Tag Archives: sound

Just Listen

Listening meditation offers another way to be aware and to work with attention. Beyond finding a relatively quiet place to sit or walk, I have almost no control over the sounds that I hear. They arrive. Sometimes from the outside, a bird, a car on the street, a phone ringing. Sometimes from the inside, the whirrrrring in my ears that I might otherwise ignore, a rumble in my gut, or a crack in my joints.

When you listen to sound with awareness, you are just practicing being aware. There’s no need for anything extra. Limiting myself to awareness, along with attention drift, is the hardest part for me. A science podcast once informed me that the brain (mind) processes sounds much more rapidly than it does visual information. Sound is one of our most fundamental and efficient “alarm” systems for protecting ourselves. And once I direct my awareness to my sound environment, I often find myself naming, and sometimes, even looking around for the source of, the sounds that I hear.

There’s no need to do any of that in listening meditation. Just be aware. If you find yourself naming a sound, smiling at a bird’s song, or flinching at a text message alarm, give yourself a pass. Reacting is not what you intended, but it isn’t a mistake either. A silent “thank you” might be just the right soft, kind touch that will let you notice your reaction, which is part of living, and center yourself back in simple awareness.

Here’s a partial set of the instructions for listening meditation that long-time meditation teacher and author, Martine Bachelor offers in her Fall 2010 Tricycle magazine article, “Instructions for listening meditation”. I’ve included only the lines that emphasize awareness, but you can find the missing bits, the “…”, by going to the original article. And if you would like to read more of my posts relating to listening and sounds, click on “sound” in the tag cloud located in the right side bar.

Try to sit stable like a mountain and vast like the ocean.
Listen to the sounds as they occur … just listen with wide-open awareness.

Let the sounds come to you and touch your eardrums.
Go inside the sounds and notice their fluid nature.
If there are no sounds, listen, and rest in this moment of silence.

Just be aware of sounds as they arise and pass away. Open yourself to the music of the world in this moment, in this place.

See if you can learn to move freely between being in silence and with sounds.

– Martine Bachelor, “Instructions for Listening Meditation”, Tricycle, Fall 2010 (abridged)

Finding ‘One Square Inch of Silence’

If you’re sharing an apartment, a house, or even a neighborhood with other stay-at-homes, finding a quiet, private spot for meditation can be a challenge. Author and sound recording specialist Gordon Hempton has identified a spot in the Hoh Rainforest of the Olympic National Park as the “quietest place in the United States.” None of us will be visiting this spot any time soon, but you can hear what 15 minutes of nature, completely free of human-generated audio interference, sounds like by visiting https://onesquareinch.org/ and clicking on the audio bar at the bottom of the page.

I took a listen this morning and thought, “what a perfect background for a meditation session.” How would that work? First, there’s nothing to do. You just play the audio as you sit. If you like, you can “anchor” on your breath, or on the sounds, or whatever. If labels and thoughts appear, notice that and return to your anchor, just paying attention. After a few sessions, you’ll probably stop labeling the sounds and just notice that sound is occurring. Practice tip: If you need some help tuning out the noises from your immediate surroundings, try wearing headphones as you meditate.

For even more info on Gordon Hempton and the One Square Inch of Silence project, also check out this Wikipedia entry or Hempton’s book. I have added a link to the One Square Inch audio to our Sit Now page.

Listening to Silence

Not all meditation practices are silent, but those that are might offer a special health benefit that is simply the silence itself.

Scientists and doctors have known for decades that loud noises are dangerous, and can cause hearing loss, both in the short- and long-term. But how about the everyday racket, the sounds of heating systems, carĀ engines, hallway conversations, and YouTube songs; Does steady exposure to “noise” affect our health? Is there anything to be gained by lowering the volume, perhaps even spending part of the day in silence?

Here are some links to explore on this topic:

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Silence, Please

“Silence, Please” is one of the most popular themes used by VisitFinland.com to attract tourists. It seems some people crave silence. But what is silence? Is it just the absence of sound? Or is it something tangible in its own right? It turns out teams of scientists have been trying to address this question in the ways that scientists often do: they have looked at patterns of brain activity to determine how brains differentiate silence from louder alternatives. “This is Your Brain on Silence” by Daniel Gross (Nautilus, 7 July 2016) reports on some of this research. Be prepared for surprises.