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The Art and Skill of Listening in Psychedelic Sessions

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in this article
  • Introduction
  • Listening into Awareness: A Gateway to Mindfulness
  • Imperial College London's Approach
  • Types of Listening by Michel Chion
  • Wavepath’s Guidelines for Deep Listening
  • Final Thoughts

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Chemical Collective or any associated parties.

Introduction

Have you ever considered that the key to unlocking the full potential of your psychedelic experiences might lie in the act of listening?

As a growth-oriented psychedelic explorer for more than a decade, my practice has been informed by the power of intentional listening. Beyond the physical act of hearing sounds, intentional listening can become a catalyst for heightened awareness. A deliberate engagement with the present moment can help you connect more deeply with music and amplify the impact of your experiences in a positive way.

How does this work? Is there any research? And how do you actually go about ‘intentional listening’?

In this blog, I will explore intentional listening and its connection to mindfulness and psychedelic journeys. My goal is to give you an understanding of this navigation tool and some practical steps to begin using it.

Listening into Awareness: A Gateway to Mindfulness

In the world of psychedelic experiences, practising the art of listening can help to unlock profound experiences. This is relevant for psychedelic explorers because deeper experiences are the ones that tend to give rise to personal insights that help us grow and move forward.

Take a moment to try a short listening exercise with me:

  • What can you hear right now?
  • Tune into what you can hear in this very moment.
  • How many sounds can you hear? 
  • Pay attention to all the sounds that reach your ears.
  • Continue to relax and breathe as you do this for a moment.

As you may have noticed, this small act of mindful and intentional listening brings us into the present moment. For a psychedelic explorer, this ability to tune into the present moment is highly valuable. Listening serves as an anchor, a point of focus and an aid in grounding the explorer amidst the changing waves of sensations and perceptions. Being able to work with awareness in this way is powerful because navigating awareness is the primary means of navigating psychedelic states. 

Listening, like other forms of mindfulness, promotes a mental space which allows for a sense of peacefulness. This can help bring about the ideal set, which in turn also helps to unlock the full potential of psychedelic exploration. 

Intentional listening can alter our experience of music. Music is already a known and powerful catalyst to unlock the power of psychedelics. When used consciously it can further enhance our connection to the present moment and our experience of music, and contribute to its transformative potential.

Imperial College London's Approach

In their groundbreaking studies on psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, mindful listening was part of thire standardised protocol.

Study participants were guided in the practice of mindful listening as part of their preparation. The psychedelic session was then framed as a music meditation, with music guiding the experience. This intentional focus on sounds was seen as a key part of the session.

Although further research is needed, the results of the study were impressive:

[…]symptom improvements appeared rapidly after just two psilocybin treatment sessions and remained significant 6 months post-treatment in a treatment-resistant cohort.

These promising results support the notion that mindful listening plays an important role in enhancing the overall quality of the psychedelic experience.

Types of Listening by Michel Chion

To dive a bit deeper into the act of listening and how it informs our psychedelic experiences, I’d like to share the work of French experimental music creator Michel Chion.

Chion categorised the act of listening into three distinctive types: causal, semantic, and reductive.

Each of these offers a different lens through which we can perceive the sounds that reach our ears.

Causal Listening

Causal listening is when we identify the source of a sound. To do this we answer the question, “What or who is making this sound?”

For example, if we hear a dog bark, we can recognise the cause: the dog. When we apply causal listening to music, it involves identifying the instruments, vocals, and various elements that contribute to the composition. It is about recognising the individual components that make up the musical landscape.

Semantic Listening

With semantic listening the focus is on the literal meaning conveyed by the sounds. This is processing language and understanding the words being spoken. Typically this is how we understand each other when we communicate by using words. With music, it is the way we make sense of verbal communication or lyrics in a song. This is about understanding and interpreting the song’s narrative.

Reductive Listening

Reductive listening is the most abstract of the three. It encourages us to let go of the cause and the literal meaning of the sounds we can hear, and to immerse ourselves in the overall experience. It’s about describing how sound or music makes us feel, or what associations we may have with it.

Reductive listening in music goes beyond the specifics.

It’s about feeling the emotional resonance and experiencing the overall atmosphere and impact of the music on a more abstract level.

Reductive listening is, therefore, most worthy of our attention and practice as psychedelic explorers because it can help to let go of semantics and transition to pure experience and feeling. It is the type of listening that goes beyond technicalities and lets us appreciate the subtler and subjective aspects of a musical piece.

Wavepath’s Guidelines for Deep Listening

These guidelines come from Wavepaths, an organisation that offers music and listening experiences for psychedelic therapy. I first learned these guidelines during one of their workshops a few years ago, and have practiced in their online deep listening sessions since. It has informed my approach to psychedelics and helped to enrich my experiences. 

The guidelines consist of three main sections: focus, accept, and experience.

Focus

  • Focus on the music.
  • Direct your attention solely to the music and the experience it encapsulates.
  • Let nothing else vie for your focus; immerse yourself wholly in experience.

By immersing yourself completely in the music, you can increase the impact of the musical experience. The focus guideline is about being present and giving your attention to the soundtrack as wholly as possible.

Accept

  • Accept the entirety of the experience.
  • Welcome the musical experience without judgment or resistance.
  • Try to embrace every nuance, emotion, and unexpected turn with an open and nonjudgmental mind. 
  • Accept each element as a part of the experience. Try to hold a nonjudgmental and open receptivity to every part of the musical encounter.

By welcoming the entirety of the experience, including any unexpected elements or sections and your emotional responses, you can enrich the depth of your experience. The accept guideline is about being open to the ebbs and flows without resistance, allowing the music to guide you.

Experience

  • Allow the experience to unfold.
  • Resist the urge to overanalyse or make value judgments in real time.
  • Surrender to the natural progression of the music and the unfolding psychedelic experience.
  • Allow the experience to reveal its layers and meaning without the interference of excessive analysis.

The experience step is about letting go of control and allowing the music to help guide the experience. It’s a practice of trust, surrender, and opening to experience.

These guidelines for the practice of deep listening can serve as pillars and guide you toward a richer connection with music and deeper psychedelic experiences. I invite you to practice and use these three guidelines to help enhance the transformative potential of your psychedelic exploration.

Final Thoughts

Our psychedelic experiences can be largely influenced and informed by our listening skills.

The skill and art of listening can become a key element of a psychedelic explorer’s toolkit. It can help to steady us, ground us, and guide us. It is an ability that can connect us with the richness of the present, help unlock the power of music and its influence in our sessions, and open the door to personal insights. 

So, wherever you are on your journey of psychedelic-assisted growth, I invite you to explore the power of listening as a tool and an ally to support you on your way.

Best wishes and safe travels.

John Robertson | Community Blogger at Chemical Collective | mapsofthemind.com

John is one of our community bloggers here at Chemical Collective. If you’re interested in joining our blogging team and getting paid to write about subjects you’re passionate about, please reach out to David via email at blog@chemical-collective.com

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2 Comments
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SHAZAM
24 days ago

Ironically we listen more because we cant process our thoughts in any given language

banibani
1 month ago

interesting

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