This page develops The Simple Sense of Now from Chapter One.
Historical PerspectiveFor most of evolution, life was a lot quieter than it is today. It's been a few thousand years since the first blacksmith started hammering – but recently, with motors, amplifiers, drills, bombs and beat music, we have suddenly become a very loud species.
Life has become stressful for all animals who are dependent on this sense for their survival – and i think all the others (humans), have become a little deaf.
Focused ListeningThere's quite a difference between listening to silence – listening to something specific, like music or bird song – listening to everything – and panoramic listening.
I think many people already know that listening to silence can bring peace of mind. And listening to beautiful things: rain drops, your favourite music, the melody in a child's voice, even thunder and lightning, can all be exhilarating and well worth focusing on. So if you are lucky enough to live where there is a river, or a cacophony of bird song, then focus on that, it's wonderful.
If you're out in nature, listening to everything is also wonderful. Listen as helpless and vulnerable as babies are before they learn to filter out the boring everyday sounds. Such exercises are all stimulating and good for the soul, and most humans already know this.
But for animals all such things are only the background, focusing on them is pointless and could even be dangerous. In The Simple Sense of Now, i discussed the basic ideas and practice behind panoramic listening. It is the openness and receptivity to any and every sudden stimuli – the alertness to changes and movements – which is vital to animals.
Listening out into the DistanceOften in cities or in woodlands, vision is limited, but especially at night, sounds travel for miles. And at night, it is very calming and stimulating to listen 5 or 10 miles away.
I remember camping by a deserted country road, listening at night to the occasional single car winding off into the distance, with the feeling that it was stretching my hearing abilities for ten miles and more, and then, the complete silence... This was beautiful, it relaxed every neuron in my brain, and if this sort of experience could always be guaranteed from focusing, then i would find it an excellent idea, probably even better than panoraming.
(This experience was back in the 1980s, old-fashioned cars were much louder, these days i sometimes listen to distant motor bikes or lorries.)
I doubt if vulnerable animals ever use their long distance hearing abilities, unless a sound is very loud they are only interested in their local environment. But predatory animals will listen-out for the specific signals associated with their prey, imagine how early man would listen into the distance for wild boar.
Pre-emptive ListeningWe can understand how animals and early man would have a collection of familiar sounds, signs of danger or food, and would become attuned to these specific sounds. They would listen-out for a bee buzzing (for honey), distant wild boar foraging, or sudden changes in bird song.
This is being ready to hear specific things which haven't happened yet, but might. It is a pre-emptive awareness of any familiar common sounds which may be so quick and quiet or muffled, that without listening intensively, we might miss. If we aren't aware the split second the dog barks or a car door slams a mile away, we'll have missed it forever.
Children and dogs are often good to listen-out for, but if it's raining and the children and dogs are indoors, then floorboards creaking and car horns.
Ear YogaDo a little yoga with your hearing, stretch it, listen-out. Actively listen, searching for sounds. Check in all directions, near and far away, high and low.
Ideally, sit somewhere without walls. Walls reflect sounds in a way which distort your spacial reality. Knowing where we are in relation to the sounds around us, is part of knowing who we are.
Sit with your back to the wind and listen behind you. We can see what's happening in front, smelling and listening are the only ways to know what's going on behind us.
Children's games include... imagine a car horn is a wild-boar... the approaching helicopter is a swarm of locusts... the rustle of a bit of litter is a snake ...
What to listen-out for depends on the background noises where you are. I was once near a children's playground where i found it useful to listen-out for cars!
Some modern sounds truly aren't good to listen to. You can try and listen over the sound, turn the motors into the background, empathise with what animals must do. But don't be too idealistic: use modern earplugs and pity the animals who can't.
MotivationFor a hare or deer, it's a matter of survival, and we don't have that motive. We used our intelligence to survive and built walls to be safe. But now, we still need to use our intelligence: if we don't stop thinking for a few moments, we will all go crazy. It is urgent that we all get a bit of direct and simple peace of mind.
There is no better, simpler, cheaper, readily available, or more direct way than 'listening-out' in a panoramic way to stop thinking, or at least slow the thoughts down for a few seconds and enjoy a moments inner peace. If we empathise with animals' way of listening, we can't think. If we start thinking, we stop listening, and at that moment an animal would be vulnerable.
Panoramic listening requires and stimulates nowness like no other sense.
Listening with the entire headThere's one other thing. When i feel fully involved with listening-out, the sensation is that i'm listening through my scalp and the whole circumference of my head, rather than just the ears.
This sensation is not a scientific fact, and that can be easily proven by using ear plugs; it is clearly 'my imagination'. But this is how it actually feels, and i want to be in touch with how life actually feels.
And i suggest that this is how it feels for many animals, birds for example (with no exterior ears), and babies, (who first discover and learn to cover their ears with their hands between 6 and 12 months old).