Tools of creative awareness

In this section we explore how the two qualities of concentration and enquiry can be cultivated with different methods. Meditation methods are tools serving us in different contexts rather than ends in themselves or even methods for creating certain states while one is meditating. The value of meditation tools and creative awareness resides in helping us to cultivate our potential, to deal with difficulties, and to have meaning in our daily life. We will examine three ways (listening, mindfulness of feeling tones, and questioning) in which one can meditate, to demonstrate the application of the model of concentration and enquiry and also the multi-perspectived approach of developing creative awareness.


Listening meditation is an effective method for people who have difficulty with mindfulness of the breath or the body, and also for people who are sensitive to noises. The specificity of this meditation is that the focus is much wider than with many other meditation practices and the focus is outside of oneself. In this exercise one just listens to whatever sounds arise and pass away. It is like listening to the famous piece of music composed by John Cage called 4’33”, which is silent and where one hears the music of life at that moment. Artist Irwin Kremen (1994), to whom John Cage gave this piece for his birthday, has this to say about the musical score that was dedicated to him:

In this score, John made exact, rather than relative, duration the only musical characteristic. In effect, real time is here the fundamental dimension of music, its very ground. And where time is primary, change, process itself, defines the nature of things. That aptly describes the silent piece—an unfixed flux of sounds through time, a flux from performance to performance.

When one listens meditatively, one does not comment on, identify, or grasp at the sounds one hears. One just listens mindfully as they arise and pass away. Or if they continue, one notices that they change within themselves. Listening is an easy way to cultivate vipassana or penetrative awareness as Analayo (2009) defines it. The idea is not to define or name the sounds or collect them in a tick list like spotting endangered birds. It is just to be aware of them as they come and go. If the conditions are quiet, then one can listen and rest in the silence that happens between the rare sounds occurring. This will enable us to develop receptivity without expectations as sounds arise in an unpredictable manner.

I would not recommend this meditation in a noiseless room if one has tinnitus, though outside in nature it could work. However, it can be useful for people who are sensitive to sounds and feel bombarded by noise, be they natural or industrial sounds. A person on one retreat felt that any sounds were “out to get her” and she would wear earplugs in the daytime to protect herself. She tried this sound meditation and it helped her to realize that sounds were impersonal and not designed to torment her. When sounds are not seen as enemies, the degree of hearing sensitivity diminishes. This, combined with the calming influence of the meditation, might lower the general level of sensitivity and thus calm the whole nervous system.

Listening meditation broadens our view of what we can concentrate on. Mindfulness does not refer only to what happens inside us; it must also be applied to events outside of ourselves. Moreover, when we listen it is easy to apply the experiential enquiry described above, as sounds continuously arise and pass away.

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