Mindfulness Practice: 10 Minutes of Sound

Recently I watched both of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s lectures at Google. For those who don’t know Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is most known for his work with mindfulness meditation and stress reduction.

Watching his lectures really got me aching to get back into my mindfulness practice. The first one, “Mindfulness: Stress Reduction and Healing,” is a neuroscientific overview of the benefits of mindfulness meditation and how it is applied to modern medicine. The second one, “Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn” is more of a workshop, which goes over the guidelines of putting mindfulness to practice, and how to overcome potential obstacles.

If you have absolutely no clue what mindfulness is, then the second link is a fantastic starting point. I also usually recommend the book Mindfulness in Plain English by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana (the link is the full PDF, ~100 pages).

The concept of mindfulness however is actually pretty straightforward: non-judgmental awareness. To get a taste, try this: get out a piece of paper and a pen, and then write down all the sounds you can hear within a 5 minute span.

It is an incredibly simple exercise, but it helps cultivate skillful listening, and it makes you aware of things in your auditory world that you are otherwise unconscious of. Here is an example of a short two-session practice I did the other day. The first is in the afternoon, the second is later that night:

SEPT 23 – SOUNDS – 2:00PM – 2:05PM – Outside – Backyard – Sunny Day

    Wind in trees
    Wind pushing against fence
    Birds chirping
    Cricket chirping (faint)
    Construction work
    Wind chimes
    Cars driving (in distance)
    Fly buzzing
    Motorcycle (going fast)
    Water hose
    Dog barking

SEPT 23 – SOUNDS – 9:30PM – 9:35PM – Outside – Backyard – Clear Night

    Pond waterfall (loud)
    Crickets (lots!)
    Eminem song playing
    Someone cough
    Gate rattling
    Door open
    Cars driving

I was (wrongfully) expecting the night session to be more tranquil, but it turned out it wasn’t. A neighbor was playing Eminem and I couldn’t make out any of the more subtle sounds in my environment.

But it is what it is – meditation is all about non-judgment – so I meditated on the Eminem song as if it were anything else.

People tend to think that in order to meditate you need to go somewhere really quiet – away from technology, cars, etc. – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. These technologies are a part of our world, an extension or our nature, and they are just as good as any other object of meditation (whether an “Aum” or a singing bowl).

We must meditate and accept what is, not idealize what is the perfect meditation. Both Jon Kabat-Zinn and Ven. Henepola Gunaratana as well as other mindfulness teachers emphasize the importance of applying mindfulness to all aspects of life.

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