Meditating with tinnitus

Fotolia_164586_XSIf you suffer from tinnitus – persistent ringing in the ears – you may wonder whether meditation is a good idea. And yet it can be a powerful tool in helping you come to terms with the white noise inside your head. Meditator and long-time tinnitus sufferer Mandy Sutter airs some of the issues.

Tinnitus can make meditation very difficult. And because meditation is mostly silent, it may seem that meditation can make tinnitus very difficult, too.

It’s certainly true that as soon as you sit down on the cushion and close your eyes, the tinnitus seems to get louder. It isn’t really getting louder: it only seems that way because you are cutting down on other external stimuli. However, the thought that you’re making it ‘worse’ by meditating can be off-putting, if you let it go unchallenged.

Even accepting that, some days it’s still tempting to stay off the cushion completely. And of course, a missed day can easily turn into a missed few days, a week, a month.

Indeed, some tinnitus experts believe that sufferers should avoid silence altogether.

But this rather black-and-white view doesn’t help the person who wants to meditate, so rather than hanging up one’s meditation mat for good, I think it’s worth investigating some of the resources available to see if there’s anything out there (or in there!) to help you.

Courses and books

Perhaps the first thing to consider is attending a led course on managing your tinnitus through mindfulness meditation. These courses, which are becoming popular with healthcare professionals, are held in a variety of settings, including medical ones. They aim to defuse the anxiety and stress caused by tinnitus and they often report excellent success rates. Try typing the words ‘tinnitus’ and ‘mindfulness’ into your search engine to see what’s available in your area.

There are other types of tinnitus retraining, too. One scientist of particular interest is Pawel Jastreboff, who rejects the old idea that tinnitus is caused by damage to the ear and believes in re-educating sufferers to think of the condition positively as, say, ‘the music of the brain.’ He posits a strong connection between anxiety about tinnitus and its perceived severity, and has found that a shift in thought can have a dramatic effect on someone’s perception of their tinnitus.

Vidyamala Prue Burch’s book ‘Living Well with Pain and Illness’ (reviewed here on Wildmind) is another helpful resource. It doesn’t deal specifically with tinnitus, but uses meditation to approach any chronic condition. There are practical tips on how to cultivate a wider awareness of your body that puts your condition into context.

Some practical tips

Personally I’ve found this particular approach – of cultivating a wider awareness – invaluable. I now sometimes wear earplugs while I meditate (this is a complete no-no for some tinnitus sufferers, though, so please approach with care). Because wearing earplugs magnifies ALL inner body sounds, like swallowing and breathing, the tinnitus sounds seem to decrease by comparison, or at least just take their place among my body’s other normal noises. I find I can simply welcome them to the party.

I have also spent some time actively listening to my tinnitus during meditation, and although this may feel unpleasant and even counter-intuitive at first, I recommend it. When you really listen, you may identify sounds like crashing cymbals or whistles, or notice that your tinnitus varies in volume, or has a wave-like pattern. I have found it helpful to learn the length and breadth of my tinnitus in this way: it makes me less prone to worry.

Meditating with your eyes open can help: the increased visual stimulus acting as a balance to the unsolicited sound stimulus. You can use incense in a similar way. And I sometimes find it useful to meditate sitting against a warm radiator, the body sensation of heat again providing a balance. Walking meditation is another valuable and legitimate resource.

Using sound

Also helpful are guided meditations on CD or mp3 (there’s a good selection of these here at the Wildmind store, and search the meditation pages for free ones. For an even wider selection, try Amazon). Of course, there are still periods of silence during a guided meditation (though some have background muzak) but the voice coming in and out focusses one’s attention away from the tinnitus.

Listening to ambient sound is another option. You can buy devices or download mp3 files that reproduce the sound of waves, or rain pattering on a windowpane, or the crackling of a log fire. Whale or dolphin sounds can also be good. You can concentrate on the sounds as the object of your meditation or use your normal meditation technique (e.g. counting the breath) with the sounds in the background. I have a Sound Oasis which I find invaluable. These devices can be pricey though, so it’s worth downloading some free ambient sounds to your computer before you buy one, to make sure this method suits you.

