“Silence is a source of Great Strength” Lao Tzu
Not too long ago marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the composer and provocateur, John Cage. In this post and next week’s, I’m going to explore the differences between hearing and listening, between sound and silence, and offer a few inspiring quotes, and easy practices to nurture and hone your own sense of hearing. I’ve also included a link to a fun app johncage.org/cagePiano. for your ipad, iPhone, etc, inspired by John Cage that allows you to make “music” out of a variety of sounds. See image above right to get a peek of some of the items he placed under the strings of a piano to essentially create an entirely new instrument.
The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’ Alfred Brendel
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.” 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. 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. (More about that next week) 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
“Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.”
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!