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Mindfulness and Music: Things That Go "Hmmm"

By Maya Talisman Frost

One of the most powerful forms of mindfulness is awareness of sound. We tend to tune out the noise of our lives in order to concentrate on the tasks at hand. In fact, we may get so used to a particular sound that we don't notice it until it's gone like a television that is turned off, or traffic that stops outside your home, or your neighbor's lawn mower or stereo that is suddenly silent.

We notice when it starts, we intentionally shut it out, and then notice it once again when it stops.

Everyone who hears has a healthy serving of what is called musical intelligence. It isn't limited to actual music, however it is our recognition and understanding of the pitch, tone, quality, length, volume and source of the sounds around us.

Now, some of us might have perfect pitch, knowing instantly that the note we hear is a middle C. Others might have a very well-developed sense of tone quality, noting the difference between a middle C played on a piano or a flute, or even the same note sung by two different people. And some of us might consider ourselves completely hopeless as musicians while having an encyclopedic memory for song lyrics, guitar riffs, or even the songs of birds.

The great news is that, no matter where we stand on the music smarts scale, we each have the capacity to increase our musical intelligence. Better yet, by focusing on selected sounds as triggers for mindfulness, we can sharpen our awareness and increase our enjoyment of the world around us at the same time.

Here's a little mindfulness game to help you zero in on sound as a trigger for greater awareness: Notice "Hmmm."

You might hear someone say "Hmmm" when they are trying to remember something or trying to make a decision. They might use it to show skepticism or wonder, inspiration or frustration. It might be low and long, or high and short. It could be very soft or quite loud. Is it ascending or descending? Is it aspirated? Is it musical?

Using "Hmmm" as a mindfulness cue allows you to:

  1. Notice a selected trigger
  2. Take a moment to note the intention, emotion, and sound quality of that particular "Hmmm"
  3. Notice that you noticed.
You are catching yourself in the act of being mindful while you are right smack in the middle of the Real World. This is the essence of playing with mindfulness!

By paying attention to this soft exclamation, you can heighten your awareness of sound while also picking up on the subtleties of emotion and expression. It's a great way to use your ears to learn more about interpersonal communication. You will be amazed at what you can learn about others and their state of mind by becoming more aware of the way they use this sound.

Start noticing "Hmmm" in conversations around you as well as your own. Then, branch out and notice "Hmmm" in movies, television shows, or theater presentations.

Finally, tap into your musical intelligence even further by recognizing the sounds that resemble "Hmmm" in machinery or nature. Does the copier sound like "Hmmm"? Does your printer make that sound? How about your dog when you scratch its ears, or your partner sleeping beside you?

Start hearing "Hmmm" all around you. It's a fun way to create a few "Hmmm" moments of your own!

Maya Talisman Frost is a mind masseuse in Portland, Oregon. Through her company, Real-World Mindfulness Training, she teaches creative and powerful eyes-wide-open alternatives to meditation.
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