What are you listening to?
I’m not talking about what you can hear at the moment, though if I pause the light tapping of my fingers on the keyboard for a moment, I can hear a number of things: a far-off mower, Frank opening the back door, a plane’s distant rumble, the furnace–which was not running all this frigid morning, but hoorah for “essential services!” is now fixed–kicks on. I’ll be hearing the warm air blowing through the vents soon. Yup. There’s more to hear in any moment than we can pay attention to at once, our brain effectively shutting out what it deems non-essential in any given situation.
What I am talking about is not just the act of listening, of intentionally paying attention to the ambient sounds that surround us, but instead the choice to listen to a specific source of sound. Like Elton John, above. He’s clearly chosen to listen to something in those headphones, and that’s all he appears to be doing. He’s not also reading a book. He’s not looking at his phone that hasn’t been invented yet. He’s not knitting. Not clipping his nails, eating lunch, or any of the other things we typically do while wearing earbuds. He’s tuning in.
What are you tuning in to? Too much news? Your favorite outlet running nonstop in the background forming a sort of soundtrack for the day?
Listening can be a useful practice during these days of isolation and alarming local, national, and global developments. It can be something to do vs. not to do. How much easier and possibly more rewarding is it to choose to listen to something than it is to be told not to pay attention to something that’s already hard to turn our attention from? Listening can offer a way to fill not only time, if you have it, but also to fill, even quiet the mind.
Start with this article in the Los Angeles Times that discusses the joys of this kind of attentive listening to music, probably music you’ve collected yourself, devoting some chunk of time in which you simply listen to it. Deep listening, they call it, and offer some inspiration to get you started, from the Staten Island rapper Ghostface Killah to Miles Davis. It could be a perfect time to revisit your old albums, tapes, or CD’s allowing yourself to be transported to another mental time and place.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma offers Songs of Comfort just for the moment including this piece, Going Home, by Dvorak. If you watch the Newshour segment, you’ll be able to find out how to connect with the project. Even listening, closing your eyes and listening, to a single piece of music can break what can be at times like ours the prison of unchecked thoughts.
What else is there to listen to? Go outside. Leave your phone. Take a pen and paper and resolve to write down everything you can hear in 5 minutes, in 15 minutes. Put your timer on. If your attention drifts, just write the next sound. Nothing earth-shattering this list, but 15 minutes of focus, relaxation, maybe peace.
Listening to your own breath in a similar fashion is the starting point for meditation. Maybe that’s a good practice to begin.
There are ways to listen less to the darker news, to panic, to fear, to helplessness. The easiest is to choose to really listen to something else. Maybe a post-it note on the bathroom mirror can help: What are you listening to? Try to be in charge of your playlist.