To introduce us to the week, we practiced deep looking and deep listening exercises. As someone who grew up going to Quaker schools and going to Quaker Meeting each week, I grew up appreciating the power of silence. Even with this background, maybe now a bit rusty, I still had an incredibly hard time deep listening. Through this process of trying to listen deeply I was reminded of an On Being podcast I heard earlier this year with Gordon Brown, an acoustic ecologist and silence advocate. He left graduate school on a journey to become a better listener, and in his journey has spent the last 30 years collecting and recording sounds. He has started a list of The List of the Last Great Quiet Places, and has only captured 12 in the United States. Here are two statements that Gordon Brown said in his interview that resonated with me about deep listening.
“While I lay there and the thunder echoed through the valley and I could hear the crickets, I just simply took it all in. And it's then I realized that I had a whole wrong impression of what it meant to actually listen. I thought that listening meant focusing my attention on what was important even before I had heard it and screening out everything that was unimportant even before I had heard it.”
“Why would it have any benefit to our ancestors to be able to hear faint birdsong? Why would our ears possibly have evolved so that we could walk in the direction of faint birdsong? Birdsong is the primary indicator of habitats prosperous to humans. Isn't that amazing? Now when you're in a quiet place, what is the listening horizon? If you ask a person that lives in a city, they might take a wild guess and say, "Oh, you can listen for a mile." Right they know it's a trick question, so they're going to pick something really big. You can listen for a mile. You ask somebody in the country? Oh, you can listen for three or four miles. And I've heard sounds 20 miles away. If you do the math, that is the size of 1,276 square miles. Do you know what it's like to listen to 1,276 square miles when the sun is rising?”