We have been talking about awareness – how mindfulness can be another name for awareness. Attention is another word for the quality of paying attention to what is going on NOW. An esteemed reader shared her mindfulness practice writing that on her walks she pays attention to 5 things she sees, 4 things she hears, 3 things she feels, 2 things she smells, and 1 thing she tastes.

Justin Stone (creator of Tai Chi Chih) asks us to pay attention to sounds. Right now I am aware of the dryer’s fairly loud tumbling sound, the subtle hum of the furnace fan, and the reassuring clicking of my keyboard keys.

But wait!

Here are the complete instructions from Justin Stone:

“Listen but do not embroider the sounds.”

What do you make of his enigmatic instruction?

Personally, I had to read further in the book to see what he meant because the idea of “embroidering sound” intrigued me. Stone says it is not easy to listen to sound without embroidering it.

He writes that to not embroider sound demands our strict attention. That to not embroider sound, we will have to drop our egoistic self-centered concerns, forget our worries and memories, and turn ourselves over to the hearing organ, registering only what we actually hear.

This makes me think that the above report of what I was hearing, was embroidered sound.

Without embroidery, what I heard was the dryer, the fan, and my keys.

I can see how this feels more mindful. Not embroidering sounds leads towards real mindfulness.

Do you embroider sound? What do you think Stone was getting at? Please let me know in the comments section!


6 Responses

  1. This post reminded me of something Jon Kabat Zinn suggested in his meditation class he gives on Masterclass (highly recommend). He suggested that, during meditation, to try not to label the sounds–just hear them! Not easy either!

    • Hi Diane – I am thinking that this is what not embroiding means – in different words!
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Hi, Nicky,
    What an interesting question! As I pondered Justin Stone’s instruction, I was actually led to a different conclusion from the one you reached. I’m enrolled in a creative nonfiction writing class at my local college (free for retirees) and the text we’re using encourages us to examine every sensory aspect of a memory or object (smell, taste, texture, temperature, sight, sound, etc.) in order to convey the “essence” or “is-ness” to the reader in as absolute way as possible, so that they may enter into the experience we’re describing. In other words, to “embroider.” Only in that way, can I be fully present, mindful or aware of every particular aspect of a given stone, bird call or clothes dryer sound. To my mind, Stone’s injunction not to “embroider” means that we humans shouldn’t draw ego-based conclusions about what we hear, see or smell. In other words, just because the dryer makes a loud thumping sound doesn’t mean it needs to be fixed or replaced, or that I find it annoying while I’m trying to write. The loud thump is part of the dryer’s “is-ness” at this point in time and place. There is no meaning or interpretation beyond that, no judgment, no conclusions.
    These are just my top-of-head thoughts. Since I’m not familiar with Stone’s work, I can’t go farther than this personal observation, but I’m grateful for the question you posed!
    All the best,

    • Hi Sharon, What a great thing that you are taking a creative nonfiction class! It sounds like you are learning a lot!
      I love what you say about a things “is-ness”! Take a look at Diane’s comment and see what you think.

      So happy that you commented! My best to you!

  3. What a thoughtful piece. Yes, I embroidered sound, it’s the voice in my head that has running commentary about things I need to do, remember, see, and so on. Sometimes the voice comes out loud as talking to myself, which I was pleased to learn doesn’t mean I’m crazy but is actually a good practice (an article by an Israeli psychologist I read a few months back.)

    • Thanks Barbara – it is reassuring to know that when we talk outloud to ourselves, it is a positive!

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