Listening Exercise & Mindfulness Meditation: Ocean Ambience

Sonic Meditation Series (1/4). Just listen to the world around you.

This is the first post in a series about an active listening exercise that can be done anywhere – busy buses, natural environments, home, bustling cafes, airports... I have created memories of peaceful places by using this technique; It’s just that powerful, buy-in now (/salesman voice)!

A radio DJ speaking into a studio microphone
Field recording at a beautiful beach.

We are equipped with incredible instruments for sensing the world around us. Every so often, I get great enjoyment from closing my eyes, clearing my mind, and placing my entire focus on a single sense - hearing / auditory processing. I think of it as a peaceful listening and ear training exercise; some call it a “mindfulness meditation”.

Technique Description:

  • Sit quietly wherever you are for at least a few minutes. Close your eyes. Focus on listening to the world around you.
  • Try to hear as much detail as possible about the sound you are focused on, and then shift your focus between different things you can hear. Listen to sounds nearby and further away. Focus on sounds to your left and right.
  • Every so often listen to everything all at once, and then focus on individual sources of sound again.

I did some field recording during a recent visit to a beach. Below, I put together a quick abridged reconstruction of that space/soundscape with this exercise in mind.

A radio DJ speaking into a studio microphone
Field recording at a beautiful beach.

My attention would shift from the sound of the wind in distant trees at first, to the wind in the palms above me, to the wind over my ear, with ocean waves and hissing sand in the background. Large boats hauling parasailers would drive by on occasion, and I would hear the distant voices of people hollering or playing further away. During certain times of the day, I would hear the thumping bass of an outdoor club nearby. In the clip above, these sounds are introduced and then layered together around the 60 second mark.

A radio DJ speaking into a studio microphone
A man walking on a beach with parasailers in the sky.

I find listening to the swirl of sounds in daily life grounding in a way. It’s incredible to reflect on how much data we process that normally is filtered out of our conscious mind.

In my projects, I enjoy dancing around the audio stage, using audio to build up the world, deciding when elements should be introduced, what sounds to layer, and tweaking the overall mix all along the way.

The deeper I dive into audio work, the more I see it as a conglomeration of a million smaller jobs.

Beyond audio, there is a branch of similar exercises to train other senses such as sight... For example, keeping one's head still and only using eye muscles to look around and focus on things. But, more on that in the next post in this series.

Upcoming in this series:

  • Cityscape/Transportation Hub
  • Mountain Ambience
  • Music

For a mood booster, I am including one of my all time favorite videos on the internet below. Hope you enjoy!✌️