Sounds and Thoughts

“This isn’t life in the fast lane, it’s life in the oncoming traffic.” ― Terry Pratchett

You do it. I do it. We all do it. In fact, we all do it all the time without even realising it. Deleting sounds.

Sound is one of key senses we have but we have developed the ability to ignore sounds; letting sounds dissolve into the background of our daily lives. If you don’t believe me, then you might want to reflect on the following scenario:

At this time of the year, during the summer holiday’s, it is quite likely that you are going to be going away to a different place to stay. Be it a hotel; camping; by the sea; in a city centre break; with friends or with family. At the end of the first day that you are away, you are going to  retire to the bedroom and after getting ready for bed, you are going to lie down and try to go to sleep.

That is when you are going to notice sounds. The sounds around you. In the room – perhaps the clicking of a clock. Locally – as other people move around or the sounds of the TV on in the next room. Outside, where it might be traffic moving or the sounds of people enjoying the evening.

You are certainly going to notice the different sounds. What will follow is your mind will start to race with thoughts as you wonder “what is that sound?”, “Who is doing what?”, “why are they making that racket?”, “can I stop that ticking?”.

Eventually, you might drop off to sleep. You will get up the following morning and start a new day. That evening, you might notice the same sounds, some new ones or you might not. After the third day, generally, you will not notice the sounds in the evening. They will have dissolved into the background and it will only be the exceptions that you might still “hear”.

We constantly allow sounds to dissolve into the background. There is a term that is used for it, Habituation. Habituation is a decrease in response to a stimulus after repeated presentations. For example, a novel sound in your environment, such as a new ring tone, may initially draw your attention or even become distracting. After you become accustomed to this sound, you pay less attention to the noise and your response to the sound will diminish. This diminished response is habituation.

So how do you deal with the challenge of sounds impinging on your world and the thoughts that stream into your consciousness?

Sounds are as compelling as thoughts and just as open to interpretation. For this reason, the Sounds and Thoughts Meditation is one of my personal favourite as it reveals how the mind conjures up thoughts that can so easily lead us astray.

Why meditate on Sounds and Thoughts?

We are immersed in a soundscape of enormous depth and variety. Just take a moment to listen. What can you hear? This is where the opposite of the example above comes to the fore. At first, you might sense a general pulsating, an all-encompassing hubbub of noise. You might be able to pick out individual sounds. You might recognise a voice; a TV blaring away; a door slamming, cars driving past; an aircraft overhead; tinkling music; the sounds of birds. The list is endless. Even when you’re in a quiet room, you can still pick up muffled sounds. It might be your breath as it moves through your nostrils, or the creaking of the floor or a heating system. Even silence contains sounds.

Just like your thoughts, the sounds around you are never silent. Even more importantly, the sounds around you influence the thoughts and feelings you have.

The Sounds and Thoughts meditation gradually reveals the similarities between sound and thought. Both appear as if from nowhere. Both can seem random and we have no control over their arising. Both trigger powerful emotions that can easily run away with us.

The Sounds and Thoughts meditation helps you to discover this. It also helps you to relate to unsettling thoughts in the same way that you relate to sounds. Your thoughts can be likened to a radio that’s been left on in the background. You can listen – or rather observe – but you need not elaborate on what you receive or act on what you feel. You don’t usually feel the need to think or behave in a way that a voice on a radio tells you to, so why should you blindly assume that your thoughts portray an unerringly accurate picture of the world? Your thoughts are thoughts. That is all. They are your servants. No matter how loud they shout, they are not your master, giving orders that have to be obeyed. This realisation gives you immense freedom; it takes you off a hair trigger and gives you the space to take more skilful decisions – decisions that can be made with your mind when it’s in full awareness.

I leave you with the following quote:

“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so? ” ― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

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