There’s a Symphony Just Below the Surface—Can You Hear It?

The key to listening is to learn to stop being distracted by our thoughts.

Posted Oct 09, 2020

 Drew Beamer/Unsplash
Source: Drew Beamer/Unsplash

Imagine it’s your birthday, and your friends and family pool their money to get you the best gift you can imagine: tickets for fabulous seats to see your favorite musical act. You get to the venue, you find your place up front, and then you settle in to experience every aspect of the music you love.

You’ve followed the performers for years, and you know every song. The acoustics are perfect, and you’re accompanied by the kind of friend who enjoys listening wordlessly so that you both can give the performance your undivided attention.

But what if you got to the venue and something terrible had just happened to you? You’d been broken up with, say, or you learned of a dire financial problem. Maybe you got a bad diagnosis that signals possible suffering on the horizon. Even while facing the prospect of extreme difficulty in your life, you are so thrilled to see your favorite group that for a couple of hours, you are able to put all of that behind you.

As humans, we have been given a wonderful gift, and that is the ability to suspend our fears, concerns, and worries and really focus on what we love. In the example of the concert, we know that when the music ends we may go back to our fears and worries, but while it’s playing, there is nothing we can do about them, so we might as well just give in.

Life always has its music, and we don’t need to be front-row center at a concert to hear it. Throughout our lives, no matter what else is going on, a melody is present, but often, we are so focused on the present moment that we fail to hear its strains. The noise of our worry drowns out all the other things we might otherwise hear and enjoy.

So why do we stop listening to the music of life? What happens to block it from our consciousness?

One thing we can try to do to reclaim our life’s song is to focus in on the music of our lives and let our negative thinking fade into the background. Life is always speaking to us—it is! We become beautiful observers of life because life is always playing its music for us, and the music is beautiful.

In our lives, we may have to really listen to hear this melody. That can take true focus, and so often we become distracted from it. It’s like going to a concert and having someone sit behind us, kicking our chair or talking nonstop in our ear. “You should think of this!” the voice says. “Stop listening to the music! Deal with my worries!”

Sometimes we see a performance, and then afterwards, maybe the next day, we read a review. Someone else attended and paid close attention before offering a breakdown of what they heard and whether it was good or bad. What a mistake it would be to go to a live performance and engage in commentary the whole way through! Our commentary can keep us from truly hearing; it keeps us outside of the full experience. We would never put up with a fellow concert-goer screaming in our ears about what’s right or wrong, or what we should worry about—our future or past anxieties or desires. That’s ridiculous concert behavior. It robs us of a treasured experience, and it’s not fair to the musicians.

We need to constantly practice soaking up and enjoying the music of life, even when we have become accustomed to not listening.

How do we listen with our senses? We pay exquisite attention to the information that they are processing. If we are eating, we take in the aroma of the food, and we feel its texture, and we taste it on every part of our tongue—sweet, sour, salty, bitter. We pay attention to the total experience and everything that makes it so very much worth savoring.

We can become magnificent listeners to life, with enough practice—and let’s face it, this is something we were born to do, so the skill is there, waiting for us to employ it. We can tap into the music, and when we do find ourselves distracted from it, we can use kindness to bring us right back. It is as simple as saying, “OK, I’m distracted again; I am going to start listening again.” This may work for a few minutes, or it may wear out after a few seconds, but that is when we again employ kindness as well tell ourselves, “Now I’m going to listen again.” Soon, we will find that we have to redirect ourselves less and less, and we hear the music more and more.

Quite simply, it’s a skill, and one that develops with focused effort. If you were a baseball player working on your fastball, you would understand the need for repetitive action and attention to get it exactly right. So why would you not regard yourself with kindness as you try to master this skill? You’ve been walking around with a secret symphony playing, just for you. Only you can hear it, and even then, you need to work at it if you are to perceive it at all.

In summary, listening to the music of life is work, and it requires practice. Life is always playing music, but we have to listen, and we listen by being present. We can do this. We just need to realize and engage with the music of life that is always playing, but when we do this, we’ll discover that the symphony inside of us is magnificent, if only we can find it in us to stop and listen.