Active listening can change your perspective of how sounds carry meaning
Active listening during meditation is not a bad thing. In being as ‘passive as possible’ during a meditation session, the flow of thoughts and emotions is what we’re after – not silence. “Silence disappears as soon as you start listening”
There are 3 huge mountains that form the backdrop to Vancouver. The valleys run north and south and the lower elevations are the suburbs of the North Shore. At their feet lies a huge urban area – the home of millions of people.
Amazingly, it takes only a short journey to reach the back country. In the case of Mt. Seymour, a 40 minute drive and 40 minutes of walking can take you from our home in Vancouver (the human side of the mountains) to the wild side. Here, it is so wild that a 1947 Trans Canada Airlines flight crashed on Mt. Seymour and wasn’t found until 1994!
What does this have to do with meditation? It’s the silence of the back country that I want to talk about. It’s such a rare thing to experience silence these days. When we do find a place of peace and quiet, we experience a sudden pleasure. One of the things the silence does, is coerce you into thinking about what you would normally hear, such as people talking or cars whizzing by. Being out here makes you think about the contrast. You immediately realize that all day every day you hear stuff without hearing sounds. What you hear is presented to your consciousness as packaged thoughts with labels and meaning attached. It’s rare that our hearing system simply presents a sound for you to contemplate. A crash, bang or scream.
In the back country every sound is a sound – nothing more. A story that has to unfold because we don’t know the answer yet. A snap of a twig means nothing in the city, but it might mean something in the back country. A sound waiting for a label. Once, Carol and I had our first ever in person encounter with a bear. It all started from a unique sound. Luckily, we were using active listening and were able to discern what it was before we were in any danger and were able to get out of harm’s way!
Here is the thing: In the city so full of sound we hear so little. Try using active listening to actually understand what it is you are hearing and not just chock it up to ‘whatever’.
Want to try active listening? Go to your local coffee shop and try listening without hearing words or hearing the meaning of the words. Hear sounds. Close your eyes and hear the sounds. The sounds of the language. The sounds of the accents. The different emphasis on different syllables. Different sounds for the same vowels. Hear the song in some people’s voices. The emotion in others. Hear people drinking, stirring, moving.
We think it’s profound to hear the sounds and the silence of the back country, but back in the city we can enjoy the same experience. Why not take five minutes of your day to tune into the sounds around you. I’m sure there is a surprise in store for you. In the back country, the surprise was that there isn’t really silence at all. The sounds are there, but we need to actively listen for them.
Peter Chipkin – President of Ease Meditation