Gordon Hempton — http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Gordon-Hempton/45345383 — is the subject of a feature in THE SUN ‘s September 2010 edition. He’s an acoustical ecologist. He claims there are less than a dozen places in the U.S. where you can sit for more than twenty minutes without hearing a plane pass overhead. And there are, he claims, no places in Europe that fit the bill.
That’s an extremely sobering, disheartening observation. It shows how much noise pollution we have in the world. In my experience, I chuckle or shake my head when I see grade school or junior high –aged children riding their bicycle while talking on their cell phone. Come on kids, enjoy a bike ride without feeling the need to “be connected”. It’s like adults driving and talking, or worse texting, on their cell phone. We are a distracted society. Distracted by too many images from TV and the Internet and just as much, distracted by sounds.
In THE SUN article, Hempton was amazed that he could be 27 years old and hadn’t ever fully listened to a thunderstorm before. I’m fifty years old and have never truly sat back and really listened to a thunderstorm. I’m too caught up with getting sounds from the media – TV, radio, Internet, MP-3 player – instead of going for authentic, natural sounds. Studies have proven regular quiet time such as walks in secluded, quiet natural areas or meditating in a quiet room make the practitioners calmer and more focused. Without regular quiet time, we become over stimulated, edgy and unfocused.
I find that my one-hour long bicycle rides not only provide aerobic exercise but also an opportunity to glide through natural settings. About half of my rides are typically over city streets and the over half on bike/nature trails. And while it’s true I have my MP3 player playing, at least it’s a steady diet of pleasant sounds. And the images are mostly of nature – trees, long grass, reeds, wild flowers, flowing creek, horses, cows, rolling farmland.
I liken the importance of hearing more natural sounds and just less sounds in general to Eckhart Tulle’s “power of now”, which millions of fans of Oprah’s Book Club are intimately familiar with. Tulle promotes an exercise in which we put more mental space between the words we form in our heads (compliments of the satanic ego). The mental stream of conversations we have with ourselves serve to constrict and limit us. If we’re always evaluating our thoughts and actions, putting them into neat little categories and comparing them to our past, then it’s virtually impossible to grow as person. But the more we live in the ever changing now, the freer we are to do the right thing, not just for us but for the universe. One way to put more space between our constricting thoughts is by putting ourselves into quiet, natural places. Silence is the gateway into the endless sea of eternity where there are no limits to anything.
Tollle espouses the power of now, which is a powerful concept indeed. But don’t underestimate Gordon Hempton and Paul Simon’s the sounds of silence. So do yourself, and the universe a favor. Take a hike. Or at least go off to a quiet place for an hour or so.