Sound and Silence

Sound and Silence

When I wrote this blog it was raining outside, mist sitting on the western hillside and a steady comforting hum in the air from the constant, gentle, deluge. It was early in the morning and the trees full of birds, each one calling into the new day to announce its aliveness and presence with their unique songs, trills, and whistles.

How comforting sounds can be.

Listening to sounds can induce many emotions. A friend of mine who could never conceive a child, cries even now at the sound of a baby’s gurgle, and who has not been moved by a song, connecting us directly to the feelings of the past, some sharp, some sad, some sweet, but always evocative.

As we grew up my sisters and I would put a particular record on the player (no ipods then) just to see our mother cry, which she did every time she heard this particular piece of music. We never did ask her why, and she never would tell us, perhaps a sign of the times when personal emotion was held private rather than something to seek attention from. Anyway, many years later when visiting her grave, we finally saw the reason for her tears. There on the gravestone of her younger brother buried next to her, was the title of that song ‘arrivederci darling’ – goodbye, ‘til we see each other again…

Sound itself is an energy transmitted by pressure waves; a sensation perceived by us as the sense of hearing. People with hearing loss can often ‘hear’ some sound, particularly the humming sound from a brass string or the boom of drums. However, as with any sense, if that sense is lost our amazing brain rewires itself to capture that under used section into the other senses, sometimes creating a ‘super sense’ such as increased sense of sight for the hearing impaired.

Sounds and Healing

Sounds have been used for healing for centuries to clear energetics blockages and reduce stress. From classical music and the sound of nature’s fauna, winds, and waters to percussive instruments like drums, gongs and singing bowls.

Listening to particular sounds can alleviate stress and expedite healing.

For some listeners, moving into a meditative state helps to calm the mind, and in turn the amygdala the brains emotion processor, allowing a cooling of process and a subsequent reduction of inflammation throughout the body. Turned outward, deep listening is a practice of deep connection.

It’s interesting to note that human beings only register the hearing of sound within a certain frequency, yet a person does not have to consciously hear something to be affected.

Watching a science based tv program on sounds that trigger fear recently, a low frequency sound was played to a group of people to (successfully) prove an increased fear activation, regardless of it being soundless. Interesting. On the other end, hearing sound from the so called ‘God Frequency’ – 963 Hz – activates the pineal gland, clearing brain fog, and giving cool clarity to thought processes and peace.

There is much more of the effects of sound on the human being to be discovered, but in the meantime the effects are certainly something for us to consider in our daily lives.

Silence

You would think that silence is the absence of sound, yet even silence can have a texture or resonance.

Who has not ‘heard’ the sound texture of a tense electric silence, perhaps with a felt potency within it that ‘anything can happen’, or experienced the awkward discomfort and tightness of a strained silence?

And what about the texture of silence after a stunning theatre performance before the applause breaks out to shatter it, or the deep dense quiet of a snow-covered mountain, the humming open silence of a dessert, or the full, soft silence of a rainforest?

Silence and Spirituality

For time immemorable people have used silence to connect with nature, the creation and the Creator.

I live on Whadjuk Noongar land in Australia, and Aboriginal people have a few words to describe silence, or deep listening. One of them, called ‘dadirri’, is practiced without judgement and with no expectation, it’s just about quietly waiting with awareness, and an inner open stillness.

Writing for Creative Spirits, Aboriginal Elder Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann described deep listening as “ … inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us … lived for thousands of years with natures quietness. My people today, recognise and experience in this quietness, the great Life-Giving Spirit, the Father of us all”.

Many spiritual practices include deep listening, such as the Budhist insight (Vipassana) meditation, or the Christian spiritual training of Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading. In all the phases of Lectio Divina – reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating –silence is practised, but in particular the last phase. In this phase a deep inner silence is mainatained, a open still awareness that is also an invitation to experience insights from the Spirit of God within.

As well as a deeper spiritual connection, many people use silence regularly as a mental and emotional health tool. Whatever form it takes, from long walks to quiet sitting, the practice of silence is about becoming more attuned and responsive to the inner life of ourselves, rather than reacting to the outer. 

An informal way of practicing silence – and one that quickly reveals the fruits of doing it – is to simply choose a time to practice it. Famously, Actor Steve Mc Queen practiced silence for a whole day each month for most of his life. If a day is too long for you, start with less, even a tiny 3 seconds before responding to anyone can reveal so much, not least that mostly our responses are either reactive or empty, or are often not needed at all.

