v.12 | Soundscapes and silence-scapes.
We make sense of ourselves and the world around us through sonic-scapes, both internal and external. Our “soundselves” are the aural way we discern who we are, “a selfhood shaped by acoustic dimension” (Rice, 2003: 8). There’s no doubt that what we choose to say, and how we say it defines us.
There is strength in silence, too — it can be a practice of listening; a form of respect; a protest; a way to protect; or a practice of cultivating inner knowing. Sometimes the most powerful thing we can say is nothing: silence.
Cristina Hartmann says that growing up deaf her soundself was more felt than heard:
“The dimension that I understood was the one I could feel. It was in the rhythms and vibrations of the world around me. My mother’s footsteps thumped as she approached my room to catch me sneaking out of bed. Rock music at a live concert made the bones in my body reverberate in time to the beat. A loud noise slammed into my chest, almost as if someone had punched me.”
This felt sense of sound is perhaps harder to tap into if all other senses are in tact. Mark Bint is the Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) and says of his deaf mother, “she can feel when someone’s angry. You can lose track of that sensibility, but when they’re the things that you need, then…they’re very much a reality in their experience. More so.” This is what we strive for — to listen not just to what’s on the surface, but to the vibrations and rhythms beneath the surface.
The acoustics and vibrations of the world change our relationship to it. Think of the sounds of a yoga room, recognizable by the creak of floors beneath bare feet, the hum of breath, the flicker of a candle, the occasional verbal cue. A hospital, a café, Paris, and the Pacific coast all have their unique soundscapes, too, which uniquely carve the experience of each place. How do the sonic dimensions of a space alter your mood? Your thoughts? Your sense of wonder, agency and possibility?
What is knowable and imaginable arises out of both sounds, and the silence from which those sounds emerge. When we learn to identify the noises and quietudes, rhythms and vibrations that comprise us and our world, we learn to listen. From that space of listening we can tap into our inner wisdom and facilitate deep creativity. We tune into restful awareness and are brought into greater connection with the world around us.
I invite you to pause. Set a timer for 1 minute. Close your eyes if it feels safe. And notice all the tiny and cosmic sounds that are making up this moment. What do you hear outside of yourself? What whispers and murmurs? Who and what do you notice? What hums do you sense inside of yourself? How do you feel?
To the pregnant silences,
P.S. If you’d like to practice inner listening, join me for a FREE virtual workshop this Sunday 22 May at 8.15am PST. Click the picture below to register.
The Big Bang was more like a Silent Bang, closer to a cosmic whisper, than an explosive roar. Sound scholar Mike Goldsmith writes:
Despite a promising name, the Big Bang was silent — a sudden burst of energy in which time and space began, forming the Universe as it spread. With no space to expand into, there could be no medium around it into which sound waves could possibly propagate. But, in cosmic terms, the Universe was not silent for long — 380,000 years later (a mere 0.0003 per cent of its present age), it was filled with sound. And, this was not the random roar of white noise that one might perhaps expect — it was a sound with a pitch: it had a characteristic wavelength.
It would not, however, have been an audible sound to any eared creatures, could they have existed so far back in time, before even the stars were born: a vast objet like the Universe makes a very low sound indeed — about one trillionth of a hertz.
Sam Lee duets with nightingales, a practice that brought him into deeper relationship with the force of silence:
“You have two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in those proportions…in that space of silence there’s the opportunity for listening, and you receive so much more than when you’re just…broadcasting. That’s a very sacred ratio.”
Nightingales, he says, sing their songs to decorate the silence, their breaks and pauses acting as brave intonations:
“it’s a very rich and fertile place for the imagination, for listening deeper into the places that one never knew they could hear, inside and outside. And the nightingales are doing it with great intention.”