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Blog // Adaptability
April 27, 2021

Finding Calm With The Layers Of Sound Meditation

The layers of sound meditation is a simple mindfulness practice you can try anyway. Working through the layers of sound around you helps to ground you in the present and find calm focus.

Last week I attended the beautifully named Revolutionary Love conference. It was three days of talks around the theme of having the courage to imagine solutions to some of our most intractable social problems, especially around climate, gender, identity and race.

It was inspiring stuff. But also a little bit anxiety-inducing, as is sometimes the case, when we try to imagine how to work towards making the world fairer and more just in our lives and through the things we need to do.

So I welcomed the sight of a short talk on the final morning called Movement for the Movement led by Bianca Michalczak. In the space of a few minutes, over Zoom, Bianca led us through a mindfulness exercise called Layers of Sound. It’s similar to other mindfulness exercises that help ground you in your present moment. I wrote about one of my favourites, a quick, three-question practice, in a post called A Mindfulness Exercise That Helps Me Everyday This practice is different and beautifully calming in its own way.

Layers Of Sound Meditation

Sit with your palms facing upwards, or, if you can, lie on the floor with your arms out to the side. Close your eyes. Allow yourself to focus on what you can hear. Breathe in whatever way feels natural and relaxed.

As you do, start to focus first on the sounds you can hear outside in the distance. This could be children playing, construction, passing traffic, the call of birds, or the wind in the trees. Don’t categorise or label the sounds. Just listen, as they rise and fall, or drone on.

Now move your focus onto sounds inside your building but still some distance away. This could be the sound of a washing machine or voices in the next room. You’re listening to, and becoming aware of, the separation between inside and outside, between the building you’re in, and the environment beyond it.

Next, as you continue to breathe deeply, bring your focus into your room. What can you hear now? It might be the buzz of a light, or the whir of a computer fan. What sounds can you hear immediately around you?

Now, finally, focus on the sound of your body. Listen to your breath. And any sounds you notice. Perhaps the grumble of your stomach. Or the sound of your joints as you shift in position. Whatever you hear, keep your focus on listening to your body, for a few more moments.

Mindfully Embracing The Sounds Around Us

When we come to meditation, we think we need to block out the world. We assume, wrongly, that some kind of Zen will meet us, but only in total silence.

However, the most powerful mindfulness experiences, the ones that bring the most calm and creative freedom, involve embracing the reality we find ourselves in. This includes the sounds around us. Even the noise. Perhaps especially the noise.

Because what we’re trying to address is our own reactivity. Our misguided belief that calm, happiness, and peace can come into our life only if we create perfect conditions for them. If that were true, then would we ever experience calm, happiness, or peace?

The layers of sound practice also helps to slow our mind. I’m reminded of Wendell Berry’s words about how our minds are meant to work at the speed we walk and no faster than that.

“Our senses, after all, were developed to function at foot speeds; and the transition from foot travel to motor travel, in terms of evolutionary time, has been abrupt. The faster one goes, the more strain there is on the senses, the more they fail to take in, the more confusion they must tolerate or gloss over—and the longer it takes to bring the mind to a stop in the presence of anything.”
– Wendell Berry

For a few moments we can pause to be present with our moment, calmly aware of what is immediately around us. Then we’re more ready to move towards whatever we need to do to make our lives better.

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