Updated: Jan 15, 2019
The family farm, that had been with us for generations, blood, sweat, and tears of my ancestors in the soil and structures that still stand, was a feast for the senses. There's a lingering presence of all those easily stimulated sensory experiences that now remain a part of me forever in the fragments of my memory. Around this time last year, a new family began their lives among the tall grasses and weeping willows, and yet, I'm determined to keep it alive within me.
Somehow the sounds are what stand out as the most indelible to my memory.
The stridulating chirping of crickets, a choir of sounds at dusk and deep into the night. The bull frogs with a sound so deep and resonate, as a child, I was sure it was grazing cows chatting away. The wind in the willows, so delicate and haunting. The warning call of one crow to another. The hoarse screech of the red-tailed hawk announcing its reign, sending shivers up my spine. The pitter pat, tickety-tat of rain as it gently falls upon the lake, and then the corresponding whoosh of geese taking off in flight from the waters edge. The honey bees buzzing, the flies circling the compost, the mosquitos distinctive shrill buzz by my ear at night. My grandmas Rose's melodic call for supper and the creaky wooden steps as I made my way inside to eat.
With my visual memory of the farm slowly fading, the sounds bring me back. Sound, filling that spaciousness and saturating my memory-scape with so much pleasure and nostalgia.
One night in 2005, somewhere in Honduras, I was terrified and alone, but not lonely, curled up in a $3 a night hostel, using my childhood teddy bear, Fozzie, as a pillow. Large flying cockroaches dive bombing me, a menacing hornets nest in the corner of the room, sweltering heat melting my travel wearied body into the lumpy mattress, the blanket – itchy and funky smelling, a rowdy bunch of men drunk on Rum swaying in hammocks just outside, occasionally knocking on the door, urging me to join.
I'd been backpacking through Central America for months, and by this time, when fear began to rise inside, I learned to calm myself with my breath and then just listen for the sounds of the farm around me. They were everywhere, the crickets, the gentle breeze in the trees, the crows, the geese, the sounds of lakes, streams, rain, even the menacing hornets. All of this connection to sound delivered me to feeling more secure, calm, and even making it possible to experience deeper connections with all of my other senses - smell, touch, sight, and taste. It allowed me to be exactly where I wanted to be, in a perpetual state of purposeful disorientation. To stay open to all the lessons I had no chance of even knowing why or what for, but grateful for my imaginative brain as I navigated my way into more intimacy with me.
The Speed of Sound*
Wind has no sound.
Sound cannot be created in a vacuum, matter must be present – it must bump into something.
Sound waves can travel through air (gas), water, even steel, and believe it or not, it travels 4 times faster through water and 3 times faster through steel!
Sound travels at a speed of 767 miles/hour or 1,230 kilometers/hour.
Temperature, pressure, humidity and gas mixture can each affect the density which affects the speed of sound. In liquid: The speed of sound is affected by density and viscosity.
The branch of physics that studies sound waves is called: Acoustics.
How do these sound waves, also known as vibrations, become audible morsels that our brains can digest?
I have three kids, each one is learning a different musical instrument. The research on learning music, at any age, reveals that we enhance our brain fitness by developing the ability to simultaneously construct an intricate, inter-related sequencing pattern throughout our brain. In other words – it's a whole brain activity. Learning to play an instrument combines auditory processing with visual spacial coordination, speech production, working/short/long term memory processing, executive functions such as organizing, problem solving, self regulation, attention, focus, creativity, working cooperatively with others, and among other things, it also strengthens the connections between the right and left hemispheres.
The main difference between playing music and listening to music is the latter doesn't require fine-motor skills. And, well, I should also mention that musical sounds are thought to be composed of regular and uniform sound vibrations that can be described as beautiful or expressive arrangements of sounds. While noises, on the other hand, are formed by irregular and disordered sound vibrations. So, as my kids pluck away at an out of tune chord, or accidentally touch the wrong key when my ear is expecting a different tone, or bang away wildly on the drums, I'm reassured that the sound I'm hearing is just noisy neuroplasticity. (And, don't get me started on my own guitar lessons unless you want to hear a mean twinkle, twinkle little star all in E minor).
