Living in busy, noisy London, I am surrounded by sound almost the entire day, from morning to evening. Especially in our second flat here, we lived next to a busy road and had the constant noise of sirens of ambulances and police cars coming in. Our bedroom was always red or blue from their flashing lights, argh!
No wonder I have so much trouble sleeping here. There’s plenty of research to demonstrate that spending time in silence is good for you, so when you don’t have it at home, travelling to a quiet nature spot is one of the best ways to escape it all and truly relax. I did some research into the ‘Silent Space Project’ and ‘Quiet Garden Movement’. Both are set up for the public to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet in natural surroundings, such as parks and gardens. And you’d be surprised what the health benefits of this are…
THE POWER OF SILENT SPACES
We live a hectic life here on earth, especially those of us living in urban areas and in screen dominated, information rich and entertainment filled environments. It can be hard to find a moment of silence, a dose of nature or just a short break from thinking and a moment of just being. Even the parks and gardens we visit for relaxation can be busy, especially at the weekends.
While we become more and more connected to the rest of the world, we seem to become less and less connected to nature, the present moment and our core of inner stillness.
There’s plenty of research to demonstrate that spending time in silent nature is good for us, even essential for our health and happiness, yet how come we don’t we take more effort each day to make this happen?
Why is Silence Important?
Acoustic ecologist and Emmy Award winning sound recordist Gordon Hempton believes that preserving natural silence is as necessary as species preservation. He considers rescuing silence to be less difficult than many of the other challenges we face -but first we have to recognise its value.
‘Silence nurtures our nature, our human nature, and lets us know who we are. Left with a more receptive mind and a more attuned ear, we become better listeners, not only to nature but to each other‘ – Gordon Hempton
Research shows that we humans are soothed by the sound of nature and that too much man-made noise (even just a little) generates harmful levels of stress to our bodies and mind.
In one particular study, researchers tested the reading, memory, hearing and attention of children at schools near the site of the old and new airport in Munich, before and after its relocation. Results were clear: children exposed to the aircraft noise developed a stress response that enabled them to ignore the sound. But not only did they ignore the harmful stimuli, they also ignored the sounds to which they needed to pay attention, which resulted in the drop of comprehension skills and long-term memory of these children.
‘It is our birthright to listen, quietly and undisturbed, to the natural environment and take whatever meanings we may‘ – Gordon Hempton
What is a Silent Space?
A Silent Space can be seen as the nature version of the dedicated ‘quiet coaches’ that you can find in some trains. It’s any outdoor place where you stop talking, turn off your phone, put away your camera and leave the world of social media and other distractions. There are no other rules. Simply take this moment to notice the beauty around you. Even 5 minutes can already help you to feel more peace in this green place.
Dr Sarah Bell of ‘Sensing Nature‘ looked in her research at diverse sensory and emotional experiences of the visually impaired in the natural world. The results suggest that by learning to listen through a phenomenon called ‘echolocation’ (where you ‘feel’ sound with your whole body as a form of vibration or pressure in the air), your experience of the natural world could be deepened and enriched.
‘Silence is not the absence of something, but the presence of everything‘ – Gordon Hempton
Where to Find a Silent Space?
How different might life be if green places for silent reflection were easily accessible to us all? But where do you find relative silence in nature close to a city? And how do we get people of all ages to prioritise moments of stillness in nature and frequently (preferably daily) visit these locations in their neighbourhood?
The Guide To Silence
As an answer to these questions, Ulf Bohman introduced ‘The Guide to Silence‘ in 2013: a project in Stockholm, Sweden, that aims to help people to find green, calm places that can promote well-being and inner stillness. Its particular interest lies in the green places close to or in the cities of the world. Bohman beliefs that everyone has the right to have daily access to a place in nature that is dedicated to silence in the external sense and stillness in the inner sense.
The project currently has identified 70 calm places and 27 walks with diverse natural attributes, from wide lake views to deep forest, and to open cultural landscapes. More than one million people in the city of Stockholm and suburban cities can access these walks directly from their homes and workplaces, or after a short commute.
The Quiet Garden Movement
‘The Quiet Garden Movement‘, has been helping people to find quiet spaces for over 25 years now. The Movement nurtures access to outdoor space for prayer, silence and reflection in a variety of settings, such as private homes, churches, retreat centres, schools and hospitals – as well as creating opportunities for people to experience silence through regular quiet days and retreats. With over 300 Quiet Gardens worldwide, you can search for your nearest on the Quiet Garden Movement website.
During the summer of 2016, the not-for-profit project ‘Silent Space‘ was launched in the United Kingdom. A handful of gardens and parks that open to the public agreed to take part and to reserve an area where people could be silent. For a couple of hours each week, visitors to these quiet areas were invited to switch off their phones and to stop talking.
On their website, you can find an overview of gardens around the United Kingdom that have dedicated Silent Spaces -and if you manage or work in a green place that opens to the public, you can join the Silent Space Scheme and help more people to enjoy peaceful time in green places.
Being silent in a green space can have restorative effects on us, as we’re soothed by the sounds of nature. When we connect with the world around us, we also connect more deeply with ourselves. Have you found your own local Silent Space yet? Let us know!