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Audio Wave image from Motionbolt.com

It took an international team of researchers using data from “seismic stations in 117 countries to determine that restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 led to an unprecedented drop in noise.” In the study recently published in the Journal of Science, “seismic noise, or vibrations generated by human activity, dropped by as much as 50 per cent in March and April, particularly in urban areas.” (source: The Canadian Press).

Researchers have dubbed this quiet period the “anthropause,” as traffic, planes, cruise ships, conventions, concerts and sports games slowed or stopped.

We could actually see very sharp cut off starting in China and Italy and then everywhere else as the pandemic spread and the policies and the lockdown spread…

The Unplanned Experiment for Marine Acoustics

Richard Dewey, associate director of science at Ocean Networks Canada, based at the University of Victoria noted that the drop of noise is also being measured in the oceans:

“He likened the pandemic to an unplanned experiment for marine acoustic researchers who have been hoping for years for an opportunity to study the ocean without noise pollution from massive tankers, cruise ships, ferries, whale-watching and commercial-fishing vessels…

A quieter ocean is part of the formula that would help the recovery of endangered southern resident killer whales, which return each year to the Salish Sea around southern Vancouver Island, he said.”

Hearing the Presence of Everything:

Recently Kristin Lin wrote about acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton who has traveled the world collecting silences.

“He’s heard what the world sounds like without human noise, from the stillness of a Sitka spruce log in the Pacific Northwest to how thunder echoes in the emptiness of the Kalahari Desert.

But even when he’s not traveling… he takes a moment of silence every day — “that I don’t try to fill with thoughts, that I turn everything off … There’s no purpose, but there’s a great deal of joy,” he says. And it’s in silence, he says, that he hears “the presence of everything.”

Presence is also what draws the poet Marilyn Nelson to silence:

I think poetry and the silence of the inner life are related, are connected — don’t you think? You read a poem, and you say, ‘Ah.’ And then you listen to what it brings out inside of you. And what it is is not words. It’s silence.

She says silence is “the source of so much of what we need to get through our lives.” It allows us to reach places of greater depth — calling up something in us and turning us back into ourselves. “That’s why reading poetry, reading it alone silently takes us someplace where we can’t get ordinarily…”

Gordon Hempton says this about silence:

“We’re so busy being someplace else that when we’re in a silent place, there are no distractions. We finally do get to meet ourselves and that can be frightening,” he says. But it’s in silence that anything can happen. “It’s like the blank page to a writer.”

Listen to how David Whyte puts it in poetic form:

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the / conversation. The kettle is singing / even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots / have left their arrogant aloofness and / seen the good in you at last. All the birds / and creatures of the world are unutterably / themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

What are you Hearing in the Anthropause?

I heard more kinds and numbers of birds than I have ever heard before in the small yard where I have lived for the last 20 years. A pair of Robins nested for the first time in the tree outside our dining room window so we could have a front row seat to the daily nesting, feeding, and fledging of the Robins; then they did it again: two clutches in one (short Alberta) summer! Same goes for the Sparrows who sired two clutches in the bird house on our fence. We noticed a variety or finches, wood peckers, and other species we had not seen in our yard before. It was an amazing symphony of bird calls and euphony of life!

I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (1942), an imaginary collection of letters between a senior devil (Screwtape) and his neophyte pupil (Wormwood) on the techniques and tactics for harassing the Enemy (God) and seducing, distracting, and frustrating his followers. Senior devil Screwtape likened his realm as the “Kingdom of Noise” – while lamenting that Heaven are “the regions where there is only life and therefore all that is not music is silence” (Letter 22).

Since we are all on a spiritual journey, I wonder how your spiritual listening has improved as other sounds have been quieted? Have you been hearing life – and therefore hearing all that is not music as silence?

For more see “In Pursuit of Silence“, “And the Land lay Fallow“, or “Images of Our time“.