Sunday, October 16, 2011

Where do you experience great silence?

Jessica who used to bring such great reflection to the Philosophy Cafe here in Adelaide and is now residing in the Netherlands composed this piece about the experience of silence. It's a reminder that the lived expererence of silence and stillness may well differ from the concept of measuring sound levels and movement.

Jessica says _

I have an experience of silence (and – paradoxically – stillness) when I ride my bike. – When I ride I find my thoughts disappear, as I am caught up in navigating and maneuvering my way through a landscape, or cityscape, as it may be. Like you, I sometimes have the sensation that the wind is blowing right through me. And the rush – the movement – gives me quite literally the feeling of just passing through. I am but one feature in the scenery, and a fleeting one at that.

Whilst this is movement, I have more a sense of gliding along through it all, as it is the wheels of my bicycle that make contact with the earth; in a way I myself am stationary whilst being transported, and there is a stillness in my mind-body; only my legs are engaged in the fluid and seemingly endless motion of peddling. The physical exertion draws me into my body, and my mind is free to simply contemplate the world I am passing through at this very particular pace, detached, and, I find, inevitably content.

For me, silence and stillness hold profound power in relation to the usual cacophony and (co)mmotion that is one great demand of the modern world. Cycling is a beautifully balancing activity for the way it combines stillness and motion. – And also for the way it reveals the silent will and work of our bodies that so faithfully carry us through life.

Another form of perfect silence for me is the silence of the flower. I like to imagine what it might be like to be a flower, taut and upright in the air all hours doing nothing but exuding beauty and perfume. And lately I have found that even when I am quite literally running down the street to catch a train, or swept up in some other senselessly busy affair, on impulse I can’t help but plunge my nose toward some beautiful, unsuspecting rose in someone’s front garden. For one small but full moment, at least, all my attention is arrested by the fragile beauty of the flower, its silence as intangible as its scent.

sound waves

The reason why high sound levels can be damaging is that our sense of hearing can be permanently damaged. I damaged my hearing through carelessness by going to lots of rock concerts as a university Student at the Southampton Gaumont. During concerts by such groups at Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy, not to mention Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark you would feel the music vibrating through your body and indeed the building shaking with the sound.  For hours after the concert my ears would ring and I suffered temporary deafness. The reason why sound can be so damaging is that even if the person in an area of high sound is wearing hearing protection or is deaf or hearing impaired is that the vibration from the sound waves can cause harm given duration and strength.

I believe the reason why we may fast from sound, from talking or even electronic communication is to listen more intently and with greater discernment. The more we insulate ourselves from noise by MP 3 players or devices to lower the noise level for the individual the more permission we may seem to be giving to make high levels of noise acceptable in our society.