An Intense Aural Experience You’ll Want to Try Right Now: Conscious Listening

by Brian Vaszily, Creator of the Intense Experiences Program

Because outer space is a vacuum, devoid of practically any matter, it is silent.

Even if you had a front row seat for the explosion of a star – assuming you had one of those star-explosion-proof suits popular in cartoons and would live through it – you wouldn’t hear a thing.

On the other hand, there is no such thing as silence on earth.

Sound waves require solid, liquid or gas matter, and there are plenty of all of those on our planet. Humans have a limited range of hearing so you can’t hear most of the sounds – I used to clench my face as a child trying to hear a dog whistle but it never worked – but there are always a very wide variety of sounds occurring.

For example, the bacteria wiggling to and fro on your pillow make sounds, but they are too soft for the human ear to hear … even if you are convinced you do hear them. (If you are hearing a swishing sound, it is far more likely the pulse of your own blood in your head.) Spiders walking on webs in your closet make noise and a strand of hair hitting the floor makes noise, but you don’t hear them.

Elephants produce low-frequency sounds that humans can’t hear, according to Cornell researchers, but that are ideal for communicating with their herd.

And teenagers can even hear high-pitched frequencies that adults can’t perceive; businesses are installing loitering alarms that go off at this pitch to keep teens away, but on the flipside, phone ringtones at this high pitch are increasingly popular with teens, as their teachers in school can’t hear when their phones ring.

Furthermore, noises you hear loud and clear travel extensively and, though they soon fade from audibility to other humans who are meters or miles from you, they are still noise long after that on their journey. Conversely, although you can’t hear them, the sound waves from, say, your neighbor flushing a toilet a block away, or a radio talk show host spewing an opinion on something, may be shooting past you this instant.

All around you right now, in other words, a nearly infinite amount of sounds are passing by, most of which you just aren’t properly tuned to hear.

That alone is amazing when you think about it, but what about all the sounds you do hear … almost NONE of which you actually LISTEN to?

An Intense Conscious Listening Experience to Try Now

Try this aural experience right now:

No matter where you are at, listen intently to everything going on around you.

Relax, breathe slowly and deeply three times, and then immerse yourself in this conscious listening.

First try to focus on just how much sound there is, all the different sounds as a whole, whether it seems like a mass of mostly low and soft sounds, a bunch of cacophony, or a mix of both.

Don’t merely hear it but really listen to it as one big ball of sound.

What words would you use to describe the overall sound you are hearing?

Do you think this mass of sound may be impacting your mood in subtle ways, and if so, what are those ways? Making you feel more stressed? Tired? At peace?

Now try to break the sound down into its component parts.

How many individual sounds can you hear within the mass of sound?

Voices? The hum of the heater, air conditioner, refrigerator engine, computer? Bugs? Traffic nearby, traffic in the distance? Your own breathing? Airplanes?

Try to isolate every sound you are hearing till you feel confident you’ve singled them all out. This aspect of conscious listening can be more challenging than most assume.

How many did you come up with? Does the amount of different sounds surprise you? Are there any sounds you are a little startled you are hearing because you almost never, if at all, recognized you are hearing them before?

Any sounds you would prefer that you couldn’t hear? Any sounds you want to add to the mix, perhaps to obfuscate other sounds? Any sounds you can’t quite identify?

The Unexpected Benefits of this Interesting Little Aural Experience

Though we process all the sounds within our range of hearing, typically we only listen to what we’re listening for.

This ability to shut out all the “nonessential” sounds serves us well in several ways.

It is crucial to help us focus – on receiving instructions, on experiencing a film, etc. It prevents us from facing some serious confusion; if everything we heard received equal consideration from our brains, we’d certainly freeze up the way your computer does when you have way too many windows open … and the only CTRL-ALT-DELETE would be your fingers stuffed in your ears.

On an instinctual level, this selective listening is also still essential to isolate possible danger. If you hear the knob on your back door turn or an air raid siren begin to wail in the distance, you perk up the same way your ancestors did when they heard the crunch in the brush of a potentially hungry big cat or the deep, distant rumble of an animal stampede.

But while selective listening seems to be our natural tendency and has obvious benefits, the experience of occasional conscious listening can provide important benefits too.

As with expanding our visual horizons by flying, bringing walls down, or clearing through fog, intentional listening expands our consciousness of the world around us. It can be a powerful exercise to expand our awareness in general.

It can serve as a reminder of pleasant and worthwhile things we shut out – heartbeats, chirping birds, laughter -- that could brighten our spirits if we gave them occasional attention. Are we shutting down this opportunity for beauty and joy in other areas of life too?

On the other hand, it can make us grateful for our ability to shut other things out, such as distant chainsaws, hacking coughs and dripping faucets. Where do we – and where can we – apply this ability in other areas of life?

Noise Pollution’s Other Sinister Impact

Studies show that, in the United States, people are increasingly exposed to noise pollution. This includes the constant cacophony of car and truck traffic, airplanes, factories, plus countless machine and appliance engines, cell phones and more. In fact according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) over 35 million Americans are now at risk of noise-induced hearing loss due to such pollution.

It is my theory only at this point, but with all this noise pollution I believe we have to shut out all this noise to such a massive extent now that it is impacting our ability to listen fully when we should be listening. In conversations with other people, for example, we’re so conditioned now to shut out noise to focus on what we want to hear that, more than ever, we’re probably shutting out what other people are actually saying and instead hearing only what we want to hear.

Does it feel like we’re really listening to one another more or less than ever before? Does it feel like people are more set in their thoughts, hearing what they want to hear versus listening to what others have to say, than ever before?

One of the best benefits of this experience of occasional conscious listening is that it can remind us to really open our ears and minds to what others are saying – to process all the words and thoughts behind them versus keeping ourselves contained within our own tasks and thoughts.

So if you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to scroll up and try the intense experience of conscious listening, asking yourself the questions as you do so.

And I encourage you to do it elsewhere today and periodically. Step outside your front door at home and try this conscious listening. Try it at your office at work. Try it at night when you lay down to go to bed (but if you have trouble sleeping, don’t try it; furthermore, get yourself a white noise machine to drown out all other noise and help you sleep.)

It is easy for us to get focused down into the particulars of our own lives – our tasks, our opinions – but this focus down prevents us from recognizing and experiencing all the truth and beauty around us, which inevitably whittles our spirits down.

This conscious listening is a powerful way to focus upward and outward instead, enabling our spirit to flow in those directions as well.