Awareness through hearing: a three-minute exercise

All experience is embodied!

I feel like shouting that from the rooftop right now after several days of learning from and working with Bryan Mahan, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner.

There is no separation of body and mind except the one that the mind makes. When that happens, it’s called “not being in your body”. It’s also beginning to dawn on me that perhaps that is what “ego” is—and that is my mind playing and making busywork!

This may be a complete no-brainer (hah!) to you, but I can tell you that most people do not fully inhabit their bodies.

So here’s a three-minute experiment that could be quite profound in you experiencing life-as-it-is:

Use a timer. Spend one minute listening to actual sounds in your external environment. Notice whatever sounds enter your ears, even the background noises like the air conditioning that you usually tune out, as well as voices, TV, whatever, in the foreground. Notice sounds coming in your left ear and sounds coming in your right ear and sounds coming in both ears. Notice changes in sounds, rhythms and silence and pitch, as well. If your attention wanders, quickly bring it back to just listening.

After the minute is up, check in. What is the state of your bodymind?

Now spend one minute listening to your internal sounds. Swallow and notice the sound. Notice the sounds of your breathing, inhaling and exhaling. Notice your stomach rumbling. Is there a constant internal background noise? Do you have a sense of hearing your heartbeat or pulse? Notice pauses and rhythms.

Check in. What are you feeling? How are you experiencing yourself?

Now spend a minute letting your mind operate as it usually does. Notice your internal dialogue. Notice the quality of the dialogue. Is it wandering? Choppy? Inquisitive? Doubtful? Opinionated? Judgmental? Are there pauses, or is it constant? Is there a voice? If so, whose?

Check in. What’s happening?

I can tell you what my experience was.

After the first two exercises, I felt calm and present in my body. My mind thought, “I like this really hearing. There’s a lot of richness there. I feel happy.”

After the third exercise, I felt separate from my environment, with very little body awareness. I felt not present. I felt caught up in the future (“What’s for dinner?”—even though I’m not hungry at all) or the past (“Whoa, that was a bad experience”). My mind evaluated, “I don’t feel very calm or happy when I’m in my head like that.”

Now I could certainly write a long blah-blah-blah about this experience and what it “means”. I’m not.

I’d rather that you just let your experience speak to you itself. What literally makes you happy?

Pratyahara starts with unnaming and having a fresh mind

I came across this article, 10 Things About Pratyahara: The Pivotal Moment in a Yogi’s Path, a few weeks ago on pratyahara and found it too good not to share.

Pratyahara, for the uninitiated, is one of the eight “limbs” of yoga, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It’s often translated from Sanskrit into English as “withdrawal of the senses.”

That description may not make much sense to those of us who are aware that our senses — when not engaged externally in seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching — are often engaged internally, when we experience internal dialogue or visions, imagination, and memories.

When does it stop? And is pratyahara really about what the senses are engaged or not engaged in? I think it’s more about the direction and freshness of your awareness.

This article points out B.K.S. Iyengar’s belief that when we internally name things we see, such as “tree,” “slugbug,” “cloud,” we are not practicing pratyahara. We do this all the time but may not be conscious of it.

Pratyahara occurs when the naming ends. We are so wedded to knowing. “That is a woman.” “That is a car.” “I am [insert your name or job or sound bite here].” There’s a feeling of triumph — you know! There’s certainty! And once known, it becomes stale.

Pratyahara is fresh.

Pratyahara is like Zen beginner’s mind.

It’s awareness of the samskara of the mind, creating a new direction for awareness. Rather than focusing outward while internally naming, change your mind’s direction and practice unnaming. It’s another awareness practice, another presence practice.

One exercise you can do to begin to practice pratyahara is to go for a walk and deliberately name everything you see. For five minutes, look at it and label it!

Then stop. Just listen for a couple of minutes, listening in an unfiltered way, letting all the sounds come in. You may still notice yourself labeling sounds at first. Go ahead. After you label it, really listen. Notice the gestalt of sound coming into your ears. Hear all the sounds at once!

Then continue walking, but this time walk as if you were seeing for the first time. Notice patterns of light and dark, notice shapes, contrast in colors and textures.

Do sirsasana and view the world upside down. Unname it.

You begin to loosen the grip of knowing.

You begin rewiring.

You begin pratyahara.

Silent mind

Tonight I was reflecting that one of the things that my sitting practice showed me is just how busy my mind was for all those many years before I began sitting and paying attention to my actual experience.

Constant activity, no stillness, no silence.

One of the great benefits to me of practicing sitting was having some contrast between my active mind and my silent mind.

By silent, I mean experiencing awareness with no internal dialogue.

What was/is that internal dialogue about? (Because I still experience it. I just know I have a choice now. Before, I didn’t.)

Usually the past or the future. Anxiety-based thoughts, what ifs, and I shouldas. Also a lot of judgment.

It was just such a blessed relief, through the practice of meditation, to learn experientially that I could take a break from all that and just be. Just be aware of the present moment — of sounds, thoughts, feelings, of the spaces in between, of the theater of awareness.

It does seem now that my practice of meditation and the self-awareness it brought me has been somewhat responsible for many of the changes in my life, from quitting my job to dreaming of possible new livelihoods, to honing in on what kind of work is satisfying to me, to deciding to downsize and simplify.

You can call it congruency or integrity or whatever you want. There’s a deep need to take action so that my external life matches who I am, which is ever changing.

What a lovely challenge it means now to be truly alive and engaged. There’s no holding back, no fear (well, not much), just doing and learning, and more doing and learning.