Listening to What We Cannot Hear
We are approaching the winter season, the quiet time of year. At least, the natural world is quieting down. Bears go into hibernation, birds fly south, people stay inside more, rivers and streams flow less vigorously. Walking outside on a crisp winter morning it’s easy to hear your breath and the crunch of your feet on the frosty ground. This quiet allows us to hear more of what we don’t normally pay much attention to.
As I mentioned in my seasonal reflection on Samhain, in this darkening time of year we reflect on our ancestors. Perhaps we may even remember what their voice sounded like, or perhaps a favorite song. One tradition at Samhain is to have a “Dumb” supper – a dinner in silence. Celebrants may make a dish which reminds them of an ancestor and sit in silence to honor and remember them. What do you hear as you taste and smell this food, remembering your loved ones? Can you hear them singing and whispering from the great beyond?
At a conference I attended last year, I went to workshop by Ivo Dominguez Jr., author and ritualist. He taught us how to listen with the ears behind our ears, our auric or psychic ears (much in the same way one may see with their “third eye”). He taught us a chant which we sang to build up the energy in the room, and then we stopped and just listened. And there was something there! It was palpable, this remnant and echo of our chant. It makes sense if we think about what the physiological act of hearing is. The mechanics of our ear and drum are being vibrated by sound waves and the brain interprets it as a sound. But do those waves ever really totally stop? (I do a mindfulness practice, where I ring a bell and try to hear when it stops.) And how does our brain translate or make sense of something we have not been taught? Was that a voice, or just the wind?
Pauline Oliveros is a composer and performer who has been studying music and sound for over four decades. She developed a practice and philosophy called Deep Listening. It “distinguishes the difference between the involuntary nature of hearing and the voluntary selective nature of listening. The result of the practice cultivates appreciation of sounds on a heightened level, expanding the potential for connection and interaction with one’s environment…”
So as the natural world begins to cool and quiet and slow down, I invite you to listen. To hear what you usually cannot – the softest breeze, the voice of an ancestor, the longing of your hearts desire, or the song of your soul.
– Nick Venegoni, M.A.