Of Noise, Ear Plugs and Sensory Deprivation Tanks

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  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39270

    Of Noise, Ear Plugs and Sensory Deprivation Tanks

    Hi,

    Someone wrote asking about using ear plugs during Zazen in a house with a noisy spouse and teenagers blaring their music.

    After some back and forth, I finally advised not to do so ... unless one is sitting in a very extreme or unusual situation (such as a place that actually threatens one's hearing). In this Practice, we learn to sit "as what is," in equanimity and acceptance. On the other hand, it is also good to mix it up, and frequently go away from the noise to the quietest places one can. Then we sit "as what is" in the quiet. Here is why:

    If you have never listened to Suzuki Roshi's wonderful talk on the difference between "sound" and "noise," please do. (Spoiler Alert: basically, this difference is our judgment and reaction between one's ears).


    Except in extreme situations where excess noise can actually be harmful to the ears, sleep cycle and the like, we just sit in equanimity and acceptance.

    On the other hand, Zazen sitting time also is a partial sensory deprivation experience when we can. Master Dogen recommended this in Fukanzazengi ...

    For practicing Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs.

    The reason is that, while there is absolutely no difference between silence and noise/stillness and motion/peace and disturbance apart from the human heart and our human measures, sitting as we can in a quiet and still way helps us better realize so. Ultimately, however, the real "Peace and Stillness" is in our heart, between our ears, and not a matter of the outside environment.

    So, in our "always beginners" series of talks, I recommended this ...

    Most days, we’d best sit Zazen in a quiet room, with little noise and few distractions. The reason is simply that a peaceful, still, quiet environment helps us allow the mind to become peaceful, still and quiet, with thoughts and emotions drifting away as the mind settles down.

    But once in awhile, maybe every couple of weeks or so, I recommend that you sit Zazen in a truly disturbing place.

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...nners-%2821%29
    On the other hand, if usually sitting in noisy places, sometimes seek out quieter places. Mix it up.

    Thus, in our Zen Way, there were times to sit in the city, times to head to the mountains and a quiet hut.

    However, in fact, there is no perfectly quiet place. At our Zendo in Tsukuba, for our Saturday morning Zazenkai, birds can usually be heard chirping prettily in the surrounding trees ... but also, a truck or cars will frequently be heard rushing down the nearby road, carpenters banging fixing a neighbors roof, or a military helicopter passing overhead (I do not know why, but our house must be on some route they use to one of the nearby bases). It has become one of the most powerful teaching tools I have for new students. I tell them that it is not to think "Oh, the birds are very lovely and peaceful ... but the trucks and helicopters disturb my nice Zazen". Rather, "the birds are singing as birds ... the trucks are trucks ... the copter just copters. Do not think one pleasant but the other ugly or detracting from the atmosphere. Then, there is a certain quiet and stillness that one can come hear behind and sounding right through all the sounds and noise."

    I learned this sitting many a morning at Nishijima Roshi's old Zendo ... located right next to a NOISY child's playground and a highway. At Taisoji temple, it was traffic sounds from the street outside and the train passing every few minutes. There are really no quiet Zendos or monasteries. Oh, sure, there are the moments of bird tweets and breezes, but then there are stomach rumbles, shuffling feet in the hall, kyosaku stick strikes. When I was sitting at Sojiji Head Monastery, the loudspeaker pages during Zazen ... "Yamamoto Roshi, Call on Line 3." Trucks outside, not to mention my tinnitus which is always there.

    CONCLUSION: There has never been perfect quiet until the heart is quiet amid any noise. Thus, we sit "as what is," in equanimity and non-resistance even in "noisy" places (absent some extreme, harmful noise that can be avoided, and even with such noise if it cannot be avoided!). At other times, please seek out still and quiet places to sit (although know that, even then, there is not true silence unless the heart is still and silent). Mix it up, sitting in all kinds of places.

    Related to this, I just saw this very interesting story on sensory deprivation tanks that I recommend to watch. There is much overlap with Zazen, of course. A couple of things which jumped out are that, obviously, Zazen can be our "tank," and requires a lot less water! A psychiatrist interviewed midway makes the same point. Also, there is interest by the researchers on taking the stillness of the tank "out into the world" after, to see if the mental silence of the tank can be present after we return to the world of stimulation and thoughts. This also overlaps with our "bring it off the cushion" emphasis here, whereby we learn to hear the Stillness in the world's motion. Have a watch.

    The average person scrolls through 300 feet of mobile content a day – so we explored one of the ways people are trying to short-circuit the noise


    But a couple of points to recall: First, not even such a tank is truly silent, and (I have done it) one hears everything from tinnitus to one's own heartbeat.

