Deepen Meditation with Sound
Last week’s post was about mindful communication. I hope you had an opportunity to practice this form of communication. If you missed the post you can find it here. This week I want to dig a little deeper into mindful listening, which requires us to be fully present and paying close attention to the sounds around us and to what people are saying. Sometimes the sounds or words we hear are not pleasant and our reaction is to shut ourselves from such intrusive noise. This is of course a common and natural reaction, especially in this modern world where it is hard to be in silence or at least surrounded by pleasant sounds. However, mindful listening requires kindness, non-judgment, and limited conversation running in the mind. The practice of listening is a wonderful gift to give to yourself and to the other person speaking, because you are bringing a caring attention and awareness to what is being said. Even if you’re not communicating with another person just taking a pause and listening to the sounds that surround you can bring your focus to the present and you may even notice background sounds that you never notice before, like the humming of the refrigerator or the whisper of the fan.
One way to practice mindful listening is by incorporating the practice into your meditation. Many people actually find sound to be a difficult element of their meditation practice and actually resist the noise, which makes the practice all that much more difficult. Many times we want our formal meditation practice to be pristine and uninterrupted by the modern noises of airplanes, cars, motorcycles, construction, or even the pings and vibrations of smartphones. But such purity is not only unrealistic, it does not necessarily make for a better meditation practice. You may find that by purposefully incorporating sounds into your meditation your practice begins to deepen and your awareness widens. Below I’m going to describe how to include everyday sounds in your mediation with compassion for yourself and the world around you. In addition, you’ll find a free guided meditation that I recorded for you below, which will support you in working with sound.
Practicing with Sounds
Start your formal meditation as you usually would by settling into a comfortable but an alert sitting posture. Connect with your breath and move deeper into your practice. As you hear a sound imagine the sound coming towards you like a wave. You can even imagine the size of the wave shift and change based on how loud or soft the sound is. Is the sound prolonged or quick? Is it a low or high pitched sound? And as you notice the different qualities of the sound imagine the wave shifting and changing based on the sound’s qualities. Then notice how the sound begins to dissolve, and imagine the wave simply begin to flatten. Of course, it is natural for the mind to wander, but when you notice the mind wandering just bring it back to the present moment, connecting back with the breath and listening.
Continue to just notice the sounds. You’ll find that some sounds are far more pleasant than others, like the sound of a bird chirping in the tree or your cat softly meowing at you to get your attention. Other sounds may be more difficult and feel like an intrusion or personal attack to you and your practice such as, shouting, a truck horn, a train rushing by, or a jackhammer (which ironically is hammering away right in front of my house as I write this post).
As you listen to the sounds and imagine those waves come towards your body ask yourself the following questions:
When you hear something that is so intrusive how does the sound wave feel as it hits your ear?
How do you sense that sound in your body? Remember you’re not judging the sound or the person or thing making the sound. You are simply noticing and sensing what you feel in your body. Does your body tense up when you hear this sound? If so, just state in your mind “tension”. Does your body feel alert? State “alter”.
Continue to name the sensations you feel in your body. Does your heart start to beat a little fast? Acknowledge what is present.
Then sense how your body feels as the wave of sound begins to dissipate and the sound can no longer be heard or the sound shifts and changes?
How has your body’s reaction changed
Continue this practice until your mediation practice is complete. You don’t have to do this type of practice for a long time, especially if you find sound very disruptive. However, continue to practice this and challenge yourself to practice it for longer periods of time as you feel more and more comfortable with using sound as a formal meditation practice. See how your meditation practice changes or deepens by the sounds that we encounter in our daily lives. You may be surprised by what you learn about yourself or the world around you as you incorporate sounds in your formal practice.
I have a guided meditation that will guide you in the practice of using sounds. You can find the meditation here. Please note that there are some long pauses in my guidance so you can fully experience the wave of each sound that comes toward you.