Vibrations — The Rationale of Mysticism

by the Editor

Contents List:

Introduction
Waves
Properties of different frequencies
The Rτle of the Brain
Sight and Dimensions
Time
Frequency and Form
Light and Consciousness
Light as Allegory
Illumination
Vocalisation
Practical Implications

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'Practical Application'

Introduction

When I was an impecunious student, I eked out my meagre means by offering private tuition in elementary mathematics. One of my pupils was a boy of about seven who seemed quite unable to come to grips with arithmetic. He could count physical objects like cars and oranges, but he couldn't 'see' what 'three cars' and 'three oranges' had in common. In other words, he was unable to abstract the physical objects from the count and arrive at the idea of 'pure number'.

I wonder whether that boy's difficulty in apprehending abstract ideas may not have been just an extreme manifestation of a malady that widely pervades materialistic society and constitutes a serious handicap in appreciating the meaningful principles underlying material appearances.

Most of us probably learned at school that light is an electromagnetic radiation conveyed through supposedly 'empty' space carrying information about the Universe from one place to another. A light ray, moving at about 300,000 kilometres per second, is the quickest travelling thing currently recognised by the majority of scientists. Most of the light which illuminates the Earth at dawn has travelled from the Sun in just over eight minutes.

In some experiments, light seems to behave like a stream of tiny particles called photons; in other experiments, it seems to behave more like waves. Which type of behaviour becomes manifest depends on the design of the experiment: in each case, the experimenter obtains results consonant with the expectations the experiment was designed to test. It all seems to be a matter of apperception, i.e. of understanding in the 'light' of what is already known. The experimenter who 'knows' light as particles observes behaviour consistent with particles and the experimenter who 'knows' light as waves observes behaviour consistent with waves.

Waves

Those of you who have the gift of sight have undoubtedly seen waves on a water surface. In a teacup, you get very tiny ripples in which the wavelength (that is, the distance between successive wave crests) is only a millimetre or two. Coming away from the centre of a typhoon in the Pacific Ocean, I have myself seen radar echoes showing five waves per nautical mile, giving a wavelength of 400 yards. So we see that waves on a water surface can have a wide range of wavelengths.

A second term used to describe waves is their amplitude, which is a measure of the energy they convey. Having personally experienced the motion which high water waves are capable of imparting to ships weighing many thousands of tons, I am very conscious of their enormous energy.

A third attribute of waves is frequency: the number of wave crests passing a given point in a given time. It is usually expressed in cycles per second. If the speed with which the wave travels is constant, then, when the frequency is high the wavelength is short, and vice versa.

In our immediate experience of waves in a material medium such as air or water, amplitude and frequency are more significant than speed. When you are being tossed about in a boat and feeling seasick, you are much more concerned with the length and amplitude (that is, the height) of the waves and the frequency with which they recur than you are with the speed at which they travel. You are apprehensively waiting for the next 'lump' of water to hit you, even though you know intellectually that the motion of the droplets of water in the wave is quite different from the apparent motion of the wave itself.

Compared with waves on a water surface, electromagnetic waves have a much wider range of wavelengths — from hundreds of kilometres for long radio waves to less than a billionth of a micron for gamma rays. There are 1000 microns in a millimetre. The family of electromagnetic waves from the high-frequency gamma rays to the relatively low-frequency radio waves forms what is called the electromagnetic spectrum. As electromagnetic waves do not seem to require a material medium for their propagation, amplitude is not a quantity we can measure. However, we find that the energy they convey is a function of frequency, high frequency waves being more energetic.

What we normally call light is the tiny portion of this vast electromagnetic spectrum that is detectable by the human eye. What the eye sees as red light has the lowest frequency and therefore the longest wavelength at about 0.7 micron; violet light has highest frequency and the shortest wavelength at about 0.4 micron. In between are the other colours of the spectrum: orange, yellow, green, and blue. Just beneath the lower frequency end of the visible part of the spectrum we have infrared radiation; just above the higher frequency end, we have ultraviolet radiation. What we see as white light is a mixture of all the frequencies in the visible spectrum.

Properties of different frequencies

Our perception of colour shows that radiations of different frequencies can have very different effects on our consciousness. Other common experiences show that different frequencies can have different effects on other things too. For instance, those of you who listen to the radio in your cars may have noticed that when you are travelling through an underpass or tunnel, you no longer hear the broadcast on long or medium wave whereas you can still receive VHF transmissions.

We know that X-rays, which are higher in frequency than visible light, can pass easily through the soft fleshy parts of our bodies, but not so easily through bone. These observations suggest that the higher the frequency of radiation, the greater its penetration.

Some frequencies we hear as sound; others we sense as touch, taste, or smell. But we should be aware that the vast majority of frequencies are not directly detectable by our physical senses at all.

