Thoughts and Opinions


On any given day, I hear myriad sounds.

  • I hear the drone of my refrigerator.
  • I hear the rumble of thunder in the distance.
  • I hear a truck revving as it ascends a hill.
  • I hear a car with a ruptured muffler.
  • I hear music I want to dance to.
  • I hear music that I don’t exactly hate, but which is unpleasant and uncomfortable.
  • I hear a baby crying, a dog barking, a cat meowing, coyotes howling.
  • I hear people speaking in French, people speaking in Spanish, people speaking with an accent I can’t identify, people speaking in a language I hadn’t heard before.
  • I hear a young man whispering lovingly to his girlfriend. I hear a mother cooing playfully with her newborn. I hear a young woman instructing her dog in a mix of mild authority and affection.
  • I hear people arguing close enough to me for me to understand what each is saying.
  • I hear the talking heads on TV, then I hear the cadence change to the robotic dissertation of a pharmaceutical ad.
  • I hear the roar of a plane flying overhead as it approaches its landing. I hear a jackhammer grinding away at the pavement out front.
  • I hear hammering, sawing, and drilling as my neighbor builds something in his back yard.

You are likely familiar with every single one of these sounds. And there is a list a mile long of others you could share with me.

You enjoy some of these—and despise others.

We describe some sounds as music to my ears and compare others to nails on a chalkboard.

Sound is vibration. Our experience of sound is closest to our experience of vibration. We are fully aware of the fact that we don’t just hear bass, we feel it. We are less aware of sensing higher pitches (as vibration), but we are very aware of feeling sounds. If you think back or reread the list above, and you pay attention, you will notice your reactions.

What if feelings were nothing more than sounds?

In my metaphysical writings over the years, I have repeatedly made the distinction between feelings and emotions. I also admit that when speaking, I frequently say ‘emotions’ in both cases.

My literary distinction is this:

  • feelings are the internal sensations you have;
  • emotions are what you express.

Some people readily emote exactly what they are feeling as if wearing their heart on their sleeve. Others decidedly do not show what they are feeling.

If feelings were nothing more than sound, we would feel them when they are present, and not feel them after.

Yet, that is not our common experience. We all have had times when we got stuck inside of a feeling: the heartache of a breakup; the dreadful feeling that we’ve made a dire mistake; the violation after we have been wronged in some way.

Notice that we pretty much never get stuck in a “positive” feeling. Even if we have an entire day of ease or joy or happiness or celebration, we never feel stuck there. For one, we love those feelings; for two, we naturally flow with them. We ebb and flow freely with those fanciful feelings.

Truth is…we ebb and flow through the negative ones too. But when a particular negative feeling keeps circling back, we feel stuck. We notice it when it returns (and that it returned once again) and it seems as if it never left. But it did leave…we just didn’t notice.

What if feelings are supposed to be nothing different than sound?

If we could experience feelings just the same way that we experience sounds, do you think life would be easier?

Our relationship with sound is very different than it is with sight. We can close our eyes to scenes; we cannot close our ears to sounds. We can turn away from sights that disturb us, but we cannot turn away from noise.

Even when we cover our ears, we can’t completely block it all out. Noise canceling headphones are not 100% effective.

In our sleep, we won’t see anything going on in the room (unless it is very bright), but we can wake with a start at the subtlest sound.

A mother understands the value of this. She cannot keep her eyes on her child every moment of the day; but she can keep an ear out. She will instinctively react to the sounds of her child instantaneously. And she will notice when things are too quiet.She can wake from sleep and be fully lucid in an instant when her child cries out.

In the same way that we cannot block out sound, we cannot block out feeling.

Some people do have the ability to tune out sounds. Some can ignore a TV in the room. Some days, you can busy yourself enough to not really notice the jackhammering next door. Traffic can become background noise.

Some people cannot sleep at night without a fan or white noise machine to “drowned out” other noise.

The same applies to feelings. Some people are able to function even when awash with grief. They aren’t exactly denying the grief, they are simply not focusing on it.

And yet some people do seem to deny or repress feelings. From the outside, we cannot know what is really going on inside of them. We just don’t see them feeling a feeling we expect them to feel.

