Written by Benjamin Wiebe
When was the last time you went outside and listened? I don’t mean going outside and listening to your Spotify Daylist. When was the last time you actually actively listened to the outdoors? The sound of the wind moving the leaves, the sound of cars zooming along Mayor Magrath, the sound of the crunch of morning frost beneath your feet, to the pitter-patter of rain on cracked pavement.
Nature is a place of ambiance, and I am all too aware of how little I pay attention to it. If I am walking outdoors, it is often to get from one place to another in a strict time frame. If, for whatever reason, I am walking outdoors with no goal in mind, it is often with my Sony WH1000-XM4 blasting Taylor Swift’s newest release straight into my brain. And, on the off chance my headphones died or my phone was left behind, my mind is often too busy to listen to nature. I mean, there is always another time to “listen” to nature. It will be here tomorrow. But Dr. Fitzpatrick’s calculus assignment, it’s temporary. It has a deadline, and I have to do it now. I may not be at my desk, but the unfinished problem lives in my mind; so do my weekend plans: attending social gatherings, making dinners (or ordering out), etc. There is simply too much to do, too many important things constantly occurring to make time for such a silly, unimportant thing as nature.
I have been thinking about this for three years. I love the outdoors, but it never was that important. I said I would do it tomorrow. And then tomorrow would end, and I would have spent another day worrying, stuck in my mind, trying to organize life so that I would not fall behind. And in the midst, I fail to find space to rest yet again. I did this for. THREE. WHOLE. YEARS.
Then, this summer, while working with powered machinery that required hearing protection, I had a revelation. Working isn’t a space to escape the noises in your head. When you put in earplugs, the world around you dims entirely. The only sounds left are for you to form, those non-verbal thoughts that populate the emptiness. It wasn’t unusual… until the machines were off and the earplugs came out that sound would rush back in. The leaves twisting in the wind. The screeching of tires on pavement. The sound of footsteps running across the park. The sound of chalk scraping against concrete driveways. It was an ethereal moment of rest interrupted by work. But for one second, my anxious and over-planning brain became silenced by the noise around me.
I made it my goal to find secret places this month. Places where there was no other need to pull my attention away from the real world. Hidden places that only I knew, places where I existed on my own apart from the busy human world, but in tune with the Earth’s world. Those places were captured in photographs to share with you a glimpse of what rest means to me. And if any of this resonated with you, maybe you need to find your own secret place.— a place where you turn off the music; where you use earplugs to quiet everything else, and let your own thoughts swirl for a moment or two. And just as those intrusive thoughts begin to get a little too loud, you pull out those earplugs and remind yourself of the infinitely small place we inhabit in time.