Listening for Wellness
Tomatis’ work highlights the crucial role of the ear in our lives. While emphasizing some of the well-known functions of the ear, such as balance, coordination and hearing, he also underlines other functions that are not so well-known and, thus, are surprising to many. The idea that the ear acts as a dynamo that “charges” the brain through the high frequencies sounds may at first appear just a fancy idea till the moment when that charging effect is really experienced. The vital role of the right ear in language processing is another important discovery made by Tomatis to understand the learning difficulties of children and adults. His Listening Test is a new and fascinating tool to diagnose a vast array of problems and to design treatment interventions. And last but not least, he demonstrated that our desire to listen — or not listen — conditions the way we perceive sounds, impacting many facets of our lives.
One of the main themes Tomatis continuously emphasized was that there is a profound difference between hearing and listening. While hearing is a passive activity, listening requires desire, commitment and attention. Listening does indeed involve our whole being: both our body and our mind. Tomatis showed that many problems arise when we do not listen well. Those problems, however, disappear when we are trained to listen more efficiently.
The value of Tomatis’ ideas rests in last resort in their ability to heal. The examples of recovery throughout this book illustrate some of the areas where it has shown the greatest results. In children, the Method is particularly beneficial in the treatment of vestibular problems, sensory integration issues, speech and learning problems as well as behavioral problems. Adults suffering from low energy level, procrastination, lack of direction or listening problems may also benefit from Tomatis’ inventions. Finally, people eager to learn a foreign language, boost their creativity, improve their musical skills, or actors and singers who want to improve their diction or their voice will greatly benefit from the Tomatis Method. In fact, when listening improves as the result of the treatment designed by Tomatis, life takes on a different color, and what was felt impossible may all of a sudden become possible. Overall, in many children and adults, the treatment often leads to a new openness, a higher self-esteem and a more optimistic outlook on life that transcends the difficulties of the past and allows a new start.
From the start, Tomatis’ research was oriented by the need to find practical solutions that would relieve the suffering of his clients. His theory about listening emerged as the result of a constant exchange between research and thousands of clinical observations.
To explain the many and often surprising changes in his clients, Tomatis had to integrate in his theory the recent discoveries in a variety of disciplines: neurology, cognitive sciences, education, linguistics and psychology. Early on in his research, he discovered that hearing and speech are linked. In a nutshell, our voice can only produce the frequencies that we hear well. Tomatis concluded that “man is an ear” and that the whole body is built as an antenna to receive and emit sounds. Still good quality of emission and reception depends on verticality — a fact clearly demonstrated by the fact that the children he treated improved their verbal performance as soon as they became more erect. Considering the respective role of the vestibule and the cochlea, both part of the inner ear, Tomatis emphasized that verticality positions the cochlea to function optimally, to analyze sounds accurately. In order to be able to listen in increasingly subtle ways, the body first needs to be tuned to become a perfect antenna. To achieve that goal, Tomatis developed an electronic device that modifies music in such a way that it can train both the vestibule and the cochlea to perform optimally. That device he called an Electronic Ear.
Observing how his clients reacted to sound stimulation, also led him to closely study the links between listening and psychology. One of the things he observed was that there was an obvious correlation between the way people listen and certain moods and behaviors. Little by little Tomatis started to realize that our listening could easily be distorted by traumas, circumstances of life or education. Those distortions often prevented his clients from listening well: some lost the ability to accurately perceive certain frequencies, other no longer could discriminate well the different tonalities, etc. This affected not only how they listened to others, but it also distorted the way they listened to themselves, and so potentially shaped their psychological lives in very dysfunctional ways. The Listening Test was the tool to diagnose the problem. The unique method of sound stimulation using the Electronic Ear was the tool to treat the problem, by erasing the obstacles to poor listening, and so restoring our psychological wellbeing.
Tomatis observed that many of the listening difficulties of his clients started in childhood, for example, as a result of birth traumas, health problems, inadequate parenting or abandonment. Those life circumstances often led to an unconscious refusal to listen. To re-awaken the desire to listen, he developed a treatment modality that tried to replicate the different sonic phases a child goes through when growing up. This led him to use a recording of the mother’s filtered voice to emulate what the fetus might have heard in the womb, in the initial phase of the treatment. That phase was followed by a “sonic birth” and concluded by a series of vocal exercises, whose level of difficulty matches the progression of language acquisition in children. In short, the therapeutic modality designed by Tomatis creates the conditions for providing a good holding environment to impart the client a solid sense of security and to strengthen his or her desire to listen in a more optimal way.
Auditory stimulation first affects the body, specifically verticality, balance and coordination. Then, it gradually impacts other areas of functioning, leading to a sense of general well-being and inner freedom that improves both the reception and emission of information. It is as if a sense of psychological verticality develops while listening improved, each progress leading to a subtler form of attention. In Tomatis’ view, the struggle towards uprightness is indeed not limited to the physical dimension but embraces other dimensions. He knew too well that psychological verticality would not be reached as long as his clients would resist changing and would refuse to open their ears — that is, to let go of the ego. True listening could not be achieved without this sacrifice.
That conclusion coincides with the one reached by many religious and spiritual traditions, which Tomatis explored throughout his life. A man of faith, deeply rooted in the Catholic religion, Tomatis was nevertheless open to the suggestions and ideas of other faiths and spiritual traditions. For him, all religions look for ways of developing that True Listening to which he devoted his research and his life. And like them, he emphasized the vital role of the right posture and the right attitude as the necessary conditions to embrace the divine. He was convinced that we have to fully become an ear to finally find our true essence and become an Écoutant—that is, that perfect Listener, able to perceive God through the music of the cosmos.
It is this vision of “man as an ear” that gives cohesion to Tomatis’ work. He was himself well aware that not everyone would share it. Still, it is not necessary to share his philosophy to benefit from the different applications that he developed as the result of his scientific investigations. He used to say that the Tomatis Method was like a “spark” that would induce changes and encourage people to use more their innate potential. Ultimately, it is up to them to decide how much they want to listen, to “spark” and to awaken their lives, and where it should lead them.