Pamela Alexander
Category: Voicework

Honing All of Our Senses Through Listening

Listening is the cornerstone, the starting place and ending place for all of my voice offerings.  I know this in my bones, the practices I teach support it, and still this truth keeps revealing itself in ever more holistic, if unexpected, ways.


I recently shared a Facebook post about my experience tracking down a natural gas leak at the back of our fourplex condominium building.  The essence of the story is that after taking the recycling to the bin one afternoon, I happened to bend down at the back of our building to playfully grab some snow, and followed my nose along the exposed pipes, right to a small natural gas leak. The gas company was called, and the leak repaired in very short time.


The repairperson said it “probably” wasn’t enough to cause an explosion, but he also had no idea how long the gas line had been leaking “slightly.” Bottom line: I’m really glad that no one decided to light a cigarette back there to test his theory!


Of course, I felt good about following my nose to help keep the 8 people and 3 dogs living in our building safe and sound.  I even got a whimsical invitation to work for the gas company, which made me laugh.


But how does this relate to sound work?


(Aside from the deep sigh released from my whole body when I knew my home wasn’t going to explode?)


For me, this experience was a sharp reminder of how important it is to practice listening, with my whole being, by exercising and honing all my senses.


Our ears, eyes, noses, beaks, fingers, feet, talons, tongues, whiskers, skin, guts, hearts and spidey-intuition are our most vital sources of awareness for the information that helps us to survive and thrive. That pure, undomesticated input of all our senses can be invaluable guidance in all areas of life.


Sadly, the ability to receive, perceive or trust this information sometimes gets damaged by life experiences. In my little story, I doubted whether I "smelled what I thought I smelled." A little part of me wanted to be embarrassed and not bother anyone unnecessarily. I had to risk being wrong and feeling silly when I followed my instinct to report a toxic smell. But I’m glad I did.


I credit the trust I have in myself in part to resonant listening—i.e. listening with all my senses—in the context of improvised group singing. Feeling, hearing and seeing (sometimes even tasting and smelling) what is in the musical environment and then stepping in to help shape it is excellent practice for trusting my own senses and acting affirmatively on that knowing in any life situation.


In the context of sound work or voice work, the practice of listening with our whole beings can help us find our way back to awareness of, and trust in, the wonderful world of sensory information.


I use this simple practice with groups to bring awareness to listening with many senses:


-Stop wherever you are right now (please be safe!)


-Begin by closing your eyes.  Send out your ears to listen to the sounds around you and within you:  the voices, the ambient sounds of the environment, your own breath and heartbeat, the soft rustling or creaking of your clothes. Can you tune into something, or someone, next to you? Across the room?


-Now, feel the contact of your feet with the floor, and place your hands on the wall or on the table or even on the ground, if possible.  If you are outside, you might sit on the earth or against a tree; or if you are indoors, bring your attention to the connection of your sit bones to the chair, the chair to the floor.  What do you feel? What vibrations are you noticing? What subtle movements or quivers? In what other ways are you listening by feeling?


-Finally, open your eyes.  What motions are associated with the sounds?  Do you see people’s mouths moving, are you watching the washing machine vibrate on the spin cycle or the child dancing as she sings?  Hands beating a drum or playing a shaker? What visuals are cueing your listening?  How are you listening with your eyes?


-Take a moment, a mere breath of gratitude for the rich life of your senses.

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