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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ajahn Sumedho and John Cage on the sound of silence

I posted the following on mo(ve)ments but will repost them here with some added comments. While I do not personally adopt Ajahn Sumedho's approach of listening to the 'sound of silence' as a skilful means for cultivating mindfulness, I can appreciate its usefulness. In a guided meditation clip I've heard, Sharon Salzberg suggests that we start by 'simply listening'. As we settle into the background sounds around us, we find that there's a natural quality of mindfulness in listening. I've found this to be very helpful in re-establishing mindfulness when, for example, I'm very distracted during a meditation session or when I want to establish mindfulness in daily life more generally. It's not unlike sitting by the beach or river. Many people find the sounds of the water soothing and calming. Yet, when we sit and relax by the beach/river we don't actively listen to the sounds of the water. We don't have to make an effort to listen. The sounds simply wash over consciousness without any effort on our part to 'listen'--a natural quality of mindfulness.

So anyway, some thoughts by Ajahn Sumedho and John Cage (whom I believe was a Zen practitioner) on the 'sound of silence':
How does what you call the “sound of silence” relate to “relaxed attention?”
I have found in my own practice when I am in this relaxed attention state, and I’m not absorbed or focused on anything in particular, that I hear this kind of high-pitched vibration or a sound of whatever it seems to be. I call it the “sound of silence.” It’s kind of like the background of everything. And so once that’s recognized, then I find that it is like a stream that you can rest in, and it allows both attention on this wide spectrum of awareness and it stops the thinking mind. 
The “sound of silence” can serve as a point of reference, to know when you’re in the natural state of awareness. It means having a relaxed attention towards the feelings in your own body, your emotional states, and your thoughts and memories. You are experiencing them from the perspective of this empty place rather than the endless reactivity that the mind usually has to your feelings or emotions. It’s not a created sign, something that you have to perpetuate. It’s just a matter of recognizing and trusting in your relationship to the world around you.
The encouragement is to recognize and learn how to rest in relaxed attention rather than trying to concentrate the mind or get in a particular state you imagine you should have. Your relationship to the conditioned world becomes one of awareness and reflecting on the nature of impermanence. 
The sound of silence is not an object that you have to sustain through concentrating upon it, it’s just recognizing and trusting it so that whether you are aware of it or not, it’s still there. 
Cage: 'If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience.'

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Yet another stay at Dhammagiri Forest Hermitage, QLD

Just returned from yet another week long stay at a Buddhist hermitage of the Ajahn Chah Forest Sangha. It's called the Dhammagiri Forest Hermitage in rural Brisbane, Queensland. Still adjusting to the humdrum of everyday life. So until I gather my thoughts to share some of my experience, here are some photos:

Main Dhamma Hall

Main Buddha statue

Closeup of Buddha statue, The First Sermon

My living quarters or kuti (hut), which is really a container doubling up as storage space and library

Closeup of Buddha statue in my kuti; couldn't slack off in its presence

Sunset at the top of the hill (the secluded area where the kutis are)

Just something that caught my eye on a walk; impermanence is everywhere Ajahn Chah would say

Abbot of the hermitage, Bhante Dhammasiha

My good friend Stu; meditating before almsgiving