It may seem paradoxical that one of the most direct routes to silence and a peaceful state of mind is by making sound, but humming is the fastest way I know to achieve a deep meditative state. At the beginning of my prayer time, I sit on my cushion looking for silence and a little peace. Humming helps me to quiet my mind, so I can enter the realm of contemplation. Listening for the silence beyond the sound has helped me to be a little more mindful, and to keep my heart open in difficult situations. More important, the silence created by humming has allowed me to dive deeper than I thought I was capable of, and helps manage my emotions in a healthy, congruent way, through some painful storms.
Some people can practice sitting meditation for hours on end. Some of us have a hard time sitting still for five minutes, much less sitting for an extended period, and some find it difficult to clear enough interior space to be able to listen deeply when we do manage to sit. The first five minutes of sitting are always the hardest for me, and some days trying to calm down feels almost impossible.
In the Bible, there’s a story in Mark’s Gospel about a miracle in which Jesus stills a great storm. The disciples are out in a boat when a great windstorm arises,
“and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” They wake the sleeping Jesus, and say “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
In his book The Dharma of Jesus, George Soares-Prabhu reminds us that "The great calm is not simply a return to a pre-storm quiet, but the attainment of a new depth of stillness, immeasurably greater than that obtaining during the anxious bustle that preceded the storm… We are suddenly made aware of the fact that the stilling of the storm… is a rescue operation in which the men are saved from the forces of destruction that continually threaten the world we live in. We experience vividly the precariousness of human existence lived out in a world teetering on the edge of chaos. The fragile boat of man’s existence can at any moment be overwhelmed by the sea.”
The fragile boat of my existence can be overwhelmed by any number of things. What I have been able to find through my humming practice is the depth of stillness of which Soares-Prabhu speaks. Humming 10-20 minutes every day has helped me to manifest a more open and reflective state. I can sometimes hear that still, small voice, and the amount of time I can sit quietly (without squirming) has increased. I feel more grounded, relaxed, and better able to cope.
Humming supports our spiritual and emotional health by helping us to be more in tune with what’s actually going on in us, here and now. To get started, just put your lips together and begin. Push your lips out lightly while humming softly, until you feel the vibrations nasally. That’s all there is to it. Try humming softly in the shower; on public transportation (no one will even hear you); while walking, or doing dishes. Hum loudly, softly, high and low, slide around; don’t be afraid to make sound. It’s important to play with your voice and see what it feels like. What you put into it is what you’ll get out of it, so don’t just hum from the neck up. Gently ride your breath. Have fun with it.
As the issues of your life drift by, notice how you feel, what’s comfortable and what isn’t, and revisit those places every couple of days to see what’s different. Pay attention to the changes in your breathing, the way it deepens, the space between your breaths, the energy within and around you. If you’re anything like me, and even if you’re not, my guess is that after a while, you’ll find you are very, very quiet, and you’ll have reached the place where it’s possible to just sit. The vibrations from your humming practice will keep working in you even after you cease making the sound, and you’ll be right where you need to be.