Sounds Wonderful by Rick Heller

BruceHellerIt’s common to meditate while listening to beautiful music, but I’ve found that meditating to ambient sounds—whatever sounds are present at this very moment—is not only a wonderful meditation, it provides a deep insight into where we can find joy in our lives.

I lead weekly meditations at the Humanist Community at Harvard, and one of our mainstays is the ambient sound meditation. I first learned it myself when I attended a workshop by the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield. The idea is to pay attention to all the sounds around you with a friendly welcoming spirit. This includes the sounds of trucks and buses going by, sirens, coughing, rustling and other sounds that we typically label as “noise.”

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to what is going on in the present moment with a nonjudgmental spirit. When we describe a sound as “noise” we’re applying a judgment. In a mindfulness of sound meditation, there is no such thing as noise—only sound. The amazing thing is that when we welcome “noise,” our perception of it changes into something stimulating and absorbing.

Try this:
Find a comfortable place to sit and close your eyes. Take a deep breath or two and relax. After that, there’s no need to follow your breath.

Now, start paying attention to sounds. If meditating indoors, you may hear creaks, rustling, and sounds from electrical appliances. If you’re outside, you’ll probably hear a cornucopia of sounds — wind, birds, traffic. For as long as this meditation lasts, there are no bad sounds.

When you hear a sound, don’t merely note it and shift your attention away. Try to follow the sound for its entire duration. Notice the hiss, rumble, whine, screech, and whoosh. When you focus on sounds with nonjudgmental attention, what could be irritating becomes enlivening.

Try to focus on the bare sound itself without attaching a narrative to it. So if you hear a siren, notice how the sound rises in volume and pitch as it approaches and falls as it grows distant. Try not to elaborate on your perception of sound with thoughts like “I hope no one’s house is on fire.” If you notice that you are attaching a narrative to a sound, gently let that go and pay attention to any new sounds that may appear.

The sound of an overheard conversation is perhaps the most difficult to let go. If you overhear people talking, focus on the speakers’ vocal qualities rather than on the content of their speech. Listen to individual words and let them go without trying to assemble them all into a meaningful sentence.

In a lull during which there are no sounds, you can shift your attention to your breath — perhaps to the sound of your breathing. But if other sounds do arise, turn your attention back to them.

The joy one experiences when being mindful of stereotypically unpleasant sounds demonstrates the principle that nothing is disagreeable until we judge it so. The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “What disturbs people’s minds is not events but their judgments on events.” Similarly, Buddhist philosophy holds that suffering originates in our aversion to what we experience in the present moment. When we engage with the present moment mindfully and without aversion, the sense of suffering fades.

This may seem counterintuitive, but this principle is consistent with what neuroscientists have learned about the brain’s salience network — the network of brain regions that monitor how we’re doing compared to our goals. The feeling of suffering is in essence a feedback signal warning us that a gap has opened up between our desires and reality. If your goal is to study for a test, the sound of a siren outside conflicts with your desire and is therefore unpleasant. But if you are doing an ambient sound meditation, the very same siren helps you toward your goal and you may perceive it as pleasant or even enthralling.

This insight extends well beyond the realm of sound. Just as we can transform “noise” into something positive, through mindfulness, we can bring a sense of friendliness and acceptance to any difficult circumstance. There are, of course, cases of injustice that ought to be resisted rather than accepted. Present moment acceptance is not a panacea but a tool to be applied wisely. But, as we go about our day, we may encounter moments of minor irritation that are best treated as the noise of daily life. Through mindfulness, we can transform our reaction to them and experience that moment as something wonderful.

Based on the book Secular Meditation. Copyright © 2015 by Rick Heller. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.

Rick Heller leads meditations at the Humanist Community at Harvard. A freelance journalist, he has written for the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, Buddhadharma, Free Inquiry, Tikkun, and Wise Brain Bulletin. He received a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University, a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SecularMeditate. His web site is http://www.rickheller.com.


Mindfulness as Medicine at Omega Institute

The Omega Institute is offering a “Mindfulness as Medicine” course August 14-19, 2016. Based on the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, the course is led by Sister Dang Nghiem, and other Plum Village Dharma teachers. From the Omega website we read: When we think about the past, we often feel yearning or regret. Mindfulness—sometimes referred to as meditation in action—helps us live in the present moment, where trauma, loss, and illness can be transformed with kindness and love.