You’ll find some ambient sounds more effective than others, depending on the character of your own tinnitus and the nature of your own emotional responses to things. I usually turn my Sound Oasis to ‘Harbour Swell’ (the sound of a creaking boat bobbing on the waters) but this might not suit someone who suffers from seasickness!

Listening to music may help, though you may find it too emotionally stimulating. In fact, this may be one of the rare occasion when muzak is better than music!

Forget any idea that this isn’t ‘proper’ meditation (something that bugged me for a while). It’s just a different kind of meditation.

For some tinnitus sufferers, wearing earphones is helpful. The sound is brought closer, as if inserted between your hearing and the tinnitus. This isn’t the case for everyone, though, so find out what suits you.

Going on retreat

Silent meditation retreats pose a particular problem for the tinnitus sufferer. Forget ‘me and my shadow’ – it’s ‘me and my tinnitus’ for days on end. What you can face intermittently during the course of a normal day can seem overwhelming when it’s continuous.

But it’s still do-able. My tinnitus is quite severe, but I go on retreat several times a year.

The important thing is to look after yourself. As you already know, tinnitus is an invisible condition, so no-one makes allowances for you automatically. You may find it difficult to make allowances for yourself, too. But however embarrassed or guilty you feel about making a special case of yourself in an environment where you are strongly encouraged not to, please do: you have my permission, at least! Retreat leaders can be very helpful if approached beforehand.

Request a single room if one is available. You can play ambient sounds and there will be less chance of being woken during the night (tinnitus sufferer often find it difficult to get back to sleep).

Keep your eyes open during meditations if you need to, or take yourself off for walking meditations while the others sit in the shrine room.

No matter what the normal rules are, allow yourself books, iPod or CD player and earphones. You may not need to use them, but they can act as a security blanket.

If particular foods exacerbate your tinnitus (e.g. caffeine) a retreat may offer the ideal opportunity to avoid them for a time. If other foods help, take them with you. Chocolate helps my tinnitus (only kidding, unfortunately).

Taking care of yourself on retreat can be a valuable lesson in self-metta (loving-kindness towards oneelf).

Coming to terms with tinnitus

Having said that, it was on a silent retreat three years ago where I had no security blanket that I perhaps came most deeply to terms with my tinnitus.

My single room hadn’t materialised, and I was sharing with someone who kept putting the light on through the night. Despite decamping to the sitting room a couple of times, I went for four nights with virtually no sleep. I became more and more anxious. My tinnitus, exacerbated by the anxiety, raged continually. I felt as if a jetplane was taking off in my head. All the meditations were a write-off. Finally I made a break for the retreat office to ring my partner and ask him to come and get me (he’d only have had to drive 200 miles). But I couldn’t remember our phone number.

I decided to stay till the next morning, if only because it was too late to leave that evening. And that night in bed, tinnitus raging, I felt despair laced with terror. What if this never ended? What if this was how it was going to be for the rest of my life? My heart thundered and I had to stuff the pillow into my mouth to stop myself from crying out.

Then I heard a clear voice in my head. ‘You don’t need to follow that train of thought,’ it said. ‘You just need to calm down. You know how: you have the tools. But they won’t work if you don’t use them.’

For some reason, I was able to recognise the truth of this. It was a great relief. I lay in bed going through every relaxation technique I’d ever learnt, be that in cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation classes, or hypnotherapy. It took a while but eventually I felt my body and mind profoundly relax, and knew I would sleep, if not now then later. The tinnitus, loud and insistent, was still there. The feeling of relaxation wasn’t one of relaxing despite it, or beyond it, but alongside it. At that moment, some of the emotional charge went out of my perception of my tinnitus, and it has never come back.

So, through meditation, I’d say it’s eminently possible to reach some degree of accommodation with your tinnitus, no matter how you go about it. You may even come to see your tinnitus as significant, instead of a nuisance: a vehicle for self-nurturing, and for reaching accommodation with yourself as a whole (including all the painful, messy and inconvenient bits).

You may even find, over time, that you have made friends with your tinnitus: or at least that you are not the sworn enemies you once thought you were.

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143 Comments. Leave new

Thanks for your comments, Dojle74 and Ron. I loved your comment about loud thoughts Dojle, that is exactly it. I sometimes find myself grateful for those thoughts when they drown out my tinnitus! Ron, I don’t have any experience of TM to help me answer your question, but I believe that in TM you concentrate on a particular given mantra, whereas in traditional meditation (and there are many kinds) you may choose to focus on a variety of things. I live in the UK so don’t have info about classes local to you. Perhaps someone else will be along to help you with that. All the best to both of you and thank you for your comments.


