The following describes a meditation that involves conjuring up an internal mental tone purposely married to the breath, the tone extending between and beyond breaths, as a mantra, or vehicle to a state of mindful silence. This is a practice developed by Michael Rawlings (see bio at end of page).
On this page, you will first see a general description of the approach, then detailed instructions for a guided meditation.
General description of this approach
Meditation on an internal tone may be of particular interest to the musician, though its roots hail from the earliest of the human capability of enjoying sound and the creation of tune and song. We all do it, really, we hear in our inner ear a glimpse of a favorite song or the sound of a trumpet or flute as we so choose. And, if we were to sing out loud a tone in a comfortable range, singing ‘Ahhh…’, then ceasing the utterance and continuing to hear the tone internally as an echo in immediate memory, we may choose to capture this echo as a focal point in meditative practice.
Or if striking a key on the piano and then releasing the key, remembering its tone in the mind’s eye, we can capture this internal impression for our own devices and marry the internal tone to each exhale—extending by persistent concentration between breaths—and throughout the involuntary cycle of breathing.
We can maintain this tone internally in memory alone. This centering tone can be our refuge as a mantra while allowing all else, all images and thoughts, to pass by without notice like unattended clouds fading from view. In meditation, we rest without judgment of any kind, where even mantra gives way to a silence that remains, always.
Choose a little tune, if you will, two steps on a musical scale, perhaps the second degree of the scale married to each inhale, and the first scale degree, or tonic, married to an exhale unto exhaustion and continuing between breaths. Mentally intoning ah…, then, mmmm… can be useful. Or simply maintain a tonic as an internal pedal-tone throughout. Such a technique can be immensely effective in quieting the activities of an incessant mind in favor of centering in silent mindfulness.
Here are specific instructions.
I would have you sit comfortably in a quiet place, unobserved by others, with your legs crossed on the floor or simply sitting erect on a chair or ledge, whichever is most comfortable. Sitting with a straightened posture, your shoulders held back comfortably, with your head held high and your eyes closed, your palms resting comfortably upon each other. There you are—waiting for nothing in particular.
According to the technique I describe, commence by winding down your respiration, hearing a tone of your own choosing conjured up in an inner voice, and maintaining this mental tone as you take three deep breaths of preparation. In and out forcefully, the breath is married to a chosen tone throughout, the resonance of which resounds in the mind’s eye beyond exhalation unto exhaustion and rest. Ignore the fleeting impulse of feeling guilty for wasting time. Instead, double down in the face of this doubt, and focus unrelentingly on the sound of your inner tone as a mantra. Remain there, focused on the breath coming into capacity and out beyond exhaustion. When the involuntary urge to draw a next breath returns, take air in from low in the torso, allowing the lungs to fill fully before expressing. With these first three preparatory breaths, exhale with concerted force, and steadily deflate your breath fully—while hearing only an internal tone.
I would ask you to notice a sensation beyond the inner sound of your own making, a sound that remains without breath, a sensation of silence.
The choice of an internal tone infused with and beyond breathing can be the second degree of a musical scale, sounding in your mind’s eye with each inhale, then the first degree of the scale when exhaling unto exhaustion and beyond. Remain mindfully focused on tone, then mindfully focused. This little tune can serve to center you in your practicing. Simply choose a mental tone in a comfortable mental range, as if you were going to sing audibly, and breathe the tone in and out, hearing the tone between breaths as well. Be fully consumed in an internal intonation of choice, sitting quietly with closed eyes, ignoring all other intrusions.
Sitting comfortably and unobserved, breathing and resting in the mental tones of your own choosing, pay no mind to the stream of thoughts and images that incessantly call for attention away. There, you may glimpse beyond a tone to an awareness of a thick hissing chorus singing a song of eternity. It is like meeting a very old friend for the first time, when presence suddenly rushes in by its silent domain.
It has always been there without boundary or definition, this great and constant silence that remains whether we are conscious of it or not, now observed by the designs of meditation.
I invite you to meditate often, routinely if you are so inclined. Dispel anticipation of a mystical experience, just relax without expectation—and be silent.
Excerpted from The Silence Remains, A Conversation on Meditation
Michael Rawlings is the author of The Silence Remains, A Conversation on Meditation, published by Little Miami Publishing, Milford, Ohio, 2019; and The Enlightenment of Jason Albrecht, published by Archway Publishing, a division of Simon and Schuster, 2015. Mr. Rawlings is currently active as a financial planner under the auspices of LPL Financial and holds several advanced degrees in Music Composition and Theory, a Bachelors of Arts, 1974, Master of Arts, 1981, both from Butler University, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Doctoral studies in Music Theory and Composition at The College Conservatory of Music, CCM, University of Cincinnati, 1985. Mr. Rawlings has enjoyed a unique meditation practice for over 40 years, and his work is informed by the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Kahlil Gibran, Hermann Hesse, Eckhart Tolle, and many others.