So, let's say my son has just hit the high hat symbol and those sound vibrations make their way down to my room. The sound can actually bend around corners, distorting it a bit as it bounces off each object, and going through some. Still bending, twisting, and flowing through, it eventually makes its way to my outer ear, the pinna. The pinna funnels the vibrations of different amplitudes and frequencies through the auditory canal, until it bounces off my ear drum, sending tiny vibrations through its tender yet resilient membrane, tickling teensy little bones, the malleus, incus, and stapes (the smallest bones in the body) that propel the vibrations forward, into the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure filled with fluid, in the inner ear. Once the vibrations cause the fluid inside the cochlea to ripple, a traveling wave forms along the basilar membrane. Hair cells, sensory cells sitting on top of the basilar membrane, ride the wave. This wave of fluid flutters collecting each precious detail, igniting an electrochemical surge into the auditory nerve where it can be translated by the brain and understood. And, just like that, I hear the high hat's tinny whirl as its sound waves cascade throughout my brain, body, until completely bathing my molecularly transformed essence. Can you almost hear it? Could you almost feel the vibrations?
And, now that we're already so deep in the science-y part, we may as well take it to the next level. Attention – is the fundamental ingredient to experiencing the pleasure of sound. Some researchers refer to it as enthrallment – ohhh, how I love that word, ennnn –thraaaalllll–mennnt.
....Where was I, ...oh yes, all of our senses are exponentially enhanced by the activation of our (deep breath), enthrallment system (ugh, so good). It's just too much, back to attention – it's not just about the things we focus on – it also concerns all the things we manage to tune out. It's both selective and limited in terms of capacity.
Many definitions highlight the prefrontal cortex as the mecca of attention and many critical components do exist there - working memory, orienting, allocating, engaging, and shifting attention, just to name a few, but that's only part of the picture. The limbic system (thalamus, hypothalamus, basal ganglia, hippocampus and the amygdala) provides critical memory and emotion content. Procedural memories, involving how to perform and learn different actions and skills such as riding a bike, are encoded and stored by the basil ganglia deep within the cerebral hemispheres. Imagine the amount of attention it took to crawl, walk, run, each set of movements building on the other and eventually becoming more or less automatic, requiring less attention. Another structure that contributes to attention is our cerebellum. It's considered a super processor that coordinates many functions of our brain and body. And, speaking of bodies, they are definitely in play when our full attention is desired.
This whole brain and body attentional process requires a lot of energy and will be curtailed should we become stressed, tired, hungry, ill, or intoxicated. Our capacity to connect with the natural pleasures of sound will be diminished and all those feel good chemicals depleted or even blocked. Then, perhaps it's safe to say that if attention is fundamental to experiencing the natural pleasures of sound, self care is foundational.
Sound of Silence*
There are a myriad of hearing differences, some appear at birth and some develop over the lifetime. Some people with hearing loss gradually experience muted, less distinct sounds over time. Some, experience sudden hearing loss due to an external event (car accident, work place accident, poking something in the ear), or an internal event (tumor, infection).
I have the pleasure of knowing a seriously incredible woman that is the author of a delightfully refreshing, informative, transparent, funny, can't stop reading blog called Deafish. For years, Krishna Tyner has been experiencing progressive hearing loss that is the result of a genetic inherence. I've learned so much from her over the years and in the process of writing this blog my mind kept wandering back to her –how does Krishna experience pleasure through sound? So, I reached out and asked her. Her response was immediate and is such a gift, one that we can all apply to how we experience sound:
"What I've learned as my own hearing loss has become more pronounced is people with a partial or total inability to hear, can and indeed do still experience sound – with pleasure, nuance, and depth. It’s different, of course, but it remains part of our sensory experience.
With music, I still hear many, but not all sounds, so if a song is playing that I've known for years, I may not recognize it if I am merely relying on my hearing to piece it all together. Appreciating music now comes in new ways; I can often detect a pattern and beats in a piece of music, and that may be enough to recognize a song that's familiar to me, and then fully appreciating it includes drawing on my memory of the song and the emotion it evokes. But mostly now it's about feeling the vibrations of the sound. If I can get close enough to the music to detect an arrangement - the bass, the drums, the beautiful story the keys of a piano tell - that provides a whole new and profound way to appreciate music that offers a depth and complexity to the experience that I just didn't have when my hearing was intact.