The Rτle of the Brain

The eye is sensitive to only a very tiny portion of the electromagnetic energy to which we are constantly exposed and therefore sees things only partially. Even so, all it does is respond to signals in the visible part of the spectrum by telling the brain that radiation of such-and-such a frequency is entering it. It seems to be the brain that interprets these signals and converts them into a meaningful picture. Were it not for our eyes and brains working together, there would be no light as we know it in the Universe at all. (While we're at it, we might add that but for our ears and noses there wouldn't be any sound or smell in it either.) It appears that we ourselves 'manufacture' light whether it is 'real' and outside us or 'dreamed up' and inside. We cannot escape the fact that we are part of the Universe we observe. Our own physical structure limits our reception of data and our mental processes determine what we experience. When we see, we are selecting a narrow band of radiation lying between roughly four hundred and seven hundred billionths of a metre, the visible spectrum of light. We then conjure up pictures in our minds and call these pictures 'reality'.

Why this narrow selectivity? Well, how many TV and radio broadcasts can you watch and listen to at the same time? The barrage of environmental 'noise' from the myriad radiations to which we are exposed would overwhelm us were it not for the brain's screening processes. This damping down of input is what permits us to survive. Part of the brain acts as a filter which protects our analytical and interpretive faculties from being over-loaded. But as a result, it does mean that we peer out as though through five tiny apertures into a 'real world' which contains radiations comprising an infinity of different frequencies.

We should be aware of these limitations of our physical senses and be ready to admit that countless frequencies of which we are not ordinarily aware may nevertheless affect us in subtle ways, some of which we may be able to learn to detect and interpret and use.

Sight and Dimensions

Many of us may not be aware that we had to learn to see. Yet studies of case-histories of the recovery of sight in those born blind have shown that although their eyes are functioning perfectly, they have great difficulty in learning to interpret data which are presented in a hitherto unfamiliar form. This inevitably leads to a psychological crisis in the life of the patient and many give up the struggle, deciding it is better to be blind in their old familiar world than sighted in a new and far more complicated one.

The difficulty in the case of hitherto blind people may in large part be due to having to get to grips with the notions of space and dimension which are so intimately concerned with interpreting our visual experience. We may imagine that if we didn't have the gift of sight, our ideas of extension (length, breadth and height) would have to be derived mainly from our sense of touch (or 'reach'), and would therefore be quite inadequate to make sense of a world beyond our arm's length.

This may help to bring home to us the extent to which the concept of space is a product of the mind, developed primarily as a means of interpreting (or attaching meaning to) our visual sense data. It enables us to put our ideas in some sort of order and distinguish one apparent thing from another by differences in their size, shape, and position.

We may also reflect at this point that were it not for our concept of space, there would be no point in talking of speed or velocity.

Time

Speed is the rate of change of position. It implies the concept of the so-called 'fourth' dimension — time.

Each individual's perception of space depends upon the speed at which he is moving at that instant. Objects give the appearance of diminishing, of actually contracting in size, when they are moving fast. If you are seated in a stationary train when an express, of the same length as your train, passes at high speed, the express will appear to be much shorter than your train because the speed at which it moves seems to contract it.

Time is associated with our observation of light reaching us from objects in whatever it is we call space. Imagine a star ten light-years distant from the Earth. (A light-year is the distance light travels in one year at 300,000 kilometres per second.) We look into the heavens and see the star suddenly flare into great brilliance for a few seconds. To us, the event is now: but time is related to space. It took that flash which we see 'now' ten years to reach Earth. The event actually happened ten years ago.

Now imagine there is an observer on another star which is twelve light-years away from the one on which the explosion occurred. To that observer, the event will be two years in the future. Thus, at the instant of our seeing the flare-up, it will be past on the star where it occurred, present on Earth, and future to anyone the light has not yet reached.

If it were not for memory and imagination, we would not be able to divide consciousness into segments of past, present, and future at all. These faculties of memory and imagination enable us to distinguish between impressions that are being newly received and those being recalled and reassembled in our minds. Memory impressions, while being realised, are of course 'present' also. But there is a psychological process by which the normal mind can distinguish between the 'now' of memory impressions and those immediately perceived through the senses.

Time 'passes' when we perceive the before and after of movement or change: in other words, it implies awareness of intervals. The length of an interval is measured relative to arbitrary units of time man has invented. Our conscious awareness of time is purely subjective and cannot be measured. In one dreaming minute, we may have an experience of something that would require an hour or more to occur in the waking state.

Of the 'four' dimensions, time is that of which we are most conscious. We are not conscious when we are not aware of sensation. Length, breadth and height cannot be realised apart from the fourth dimension of time: they have no reality of their own.

