A sound practice

Tricycle magazine sends me a daily email. Today’s message contained this wonderful suggestion,

“One specific method for practicing mindfulness of body sensations is to focus your attention on sounds. Sounds, like everything else, arise and pass away. Just by listening, you can experience the insight of impermanence…”

The author of these words was Sylvia Boorstein, a longtime meditation teacher/author in the Bay area. Her instructions for being attentive to sounds, which first appeared in Tricycle, Fall 1999, go like this,

“Sit in a position in which you can be relaxed and alert. Close your eyes.

The stillness of your posture and the absence of visual stimuli both enhance hearing consciousness. People are sometimes surprised to discover how much sensory consciousness gets lost in the shuffle of distracted attention.

After your body is settled comfortably, just listen. Don’t scan for sounds; wait for them. You might think of the difference between radar that goes out looking for something and a satellite dish with a wide range of pickup capacity that just sits in the backyard, waiting. Be a satellite dish. Stay turned on, but just wait.

At the beginning, you’ll likely find that you are naming sounds, “door slam … elevator … footsteps … bird … airplane …” Sometimes you’ll name the feeling tone that accompanies the experience: “bird … pleasant … pneumatic drill … unpleasant … laughter … pleasant …” After a while, you may discover that the naming impulse relaxes. What remains is awareness of the presence or absence of sounds: “hearing … not hearing … sound arising … sound passing away … pleasant … not pleasant.”

Think of your listening meditation now as a wake-up exercise for your attention. However it happens-with names, without names, with feeling tone awareness or without-just let it happen. Don’t try to accomplish anything. Just listen.”