Deep Listening: the act of consciousness

“Listening is very close to what we call consciousness.” Pauline Oliveros

Our Bristol Wellbeing College runs informative courses and workshops for learners receiving support from Bristol Mental Health Services, and their carers. Today’s blog focuses on one of their workshops: ‘Writing with Soundscapes Meditation’ and client Kate shares her work that came out of the session.

In 1989, in a cistern deep underground of Washington State, U.S., activist and musician Pauline Oliveros and two others began to play their instruments, only to discover that “the cistern was playing back to them” and they had to play “improvising with the cistern itself”. The forty-five second reverberation of the notes within the cistern inspired the album and movement ‘Deep Listening’, whereby listening becomes healing, a meditation, an act of consciousness. “Listen to everything all the time,” became Oliveros’s mantra, “and remind yourself when you’re not listening.”

The philosophy behind Oliveros’s Sonic Meditations is that through deeply listening, we become truly interactive with our surroundings, and are able to acknowledge ourselves as an integral part of the environment, rather than separate from it.

Deep Listening forms the basis behind our ‘Writing with Soundscapes Meditation’ workshop. We combine listening with writing since most of us are not attuned to listening without our minds wandering; writing helps to focus our attention and channel arising thoughts.

Using an excerpt of a fictional harbourside soundscape (best listened to with headphones), which includes the sounds of gulls, market stalls, chatter, tinkling boats and lapping waves, participants listen and observe the picture that the soundscape paints in their mind, writing it down as they go. What emerges is a variety of rich and vibrant scenes, each one different from the other. We learn that while what we all hear is the same, the act of listening is individual and constantly at interplay with our background, preconceptions and personal experiences. The sounds of a harbourside is one person’s chip supper and another’s four sails to the wind.

Oliveros tells us that we cannot train the ear to hear. It simply does what it does, but we can train our minds to listen, and with that comes increased consciousness of ourselves and the world we move through, one inseparable from the other.

With thanks to Kate for contributing her work.

Harbour Sounds 

Late in the afternoon, a seaside cafe packs up.  The wind blows in from the east, it feels cooler now. A single gull above the tired conversations between kiosk holders. End of day washing up, bowls clanking in the cafe. A flock of gulls swarm above the single gull.  A fight begins at the litter bins spilling out rubbish.

Singe Thread of Sound 

You were distant, unnoticed.

You held your voice and then –

Your screech, from your belly

Then silence, rest, and more silence

You join the noisy circus 

Raucous chorus,

Do you think you’re singing I wonder?

You can find our more about the Bristol Wellbeing College here, eligibility and signing up to their workshops.

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