Photo by Guy Beider
Originally Posted On: Active Listening As A Form Of Meditation And Sound Healing (soundmedicineacademy.com)
“If you don’t listen, you won’t really hear”
Dhiravamsa, Buddhist Monk
Our relationship with sound reflects our reality and understanding of the self.
We are exposed to sound constantly. Even now, as you read this text, your ears are working as radars. All acoustical signals around provide you with information. Maybe you can hear the humming of the refrigerator in your kitchen, or passing cars, or children playing outside of your window. It could be the sound of falling rain, birds singing, or anything else. Most likely you perceive these sounds passively and do not even pay attention to the audible background if it doesn’t carry any information that is essential to you. However, if all of a sudden, somewhere in the near proximity, you register a sound of breaking glass or of cracking wood, or anything unusual, your consciousness will shift from passive hearing to active listening. In the silent pause after the surprising sound, you will experience a moment of full alertness.
Generally speaking, our perception of audible signals fully depends on informative triggers that the sound may carry. If there is nothing new for us to learn about in the audible background, our attention shuts down. Knowing that a musician or a sound healing facilitator can influence the stream of consciousness of the listener. For instance, repetitive soundscapes that a sound practitioner uses to induce relaxation could be juggled with new sonic patterns, surprising triggers, or silence to evoke alertness.
Stop for a moment and actively listen to the sounds around you!
Do you notice how much information sound can carry even if it is not verbal?
With our hearing, we can evaluate the number of sound sources, their diverse nature, and approximate distance to the sound source. We can tell if the source is static or dynamic, in which direction it is moving, as well as many more details.
The ability to interpret passing sounds is both built-in and acquired knowledge. Sound is strongly linked with our instincts and emotions. If you hear a baby crying, your instinct to check on him is preprogrammed by nature. Millions of years ago, the roaring of hunting predators was recognized by our ancestors as a signal of danger. This sound immediately activated the instinct to freeze, run or fight. Today the sounds of predators are almost forgotten; instead, there are so many other sounds associated with danger. A car horn may make you stop immediately when you are about to cross the street. I assume that the reaction to this acoustical signal was acquired, but the roots probably reach back to the days of roaring predators.
Sound engineering is widely used in film production and commercials because it can manipulate the consciousness of the audience.
Both naturally programmed as well as learned associations with acoustical signals evoke a response from our psychological, mental, emotional and physical functioning. Knowing how to trigger a certain reaction and create an “acoustical scenario” could help a lot in sound therapy. However, a sound therapist or a musician and the audience should be focused on listening actively.
To listen actively means to be fully present to the sound. One should be free of thoughts and judgments, and totally transparent in order to let the sound in.
In my Sound Medicine Academy, I often explain to my students that active, aka conscious, listening is about being present to three aspects of sound.
What are these three aspects?
First, one should be focused on the audible sensation. Here, you can explore the information the sound is carrying, and its intensity. One could also taste the texture of the sound: it’s timbre, intonation, and character.
The second aspect is one’s physical reaction to the sound, tasting the sound like food or liquid that you have just swallowed. Is it cold or hot, spicy or mild, sweet or salty? Does your body move toward the source of the sound or is it being pushed away? Is the sound nourishing you or is it exhausting? Also, be aware of which part of the body reacts the most. Where in the body does the sound make energy move?
The third aspect is the sound that is being generated by the observer within you. It is the sound that only you can witness. It could be the sound of your thoughts and emotions that the outer source is provoking, or it could be the sound of stillness.
*I think it is important to understand that all sound that we perceive is constructed within us. Nerve impulses are NOT sound. The brain must make sense of all the information it receives from the nerves, and it must integrate that information with everything it remembers from having done this countless times.
One of the benefits of active listening is understanding how selective we are with filtering out inconvenient sounds (even when it comes to the sound of our intuition). Active listening is a form of meditation that requires that the practitioner is fully present and transparently open to perception and acceptance of sound (audible or not). Active listening is an act of surrender. It is letting go of preconditioning and expanding consciousness.
By listening actively, a cheese lover may discover one day that a song by Eurythmics actually says: “Sweet dreams are made of this”. It is not “Sweet dreams are made of CHEESE”.