Question from a member of our community:
I’ve had high pitched tinnitus for three years now, and I’ve done a lot of changing, including changing my breathing, being more positive, being more mindful, going through times of joy, and more accepting of myself, yet through all of this, my tinnitus is so constant and steady. I know you’ve said it’s always changing, but mine doesn’t back off or lower in volume and it completely baffles me. I feel I’ve made such positive strides, but with no results and it’s very disheartening. Can you offer any insight?
So first of all, I want to say I feel like it’d be nice just to pause and celebrate where you are. And that really moves me directly into my response, which would be when we’re coming at things from a neuroplasticity point of view, it really is founded in non-judgment and meeting ourselves where we are bringing loving awareness to where we are. And if the tinnitus feels as though it’s not changing at all, which is honestly highly unlikely because it’s all about where our awareness is. If we think of our awareness as a torch in a dark room, I think saying that the tinnitus is unchanging and is constant and steady is like saying, “Well, the torch is not ever moving.” So if you learn how to move your conscious awareness around and start investigating your inner world and really getting in touch with your self head to toe and your feelings and your felt sense of the world, it will literally move allocation away from that tinnitus sound so the awareness is not so strongly pointed at the tinnitus sounds.
Therefore, just keeping it there and training yourself to get very curious and open and absorbed in other parts of you. Because there’s so much more to you than your tinnitus and the tinnitus is allowed to be there, absolutely. And we can bring a lot of loving awareness and loving kindness to supporting that and listening to that. But I think it’s also important to not get too bogged down and focused on whether it’s there or not. It’s there, okay. How can we honor it, acknowledge it, be loving toward it? So really remove that emotional loading of wanting to get rid of it and shift into navigating other parts of you. And the questions I would be asking is, “What brings you deep pleasure? What truly engages your attention and just so absorbs and immerses you that there’s no space for anything else?” And then you’ll begin to notice, “Oh, okay. So when I’m really focused on this conversation or when I’m really just loving the sense of sand against my toes, the tinnitus sound does change because more of my neural awareness is resource and allocated elsewhere over into that somatic sensory region where I’m feeling and sensing against my skin and that’s taking away that allotment over at the tinnitus areas of my brain.” So play with that and learn how to really move toward pleasure, joy, sensory enrichment.
And my second response would be just really notice if you’re being outcome focused, that somehow you want to change your tinnitus or you want to get rid of it. It’s there. It’s a part of you. It’s your body making sounds. It’s normal and healthy. You do not need to focus on it at all and trying to change it means you’re teaching the brain it’s important to you. Trying, putting any effort into the tinnitus is teaching the brain that you like it, you want it, you’re interested in it and is giving it more neural emphasis. So for example, if you’re changing your breathing for the purpose of changing your tinnitus, the motivation is keeping the tinnitus alive. If you’re trying to be more positive, whatever that means, so that you can try and change your tinnitus, again, A, viewing things as positive negative means you’re still coming from place of judgment, that things should be this way. So it’s not that things are positive or negative. Things just are as they are and we can learn to experience them and let life wash over us in a way that takes a much more allowing, we’re allowing, there’s an effortlessness of letting life wash over us however it comes and we’re not micromanaging the outcomes, we’re not premeditated about it.
And that’s essentially what mindfulness is. So some people use mindfulness in a way that I think is a bit skewed and is still aiming for an outcome, but true mindfulness means we’re unbiased, we’re nonjudgmental, and we’re completely open with a loving awareness and curiosity in the present moment. So if that means that tinnitus is there, that’s okay. It’s welcome. And if in the next moment the tinnitus is there, that’s okay. It’s welcome. But what else is there? My question would be, “How do we get mindful about other parts of you and how can you be really richly engaged and engrossed in learning about new parts of you?” Because perhaps if we’re used an analogy of doing a PhD, it almost sounds like maybe you’ve done a PhD in really focusing on your tinnitus and now it’s time to let that go and shift your awareness to deeply focus on other parts of you as a whole person.
So I hope I’ve answered your question. And I think part of… You’re definitely on the journey, I can see that in your question and so it’ll be really tweaking it to shift away from that focal point of tinnitus, which it sounds like it’s coming back to, “Well, it’s still there. It’s still there. It’s unchanging. It’s still there. I’m doing this, but it’s still there.” Well, what I would say to you is, A, read my book or, B, try my rock steady program if you haven’t already, because this question demonstrates to me that you’re just trying to get rid of it and that doesn’t work. That will keep the brain locked in firing the tinnitus signal because it’s all coming back to whether the tinnitus is there or whether it’s changing. And we need to really let go of that agenda and surrender, allow and have an effortless approach to experiencing life as it is. I hope that helps answer your question.