Ever Wondered…What is Aum?

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More Than Meets the Aum

The symbol that we’ve seen all over the yoga schools and meditation articles has a pretty deep meaning. More than a symbol, actually, it’s a word in the Sanskrit language. Aum (or Om) has a major place in many religions and faiths. 

It’s said to be the initial sound that was made the moment the universe came to exist. I sort of equate it to the sound of the Big Bang. As with all sounds, it is based on vibration. I tend to think there are still remnants of it still vibrating for billions of years and will continue for billions more. 

Let’s break down the design…

There are five distinct parts to the design of this magnificent word, each of which holds a powerful insight into our existence and state of consciousness. 

Upon initial viewing of Aum, the first thing that kinda jumps out is what resembles the number three. Attached to the middle of the three is a bit of a curvy tail. Above the three lies an upwardly curved line and a dot above it. 

1. The lower section of the part that looks like a three represents our waking or conscious state. This is us in our day to day alertness able to interact and navigate the physical world. 

2. The upper section of the three represents our unconscious state. This is the state that we strive to connect to or union to during Yoga. It’s the part of us that gives us our ability to breath without trying to breath. It beats our heart without us trying to beat our hearts. It grows our fingernails without us trying to grow our fingernails. Prana?

3. The middle curved tail part on the side of the number three is our dream state. It  connects our consciousness to our unconscious state. This can be thought of as when we are in the REM state of sleeping. Our brain waves have transitioned from waking (Beta waves) to deep sleep (Theta and possibly Gamma waves). 

aum wood sign

 During the transition between these states there is thought to be a window of opportunity we can tap into. Thomas Edison is said to have used this transition to aid him in gaining deeper insights into problems he was trying to solve. It’s reported that he would intentionally take a nap in a chair while holding a steel ball in his hand. On the floor, directly under his hand, he had placed a tin baking pan. The moment he would begin to drift off to dreamland, the ball would fall from his wakeful grip with a loud clad on the tin, waking him up again. He would spend but a brief moment in the transition from consciousness to unconsciousness, but this brief moment would be incredibly saturated with powerful insights into all he was seeking. 

Modern science has since backed up the theories behind Edison’s unusual methods. An article published in Science from Dec. 2021 has found this connection to be “The state between wakefulness and sleep is a sweet spot for problem-solving.”

4. The semicircle above the number three represents the illusion of the mind. It acts as a barrier between the number three, our consciousness and unconsciousness, and God, the dot above.

5. The singular dot above the rest of the symbol represents God, enlightenment, the infinite, or the underlying energy behind everything in the universe. 

The sound of the energy of the universe.

Beyond the design of the symbol and all it’s underlying, profound meaning, there is also insight and background into how it’s to sound, or better yet, chanted. If you’ve ever attended a yoga class or even watched a video online of people chanting in prayer, chances are you’ve experienced this sound before. 

This is the sound of the energy of the universe. 

The sound is made up of four distinct parts A-U-M and then the silence that follows being the fourth. 

A- beginning at the back of the throat, this initial part of the sound breaks the silence that came before it. In the symbol, this is the lower curve representing the waking state. 

U- the second part is where the sound now fills the mouth. It’s the dream state. It’s the transition or connecting piece between waking consciousness and the unconscious. It’s the midpoint between us and transcendance. 

M- this third part of the sound is made with the lips together. It’s the unconsciousness that underlies our existence. 

The fourth part is the silence that comes before and after Aum. Without this silence before, the Aum wouldn’t be possible. Without this silence afterward, the Aum wouldn’t be possible. 

Over and above the ancient meaning and deep representation of the sound, and the connection to multiple religions, the main reason for me writing the article on it is to help take some of the mystery out of it. By breaking it down in this simplistic way (probably overly simplistic if you’re coming from a Hindi or other Eastern religious background), I’m offering allowance for each one of us to embrace the power that is Aum. Regardless of race or religious background, Aum is for all who choose to shine their light upon it and experience it in their vibrational state through meditation.

As it’s held in such high regard for generations of different religions, I fully expect some to be either slightly or wholeheartedly offended by my simplistic breakdown. No offence is intended. All respect and honour of Aum and it’s place in our existence is embedded in my goal of portraying this guidance and permission to those who would otherwise feel held away from Aum. 

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