12 January 2014

Meditation and the sound of cities - © Paul Treacy (.com)

Had an interesting conversation with my mum earlier today. She called as I was hanging out the washing, a chore I find increasingly relaxing as I get older, weirdly.

She's going through chemo therapy at the moment and is doing quite well. As a yoga practitioner and teacher she finds meditation very helpful, not only in giving her additional strength in coping with the stress of such a regime of nausea causing treatment but in helping her rest her mind and body during a period of substantially interrupted sleep.

This got me to thinking about meditation, rest and living with stress. I don't meditate. Certainly not in a yogic sense. But there are things that I find meditative. Listening to music is one, of course, both in headphones and through speakers though I used to dislike headphones preferring instead to hear the music in the environment. However, listening in headphones has its pluses particularly in a busy family environment affording a brief moment of isolation with the music appearing, exclusively, to be completely inside one's own head.

Another is reading. Fiction or fact. I find reading from an iPod or iPad more relaxing than the printed page, being as I'm dyslexic. The back lighting allows me to read effortlessly whereas the printed page requires acute concentration and does not come easily.

Most of all, however, I like to walk. To walk and walk and walk. I'm a pacer by nature anyway and even as I write I'm standing at my desk rather than sitting. It's more relaxing for me that way.

I'll walk anywhere. The countryside has its charms, of course but so too do the city streets and it's the streets that I find most meditative of all.

I'm lucky to live close to several beautiful urban parks and to Sydenham Woods which is rife with all kinds of life. The birdsong is delightful and uplifting as are the sounds of fauna rustling beneath the flora.

The city streets have a magic to them too that can be just as restful. There are fewer birds about and it's not as green but there is a soundscape to urban life that seems to vibrate in me, energising me but it also enables a certain peace and relaxation. That's not to say I'm off guard, on the contrary my senses are acutely tuned in and I process everything that goes on around me. In such a heightened state of awareness I can hear the city hum. There's a magical frequency that comes from all the urban sounds mixed together. And it's constant. It's not loud. Nor is it melodic. It's just there. Ever present. Perhaps it's akin to the sound of our own bodies when we are at rest and awaiting sleep, we can hear the blood pulsating through our blood vessels.

I've been aware of this ever since I sat on a pier in Long Island City, Queens looking across the East River at the UN building on Manhattan and suddenly becoming aware of the hum that Manhattan was making, like some kind of living creature. I used to visit this pier from time to time to familiarise myself with this sound, its note, its frequency, its timbre. It was harder to tune into it in Manhattan itself but easy when across the river from it. But I developed a sensitivity to it and learned to pick up on it while being immersed in it.

I sensed it too in London a while back while standing atop Monument and looking out over The City of London and The Thames. Since then I've been able to tune into it while walking London's streets. It remains the ultimate form of meditation and relaxation for me, tuning into the sound of the pulse of a great city. The cumulation of human activity, our machines, wildlife, wind and the flurry of echos bouncing off the built environment makes for a perfect symphony, distilling the sounds of chaos into a single note. Hear that note and you will feel a release of endorphins such that your stresses will ease and you'll feel at one with the city itself.

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