Exploring the differences between hearing and listening, between sound and silence, and offering a few inspiring quotes, and easy practices to nurture and hone y’alls sense of hearing.
“Silence is a source of Great Strength” Lao Tzu
Hearing is often overlooked as a profound source of spiritual practice. Though our sense of hearing we can enter into a place of meditative listening that is deeply nourishing. It is a balm to our busy minds. Listening is not thinking. It is not controling. It is receptive art that is not given enough due in our nonstop noisy modern world that shouts and clangs and bangs on trying to capture our attention and fill the precious silence that is already full of wonder and isn’t served by an indiscrimate, calculated, cacaphony of capitalism’s catchiest tunes and advertising jingles.
So how do we find beauty in the chaos and noise of our industrialized world? (Discernment plays a huge part here as it does with all the senses.) I don’t agree with Deacon who said “even a leaf blower can be music.” But I do agree with Cage’s idea of finding music off the page, and in the everyday. In recent years, many studies have demonstrated the healing power of sound. Particularly certain types of sound. Such as birdsong, ocean waves, the sound of a mother’s voice singing a lullaby. A number of hospitals use music as medicine so patients can regain a sense of control, independence, and confidence. Music can be a medium of communication and a strategy for refocusing attention during painful procedures or long treatments such as hemodialysis, and a source of emotional support.
Not too long ago marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the composer and provocateur, John Cage. To many, including American composer and Electronic musician, Dan Deacon, “the biggest lasting influence Cage has (had) is the idea that music is listening. That music isn’t only the notes on a page that a composer puts there.” It’s the sound of the wind through the palm fronds, or the rain drumming on a tin roof, or the building crescendo of bird calls in the Shower trees as twilight approaches. According to Deacon, “This has empowered composers to work with found sound and nontraditional sounds with greater freedom, but it also empowered the audience to find beauty in the chaos and noise of an an industrialized world.”
Is it an accident that the word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’? I think not. And if it is it is a divine one. One of the my favorite meditations is to focus on listening within and without widening my awareness of sound until it is something I am floating in not something I am resisting. Even the odd siren or plane can be absorbed in this vast listening space and allowed to float by like a cloud.
When silence isn’t an option and even when it is Music can also be a medium of communication and a strategy for refocusing attention during painful procedures or long treatments such as hemodialysis, and a source of emotional support. The musical note ‘G’ and the the sound ‘oh’ are associated with our sense of hearing which corresponds to the throat (5th) chakra/subtle energy center which is about expressing yourself creatively and speaking your truth. Sandalwood, Roman Chamomile, and Geranium essential oils are thought to strengthen and balance this energy center
Practice One. Tuning into Everyday Sounds. Today as you engage in some of your ordinary tasks pay special attention to the sounds that go along with them. For instance: the sound of your fingers tapping on the keyboard, the sound of the knife chopping veggies or ginger and garlic for a stir fry. The sizzle of the onion as it hits the hot pan. The sound of the clothes tumbling in the dryer. The different cycles of the washing machine. The hum of the refrigerator. The slam of your car door. Your feet on the non carpeted floor in shoes, then bare. The volume and tone of your own voice when you are irritated? Excited. Tired. Happy?
Practice two. Whispering Breath Relaxation. To do this you need to learn a type of yogic breathing commonly called Ujjayi. This link is a great short tutorial. Yoga Journal – Conqueror Breath.It is pretty simple. Imagine you are sipping breath through a straw. As you inhale through your nose ever so gently contract the base of your throat and make the sound Sa. When you exhale through your nose (with your throat still gently contracted) make the sound Ha. Whispering breath is purifying and balancing. It can be done almost any where at any time without anyone knowing. I often do it while driving, or to help me focus when I’m tired but still have to finish a task. But for our purposes we’re going to combine it with a short relaxation that is best done lying down.
1.Find a comfortable place to lie down uninterrupted for at least 5 mins and no more than 20. Set a timer if you want.
2. Arrange your body in a straight line with your arms at your sides and your legs hip distance apart. Lengthen your neck by tilting/tucking your chin slightly down toward your chest, and consciously moving/wiggling your shoulders down and away from your ears.
3. Let your body really sink into the mat or bed beneath you. Consciously relax the muscles of your face, especially your eyes and your jaw.
4. Let your belly be soft. Soft belly. Let the muscles of your buttocks relax too.
5. Breath in and out through your nose out 3-5 times. Each time you breath out open your jaw and sigh. ahhh. Keep your jaw and the muscles around your eyes relaxed.
6. Bring your awareness to the feeling of your breath as it enters and exits your nostrils. Listen closely and now really hear the sound it makes as you gently engage the Whispering Breath practice (inhale Sa, exhale Ha) for the remaining time.
7. When you are ready to get up take a moment to acknowledge the relaxation you’ve created, and then silently ask to carry this feeling with you into the rest of your day.
“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” Baba Ram Das
I’d love to know how the practices affected you. You can also write me if you have any questions. Hope to hear from you, and to find you here again
Wishing you everything good!
On the subject of the late, great John Cage: Back in the 1980s the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque was host to a composer’s symposium that, if memory serves, was underwritten to some degree by Gordon Getty–son of J. Paul Getty and a serious composer of modern classical music in his own right. I attended one of the performances at the symposium which included several works by John Cage. One of the pieces was ‘Water Music’, wherein a woman in a bathrobe and shower cap wanders about on stage turns a radio off and on, sits silently at a piano, plays a few notes, and eventually slams the lid on the piano keyboard shut. I was sitting at the very back of the hall, which was almost completely full, and the door opened and John Cage crept in and sat in the seat next to me. I was stunned, of course. He seemed to be enjoying the performance of ‘Water Music’ and at the moment when the performer slammed the keyboard lid shut a child sitting somewhere near the front of the hall began to wail loudly. The embarrassed parent immediately started to try and make their way down the row to the aisle to take the crying child outside but Cage was thrilled. He rose up in his seat and called out, not too loudly, “No! No! Go back! Sit down! It’s PERFECT!!” The parent sat back down, the child quieted down shortly, and Cage seemed extremely happy with it all. He signed my program for me in his distinctive spidery hand. I still have it, buried in a trunk full of memorabilia in my garage, but if I find it I’ll scan it and send to you, Sabrina.
I’d love that. and I will find that photo of us a at the ‘famed’ Bow Wow Records on Route 66, and send a copy to you. Love to hear your voice- thanks for adding to the piece with your wonderful story. More to come I hope.