(long version of "Listening Out and Nowness")
For most of evolution, life was a lot quieter than it is today. It's been a few thousand years since the first blacksmith started hammering; - but recently, with motors, amplifiers, drills, bombs and beat music, we have suddenly become a very loud species. And i think life has become stressful for all animals who are dependant on this sense for suvival, and i think all the others (humans), have become a little deaf.
There's quite a difference between listening to silence; - listening to something specific, like music or bird song; - and broadband listening.
I remember camping by a deserted country road, listening at night to the ocassional single car winding off into the distance, with the feeling that it was stretching my hearing abilities for five miles and more, and then, the complete silence, (it was 1980, cars were far louder then) ... If those sort of experiences could be guaranteed i would suggest focussing on them.
If you are lucky enough to live where there is a river, or a cacophony of bird song, then focus on that, it's usually very relaxing, but realise that animals would never do this, because it reduces the ability to hear everything else. It is the openness and receptivity to any and every - particularly sudden and short stimuli - which is vital for animals.
Listening has an immediacy which the other senses don't have, and this is because sounds are sometimes very sudden and over in a split second; smells and sights usually last at least a few seconds. Listening requires and stimulates nowness like no other sense.
Listen to everything, as helpless and vulnerable as babies are before they learn to filter out the boring everyday sounds, even before they learn that they have ears.
It helps us civilised adults to regain this openness, by actively listening, searching for sounds, listening out. Possibly in ancient times, humans and animals only needed to listen. Nowadays with the constant humm of traffic, it is necessary to listen out.
Not only aware of all we hear, but also listening out for any really quiet sounds - always ready for any sudden surprise. It depends on the time of day and where you live, listening out for distant dogs, birds and children is often a good idea, at night listening out for owls and hedgehogs. You won't often hear them, that's irrelevant, listening out for them is the vital part.
I once was near a children's playground, here i found it useful to listen out for cars!
Do a little yoga with your hearing, stretch it, listen out. Listen in all directions, near and far away, high and low. Imagine how early man might listen out for distant wild boar or herds of oxen or buffalo, and nearby tigers or snakes.
There is no better, simpler or more direct exercise than 'listening out' to stop thinking, or at least slow the thoughts down for a few seconds and enjoy a moments inner peace. If we empathise with the animals acuity of listening, we can't think. If we start thinking, we stop listening, and in that moment an animal would be vulnerable.
For a hare or deer, it's a matter of survival, but we don't have that compelling motive. Maybe we need to recreate a touch of that primitive angst and urgency, and the compelling motive for us is : if we don't stop thinking for a few moments, we will all go crazy. It is urgent that we get a bit of direct and simple peace of mind.
(It's possible, but strange to 'listen' with the windows shut, and some modern sounds truly aren't good to listen to: modern ear plugs are invaluable, or respond like animals do, move away - or use the ear plugs to intensify, and listen out for, sounds inside the body.)
There's one other thing. When i feel open to hearing everything, the sensation is that i'm listening with the whole of my head, rather than just the ears. This subjective sensation may be my imagination but even if it is, it's a pleasant feeling. And i could easily believe that this is how it feels for many animals, birds for example (with no exterior ears), and babies, who learn to cover their ears with their hands between 6 and 12 months old.