So much energy and presence can be gained by consicous silence.

Silence is a significant part of many contemplation and meditation practices, with mindfulness bringing in awareness of the moment-by-moment experience to the fore, rather than seeking to silence it. If, however, you choose to be quiet or meditate to find inner stillness, know that deep silence can be hard to reach and hold against the ongoing internal dialogue and noise, regardless of how quiet or fitting the place of practice is. Hence the term to accept before beginning a silent or meditation practice is to note the term used, a ‘practice’.

Moving toward more inner silence in our lives helps us to channel our energies, meditate and rebalance from the noise and activity of the experiences of outer life. It can allow a new perspective, and within that an opportunity to recognise the paradigms through which we view the world. In turn this allows the freedom of choice, should we wish to change or expand them.

Silence is indeed golden, a golden opportunity toward achieving a deep inner quiet, and the path toward equanimity and peace.

Lectio Divina, Mindfulness and quieting Meditations can be found here …

AL

Anger Energy

Anger Energy

Anger eats energy – your energy. Anger can range from mild irritations to a raging monster of energy consumption, and it can exhaust you.

When anger manifests as energy it becomes a mental formation, and this energy formation can cause lots of suffering if it’s not managed. Some things we act on or do feed into the anger energy, and some things can syphon it off or redirect the energy, allowing the system to calm down.

Anger is a natural response to ‘perceived’ threats – but not all threats are reality.

The amygdala, where the stress response leading to Fight or Flight begins, cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not – this is why you can get frightened watching a horror movie, even though you know it cant harm you.

As anger arises there are many changes in the physical body as powerful hormones are released and the adrenal glands stimulated, moving the body ultimately into that Fight or Flight preparation.

Breathing and heartrate increase to provide increased oxygen and energy, pupils of the eyes dilate to allow more light into the eye and improve vision, blood pressure rises, muscles tighten and can tremble or shake with the extra energy. The face can pale or flush as the blood flow and increased energy of the body rushes up to the brain; the muscles of the arms and legs are powered and other processes, such as food digestion, slows or stops allowing as much energy as possible to be available, to fight or run away.

It is a state of acute stress.

Anger is a state of the mind that is triggered and then powered by emotion, stimulating action. The passion of anger can be used to motivate into useful action but here the term anger is used to describe the potentially damaging aspect.

When moving into the anger state, psychological and emotional tensions are increased by physical tension, so relaxation is a key management tool in helping to reduce that tension, and thus reduce the possibility of enacted anger.

Relaxation can be used to help slow things down at any time during the build-up and experience of the anger state. Taking a few deep slow breaths is a good start. There are many relaxation practices available, and they flow easily into the introduction and practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, and calmly acknowledging and accepting any thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations that are being experienced and happening at that moment. The ability to invite mindfulness in to change a mental state during an emotional event takes practice.

Practice can begin through a number of things; being mindful of the movement of your body as you walk – the contraction and release of leg muscles, the balance as you step, and the heal-toe placement of your feet; eating a mouthful of food noting the smell, textures, taste, movement of teeth and mouth; being aware of sound or absence of sound; or mindfully breathing and noticing how the upper body lifts, the chest and belly expand, and on the outbreath the drooping and collapsing.

This sort of relaxed observation is critical to mindful thinking, whenever you are mentally aware with understanding, you are meditating. If you find observation hard to do, just start with getting comfortable about relaxing – in your walking , eating, listening or breathing – before engaging the mind. Introducing relaxation and gentleness into your practice right from the start will help produce the ‘right’ attitude and energy when redirecting the mind to invite awareness in.

It can take a lot of mental effort and energy to be aware, and to maintain that awareness, during an emotional event like anger, and practicing will ‘building the muscles’ of your mind to hold and use that energy when you need the strength. The more concentratation expended on an experience, the more energy is used, so practicing being observant and aware in a relaxed way is both useful and conserving.

Eventually, practising to ‘be present’ in times of emotional extremity rather than ‘losing it’, will save lots of energy, and more importantly, lots of suffering – of self and others.

As we move into mindfulness and observe what’s happening during the anger experience, we siphon off energy from it, deflating it as we introduce and energise a new mental state. The changeover movement creates a little pause or space between the experience and the self, a sometimes-momentary opportunity to get the mind out of the flood of emotion, and make a choice about what can happen next.

