When sitting with the breath, sounds could be thought of as a distraction. However, if we consider this a little deeper, the soundscape around us is of course part of our environment. No one ever suggests that you have to lock yourself away in a soundproof room in order to meditate. With practice, you can successfully treat sound as you would thoughts within your meditation. Just hearing them for what they are, not labeling, categorising or judging, just simply being there with it as you would any other sensation that arises throughout the meditation. Clearly this could become more challenging depending on the sound!
At times however, we may wish to make the soundscape around us part of our meditation.
Dr Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman explore the relationship between sound and thought in there classic book, Mindfulness - a practical guide to FINDING PEACE IN A FRANTIC WORLD.
'This constantly fluxing soundscape is just like your thought stream'
'As best you can, be aware of sounds simply as sounds, as raw sensations. Notice the tendency we all have to label sounds as soon as they are received (car, train, voice,radio), and see if it is possible to simply notice this labeling and then refocus, beyond and below the label, on the raw sensations of the sounds themselves (including the sounds within the sounds)'
I am extremely fortunate in that I live within a 10 minute walk of the woodland pictured on the left. At least once a week weather permitting, I am able to complete a sitting meditation in this most tranquil of locations.
Tranquil, but not empty of stimulus. Sensations brush against both body and mind. Colour, sound and temperature compete for attention. The texture of moss, the feel of the woodland floor the smell of damp bark.
Sometimes I stay with the breath, sometimes I observe my thoughts, sometimes I stay with the sounds.
I wanted to try to convey the experience of meditating within this environment. Also I wanted to convey the feeling of meditating whilst focusing on the soundscape and at the same time, be true within the prose, to the concept of not attaching myself to or labeling events, just trying to be there with the raw sensations and noticing them without judgement as they rise and fall.
A sitting meditation – Hayne Valley
“I sit with my back against a spreading Birch. Unusually for me my legs are crossed. My hands rest in my lap. My eyes are softly closed and muted colours swim across my lids in the dappled light of late summer woodland.
The air is cool and fresh as I inhale. I feel it pass my nostrils and in the back of my throat before it warms to the heat of my body. My exhaled breath is warm and soft rising into the leafy canopy above.
One breath in. One breath out.
An age-old dance. One breath in. One breath out.
A ripple of thought, the first of many, bubbles up through my consciousness, random and unbidden it strives to unfold across my mind. To wrap me in its canopy of memory, imaginings, machinations and ruminations.
One breath in. One breath out.
I leave my breath for the dancing rattle of a nearby stream. I allow the sharp pops and clicks of water on the move across twig and stone to settle, simply as sound, without label or visualization. To be alone. Isolated as a jigsaw piece removed from the whole - yet complete.
I hear without listening.
A flying insect hums past in a wave of turbulent sound. Generated by innumerable measured wing beats, the sound swells and then diminishes as it passes by.
I hear inside. I hear without listening.
A sharp yet hollow woody sound. Close. Repeating. I know this familiar woodland jigsaw piece, but I do not name it, do not place it. Instead I open my eyes and see. Observe without the hindrance of my own self, the form, the colour, the movement, the sound.
I do not have to wonder what it is, more so to wonder that it is.
I close my eyes before it flies and hear it go. Now the sound of falling leaves – somehow more regular than before.
Behind my closed lids I perceive a change in the light. I am aware of an increased coolness in the air against my skin.
To my right, far away it seems, a new sound is rising. I struggle not to speculate just to let the sound rise and be. Almost imperceptibly it swells growing in volume. One sound has become many. Almost a clatter - a cacophony on the move. I feel the air, yet cooler still, against my face.
Above me I know branches move as I hear leaves rustle against each other.
I hear without listening.
Rushing through the woodland the sound is upon me. The light is dimmer still and I hear the sound of water drops crashing through the canopy and thudding on the ground.
I feel the splash of water, cool upon my hand and head. Not constant, but a sensation intermittent against the continuum of sound.
There is an intensity in everything. Water falling through the canopy creates its own orchestral sound in an array of tones syncopated within a natural cadence. The utterly unique rhythm of this rain.
And then suddenly the sound rushes away across the wood and slowly I perceive a growing brightness from behind my eyelids. I hear the occasional percussive journey of water droplets from above. It occurs to me they are like guests late to the party. Overlaid with intermittent birdsong, sharp and staccato here or soft and cooing there, the click and pop of the stream comes back into focus. There is a very slight damp, vegetative aroma as I return to the breath.
One breath in. One breath out. A stillness returns.
Gently, I open my eyes”
I thought it would be interesting to gain a different perspective on 'Woodland Meditation' to include it as an audio file.
I am very aware that not everyone is fortunate enough to have easy access to woodland or countryside. This lovely piece of video, one of many that can be found on YouTube, could be used as a tool to help you meditate with sound as your primary focus.