We are conscious only of vibrations, impulses that follow one another in time. Time is what enables us to put them in order and gives them reality. Thus the 'fourth' dimension should really be called the first. It is the cosmic vibratory essence. In perceiving it, our consciousness gives it certain limitations and these limitations constitute the forms and proportions of the other three dimensions.

We think space and time are something fixed, 'out there', but they are really the mind's modes of arranging conscious experience. And all this adds up to a kind of confidence trick which allows us to 'make sense' out of what would otherwise be chaos.

Thus we see that in forming a picture of the Universe in which we find ourselves, our own constitution and the concepts we have learned from experience or training play just as important a part as the data the brain tells us are coming from outside.

When we really think about it, do we not realise that all our data about the Universe come to us in the form of vibrations? We might go further, and assert that vibration is what actually constitutes Being or existence. The continual oscillation of Being between the poles of greater and lesser concentration or activity comprises an infinite scale of vibratory energy. There is no reason to believe that this cosmic scale of energy is essentially different from what we know as light or electromagnetic phenomena generally. This is the feeling expressed by the medieval Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grossteste, who suggested that light is the essence of the creative principle of the Universe.

Frequency and Form

Back in the eighteenth century, Chladni [Ernst Florenz Friedrich Chladni, 1756-1827, German physicist. — Ed.] was using sand sprinkled on a vibrating plate to show that when the frequency of vibration was altered, different geometrical patterns appeared. This suggests that form is a function of frequency.

More recently, it has been found that when exciting emulsions and colloidal suspensions in liquid or air with sound vibrations, specific auditory tones induce randomly scattered particles to coagulate into specific geometric patterns in three dimensions. In other words, sound can make order out of apparent chaos. This seems to imply that because the tissues and cells of our bodies are composed largely of plasma (i.e. liquid-particle suspensions) living tissue is particularly responsive to the organising power of vibrations.

Rupert Sheldrake [Rupert Sheldrake (born 28 June 1942) is a British former biochemist and plant physiologist who now researches and writes on parapsychology and other subjects. See Sheldrake" (Internet) — Ed.] hypothesises that the exact shapes of living things are not dependent on DNA and information transmitted from cell to cell, but represent a response to a previously shaped "morphogenetic field" of vibrations.

Quantum physicists tell us that the particles which constitute these apparently oh-so-solid bodies we inhabit are themselves just vibratory manifestations, so we can quite legitimately think of our bodies as being symphonies of vibration.

Light and Consciousness

Here are some suggestions for your consideration. Our consciousness is itself a spectrum within Nature's sea of radiations and vibratory frequencies. We have the ability to tune our consciousness much as we can tune a radio or television set to respond to different frequencies. When we change the tuning of our consciousness we shift the frequency of the radiation to which we respond. When we allow radiation at the resonant frequency of our conscious tuning to affect us, we experience an increase in our energy. When we shift the centre of our consciousness from our social ego to our universal being we live among higher frequency radiations than before. To put it another way, we are both particles and waves of light. In our social ego we are particles, and in our universal essence we are waves — just as water waves can seem 'lumpy' and history can be interpreted as events and wave-like patterns.

The mystical consciousness is a symbolising of the psychical phenomena which we realise. We are more than rational beings. We are also emotional, feeling, beings. The radiations we perceive produce certain sensations, feelings and emotions in us which are a definite part of our existence. From the scientific point of view, a rainbow is but a band of vibrations arranged according to their wavelengths. Yet to say that the rainbow is merely wavelengths does not do justice to the effects it produces in our consciousness. We don't get the same experience from looking at a mathematical table of wavelengths in a book.

There are also times when we internally receive certain impulses which affect us deeply but which have no corresponding sensory experience. They are sensations of being but they have no discernible spatial dimensions. They are of the mystical consciousness. We have no means of expressing them directly, so we have to resort to metaphor and allegory.

Light as Allegory

When an economic recession began to bite a few years ago, a notice appeared on an office wall saying: "In the interests of economy, the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off until further notice".

When his first wife died, a widower put on her gravestone the inscription: "The light of my life has gone out". When, some time later, he married again, a local wag added: "But he has struck another match".

Light and related terms are frequently used in an allegorical or metaphorical sense. We talk of "throwing light on a subject" and we say we "see" when we think we understand something.

Of all the contraries in nature, the opposites — light and darkness — are the most obvious. By means of light, all those things which constitute our visual world have existence for us. Even dangers seen in light can be faced up to and overcome or avoided because they are identifiable. In darkness, all those things with which we are familiar disappear. In darkness, terror lies in wait for the unbridled imagination, because things can be conceived but not perceived.

Darkness also represents concealment. Most crimes are committed under cover of darkness, so darkness is symbolically associated with evil. Conversely, light represents action in the open and is symbolically associated with goodness and virtue.

