What is mindfulness and how can one achieve such an elusive state of mind?
Looking at this process through the lens of sound, brings more questions to the fore, together with a range of answers. These answers can be found in how we listen and how we pay attention to our internal energy, people and external environments.
Mindfulness Through The Lens Of Sound brings the individual back to the fundamental building blocks of life. These building blocks include sound, stillness and the main systems of the human body. Mindfulness is intimately connected with awareness and this is where the relationship with the brain (mind) and body comes into the conversation. Bessel van der Kolk (2014) explains that “as we have seen, the job of the brain is to constantly monitor and evaluate what is going on within and around us” (p. 110). These evaluations are then communicated via various systems of the physical body and subsequently interpreted based on the life experience of everyone. It comes down to the fact that everyone’s life takes shape through the five senses (van der Kolk, 2014). Sean Botha (2021a) looks at mindfulness through the lens of sound, stillness and the answers we ultimately seek in order to create meaning in our lives.
Looking at this state of mind, Botha (2021b) proposes five pillars of listening to find such meaning. These principles are explained in Power of Silence: Finding Stillness (Botha, 2021a; Botha 2021b).
The five pillars of listening according to Botha (2021b) are:
- Openness of the mind
“Openness of the mind asks the listener to set aside what they already know about the wider world. It means the person is challenged to look at life through the lens of progressive thinking” (Botha, 2021b, p. 51).
- Willingness to explore the inner workings of the physical body
“When we remove the physical body from the person, we are left with a soul. This statement takes me to the most basic of principle of life. Every soul needs a home or a place to reside. The human body is that home for the soul and it’s the same for animals. The first question then becomes, what do you know about your own physical body?” (Botha, 2021b, p. 51).
- Awareness of the external environment
“What happened to you? written by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey illustrates how information is received by the physical body, specifically the brain. All forms of information are initially received by the brainstem and is then filtered, processed, and sent to the cortex. The initial reception of information is dependent on the five senses, and these five senses are directly influenced by our external environment. The book truly supports my view on how important it is for us to move with what is happening around us. For instance, if a barrage of different sounds surrounds us, how can we find order in the chaos? Try to find one small sound that makes your heart sing. Focus on that sound and you will find the stillness you need to continue with your day or activity” (Botha, 2021b, p. 52).
“How can we listen to someone’s story if we don’t pay attention to how we fuel our own bodies? Keeping in mind we need 4 basic building blocks to make energy: oxygen, water, sugar and carbon dioxide. Yes, what we eat determines how we move, behave, and communicate. Energy is not only dependent on what we eat. The workings of energy are like the doppler effect. Energy creates ripples in the space around us and communicates information which we can’t always describe in words. In the coaching profession, including NLP practice, principles of positive and negative energy are touched upon. When we listen and pay attention to the energy of the person we are interacting with, we can find invaluable information about the person’s needs. Don’t underestimate the power of energy because this energy is happening in stillness” (Botha, 2021b, p. 52 – 53).
“Focus or undivided attention is needed to build healthy relationships with colleagues, family and friends. The listening process itself asks the individual to be in the moment. Imagine for a moment how strong our relationships would be if we are completely focussed on the person or people in our lives. This is something we can learn from Indigenous cultures. Their principles around family and connection are intricately developed. We can strive for this depth of connection and listening, because this is what we need in the world. Focus, determination and the drive to simplify life, should be our starting point. It is how we listen, how we are with one another which is currently shaping the world” (Botha, 2021b, p. 53 – 54).
Each pillar of listening takes the individual back to the beginning. The beginning indicates the time when mankind first discovered language, connection and energy. It means Botha (2021a) asks for a return to a version of oneself before life was complicated by noise, money, power, politics and complex relationships. Subsequently, mindfulness can only be achieved if the individual is willing to step away from technology.
