Finding Space in Your Life: The Music of the Spheres
by Susan Scharfman
“God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly, not one.” – Mevlana Rumi
In the quest for awakening some are driven to “…pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship…” to escape the numbing anesthesia of the conflicted mind. But until we experience the clatter of the outer world and the silence of the inner one as the two wings of the dove manifesting simultaneously from Being, there is no escape. Such is the wisdom of Rumi and the harmony of oneness with all that is.
“Don’t Know Much About Geometry”
Apparently more mathematicians respond to music than musicians to math. But mathematics and music are bedfellows. For an explanation of this conundrum look to Pythagoras and the ancient Greeks, and stumble on from there. Since I am mathematically challenged, any subsequent references to the subject are oversimplified at 10 to the fifth power, for the child in you that wants to know.
In the 17th century Johannes Kepler’s Third Law of Planetary Motion was known as the harmonic law: Celestial Harmony, Harmonic Theory, and the Music of the Spheres. Kepler wrote: "The heavenly motions... are nothing but a continuous song for several voices, not perceived by the ear…” A mathematics of music in the limitless flow of time and space, Kepler’s work was founded on geometry, from which he derived a theory of musical harmony and then a cosmology of the heavens and the earth.
When we listen to music which corresponds to a higher power of thought we can sense how the space not only lies in the gaps between the notes, it surrounds them. In fact, there is space prior to the first sound and after the last musical note. Like the universe and consciousness itself, space was here before, is here now and always will be.
Something is releasing energy into the universe, and that release has a recognizable sonic signature. Twenty-first century physicists with their particles, waves and microwaves tell us that in string theory there are long vibrating packets of matter holding the universe together, sort of the way guitar strings vibrate. Across zillions of light years, the Big Bang is still sending those stringy tones that we can hear today, apparently by raising the sound about 50 octaves: the hum of the universe – Auumm, Ohmm, Ahhhm, Ahhhmmenn ….
“Heard Melodies Are Sweet. Those Unheard Are Sweeter.”– John Keats
French composer Claude Debussy regarded music as “the space between the notes.” The silence between notes allows them to resonate, reverberate, and reach their full measure of expression. Without this space, there’s nothing but noise. Clearly it reminds us that we need a certain amount of empty space to appreciate anything. Where do I come from? (space) Who Am I? (space) Where am I going? (space) The clutter of noise stifles our creativity. Peace and harmony flourish in emptiness—the space that lies at our center.
The Transcendent Nature of Chant
We know that chanting affects brain waves and elicits an emotional response. Eastern Indian music uses droning sounds made by an instrument called a tamboura, which emits a background hum to the tones and chants played over it. And those tunes all have gaps between the notes.
As the dominating musical tradition throughout Europe from the 7th and 8th centuries, Gregorian chant is the source of all subsequent musical development in Western music. Like the ancient Indian scriptures, it used to be transmitted by ear and committed to memory. It elicits a call and response, a counterpoint or contrapuntal like a Bach Fugue. Abbot Philip Lawrence, a scholar of chant who leads the Abbey of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico says, “The kind of singing we do calms the spirit and helps us live in peace with our world and one another.”
The Magnificent Cloisters
The Cloisters are perched high above the Hudson River at Fort Tryon Park, New York. Part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters were brought from Europe, stone by stone, and resurrected as an intact medieval monastery. It’s especially beautiful in spring, the scent of flowers and Gregorian chant filtering through the courtyards. In quiet reflection there, I found myself in spaces I didn’t know were there, ethereal and transcendent. Like meditation, when we focus on space, rather than the sounds that occur within it, we become expansive, like the universe.
Beethoven, The Beatles, And the Circle of Fifths
The genius is in the math. Since circles are a major part of the Music of the Spheres, the geometric Circle of Fifths represents the relationships among the 12 pitch classes of the chromatic scale, the circular space representing all the notes in a musical octave.
John Lennon used the chord progression of Beethoven’s Sonata in C-sharp minor (Ops. 27) backwards, and created “Because” on the Abbey Road album in rich nine-part harmony. But it was more than playing something backwards. It was scientific genius. Other Beatles masterpieces like "Strawberry Fields" and "A Hard Days Night" were complicated stumbling blocks their producer George Martin had to solve through guess what? Mathematical formulas. Okay, so it wasn’t quantum physics, but it required brains and brilliance.
The Mechanics of Quantum
One of many simplified interpretations I found to describe quantum theory for dummies is: “Particles move backwards as well as forwards in time and appear in all possible places at once.”
Sounds a little like the many stories about Sri Bhagavan Nityananda, a famous early 20th century Indian Avatar who reportedly was seen by numerous people boarding a train in one place while appearing hundreds of miles away in another!
“Let me be the space for that.” – Eckhart Tolle