Tuning into Silence in MeditationMay 08, 2023
Our modern world comes with a lot of noise. This stimulates the nervous system to be alert to potential dangers. This leads the mind to overscan and thinks about potential risks, over feel into the potential dangers and leave you feeling tired trying to avoid this noise-scape. Retraining your ability to listen is a key part of good wellbeing. Through meditation you can train your listening and nervous system for greater resilience.
What is the impact of this noise on you?
On a remote retreat in Costa Rica, a client of mine reported on our first morning barely sleeping for the fear of all the natural sounds of the jungle: was the monkey going to unlock the front door and attack them?! My client was in fear of everything in nature when the jungle had very little to threaten any of us - in fact the biggest threat was a tree falling in a storm.
This fear of my client was a clear indication of how disconnected we can become from natural sounds - the inability to discern what is a safe or unsafe sound. Poor association with natural sound leads to greater feelings of disconnection from yourself and others.
Most people react to noise by layering further sound over it. You might choose music and noise to drone out the sounds, and probably turn up the volume on your noise-cancelling headset.
The more noise and volume that we add the greater the damage that we layer onto the nervous system. When there is more noise and less ability to distinguish the soundscape, the nervous system has to work harder to be vigilant of the threats potentially around.
This excess stimulation promotes the following reactions in the body:
- Stimulates excessive inner dialogue and worries, especially about safety.
- Increased fear at natural sounds that are safe and voices.
- Dependence on white noise or other false noises to 'calm' is actually a distraction.
- Decreased connection with other humans and ability to connect to human voice to soothe the nervous system.
- Decreased gut health and digestive issues as your body stops digesting food when under stress.
- Greater emotional overwhelm and build-up of feelings that are unaddressed for the cause is not 'real'.
- Beliefs of being unheard or unseen, when most of the inner chatter 'unheard' is excessive thoughts rather than clear coherent understanding to be expressed in relationship.
- Potential mental unease and dis-ease in the body from stress and overwhelm of emotions.
- Binaural beats and some frequency audio can actually be misaligned with your individual wellbeing and brain health as not all frequencies support our individual function. It takes excellent software and professionals to tailor these technologies to individual brain function.
How can you train the nervous system to relax from this sound?
The vagus nerve that runs from the brain down into your abdomen connects to the inner ear. Sound has a direct impact on how your vagus nerve is stimulated and tells your brain and gut how to respond.
Sounds that we have evolved to hear safely include those of water flow, gentle breezes, a calm human voice, certain bird songs and animal sounds. We want to rebuild associations with these 'safe' sounds that our nervous system is inherently built to associate with positively.
- Reducing sounds in the background or your environment on a regular basis e.g. stop playing the TV unless actively watching it
- Focusing on those tones in the 'middle range' will rebuild the natural association e.g. violin and piano music
- Listen to a calm human voice is important - this is why guided meditation is so helpful
- No headphones or talking time especially when out in nature
When to use sound to help you relax?
It is important to be clear that in some situations the sound must be 'cancelled out' with an alternative e.g. MRI scanning machines or certain sounds on underground transport. This is because the sound is deeply unnatural and will distress your nervous system, so to try and soothe it is important.
In the process of reacclimatizing your nervous system, some sounds can be supportive to prevent the panic response of my client above. In these situations you may choose:
- Natural sounds in recordings that tune into earth frequencies are supportive.
- Binaural beats can be supportive but I have been warned by professionals that these can be detrimental if you have a mental health condition and the beats are not set to your brain patterns.
- Hertz frequency recordings for grounding and calming focus.
The human voice that is calm will co-regulate your own nervous system. The human voice is our social connection and our deeper sense of humanity building empathy and improved relationships.
Less is more! I developed a sound sensitivity from my head injury that shifted my inner ear.
Minimise sound in meditation practice. Help to retrain the nervous system by reducing the input of sound coming in:
- Sounds can trigger the nervous system into distress - avoid them. If triggered, then take immediate resourcing steps and get professional support.
- Learn to hear a human voice which is connected to safety and natural ease without background noise.
- If you do not have a physical sound sensitivity then triggers in sound are associations and experiences of emotional stimulus, then slowly rebuilding connection to human vocal ranges will be a great support to heal this relationship within you.
- Equalisation techniques can help to improve the inner ear and muscle strength for the vagus nerve to become more resilient.
Steps to Hear the Silence ... and move into the Universal Sound
What happens beyond sound resilience? You can become comfortable in the SILENCE. In traditional yoga there is the Universal Sound. Do you remember how as a child you put the shell to your ear and heard to endless ocean waves? This is the Universal Sound that can sometimes become more of an OM. When we can sit in silence this Universal Sound can move around you, and always be with you as a supportive measure. And, this is not tinnitus!
Go deeper with your sound shifts and connect more to life, each day:
- Stop and listen to the sounds around you.
- Listen to music-free guided meditation practices.
- Train to be comfortable with the nothingness - yes, your ego might be lost and not hold identity!
- Silence contains a presence that wants to live through you. Be with it.
- Silence contains a powerful whisper of less words, less thoughts and greater impact through less.
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