Mindfulness with support on sound has been my go-to practice these past couple of weeks.
I admit to a preference here – I find it so soothing, and find myself using sound at times rather than breath to bring myself back to present awareness in my daily life when I find my mind has wandered off down some soap-box storyline – oh the dramas I have been rescued from by this subtle yet dramatic switch of focus. I love the paradox of finding spaciousness and peace within the surrounding soundscape, wherever I am – the peace is the backdrop to the sounds, as spacious awareness is the backdrop to my thoughts.
I like the way that the sounds arise, sound, and subside; are overlaid with a myriad of other sounds arising, sounding and subsiding. After lockdown I noticed a perceived reduction in the amount of sound generally that was reaching my ears, and on applying further curious attention, noticed that it wasn’t just the amount of sounds that was reduced but the tenor of the sounds – less sounds maybe, were the sounds just softer, more subtle, more tiny?; it was like my perception (or was it my ears?) were becoming more attuned to the quieter sounds?
With the baby birds on the feeders tweeting, the hammering torrential rain on the roof and dripping from the gutters, high winds wooshing through the trees I’ve had a wonderful array of sound support around me – and inside – the pellet boiler in my house tinkles its pellets from the hopper into the boiler down a tube which sounds like I’ve won a prize on the fruit machine every ten minutes. It’s so easy for the sounds to tempt me down a romantic reverie; approaching tyres on gravel outside brings to mind a drop down menu of potential visitors and repercussions and then the dog – gets me every time – the bark – hits my body like a shockwave zapping through making my whole body jerk with fright–my ears appear to feed information to my body faster than my conscious awareness can.
It appears I am thinking about this during meditation. The practice of noticing and letting go is light and with practise gets more habitual. The mind flits between noticing sounds, noticing reactions to sounds, thinks about the noticing but in an aware way, thinks about the thinking, and then this can go two ways, it’s a bit of a tightrope at this point, and one I would like to ask my teacher about. I’m either off into thinking whoops! OR I’m here with it all – holding the focused awareness resting in the midst of it all, (then noticing thoughts arising of striving for success or berating failure). Meditation can be a busy time – and all the while looking like I am doing nothing!
At this point I am thinking about all this. However, I feel like I am not thinking with my thoughts. I feel like I am contemplating. I have never written about this before, and even throughout my journaling for the MSc Studies in Mindfulness, in my essay on insight I did not have the space to cover this topic, although it would have been a good one to explore. So this is fresh and I am genuinely interested to hear what you think about this, if you have experienced a similar state. This contemplating or thinking without thinking (which is now sounding like the wonderful Buddhist concept of ‘doing without doing’ which is what the insight module gave me a taste of) feels like it is conscious thinking – paradoxically focused thinking – energized thinking. I am using my thinking faculty constructively, profoundly, skillfully? (albeit too briefly!) and the maintenance of this focused state ultimately cultivates insight; or I lose it and I’m suddenly wondering what’s for lunch.
I didn’t know I had so much to write about sound as support and I haven’t even got onto how using sound as support has helped me to understand the value in training to listen deeply (taught as enquiry with teaching skills) which I’ve only touched on, and that the practice of using sound as support helped me to learn to dis-identify with the words that come from people’s mouths.
Spending some focused mediation time just on sound as support over a period of time has taught me that sound reaches my ear as a neutral stimulus. It’s just soundwaves whether a car, the wind, the dog, or conversation. I started with the neutral and natural sounds. Continued practice with this helped to bring non-preferential conscious awareness into conversation. This came as a surprise that on one level conversation is just soundwaves. The sound and its ‘meaning’ is experienced in between my ears. The meaning is applied by me through the filter of my conditioning. This was a revelation. This changed my relationship to what I heard. And the training in mindfulness meditation, brings the opportunity to stop the fundamental root of what Buddhism would call ignorance right there. This is a moment on the cycle of dependent origination where we can intercept the causes and effects of ignorance. Just by focusing on sound – who would have thought?
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand;
they listen with the intent to reply.
They’re either speaking or preparing to speak.
They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms,
reading their autobiography into other people’s lives.”
OK so this is going to take me a lifetime but– I’m up for it. Becoming less reactive has been such a huge benefit of mindfulness practice and especially the benefits of using sound as support. It has been such a worthwhile practice benefitting me, and my family as I have learned to be a better listener and mindful responder rather than the emotional reactor I have been.
Can we bring non-judgemental non-preferential awareness into our conversations with others, maintain awareness, and respond from a place of presence, without the ego being triggered by an emotional conditioned response to the words being uttered?
Haha! Let’s try this week. Let me know how you get on.
Take care of yourself as the general noise levels increase this week.
PS Favourite Book: In my podcast I think I said the Chogyam Trungpa title wrongly, (but I can’t bear to listen to it – this is once instance where my mind will not be able to listen without judgement!). The book is called SHAMBHALA – The Sacred Path of the Warrior.
My favourite film was What About Me? By One Giant Leap available as a DVD and a CD. It’s a compilation of world music interspersed by spiritual teachings and shows how society driven by ego has led to fractured society – it is an profound and uplifting film (and CD) bursting with compassion and interconnectedness. And the most awesome music tracks. I do recommend it.