Selective hearing

‘Old pond

Frog jumps in-

Splash’

Basho

We all know people who seem to have selective hearing – who hear only what they want to hear. At times these people can drive us to distraction, and yet in fact we all have selective hearing. Most of the time, we pay little attention to the sounds around us. This is adaptive, because if we listened to every sound with our full attention, there wouldn’t be much time left for anything else in our lives.

Yet the practice of mindful listening can greatly enrich our lives. We can do this during meditation, and also at other times. Mindful listening simply involves opening ourselves to the soundscape around us, and hearing each sound as individual, unique, without attaching some meaning, judgment or storyline to it. As a trained musician, I’m used to making continual judgments about the sounds which I and the other musicians produce. In the context of musical training and performance, this has its place, but it’s liberating for me to open myself up to the sounds around me, without a running commentary of good sound, bad sound, want more of this sound, want less of that. Where I live, I can hear both bird song and also traffic sounds, including trucks. It’s quite a challenge to be just as open to the traffic noises as to the birds. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to practise non-judgmental awareness, which is one of the core attributes of mindfulness.

Sound is waves travelling through the air and hitting our ear drums. The range of sounds we can hear is quite extraordinary (though limited compared to many animals), and each sound has unique properties. We also tend to become quite habituated to ongoing sounds, taking less and less notice of them. This gives us an opportunity to practise another core attribute of mindfulness – beginner’s mind. We can be open and fresh to each sound – the low humming of the fridge as well as a sudden arpeggio of bird song outside our window. This gives us a wonderful sense of resting in the present moment, of being right here, right now.

We can underestimate the effect which sounds have on our bodies and our psyches. Sound is used to torture people, and also to sing a crying baby to sleep. Supermarkets use certain music to slow you down and have you lingering in the aisles so you end up buying more than you need. One train station near me plays classical music over the loud speakers to discourage teenagers from hanging out there. To me that’s a rather sad use of classical music (and I used to love getting off the train and hearing the Mozart oboe concerto in all its joy and glory), but apparently it’s very effective!

Mindfulness of sound can open us up to the present moment, and it can also allow us to be more in tune with how the sounds around us affect us. It’s a simple but powerful practice we can easily incorporate into our lives.

Weekly practice idea:

Set aside ten minutes, and sit with your eyes closed, allowing yourself to hear as many different sounds as possible, without judging them or getting caught up in story-lines about them. Open your eyes again, and notice how you feel.

Anja Tanhane

Being happy for others

Daylesford lake

‘O! beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the flesh it feeds on.’
(Iago to Othello, in Shakespeare’s Othello)

Some of the most miserable times in my life have been those when I have felt jealous or resentful. These can be difficult emotions for any of us – that promotion which should have been ours, the achievement someone else got credit for, the close group of friends we’re always on the outer of. Jealousy can be a sharp pang, quickly gone, or a simmering resentment which poisons our life for years. Either way, it certainly feels like we’re feeding on our own flesh, as Shakespeare so eloquently put it – it can distort our thinking, cause us to act unkindly, and impair our ability to feel happy and connected to others. Sometimes we’re justified in feeling resentful, such as when we are the victim of discrimination or abuse. Other times, however, our jealousy has more to do with our inability to be happy for the happiness of others. Everything which goes well with the other person, all their successes and joys, only serves to remind us of our own suffering and misery.

Continue reading “Being happy for others” »

Jumping to conclusions

 

Bottle brush

 

You are walking along a sunny path, and suddenly see a snake centimetres away from your shoes. You leap in the air, yell, your heart is thumping, and when the snake doesn’t move you have another look. Now you can see the ‘snake’ is actually a stick, and perhaps you have a little laugh, call yourself silly, feel relieved. Yet there is no way to avoid the first, instinctive fear response. We are biologically hard-wired to make up our minds about any situation in split-seconds, jump to a conclusion, and, if we sense danger, act before we are even sure what’s happening. On a holiday earlier this year, I was walking towards a pond in a forest when suddenly a snake was coming right at me with its head raised, ready to attack. Of course I jumped out of the way, and luckily the snake went past, but what I remember from this incident is that I had no time at all to think about what was happening. I’d already moved before any thoughts came into my conscious awareness. In the case of inadvertently disturbing a snake and being attacked by it, this instinctive response can help to save our lives. I’m sure we can all think of times, however, where quickly jumping to conclusions about a situation was anything but helpful! Continue reading “Jumping to conclusions” »