Resonant Tone

Charlie's guitarMy son Charlie is studying to be a luthier – a builder and repairer of guitars. Heretofore, he has been a musician – drummer, guitarist, banjo picker and composer. Studying how to build instruments has taken him out of the practice room and into the woodshop – a very new world.

He came home recently with his first guitar in hand, and it’s a beauty, light golden-colored wood with an interesting grain pattern and a gorgeous tone. Charlie was full of new knowledge about instrument making that included complicated-sounding procedures and names of tools I’d never heard of. As I listened to him, however, I began to see that the principles of guitar building have parallels with spiritual principles.

The first thing he told me was that when a luthier selects the wood to build a new guitar, he does a lot of tests to measure the wood’s strength and stress capacity. He also considers intuitively whether the wood feels “right” to him and finally, he listens to the wood. Apparently, each piece of wood has a “resonant tone.” Who knew? Charlie tapped the back of his guitar until he found the spot that was brighter than the rest. There it was, a particularly “juicy” tone compared to the others on the guitar’s back.

Listening for subtle differentiation of tones is probably more in our realm than we realize. I was reminded of tapping a wall to find the wall stud, the best-supported point to hang a picture. When I notice my car engine sounding a little “off,” I head to the repair shop. The hand drums and Tibetan singing bowls I use in healing treatments and rituals have spots that produce different sounds – some louder, some softer, some more pure than others.

On the spiritual level, it is also important to pay attention to resonance. A resonant tone rings forth inside of us when we are engaged in something or with someone that lights us up, that makes us sing. We feel pleased, satisfied, connected. Listening for that tone is important, as it gives us significant information. It tells us we’re doing something that’s in alignment with our Essence. It encourages us to do more of that – whatever it is – to go in the direction that activity or thought is pointing us.

If we’re not sure what this resonant vibration of Essence feels like, we can learn to discern it by noticing it’s opposite. What in our lives or within us feels dull, flat, boring? That’s pretty easy to identify – sometimes all too easy to identify! Okay, that feeling indicates one end of the spectrum. Next, notice what you’re doing that makes you say, “I want/need more of this.” For myself, doing laundry doesn’t resonate – it just has to be done – whereas being consciously in nature makes my heart vibrate. That’s a resonant tone. Just as it’s one aspect of the luthier’s guide for picking a new piece of wood, it’s the spiritual student’s indicator of connection and right direction.

Charlie also told me about some techniques that his guitar school has developed that are improving the sound of the guitars they build. For example, through a mix of experience and experimentation, their builders are figuring out the precise distance to use between the front and the back of the guitar that will create the best resonating chamber. I’d never thought about the dimensions between the front and the back pieces of instruments. I’d actually never thought much about the space inside a guitar at all. As soon as he mentioned it, though, I was alert and interested, as I always am when coming across a reference to “the space between” things.

We know and accept that the principles of acoustics demand there be a certain amount of empty space in which the vibrations of instruments resonate. Do we know and accept the same principles for our lives? Do we have spaces between activities, events, thoughts? Are we studying the intervals of space that create the optimum chamber for our resonance?

Taking significant time off from our activities can be much more easily said than done, but I am more and more convinced of the necessity, the beauty, of doing so. Vacations are spaces (though we need to be wary of vacations that are as non-stop as our lives, just full of different activities!). But, vacations are few and far between for most of us, so periodically creating a day, or an afternoon when we rest or play is vital to our vitality, if you will. If we listen to what the guitar makers are discovering, the right space between the things we do will allow us to resonate at an optimum level. Imagine experiencing that in our lives!

I saw a picture of another guitar Charlie’s building, and I noticed a dark area on the shoulder of the guitar. Turns out it’s a hole cut into the wood that’s called a sound port. Charlie explained that this hole allows some of the guitar’s sound to move directly up to the player’s ears (instead of all of the sound going out the hole on the front of the instrument to the audience). Simply put, it helps the player “hear a lot better.” Makes sense.

Sound port intrigues me as a concept and inspires some questions from a spiritual viewpoint:

What helps me hear my own resonance better? How can I better listen to my Highest Self, to Spirit? Through meditation? By having more solitude? By listening more consciously?

What comes through my sound port? If we haven’t cultivated a spiritual resonating chamber – that space between where we can hear ourselves think and be – not much can come out of the sound port to enrich us…

What is my sound port connected to? Am I in my head most of the time? Do I remember to listen to my inner voice? The guitar’s sound port rests close to the player’s heart as he holds his instrument. Do I listen to my heart? Perhaps I could listen more carefully with my heart to my Essence…

When we pay attention to our spiritual resonant tone, when we have a spacious resonating chamber, when we can hear ourselves through a heart-centered sound port, our lives can have the sound of a hand-crafted guitar – gorgeous, open, and rich. Let’s tune ourselves up, pick a few chords, and go for it. What a beautiful sound we can make!

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