When we experience the world we typically do so from the perspective of “I.” What does that mean? It means that we place our own particular meaning on the sensory perception of our world.
For example, when we hear, the brain first records pitch and volume and then adds meaning. It runs through its memory banks. “Ah, yes, that sound is of a piano, and the music is Ravel’s Concerto in G Major. And furthermore, it’s beautiful and was played the first time I went to symphony with a man who is now my husband. I love my husband; I love the music.”
So you see that the sound doesn’t stand by itself. It always stands with the meaning we give it. Even the first time we hear the sound, we immediately record the sound and what else is happening and the emotion that we have about it. Then each time, we hear the sound again the associated memory and the emotion are triggered. Piano. Ravel. First symphony with husband. Love.
Of course, not all our experiences are so happy. Suppose you are in an automobile accident. You record the sounds of screeching tires and colliding metal, and the smell of burning rubber. You recall the instant of quiet on impact and your terror rising immediately, thereafter. You remember being shaken up and your spine going askew, and how you walked away without anyone’s help.
Now you are walking down the street. You hear the sound of screeching tires. Your heart starts racing and your spine begins to ache. You are terrified. Why? You are not in danger. But, your brain doesn’t grasp that. It only grasps the sound of the screeching tires and associates it with the memory of the car accident. Not just this time, but every time you hear screeching tires. Why? Because your brain stored: sound of screeching tires = car accident and emotion of fear.
The fellow walking towards you has heard the same sound: the screeching tires. In response a big grin comes over his face. Why? Because the sound of screeching tires brings back the memory of attending a stock car race with his father as a young boy and his emotion of joy and wonder. Same sound. Different memory. Different emotion.
So what! Well, two things.
First, as long as the emotion associated with the sound and accompanying memory is not overwhelming and fades as quickly as it rises we are OK. If it is not so joyous that we go and do reckless things or so sad that we become depressed; or so worried that we become anxious; or so full of grief that we become grief-stricken; or so full of fear that we become terrified, frozen, and anxious; or so angry that we become enraged, we go on. We are OK. Feeling a slight twinge of a past emotion such as joy when we hear the sound of Ravel or fear when we hear tires screeching is natural.
But if the emotion is too big it makes us suffer. When joy propels us to over-exuberance or sadness brings depressions, or worry or fear becomes anxiety, or grief becomes uncontrolled, and natural fear becomes terror, we suffer. This is the time when we need to walk into that emotion, right into the center of it to see that it is nothing at all. Disassociating from it in this way removes its power over us so we can see that it is not us and we cease suffering. This, by the way, can be much harder to do than one may think, so if you find yourself here, find a professional to guide you in this activity.
Second, remember that a sound is just a sound. When hearing the screeching tires, ‘A sound,” we can tell ourselves. Doing this allows us to hear the sound afresh. Letting go of the association of sound, sight, smell, taste, or touch with a memory and its emotion, even if it is a wonderful one, opens us to new experiences. When hearing the screech of tires, instead of the thought of “car accident” we are free to just hear the screech of the tire and go on. Perhaps, we now associate it with the broad smile that we see on the face of the guy walking towards us. We are open to experience something new.