From cacophony to calm

With two millennials, one teenager and an even bigger kid with a passion for all things hi-fi in the house you can probably imagine the cacophony of sounds that sometimes greets me. With music ever present, rather than attempt to fight it, I was led to thinking about how I could use it to get mindfulness and calm into the family dynamic. This had the positive consequence of also assisting me with a client’s request for mindfulness amongst their leadership team.

 Mindfulness is an ancient science that is still serving us today
I believe that the deliberate cultivation of self-awareness and listening are central to conversations, learning and development, leadership and well-being. Having been asked by clients, from the boardroom to the classroom, about how to start practising mindfulness my answer was that their approach will be as unique as they are and to just experiment till they found what works for them. They kept asking. So now I often lead a guided exercise as a way of introduction and to date have seen even the most sceptical acknowledge that they became more focused and able to release their minds from distractions. Before I share this with you first here comes some science bits.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of our brain to change our neural wiring and pathways, regardless of age. Functionally, chemically and structurally our brains support us in learning and development.

Neurogenesis is the ability of our brain to grow new neurons. Whilst this an emergent field of study it is exciting and if you have a spare 10 minutes, head over to this TED Talk by Sandrine Thuret.

Bottom line is that our brains keep developing, evolving and you can harness this energy by diet, activity, lifestyle and most importantly listening to and being aware of your mind, body and soul.

For consideration
There is no one size fits all but here is a suggestion that you can take a group or team through and is one that can integrate across generations, cultures, into daily life and empowers individuals to experience mindfulness throughout their day.

Adapt the following guided exercise as you consider appropriate and personally engage in it alongside the group or team.

 The focus is on listening
1. Ask people to bring in a piece of music and headphones
2. Find a suitable location
3. Eyes open or closed is up to them – I have witnessed many a makeshift eye mask/blind being created from ties, scarves and sheets of paper.

Introduce the exercise with…
“What I am going to be asking you to do is really listen to the music you have brought.
Initially you may find distractions fill your mind, let them pass and don’t fight them but keep bringing yourself back to the present and to the music.
Really listen.
Try not to sing the lyrics or predict the next phase of the melody.
Really listen and immerse yourself in the music.
A gradual release from distractions is difficult so perhaps try and focus only on one element of the music; the lyrics, the piano, the bass, the drums or identify what focus works for you.
Really listen.
Try it.
It isn’t easy but here’s the thing.
I guarantee that you will pick up on at least one thing that you never noticed before.
It may take more than one go but you will discover something new”.

4. Indicate that the exercise has started and ask participants to cue up the music they have brought and press play
5. You do the same
6. Announce the end of the exercise as appropriate hoping of course that no one brought a 14 minute remix version of their favourite song
7. Ask participants to reflect on their experience, either personally or by sharing
8. Remind them to take it as an experience, not a challenge. It’s just about being in the present.

As an alternative try mindfulness bells, there are many versions accessible on line. This one works for me and always takes me to listening to my heartbeat, awareness of my breathing and being in the present.

With practice, you will find that you can switch off the cacophony of sound all around, focus on your inner sounds and in being in the present. In fact, the more you practice you could eventually stop playing any music or sound and instead replace it with just the sound of you.  You are after all the best witness and conductor to take the cacophony of sound in your mind, body and soul to a place of calm.

Neena Speding Chartered MCIPD, BSc (Hons) HRM, PGCE
Emotional Intelligence Thought Leader & Collaborator
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