You can choose to continue in the wash of the current experience, or take a few breaths and use the introduced mindful state to observe what’s happening in your body and in your mind. How does the chest feel? the stomach? how is the breath, can you deepen it? can you slow it down? As the emotion begins to steady, you can gain more awareness and may be able to see what thoughts were/are passing through your mind during the event. ‘No one ever understands me”, ‘it’s happening again!’ “I can’t take this anymore”. You may also be able to recognise how you felt underneath the anger – sad, frustrated, confused, accused, deeply hurt …

When you are in the anger moment and you invite mindful awareness in, remember that is all that is happening. You are not trying to control, restrict or enforce yourself to do something. You are just observing what is happening, and perhaps finding opportunity to change the usual outcome. As you continue to observe each sensation as a sensation, each thought as a thought, mental activity as mental activity, will eventually come to see their nature, allowing you to recognise that nature in future to manage and avoid anger.

You are not your anger.

Recognising that, and understanding the nature of something, is the aim of mindfulness rather than wanting to make it disappear, is paramount.

When you observe whatever you are experiencing, and are aware of that observation, you are also aware of the observing mind.

When you are quietly aware, amazing insights can arise and hidden fears, expectations, and hopes can be brought into the light of understanding. You can begin to see that generalisations, negative thinking, and jumping to conclusions, don’t help you stay calm, and that challenging negative self-talk can reframe and change the way you think about self and others.

Throughout it all, it is important to maintain that gentle attitude toward both yourself and the anger, an attitude that wants to ‘take care’ of you, and it. Some people find it useful to think of challenging emotions like anger as a child. A child who is angry and upset needs gentleness, a cuddle not a smack; open arms, not suppression; and calm questions,  what’s happening? what’s hurting or causing this suffering? How can it be made better?

This gentle concentration of self to self is what invites the carefulness of mindfulness in.

Once the issues underneath the anger are found and identified, action can be taken to help ‘make it better’. Meanwhile, be patient with yourself and consider taking up the practice of generating the energy of mindfulness simply by being mindful and noticing what’s happening in and around you. You may also find it useful to undertake some of the many meditations on the internet, and on this site.

The practice of mindfulness can be entirely non-sectarian. It is a therapeutic practice that can help us to become aware of what’s feeding the ‘anger monster’ that arises from our suffering, by paying attention and understanding what is motivating it.

In the meantime, if you can, try not to avoid challenging situations that will give you the opportunity to learn and grow and, as best you can – don’t feed the monster, starve it!

Finally, it’s important to note that this blog is not replacement for professional assistance. There are many professionals offering their services and they are a resource to be used.

AL
Mindful meditations, relaxations and contemplations here …

Firm Focus, Soft Gaze

Firm Focus, Soft Gaze

Ways of developing a firm focus, and soft gaze.

In Vipassana meditation, we open ourselves in a wide awareness of senses, with a soft mental gaze that allows us to notice whatever is happening. If something catches our attention, we then turn toward whatever it is – thought, sound, sensation, emotion and, with gentle curiosity, investigate it.

With the soft gaze of vipassana meditation a special vulnerability and openness develops that facilitates insight, acceptance, and compassion.

In a meditation that has a firm focus, for example a specific focus on the breath or sounds, when something else catches our attention, we note/acknowledge it, then allow whatever it is to fall into the background of our attention, allowing our focus to remain firm on the chosen object.

A focused meditation helps develop resilience, fortitude, and builds a form of mental clarity.

Recently speaking to someone in the throes of fear, I wondered which way they would choose to go, softly opening to it, or acknowledging it and gently but firmly letting it go.

Both ways of working with fear, or whatever else arises, are open to us all the time, the trick is to start at the same point, acknowledgement of what is present in you.

In our busy everyday life if something has triggered a negative thinking pattern or emotional reaction, we are operating on autopilot or under the motivations of the amygdala.

But, if we can learn to be aware of when our thinking changes, or our emotions rise, the very act of noticing, of acknowledgement is enough to bring the pre frontal cortex into play allowing the ability to consciously think and choose which direction to go.

There are many books and meditations available to help develop both the clarity of firm focus and the insight of soft gaze, including how to navigate challenging emotions and re wire mental patterns as you begin to uncover your unique triggers and motivations.

Right now is always a good time to start – so why not check out our awareness and working with challenging emotions meditations  in Health and Well-Being.

