My husband bought us a white noise machine for Christmas. I have to admit I love it. It helps drown out the sound of his snoring. In the summer we also run a fan in the bedroom (mostly blowing on me, but hey I am over fifty). The night is filled with constant and steady noise. But one thing I have noticed missing this summer, on the nights when it is actually cool enough to shut off the a/c and open the windows, is the hooting of the owl that often roosts in the tree outside my bedroom window, and the coyote calls in the woods across the street.
We seem to live in cocoons of steady white noise no matter where we go these days: at home, at work, in the car. There is no space for silence. Even church is no longer a silent place, and when we do have exercises in moments of silence, we are very uncomfortable. We may not like the drums and electric guitar, but we would rather hear them than our own breathing, or even worse, the breathing of the person sitting next to us.
I stumbled upon a listening exercise recently from a blog post by Kim Manley Ort. She, in turn discovered the exercise in the online publication Emergence (that's how inspiring rabbit holes work). Kim shared her experience with the exercise, listing her results from each step and I knew I had to give this a try too.
My hearing ability is still pretty good, having given up really loud music a long time ago. But hearing always lags way behind seeing for me, which is why I was excited to try this exercise, to explore creatively with a greatly underused sense.
I have only completed the first exercise so far. Probably because I got so caught up in writing it all down before I forgot.
Exercise One: Where is the place you spend the most time indoors? Go to this place. Sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Spend 10 minutes with your eyes closed, listening to all of the sounds around you, nearby and far away. What do you hear?
I tried this exercise twice. Once on a 90 degree day with the windows closed and the air-conditioning on. It was four o'clock in the afternoon, I had just spent two hours mowing our grass and had taken a cool shower before lying down on the porch on my nap couch.
What I heard: the air-conditioning running (the whole ten minutes), the refrigerator, occasional cars going by, the windows and siding creaking as they were warmed by the sun. I also noticed the rustle of my shorts on the couch as I tried to get comfortable. The interesting thing is, when there was a noise I didn't immediately recognize, I tried to hunt it down, climb inside that noise. Some time in the last few minutes I dozed off. I dreamed of a tea bowl filled with colorful, small rectangular pieces of tissue paper.
The second time I tried the exercise it was late morning on a pleasant 65 degree day and the windows were open. This time I heard: the fountain in the pond behind our house, peepers down by the pond, an airplane, a cardinal, a crow, lots of cars going by on the road, the whine of a garage truck engine. Personal noises like my stomach rumbling, swallowing, and the chime of the breathe app on my Apple watch. There were more noises, but I was less curious about them. I missed the tea bowl.
Exercise Two: Seek out a public or urban environment -- a local coffee shop, a busy street corner, your rooftop. Again, for 10 minutes, listen to the sounds around you. Try to take it all in, with equal value, without judgement. What do you notice?
Exercise Number Two may be a good excuse to try my hand at a Coffee Shop Chronicle again and see how that goes. The "without judgement" part may be hard.
If you try Exercise One, I would love to hear your results.