Also, because I have tinnitus that’s quite loud and always competing with the natural sounds around me, for me to understand what I'm hearing, I have to focus on that one thing, and this is true for a lot of people along the deaf spectrum; there is no multitasking with hearing loss. Whether it's a conversation, a piece of music, or some other sound, to understand what it is I am hearing, requires my full attention. Conversation while listening to music and caring about following both? That's not an option. To understand, I must
engage all my other senses, and as inconvenient as that sometimes is, I've grown to appreciate what comes along with it: When I am talking with someone, they will always get my full, undivided attention, and that's turned out to be a surprising gift of its own. In many ways, hearing loss has made me a more attentive and present listener."
In her blog, What It's Like, Krishna elaborates on that unbearable sound produced by tinnitus – First of all, it is not the Sound of Silence. "Most people think that deaf or profoundly hard-of-hearing people live in completely quiet worlds, that for them there exists a total lack of sound. And while that is true for some, that’s absolutely not the case for me. I hear sound. Constantly. The sound I hear during each of my waking moments is as if someone is blasting a hair-dryer right next to my head. It’s loud and dizzying and persistent, and if I let myself think about it, it will make me cry."
And still, she persists. Adapting and evolving her own relationship to sound. For all of us, experiencing pleasure through sound is largely a creative process. An active listening process that is more than just hearing. Hearing is in the ears, and listening is in the mind, heart and essence. Attentive listening is a vehicle for healing and promoting aliveness no matter what your range of hearing is.
The Sound of Sunshine*
As I bring this blog to a close, I sit here, on my old creaky rocking chair, the one I held my babies so close to me in, listening. The kids were tucked in hours ago, books were read, I love you's exchanged. The light in my room is dimmed and warm, slightly humming. I look over now and see my 60-pound puppy, Willow, a lingering relic from the farm, snoring and twitching away as dogs do in their sleep. My husband, peacefully slumbering, occasionally wakes up to check on me, making sure I'm okay. I'm up way too late, blissfully tapping away at these illuminated soft-touch keys, when suddenly I catch that sweet rhythmic sound of crickets just outside my window. And, with that, it becomes crystal clear:
I am okay, reallllly okay.
Maybe now, maybe later, please take a few moments to listen to the sounds around you. Like you're creating the soundtrack to your astonishing life. Notice what happens to your mind, body and essence when you bring your devoted attention to sound. Experiment with different sounds, see how many sounds you can distinguish in each moment. See how far you can detect sound (Seemingly critical tangent – a whale’s voice travels a up to 479 miles in the water. Wow, just wow!) Maybe make some noises and then create sound through whatever musical means you have available (or just let it be noise until it becomes sound – or let it be noise and still call it sound – or let the noise be noise and have its own noise-hood).
There are parts of our brains that can't distinguish past from present - a timelessness that can bring you back. We hear so much about how this phenomenon can activate traumatic reliving of experiences, as if they're real, happening right here, right now. Why not bring into your memory-scape really pleasant experiences through the conduit of sound. It takes more work because our brains are wired to favor negativity for survival. But just imagine, your efforts to actively turn your attention to the pleasure of sound could have the potential of delivering you to limitless, free, convenient, expansive rewards. Whether it's the strangely intoxicating nostalgia of days gone by or the beauty of this moment, this raw, precious moment you're in right now, please, go on, give it a try.
Your body yearns to come into its natural state of balance and harmony. Our bodies are designed to heal. All of our systems are designed not only to defend against dis-ease but to be resilient and experience pleasure. Let sound be that medicine that lifts you, calms you, moves you, helps you to navigate your way into more intimacy with you no matter where in the world you are.
In Gratitude & Love,
* Video links to the song titles included in this blog:
I'm Arinn Testa, your forever devoted companion of all things goofy and curious. With a husband that humors me, three kids that humble me, a wild dog that exhausts me, and an adorable hamster – who loves me the most, I'm constantly looking for opportunities to bring health and healing into our lives that are easy and fun. Sometimes the process is neither easy or fun, so hopefully I can short cut some of that for you and share what I've learned along the way. I'm the Director of Research for Emotional Brain Training and facilitate brain based interventions as a Master trainer for individuals & groups — connecting with people from all over the globe! To learn about how to create more natural pleasures in your life and to clear away the stress that blocks our feel good chemicals go to ebtconnect.net or visit arinntesta.com