    Second, we need to find our "inner tank" in our own heart even when out in the busy city, and Zen "Silence" is not only a matter of outside silence. We cannot only live in a tank!

    Gassho, J

    SatTodayLAH
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-27-2018, 03:56 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE
  • Alexander
    Member
    • Apr 2018
    • 43

    #2
    It's funny you write about this now. Just last night, I used those orange ear buds for my zazen thinking I could drown out my fiance's grandma's television. Turns out, with the ear buds in, I could hear the sound of the pulse inside my ear.

    Sometimes the Universe says, "you can't replace one distraction with another and expect a difference."

    Learning to be the spider, unaffected by events outside his web, that's the focus.

    Gassho,
    Alexander
    ST/LAH

    Comment

    • Byrne
      Member
      • Dec 2014
      • 371

      #3
      This topic has been dealt with in classical music:

      On August 29, 1952, David Tudor walked onto the stage of the Maverick Concert Hall, near Woodstock, New York, sat down at the piano, and, for four and a half minutes, made no sound. He was performing “4'33",’’ a conceptual work by John Cage. It has been called the “silent piece,” but its purpose is to make people listen. “There’s no such thing as silence,” Cage said, recalling the première. “You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.”

      gassho

      Sat Today

      Comment

      • Mitka
        Member
        • May 2017
        • 128

        #4
        The sound of your pulse is easier to sit with than noise from a tv I find. Talking and conversation is the most difficult and distracting thing to sit with in my practice. It draws you in, even when you don't want to be drawn in.
        Peace begins inside

        Comment

        • Doshin
          Member
          • May 2015
          • 2644

          #5
          Originally posted by Byrne
          This topic has been dealt with in classical music:

          On August 29, 1952, David Tudor walked onto the stage of the Maverick Concert Hall, near Woodstock, New York, sat down at the piano, and, for four and a half minutes, made no sound. He was performing “4'33",’’ a conceptual work by John Cage. It has been called the “silent piece,” but its purpose is to make people listen. “There’s no such thing as silence,” Cage said, recalling the première. “You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second, raindrops began pattering the roof, and during the third people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.”

          gassho

          Sat Today


          The first time I recall what I thought was silence was when I was 17 or 18 and camping in Death Valley, California (USA). Laying amongst the sand dunes one night embacing the stars I noticed there was few soounds and I could only hear (probably it was blocking out other sounds) the ticking of my wrist watch (don't think many watches tick anymore) so I took it off and stuck it in my pocket and the ticking still sounded like a drum beat. That occurence remains with me a half century later.

          Doshin
          st

          Comment

          • Ryushi
            Member
            • Jan 2018
            • 185

            #6
            How timely.

            Last night while I was sitting, my wife and son began arguing in another room. It was catching my attention. I wanted to get up an intervene. But I sat. I let the situation resolve on its own. And I just returned to my breathing.

            I did think it would be better to have a place of silence to sit. But better to sit with some noise than to wait for the perfect moment to sit in silence.

            Sat today. Gassho.


            No merit. Vast emptiness; nothing holy. I don't know.

            Comment

            • Nengei
              Member
              • Dec 2016
              • 1697

              #7
              I am reminded of a trip to a monastery in NY for a 3-day sesshin, in my first months of practice. I thought, "Finally! I will be in a place of absolute peace with no distractions. I will really see what this Zen-thing is all about." It was winter, and in the large sitting room, the old-fashioned electric baseboard heaters were firing up every few minutes. The metal vanes in them would begin to tick......tick.....clink...tick..clink..ticktickti ck... The wind would blow outside, or someone would cough or sniff. I could hear the people around me breathing.

              That first day was harder than sitting at home, because of all these new sounds and the new environment. But later I began to notice things differently. I would start to feel a chill on my arms, then I knew that the heaters would begin to kick in, with their welcome warmth. I learned to hear-not hear a little bit. By the end of the sesshin, the sounds were a part of the experience.

              So the next time that I visited, for a longer sesshin, it was late spring. Traveling to the monastery, I was looking forward to the peaceful place with the little sounds that made me smile. How good it would be to greet the day with the monastics, and let the rest of the world fall away. We began that first day of sesshin in the same ways as before, and sat on our zafus as the bell chimed. In a few minutes I began to feel the chill, and in my mind's eye (ear?) the little tick....tick... began. But it never came; the heat was off. And as the day got warmer, we opened the windows of the abbey to let the breeze through. Argh! Now there were the sounds of cars passing, or even popping the gravel in the parking lot. Visitors had the nerve to stand outside and talk! And the birds! I have to say, the Catskills have a lot of birds. Loud ones.

