For most of evolution, life was a lot quieter than it is today. It's been a few thousand years since the first blacksmith started hammering – but recently, with motors, amplifiers, drills, bombs and beat music, we have suddenly become a very loud species.
Life has become stressful for all animals who are dependent on this sense for their survival – and i think all the others (humans), have become a little deaf.
Listening has an immediacy which the other senses don't have, and this is because sounds, especially sounds which indicate danger, are sometimes very sudden and over in a split second; smells and sights usually last at least a few seconds. Listening requires and stimulates nowness like no other sense.
Different Ways of Listening
There's quite a difference between listening to silence; – listening to something specific, like music or bird song; – listening to everything; – and broadband listening.
I remember camping by a deserted country road, listening at night to the occasional single car winding off into the distance, with the feeling that it was stretching my hearing abilities for ten miles and more, and then, the complete silence ... If this sort of experience could be guaranteed i would find focusing a better idea than broadbanding.
This experience was back in 1980, old-fashioned cars were much louder, these days i listen to distant motor bikes. Listening out for distant motor bikes, stretches the hearing like nothing else. (Imagine they're wild boar).
If you are lucky enough to live where there is a river, or a cacophony of bird song, then focus on that, it's usually wonderful and very relaxing, but realise that animals would only ever hear this in the background. It is listening out – the openness and receptivity to any and every sudden and short stimuli – which is vital for animals.
Listening to everything is the background and a good first step. Be open. Listen as helpless and vulnerable as babies are before they learn to filter out the boring everyday sounds.
Then, do a little yoga with your hearing, stretch it, listen out. Actively listen, searching for sounds. Check in all directions, near and far away, high and low. Imagine how early man might listen out for distant wild boar or herds of oxen or buffalo, and nearby for tigers or snakes. Imagine a car horn is a modern day wild-boar ... the approaching helicopter is a swarm of locusts ... the rustle of a bit of litter is a snake ...
We can understand how animals and early man would have a collection of familiar sounds, signs of danger or food, and would become attuned to these specific sounds. They would listen out for the crack of a nearby twig, distant wild boar foraging, or sudden changes in bird song.
Listening out is being ready to hear specific things which haven't happened yet, it is a preemptive awareness. Be ready for any sudden surprise, check for quick sounds, things which aren't there yet, but could happen.
Listening out for distant dogs, pigeons and children is often a good idea, at night listening out for owls and hedgehogs. You might not often hear them, that's irrelevant, listening out for them is the vital part.
It all depends on what it sounds like where you are. I was once near a children's playground where i found it useful to listen out for cars!
Sounds of motors are often annoying, try and listen over the sound, turn the motor into the background, empathise with what animals must do.
There is no better, simpler or more direct exercise than 'listening out' to stop thinking, or at least slow the thoughts down for a few seconds and enjoy a moments inner peace. If we empathise with the animals acuity of listening, we can't think. If we start thinking, we stop listening, and at that moment an animal would be vulnerable.
For a hare or deer, it's a matter of survival, and we don't have that motive. We used our intelligence to survive. And we still need to use our intelligence: if we don't stop thinking for a few moments, we will all go crazy. It is urgent that we get a bit of direct and simple peace of mind. The motive we have is the immense value of a moments peace of mind.
There's one other thing. When i feel open to hearing everything, the sensation is that i'm listening with the whole of my head, rather than just the ears. This subjective sensation may be my imagination but even if it is, it's a pleasant feeling. And i could easily believe that this is how it feels for many animals, birds for example (with no exterior ears), and babies, who learn to cover their ears with their hands between 6 and 12 months old.
Some modern sounds truly aren't good to listen to, modern ear plugs are invaluable. Listening out with ear-plugs has the effect of making the sounds inside your body louder.
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