Hone your Senses with Listening

December 10, 2013

To listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear–Mark Nepo (Sounds True magazine)

Listening is a practice of exercising and honing the senses.

This is true whether we consider ourselves musicians, or not. When we open our listening to music, to our child’s or partner’s voice, or the ambient sounds of the city or natural environment, we gather information in the moment and at the same time build our skills for gathering and utilizing information in the future.

I recently shared a Facebook post about the experience I had tracking down a gas leak at the back of our fourplex condo building.  The jist of it was that when I took out the recycling one afternoon, I happened to bend down at the back of our condo building to grab some snow, and followed my nose right to a small gas leak. ATCO was called, and the leak repaired in very short time.

Although the repair guy said it “probably” wasn’t enough to cause an explosion, he had no idea how long the gas line had been slightly leaking, and I’m really glad that no one decided to light a cigarette back there in the meantime!

Of course, I felt good about following my nose to help keep the 8 people and 3 dogs living in our building safe and sound.  I even got a whimsical invitation to work for the gas company—haha.

But just as important for me was the reminder that our ears, eyes, noses, beaks, fingers, feet, talons, tongues, whiskers, skin, guts, hearts & spidey-senses are our most vital sources of awareness for the information that helps us to survive and thrive. That pure, undomesticated input of all the senses can be invaluable guidance in all areas of life.

Listening is something that we do with our entire beings.

Sadly, the ability to receive, perceive or trust that info sometimes gets damaged by life experiences. Initially, I doubted whether I “smelled what I thought I smelled.” I had to risk being wrong and feeling silly when I followed my instinct to report what I sensed. But I did.

I credit the trust I have in myself in part to the practice of improvised group singing. Feeling, hearing, & seeing what is in the musical environment and then stepping in to help shape it is excellent practice for trusting my own senses and acting affirmatively on that knowing in any situation.

There are many such ways we can hone our senses in this way, below is a simple practice for “listening” with multiple senses that doesn’t require you to sing, at all.


-Stop. Wherever you are right now (please be safe!)

-Ears. Begin by closing your eyes.  Using your ears, listen to the sounds around you and within you:  the voices, the ambient sounds of the environment, your own breath and heartbeat, the soft rustling or creaking of your clothes.

-Feeling. Now, feel the contact of your feet with the floor, place your hands on the wall or on the table or even on the floor, if possible.  Sit on the earth or bring your attention to the connection of sit bones to chair to floor.  What do you feel? What vibrations are you noticing? What subtle movements or quivers?  This is listening with your body.

-Eyes. Finally, open your eyes.  What motions are associated with the sounds?  Do you see people’s mouths moving, are you watching the washer vibrate on the spin cycle or the child dancing as she sings?  What visuals are cueing your listening?  How are you listening with your eyes?

-Unique to you.  What other ways are you listening right now?

Take a moment, a mere breath of gratitude for the rich life of your senses.

At Compassionate Community Voice, we explore listening in many different contexts and formats.  Have a look here if you are curious.

For more information on a unique way of group improvisation that is dear to my heart, called Sonica, check out the exciting work of Gary Diggins, here.







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