To many people, there are sounds and then there are words. Words communicate specific ideas between specific people, whereas sounds are more general. Words are intentionally spoken but, other than music, a lot of daily sound is simply the sound of living. It wasn’t for anyone.
If you’re in the forest, sound might mean birds and a waterfall; in a city it can mean sirens and traffic. But to most people that is background. Unless you’re a sound person in film or possibly a composer, for most people those sounds are habitually subtracted from our consciousness. Subtracted. As in; you’ve removed some reality.
If we really want to hear someone we’ll ask the people around them to be quiet. We’ll want to focus on that one voice. Words seem very intentional. Background noises appear less so, but not to whoever or whatever made them. That’s because we handle sound much like we handle the thought-experiment from yesterday about looking versus seeing. We listen for things, we rarely just listen.
It is because we place such a massive emphasis on words that we’re often lost. If we have a problem and we need an answer, we turn the problem into words and we ask people to give us advice in words. But words are symbols for the world, they are not the world. And people lie all of the time for valid social reasons. So if they’re symbols, and they’re often misleading, why do we use them so much to find our way?
Making matters worse, we spend all day treating these word-symbols as though they are solid, because we see them not as descriptions of the world but rather the world itself. We believe when we then transfer the words to the insides of our heads that we’re continuing to manage the real world using our minds, when it’s really just our ego juggling a bunch of symbols.
In truth we’ve trapped ourselves in an illusion and we’re trying to get out of a symbolic world by using even more symbols. It is the symbols that create the famous Buddhist illusion. When the Buddha speaks of ego, he speaks of mistaking a superficial description for a thing itself.
When you talk to yourself that is 100% symbols. Someone can drive a car without thinking of all of the words associated with driving a car. People aren’t behind the wheel going, “alright, blinker, shoulder check, all clear, lane change, blinker off, check rearview mirror….” etc. They’re just driving. Can you imagine being like that with people?
In today’s meditation your job is to flip the world over. Rather than making the words important and the rest the background, you’re going to start ignoring your ego and focusing on the world itself. You want to trade words from outside your head or inside your head for just plain listening. In fact, this practice is often so unusual today that people aren’t even sure how to do it.
Don’t cycle other’s words, or words from your past. Don’t discuss things longer than necessary. Look for a conclusion to the need for words and then take action. The idea is to try to stop using words as soon as you can, and then trade that for active listening. Again, it’s like the difference between going to a big crowd of people and looking for someone, versus noticing someone you know because your eyes and mind are open.
All you’re trying to find today is three things you couldn’t have known or learned were it not for the way you were listening. Three things you realised through sound but you learned it from sounds other than words. If that seems abstract to you–if you’re not sure what I mean–if my words are unclear; just try listening to the world. Then maybe, like seeing a friend you didn’t know was there, you will be able to hear this lesson clearly. 😉
Forget all the words. Be present instead. And have a wonderful weekend everyone.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.