Do you suffer from ringing in the ears? These meditation techniques for tinnitus will help you get all the benefits of meditation, despite the very real challenges that tinnitus causes for you when you try to meditate.
This article from Mandy Sutter, writing at the always-interesting website WildMind.org, gives you some really solid tips on how to meditate with tinnitus. What I found particularly valuable were Mandy’s personal stories about how she herself has worked with the challenge of tinnitus for meditation.
For Tinnitus Sufferers
Some practical tips
Personally I’ve found this particular approach – of cultivating a wider awareness – invaluable. I now sometimes wear earplugs while I meditate (this is a complete no-no for some tinnitus sufferers, though, so please approach with care). Because wearing earplugs magnifies ALL inner body sounds, like swallowing and breathing, the tinnitus sounds seem to decrease by comparison, or at least just take their place among my body’s other normal noises. I find I can simply welcome them to the party.
I have also spent some time actively listening to my tinnitus during meditation, and although this may feel unpleasant and even counter-intuitive at first, I recommend it. When you really listen, you may identify sounds like crashing cymbals or whistles, or notice that your tinnitus varies in volume, or has a wave-like pattern. I have found it helpful to learn the length and breadth of my tinnitus in this way: it makes me less prone to worry.
Meditating with your eyes open can help: the increased visual stimulus acting as a balance to the unsolicited sound stimulus. You can use incense in a similar way. And I sometimes find it useful to meditate sitting against a warm radiator, the body sensation of heat again providing a balance. Walking meditation is another valuable and legitimate resource.
Also helpful are guided meditations on CD or mp3 (there’s a good selection of these here at the Wildmind store, and search the meditation pages for free ones. For an even wider selection, try Amazon). Of course, there are still periods of silence during a guided meditation (though some have background muzak) but the voice coming in and out focusses one’s attention away from the tinnitus.
Listening to ambient sound is another option. You can buy devices or download mp3 files that reproduce the sound of waves, or rain pattering on a windowpane, or the crackling of a log fire. Whale or dolphin sounds can also be good. You can concentrate on the sounds as the object of your meditation or use your normal meditation technique (e.g. counting the breath) with the sounds in the background. I have a Sound Oasis which I find invaluable. These devices can be pricey though, so it’s worth downloading some free ambient sounds to your computer before you buy one, to make sure this method suits you.
You’ll find some ambient sounds more effective than others, depending on the character of your own tinnitus and the nature of your own emotional responses to things. I usually turn my Sound Oasis to ‘Harbour Swell’ (the sound of a creaking boat bobbing on the waters) but this might not suit someone who suffers from seasickness!
Listening to music may help, though you may find it too emotionally stimulating. In fact, this may be one of the rare occasion when muzak is better than music!
Forget any idea that this isn’t ‘proper’ meditation (something that bugged me for a while). It’s just a different kind of meditation.
For some tinnitus sufferers, wearing earphones is helpful. The sound is brought closer, as if inserted between your hearing and the tinnitus. This isn’t the case for everyone, though, so find out what suits you.
Going on retreat
Silent meditation retreats pose a particular problem for the tinnitus sufferer. Forget ‘me and my shadow’ – it’s ‘me and my tinnitus’ for days on end. What you can face intermittently during the course of a normal day can seem overwhelming when it’s continuous.
But it’s still do-able. My tinnitus is quite severe, but I go on retreat several times a year.
The important thing is to look after yourself. As you already know, tinnitus is an invisible condition, so no-one makes allowances for you automatically. You may find it difficult to make allowances for yourself, too. But however embarrassed or guilty you feel about making a special case of yourself in an environment where you are strongly encouraged not to, please do: you have my permission, at least! Retreat leaders can be very helpful if approached beforehand.
Request a single room if one is available. You can play ambient sounds and there will be less chance of being woken during the night (tinnitus sufferer often find it difficult to get back to sleep).
Keep your eyes open during meditations if you need to, or take yourself off for walking meditations while the others sit in the shrine room.
No matter what the normal rules are, allow yourself books, iPod or CD player and earphones. You may not need to use them, but they can act as a security blanket.
If particular foods exacerbate your tinnitus (e.g. caffeine) a retreat may offer the ideal opportunity to avoid them for a time. If other foods help, take them with you. Chocolate helps my tinnitus (only kidding, unfortunately).
Taking care of yourself on retreat can be a valuable lesson in self-metta (loving-kindness towards oneelf).
Coming to terms with tinnitus
Having said that, it was on a silent retreat three years ago where I had no security blanket that I perhaps came most deeply to terms with my tinnitus.
My single room hadn’t materialised, and I was sharing with someone who kept putting the light on through the night. Despite decamping to the sitting room a couple of times, I went for four nights with virtually no sleep. I became more and more anxious. My tinnitus, exacerbated by the anxiety, raged continually. I felt as if a jetplane was taking off in my head. All the meditations were a write-off. Finally I made a break for the retreat office to ring my partner and ask him to come and get me (he’d only have had to drive 200 miles). But I couldn’t remember our phone number.
I decided to stay till the next morning, if only because it was too late to leave that evening. And that night in bed, tinnitus raging, I felt despair laced with terror. What if this never ended? What if this was how it was going to be for the rest of my life? My heart thundered and I had to stuff the pillow into my mouth to stop myself from crying out.
Then I heard a clear voice in my head. ‘You don’t need to follow that train of thought,’ it said. ‘You just need to calm down. You know how: you have the tools. But they won’t work if you don’t use them.’
For some reason, I was able to recognise the truth of this. It was a great relief. I lay in bed going through every relaxation technique I’d ever learned, be that in cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation classes, or hypnotherapy. It took a while but eventually I felt my body and mind profoundly relax, and knew I would sleep, if not now then later. The tinnitus, loud and insistent, was still there. The feeling of relaxation wasn’t one of relaxing despite it, or beyond it, but alongside it. At that moment, some of the emotional charge went out of my perception of my tinnitus, and it has never come back. Original story here
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