How can I meditate with tinnitus?

When you practice meditation, one of the things that can be powerful to explore is the difference between being aware of what's occurring and our relationship to what's occurring.

  • If you have tinnitus, there is the sound itself — vibration, tone, pitch, frequency, volume and so on.
  • There's also your relationship to the sounds — do you like it, dislike it, wish it would stop, continue or otherwise.

When you meditate and notice that they're two different parts of the experience of tinnitus, you can start to explore where the stress or suffering is. Maybe you've noticed that the more resistance, or aversion, there is to the sound, the more unpleasant or stressful it becomes. Even labeling the sound as 'noise' might lend itself to aversion. Part of meditation practice with tinnitus, or other things you're struggling with, is to befriend and even welcome the complete experience. It might feel like this, "Right now there is tinnitus — this is how it is right now."

Try exploring what happens if you sit down to meditate with the intention to accept and allow tinnitus to be there (since it's going to be there anyway), instead of thinking of it as a problem or a distraction. Notice any aversion that comes up in response to the sound, like wanting it to stop or go away. Most of the time, we think we're being mindful of something unpleasant, but actually we're wanting it to go away. Paying attention with this resistance inside your mind actually ends up fueling the thoughts and can keep the unpleasant cycle in place. The 'not liking' is also something for you to be aware of and guess what, the not liking doesn't have to be a problem but could be a thing that just is how it is right now. This isn't always easy to do - which is why meditation is something to practice. Exploring it can be interesting and, we hope, helpful too.

There are also various traditions that might use an inner sound like tinnitus as the object for concentration. In one tradition, it's referred to as listening to the sound of silence — the inner sound, which is basically tinnitus. Here's an article by an admired teacher describing this very method.

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