On our June vacation last year, to the Pacific Northwest coast of the US, and a weekend spent in Massachusetts, I was delightfully thrown into nature. On a walk through the Hoh Rainforest (part of the Olympic National Forest), I was struck both by the silence and the sounds. The coast gave me the roar of water. The trees brought the sound of birds, and leaves being blown like the sound of a blustering river. And I became aware of the huffing and puffing of my breathing as a struggled up a hill, and the floating voices ahead of me and behind me, being carried by the wind.
This trip was like a vacation for my ears – on my return, I could hear everything anew again. The sounds of nature have a way of re-setting our senses, readying us for our return to human-made sounds. John Cage has written about his experiences of listening after sitting in meditation. He has explained how meditative states can help us to stop reacting in our usual way to sounds, and just listen. With this fresh hearing, even the sound of a car alarm can become like a sound sculpture to our ears.
There is inspiration for me as a therapist in this reflection about Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Vietnamese Buddhist monk : “Even under the sound of helicopters – and this is a man who buried many children in Vietnam to the roar of helicopters and bombs – he can say, ‘Listen, listen; this sound brings me back to my true self’” (Nachmanovitch, 1990, p. 93).
When I am with my clients, I am listening as deeply as I would as for the sound of a rare bird in the forest. I am listening as deeply as I would for the buzzing of an insect in the night air. I am listening as fully as when I lie down in the dark and take in the roar of the ocean. Even the most traumatized sounds can be sculptures of sound. When was the last time you were listened to as if you were that bird? As if you were the ocean? Don’t we all deserve to be heard as if our sounds were works of art? The sounds we make – our voices, our music, our words – are as precious as those sounds that fill our natural world.