True silence does not exist!
Stop for a moment and tune in all the sounds you can hear…
Everywhere WE are, sounds are, and even if we sealed ourselves in a sound proof room we would still hear the sounds of our own breathing. So what we think of as silence is not really an absence of sound at all, it’s an absence of NOISE!
As I write these words from an office in London, a passenger jet is making its long auditory pass overhead and from the street I can hear shouting, the drone of traffic and a siren. Inside I can hear the whirring of an extractor fan, a ticking clock my own breathing and the clicker clack sound of fingers on keyboards.
None of this is particularly loud at this moment, but research is showing that continuous exposure to even low levels of artificial noise is harmful. It can trigger an accumulation of cortisol and norepinephrine causing a panoply of problems like anxiety, irritability and headaches and a whole range of serious illnesses and conditions resulting from chronic tension and a compromised immune system. The louder the noise is, the worse the problems become.
In addition to this, the unconscious measures we take to counter noise can blunt us spiritually. In removing or limiting our attention to sound we are compromising one of the main channels through which we experience our spirituality. I would add that noise tension also causes people to retreat from sensual/spiritual engagement with the world into isolated compulsive thinking and fantasy. Noise reinforces the ego, but silence facilitates the spirit.
All noise is sound but not all sound is noise
Walking among the stunning forests and mountains of Somiedo, I tune in the sounds of nature… all of them Wild nature provides a vast and benevolent soundscape in which the unconscious finds nothing it needs to protect itself from. This allows you to more fully place your attention in the auditory realm and not in the thinking mind. Not focusing on any sound in particular, you to experience sound as a single, continuous and yet ever-changing flow and the more you are able to extend into the nature’s soundscape the more relaxed your mind and body become. This is the auditory version of peripheral vision where no sound is screened out and no sound is given any more importance than any other. This practice is the opposite of the filtering that we do to survive the onslaught of artificial noise. In fact, this is not an action or “doing” at all, it’s more of a surrendering to the totality of what is.
Bathing in nature
In Japanese there is a lovely concept called shinrin yoku, meaning a “forest bath”. Bathing in nature and listening to the rushing of mountain streams, the gentle tolling of cow-bells, the birdsong and the buzzing insects, the wind… all of these sounds become a symphony that resonates deeply with what we fundamentally are. Nothing jars or causes us to tense. Muscles relax, blood flows freely and spontaneous healing occurs. The boundary between nature in here and nature out there disappears and every now and then we are immersed in a realm where everything is revealed as magical, mythological synchronous and whole.
(First published in Kindred Spirit magasine)
Frankie Sikes organises and delivers “Walking in Spirit”, a seven-day, silent walking retreat in the mountains and forests of Somiedo Natural Park, Asturias Spain. The retreats take place in June and September and numbers are limited to ensure the intimacy of the group.
“it’s hard to find the words to describe the week I spent in Somiedo. But I look back on it as a very precious time for me. I was moved to tears on occasions; sometimes because of the breathtaking ever-changing landscape, other times because of the closeness of the group. I saw birds and animals I’d not seen before and felt the frisson of danger as we avoided stepping in bear poo. Somiedo is a beautiful place. And I would happily go again with Walking in Spirit and Frankie Sikes.” – Becky