How to Be Present: Using Wordless Sound to Connect Body and Mind

Mina Samuels
4 min readJul 12, 2019
Denisse Leon on Unsplash

Sometimes I read poetry aloud to my partner. I love the poetry. I love the pleasure it gives him. And, I admit, I love the opportunity for the mini-performance. Our habit is for mornings, before we get out of bed. Propped up on my pillows, it’s one of the only times I wear my reading glasses (which I hate for the way they make me feel old, except for this moment of poetry, when I slip the bonds of age). I mostly read electronic books now (oh the privilege of adjustable font sizes, which help us feel young again). But, for our poetry custom, the books have to be old-fashioned-hold-in-the-hand-and-turn-the-page. I don’t know why I need this tactile experience, though I may have felt the beginning of an answer.

Right now, we are immersed in (and loving) Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings. (We like to read through a poet’s entire book, before moving onto the next.) The other morning, I came across a poem interspersed with lines of italicized words I didn’t know.Wey yo hey, wey yo hey yah /hey.As I read, a series of strong emotions swept through me — sadness, longing, love. I was a bit embarrassed. I am often overtaken by the emotion of a poem while I’m reading, but, in this case, I didn’t even know if I was reading properwords. Yet, I could feel meaning as I spoke the syllables aloud. They compelled a chant.

Later that same day, reading Ursula K LeGuin’s book, Always Coming Home, I came across a footnote that read: “This is LeGuin’s tribute to Native American tradition, in which the syllables “he-ya” are common vocables, or wordless syllables. As American folklorist Barre Toelken comments on a Navajo song that is all vocables, ‘it has no words, but is all meaning. (The Anguish of Snails: Native American Folklore in the West, 2003).’”

Understanding! The words in the poem were vocables. Now I had a word to describe their wordlessness. The footnote went some way to explaining why I had responded with such feeling to Joy Harjo’s poem. I felt, too, how grabbing at the word for my experience satisfied me intellectually, but left me wanting to understand at a more visceral level.

The next morning, I listened to a meditation guided by Thich Nhat Hanh. Our breath, he said, is how we access the oneness of our body and mind. Aha. Three…

Mina Samuels

Writer. Performer. Citizen. Traveler. Enthusiast. Author of Run Like a Girl 365 Days A Year and other books.