We have somebody in our online meditation group who has requested mindfulness of hearing practices before. She finds it to be an effective way to be present, practice mindfulness, and collect the attention. Although everyone does not have the same experience as she, I happen to agree. Listening meditation can be a powerful way to practice.
It may not be a traditional practice like mindfulness of the breath or loving-kindness meditation, but hearing meditation is rooted in the Foundations of Mindfulness. With this practice, we are simply using the sense-door of hearing rather than something like the sensation of feeling in the body. However, we bring the same quality of mindfulness to the practice, cultivating an ability to be present and see clearly.
Benefits of Hearing Meditation
Research has found many benefits of meditation in general. You can read our post on the benefits of meditation at https://oneminddharma.com/benefits-of-meditation/ to learn about the studies and findings in recent years. However, these studies focus mainly on concentration practices and relaxation techniques. In our limited research, we could not find actual peer-reviewed studies on listening meditation and its efficacy.
There are some studies that link active listening to school success, healthy relationships, information retention, and more. However, none of these studies really center on mindfulness and meditation. So, we want to preface this section with the disclaimer that we could not find any true scientific research on the benefits of listening meditation.
What we can offer is our own experiences. This is purely anecdotal, but here are a few things you may gain from listening meditations. First, mindful listening is simply another way to cultivate mindfulness. Just as we may use the sense-door of feeling in the body or seeing, we can use the sense-door of hearing. The Buddha himself recommended that we “guard our sense doors” in the Discourse on Establishing Mindfulness (read the full text here).
Second, learning to listen can help us in other ways in our lives. We can return to the experience of hearing when we find ourselves stressed, we can listen more deeply to loved ones, and we can tune in more deeply to the world around us. The intention of practice is to see our experience clearly, and sounds are certainly a part of our experience.
Finally, hearing meditation can be a great way to try something new. If you’re struggling with the breath, finding yourself anxious or restless during meditation, or with a lack of interest, it may be worth investigating something different. Listening meditation practices are a great way to switch it up while continuing to cultivate the qualities of mindfulness and concentration.
We discuss in our post 17 Types of Meditation – Which One is For You? a handful of different ways to practice. Listening is just one way to practice mindfulness, and there are many types of listening meditation you can practice.
Mindfulness of Sounds
Meditations on hearing can vary greatly, but this is probably the most common. It’s the type of listening meditation I offer in our Daily Guided Meditations and on the meditation podcast sometimes. We use the sense-door of hearing as the focal point of our awareness. You can watch the sounds arise and pass, as well as your reaction and experience of each one.
Listening to Silence
Listening to silence is one way to practice listening meditation. It may or may not be perfect silence, but you can close your eyes and tune into the absence of noise. Often, this practice will allow us to hear the slight ringing in our ears, and the arising and passing of other sounds. We can begin to bring mindfulness to the impermanent and fleeting nature of sounds.
On a somewhat related note, a podcast I listen to and love recently did an episode about the research surrounding the harmful effects of sound on our health. The podcast is called 99 Percent Invisible, and the episode may be found here. They also did a second part a few weeks later I recommend listening to!
Mindful listening is a powerful way to dedicate time and energy toward developing the ability to listen. We can learn to listen to our loved ones, strangers, and all the people around us in the world. Although this is a bit different than a meditation on hearing, it is a way we can practice with the experience of hearing. You can read our post at https://oneminddharma.com/mindful-listening/ for some practices in mindful listening.
One thing we are frequently asked about is music for meditation. Although I don’t personally listen to music while meditating, I understand that many people find it to be helpful. You may listen to the sounds of nature, chanting, or singing bowls. Sounds can indeed impact our states of mind (read more here). You may try listening to some meditation music while practicing to see how it works with your practice.
There is also the practice of sound baths. This is something that I personally have little experience with, but absolutely love. Sound baths often involve various singing bowls, sometimes made of quartz crystal. In some traditions, the bowls are associated with chakras. However, chakras are not Buddhist in nature and I don’t personally find it to be a useful teaching in my life, so let’s just leave that to the side for now. The sound of the bowls ringing can be a great practice in mindful listening. You can find free sound bath meditations on YouTube if you’re interested!
Listening Guided Meditation
Below is a guided meditation on listening from our 30 Day Meditation Challenge. There’s another listening practice right after this one that incorporates mindfulness of vedana, or feeling tone. Below the video, we have some resources to continue meditating with us!