When I was in halls of residence at uni, my neighbour, Karina, had the aum symbol tattooed on her upper arm. I remember saying to her, ‘what does that symbol mean? I’ve seen it before but don’t really know anything about it.’ She told me that it was the aum symbol, and represented the sound that moved through everything in the universe, including ourselves. She said that, as a Hindu, it held particular religious significance but that, for her as a musician (she played number of instruments and had the most beautiful voice), it reminded her that music was everywhere and in everything.
Six years later, I stepped into my first yoga class and the sound came back to me…or should that be, I came back to the sound as it hadn’t really gone anywhere? I remember hearing it and this memory coming back to me. I remember that it felt strange and new but at the same time very familiar. I remember looking at the people around me chanting and wondering what it was all about. It took me about a month to find the courage to chant along but felt it straight away - the way it resonated in the bottom of my rib cage, moved and swirled around inside that space and then moved into the top of my skull. I remember thinking, ‘this is what it’s about…all of it.’ Sometimes that same sensation would wash over me, sometimes I felt more passive to it, but once I’d felt it, I knew it was there. Even on the days when my mind felt fuzzy and bogged down, it brought clarity and a sense of serenity that might have been hard to access otherwise.
Since then, and now working with it on a daily basis, I have come to know that sound as exactly how Karina first described it to me, the sound that moves through everything and all of us. I use the mantra in all of my workshops as a way of introducing participants to the power of using their mala beads for chanting and to enhance their meditation practice.
What does it mean?
The Mandukya Upanishad discusses the four states of consciousness and the Self:
- Vaishnavara (the waking state)
- Taijasa (the dreaming state)
- Prajna (deep sleep)
- Turiya (superconsciousness)
This final state is the state represented by the sound of AUM and is the aim of all meditation practices.
Each sound holds a different energy:
- The A sound represents the waking state
- The U sound the dreaming state
- The M sound deep sleep
- The silent AUM at the end being this final state of superconsciousness, being one with the Universal Self.
Through AUM we move from the individual, ego Self, to this Universal Self that exists beyond time and form.
Why do I chant AUM?
For me, AUM is the battery pack of the universe: everything IS because of this sound and without it, nothing would exist. It is the wind in the trees, the pulse of the tides; it is creative force behind birth and the silence of death; it is held in the crystals on our windowsills and the fabric of our being. More than all of this though, and in the world that we live in right now, it is the very reason we must all look after each other and, as inhabitants of the earth, become guardians of it, ensuring that this vibration, this battery pack, does not fade into the background to the point that we forget our responsibility to each other and the earth.
AUM reminds me to honour myself and others on a vibrational level and see that in order to truly acknowledge my ‘oneness’ with all and everything, that I must first create the space for this to be true in the physical world. I am because AUM.