One of my favorite retreat traditions is to drive down to Shelter Cove, California, to go on a retreat with Susie Harrington and her co-teacher at a special place along the Lost Coast. After the retreat, I have a lovely drive back. I camp along the way, and at the retreat site.
The last time I was there, in 2018, on the first night after the retreat had finished, I stayed in a state park nestled in the redwoods. It was a Saturday evening in June, and the campground was packed. The peace and quiet that I had cultivated after two weeks on retreat was challenged by the chatty neighbors, kids playing, traffic, and some bird that called loudly in the middle of the night!
This poem from Rosemerry fits that experience:
After Three Days at the Silent Meditation Retreat
Everything’s a gong now—~ Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
the clang of the spoon in the mixing bowl,
the growl of the water rushing in the pipes,
the ding of the microwave’s timer,
what isn’t an invitation to show up,
to offer the moment all our attention—
scent of pizza, barking dog, lawn mower,
sweet rose tea, that voice in my head,
the chime of the changing light.
Sounds are an interesting object of meditation. There may be pleasant sounds – a babbling brook, a favorite tune, children laughing; unpleasant sounds – horns honking, people screaming, dogs barking; and neutral sounds – white noise from a fan, your own breathing and swallowing. And we may notice that the pleasantness or not isn’t actually inherent in the sound itself. Children laughing may be pleasant sometimes, and other times (like when I’m just off a two week silent retreat) might not be.
Bob Stahl writes:
Any sound can be the object of our focus in mindfulness practice. Even the most annoying sounds, like a horn blaring outside, an alarm clock beeping, or people yelling, can be perceived differently when we bring mindfulness to them. The annoyance of those sounds doesn’t come from the sounds themselves; it comes from our interpretation of those sounds as “bad.” When we bring mindfulness to it, we shift our relationship from aversion to curiosity, allowing the sounds to rise and fall, lessening their negative impact.Bob Stahl, “Turning Sounds into a Meditation Practice.” Mindful
For me, being mindful of sound can offer some other benefits. Many sounds will arise and pass due to conditions out of my influence – the wind howling, the dogs barking when someone walks by, the furnace that cycles according to fluctuations in temperature. So if I feel that I’m tensing up on the breath or body sensations, I can open the attention to sounds to let that loosen a bit. There’s a sense of receptivity with sounds – they come to me.
Attending to sounds also can bring a sense of spaciousness – I may notice sounds outside the room or the house. That is useful when I’m feeling tight or anxious – there’s more room for that anxiety to move through.
As we attend to sounds, it is useful to be with the direct experience of it – the tone, the rise and fall. We may hear something and think or visualize “bird” or even “chickadee” – but can we let that image or idea go and experience the sound experience with curiosity and care? We may also notice space and silence between sounds.
What do you notice when you attend to sounds with mindfulness? Post a comment or send me an email!
With good wishes,