Desensitizing Around Painful Sounds

sound - riding lawn mower cutting grass
Desensitizing Around Painful Sounds

I use meditation to overcome difficulties around unpleasant thoughts and body sensations, specifically the sound of leaf blowers and lawn mowers. If a landscape crew was on our street, I used to feel panicked, as if the machines (not the workers) might attack, even though I knew I was perfectly safe.

My mind filled with images of drowning in the sound. Negative and judgmental thoughts arose: “Stupid leaf blowers. Why do they have to be so  loud?” I could remind myself all day of my safety, but my jaw tightened, my throat closed, and my stomach tensed regardless.

When I first began to  run, I took the “wrong” medicine. If I saw a landscape company vehicle on our street, I waited until they left.

Eventually, I had enough of this phobia and used meditation to desensitize myself.

I began by running to the end of our short street then back to the house while a landscape vehicle was there, using the unpleasant body sensations relating to the sounds as my object of meditation.

I started with a narrow focus of attention, turning the mind camera onto one particular sensation in my body: usually agitation, which feels like a tense vibration in my face and chest. After I’d passed a few houses, I opened my awareness to the thoughts filling my mind: “Why are these things so  loud!” and “I have to get out of here!”

At first, I had no equanimity and no awareness that the sensations and thoughts moved.

But leaf blowers continued to offer an opportunity to untangle thoughts from body sensations and a chance to drop the scary story I had made. I built up to longer intervals, used a wider focus of  awareness, and kept doing my best to open my mind and calm myself. Eventually, I was able to leave the house for a run even if a landscaping truck  was on the street.

Leaf blowers and lawnmowers still demand my attention. But I have choices.

I can be pissed off about how these sounds ruin my peaceful, meditative run. I can ignore them and push myself to focus on my breath or other sensations, or I can broaden my awareness, work with what’s arising, and let  the leaf blowers and lawnmowers—and my illusions about them—be the object. It still requires effort. I’ll never enjoy the sounds. But they no longer trap me in the house. That progress generates positive body sensations, and I focus on those.

I have included more than twenty “Your Turn” exercises in the book Make Every Move a Meditation.

This excerpt is from Make Every Move a Meditation by Nita Sweeney. Buy the paperback, ebook, or audiobook now at Amazon or Mango Publishing Group.