Illumination

Mystics distinguish between light and illumination. We may have perceptual 'light' (an accumulation of related facts) and yet remain mentally in the dark because we don't see the ground for the relationship — just as my young pupil couldn't grasp the significance of number. Merely 'guessing' or hypothesising grounds for relationships which cannot be investigated in strictly controlled experiments can lead us into fundamental error. Just think, for example, of the stupidities which are perpetrated as a result of misinterpreting statistics by mistakenly assuming that statistical correlation coefficients necessarily imply verification of previously postulated cause-effect relationships. Even in the 'hard' sciences, experimenters tend to find what they are looking for. How much more this happens in the 'soft' sciences is anyone's guess, but these soft sciences tend to be those upon which political dogmas are based.

Mystics are much more careful in their assertions. To them, illumination means understanding. It usually follows a period of meditation and is continually reinforced by experiential confirmation. Illumination is an understanding which follows the acquisition of knowledge.

People who have gained this understanding are often quite willing to pass it on to others; but because the understanding is intuitive and not cerebral, it cannot be communicated in ordinary language and its understanding depends on the student's having had certain experiences at first hand. Like physical science, mysticism too requires practical work to make it live in consciousness.

Since remote antiquity there has existed a language that can bypass the intellect and speak directly to the subconscious levels of our being. This was the ancient tradition of parables in the forms of sagas, myths, and fables whose appeal endures because we unconsciously see and feel in them truths that can reach our innermost being. But we must learn to 'read between the lines' if we are to gain the illumination they contain. Old insights must be continually expressed in new parables if they are to remain intelligible as cultures and circumstances change.

Vocalisation

When we are emotionally moved, it is natural to 'give voice' to our feelings. The voice has power in its utterances; and parables are more effective when recited aloud than when read silently from a book.

Unlike visible images which have to be interpreted by the brain, sound seems to speak directly to the seat of the emotions — usually taken to be the heart. Beautiful music 'tugs at our heartstrings' and may 'move us' to tears. We have an instinctive ability to discern a 'feeling' relationship between occurrences of the 'same' note in different octaves and between different notes played simultaneously. By means of this phenomenon, we intuitively recognise the cosmic significance of the mathematical ratios between different frequencies of vibrations. We begin to realise that notions of resonance, melody, and harmony have significance in both the physical and the emotional worlds.

This may have given rise to the doctrine of the Lost Word, explanations of which are usually based on the phrase in St John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." Cosmologically, this means that the creation of the Universe was accomplished by a vocative idea — a thought expressed as a word.

In that context, the Word is conceived as a vibratory, undulating energy in which the basic essence of all things exists. We may think of it as a single 'sound' which could include all possible octaves simultaneously. In that sense, it is virtually synonymous with the generalised idea of 'light' we have been discussing. As all colours are components of white light, so all creation is a manifestation of the composite law embraced by the 'Word'. We may therefore surmise that the vibratory nature of everything in the Universe fits into an infinite series of 'musical scales' or a 'cosmic keyboard' of vibration. Every reality has some relationship to a note (or to a combination of notes) which is an integral part of the 'Word'.

Practical Implications

If the foregoing speculations 'ring true' for you as they do for me, it is appropriate to consider the practical implications. Here we have this infinite cosmic keyboard of vibrations of which we are part and upon which we can and must play. Our lives amount to the tunes we play upon it. We can, if we will, learn techniques whereby to play it more skilfully.

Anyone who has ever learned to play a musical instrument or, indeed, to become proficient in any complex technique, knows that mastery comes only through long and regular practice, ideally under the guidance of an experienced teacher. There is an ancient esoteric assertion to the effect that when the pupil is ready, the teacher will appear.

The purpose of the Ardue Temple is to help beginners in their preparation for the appearance of the teacher. We can learn to live in harmony with the creative, constructive cosmic forces for the attainment of health, happiness, and peace. The Temple's hints and suggestions are intended to help us develop our own personalities. And the very word person is derived from the Latin per sonare meaning 'through the sound'. When the personality is ready, the door to higher perception will open.

People with a good ear who regularly listen to music develop the ability to recognise the 'personality' of the composer in almost everything he wrote, even if the composer was as prolific as Haydn or Mozart. Similarly, our personality is revealed in the harmonies (or, it must be said, disharmonies) we contribute to the cosmic symphony. We play the cosmic keyboard with our minds. No physical exertion is required. Thus any one of us — regardless of age, or sex, or class, or occupation — can profitably start learning and thus, if we wish, provide ourselves with a lifelong focus for our concentration, a mission for our enthusiasm, and a means for giving it expression in whatever vocation we are called to follow.

This work of trying to master the cosmic keyboard need never stop — because the keyboard is infinite. We are able to participate in the inexhaustible riches of the cosmic as long as consciousness lasts. The cosmic keyboard of 'light' is the means whereby we can live our lives practising techniques for the better realisation and expression of beauty, and so continually producing greater harmony in the world around us.