AL

 

Adapt or Diminish

Adapt or Diminish

Nothing is permanent, everything changes – this is the nature of things.

National Geographic writes that “adaptation is the biological mechanism by which organisms adjust to new environments or to changes in their current environment … “
So change is a natural part of life, and one that we are biologically coded to meet.

Our world situation has altered dramatically over the last few decades. The industrial revolution has been followed by a technological revolution and both bring huge, often unfathomable and unintentional changes to our lives and society.

Currently we also have climate change, sweeping social change and now, a new global pandemic.

With such levels of adjustment on so many fronts we can experience anxiety, uncertainty, and stress, but change is also opportunity for a new life if we can adapt – and to adapt is to respond by changing too.

When we respond to something, we take time to consciously think before making choices or taking action, rather than automatically falling into a non-thinking habitual reaction.

To enable us to respond continously there are many tools and practices to help keep the mind calm and balanced in order to cultivate an internal climate for conscious thinking. Mindfulness is a practice that helps maintain the balance and clarity of vision that is needed for clear thinking in times of ongoing change. Regular practice increases our awareness and capacity to recognise what’s going on, and keep a sense of perspective and possibility.

Resilience is another key factor in adaptation and psychological strength. An aspect of resilience is to be able to think and generate alternative ideas and solutions on the run. Awareness together with resilience helps enable an ongoing adaptation to change.

Whether the change is perceived as good, like going on holiday or finding a new home, or challenging like an illness or argument, stressors don’t have to be big to be felt and impactful. So, another part of adaptation lies in being able to recognise the scale and nature of the issue. This recognition has many aspects and levels of understanding – a friend of mine uses the Serenity Prayer to gain perspective and make better choices in her life, and it’s a great start.

We are all on a journey in this river of life and we all have opportunity to adapt, or diminish. The same can be said of planetary life, can it adapt, or will it diminish? and how can we help that adaptation process?

As people alive right now we have it to do, environmentally, socially and psychologically but as we ponder this situation, let’s not get discouraged or forget that biologically, we are literally made for it.

AL

Pause, Reset, Play

Pause, Reset, Play

A simple technique for self regulation.

Anything and everything in life can be stressful, even playing. Whilst there is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ stress, we all know that extended, ongoing stress can become chronic which can be extremely harmful to our body, mind and well-being.

Dr Walter Cannon, who is credited with creating the term ‘fight or flight’ as the ultimate automatic reaction in an extreme stress situation, defines stress as anything that requires us to expend energy to maintain a stable, regulated internal environment.

Hidden stress, stress that is present in our bodies but that we are mainly un-aware of, can affect us adversely at work, and in our children at school. Hidden stress is one of the factors that prevents the energy needed for self-regulation being available. Without self-regulation stress can become exacerbated and, ultimately, chronic.

How then can we help ourselves maintain an internal balanced state? How can we lay down a track toward inner stability and calm?

Bringing mindful awareness into our lives is one. Try this short awareness technique virtually anytime, anywhere and as often as possible to help form a new and useful habit …

  1. PAUSE. Take a moment to stop whatever we are doing, thinking or emoting about; if you can, gently close your eyes. Now breathe deeply, right down into the body; follow the breath with the mind, feeling the sensations in the body as the breath flows in, down, lifting the abdomen and belly, then collapsing as the breath flows out … If you feel to, allowing the outbreaths to flow just a little longer …
  2. RESET. Now, just staying with the breath, but not trying to change it in any way, allowing it to fall into its own natural rhythm, giving time for self-regulation to begin … noticing any thoughts, sounds or sensations and simply letting them go … no irritation, no frustration, just noting and letting go, then gently bringing your attention back to the breath as it flows in and out of the body, moment by moment …
  3. When you are ready, PLAY on …

You can vary or extend the reset by simply allowing your awareness to flow out to the sounds around you; knowing that as sound occurs, hearing happens automatically, no effort or striving needed, just open to hearing sound as it happens, naturally…

If your someone who can’t bear to be still, then try walking, experiencing in a real way the flex and placement of the foot – heal, pad, toe, the shift, balance and movement of the passage of the leg before the flex and placement of the foot again …

Children find finger movements to a piece of gentle music a great way to bring awareness and rebalance, also drawing or defined movement …

See our meditations page for awareness and walking meditations – have fun.
AL