One of this month’s FMS Photo a Day prompts made me think about the sounds of the world around us. The prompt was “silent” and the hard part (fun part) of this group is trying to find a way to express the prompts in an interesting and photogenic way. My solution to photographing silent was to use an image of me “meditating”. Being completely honest, it was a faked moment with the incense and there were many, many outtakes (like the one above) before I settled on the one I submitted. You’ll be able to see the one I posted to FMSPAD in my March PaD blog, but if you can’t wait until the end of the month it’s already on my Instagram account, as well as my twitter account and my Facebook Page
Whilst submitting the photo to the group I was reminded of how we rarely, if ever, find ourselves in a totally silent world: there is always something that is making a noise. In a city we hear the cars, the people talking on their phones, the sounds of a pedestrian crossing, and sometimes a bird singing. Most of these we consider an unpleasant nuisance and noise, if we even pay attention to them.
Out in the countryside, we generally consider ourselves to be in a quiet place. However, even here there are the sounds of the birds, the wind pushing through the trees branches and leaves, and sometimes the rush of traffic on a nearby road or a plane traveling overhead. Most of these noises we consider nice and calming and pleasant sounds, again if we even notice them. We are, in fact, more likely to notice the absence of our normal sounds.
The only places we get complete quiet are in man-made spaces. One of the most silent places is, I think, in the Science Museum in Paris. They have created an acoustically dead space, which means it has a no echo as the walls absorb the sounds. I believe that the amount of time that people are able to stay in the room is very restricted, partly because of the number of people who want to experience it, but also because the absence of external sounds means people hear the sounds their bodies make. The sound of the air entering and leaving, the sound of the blood rushing around their arteries and veins, the thump of their hearts, and it freaks people out. So it seems that we feel most comfortable in a world where we can hear that the world exists.
This is me sitting in meditation at the Airport Mesa vortex in Sedona, Arizona, in 2017. It looks lovely and it was, but what this photo doesn’t show are the large number of people, including a number of noisy small children, that were just out of shot; nor the nearby roads and their traffic, nor the local airfield! You could say it was a less than silent spot in which to meditate, but it’s amazing what we can tune out if we want to.
Did it stop me? No, I have practiced and learned to quieten the sounds around me and focus in on what I want to, in this case the sensation of energy that makes the Sedona vortices special. It was a wonderful location to sit quietly and enjoy the moment.
I run a weekly meditation group at the Clerkenwellbeing Studios above the Clerkenwell Clinic I work at. I ran an introduction to meditation workshop at our initial open day and I remember one attendee complaining that the room was too noisy for him to meditate. I apologised and said that we are in the middle of London and there will be traffic noise no matter. The presence of background noise is an inevitability and it is a label from our brains as to whether it is nice or not. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem him again, but I hope he found a place in which to meditate.
During my Yoga Teacher Training we were introduced to the Fly Meditation video, which demonstrates the way that we think about the sounds that irritate us or other distractions can be altered and no longer trouble us. It shows a warrior (a Samurai I think) meditating and a fly enters the space he is sitting in. He draws his sword and kills the fly by cutting it in half. Each half grows into another fly, like the heads of the hydra, until he is surrounded by a swarm of flies. He is inspired to change his thoughts and the flies no longer trouble him and they finally transform into petals.
I now start my meditation group with a listening meditation, so I actively embrace the fact that there will be noises in the world, before we move into a more internal focus. I have written it out for you below if you fancy trying it.
This meditation is trying to get you to just allow the sounds of the world around you, and you can spend as long as you want doing it. You may want to set yourself a timer if you only have a limited amount of time to be able to do this.
- Find a position you are comfortable to meditate in. This could be sitting in a chair, on a cushion with your legs crossed, standing and walking, or even lying down in a position of rest. Eyes can be open or closed.
- Listen to the sounds around you.
- Notice what there is, but try not to label them as “nice” or “nasty”
- If one sound catches your attention, focus on it completely until it fades or stops. This might be a plane flying overhead, a car driving past or a bird singing.
- Sit with the absence of that sound for as long as you are able before you bring your focus onto the next sound that catches your attention.
- Continue this for as long as you want.
- Notice how you respond to the sounds of the world around you after doing this.
I hope that that is useful to you, let me know if you would like to have more of this type of thing.
Thanks for reading my lovely Interonauts.