I just closed my eyes for a few minutes – and listened.
I expected silence. Instead, I heard tweeting, rustling, banging, scraping, voices, humming and clinking.
I recognised the sounds: birds singing; the rustling of the wind through the tree outside; the banging of a drawer; the scraping of a chair; my toddler babbling; the humming of the bathroom fan and a motor in the distance; and the clinking of cutlery.
I consciously chose to hear ‘rustling’ rather than ‘the wind in the trees’ because I’m being mindful. I’m hearing and experiencing sounds without labelling or judgment. It’s part of my wider mindfulness practice which I’ve been gradually building into my life since the beginning of the year.
I love mindful listening because I can do it in 5-minute bursts; in the car before a meeting, in bed, or sitting on a bench outdoors. Although I find other mindfulness activities easier and equally powerful, I started to sit still and listen because I want to be a better listener. I’m not judging myself as a poor listener, I’m acknowledging that I focus more on what I see, rather than on what I hear.
It didn’t take many sessions before I started to notice, even with my eyes open, just how much sound there is around me. It was a bit like watching a film I’d seen 100 times and finally hearing the soundtrack as well as the dialogue.
Apart from enjoying an increased awareness of how many different birds sing in the trees around my home, I’ve also found some really practical benefits. I am now more alert to gravel announcing a visitor and seem to be better at hearing the sounds of officials over my team mates when playing sport.
The best part of this exercise is that although it heightens my awareness, it also teaches me to let things pass rather than feeling that every sound requires interpretation or immediate action. I’m now less easily distracted.
It’s unfortunately not a quick fix for everything. I do still get rattled by the sound of loud chewing, nails on a chalkboard and fingers being dragged across the surface of a balloon. Why do that? Maybe with time I’ll be able to let those wash over me too. Watch this space.
If you’d like to benefit from any of this, why not have a go?
To get started, you need to get comfortable sitting or lying down somewhere safe (you’ll be closing your eyes). You need to be both alert and relaxed.
Set an alarm for 5 minutes and gently close your eyes.
As a sound reaches you, try to hear it rather than naming it. This takes practice. It’s normal to hear a thud and interpret it, so don’t be surprised if you need to stop at the thud.
When you notice a thought, whether it’s a description of a sound, something to add to the shopping list or how silly you must look on this bench with your eyes closed, just notice it. Then give it a polite mental nod and let it go by, turning your attention back to hearing.
Sometimes I spend 4 of my 5 minutes taking myself mentally by the hand and leading myself back to the purpose of hearing. On other occasions, time flies by without much distraction. Both, are normal.
When the time is up, you might find that you’re calmer and more aware of, and in tune with your surroundings. If that isn’t reward enough, you just gave yourself 5 minutes or quality time!