“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” (Pascal)
So this week I spent an hour of my time listening to a recording of silence.
The silence I listened to was from a 3 track CD called Anail (Anail – the Irish word for ‘breath’). It is a series of recordings of the type of silence that can be heard at the ruins of three ancient Irish churches in North Tipperary at dawn. Bear with me.
The recordings include the quiet sound of wind blowing, birds singing, the rustle of wings taking flight, sheep baahing quietly in the distance, periods of actual silence and (to prove that the recordings were made in Ireland) the sound of rain falling on leaves. It is beautiful to listen to, calming and not at all as boring as it sounds.
The Anail recording is part of a project which hopes to teach school children life coping skills and to enhance their mental well being through mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is initially learned by teaching us how to focus on the present moment (using our breathing as a central focus to anchor our minds) while meditating. It acknowledges the inevitability that thoughts will intrude but allows us to learn to simply allow them to come and go. These recordings are intended to act as an acoustic backdrop to that meditation – allowing those meditating something to focus on – but also protecting the listener from the sounds and distractions of world around them.
Although this all sounds a bit ‘new agey’ there is a growing evidence that mindfulness based techniques may be useful for our mental health. Mindfulness based approaches help reduce stress levels in healthy individuals, increase feelings of empathy towards others, and may even add to the effectiveness of medical treatments for depression and anxiety. There is also emerging evidence that mindfulness techniques may help prevent burnout in health care professionals. Doctors and Nurses take note.
Although I think it will take some effort to convince younger children (and even their parents) to sit and listen to a recording of silence, I think it is an important way of raising awareness of the need to step back from the hectic, ‘always on’ world around us and to learn how to notice and pay attention to the voices from within us.
“In my adult life, the time I have actually lived inside the present moment would have amount to no more than a single day; it would have thrown its light into all the others, like a brazier in a dark arcade. Instead I find my way by sparks, and what they briefly make visible” (Don Paterson, ‘The Book of Shadows’)
The Cd is available to purchase online here.