Look After Your Mind – Sound Thinking

The word meditate comes from the Latin meaning to concentrate or to ponder. One of the most familiar ways to meditate is to concentrate on an object ,often a candle flame, then close your eyes and visualise the same object in your mind.

If you try this you might realise, like I did, how easy it is for our thoughts to wander. Traditionally this is called the ‘monkey mind’, because monkeys are constantly moving around and being busy. With practice it becomes easier to maintain inner concentration, which can be a very relaxing experience.

Meditation with sound

Meditation, though, need not rely on anything visual. Sound can also be used to focus and relax, developing what author and concert pianist Mark Tanner, in ‘Mindfulness in Sound’ calls ‘deep listening.’ There are various simple techniques you can use to meditate using sound.

Take a Sound Bath

Go for a walk and simply be aware of the sounds you encounter. The walk needn’t be in the countryside or some peaceful place: even in the middle of a city you can notice the huge range of sounds that happen there.

The aim is simply to notice. If you find yourself having opinions and making judgements – damn noisy motorbike! – just let them go.

One-sound relaxation

Here you deliberately pick a quiet place and choose a soothing sound to concentrate on. A tuning fork works well. Tap the fork and concentrate on the sound as it fades. An even better option is to use a Tibetan singing bowl. These are often made of brass or bronze and usually come with a ‘striker’, a stick padded at one end with leather. Hold the bowl on your upturned fingers. As with the tuning fork, tap the rim of the bowl with the striker and follow the sound as it fades.

Create a resonance

However a more soothing technique is to gently tap the rim of the bowl then stroke the leather end of the striker around the rim. This sets up a resonance – the ‘singing’ of the bowl – and causes gentle vibrations through your fingers. With a little practice you can keep the sound going for minutes, so extending the period of relaxation.

As well as these techniques, hundreds of meditation audios – often using the sounds of nature – can be found online. If you use them, extend the technique by subsequently imagining the sounds, noting any visual associations that appear in your imagination, but without getting carried along by them so that your concentration wanders.

Finally I’ll mention that the words ‘cellar door’ are thought to be the most euphonic (pleasing to the ear) in the English language. Try repeating them quietly over and over to yourself, with the expectation that you’ll become more and more relaxed.

Steve Bowkett