Book review of Listening for the Light: A New Perspective on Integration Disorder in Dyslexic Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Bipolarity, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Substance Abuse, by Laurna Tallman
Listening for the Light author Laurna Tallman channels her considerable insights gained from understanding the tasks of the left and right hemispheres of the brain into practical advice for regaining optimal physical and mental health.
In normal brain function, both cerebral hemispheres process information, such as language. Both sides work together to maintain physical coordination and take in complex information. The left hemisphere has more control in the processing of tasks such as language and logic, while the right hemisphere has more control in processing tasks related to creativity and intuition. In cases of schizophrenia (and other mental illnesses to varying degrees), language and logic are severely interrupted (deficient) while creativity and intuition are wildly chaotic (hampered by the left hemisphere deficits). This book delves into the question of what causes the left hemisphere to lose its dominance, or, to put it another way, what causes people with mental disorders to become disorganized in the skills most needed to manage daily life (language and logic)?
The brain and the entire body are powered by sound energy entering both ears. The “normal” function of the stapedius muscle of the right ear is to quickly and directly energize the “logical” left brain with sound energy. The stapedius muscle of the left ear launches sound energy entering the left ear on a circuitous route before feeding the information to the larynx. Dr. Alfred Tomatis, an ENT doctor, scientist, and founder of the method named after him, knowing that right-ear sound is a more direct route to the larynx, determined that it is the right ear that controls the voice, concluding that the voice can only reproduce what the ear can hear. Tomatis was not talking about “tone” (the quality of a sound) he was talking about “pitch” (the frequency of the sound being produced, e.g., “C” instead of “D-flat”). And he was talking, first, about singers. (His father was an opera singer.) He thought in terms of “overall pitch” of the speaking voice in various languages. He paid no attention to what caused nuanced tone in the speaking voice. (e.g. there is little nuance in “flat” affect, a negative symptom of schizophrenia.) He had no idea what caused garbled speech, although he knew the right ear needed to be dominant to stop stuttering and to help dyslexics. And herein lies Tallman’s neurological paradigm: His ideas of ear dominance did not extend to cerebral dominance. Tallman is the one who saw that connection: that altering the right ear was having a global effect on brain function by making the left-brain dominate in integrative processes. Tomatis just thought each half of the brain ran at a different speed. Integration wasn’t on his radar.
Tallman asserts that most mental illness begins in the ear, and, specifically with a weakened stapedius muscle in the right middle ear. When the right ear stapedius muscle is either naturally weak or weakened by drugs, exposure to loud noises, etc., corrective stimulation needs to be applied. More energy needs to flow through the right ear to enable the left brain to assume its dominance in language and logic. Focused Listening strengthens the right ear to increase that sound energy flow. She makes an excellent case for why this is so. When I came across Tallman’s book, having had some experience with the Tomatis Method, suddenly I had an comprehensive, coherent, and plausible explanation for the origin of my son’s symptoms and a clear idea , thanks to this book, on how to improve on the Tomatis Method‘s shortcomings.
The Tomatis method uses binaural stimulation, meaning that the same amount of sound energy enters both ears, and this is one of the Method’s problems, according to Tallman. This reinforcement of the left-ear neurological pathways is detrimental in cases of schizophrenia. The technique she devised of focusing sound mainly on the right ear seems to be the most efficient way of treating schizophrenia. It may prove eventually to be the most efficient way of treating everything except depression (which is usually a left-ear phenomenon) she argues. Just as the right ear prioritizes the left, rational brain (exactly what needs to be reinforced in schizophrenia), the left ear prioritizes the right, emotional brain.
Her discovery is a theoretical, neurological framework for behavior that builds on and extends the work of Alfred A. Tomatis and Vilayanur S. Ramachandran.
Getting to this this point of clarity about why mental illness begins in the ear by reading this book takes dedicated effort, however. This book has its flaws. There’s lots of jumping back and forth in time, too many minor characters to keep straight, too many diagrams and charts of interest only to neurologists, cultural and moral judgments that may blind the reader to the book’s virtues, and necessary, but hard to keep straight, details (for the lay person) about how the ear works and how the two hemispheres of the brain communicate. Despite these weaknesses (and arguably because of them), this book should be read more than once. It’s brimming with ideas and insight in the scope of its ambition. If it fails because of being too ambitious, it fails magnificently.
Listening for the Light would work best as two or possibly even three books aimed at different audiences. Idea number one contained in its pages is a brilliant and scholarly attempt to demonstrate to neurologists and others with a medical background what exercising the stapedius muscle of the middle ear accomplishes. The second book is a personal memoir targeted to the lay reader of how this healing came about, which would incorporate a simplified version of the neurology of the ear and the cerebral hemispheres. The third potential book is a socio-economic/cultural treatise focusing on the impact of poverty and rural isolation on mental health and access to cutting edge treatments. Her solutions to the problems of Tomatis therapy were born in this landscape. Tallman has devised a simpler, less costly technique available to the masses wherever they live.
My son and I have been doing Focused Listening now for about four months. The jury is still out on my son, although I have seen improvements. His is a bigger challenge. Tallman does not expect to see complete healing until he is off his medication. I‘m keeping good notes on his progress. I’m amazed at what Focused Listening has done for me. I have more energy and joie de vivre than I’ve had for years. My finger nails are a good deal stronger. Incredibly, I may have kicked a lifelong nail-biting habit. My lazy left eye is more focused. My right leg is better co-ordinated in my gait.
Necessity is truly the mother of invention. If Laurna Tallman is correct that schizophrenia and other mental illnesses can be cured by extensive exercise of a tiny muscle in the ear, she deserves a wider audience. Listen, learn, and above all, read her book.