Should we listen to music while meditating? Should we find some white noise while engaged in contemplative activities? Should we try to create a perfectly silent sanctum for ourselves?
Out of all of our senses, it seems like hearing is the one we are most tempted to ask these questions about. I suppose this is because it seems like sounds are the most likely intrusions on our contemplative times. We can shut our eyes. Tastes, and feelings and smells are unlikely so suddenly show up. So we are left with the question: What should we do with these sounds that intrude?
I am not sure that sounds are always the intrustion they appear to be. In this post, I want to spend a little bit of time exploring the question of whether we even want to cover sounds.
I used to think that the objective during my contemplations was to get 100% in my thoughts. I thought the end-game was to escape my body. I thought I was going to find this mystical realm, beyond such mundane things as noises which might interrupt me.
Increasingly, I am learning that this is not generally what I want at all. The growth happens in releasing the things that I don’t want or need. The growth does not come from creating an environment where they don’t exist at all.
One interesting thing is that most of us are pretty inconsistent around what sounds create problems for us. If we are praying outside, the distant ‘caw’ of a bird can seem rather wonderful. But when we hear the ‘thump-thump-thump’ of someone’s blasting car radio, this can feel like the problem.
After I did some reflecting on this fact, I realized that I was willing to give a pass to the sounds which seem like they belong to the environment I am. Things that seem natural are ones which I did not allow to distract me.
As I thought about this question, though, I realized that this is pretty arbitrary. Which soounds belong? What does ‘natural’ mean, anyway?
The thing is, all the sounds that happen are in some sense, natural. One of the reasons I meditate is to embrace the fact that ‘everything belongs.’ Adjusting my feelings about the sounds I hear is probably a good place to start.
In terms of my spiritual practice, a few years ago, I always listened to music, white noise, or other tones of my choosing when I meditated. As the years have moved on, I am shifting. The practice of returning to myself after surprise is a good practice. Living the reality that all the sounds belong is an important thing to do.
Much more than half the time, this is enough. This change in attitude is really all that need. My challenge to you today is to give a try to meditating, praying, and contemplating with out something covering up the sounds in your environment. I hope that most of the time, you won’t need anything.
Occasionally, a little something extra, a sound designed to cover up other sounds, is worth finding. In the next strategy, we will explore just what that sound might seem be.