On silence

by Stephanie Wescott

Close your eyes and listen for only a few seconds to the world you live in, and you will hear this lack of true quiet, of silence. Refrigerators, air conditioning systems, and airplanes are a few of the things that have become part of the ambient sound and prevent us from listening to the natural sounds of our environment. It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take whatever meanings we may from it. By listening to natural silence, we feel connected to the land, to our evolutionary past, and to ourselves. – The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation.

Gordan Hempton is the vice president of The One Square Inch of Silence Foundation. His goal is simple: to preserve and protect silence. Hempton believes that the silent places of the world need protection; that our lives are so flooded with noise that we have lost touch with one of the most fundamental elements of our existence.

I first encountered Hempton as a guest on the podcast On Being, in which he posed an idea that confounded me in its simple truth:

Silence is an endangered species.

Hempton poses that silence is not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. Noise; that grating intruder, cutting its way in, meandering, surrounding, dowsing and bothering.

I am a silence seeker. I strive for it, and crave it. It is restorative; I notice when it is around.

Noise bothers me greatly. It dials up my anxiety. Within it I am agitated, bothered, annoyed. On a recent trip to Cambodia, I sat outside my room each night, alone, and listened to the sounds. My surroundings hissed, croaked, emptied, hissed again. The presence of sound was constant, and yet there was no noise. I recorded the sounds on my iPhone so that I could preserve not only the sounds, but the feeling of it, what it gave me.

There should be space made for silence in our lives. Our days are polluted by sounds that we are conditioned to be familiar with, but that add no value.

You have to consciously listen for the silence. It might only be fleeting or passing, a small space of opportunity in an otherwise flooded day. But it is there to savour.