Hi Mandy
Thanks for your comments. I’ve had tinnitus for 30 years, but at times it can get quite difficult to be objective about it. However, like you I find meditation very helpful. I recently wrote this article in our New Zealand Tinnitus support magazine your readers may find useful..
I remember the morning I awoke with a middle ear infection, and the subsequent permanent tinnitus. I went through some difficult times, and at one stage wondered how I would be able to cope with this unrelenting and unforgiving noise for the rest of my life. I knew I had to change my attitude because the tinnitus wasn’t going to go away.
Over the years, I found some ways to make my tinnitus just a minor distraction. I would like to share them with you.
Firstly I am not a tinnitus sufferer, I just have tinnitus. That‟s the biggest step I made; a shift in my perception.
Pain has been described as being comprised of two darts. The first dart is the pain itself, and the second dart is identifying with the pain, which doubles the misery. I don‟t identify with the tinnitus. It‟s not mine, it‟s just there.
This philosophy is an aspect of the Buddhist philosophy of Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad.
You don‟t need to be a Buddhist to put mindfulness into practice.
The philosophy of Mindfulness has helped me live with tinnitus to a degree I would not have thought possible. I am delighted and grateful to have found it.
The other suggestion I have, is regarding sounds that can distract attention from tinnitus at night. I find I get very good sleep with the use of a machine I bought online from Connevans in England, a number of years ago. It is a Sound Oasis machine and replicates the sounds of rivers, streams, rain, and other sounds of nature. It is portable enough to carry when I travel.
If you have an iphone or ipod, there are some wonderful sounds of nature apps available for download, and can be played back through headphones, or – better still – through ipod speakers.
If you have trouble sleeping when lying in bed because of your tinnitus, I recommend you find a sound source that suits you.


Hello Robin, what a practical, calm article you’ve written. I’m sure it will help many people. Thanks for sharing it here. All the best.

robin simenauer
January 16, 2016 2:12 pm

Thanks Mandy. The same to you. :-)


Here’s a recent and inspiring interview with Denis W. who found relief from chronic Tinnitus using mindfulness and Stoicism. Hope you find it valuable on your own journey –>

robin simenauer
January 16, 2016 2:13 pm

Thanks Steve; much appreciated.


Thanks so much for posting this interview, Steve – it’s fascinating and contains a positive message that I hope subscribers to this thread will find very helpful.


Here’s a new and inspiring interview with Robin who learned to live happily with Tinnitus. As usual, hope you find it valuable on your own journey –>


That’s great , Steve, thanks for posting this sensible and inspiring interview.


Thank you for your article on the subject . I have been living with tinnitus since childhood, I used to have strong negative feeling for my affliction; But now i turned a disadvantage into a positive; I call it my present moment ring. It keeps me in the present and sharpens my concentration while in a formal sitting.
“Don’t worry Be happy”


Hi Stacy, many thanks for this positive spin on tinnitus!


Hi Mandy,

Thanks for your post. I’ve had tinnitus for the past 10 years and – originally it has no link with it – I’ve been meditating very seriously for the last 5-6 years. Last year I did a lonely meditation retreat (10 days in a mountain shelter) and had a very difficult experience with my tinnitus close to yours – except that my teacher – who I called on day 9 – advised me to stop the retreat. So I stopped.

More precisely: after 6 days I suddenly had the feeling that I feeded my tinnitus with anxiety and that it could not stop to worsen. Thinking about the plasticity of brain cells, I started to think it would stay worsened after the end of the retreat. I could not even one second “let it go” and come back to my posture or my breathe. And the worst anxiety crisis of my life started from this point…

Though the living conditions I had during this retreat were hard: no electricity, no hot water, no music, no sounds like white noise, and to make it better there were mountain floodings,… I keep thinking it may have impacted my anxiety which actually did not start focused on tinnitus but with the fear of being alone in the mountain at night.

