Life with Headphones On: Hearing What you Never Knew Was There

It is amazing what you can hear when you really, really listen.

My brother Allen enjoys and selects his music like a connoisseur enjoys a

My brother Allen (on the left) and me enjoying time together at the beach house.
My brother Allen (on the left) and me enjoying time together at the beach house.

good bottle of wine; dissecting sounds, instruments, techniques and influences. Unless you do the same, you have probably not heard of Animal Collective, Boards of Canada, or 90% of the other bands he listens to.

Many, like me, simply listen to the music on the radio. Allen will hear a random song he likes, find out the band, then purchase their music. If he really likes it, he will begin reading about the band and who inspired them. “What other bands influenced them?” is a question he is always asking. And since he has been enjoying music like that for many years, he has gone back from one level of influence to another to discover the pioneers of various styles of music.

Recently we were running errands together and he played a song from his Ipod on the stereo in his car. We listened to a few other songs by the same artist as we went to a couple of stores and then made our way back home.

When we got back, he pulled out his very nice V-Moda headphones and said, “Now listen to the same song on these.”

I sat down, put them on, and began to listen. At first, my eyes got big. There was so much to be heard, my mind couldn’t take it all in. I noticed my eyes were looking back and forth, like they could actually find the source of the many layers of instruments; instruments I hadn’t even known were playing when I listened to the exact same song in the car.

For four minutes and thirty-two seconds, I was transfixed. Then, when it was over, I still sat there for a while in an attempt to process all of the input my brain had just been exposed to. I stood up and simply said, “Wow!”

We process the vast amount of what goes on in our lives like we listen to music on the radio. We hear or experience something, and we like it or don’t like it. We keep going down the same road based on this preference or lack thereof and keep moving on, often taking little time to truly process what we experience.

We experience hurt and pain, exhaustion and depression…joy, love, passion and apathy. The stimuli are people, events, challenges and even the weather. Each one tossing us around emotionally like a rudderless ship on sometimes calm, but sometimes very turbulent seas.

Life is seldom dull. It is seldom easy, either. Especially not for long.Music Director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 2011 European Tour

Believe it or not, in the midst of all the chaos, an entire symphony is playing in the background of our lives. As we drive to work, sit in boring meetings, eat our breakfast…it is constantly performing, its beautiful notes and harmonies practically begging for an audience. Heard or unheard, the symphony plays on.

There is, however, only one way to hear these instruments that are drowned out by our daily lives. Silence. You must do for yourself what headphones do for your ears and block out any and all external noises and distractions and simply listen.

At first you may hear nothing, because your world is silent, but your mind is not. It is still rambling on about how you need to pack your gym bag so you can work out this afternoon. If you have a pen and paper handy and write that down, your mind no longer feels the need to think about it, so it is gone. Do so with the other things that come to mind and eventually even your mind can experience silence.

That is when the first notes become audible. The tune will likely sound somewhat familiar, since you’ve caught glimpses of it from time to time, without ever realizing its source.

Soon, more and more instruments break their silence and an entire symphony is playing. But it is not playing for your entertainment. It is playing because it IS. It exists at all times, whether or not you ever take the time to notice. It is a mysterious combination of your deepest thoughts, your deepest feelings (including the ones you try so hard to suppress), your own mind’s analyses, and most importantly, the quiet whispers of a loving God.

All of these sources are not simply conveying information. They are intercommunicating in a complicated, yet beautiful, musical piece. As you allow yourself to think your deepest thoughts and feel your deepest feelings, God not only hears them, but also speaks into them, often giving them new meaning, new significance.

Something from your past that you don’t even like to think about comes to mind, and with it the pain it always brings. This time, however, you don’t retreat from it. You allow yourself to hurt and acknowledge the wrong that was done to you.

As the initial swell of pain begins to subside something new emerges. On the other side of the pain, a kind voice speaks to you and reveal the mysteries behind that event. As He brings to light the glorious blessings that would have never come to pass in your life and others’ otherwise, He almost magically transforms that time of intense pain into a source of deep and lasting joy.

A part of the song that sounds much like the source of daily stress that eats at you comes to the fore, and at first you start to get up and turn off that dreadful tune. But you stop yourself. You force yourself to sit and listen to a collection of minor notes and clashing chords. It hurts your ears at first and it is more cacophony than harmony.

But as your peace returns, you begin to make sense of the song, and almost enjoy it. A flash of insight comes! For the first time, you clearly perceive the source of this internal conflict, and even better, what you can do to alleviate it.

When you feel the musicians are done performing, and get up from your chair, you will notice a difference. As you go through your day, some may think you seem distracted a bit more than usual; less affected, somehow, by the frantic goings on around you. And in a rare quiet moment at the office, someone will look over and see you looking very intently at something, follow your gaze, and find nothing at the end of it to justify such a stare.

“What is he looking at?!”

No, not looking. Listening.

 

 

 

 

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