Fog Signals and Accidental Meditation

Fog seen at Woods Hole, Massachusetts

A year and a half ago, after being profoundly impacted by Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”, I realized I’ve been accidentally meditating for about fifty five years.

While some people dedicate years to Transcendental Meditation or Zen Buddhism (to name just two of the more than 25 major types of meditation practice to still the mind), I’ve dedicated my professional life to consciously listening to sound.

And what do you know? Listening can be a type of meditation practice.

Let’s start at the beginning. Seems obvious, right? But we often want to start in the future rather than right were we are. That’s a mind problem, isn’t it? The propensity of the mind to inhabit the future, a future that does not exist — because we only live now, in this, moment.

Where I am now, is on the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. I’ve been remembering fog signals I heard on New Castle Island, New Hampshire when I was five years old, fifty five years ago.

I should also begin by saying I’m a sound man. I’ve been consciously aware of sound for over fifty five years and have worked with sound professionally for over 40 years as an audio product and system designer, audio engineer and musician. So, a sound man.

Professionally I came up in a time of analog tape recording. Analog tape has a limited dynamic range capacity. Some type of noise reduction system was usually used to reduce the inherent noise of the recording system and improve the clarity of the recorded music.

My work involved designing and testing analog noise reduction systems, primarily for motion picture use. I spent thousands of hours listening to the decay tails of sounds as they trailed off into the haze of tape and optical soundtrack hiss. One could say I got really good at being aware of something decay into nothing.

So this is blog about sound, listening and consciousness. I’m deeply interested in “emerging consciousness”. And by consciousness, I simply mean being awareness. I am deeply interested in how being awareness is quite likely an evolutionary step forward for humans — an evolutionary step that can take us beyond the limitations of the thinking, egoic mind which is the root cause of all human suffering.

And I’m particularly interested in how sound and listening can provide expanded portals to stillness, awareness and, as the Buddhist’s would say, “right relationship”. Because all of these aspects are contained in sound.

But we were talking about islands, fog and fog signals.

When I was five my family lived for a period on New Castle Island in coastal New Hampshire. My dad was working for the Electric Boat (“EB”) division of General Dynamics, a builder of nuclear submarines. While our home was in Connecticut he took a temporary assignment at the Portsmouth (NH) Naval Shipyard to do some repairs on a US Navy sub. I don’t recall the class of sub or the name of the boat. Big man. Big boat. That much I remember.

And I recall I loved to play my solo game of “submarine”. There was a large, flat, oval boulder in the backyard of the rented house we had on New Castle Island. I’d stand on that rock-as-sub and just BE there — not commanding it, not following orders either. Just being on a submarine rock. It was surrounded by cat tails, fog and fog signals.

Before I learned the words for fog and fog signals, before I had mental ideas of fog or fog signals I experienced fog and fog signals. I experienced the deep, still, mystery of a blanketing fog so thick our rented house 100 feet away was practically invisible while standing on the deck of my submarine.

A big part part of being on that rock was being aware of the sounds around me. The sound of fog signals in the distance … the mourning, booming, two tone blast-and-grunt of the mighty Diaphone Signal Co. FT2 fog signal and the lighter, higher-pitched ship horn toots. All of them announcing their presence in and around the entrance to the Piscataqua River and the ports of Portsmouth, NH and Kittery, Maine. While they were functional sounds for seafaring men they were also transcendent sounds for a boy of five.

The sounds of these fog signals articulated presences beyond what could be seen. They articulated spaciousness beyond the boundaries of the rented home I could barely see.

In retrospect, I realize these fog signals were a lovely demonstration of form emerging from formlessness. First, the still silence of a dense fog surrounding my submarine rock. Then the fog signal blasts emerging from that stillness. A short echo, then fog signal decaying into stillness again, only to be repeated every ten or twenty seconds.

Often multiple overlapping and ever ever-changing patterns of fog signals would combine to create a random ambient music — years before Brian Eno popularized the use of multiple asynchronous tape loops to create his landmark “Music for Airports”.

This is one of my earliest memories. It’s important that I mention again that I heard these fog signals and attached no word names like “fog” or “fog signal” to them. I simply was aware of the alternating silence and sound, stillness then manifestation.

One could say I’ve been quite happily lost in the fog of stillness speaking ever since. And accidentally, or perhaps I should say coincidentally, I’ve been meditating for over 20,000 hours — by listening to sound.

With this blog I’ll introduce you to what I believe is an easier, faster, and more sustainable way to awaken your consciousness and experience all the good stuff that researchers are proving comes from engaging in a regular meditation practice.

We’re going to use sound as a bigger sound portal to being awareness. And this is going to be way fun.