Society is constantly surrounded by sound, noise and when listening closely, sound from the natural world, being drowned out by manmade sound events. Everyone has their own unique perception/perspective on what is beautiful and what helps them move forward in time. For Botha (2020), this is any and every sound one encounters from day to day. It is a matter of taking your mind to the world around you and listening to everything you can hear (but without music).
Ask yourself, can you hear the crickets in the background or in between cars passing you by? Can you hear the pin drop in the room next to you when the hair dryer was turned off in the back of the house? Can you hear the kitten meowing on the roof in the middle of a rainstorm? The basic principles of Botha’s (2020; 2021a) work is cutting down on the complexities of listening and simplifying the process. Botha (2021a) proposes 7 steps of listening. This process asks the individual to work from the outside in. The external environment represents the first step of listening which from the outset places focus on awareness. An awareness which requires the simple act of being in a place where one can observe everything that occurs in and around you.
Step 2 asks you to find a specific sound you are feeling most drawn towards and to focus in on that sound. This step becomes a form of reductive listening (Dack & North, 2009) where you quite literally teach your auditory cortex and association area to divert its attention away from sounds which do not interest you. By doing so, undivided attention diminishes, and focus is increased. Step 3 takes the listener into the physical body. Botha (2021a) takes the listeners’ attention to the muscles first. This step requires of the listener to pay attention to how their muscles move and listen to the sound they are focussing on. They are asked to notice how their muscles are moving with this sound event. Step 4 places focus on the skeletal system which are intimately connected with each muscle group in the human body.
The question in this step is if the listener can feel every bone and joint move together with the muscles, in tandem with the sound event.
Step 5 takes a deeper step into the human body by focussing on the heart. This step asks you to focus on the beating of your own heart. Can the listener feel their own heart listen to the sound event or stillness they have chosen? Can the listener sense how this sound event is being absorbed into the heart? These same questions are asked in Step 6 when focus is placed on the lungs. Can you feel the sound event (you have chosen) being absorbed or mimicked by your breathing, by the rise and fall of your chest?
Step 7 takes you not only deeper into your own physical body but deeper into your brain (mind). Focus is placed on the cells moving in your blood, and blood flow itself. At this point of the process, one’s focus is so intense that the external environment can almost become an afterthought. The main question from step 7 is, can you hear the sound being absorbed into your body’s blood flow and blood cells? Where does it take you and how do you feel?
Mindfulness Through The Lens Of Sound (Botha, 2021a) is an albeit simple process and powerful. Awareness and mindfulness take on a new meaning once you have started applying this practice to your daily life. Not just in your daily life but in your professional life too. This program is an illustration of an alternative option to creating synergy and true connection to the self, community, education and exploration. Let us circle back to mindfulness and awareness. These terms are widely used in communities across the world but the real answers can be found in how it is achieved. This is the very reason why Sean Botha’s work is significant in the world as we know it in the 21st century. He is not afraid of colouring and working outside of the traditional realms of research, writing, creative practice and storytelling. He proposes new avenues of education, creative practice, music building and communication. He is more than an instigator, he disrupts, creates catalysts for progress and for learning from the past.
For speaking engagements, coaching and other services, please contact Sean via his website or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sean Botha can be followed @ hsbothaproductions on Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, SoundCloud
His music is also available on Spotify and other major streaming platforms @ H.S. Botha
Mindfulness Through The Lens of Sound: A 7 Step Listening Program (2021a) by Dr. Sean Botha shorturl.at/uAM78
Power of Silence: Finding Stillness (2021b) by Dr. Sean Botha shorturl.at/rDOST
Textural Analysis of 21st Century String Music Through The Lens of Spectromorphology (2020) by Hanli Sean Botha (Doctoral Dissertation), Western Sydney University, Australia
The Body Keeps The Score: Mind, brain and body in the transformation of trauma (2014) by Bessel van der Kolk
What happened to you? (2021) by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. & Oprah Winfrey
Dack, J., North, C. (Eds.) (2009). Guide to sound-objects: Pierre Schaeffer and music research. Paris: Institut national de la communication audiovisuelle.