What can you do to improve your own hearing and listening? How can you get more joy out of music, listen more effectively to others, and take better care of this precious window on the world?
As it is the whole person who walks and runs, and not just the legs, it is surely the whole person who looks and sees, listens and hears.
Working with the whole sensing person produces qualitative shifts in perception. In other words, by learning to look and listen differently, people do see and hear differently. Improving your listening can alter the dimensionality, depth, colour, and texture of your auditory experience, along with your satisfaction from it. These changes in the experienced quality of perception do not occur in the ears, but in the brain. The sense of hearing is about far more than loudness, and the activity of listening—one of the least observed but most central aspects of our being—involves far more than our ears.
“After twenty years of professional experience as a classical violinist, the changes I’m experiencing are as welcome as they are unexpected. The new ways of listening have also transferred to my playing and I’ve never known such visceral pleasure in the physicality of the sound. Also, to my joy, I’m better able to enjoy the voices of my children and husband, as well as my own.” – Andrea Hallam, Musician and Feldenkrais Trainee
“David is a born teacher. His listening work improves hearing function and resonates in multiple dimensions that bring us into a larger wholeness as we listen to ourselves and others.” – Donna Blank, Feldenkrais Trainer, Bethesda, MD
“David combines his knowledge of Feldenkrais with musical, emotional, and psychological awareness. He creates an open, safe, and warm environment for each student.” – Dena DeRose, Concert Artist, Prof. on Jazz Faculty. Graz, Austria
What else is involved in hearing—besides the ears, that is?
That is a big question, which we could start to address through a rough analogy. The eyes have so-called central vision—that is, what we are looking at—and it is in order to improve central vision that we wear corrective lenses. However, we also have peripheral vision, whereby we see things, often unconsciously, on the edges of our visual field. From the viewpoint of our evolution, noticing movement on the edges of the visual field would have been more important to our survival than, for example, reading the Neolithic Daily News. Glasses, naturally enough, diminish our peripheral vision, or at least separate it markedly from central vision. To recover our natural eyesight would, among other things, mean to recover a balance between peripheral and central vision.
We can use this rough analogy to get a new perspective on the auditory sense. Of course, the ears are crucial to human hearing. Their central task is picking up the frequencies of the human voice. The screaming of bats, for example, does not fall into their frequency range (ultrasound); nor do we hear what elephants say to one another in their extremely low- frequency conversations (infrasound). One could imagine the internal and external sensing of the body—especially the sensing of minute motions—as a kind of peripheral hearing. It provides us with information, usually unconscious, which nonetheless helps us survive: the distant rumble of a herd of muskox, the scream of a mountain lion, a changing weather system felt in the sinuses, a feeling of harmony or disharmony in the gut, etc. Why is it that people wearing headphones—with eyes wide open—are more likely to walk into a street sign, or fall off a bridge? It may be they are missing subtle “peripheral” cues coming through their legs, the reflection of sound off a building, etc. Through their headphones they are in one place, and in their body, another. (The wearing of headphones, and with it, the creation of competing streams of input having virtually nothing to do with each other, is an unprecedented development in human history. It makes sense in a sound studio, but it could hardly be said to bring us closer to nature, where we attend to our environment with all of our senses together. Our ears function best in coordination with all of our other faculties, as our shoulders function best in coordination with our spine.)
Awareness of sound happens through processes which no-one can claim to understand fully or even to locate precisely. However, we can safely say that it is the brain that is making sense of the world, summing up all the input streams available to it. Our “auditory image” of the world is likewise constructed from several streams of information. If you can hear well through your ears, you will hear better still when your eyes are relaxed, your breath is free, your skeleton is well-aligned, and—above all—when you are listening with a quiet mind.
© 2017, David Kaetz.
