Making sense of nature: hearing

8A baby first experiences the world through noise from inside the womb. A whale communicates a thousand miles with a sound. A tiger can locate your artery by your heart-beat. Bats navigate by it, dolphins hunt with it, rabbits survive by it. If you have ever stood near a stag during the rut as it bellows and your diaphragm vibrates you will understand the power of sound.  Noise can be a torture. Noise can be a balm. Sounds give meaning to a scene which you cannot see. We use it to communicate. Without it we are isolated and this deprivation – a loneliness – can affect our wellbeing. To paraphrase Helen Keller, the blind and deaf author, ‘Blindness cuts you off from things. But deafness cuts you off from people.’

Sound, in the form of music can lift our spirits, push us into self-examination, or evoke a memory of an event otherwise forgotten. But music is just one aspect of our enjoyment through sound. Consider the sounds of nature. A walk in a forest is somehow less complete without the birdsong, the leaves rustling or the crickets chirping. Walking by the sea, with the susurration of the waves lapping the shore and the mournful cry of the seagulls, all help to complete the experience.

If our ability to hear is reduced, life somehow loses the richness we once knew. With it we are empowered and enriched in making sense of the world, to connect with it and it with us.

Have you ever been so stressed and worried about something? Maybe an exam, a medical result, an argument? Something that is so consuming that when this anxiety has passed you immediately hear birdsong, feel the sunshine on your face or smell the freshly cut grass? Stress, worry and our internal monologue can trap us in the echo chamber of our thoughts. Through this we become deaf to the world around us. We can become habituated to this behaviour. If you were to choose a sound track to live your life by it would probably not be an insistent phone or an angry voice or even your inner monologue being negative.

At Aquifolium we understand that hearing and sound play an important role in connecting ourselves with our environment and also with ourselves. We undertake hearing sensory activities that calm our inner voice, help us move more silently so we can practice listening and ultimately hearing what nature, and the world around us, has to offer. Listening to the dawn chorus as the world awakes, the bees and insects buzzing in the canopy, a bird rustling in the undergrowth or the cry of the buzzard wheeling overhead is both calming and also a source of delight and awe. It can release dopamine and raise serotonin levels in our brains to help lift and moderate our mood. Hearing is not just sound. It helps us locate ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally within the world. Hearing well is a part of the fabric of being well.

In our forest bathing practice we listen. We listen to what we can immediately hear and attend to what we can hear if we tune ourselves to the forest, its calls, its squabbles, its creaks, tweets, rustles, squeaks, chatters and bellows. The music of the forest helps us to understand how our noise – internal and external can impact on us and the world around us.

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