Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pay No Attention

My brother-in-law said that he foresees the day when silence will be sold.  I think we are already there in several ways.  Silence as in the complete absence of noise is not available and possibly not valuable.  Go inside your audiologist’s sound-proof booth and sit.  You can hear your breathing.  You can hear the sounds of tissues and tendons as you turn your head.  And, as he mentioned, we older folks can always listen to our tinnitus, the ringing in our ears.
The “noise” in our minds is the subject of a great deal of study and concentration.  Meditation can be used to cease thinking and merely stay at attention, as a cat watching a mouse hole.  If during such a vigil, the cat starts thinking of all the faults of dogs, it may miss the moment the mouse emerges.  So, just sit still.  Create a silence in the mind.
Not engaging in thought is exactly the sort of inner silence that people study in many types of yoga, Zen, and other meditative approaches.  I read of a yoga teacher who had a final activity for his students to stay calm and unengaged for a time.  As the activity began, a car alarm went off outside and it continued to blare for the whole time.  Some of the students thought that had been arranged as a test, even though it wasn’t. 
I have a white noise machine that is supposed to lull a person to sleep.  It has several sounds built into it, a train rattling along a track, the ocean lapping the shore and rainfall. Yet, when Lynn was in a hotel right on the ocean, she began to find the waves crashing an oppressive sound. 
Right along with attention control goes physical relaxation.  The act of tensing muscles, often facial, neck or shoulder muscles, sometime called “guarding”, is a common reaction to stress, worry, pain and anxiety.  All use of muscles tends to be better, smoother and easier if the opposing muscles are appropriately relaxed.  So, being aware of muscle tension is a big part of good mental and physical development.
The fact that gaining good awareness and control of one’s attention and muscle tension is valuable is dawning in many places.  This Christmas, toymakers are selling games aimed at using the mind to control the game.  The reviews are not all that strong so far but in a few years, strong awareness of one’s attention and body states may well be considered part of an basic elementary education.

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