Read More.
Filed Under: ·

Delay or Reverse Aging with Qi Gong, Meditation, Yoga and More

| by Staff

There’s increased evidence showing that practices such as qi gong, meditation and yoga can not only prevent disease, but actually reverse it and delay aging as well. As scientists learn more about such topics as gene expression, what turns a gene on or off, and how to prevent telomeres, (the strands of protein in our cells that control aging) from unraveling, it becomes impossible to ignore just how much our good lifestyle choices can pay off.

Read More.

Tell Me A Story: Stirring Up Cellular Memories with Meditation

| by Cheryl Shainmark

I have been meditating for over fifteen years now and find it an essential part of my life. Many have written about the substantial physical and emotional benefits, and while I’ve certainly found that to be the case, too, I’ve also noticed that there is a component of releasing “cellular memories” that is rarely addressed. People shy away from phenomena that are not so easily explained, but whether you call it “cellular memories,” “past lives,” or releasing “old patterns,” I have found that there is something extraordinary happening that also brings welcome relief to the body and the spirit.

Read More.
Filed Under: ·

MBSR: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

| by Staff

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a method of using meditation and yoga to cultivate awareness and reduce stress. Of course, many of us having been doing this for years, but did you know it had a name? First developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, MBSR is based on the ancient practice of mindfulness, which is about waking up and being present in the richness of each moment of our lives. By doing this we gain access to our deepest inner resources for living, healing, and coping with stress.

Read More.

Peace and Where to Find It

| by Cheryl Shainmark

Peace and Where to Find It is a slim gem, packed with insight and wisdom. For fans of Eckhart Tolle, Peace takes up where Tolle’s The Power of Now leaves off, (and, in fact, Eckhart Tolle wrote the introduction for this book), but it’s not necessary to have read one to enjoy the other. The author, Christopher Papadopoulos, has clearly walked the walk, done the work, and come back to share his transformative experience with us.

Read More.
Filed Under: ·

Meditation: Healing the Scars from Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, PTSD, and more By Tom North

| by Tom North

Tom North is the author of True North – The Shocking Truth About “Yours, Mine and Ours” They appeared to be the blissful Beardsleys, the happily blended family-eight of Helen North’s, ten of Frank Beardsley’s, and two children from their union. A family so famous in America that Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda played the parents in the box office smash–Yours Mine and Ours. But they were anything from blissful; in fact they were the beaten and battered Beardsleys. That’s the real hidden story behind the spotlight…. But True North is much more than an inspiring and powerful account of a man who rose to success against all odds. It’s a story of how Transcendental Meditation (TM) brought peace to Tom North and saved his life.

Read More.
Filed Under: ·

Does God Listen to Prayers? by Deepak Chopra

| by Staff

Deepak Chopra writes on his website, www.chopra.com, “Without taking a poll, it’s safe to say that people who believe in God also believe that he answers prayers. If he didn’t, one would be left with an indifferent, distant deity who pays no attention to human affairs. This alternative is hard to reconcile with faith, and so believers are left with a God who seems to answer prayers selectively. It’s as if there’s an invisible telephone line to Heaven, and when you call, sometimes God picks up and sometimes he doesn’t….”

Read More.
Filed Under: ·

How Meditation Can Affect Your Heart, Brain, and Creativity

| by Staff

Many people have tried to sell me on the idea of meditating. Sometimes I try it, and have an incredible, refreshing experience. But usually, as I close my eyes and focus on my breathing, while I know that I’m supposed to be letting all thoughts go, more and more fly through my mind. Soon I have a laundry-list of “to-dos” in my head … and then my legs fall asleep. It’s all downhill from there…. www.themindunleashed.org

Read More.
Filed Under:

How Meditation Makes You Happy

| by Staff

From 2004 to 2012, researchers at the University of Wisconsin conducted tests on Buddhist monks performing a variety of meditation exercises. Among the results they gained some insights into how meditation makes you happy: A French genetic scientist may seem like an unusual person to hold the title – but Matthieu Ricard is the world’s happiest man, according to researchers. The 66-year-old turned his back on Parisian intellectual life 40 years ago and moved to India to study Buddhism. He is now a close confidante of the Dalai Lama and respected western scholar of religion. Now it seems daily meditation has had other benefits – enhancing Mr Ricard’s capacity for joy…

Read More.
Filed Under: