). There is no doubt that something important is happening!
Since describing a sound without hearing it is like describing a vision without seeing it, I suggest that she try to make the sound. The tip to remember here is to simply make the first sound that comes, spontaneously. Then, as it is sustained, fine-tune the sound to match what is imagined or heard within, until the sound that emerges is a true reflection of what is being imagined or experienced.
Julie has to first imagen her sound and then try to make it. I encourage ger to disregard her breathing and simply continue allowing the sound to come, to tune itself. More than to make a sound, the challenge is to allow the sound to appear and become its own guide. The sound that eventually emerges from Julie is a deep, low, looonnnggg lament, circling around the vowels e and i: eeeeiiieeieeiiieeieeiiiiiieeeiiiiiieeeeeeeiiiiiieeeeiiieeieeiii...
Kundalini Yoga teaches that a sound must be made for at least 12 minutes before the ego relinquishes control – a difficult proposal for a newcomer to this work. I encourage Julie to sustain her sound for at least two minutes, allowing her ego to relax enough for an authentic expression of whatever she is experiencing to appear.
She allows the sound to continue for three or four minutes, until suddenly it comes to an abrupt stop – which becomes pregnant silence, a space clearly made for reflection.
It takes several minutes of making, experiencing, hearing, listening to, and following the shifts in a sound until it takes form with just the right tone and pitch – becoming firm, solid, steady, consistent, insistent, and a sincere expression of what is vibrating within the person.
And while all that is happening, all the different tones, overtones and nuances in the sound transport and connect both the person making the sound and those hearing it into deeply unconscious places, drawing us irresistibly to experience surprisingly different and apparently disconnected images of moments in our lives, past and present.
Sounds are not always apparent in images, but making and hearing sound inevitably brings new and frequently changing images to consciousness, revealing intimate, dynamic, and primary nature and relationship of sound and image.
After several long minutes, Julie explains (to herself as much as to me) that she recognizes the sound that had in the end appeared unexpectedly as that of her deepest, secret, most intimate pain.
In my training as a psychotherapist, I was taught to encourage people to describe their pain in words. Words are important and can be helpful, particularly when they are descriptive, but the can also remove us from the experience of the pain itself. Clinical experience has taught me to avoid words that are only explanations, labels, abstractions, and interpretations – in favor of felt experience.
Crucial to alchemical psychology is the notion that our inner experience needs to take an outer form in order for us to be able to relate to it. C.G. Jung advocated relating to our inner experiences as if they were actual beings – without the “as if” ... because our hurts, pains, passions, and emotions actually ARE autonomous beings, begging to be taken into consideration and related to.
Returning to Julie, I cannot resist asking her for other sounds in her dream, without really knowing that to expect.
This time, she surprises me by identifying with the volcano, gradually making the grumbling sound of something boiling deeply within her rrrmmrrgggmmrrrmmgggrrrmmmgggrrmmggrrr... it becomes dramatically evident that an explosion is not long in coming.
While that might seem to be an obvious interpretation, Julie was hardly conscious of how close she was to exploding in her life. Becoming aware of that through sound left her with the kind of imprint that is difficult to forget or ignore.
My final suggestion to Julie is that she should attempt to make a sound that combines both of the sounds that she had made, each one now clearly reflecting a specifically different state of consciousness in her. Her challenge is to find a way to be faithful to each of the two sounds, allowing them to blend gradually into a single, third, new sound.
To my surprise, after several attempts going from one sound to the other, she actually manages to do it – producing a sound that indeed brings the two others together in a way that reflects both even as it appears as something genuinely new and unexpectedly powerful. Without prompting, she sustains the sound for a very long time, gratefully enjoying the experience.
Afterwards, we sit for a long time in silence, taking note of what has happened. Finally, Julie speaks of how the different sounds had brought her into unexpected encounters with images associated with different situations in her life, some present and some from the distant, more forgotten past – but somehow all combining with each other to bring her to a different sense of self.
In the language of alchemical psychology, her original “fixed” (stuck) thoughts, emotions, feelings, and sensations had been dissolved with the sound, and something new had begun to coagulate, to take on a new form. A genuinely new experience had begun to take form.
Based on the positive effects of this sound work – Julie ́s felt experience of herself – I ended the session with the suggestion that she try to make the third sound regularly, as a personal mantra. I also recommended that she use it particularly when stressed, or when gripped with the anxiety that can come in moments of uncertainty, or when caught between fear, pain, and frustration... and the need to give form to whatever it is that is moving within.
My suggestion was that beyond expressing, the goal is to find the true vocal form of things that, while palpable, are beyond words. Then it is possible to connect to whatever it is in such a way that it changes form = transforms.
As this example clearly illustrates, it is possible to do vocal sound work with images in dreams even if we do not remember their actual sounds. The images implied in different scenes in a dream, and the sounds with which we express ourselves while resonating with its images, can offer an often-unexplored experiential mirror – useful for reflecting unconscious aspects of our relationship with the images that, in the end, are the ones that structure and inspire our daily lives.