After the retreat I went on with daily meditation and even collective retreat (which are not as intensive as lonely retreat). Well, it seems life goes on… longtime tinnitus-lovers know some stuff about it! ;)

Now I am thinking about a lonely retreat again as I am deeply interested in meditation. But my teacher warns me and advised to get strong information about meditation and tinnitus by myself. And I can not find very good information on the internet. It seems many people have a light experience of mindfulness which is often related to their tinnitus treatment. It is not really my case and I would love to find more meditation’s teachers advises but I can not find any.

I don’t know if you know this but the only thing I found is a text from a bouddhist teacher who calls some phenomena obviously closed to tinnitus “the sound of silence”. He even asks his students to practice it! What an ironic joke for people like us wanting to avoid their tinnitus!!! What do you think about it, there is a whole chapter from page 85 from this PDF file:

Honestly it seems to good to be true but the guy seems to be a good teacher.

All the best people: don’t forget the tinnitus is no danger, it’s all about the anxiety we put on the top of it…

And my mothertongue: puissez-vous tous être libres de la souffrance. ;)


Hi Alan,

This is not directly related to tinnitus. I spent about six years developing a meditation practice by going to 10 day Goenka Vipassana courses yearly for about six years and meditating off and on for 1, sometimes 2 hours a day. I got impatient for enlightenment, and started searching for another approach. What I found was an ancient study course (more my style) on how to become enlightened. My guide book at the moment is How to Attain Enlightenment… by James Schwartz along with his videos of Self Inquiry in Berlin. I am using one of his ‘disciples’ as my teacher, via email, when I have questions. I am not enlightened yet, but I can feel the calming benefits as I go through the course. Maybe I will become enlightened. They say that this approach works, and I would tend to agree. It makes the search fun as well as beneficial.


By the way, my tinnitus is still here, but the one time it went away for a few hours was during one of the meditation courses on maybe day 5 or so, when I had had some pretty concentrated meditations. That night, getting ready for bed, I suddenly noticed that my tinnitus was gone. It was back the next morning. I stopped worrying about it, but I realize that is difficult for some people with extreme cases to not be concerned.

Shireen hussain
April 4, 2016 3:47 pm

Hi. Very interesting ! Thanks for sharing. After having given up meditating for two years after getting tinnitus. I have now learnt to meditate with iPod in my ears with shower water sound 😳


Hello All, I read your comments with great interest. Alan, your story is fascinating and I have bookmarked the text by Ajahn Sumedho, thank you very much for sharing it here. I haven’t read the sound of silence bit yet but did read something about eating which was very funny but also thought provoking. Tom, the James Schwartz book sounds very intriguing. I do admire your single mindedness. Shireen, its encouraging that you have found a new way to meditate. For myself I have been listening to a lot of guided meditations recently as they lessen the impact of going from ‘normal life’ sounds to being super conscious of my tinnitus during meditation. Once I’ve calmed down during the guided sit, I can then tack on an unguided section.


It has been several years since I first left any comments on this blog page but I would like to circle back around and let you know that I continue to meditate and that I continue to experience tinnitus. As part of my practice I have begun (well rebooted is more accurate) blogging and have written a couple of short pieces on meditation with tinnitus. The first is a sort of an intro to the second.
is the intro and the second is about tinnitus as it is in my life

I wish you and all the readers well. Bowing warmly, David S


Hello David, great to hear from you again and thanks for stopping by to post the link to your blog, which I’ll read with interest. All bests, Mandy


I have had Tinnitus for about 8 months now. I got it from a medical provider, hen he was cleaning out my ears of ear wax. It is an involved story but basically he blasted my inner ear with high pressure water causing me to wince in pain. The next day I woke up with T. I do mindfulness meditation and when my thoughts wander they tend to be resentful thoughts that this condition was inflicted on me by another. It adds a whole nother layer to my struggle. I know in my heart I have to let it go but am having a difficult time doing so. Any suggestions.


Gosh, that is challenging, Evan. You could try the Metta Bhavana meditation (available elsewhere on Wildmind) in order to deliberately cultivate compassion for the medical provider. I wish you the best of luck in dealing with the difficult feelings + the tinnitus.


Hi Mandy, I have an update. My tinnitus is still here but my resentment is gone. I have been pretty faithful to my meditation practice. I have done some metta but mostly practice mindfulness. I’ve joined a Sangha and have that has been a blessing. I don’t actually notice the T too much anymore. It is whining away as I write this because my attention is there of course. Two things have helped. Your idea about befriending my T. And remembering that all beings suffer and cultivating compassion as a result of that recognition. In the grand scheme of things, I’m just fine. Thank you for your wisdom!