              For me these were moments of learning, to begin to discover where the still point is. Where the quiet place is. Of course this is still a struggle. Intrusive sounds are always intrusive. Most of them are not as disturbing, though. They give me a chance to practice having no control.

              Gassho
              Joseph

              Yes, I have sat today. And later I am going running.
              遜道念芸 Sondō Nengei (he/him)

              Please excuse any indication that I am trying to teach anything. I am a priest in training and have no qualifications or credentials to teach Zen practice or the Dharma.

              Comment

              • Shinshou
                Member
                • May 2017
                • 251

                #8
                Twelve years ago, my wife and I wanted to have a child, but it just wasn't the right time - not enough money, not enough space, I was in a low-paying full-time job and in nursing school full time, and we had no family in-state. So instead, we investigated becoming foster parents. The system was so cumbersome and stressful just to apply and be accepted, we decided to go ahead and have our own child even though nothing had changed. Well, it wasn't long before we were pregnant. With twins! But despite the challenges, those kids were born, raised, and are wonderful young men today. I think sitting is a lot like that. The time is never perfect (whether due to external or internal factors), but you just throw throw your hands up and do it anyway, and most times something wonderful is born. And if not, well, you deal with that too.

                Shinshou
                Sat today

                Comment

                • Jakuden
                  Member
                  • Jun 2015
                  • 6142

                  #9
                  [emoji848]Maybe if there is resistance to “noise“ while sitting—then the self is not being dropped. When the self is dropped, it’s all a joyous symphony.

                  Gassho
                  Jakuden
                  SatToday/LAH


                  Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

                  Comment

                  • Shokai
                    Treeleaf Priest
                    • Mar 2009
                    • 6391

                    #10
                    When the self is dropped, it’s all a joyous symphony.
                    I really non-like that concept

                    gassho, Shokai

                    stlah
                    合掌,生開
                    gassho, Shokai

                    仁道 生開 / Jindo Shokai

                    "Open to life in a benevolent way"

                    https://sarushinzendo.wordpress.com/

                    Comment

                    • Mp

                      #11
                      Originally posted by Shokai
                      I really non-like that concept

                      gassho, Shokai

                      stlah
                      Oh boy ... I sure do like your non-like concept. =)

                      Gassho
                      Shingen

                      Sat/LAH

                      Comment

                      • treebeard
                        Member
                        • Sep 2014
                        • 41

                        #12
                        So we cut out the plane noise, then we hear the car noise, we cut out the car noise, then there is the neighbors dog noise, we cut out the dog noise, there is our heart, don't cut out your heart.

                        But even if you did, the universe would still be out their making noise and smashing things together because that's just what it is. For me sitting is learning to be ok with just being a part of it all, crazy as it seemingly is at times.


                        Gassho,
                        Paul
                        Sat today.

                        Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G930A using Tapatalk
                        Paul

                        Gassho,
                        sat today

                        Comment

                        • lorax
                          Member
                          • Jun 2008
                          • 381

                          #13
                          When I first started to practice some twenty years ago in Hawaii, I would go up the mountain and sit on a large rock in the forest seeking solitude and silence. I was amazed to hear buzzing sound and on opening my eyes I saw a large insect on the tree limb in front of me. As I would sit I would hear not just the wind, birds and insects but also the motor cycles and helicopters miles away. Zazen is not a window into silence and solitude but a window into the world around us.

                          SAT TODAY
                          Shozan

                          Comment

                          • Jundo
                            Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                            • Apr 2006
                            • 39270

                            #14
                            Originally posted by Jakuden
                            [emoji848]Maybe if there is resistance to “noise“ while sitting—then the self is not being dropped. When the self is dropped, it’s all a joyous symphony.

                            Gassho
                            Jakuden
                            SatToday/LAH


                            Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
                            Lovely! Yes.

                            By the way, here is the kind of blue jay call that Suzuki Roshi probably means ...

                            The "Jay" call can be used to alert others of danger and can also be used to locate or attract other jays that may be in the area. The Blue Jay in this video...


                            Gassho, J

                            SatTodayLAH
                            Last edited by Jundo; 04-28-2018, 03:12 AM.
                            ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                            Comment

                            • Shokai
                              Treeleaf Priest
                              • Mar 2009
                              • 6391

                              #15
                              Our Bluejays don't sound like that. They have a much harsher call.

                              gassho, Shokai
                              合掌,生開
                              gassho, Shokai

                              仁道 生開 / Jindo Shokai

                              "Open to life in a benevolent way"

                              https://sarushinzendo.wordpress.com/

                              Comment

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