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What is "Deep Listening?"

Updated: May 16, 2019

The ear hears. The brain listens.

The body senses vibrations. - Pauline Oliveros


When the late composer and pioneer of Deep Listening, Pauline Oliveros along with her band mates and colleagues, Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis, descended 14 feet into an underground cistern to make a recording, she coined the term "deep listening" as a kind of pun - they were apparently all big punsters and I personally love this fact! They soon realized that due to the 45 second reverberation of the cistern that the actual space became the 4th performer and the musicians had to quickly learn how to listen differently to and with the cistern's reverb.


I am a HUGE fan of Pauline's, have studied her work, have referenced her in my sound and music psychotherapy work, and have presented at the International Deep Listening Conference. Ever since I began my journey into healing with sound and music, I have use the term "deep listening" to describe the work I do whether as a music therapist, sound worker, composer or performer. Deep Listening for me is how we tap into the unconscious, to expand the aspects of our hearing, and how to listen with all the senses.


Pauline describes Deep Listening as "an aesthetic based upon principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation. This aesthetic is designed to inspire both trained and untrained performers to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations..."


She posits that listening is a mysterious process that is not the same for everyone.

We know more about hearing than listening because hearing is measurable but listening is not. We have ear training in music schools but it's the mind that is is being trained.


Here are 2 "deep listening" meditations in non-judgmental listening.


Meditation 1:

Pay attention to where you are right now.

Deepening your breath by slowing down the inhale and exhale.

Be as still as you can be.


Focus your attention on what is in front of you. Listen to what is in front of you.

Go further and focus your attention on what is just beyond the scope of hearing what is in front of you.

Listen to what is just beyond the scope of hearing what is in front of you.

Breathe deeply into your listening state.


Focus your attention on what is to the right of you. Listen to what is on your right.

Go further and focus your attention on what is just beyond the scope of hearing to your right.

Listen to what is just beyond the scope of hearing to your right.

Breathe deeply into your listening state.


Focus your attention on what is to the left of you. Listen to what is on your left.

Go further and focus your attention on what is just beyond the scope of hearing to your left.

Listen to what is just beyond the scope of hearing to your left.

Breathe deeply into your listening state.


Focus your attention to what is behind you.

Listen to what is behind you.

Go further and focus your attention on what is just beyond the scope of your hearing what is behind you.

Listen to what is beyond the scope of what is behind you.

Breathe deeply into your listening state.


Focus your attention to what is above you.

Listen to what is above you.

Go further and focus your attention on what is just beyond the scope of your hearing what is above you.

Listen to what is beyond the scope of what is above you.

Breathe deeply into your listening state.


Focus your attention to what is inside you.

Listen to what is inside you.

Go further and focus your attention on what is just beyond the scope of your hearing what is inside you.

Listen to what is beyond the scope of what is inside you.

Breathe deeply into your listening state.


Meditation 2


Allow the body to be still for a moment. Breathe deeply by elongating the inhale and exhale.

Listen to the breath and the sounds that are happening in the present moment.

Now, go back to about an hour ago and listen to the sounds that accompanied you on your journey to this present moment.

Notice the sounds that still linger in your mind.

Listen

Now, go back about 5 hours ago and listen to the sounds that accompanied you on your journey to this present moment.

Notice the sounds that still linger in your mind.

Listen.

Going back even further to the first sound you heard today.

What sounds accompanied you when you first woke up? Notice the sounds that still linger in your mind.

Listen.

And now into the sleeping and dreaming state, go back into the unconscious and listen to the sounds that accompanied you on your journey to this present moment. Notice the sounds that still linger in your mind.

Listen.