Do we need to use all of our senses to truly connect with a natural place?
I recently hiked several miles of strenuous, steep trail into one of Utah’s glorious national parks, then stopped just shy of the payoff (a natural stone bridge) because a score of other people were enjoying themselves loudly while hanging around there.
The noise bothered me. I couldn’t get a sense of the place, hear the wind or the birds, or muse on the natural monument with any sense of awe, because I wasn’t able to ignore the human voices.
Yes, I’m a seeker of silence, especially when I’m bent on immersing myself in nature. For me, it is part of the experience. I realize not everyone feels this way. For some folks, the enjoyment of a natural place might come from spending time there interacting with other people.
Me, I want to interact with the plants and animals. I want to creep up on the shy lizard surveying its territory from a rock. I want to follow the meadowlark’s song until I can see the bird itself. I want to smell the pines and the milkweeds and the rain-soaked sagebrush.
I also want to enable these kinds of experiences within my own garden. That’s my number one goal in my garden: to spend silent, solitary hours wandering and pondering, connecting with nature and with my deepest self.
A large part of connecting with nature is being receptive – not producing one’s own sounds, but noticing and processing external sources of input.
Here is the problem: we are wired to preferentially hear human voices. Our ears actually amplify sounds in the same frequency as the human voice (that, by the way, is one reason gas-powered leaf blowers are so annoying). So as we process the inputs in our environment, we have to work harder to notice the other sounds if human voices are present.
In other words, it’s harder to connect with nature in the presence of other people.
Silence is also a prerequisite for the act of self-reflection: reflecting on one’s own personality and characteristics, explains Daniel A. Gross in this article. “Freedom from noise and goal-directed tasks, it appears, unites the quiet without and within, allowing our conscious workspace to do its thing, to weave ourselves into the world, to discover where we fit in. That’s the power of silence.”
It concerns me that our culture of noise (engines running, music playing, cell phone conversations happening wherever people are) may be preventing us from connecting with nature. It also concerns me that this same culture of noise may be preventing self-reflection.
When you go into your garden-or another natural place-do you too seek silence conducive to thinking deep thoughts and immersing yourself in nature? Do you find it?