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Morning Sun
  • TRUE STORIES: The silence in between

  • It’s two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. I’m listening.

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  • It’s two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. I’m listening.
     
    A few yards away, a lawnmower whirrs. A honeybee, trapped in between the storm and inner window, sounds a staccato buzz. A fan, faintly whispers in the front room. A car murmurs on the curved, brick streets as it passes. My fingers tap, tap on the computer keys. A gust of wind arrives in the maple outside my window.
     
    When is the last time you sat very still and actually listened, deeply, to your surroundings?
     
    According to audio ecologist, Gordon Hempton, too much sound cuts us off from a level of intimacy — with ourselves and one another. Listening — listening for all animal life — is our sense of security. When we’re in a quiet place we’re more secure.
     
    Last week I happened on to Hempton being interviewed by Krista Tippett on her PBS radio show “On Being.” He’s is the author of One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Quest to Preserve Quiet.
     
    Hempton says that silence is an endangered species. He defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. The Earth, as he knows it, is a "solar-powered jukebox" and quiet is a "think tank of the soul."
     
    Indeed, according to neuroscientists, empathy and deep thought depend on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” Most of us don’t need a scientist to tell us this, we’ve all had times when we needed to shut off the noise to think straight, whether it be a walk to the park, a drive alone, an afternoon fishing trip, or simply shutting off the TV, radio, cell phone, and computer.
     
    My favorite listening time is around 5 a.m., when I sit on the front porch glider expanding my sound horizon for miles and miles. A couple of weeks ago, a thunderstorm faintly rumbled in the distant west, echoed and bounced in to rapidly embrace me with tympanic booms and bangs, and grumbled mightily off to the east as I sighed.  
     
    Wind is a great listen. Grass wind. Tree wind. Plant wind. Some days I sit on a stone bench out back, a sanctuary beneath the pine and cedar, next to Linda’s garden of roses, day lilies, and banana tree. The tone or pitch of the wind  — a function of the length of the leaf, blade of grass, or pine needle — a timeless song of soothing.
     
    Hempton says silence is an endangered species; on the verge of extinction. If a place can have a noise free interval for fifteen minutes or longer, Hempton adds it to the list of ‘the last great quiet places.’ In the U.S., there are only twelve.
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    Research shows that in noisy places, people are less likely to help each other. Hempton believes that it’s because when we can speak in silence we hear not only the words, but the tone. What’s beyond the words. While, when we’re in noisy places, urban environments for instance, we become isolated and exhibit antisocial behavior because we are cut off from a level of intimacy; because we’re busy not listening to this, not seeing that, not doing that, rather than opening up with one another.
     
    I count myself very fortunate to live in southeast Kansas where noise pollution is minimal most all the day, and I can listen not only to the sounds immediately around me but those deep into the background.
     
    Especially so in early morning, when the birds call faintly from the towering elm out front and the porch chime gongs in response to a gentle zephyr. Before long a Kansas City Southern engineer sounds his diesel trumpet (in his own unique way) over the landscape from miles off. When the train rolls slowly into town, I listen for not only the flutter, flutter of freight cars over the crossings and deep oommm of engines echoing and vibrating off the houses, but the sweet silence in between.
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net
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