listening to the city: a meditation practice

this past friday, a few people from the 2017 cohort of evolutionary leadership had a morning meditation session (a sit). one of the folks wanted to hear a bit about the sitting practices of the rest of us and so two of us got to explain bits of our practices.

jen explained that insight meditation is usually focused on one of a few anchors: the breath, the body, or sound. for the past few years i’ve used sound as my primary anchor, although sometimes i do breath. there’s a specific episode of on being about the loss of quiet spaces that inspired my sound-based practice…specifically this line:

When you’re in a quiet place, your listening horizon extends for miles in every direction. When you hear an elk call from miles away, it turns into a magic flute as the result of traveling through this place that has the same acoustics as a cathedral.

i know i’m not often in quiet places, but i wanted to be able to regularly practice (and know) how far i could hear in all of my different contexts. so what i do is listen as far as i can.

now, after the listening to the city conference i’m thinking about my listening practice much more deeply. i’m thinking about especially deeply after wendy hsu, 1/3 of l.a. listens (one of the conference co-hosts), told a really intense story about moving as a young kid from her sound-rich home in taipei (i think?) to the suburbs and how the deafening silence of the suburbs kept her from sleeping.

so when we sat on friday morning the house we were in was just a five minute walk up a small hill from my house. and yet, the soundscape was wildly different. for example, i live under one of the flight paths coming from logan airport and so i can often hear airplanes taking off and landing. for the entire hour we were at the other house, i didn’t hear a single plane. (sidenote: this reminded me of many of the things about environmental and sound justice that mary ellen welch mentioned in her media for movement building interview.

i also noticed that i almost never hear ambulances even from my front porch. but at jen’s house up the hill, they were almost constant. i assume this is because of height and sound traveling better up and over through open air.

anyway, all of this feels very interesting and is making me think this could be a cool open call for colab radio… something like what does your neighborhood sound like from your bedroom?


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