Q: At times, I have observed that the sound “shh” finds expression during states of meditation. This makes me wonder if there is any significance to the fact that this sound “shhh” is also the sound that is used in many cultures and languages as a way to bring calm or quiet into a person or state. As a mother, I recall many sleepless nights holding and swaying a crying infant and saying, “Shh” repeatedly to help settle them to a place of stillness. It seems to come almost instinctively, and it works. Even now as the children are a little older, I find myself soothing them with this sound if they are very upset or hurt, or maybe if they have gotten a little too wild or loud in certain situations. Is there any significance to this sort of universal nature of a sound being used consciously to bring forth a sense of quiet or stillness.

Sadhguru: Almost anywhere in the world, if you want to quieten someone, you say “Shh.” You must have noticed that almost all the time, whenever I want to do something, you hear a similar sound being uttered by me. Maybe I am saying “Shambho” or “Shiva”, but the basis of that is “shh”. “Shh” means silence. It means stillness. “Shh” means the ultimate, because that which is still is the ultimate nature of the existence. That which is in a state of sound is a reverb. A reverb or a vibration has a beginning and an end. If you tap a tuning fork or pluck a string, it has a beginning and an end.
In the science of yoga, the sound “shh” is the fundamental because that is the basis, the first manifestation from stillness. We call yoga a science because science is not made-up. It is a discovery. A discovery means you saw that which is already there. Now we make a science out of it so that there is an organized presentation. So the sound “Shh” means that what is noisy, you are trying to make it peaceful. From the quality of peace, if you progress, there is stillness and meditativeness. The root-sound for “Shh” is “Mmm.” With your mouth closed, if you exhale, it becomes, “Mmm.” Open your mouth a little bit, “Shh.” Open it more, “Ooo.” Open it still more, “Aaa.” Every culture, in so many different ways, will try to create sounds around these fundamental sounds.  

Sounds for Dancing, Sounds for Stillness

When we were kids, me and my brother liked nothing other than rock n’ roll. These sounds excite youth all over the world because they are so physical. My mother was not disturbed by our rock n’ roll but my father professed that he hated this music. He wanted to listen to Indian classical music but we could not stand classical music at that time. And when you listen to rock n’ roll, you cannot do it at low volume – it has to be at a certain decibel level. Sometimes, when he was busy, engrossed with his newspaper or a book, we would start the music at low volume and pitch up the volume. Unconsciously, his foot would start tapping. We would catch him in the act and say, “See! You like our music – your foot is tapping!” 
If you simply listen, you will see all folk music – and rock n’ roll is a modern representation of folk – wants to make your body move. The body naturally rocks, which is why it is rock n’ roll. I do not know if it made you roll, but at least it makes you rock. But if you listen to certain other kinds of music, such as certain ragas in the Indian classical system, people will become still. People just sit there unmoving.  

One thing that an Indian musician has to learn to do is to sit cross-legged. He cannot perform standing up and jiving. He has to sit still because that is the basis of his music. The first thing is stillness and then the other things come. What you are referring to as stillness is the subtlest possible reverb. It is still, but there is a nascent reverb in it. Stillness is not a death-like stillness – it is a vibrant stillness, but it is such a refined form of reverb that most people will not perceive it. From stillness, you can create more reverbs. Among all the reverberations in the scale of creation, from stillness to physical manifestation, physical manifestation is the grossest form.

Expression Beyond Words

Whatever became the prime goal, accordingly you will see the music manifests around that. If survival is the basis of a certain culture, they will have a certain type of music. If pleasure is the basis, they will have a certain type of music. If adventure, conquest is the nature of a certain culture, they will have certain type of music. Or within the same culture, different people who are involved in different types of activities naturally are drawn to a certain type of music. If meditativeness and a longing for liberation becomes your goal, then there is a certain type of music. If love is your way, you will listen to certain types of music.

Sounds such as “shh” are not based upon culture. As a mother, when you have an infant with you, the infant does not understand your words.

Today, when we say love, people want to hear sappy songs, but that is because most of today’s musicians are not able to create that emotion with pure sound, so they fall back on words. But in classical music across the planet, you will see that they are able to transmit at least emotions with pure sound, without uttering words to express those emotions.  
Sounds such as “shh” are not based upon culture. As a mother, when you have an infant with you, the infant does not understand your words. In their eagerness to communicate, most women, if they are not too influenced by the education that they have received – I am not against education, but you must understand today’s education is purely a massive volume of words – in that context, if you are not too influenced by words that you have gathered, when you are communicating with an infant who does not understand your words, you will naturally try to come to certain sounds. The sound “shh” is a classic example.

Editor’s Note: “Mystic’s Musings” includes more of Sadhguru’s insights on the power of sound. Read the free sample [pdf] or purchase the ebook.