Finding the Harmonic in the Ordinary


Last night I had an epiphany.

It was one of those bathtub aha moments, a simple and profound discovery.

For the past few weeks I have remade a commitment to exploring the world of overtone and subtone harmonic singing. More on this later – I just want to set the stage to show you a beautiful example of how practice can ‘predispose’ you for fantastic everyday realizations.

So there I was, giving my wife a massage to help relieve her headache. The AC was on, and I was enjoying its background buzzing. I was propped up comfortably in bed with my wife’s head in my lap, and I was moving back and forth with the massage, going from her head to her shoulders and down to the potent acupressure points in the V between the thumb and forefinger (this is a fabulous point for so many things!)

I am Reiki attuned, which means that I have the capacity to connect to and channel Reiki energy.   Other meditation practices have given me a nice toolbox for creating sacred space and facilitating presence.

One of my teachers, Jonathan Glass aka Nimai Caitanya das, says that presence is the foundation of healing.

And this is exactly what I was doing: sinking deeper and deeper into presence, following the energetic impulses of my hands and heart to facilitate healing. As I sank deeper into meditation, the sound coming from our AC began to change as well. As my awareness expanded I began to hear overtones ringing in the sound.

Take a moment to imagine a ray of light shining into a prism and creating a rainbow as it leaves the crystal. That ray of white light always contains all the colors of the rainbow. Sometimes, the circumstances (like passing through the prism) are right for those colors to be coaxed out.

This is the same for sound.


Every sound that we hear has in it a theoretically INFINITE group of additional, higher tones, which are called overtone harmonics. There is mathematics and science that describes how all this happens, but if you can just hold in your mind the idea of a ray of light containing a rainbow, then you can start to tap into something profoundly magical.

Hearing overtones in the everyday world was not a new experience for me. They can be heard in lawnmowers, electric toothbrushes, the wind moving through a pipe, in my cello and even music on the radio.

Something else blew my mind. As I moved back and forth, I noticed that the overtones were changing. So I decided to play, and after a little experimentation, I realized that as I moved back and forth, I was able access different overtones. I found distinct zones where the overtone I heard disappeared and was replaced by a different overtone!

Movement affects what we perceive.

This reminds me of the parable of the elephant. It goes something like this:

Three blind men one day stumble upon an elephant.

The first blind man reaches out and feels the tail.

“It’s a rope!” he deduces.

The second blind man reaches out and feels one of elephant’s legs.

“No, it’s a tree!” he declares.

The third blind man reaches out and feel the elephants massive side.

“It must be a house!” he reasons.

All of these experiences are true in their own way. Each overtone that I perceived was real and yet only one facet of the inconceivable totality present in the sound.

Of my air conditioner.

O! The joys of being on a musical journey 🙂


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