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Professional Ears: the Man Who Hated Vacuums

Healing "Sounds You Hate"

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Very few people have been professionally trained in the arts and so, when I work with people who have been, I get a special opportunity: they are much more conscious with regard to the medium in which they work. For instance, when I work with a musician or a sound engineer, I can use their heightened awareness of sound as a powerful tool to help them heal.

Such was the case in the story I am about to tell you about, wherein the fellow I was working with was a sound engineer. His name is David and both he and I have this training in common (I worked many years as a sound engineer in my younger days.) In fact, he and I had frequently enjoyed discussing the finer points of sound engineering, as it continues to be one of my personal loves.

On this particular morning, however, we were not so focused on the pleasant side of sound as we were on the fact that sounds can key people. In fact, we had discovered, in the course of exploring his dislike of house cleaning, that David "hated" the sound of vacuum cleaners.

Luckily for us, on that morning, we happened to be the only ones in the office and so, I asked David if we could go out into the waiting room, so we could use the sound of the office vacuum cleaner to do an allergy test.

Sure enough, as soon as I turned on the vacuum, he smiled and said, "I don't like that sound." Minutes later, after he had worked to stay conscious through several more cycles of me turning the vacuum on and off, it became obvious he had healed some of this wound, when he blurted out, "Actually, this vacuum doesn't sound so bad anymore."

Now, while using allergy tests to help people heal was not, in and of itself, that uncommon for me by now, this instance was the first time I had used a professional's training to help him or her to locate a key (the key, in this case, being the sound of the vacuum.)

Actually, I also used my own training here, in that I used my own listening skills to "dissemble" the sound of the vacuum into three distinct sounds: a high pitched whine, a low pitched rumble, and a whooshing white noise.

When I then asked David to do the same, he immediately was able to hear the vacuum sound more consciously, as evidenced by his "doesn't sound so bad" remark.

Still thinking about how we had just used David's and my trained ears to help him heal, we walked back into my office and resumed our work. Then, as we continued to discuss how literally any sound can become a key, David came across yet a second key: the sound of my Styrofoam coffee cup as I dragged it slowly across the top of my desk.

At first, I, myself, heard nothing unusual about this sound, while David told me, he didn't like it. David then began to explain his dislike with a concept: "I don't like to be distracted."

Knowing that concepts are never keys (that keys are always literal events), I continued my demonstration about how sounds can key, by again dragging my coffee cup across the surface of my desk. Of course, again, David reacted and again, said he did not like the sound.

As I then continued to use the sound to help David to emerge from his discomfort, I, myself, had a begin to scene emerge. Then, as I continued use the sound of the cup to push the scene more fully into my consciousness, I focused on what I was now identifying the sound as; the sound of the respirator in the ICU in which my mother had died more than thirty years prior.

I then continued to process what I was seeing in the scene and as I did, my eyes filled with tears, as I experienced the scene for the first time consciously. Then, as I described to David the scene I was seeing, he, too, began to tear up as he, too, started to see a hospital scene from his childhood.

In David's scene, he was looking at his father's face right after his father had open heart surgery. As he relived this, David, too, was able to identify the sound the cup had been making when I had dragged it across my desk as the same sound the hospital respirator had made so many years prior.

Finally, when David was able to stay conscious through the scene, he was able to see his father's face, a face David described as giving him a look which was  "desperately asking for help." At this point, David started to cry as he realized how he had, in that moment and for the rest of his life, wanted to help his seriously ill father. He also realized how he had, for his whole childhood, wanted to help his seriously ill father. And how, in some strange way, he was still waiting for the chance to help his father, this despite the fact that David's father had already died.

Here, then, is one of the most loving aspects of healing; healing frees us from painful compulsions, even which appear to be loving and even those we do not act on but continue to feel inside.

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