Silence is the absence of ambient audible sound, the emission of sounds of such low intensity that they do not draw attention to themselves, or the state of having ceased to produce sounds; this latter sense can be extended to apply to the cessation or absence of any form of communication, whether through speech or music
When was the last time you experienced pure, absolute silence? No planes or passing cars, just the sound of life doing its thing all around you—the trickle of the stream, the songs of the birds, the wind passing through the trees. These moments of natural silence are immensely rare, and it’s impacting our health. But there is a man saving it.
If possible, before watching the videos we have to show you, I urge you to put on your headphones. This is an experience you won’t want to miss; One that will calm you and take you out of your day for just a few moments as we learn about the individuals capturing and saving the silence in the world.
Image: Man walking with back faced to us, down a paved road between thick rows of trees growing along the sides
Before we really get into it, let’s first understand why protecting silence is so important, not just for the natural environment but our own health!
The impact of noise on our bodies
Too much noise can send our bodies into overdrive; continuously pumping out stress hormones. Repeated exposure to it can eventually lead to heart disease and various other physical problems, as well as greatly reducing wellbeing and mental health. 1
In a Nautilus article written by Daniel A. Gross, it’s stated that “in the mid 20th century, epidemiologists discovered correlations between high blood pressure and chronic noise sources like highways and airports. Later research seemed to link noise to increased rates of sleep loss, heart disease, and tinnitus. (It’s this line of research that hatched the 1960s-era notion of “noise pollution,” a name that implicitly refashions transitory noises as toxic and long-lasting.)”
We need natural silence to be healthy.
But you’ll be hard pressed to find large (and accessible) areas on this planet that are completely absent of noise from the modern world. In fact, if you jump into that same article mentioned above (which I totally suggest you do—it’s quite good), you’ll read that Finland has actually commodified what silence they have as a way to bring in more tourists. Think about that for a moment: Silence has become such a rarity that it’s turned into an effective marketing strategy. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit odd?
So let’s meet someone who’s working to protect, record, and promote the natural soundscapes we have left!
And the wonderful organization that has come from their decades of work.
“Silence isn’t the absence of something, but the presence of everything”
The above quote is the definition of silence from a man who has been traveling around the world recording the vanishing natural sound landscapes for over 37 years.
I was going to go into a whole thing about Gordon Hempton myself but the description Spruce Tone Films wrote for their film, Being Hear (which we’re featuring below) does such a beautiful job:
“For most of his life, Gordon Hempton has been in pursuit of nature’s myriad and multi-faceted soundscapes as an Emmy-winning acoustic ecologist. During that time, he has become a master of a skill that is inarguably a dying art: listening. In Being Hear he shares insights on the constant and nuanced communications of nature, the alarming extinction of places unaffected by human activity, the way quiet can open our eyes to the larger picture and the benefits of simply paying attention to place. Silence, as he puts it, “is the think tank of the soul.”
Let’s dive into a breathtaking collection of sound they’ve captured and meet acoustic ecologist, Gordon Hempton!
And remember, put your headphones in and just allow yourself a few moments of listening. Less than 10 minutes. Most of us don’t get to access these sounds in our everyday lives, so let’s take advantage of it, shall we?
If you’re looking for a bit more silence, take a little trip over to One Square Inch of Silence. Once on the site, just sit and listen with your headphones still in. Recordings from one of the only places where pure natural silence can be found in the lower 48 of the United States—a square inch of land in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park—will begin to play.
A 360-degree look at the impact!
“The world’s continual breathing is what we hear and call silence.” — Clarice Lispector
The New York Times presented another chance to look into Gordon’s work and to experience the places he explores. This 360-degree video, directed by Adam Loften and Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee, lets us really dive in and experience it.
If by chance, you have a virtual reality headset, now’s the time I’d put it on. Otherwise, use your cursor to click around the video and explore!
Okay, now you’re allowed to take your headphones off and return to your day. Just be sure to notice the environment you’re in. What’s around you? What’s outside of you? And what does it sound like?
If you’re looking for a little more before you head off, we’ve actually featured Gordon Hempton in a previous article with a piece from Great Big Story. Jump into the following article to take a look!
What you can do:
A lot of us aren’t able to just strap on our shoes and run out to enjoy a naturally quiet place. Urban areas make it practically impossible for people to do this. But there are options.
Why not sit and listen to the soundscape happening around you?
I asked Matthew Mikkelsen, one of the two minds behind Spruce Tone Films (who created the film featured today) and also the Executive Director of Media Affairs for Quiet Parks International, what he would suggest we can all do to “save silence” in our own lives, and here’s what he had to say:
“I often tell people that bringing quiet into your life is both physical and metaphorical. Find quiet time every day, even if it’s just a few minutes. It could be as simple as sitting on a bench in your local park or looking out your window in silence for a few moments. These activities actually make us healthier and more productive people!”
Wise words, aren’t they?
Listening to nature helps calm us, reducing our stress, muscle tension, and even our heart rate. 6
It allows us to see where we sit in the world, to get to know ourselves better, to reflect, and to just do nothing at all. (When’s the last time you’ve done that?)
So, take notice the next time you find yourself with only the sounds the world makes. Instead of filling that silence, just sit with it. Then share how it made you feel with a friend! Making a bit of noise is the only way we’ll be able to have a hand in saving what silence we have left. It’s a bit funny how that works, isn’t it?
By listening to actions that we don’t have control of, we’re dropping into the world and out of ourselves for a moment. And this does a person good.
Share this article with someone who could benefit from a few minutes to just chill and reset (how do you feel after listening to the beautiful “silence” from the videos and on One Square Inch of Silence’s page?). Who knows, you may just be the one that helps them feel a bit better wherever they sit today.
And with this appreciation and sharing, you’ll help us all get one step closer to saving the natural silence left in the world.