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On retreat

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Retreat system: 
Soundaware A-280 SD card DAC, Simon Audio i5 integrated, Acelec Model One monitors on Ardan stands, Zu Audio cables, Furutech passive power conditioning

Retreat. Monks and meditators go on them. So can milk maids and mélomanes. For many of us, current lockdowns impose retreat conditions. Typical avenues of distraction as the social aspects of meets, parties, pubs, restaurants, vacations, travel, cinemas, art shows etc. are shut down. People not used to retreats suddenly find themselves faced with… themselves. It feels like an imposition and discomfort. Many struggle with the sense of isolation. But it can provide the exact same opportunities as going on formal retreat. Clock out of the world. Check in with yourself. Set aside time just to be.

Music lovers already enjoy a natural form of semi meditation. When keenly listening to music, our minds tend to slow down if not stop entirely. Our attention isn't focused on the inner dialogue but instead, on music. That stepping out of mind's endless chatter rewards, energizes and heals. If we pick the right music—I use a 200-track+ playlist of Al Gromer Khan set to random mode—and chose sufficiently subdued volumes, music listening can lead to or even turn into ever deepening actual meditations. Rather than watch our breath, we can watch music. Whilst our mind has something to focus on which we enjoy already, we can relax into our being behind the mind. We can fall into spaces of deeper peace, inner silence, expansion or other 'altered' states. All it takes is a modest little system. I propose to set it up in the extreme nearfield as shown. Now we can play very quietly and still enjoy an immersive 'pseudo headphone' perspective. Playing quietly won't disturb anyone else so more opportunities open up each day. It also won't intrude too much on the inner silence which begins to build up behind the music as we do this.

It's a different kind of listening from tapping feet and bopping heads. It's not about getting turned on. It's not about emotional participation. It's about being a watcher on the hill noticing each blade of grass ripple in the wind; tones coming and going in ever-changing patterns. We have a focus for our attention so mental activity unclutches. Now its constant tension and noise replace with states of being. We can't really do relaxation. It happens on its own accord when we let go. If we already love listening to music because it's our hobby, letting go in this way comes easy and natural. You might be surprised by how rejuvenating "listening as meditation" can be and how quickly it can connect the dots between being audiophiles and finding ourselves on enforced retreat not knowing how to make the most of it.

Give it a try? You've already got the system plus isolation so time. Why gripe against the imposed nature of it if you can embrace it and gain from it? Becoming comfortable and intimate with our apparent aloneness is a prerequisite to the discovery of all-one-ness which sages and mystics of all times talk about. Otherwise it's just loneliness. Now the present opportunity presents as loss not gain. Turning that around is within our power so it seems silly not to.

So why don't we learn to enjoy being on a lengthy retreat of sorts? In the end, what brought it about is irrelevant…