Hi Evan, that’s heartening news – it is wonderful that you are now able to put your T in perspective. All the best to you and thanks so much for letting us all know!


Hi Mandy, I just recently found your blog and read your original 2011 post about your own tinnitus and meditation experiences. I want to thank you so much for writing and sharing about this issue. I have had tinnitus for 30 to 40 years and lived on and off in peace with it most of this time. However, in January of this year I learned Transcendental Meditation. After the initial months of really enjoying and reaping the rewards of this twice daily 20-minute practice, the tinnitus has become louder and louder, or my perception of it has. I live in New Orleans, Louisiana, and have treated with an acupuncturist and ear/nose/throat specialist, but have not gotten any relief. It is helpful to read about other peoples’ experiences and I will share if I have any success myself. Meanwhile, I plan to continue TM, even though I remain mostly awake and aware of my mantra, thoughts and tinnitus active on the surface of my mind. I am finding that at no time during meditation do I transcend into the SILENCE when there is no mantra and no thought. Still, I am getting enough benefit from the practice to persist.


Hi Carole, good to hear from you about your experience with TM and tinnitus. I wonder whether ‘listening’ to an inner mantra is also allowing you to listen to your tinnitus more intently? Do keep in touch and let us know how things develop. All the best, Mandy


Hi Mandy, thank you for responding. I’m just now checking on the site again. I am still meditating, using an air purifying machine which has a gentle fanlike sound. I am finding the mantra has a positive effect in that when I concentrate on it I have less of a focus on my ringing. The tinnitus seems to recede a bit and in my 20 minutes twice a day I am now experiencing deep rest and peace with some periods of not noticing my ringing at all. I am trying to peacefully co-exist again with my tinnitus by ignoring it as much as possible and not getting anxious about it. I’ll check back with you again from time to time in case someone comes up with a remedy or relief for this persistent problem!


Carole, that’s great. It sounds as though you have managed to turn things around with your TM practice and that the mantra is now helping where it didn’t before. Keep up the good work and thanks for letting us know – it’s most helpful.

mary tibbetts
October 19, 2017 8:22 pm

Thank you for this article, Mandy. As a new experiencer of tinnitus, and a long time meditator, I find it important be directly engaging with the tinnitus sound in order to have a hope making friends with it and letting it go. By letting it go, I mean letting go of the fixation on it. Sleep is difficult, however, although I have found some sound masking resources on the internet – is great – can you share anything you have found useful for sleep? Thanks, Mary

Chuck Messenger
October 21, 2017 8:04 am

I’ve had tinnitus for a few years, now. I’ve managed to reach a kind steady state where things are fine. For the first 2-3 years, I listened to sounds at night in order to get to sleep. I liked sounds of thunderstorms. There are many online, but my favorite was one I recorded myself. Then I discovered Vitaliy Rybakin’s Agripa. This is _really_ good. It’s like an ear massage. Very relieving. Eventually, I found I didn’t need sounds any more. Give it enough time and you get used to anything, it seems.


The app called relax and sleep is a good one. You can mix and match sounds however you like. I have a mixture of white noise and heartbeats. Counting the heartbeats if you can’t sleep is a good distraction technique from your tinnitus. I’ve had tinnitus 5 years and it doesn’t bother me in the day now but I still have a pillow speaker at night. I need to work towards sleeping without it I think though as part of my acceptance of it.


Hi Mary, I used to use a Sound Oasis device (available in a travel version too) which has all sorts of ambient sounds, like waves, white noise, crackling fire, etc and which you can set to turn off once you’ve got to sleep. It also has a radio function which again you can set to turn off later. I find I don’t need it these days, but it did really help at one time. Thanks for getting in touch and good luck.


Hi Chuck, thanks for your contribution. Yes, I’ve found the same thing. At one time, I thought I would never get used to the racket in my head but these days I barely notice it, even at night.


Hi Louise, many thanks for your contribution. Counting heartbeats sounds like an up to date version of the old-fashioned ‘counting sheep’ that my grandmother used to advise me to do!


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