A lot’s changed for me over the past few months—much of it shitty.
Over the past two years, I’ve crossed paths with murder, suicide, a heart attack, an unrequited love, a month long panic attack, addiction, second degree burns, an intimate sense of community, relocation, rigid apathy, and my grandma’s Alzheimer’s (I’m now her caregiver).
I have no idea how I’m still going, or how some of my friends and family members are still going. Did I want to die one or two dozen times? Absolutely. But, well, here I am, still shoving gibberish into your mind.
One thing I’ve noticed (Side note: I’m always watching myself like a researcher observing some previously undiscovered species of frogs) is that I’ve returned to where I started. I went all the way back to working with OM. Chanting OM and studying the Upanishads was my first dip into contemplative life way back when I was a Freshman in high school.
This quickly evolved into a hybrid mantra, but a Chan teacher I respect advised me to keep it to myself since it probably won’t be helpful to you (and could even be a misstep).
After mentioning all of this on Facebook, a long-time Zen friend said, “I keep telling you to look into Nada Yoga.” So I did, and I love it. I’m not sold on the metaphysics behind it—I still don’t believe in chakras for instance—but the methods have been great. Coincidentally, they’re also employed by the Chan tradition I (mal)practice in.
Nada means “sound,” and Yoga means “union.” So, Nada Yoga is the practice of unifying with sound. Since I’m passionate about music, it amazes me that I didn’t explore this years ago. Music and the sky are pretty much the two things in the world that can “wake me up.” They can shake the dust off my wings and crack that hard shell of apathy that I accidentally wrap myself up in over and over again. They get me touch with myself, and just like touching yourself, it’s always a bit orgasmic.
Nada Yoga involves focusing on sounds, but really it’s about “hearing” what they call the “inner sound” or silent sound, which is equated with the genuine self.
I can hear the old school Buddhists scoffing in the back, but I promise that, at the end of the day, there’s no conflict with the not-self teachings. I’m just going the Mahayana route and using affirmative language. Really, Self and no-self are the same fucking thing when we strip them both of all the baggage that comes with them.
Really, we’re following the traditional jhana route, wherein the mind moves through deeper and deeper states until it doesn’t move at all. When the mind doesn’t move, there’s no-mind. When the self doesn’t move, there’s no-self. SPOILERS: We realize after the fact that the mind/self has never moved.
What is Sound?
Sounds are vibrations that rattle the ear. This sets off electrical impulses that the brain turns into auditory experiences pregnant with meanings, memories, visuals, intentions, and emotions. All of that accounts for “material sounds,” there are also, “mental sounds.”
We don’t have to hear music with our ears to hear music. If I focus, I can remember the song, “Your Mother Should Know” by the Beatles and listen to it in my mind and it’ll have the same sound quality as if I was hearing with my ears. Our inner monologue is also a sound.
So, when we pay attention to sounds in this practice, we’re not just focusing on “external” ones like the whirring passing cars or the chirps and tweets of bird songs, but also “internal” ones. It’s helpful to think of them both as just sound without the internal/external conception standing in the way. The fact that you can’t hear my thoughts doesn’t mean they’re not “a sound.” It’s not my fault you don’t have telepathy, you should’ve applied yourself more home economics.
Anyway, haha, Nada practices are great, even if you don’t wanna take them to the point of perfect clarity and stillness. So, here’s an introductory open-monitoring method:
Sit or stand up straight or lie down. Now take a few deep breaths. Breathe in while counting to five, hold it for five, and then breathe out for five. Rest and repeat four more times. Feel your body tense up with the inhale and relax with the exhale. Listen to your breath.
Now just breathe naturally and let your mind be open and nonjudgmental. Whenever something you hear catches your attention (whether you hear it with your earholes or just your mind), then zero-in on it for a few moments.
Notice its loudness or quietness, its “color” and “temperature.” Try to pick out subtle resonant tones and be mindful of how the sound moves through the room and how you feel just sitting there listening to it. Then let go and return to just sitting and listening. Practice this zeroing-in and letting go for a few minutes, letting yourself get into a kind of rhythm.
Next, just listen without zeroing in on anything. Let sounds come and go, being mindful that a sound is just a sound. Feel yourself ease into the experience of just listening. Whenever you get snagged by something, or whenever you start following your train of thought, just give it little nod (metaphorically) and return to just listening.
Over time, your internal chatter will start to dwindle, and your body will seem to grow lighter, bigger, and fade into the soundscape. You’ll come to notice a certain feeling of just being present, or you’ll see a light behind your eyelids. Focus on those when they (NATURALLY) appear. Eventually, that sense of being or that light will replace sound as your meditation object. Let yourself ease into them, like dipping into a warm pool.
Then when there’s no separation between That and you, you’ll encounter that silent sound that neither comes nor goes.