- Foreword – xi
- Dedications and Acknowledgements – xv
- Part One: Basics of Hearing and Listening – 1
- Chapter 1: Sound is a Spatial Event – 1
- Chapter 2: If a Tree falls in the Forest – 7
- Chapter 3: Sensing and Attending – 9
- Chapter 4: A Pair of Impairments – 13
- Chapter 5: The Visible Ear I – 15
- Chapter 6: The Visible Ear II – 19
- Chapter 7: Vibrating Bodies I – 21
- Chapter 8: Vibrating Bodies II – 25
- Chapter 9: Particle and Wave – 29
- Chapter 10: Music and Cognition – 33
- Part Two: Growing up Listening, or Not – 35
- Chapter 11: Rumi’s Tongue, Einstein’s Tongue, & Yours – 35
- Chapter 12: Mirroring and Abandonment – 41
- Chapter 13: Walk and Talk: The Great Separation – 45
- Chapter 14: Listening and Language Learning – 47
- Part Three: Back to the Roots of Meaning – 49
- Chapter 15: Resonance, Harmony and Entrainment – 49
- Chapter 16: Rumi and the Poetry of Reconnection – 55
- Chapter 17: Rilke and the Mythology of Reconnection – 57
- Chapter 18: The Sociobiology of Reconnection – 61
- Part Four: Some Difficulties – 65
- Chapter 19: Closing the Doors of Perception – 65
- Chapter 20: Rooms for Improvement – 71
- Chapter 21: The Assault on the Ears – 75
- Chapter 22: Tinnitus – 79
- Chapter 23: The Shadow of Language Itself – 87
- Chapter 24: Body Armour: Pro and Con – 93
- Part Five: Listening to Music and Language – 95
- Chapter 25: The Hang of Listening – 95
- Chapter 26: Listening to Words – 97
- Part Six: Listening out of the Box – 101
- Chapter 27: Perception: Left, Right, and 360 Degrees – 101
- Chapter 28: Why are Whales Big? – 107
- Chapter 29: Muscles and Tubes – 113
- Chapter 30: “I feel like my skin is all ears!” – 117
- Chapter 31: Echolocation – 121
- Part Seven: Deep Listening, and Deeper – 123
- Chapter 32: Musicians Together – 123
- Chapter 33 Two Silences – 127
- Chapter 34: Listening-without-an-Object – 129
- Part Eight: Afterword – 133
- Appendix I: Short Exercises: Reprise – 139
- Appendix II: A Home Listening Practice – 141
- Appendix III: Imagining an Integrative Approach – 145
- Appendix IV: The Work of Alfred Tomatis – 151
- Appendix V: A Piano Tuner’s Way in Listening – 155
- Bibliography – 159
LISTENING WITH YOUR WHOLE BODY:
Back in the day when my father had lower back pain, the best medical practice was: apply hot packs and/or strap the poor guy’s torso into a girdle. How he moved, how he sat, how he stood, how he flexed or extended his spine … these things went largely unexamined. And this was not so long ago! Since then we have learned, hopefully, that we need to consider how a person is using his or her whole self in motion. From the way we move we obtain indications for improvement, and the usual result is less pain and more efficiency in movement. We call this a holistic approach, and it works. It seems obvious enough today, but it wasn’t then.
When it comes to the senses, however, we are not there yet. As a rule, visual and auditory correction is prescribed without inquiring into the way a person attends to visual and auditory stimuli. We forget to ask what he or she is looking at or listening to, and with what amount of stress or ease, and when, and in what positions. We ignore the roles of the brain, the interplay of all the senses, personal history, unconscious attitudes, and the quality of movement itself. Instead, we satisfy ourselves with fiddling with the sensory equivalent of hot-packs and girdles.
Somatic work with the senses challenges a number of idées fixes. The most implacable of these is the notion that seeing involves only the eyes and hearing involves only the ears. Nevertheless, as it is the whole person who walks and runs, and not just the legs, it is surely the whole person who looks and sees, listens and hears.
Working with the whole sensing person produces qualitative shifts in perception. In other words, by learning to look and listen differently, people do see and hear differently. Improving your listening can alter the dimensionality, depth, colour, and texture of your auditory experience, along with your satisfaction from it. These changes in the experienced quality of perception do not occur in the ears, but in the brain, and as such they are not necessarily detectable by the quantitative measurements by which visual and auditory diagnoses are made.
We are, thankfully, infinitely more complex than the devices we invent and the descriptions they provide. The sense of hearing is about far more than loudness, and the activity of listening —one of the least observed but most central aspects of our being—involves far more than our ears.
© 2017, David Kaetz.