I observe others. I observe myself. I have surmised that (some) people hold on to feelings…and thus carry them around. I believe I have done this a number of times. I see feelings inside of people…behind their eyes and within their facial expressions. I describe it as seeing an aura, but it is not literally an aura that I am seeing. [I have seen auras just enough times to know the difference.]

When a feelings is especially weighty, how do we keep from carrying it around? How do let it go? How do we get back to silence as soon as possible?

When we feel bad for a prolonged time, what we seek is catharsis. We have all experienced this, haven’t we?

What does it take to get it all out?

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I have had times when I cried off and on all day. And even that didn’t get it all out.

A contrast to the above is what I witnessed with my grandmother one time. She was visiting me in California. Her dog died back home. My mother called, gave me the news, and asked me to tell my grandmother. Her supposition was that it would be better for her to hear it in person than over the phone…and I couldn’t argue with that.

I dreaded the experience. I kept looking for the right time to break the bad news. I ultimately decided that after dinner would be as good as it would get. So after we finished eating and cleaned up the kitchen, I sat her down in the living room and told her.

Her reaction shocked me. She wailed unlike I had ever witnessed. She wasn’t screaming. She wasn’t crying. She was wailing. I can’t effectively apply any other word. She wailed and she wailed. And I sat there…practically horrified.

I can’t remember much of what happened after that…at least until the next morning. When my grandmother greeted me at the breakfast table, it was as if life was completely back to normal. I knew she wasn’t faking it. Even at that early age (my mid twenties), I could tell. I saw into her clearly. I saw that familiar ease and joy or whatever it was she often possessed that I cannot find the right word for.

When I remember my grandmother, I always remember that version of her; that smile on her face and the sparkle in her beautiful blue eyes. She was often comfortable, optimistic, appreciative of life. Again, I am searching for the right words. Thinking back, it was like a very subtle and soft version of joy.

The very morning after hearing that her beloved pet died, she was right back to that dominant expression. And it felt genuine.

I really think she had gotten it all out. She grieved so profoundly within her wailing, she might not have needed to do anything more.

Now I am sure she felt intermittent waves of sadness. I am sure she missed her adorable little dog. We all know about those bitter(sweet) nostalgic feelings when we think of loved ones that have left us. However, we know the difference between the painful loss of someone who has recently passed and duller ache of missing them years later.

I think my grandmother experienced grief as if it was sound.

The sound was loud. It was jarring. It was uncomfortable. It was a horrid sound that first night. And when that sound ended, she let it go. It was gone. She didn’t hold on to it.

Now I can be completely wrong about what I witnessed. I never asked her about it. I observed her…and drew my own conclusions. But what if I am right?

What if we can learn to experience feelings as sound? What if we can simply hear them as they happen and when they happen? And what if we can let them play on and play through, then wane away into quietude?

We can recall sounds without actually hearing them. We have a mind’s ear. We can listen to music in our head. Don’t we often talk about a song getting stuck in there? Don’t we read texts and hear it as if spoken in the writers voice?

But isn’t our experience of hearing sound in our head vastly different than hearing it with our ears? Right now, I can think about what a saw sounds like, and I don’t feel the slightest irritation. And yet, even when I am doing the sawing, that sound is never other than irritating and uncomfortable.

Right this moment, I can think about fear…and not feel any fear. Contrastingly, I could think about something I fear and then conjure up the feeling of fear. The thought of fear as a concept is totally different than the feeling of fear. Can we learn to think about feelings without reigniting them? Can we analyze them without calling them back in?

Fear, when inspired by a here-and-now threat, is helpful. It motivates us to get out of harms way. But fear (or grief, or dread, or depression, or sadness, or heartache) doesn’t need to live inside of us for long. There must be a reason that we experience these feelings, but I don’t think it is required for us to hold onto them.

Life in the 2020s is loud; it is noisy. We are being bombarded like never before. So much information is flying at us from all directions—so much hate, so much trauma, so much anger, so much disagreement.

But, in real life, it is not constant. Most of what is raining upon us is coming from our screens (big and small). Then the rest is coming at us from people reacting to their screens (big and small).

We can’t shut off noise. We cannot plug our ears to sounds. We can turn away from our screens more, but we’re probably not going to do that just yet.

Similarly, we can’t stop feeling what we feel, but we can lessen the habit of reigniting those feelings afterward.

Spend a bit of time contemplating this idea that feelings can be nothing more than sound and see where that takes you.


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